Lockheed Martin’s choice of Greenville, S.C., as the site of its T-50A final assembly and checkout facility followed “extensive analysis” of all the locations where the company makes aircraft, Lockheed Skunk Works head Rob Weiss said Thursday. Greenville won out because of the “competitive cost structure” of the location and the “flexible workforce” there. It made more financial sense to choose Greenville instead of Marietta, Ga., Weiss said, even though Marietta has unused floor capacity since the F-22 line shut down. Lockheed does some P-3, C-130, and F-16 work at Greenville, and Weiss acknowledged without comment that the International Machinists Union has not organized in South Carolina; an important reason why Boeing put its 787 Dreamliner plant there. Lockheed could start T-50A deliveries from Greenville “by the end of the year,” Weiss said, even though the USAF likely won’t choose the T-X winner until 2017 or later. He told Air Force Magazine that the T-50A – which retains the hardpoints and some other capabilities of the Korean Aerospace Industries FA-50 light fighter – could become a preferred “export fighter” to US allies who don’t want or can’t manage more expensive or sophisticated jets like the F-16 and F-35. The Greenville facility is located at the former Donaldson AFB, which closed in 1962 and became Donaldson Center Airport.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.