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Pakistan's Order Lifts Lockheed F-16 Plant

By Charles R. Babcock and Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 26, 2005; Page D12

The Bush administration's decision to sell F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan is likely to be as warmly greeted in Fort Worth as it is in Karachi.

That's because Lockheed Martin Corp. has said it needs new orders for the jet before this fall, or it will have to take action to close the production line there that employs about 5,000 workers.

Dwindling F-16 orders made Lockheed's Fort Worth plant payroll decline to 5,000 early this year. (Michael Ainsworth -- Dallas Morning News)

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Lockheed spokesman Tom Jurkowsky said the company "has not been officially notified by the U.S. government of any agreement" with Pakistan.

Bethesda-based Lockheed, the nation's largest defense contractor, has produced more than 4,000 of the versatile F-16s since the late 1970s, nearly half of them for customers overseas. The Fort Worth plant delivered its last F-16 to the U.S. Air Force last month, Jurkowsky said, but is still building planes for the governments of Israel, Chile, Poland and the United Arab Emirates.

Lockheed and other global defense manufacturers depend on sales of sophisticated military weaponry to boost their bottom line. The company has sold F-16s to 24 countries and makes them overseas, too, in Europe, Turkey and Korea.

The Fort Worth plant had about 5,800 workers in January 2004. By this January, it was down to about 5,000, and it was scheduled to be down to 4,000 by next January, according to Jurkowsky.

It takes about three years to build an F-16, he added, noting the company has back orders for about 200 aircraft. "Right now the last one would come off the line in 2008," he said.

Richard Aboulafia, an aircraft analyst with the Teal Group in Fairfax, called the sale of two dozen fighter planes to Pakistan "a happy juxtaposition of the wants and needs" of an ally in the war on terrorism and Lockheed's troubled F-16 line. The bigger issue for Lockheed, he said, is the chance to sell another 100 or more F-16s to India, Pakistan's rival in the Asian subcontinent.

India, which uses some Soviet-era aircraft, has said it is in the market for new fighter planes. The imminent sale to Pakistan may cause the Indian government to consider the American plane.

Aboulafia recalled that Lockheed's production of the popular plane was "saved" in 1992 when the administration of President George H.W. Bush announced the sale of 150 F-16s to Taiwan.

The cost of the plane is determined by many variables, including how many are purchased and how they are equipped, Jurkowsky said. Aboulafia estimated that an F-16 "with a full tank of gas" costs between $30 million and $40 million, with upgrades, spare parts and other equipment adding 150 percent more to the price tag.

Despite the concerns Indian officials expressed yesterday about news of the sale to Pakistan, the analyst said the prospect of both countries buying F-16s is a positive. "Two countries that have F-16s have never fought a war."

Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.

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