The Navy confirmed Friday that it has selected Lockheed to develop a new maritime patrol aircraft under an initial $200,000 contract that is expected to lead to a $5-billion program running through 2001.
Lockheed would build 125 of the aircraft, known as the Long Range Air Anti-Submarine Capable Aircraft, or LRAACA. News of the contract was made public Thursday by industry officials, but the Navy did not formally announce the award until Friday.
Production of the new patrol plane would begin in 1992 and continue until 2001 at a peak rate of 18 aircraft per year, the Calabasas-based aerospace firm said. The company builds the current Navy patrol aircraft, the P-3 Orion, which would end production at about the time the LRAACA begins.
Lyle Schaefer, the LRAACA program manager, said the new aircraft has double the payload of sonar buoys, torpedoes, mines and missiles that the P-3 has. It is powered by four General Electric engines with Hamilton Standard propellers made out of new composite materials, providing for a 25% improvement in fuel efficiency over the P-3.
Lockheed officials said Friday that about 500 jobs on the new program will be located at its facilities in Marietta, Ga., and an undetermined number of jobs at its facility in Austin, Tex., leaving little parts fabrication work to be conducted in Burbank.
Still, the new LRAACA would be assembled in Palmdale and require a work force at least as large as the current P-3 work force of 3,000, company officials indicated. About 1,000 employees will be assigned to the LRAACA development program in Burbank and its Rye Canyon facility before production starts.
Pressure Over Layoffs
The jobs issue has fueled concerns among employees at Lockheed’s large facility in Burbank, which sprawls over 340 acres around the Burbank Airport.
The Georgia congressional delegation, which includes Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), has exerted pressure on Lockheed to offset massive layoffs at the Marietta plant on the C-5b program, which is winding down. The plant employed 20,000 at the C-5b peak, but is expected to hit 12,000 in the near future.
Some Burbank employees believe that the company is quietly planning to shut down its Burbank plant. Lockheed is studying whether it will close one of the largest parts production factories in the Burbank complex, known as the B-1 facility.
“We will, over the coming years, reduce the number of acres of land we are occupying in Burbank, but there is no plan to move entirely out of Burbank,” said Lockheed spokesman James Ragsdale.
Lockheed has put up for sale a large World War II-era warehouse and 15 acres of land. It recently sold another parcel to the city of Burbank.