Eglin's F-35 wingman: Lockheed FWB
By William Rabb
August 2014
...FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. -- While much of the world is turning to unmanned
aerial vehicles for weapons delivery, reconnaissance and more, Lockheed Martin in
Fort Walton Beach is turning up the afterburners on the F-35 program, the military's
most advanced manned fighter that's expected to be around at least another 50
years.
...“Our No. 1 focus in the area is supporting the F-35,” said J.R. McDonald, vice
president for corporate domestic business development for Lockheed’s Air Force
Programs.
...Eglin Air Force Base, next to Lockheed’s Fort Walton Beach headquarters, this
year accepted its 48th F-35 Lightning II, making the base home to the largest
contingent of the fifth-generation jets, and epicenter of the Pentagon’s push for joint
training and systems for all branches of the military.
...Lockheed, the nation’s largest defense contractor with worldwide operations,
opened its Fort Walton Beach shop less than 20 years ago. Since then, the Fort
Walton Beach operations have grown to almost 1,000 employees. They provide
much of the maintenance and support for the F-35 at Eglin, as well as most of the
academic and simulator training.
...Lockheed also provides support for other operations at the sprawling Eglin base,
including the weapons systems program at the Air Force's 96th Test Wing, and for
the Air Force's workhorse, the C-130 transport and gunship program, based largely
at Hurlburt Field, the Air Force special operations command on Eglin's southwest
corner. Lockheed also provides other special operations support, which company
officials won’t detail.
...The corporation's Fort Walton Beach operations also provide maintenance for the
F-22 tactical fighter, based at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Fla., to the
east.
...“So if you look across the region at each of the bases and look at their missions, in
some way or another, Lockheed Martin is supporting most of those missions at most
of the bases here in the region,” said McDonald, a former fighter pilot who lives and
works in the Fort Walton Beach area.
...In Okaloosa County alone, the F-35 program is expected to have a $1.6 billion
economic impact through 2016, according to the Economic Development Council of
Okaloosa County.
...The military's commitment to the F-35 and the increased number of special ops
programs at Eglin is so strong, in fact, that Eglin, one of the world’s largest military
bases, is running out of room. It’s asked the Florida Forest Service for permission to
conduct regular, frequent ground training in two nearby Florida state forests,
involving Green Beret-type troops, trucks, helicopters and V-22 vertical-landing
aircraft. State officials could make a decision early next year.
...Local and regional suppliers stand to gain from all this bounty at Eglin, Lockheed
officials said. Across Florida, the F-35 program already contracts with suppliers at 94
locations and produces more than 10,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to
Lockheed.
...A prime example of a local company that became a prime supplier for Lockheed is
Fort Walton Machining Inc., which provides parts and metal finishing for the F-35, the
F-22, the C-130 and other Lockheed programs. The company started in the 1980s
with a handful of employees, and gradually made a name for itself by providing near-
flawless products, McDonald said. The company bid on making some parts for the F-
35, then signed on to the Defense Department's Mentor-Protege Program, which
helps small and medium-sized companies learn how to meet the rigorous standards
for advanced military weapons systems, officials said.
...“It helped us tremendously with knowledge transfer, how the specs should be
written, that type of thing,” said Greg Britton, CEO of the machining company.
Lockheed sent technical experts from its Fort Worth, Texas, operation, where the F-
35 is built, to review the company's work, which now includes canopy, wing and
fuselage parts. “They were able to say, 'you should be doing it this way, not the other
way,'” Britton said.
...In 2011, Fort Walton Machining was named Lockheed's Small Business Supplier of
the year, and now employs more than 220 workers, with sales of more than $30
million, according to the company. This year, the state of Florida gave the company
its Governor’s Business Ambassador Award.
...“They wanted to be part of the F-35 program, and they found out the way to do
that was to be absolutely the best at what you do, to qualify as a supplier, then work
aggressively to provide the best product at the best price,” McDonald said.
...Britton's advice to other up-and-coming suppliers: Make sure your company is
approved by the AS9100 quality management system that is the standard for the
aerospace industry; and see that your products are built to precision standards and
are delivered on time.
...“Then just keep knocking on the door, trying to get work,” he said.
...While the F-35 is the most expensive weapon system ever built, with some
estimates ranging as high as $1.4 trillion, the military emphasis now is on cost-saving
and affordability, he said. So, Gulf Coast suppliers who can offer a quality product at
a better price stand a good chance of getting airborne.
...Lockheed, in fact, offers a number of programs to assist potential suppliers and
subcontractors. Information is available on the corporation website.
...The Okaloosa County Economic Development Council also heads up the Defense
Support Initiative, which works closely with Lockheed and local industry and
suppliers. More information can be found on the website.
...But for Lockheed, Fort Walton Machining and many of the growing number of
aerospace companies along the Gulf Coast corridor, future growth could be limited
without a greater supply of engineers, technicians, scientists and computer experts.
...McDonald was circumspect when asked about the need for more technically skilled
workers.
...“I wouldn’t say that we've had problems,” he said. “This area has an awful lot of
recently retired military people with tremendous skill sets, and we've been able to tap
into that.”
...But in coming years, as older workers retire, and the aerospace industry grows
along the Gulf Coast, the demand for workers will only increase.
...That's why Lockheed and others have made efforts to support science, technology,
engineering and math (STEM) programs. The company had no figures for what it
provides locally in STEM programs and scholarships, but McDonald said, “it’s not as
much as I would like to do.”
...In Florida, where Lockheed has a number of other operations, more than 4,000
Lockheed employees have donated more than 100,000 volunteer hours, said
Jennifer Allen, Lockheed Martin's director of worldwide media relations. The company
also has contributed more than $1.1 million to community programs, including
support for the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, the University of
Central Florida Academy for Mathematics and Science Program in Orlando, and the
Manatee Education Foundation in southwest Florida.
...“I like to tell people that it's maybe a little bit selfish on our part because we hire so
many engineering students that graduate from U.S. colleges and universities every
year, we recognize the long-term need for engineers in America, so we support that
as much as we can,” McDonald said.
...A young person who wants to work for Lockheed and stay in the area should start
on a STEM career path as early as middle school, McDonald said. After graduating
with an engineering degree, for example, that worker would probably have to spend a
few years in other Lockheed operations, perhaps in missile systems in Orlando,
before making his or her way back to the F-35 or other programs in Fort Walton
Beach, he said.

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