In the latest development in the ongoing F-35 saga, Lockheed Martin has laid out a roadmap for the weeks and months ahead. In a statement posted 19 March, the defence and aerospace giant announced plans to whittle back the number of jets produced this year, as well as a temporary restructuring of their workforce.
The company said that it will likely miss its production targets this year due to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. Originally, Lockheed Martin had planned to produce 141 of the F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter across the year.
But due to deep-seated supply chain issues and service disruptions caused by the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, it has tipped that this number is likely to fall by 18 to 24.
The company also laid out plans to restructure its Fort Worth operations. The Texas city is home to the headquarters of the Lockheed Martin Aerospace Company, where the bulk of US-based F-35 assembly takes place.
According to Lockheed Martin, the aerospace manufacturer is planning to throttle back on production for a period of at least three months. This will occur in line with an agreement reached with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) to allow for a temporary alternating work schedule for line employees.
The new schedule, which will begin 23 May, divides each shift into three groups. On a rotation, each group will work for two weeks and then will have a week off. During the adjusted three-week work schedule, employees who work 96 hours or more will be compensated an additional 24 hours for their off week while receiving full pay and benefits.
The alternate schedule allows Lockheed Martin to staff the production line in accordance with temporarily adjusted workflow requirements, which it said resulted from supplier delays. In addition, it provides a work rhythm that retains the expertise of the talented workforce and provides opportunities to adjust work to better support production.
“These are challenging times, but managing tough challenges is when the F-35 program performs at its best. The alternate work schedule maintains the specialized skillset of the employees and provides opportunities for us to adjust our workflow to account for supplier delays due to COVID-19,” said executive vice president for aeronautics Michele Evans. “Our F-35 workforce is the best in the world at what they do, and we will continue to deliver on our customer’s mission.”
The aerospace manufacturer said that this temporary alternate work schedule agreement will continue for its first three-week cycle. The company will then evaluate business needs and can alter the schedule as needed with the option to discontinue as warranted or continue until 4 September. Lockheed Martin and the IAM have also agreed to allow employees to assume voluntary furlough for 30 days where staff maintain benefits but forgo pay over this period.