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Lockheed's new F-35 leader to face familiar challenges

When Lockheed Martin executive Larry Lawson assumes control of F-35 operations and manufacturing on 7 June, the F-22 programme manager since 2004 will confront a familiar set of challenges, but on an even grander scale.

Lockheed announced on 3 May that Lawson will succeed F-35 executive vice-president and general manager Dan Crowley, who is promoted to chief operating officer for the aeronautics sector amid a Congressionally mandated review over projected cost overruns and delays.

"It's an ideal time to transition leadership as we prepare for rapid growth," says Ralph Heath, executive vice-president of Lockheed's aeronautics sector.

Crowley's F-35 staff is negotiating prices for the fourth annual lot of low-rate initial production, with pressure rising to convert as much of the contract from cost-plus to fixed-price as possible.

 © Lockheed Martin

By the time Lawson assumes control, Lockheed is likely to have a signed contract that converts prices for at least the F-35A conventional take-off and landing variant to the fixed-price format, where the contractors assume most of the risk for cost overruns.

Eventually, Lawson will face pressure by the US Department of Defense to convert the entire contract to fixed-price in the fifth annual LRIP contract, which will be negotiated next year.

More immediately, Lawson will face fresh Congressional scrutiny after the DoD completes a mandatory recertification review triggered by projected cost overruns over the programme's lifetime of between 57% and 89%.

Lawson inherits the F-35 at nearly the same period of its history as the F-22 stood in 2004. As he moved from managing Lockheed's weapons business to the Raptor programme, the company was also negotiating the fifth low of low-rate production.

A few weeks after Lawson assumed control, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved a recommendation to reduce the F-22 programme from about 270 aircraft to 179. Lawson worked to stabilise manufacturing costs while the F-22's allies in the US Air Force and Congress attempted to overturn the decision. In 2009, however, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates decided to halt F-22 production after 187 aircraft.

To avoid further production cuts on the F-35, Lawson again must stabilise production costs and increase the pace of flight testing. As he sorts out day-to-day managerial tasks behind the scenes, Tom Burbage, executive vice-president and general manager for F-35 integration, will continue to be Lockheed's most visible spokesman to the public and liaison to international partners.

Lawson will be replaced on the F-22 programme by George Schultz, who has served as deputy general manager since November 2008.

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