Dain Hancock is executive vice-president of Lockheed Martin Corpation and president of the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics company. A mechancial engineer by training, he began his career with General Dynamics in Fort Worth in 1966 and is a former F-16C/D programme director. Before to assuming his current position in 2000, he was president of Lockheed Martin's former Tactical Aircraft Systems. He talks to Flight International's Paul Lewis.

7286 "There is a robust base for F-16s and I believe there will be other sales to countries that want to fill out their force structure."

Q: How Important is the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme to the future of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics?

A: Very clearly the long-range programme for manned fighters is JSF. We recognise the importance of that within Aeronautics and across the entire corporation. Vance Coffman and the entire board of directors all pay particular attention to where this programme is and ensuring we invest as we need to invest, and we perform as we need to perform to keep this programme moving forward correctly.

Q: Can you bring us up to date with progress on the JSF programme?

A: We're not quite two years into the programme and halfway to the first flight scheduled at the end of 2005. We've completed PDR (preliminary design review) and have a couple of open action items to complete this month.

As with any preliminary design phase you work through a lot of configuration issues and that's what we've been doing. We have made a number of design changes to ensure the weight comes in where we want it.

As we begin to build our detailed weight packages, every indication is that we're on track to be where we need to be from a weight standpoint. PDR is the first major event that signals we have an aircraft and configuration that work and can begin to build as we move towards the critical design review in the spring of next year.

Q: The F-22 is a programme that has faced a number of challenges. Is the programme now tracking to schedule in terms of flight testing, operational testing and entry into service?

A: We're closing rapidly on the development programme. We've closed a lot of issues that have popped up from time to time: the canopy, vertical stabiliser and so on. We've done much of the final envelope expansion on the aircraft from a structural standpoint. The single open issue that we're closing on is the software and related stability issues.

We've made very significant progress in the last couple of months. All of this will culminate in the initial operational test and evaluation beginning in October. There are four aircraft now dedicated to training the pilots and maintenance crews. From a production standpoint we're ramping up and expect to deliver 11 aircraft this year

Q: Has the challenge now become a political one of sustaining support for the programme?

A: While there were issues a few years ago about whether the programme continued or not, the questions today are more along the line of what is an appropriate production rate for this year and next year to get to the neighbourhood of 300 aircraft.

We're stepping down in terms of cost and in fact were able to add an additional aircraft last year because of cost reduction initiatives. We're down about 40% plus on our Lot 3 aircraft from the original PRTV (production representative test vehicle) buy.

Q: How much longer can you keep the F-16 production line flowing?

A: Today we have firm contracts and deliveries that take us out to 2009. The latest customer is Poland, we've now finalised Chile and have still got Oman to finalise. There is a robust base for F-16s and I believe there will be other sales to countries that want to fill out their force structure, knowing some time over the next 10 years the line is probably going to shut down.

Exactly when that will be is dependent upon the continued stability of JSF. If JSF stays on track, as budgeted and committed to by all the countries and ramped up to production in 2010, then I think you'll see countries begin to switch to JSF. We see potentially another couple of hundred sales.

Q: Now that you have a USAF multi-year contract in place for the C-130J, do you expect to see more export sales?

A: Now there is a multi-year in place there is a stable base for C-130Js out to 2009 and that tells countries considering replacing their earlier models, or looking at new, that this is a stable programme that is going to be a significant part of the USAF inventory. A number of countries are in discussions with us; one that is very openly having discussions at the moment is Portugal.

Q: Do you see the go-ahead for the Airbus A400M having any impact on the C-130J programme?

A: I think we'll see how that plays out over time. I would certainly question the availability of the aircraft on the schedule advertised for a number of reasons, the developmental spend time as well as the budgeting. The time when it could become a competitor is really a decade away.

Q: The C-5 Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Programme is now in development. Is there any disappointment that this might not now stretch to the full 126-aircraft C-5A/B Galaxy fleet?

A: There is a lot of work still be done by our customer in terms of what heavylift needs will be in the future. There is plenty of time for this to play out. The intent at the moment is to do the C-5Bs. That carries us six to seven years into the future. We'll see where the rest of the programme goes at that point.

Q: How important is the US Navy's Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) programme and what will this do for sustaining international P-3 operators?

A: The MMA programme continues to be affected by some uncertainty. There are a number of competing requirements that the navy is trying to deal with as it looks at MMA, the EP-3 replacement, whether to go with an ISR platform, whether it's manned or unmanned.

We have obviously spent a lot of time working with the navy and are under contract to focus on one element and that is a rebuilt P-3, which is the only thing that fits into the current budget as far as we see it. Elements of this are already being done today. There are various international platforms that have been upgraded with new wings and other things.

Q: What do you see as the future for the T-50 programme and will it be a core Lockheed Martin product?

A: We're a significant partner and have been since the start of the programme and continue to remain engaged. If there is an opportunity to put the T-50 into the US marketplace in the future I would fully expect Lockheed Martin to have the lead for that. In terms of the relationship and what role we play as T-50 goes into production, we and KAI will make the appropriate decision either to continue on the path we are on or change the business arrangement.

Q: At a time when a number of other major companies have shifted their focus towards network-centric systems, will Lockheed Martin remain primarily focused on being an aircraft manufacturer?

A: Our primary competency is as a systems integrator of complex military aircraft products. That's the full spectrum of things and that does include turning aircraft out the door. We adjust the internal competencies that go with that as we talk about network -centric warfare and making sure our products are integrated so they are compatible. But there is no blurring in our minds about what our mission objectives are.

Source: Flight Daily News