New F-35 orders boost Marietta plant

Lockheed Martin’s Marietta plant will benefit from a new deal between the defense contractor and the U.S. Defense Department for more F-35 fighter jets.

The Pentagon plans to buy 71 more of the radar-evading jets, parts of which are built at the Marietta plant. The plant produces the center wing assembly - a major part of the fuselage - doors and panels, and specially coated horizontal and vertical tails.

The parts are shipped to Fort Worth, Texas, where the F-35’s assembly is completed.

The local spokesman for the F-35 program, Jeff Rhodes, said the new agreement means work continues uninterrupted in Marietta, and he doesn’t expect any changes in staffing.

“It will have some impact going forward but not immediately,” Rhodes said of the new orders.

The program employs 330 workers in Marietta, including 230 mechanics who work directly on the F-35, along with engineers and managers.

The F-35 production line was set up in 2010, and the plant has delivered 48 center wing assemblies so far. It has delivered 24 of the 38 assemblies it is scheduled to send to Texas this year.

The plant delivers a center wing assembly every five days, shipping its most recent one Tuesday. The goal is to reduce that delivery time to one assembly a day by 2016.

Lockheed Martin will have 166 of the aircraft delivered or under contract with the new deal, up from 95, according to Rhodes. The deal announced this week includes a sixth batch of 36 figher jets and a seventh batch of 35.

The government reportedly is getting the new jets at a discount. While no cost figures were disclosed, the Associated Press has reported costs vary by the features in each F-35 model, but can reach $169 million per unit.

Versions of the plane are being built for the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines.