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Commentary: Criticism about aircraft production is short-sighted

A Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, with components built in Huntington Beach, flies overhead.
(Courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on California’s manufacturers and small businesses. While Congress has taken quick actions to provide economic relief for impacted industries, there’s still much work left to do to help local businesses recover, protect much-needed jobs and help economies across the country rebound stronger than ever.

That’s why it’s a little disconcerting that instead of pursuing real solutions to help American workers, some members of Congress are jeopardizing the strength of a program that supports more than 250,000 direct or indirect jobs across the country, including more than 60 right here at Notthoff Engineering in Huntington Beach. The program being held under the microscope is the F-35 Lightning II — the most advanced aircraft the U.S. has to offer.

Instead of trying to nitpick flaws or look for faults in the F-35 program, members of Congress — including the House Oversight Committee — ought to recognize the program for what it is: an integral part of our national defense strategy that happens to be a major source of jobs for skilled American workers.

Particularly during these trying economic times, the F-35 program has remained a constant source of employment and economic activity. At Notthoff Engineering, we are proud members of the F-35 supply chain, helping contribute to the production of the state-of-the-art aircraft by manufacturing structure components. We are just one of the more than 1,800 suppliers working to bring the F-35 to life day in and day out.

Criticism about some of the F-35 program’s delays and setbacks are short-sighted and miss the bigger picture. Of course, proper oversight is always important, but it needs to be rooted in a clear understanding of how a program of this size and scope works.

The F-35 program is still maturing; there are bound to be hiccups in the road. However, when looked at from a 30,000-foot-view, so to speak, the program is outperforming expectations in every way. Just as production costs have decreased drastically since the program’s inception, so too are sustainment costs starting to decline.

The fact is, sustaining an aircraft of this magnitude requires long-term contracts with vendors working in high volumes in order to keep up with the growing demand for parts. That’s why fully supporting and maintaining funding for the F-35 program is so critical. Not only is it helping to equip our troops and allies with the most capable aircraft in the skies, but it is keeping the wheels of our economy greased and running smoothly, particularly for manufacturers and parts suppliers like us that have been faced with significant challenges as of late.

The F-35 has shown demonstrable success — not only with regard to providing taxpayer value but also when it comes to supporting local jobs and strengthening local economies. We are in a time when COVID-19 has hobbled the American economy and delayed or disrupted work for many manufacturers and engineers. Californians need the support the F-35 program provides now more than ever.

The bottom line is Congressional leadership should be working to protect local jobs and spur economic growth. One way to do that is to fully support the F-35 program and the long-term benefits it provides our businesses, our communities and our way of life. That’s what Congress should be doing — not nitpicking oversight details and potentially endangering this program as well as the small businesses it supports.

The writer is the chief operating officer of Notthoff Engineering based in Huntington Beach.

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