WASHINGTON – Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin Corp. and Seattle’s Boeing Co. agree on at least one thing in their battle for a $200 billion military aircraft contract: Whoever wins will test the next-generation fighter aircraft at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
The government is scheduled to announce late Friday which of the two companies has won the contract to build 3,000 Joint Strike Fighters, which will supply the Air Force, Marines and the Navy, as well as the British navy and air force.
The Patuxent River base will be one of two primary flight test facilities, along with Edwards Air Force Base in California, for the new planes, said Kathy Crawford, a public affairs officer with the JSF program. Testing is expected to start in 2005, but could conceivably bring decades more business to the bases, as the plane is upgraded over the years.
“It will be a big and long-term piece of business for the base and will keep levels of activity high as they have been over the past couple of years,” said John Savich, St. Mary’s County economic and community development director.
The program is expected to have a favorable economic impact, said Savich, but no one can for sure at this point how much of an impact. That will largely depend on who wins the contract Friday.
Officials at both Lockheed Martin and Boeing confirmed this week that they will conduct tests at Patuxent River. If Lockheed wins, nine of its 22 prototype aircraft would undergo testing at the base, including simulated carrier runs nearby, said John Kent, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin’s JSF program.
“Based on our current plans, there would be significant JSF activity in the Pax River area,” Kent said.
Boeing also said it intends to use the base.
“Our plans all along have included Pax River,” said Randy Harrison, a spokesman for Boeing, although he did not know the specific number of aircraft Boeing might send to the base.
Harrison said the base could host tests for the entire time the JSF planes are in production. Even after the prototype development stage, which is expected to run for 10 years, periodic testing will be necessary for the entire 30 to 40 years of the program.
“That’s why bases like Pax River are so important, not just in the development, but in the continuing evolution of the airplane,” Harrison said. It is therefore “not unreasonable” to think testing by Boeing at Patuxent River could continue through the first half of the century, Harrison said.
Savich said testing at the base is inevitable because of its convenience, with its mix of ground and flight testing facilities all in one place.
“We know there is testing and evaluation that can be done here better than anywhere else,” he said. “The neat thing about Pax River is it’s got such a full spectrum of research test and development facilities.”
The base, which accounts for about one-third of the jobs in St. Mary’s County, has already hosted test flights for both companies.
The county has been grappling with an influx of traffic and residents that came to the area during the 1990s, when the base expanded under a military base realignment program. But road improvements and school construction that were required for that expansion are largely complete, Savich said.
Because of that, the county is ready to deal with any additional jobs that come as a result of the JSF program, he said.
“We think we’re real well-positioned to take care of this,” Savich said.