For Lockheed's F-16 fighter, still buyers after all these years
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The end of the line for the F-16 jet fighter is set to go on receding, the top executive of manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp said on Thursday.
"We've been having that conversation for over a decade," Chief Executive Robert Stevens said in an interview. Pressed on his current expectation when it would close, he shot back: "We'll have that conversation for over a decade."
As recently as last year, the last jet had been projected to emerge from the company's Fort Worth, Texas, plant by mid-2013 unless new export orders came.
They did. Lockheed is now building F-16s for Egypt, Oman and Iraq - enough to keep the line going until at least January 2016, Joseph LaMarca, a company spokesman, said by email.
More than 4,500 F-16s have been delivered to 26 nations since production began in 1975. Major upgrades to all F-16 versions are being offered by Lockheed, the Pentagon's No. 1 supplier by sales.
Stevens said he expected continuing demand for the F-16 even as customers start to trade up to Lockheed's radar-evading F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, now in early production.
"We'll certainly have a line in position to satisfy that demand," he said in an interview with Marillyn Hewson, the chief operating officer who is to replace him as Lockheed CEO effective Jan. 1.
One significant potential customer is Taiwan, which has sought as many as 66 new F-16C/D models for years. Lockheed representatives steered questions about any such sale to the governments involved.
President Barack Obama's administration told Senator John Cornyn in a letter dated April 27 that it shared his concerns about Taiwan's "growing shortfall" in fighter planes as its F-5s are retired, notwithstanding an upgrade of 145 early-model F-16A/Bs that is getting under way. Cornyn is a Texas Republican.
The White House promised him at the time that Mark Lippert, a new assistant secretary of defense for Asian & Pacific security affairs - whose nomination to the job previously had been blocked by Cornyn to press for the sale - would seek a "near-term course of action" to address Taiwan's fighter gap, "including through the sale to Taiwan of an undetermined number of new U.S.-made fighter aircraft."
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