Lockheed Martin’s Greenville facility gears up for major projects in 2018

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A C-5M Super Galaxy (center) and T-50A trainer jet (front) sit on the tarmac at Lockheed's Greenville facility. Photo provided.

Since 1984, Lockheed Martin, a Maryland-based aerospace and defense company, has provided modification, maintenance, repair, and overhaul services for both military and civil aircraft from its 16-hangar facility at the S.C. Technology and Aviation Center in southern Greenville County. Now the company’s local operation is gearing up for another busy year. 

Here are four of the facility’s biggest projects so far in 2018:

Supporting the C-5M Super Galaxy 

Lockheed has been awarded a $7.6 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to perform “supply chain management, repair, and technical support services” on two C-5M Super Galaxies.

The project will be managed by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, but some of the work will be performed at Lockheed’s Greenville facility.

Leslie Farmer, a spokesperson for Lockheed’s Greenville operations, said crews would spend several months installing upgraded communication and navigation systems in the two aircraft. The work is expected to last through July. It won’t, however, create any jobs.

“The support contracts we receive for the C-5 don’t have a tremendous impact on our bottom line, but they keep our workforce stable and showcase our capabilities with large aircraft,” said Don Erickson, site director for Lockheed’s Greenville operations.

Refurbished recently with more powerful engines and enhanced cockpit computers, the C-5Ms are the only U.S. transport planes that can make a nonstop transcontinental flight while carrying military cargo and personnel. The Air Force currently operates 52 C-5Ms, which are stationed at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and Travis Air Force Base in California.

A Lockheed Martin C-5M Super Galaxy lifts off from a facility in Marietta, Ga. Photo by Thinh D. Nguyen, Lockheed Martin.

Erickson said the upcoming work at Lockheed’s facility in Greenville is part of the Air Force’s two-phase program to upgrade its fleet of C-5A/B/Cs to the C-5M configuration, which provides improved reliability, efficiency, and maintainability.

The program’s first phase, known as the Avionics Modernization Program, improves the cockpit and traffic management systems of the aircraft. The second phase, known as the Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program, replaces the engines and modifies the electrical, fuel, and hydraulic systems.

Lockheed began modification work on C-5s in 2015, according to Farmer. The company also previously performed the kitting for the Avionics Modernization Program. “In total, 52 aircraft kits were produced from Greenville and sent to Dover AFB and Travis AFB, where Lockheed Martin Field Team Operations employees completed the installation,” said Farmer.

The C-5 modernization program is expected to conclude this year. Now the Air Force is looking to bring eight C-5M Super Galaxies out retirement. In 2015, officials placed the aircraft in “backup inventory” to save $60 million in operating costs.

“We’re going to buy back two a year for four years, if we’re able to have a predictable budget to get the fleet back to a higher quality,” Lt. Gen. Jerry Harris, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, told the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee during a Congressional hearing in May 2017.

The Air Force’s budget for 2018 includes a combination of transportation working capital funds and operations and maintenance funds to upgrade two C-5Ms, according to a news release from the Department of Defense. When modifications to the aircraft are complete, Lockheed’s pilots in Greenville will perform check flights and deliver them to Travis Air Force Base.

Erickson said Lockheed’s facility in Greenville would likely conduct future contract work on the remaining C-5Ms. “Our crews have proven themselves to the Air Force time and time again. And we have the space to accommodate the work,” he said. 

Storing the Black Hawk Helicopter 

Lockheed’s Greenville facility is also working to become a hub for helicopter work. 

The facility recently entered into an “inner-company work transfer agreement” with Sikorsky, a Lockheed company, to temporarily store 25 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters before they’re sent to a facility in West Palm Beach, Fla., according to Erickson.

Crews will also perform preservation work. “When you store aircraft, you can’t just put them away for six months and dust them off,” Erickson said. “You have to occasionally run the engines and make repairs.”

The UH60 Black Hawk is the U.S. Army’s primary medium-lift utility transport and air assault aircraft. The four-bladed, twin-engine utility helicopter is also used by numerous other countries, including Japan, Korea, China, and the Philippines.

A UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter flies above the Afghan countryside. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith/Released.

Erickson said the agreement with Sikorsky positions Lockheed’s facility in Greenville to win additional helicopter work in the future.

Last year, Lockheed announced that Sikorsky’s production headquarters in Connecticut had beaten Greenville and other facilities across the country for a contract with the Defense Department to build a fleet of CH-53 King Stallion helicopters for the Marine Corps.

The Greenville facility was widely considered the strongest competitor, as it provides a number of services for military aircraft, including the Navy’s P-3 Orion. But it ultimately lost out on the $300 million contract because it lacked a helicopter production line and a workforce skilled in helicopter manufacturing, according to Sikorsky spokesperson Paul Jackson.

Lockheed’s facility in Greenville has since submitted a bid for a contract with Sikorsky to keep Black Hawk helicopters in the Upstate through 2023, according to Erickson. “We’re relatively unique in what we can do, so I don’t think we’re going to have any problems securing the work,” he said.

Erickson added that Lockheed would announce the contract’s winner later this year.

Preparing for the F-16 Viper 

Meanwhile, Lockheed is modifying a 110,000-square-foot hangar in Greenville to house the production of the F-16 Viper, a fourth-generation, multi-role fighter jet.

Lockheed announced plans last year to relocate the fighter jets from Fort Worth, Texas, to Greenville to make room for the production of the F-35, a fifth-generation fighter jet with stealth capabilities. The U.S. State Department has since approved the sale of 19 Lockheed F-16 Vipers to the government of Bahrain. Lockheed plans to hire at least 160 people at its Greenville facility in the third quarter of 2018 to support production, according to Erickson.

Erickson said production would begin with one aircraft a month. The facility’s modified hangar, however, will be able to support the production of two aircraft a month should Lockheed sell the aircraft to other countries. Lockheed is currently anticipating orders from Indonesia and Colombia.

The company is also working to secure a contract with the Indian government that would reportedly involve the purchase of 200 fighter jets.

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 40 aircraft after receiving fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft during a mission over Iraq on June 10, 2008. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway/Wikimedia.

Lockheed’s facility in Greenville would assemble some of the initial aircraft sold to India if the deal happens, according to spokesperson John Losinger. But most of the work would occur in India thanks to a partnership between Lockheed and the aerospace and defense arm of the Tata Group, India’s leading global enterprise. The contract would also allow India to export its F-16s, which means India could be competing with Lockheed’s Greenville operations for any work to upgrade about 3,200 F-16s currently in use by various countries.

Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with Teal Group, an aerospace consultancy in Fairfax, Va., told the Upstate Business Journal last year he doesn’t expect Greenville to produce many of the supersonic jets.

“The F-16’s only real hope for a sustainable line is an India order, and that means building in India,” he said, adding that Lockheed’s deal to make F-16s in India with Tata was “an inevitable agreement, and Greenville was always going to be an interim site, at best.”

Securing the Air Force’s T-X Contract 

Lockheed’s Greenville facility, however, remains a potential location for the assembly of a different supersonic military aircraft — the T-50A.

The Air Force announced in 2016 that it wants 350 new aircraft for undergraduate pilot training. Instead of submitting a clean-sheet design, Lockheed Martin partnered with Korean Aerospace Industries to offer a modified version of the T-50 Golden Eagle, a supersonic advanced trainer jet that was developed by the two companies in the 1990s.

The upgraded aircraft design features an aerial refueling receptacle on its dorsal and a ground-based training system for pilots. It also features a fifth-generation cockpit similar to what’s installed in the F-35 Lightning II and open-system architecture, which allows for a faster integration of new sensors, weapons, and other capabilities. Lockheed submitted the design to the Pentagon for consideration in June.

In October, Air Force Undersecretary Matt Donovan said he expects the contract, which is valued up to $16 billion, to be awarded this spring. If awarded the contract, Lockheed plans to produce four aircraft a month at its Greenville facility, creating between 200 and 250 jobs.

Two Lockheed Martin T-50A trainer jets fly above Greenville. Photo provided by Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed, however, isn’t the only company competing for the contract.

Boeing, for instance, partnered with Swedish aerospace firm Saab to develop a twin-seat, single-engine trainer jet that features a glass cockpit modeled to resemble that of the Lockheed F-35 Lightning II, and an open-systems architecture. The aircraft, known as the BTX, includes elements of the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Saab Gripen combat aircraft.

Meanwhile, DRS, the U.S. subsidiary of Italian aerospace firm Leonardo, has submitted its T-100, which is based on the M-346 Master advanced jet trainer. Textron AirLand, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon canceled their plans to enter the competition last year.

Aboulafia said Lockheed has a 55 percent chance of winning the contract since the T-50A doesn’t involve a lot of upfront development costs that add to the price. “This entire competition comes down to the costs,” he said. “Boeing has a good aircraft, but Lockheed has the upper-hand because there’s less risk involved with their design. It’s been demonstrated.”

Lockheed’s Greenville facility has conducted more than 90 test flights of the T-50A since two of the aircraft arrived from South Korea last year, according to Farmer. 

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