MARIETTA — Lockheed Martin Aeronautics could add almost 700 jobs to its Marietta plant over the next four to five years to support production of a fighter jet being used by 10 countries.
Lockheed’s F-35 Conventional Take Off and Landing variant will replace aging aircraft worldwide with South Korea the most recent country announcing plans to bolster its military footprint with the plane. The aircraft’s center wing assembly is made in Marietta and shipped by truck to Lockheed’s Fort Worth, Texas, assembly plant.
The F-35 is a fifth-generation stealth fighter and is popular because it’s difficult to track on radar.
A stealth coating is applied to parts of the aircraft, including doors and panels, at the Marietta plant.
“This decision strengthens and extends our long-standing security partnership while enhancing regional stability across the greater Asia-Pacific theater,” said Orlando Carvalho, Lockheed executive vice president, in a statement.
The purchase makes South Korea the 10th country to choose Lockheed’s F-35 Conventional Take Off and Landing variant to replace aging aircraft in its fleet.
Before South Korea’s purchase can be made official, it must get the go-ahead from the federal government, said Johnny Whitaker, spokesman for Lockheed in Marietta. The sale will go through the U.S. Department of Defense’s Foreign Military Sales program, which allows the Defense Security Cooperation Agency to serve as the middleman in sales to overseas militaries.
South Korea is the third country, alongside Israel and Japan, to purchase the aircraft through the federal government’s program.
Other countries are also using the fighter aircraft to replace aging planes in their fleets, including the U.S., the Netherlands, Turkey, Norway, Australia, Italy and the U.K.
Canada, Denmark and Singapore are considering using the F-35.
“The F-35 program was designed from the beginning to be an international program,” Whitaker said.
Laura Siebert, spokeswoman for the F-35 program, said it’s unparalleled in its reach. The U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy are also buying the fighters as older aircraft are retired.
“This is an unprecedented program,” Siebert said.
The F-35 program supports jobs in 46 states.
About 330 people in Marietta work on the F-35 now, but Whitaker said that number will jump to 1,000 when the program goes into full production, which is estimated to start 2018 or 2019.
Full production will mean creating about one plane a day, Whitaker said, and approximately 3,300 airplanes over the length of the program, which is expected to run about 20 years.
Jobs created by the F-35 program will be paid a competitive salary, Whitaker said. The average hourly rate for all of the Marietta plant’s employees is $30.
Lockheed in Marietta employs 6,300 people now.