Is Lockheed Building the Air Force’s Secret Fighter?
Executives drop some not-so-subtle clues.
Is Lockheed Martin building a secret new fighter jet that U.S. Air Force officials revealed last month?
Company executives dropped some not-so-subtle hints about the company’s growing backlog of classified military work, including one project that requires erecting a new building at its secretive Skunk Works facility in Palmdale, California. They also pointed to revenue growth within the company’s Aeronautics division, which includes the Advanced Development Programs shop that created the fabled U-2 and SR-71 spy planes and F-117 stealth attack jet.
“We do anticipate seeing strong double-digit growth at our Skunk Works — our classified Advanced Development Programs,” Lockheed CFO Ken Possenriede said during the company’s quarterly earnings call with Wall Street analysts. “We continue to execute on...recent awards.”
Last month, Air Force leaders revealed they had built and flown a prototype for the Next Generation Air Dominance program — an effort to develop a new generation of warplanes. Service officials said the project relied heavily on digital engineering, but declined to reveal much else, including what company or companies were working on the new aircraft. The classified aircraft project is believed to have started near the end of the Obama administration.
During an interview after the call, Possenriede mentioned a classified project that was the Aeronautics division’s top priority when he worked there between 2016 and 2019.
“It was bid aggressively [and] we happen to have won that one,” he said. “And we're very happy with the results [and] the outcome right now.”
On the earnings call, Possenriede said that “in the classified area of Aeronautics, there are a multitude of opportunities out there.”
He said the company needs to build a building for a classified project in Palmdale, adding that “there are other customers that have a keen interest in that program.”
In 2019, Lockheed’s Aeronautics division booked $19.6 billion in sales over the first nine months of 2020. That’s nearly 13 percent higher than what the sector booked over the same period in 2019. Overall, the company will spend about $1.7 billion on capital expenditures, like new facilities, in 2020 and 2021, Possenriede said.
“We're going to keep investing in organic capital expenditures to build capacity to deliver on our core business,” Lockheed CEO Jim Taiclet said on the call. “Much of what we spent this year is on classified programs in both aeronautics and space, that are growing relatively rapidly. And so we're going to continue to do those organic investments every time we can.”
Aeronautics is not the only division seeing a bump in classified contracts. Lockheed’s Space and Missile and Fire Control divisions are also seeing an uptick in secret work.
The missiles division, which is working on hypersonic weapons projects with the Aeronautics and Space divisions, won what Possenriede called a “large classified program” that is still in development.
“We will start to see — in the next four to five years — that go into limited-rate production, and then ultimately into production,” he said.