Stevens seems unfazed by the predictions. The average F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon are 30 years old and have been used more rigorously since the Sept. 11 attacks, including patrolling the skies domestically, he said recently. "These fleets are aging and need to be replaced," Stevens said. "We think there will be sustained demand for the technology we have in the F/A-22 and F-35."
But the questions about the F/A-22, which is scheduled to replace the F-15 made by Lockheed rival Boeing Co., are more complicated. Some critics wonder whether the F/A-22, which will cost more than $130 million each, is needed given the low-tech conflicts the military is currently fighting. "There is nothing wrong with the word 'overmatch,' " Stevens said.
Lockheed Martin chief executive Robert J. Stevens speaks to employees in Owego, N.Y. Stevens, who took the helm in August, had his share of experience working a shop floor.
(Kevin Rivoli For The Washington Post)
Stevens has taken the helm as Lockheed continues to battle chief rival Boeing in court. Last year, Boeing admitted that a few of its employees had obtained Lockheed's proprietary information during a rocket launch competition, leading the Air Force to punish the firm. Lockheed sued.
Adding to the complicated relationship, former Air Force procurement official Darlene A. Druyun admitted last month giving Boeing preferential treatment. In one competition Boeing was favored over Lockheed in a bid to upgrade the electronics on the C-130 Hercules transport plane.
Lockheed and other competitors are protesting the C-130 contract. Stevens told employees the company filed its protest in order to get a full accounting of Druyun's actions.
In the close-knit defense industry, where companies compete one day and then cooperate on billion-dollar programs the next, these types of scuffles are unusual. Lockheed has a "professional relationship with Boeing," Stevens said.
"In our business we compete and we cooperate," he said before adding: "You don't see Ford and Chrysler competing on one day and cooperating on the other."
Stevens is also mindful to keep Lockheed out of similar trouble. In speeches to employees, he stresses: "There is nothing that would take the operating momentum away from our company today, to distract us from doing all the things that we need to do, as sure as a violation of ethics and integrity and business conduct."
Stevens follows two chief executives who are legends in the industry -- Vance D. Coffman and Norman R. Augustine. For his part, Stevens will concentrate on the nuts and bolts of management. He acknowledges that his rise to top executive "comes with a good amount of luck, good fortune on my part."
"I wouldn't overestimate the value one person brings, notably me," he said. "It's all about the team."