The potential for defense budget cuts and layoffs at Lockheed Martin loom over plans to deliver the first F-35 fighter jets to Nellis Air Force Base early next year, though no decision has been announced about which programs might get cut and where.
The base in Las Vegas, Nevada is set to get 36 Joint Strike Fighter jets over 10 years. Automatic defense budget cuts of nearly $500 billion are set to take effect in January unless Congress agrees on another deficit-reduction plan or suspends the current plan.
Some Republican senators say it would be a mistake to cut the defense budget so steeply.
The cuts set for January would be the first round of 10 annual reductions. The cuts would be split between national security and other programs and aimed at reducing the federal deficit.
"We don't know how sequestration will affect any individual program or facility but, as we've consistently said, we will follow the law with respect to sequestration and the WARN Act," Lockheed Martin corporate spokesman Christopher Williams said Friday.
The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requires most employers with 100 or more employees to notify workers 60 days before mass layoffs.
Without action by Congress, Lockheed Martin would be forced to issue layoff notices at the end of October to many of its 120,000 workforce. They would include workers involved in manufacturing, testing and delivering the Joint Strike Fighter.
The Sequestration Transparency Act, signed by President Barack Obama on Aug. 7, requires the administration to reveal details about the $1.2 trillion in cuts. Williams said Lockheed Martin Corp. hopes to know some of those details by Sept. 8.
Last August, congressional Republicans demanded spending cuts in response to Obama's plea to raise the nation's borrowing authority by $2.1 trillion. As part of the negotiated deal, the two sides agreed on spending cuts and the creation of the bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. When that so-called "supercommittee" was unable to reach a consensus on a deficit-cutting plan last November, the countdown toward sequestration began.
Speculation about how the cuts could affect Nellis is premature because details of those cuts haven't been decided yet, a spokeswoman for the southern Nevada base told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
"We expect to have up to 36 F-35s assigned here between 2013 and 2022," Maj. Mae-Li Allison told the Review-Journal.
She said four F-35s are expected at the base in the first three months of next year.
Last month, Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte met with Air Force leaders at Nellis to discuss the potential effects of sequestration.
They suggested a plan that would postpone the automatic cuts for four months while the Obama administration worked out a deficit reduction plan. After the meeting, they said generals told them the cuts could devastate the top Air Force fighter pilot training program.
"Obviously, they are brave, strong people, and they can do anything. But there's no doubt that cuts would have a draconian effect on their ability to do their jobs," McCain said.
Graham said the future of Nellis would be "very dismal" if the cuts occur as currently planned.
The single-engine F-35, which is currently being test flown, can fly at 1½ times the speed of sound and evade radar detection with stealth technology. Versions developed for the Navy and Marine Corps can take off from short runways and aircraft carriers and land vertically.
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