Defense Chief Visits
Cynthia Vega reports
FORT WORTH - Monday was a red-letter day at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth as Defense Secretary Robert Gates paid his first visit to the sprawling facility on the city's west side.
It was a chance for him to see the company's F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter as the world's biggest defense contractor ramps up production.
Gates spent 90 minutes touring the Fort Worth assembly plant and focusing on the F-35 - from the cockpit assembly to the wings and the landing gear. He accepted an invitation to sign the fuselage of a jet on display in a hangar.
Lockheed workers are currently finishing one of the $59 million aircraft each month, but plans are to increase production to one every day by 2016. Lockheed will need more workers to make that happen.
"Our planned buy of these airplanes at this point is in the neighborhood of between 2,400 and 2,500, with hundreds more being purchased by our foreign partners," the secretary said. "This is a huge program."
Gates also answered questions about the U.S. war effort in Afghanstan, saying that he believes it is important to hold the line there given that Americans are on the attack against the Taliban in areas where they have not been challenged before.
The secretary said that he remains very concerned about the number of U.S. casualties and about the size of America's footprint in Afghanistan.