Palmetto State leadership in aerospace – good for America, good for SC

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Lockheed Martin's T-50A prepares to lift off from the company's Greenville Operations Center at the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center. Photo by Andrew Moore.

By Rep. Phyllis Henderson

The Palmetto State has become a hub for next-generation military jets and pilot training, and I am proud of the important role South Carolina is playing in protecting and defending America, while bringing jobs to our state’s economy and making South Carolina a leading aerospace hub.

Recently, I had the chance to get an up-close look at some of that work happening here in the Upstate when I visited Lockheed Martin’s Greenville operations. With the relocation of Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Fighting Falcon assembly line to Greenville this year, we are on the cusp of creating as many as 250 jobs in South Carolina. There also is the possibility that Lockheed Martin will win the U.S. Air Force competition for a new training jet, which also would be built in Greenville and could bring an additional 250 jobs.

These high-tech — and high paying — manufacturing jobs will also have a ripple effect on the local economy. With more money to spend, these workers are likely to spend it here in the Upstate.

These aerospace manufacturing opportunities are good for our state and help cement the role of the Palmetto State as an aerospace manufacturing center.

I am especially proud that the legendary F-16 will be manufactured in Greenville. In fact, I have a personal connection to this jet because my nephew, soon-to-be Lt. Col. Alex Wolfard, is an F-16 test pilot with the U.S. Air Force. Lockheed Martin’s F-16 assembly line has moved from its facility in Texas to South Carolina to accommodate the ramp-up in production of the F-35 Lightning II in Texas. America’s allies around the world are buying the F-16, and the company decided the Upstate was the right place to move the assembly line. This move gives the Upstate a foothold in aerospace manufacturing and offers great opportunities for local workers.

In Beaufort, the Marine Corps Air Station is already contributing to South Carolina’s position in aerospace leadership. There, Marine Corps pilots from the U.S. and future F-35 pilots from around the globe are training at the most important Marine Corps base for the F-35, which is the world’s only 5th Generation fighter jet designed to defeat today’s most advanced threats, as well as those expected to emerge in coming decades.

What sets the F-35 apart is its advanced technology, enabling pilots to make real-time decisions on the battlefield, which can help save the lives of American fighters. Its stealth capabilities allow the fighter to get into enemy space undetected, which is critical to protecting America’s interests and providing vital, real-time intelligence.

The threats around the world and specifically by North Korea make it clear that the F-35 is critical to our national security. One pilot trained in Beaufort was the first American to fly F-35 missions over North Korea, and others will follow.

Today, there are about 30 F-35B aircraft on the flight line in Beaufort, and that number is expected to grow steadily. Eventually, the Marine Corps plans to base about 85 F-35s in South Carolina.

The F-35 program is having a significant economic impact, as well. In total, the economic impact of suppliers to the F-35 program from South Carolina has reached nearly $30 million, supporting more than 400 direct and indirect South Carolina jobs from 11 suppliers.

Without a doubt, maintaining air superiority is essential to preserving global security and stability, and high-tech manufacturing jobs are important to our economy. I am proud of the Palmetto’s State’s growing role as an aerospace leader. Our leadership is good for America and good for our state.
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Phyllis Henderson represents District 21 in the S.C. House.

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