HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- For years, F-35 proponents have spoken of the positive economic impact the jet will bring to Hill Air Force Base and the Top of Utah -- but a new report claims that the impact has been vastly overstated.
According to the non-profit research group the Center for International Policy, Lockheed Martin has "greatly exaggerated" the number of U.S. jobs generated by the F-35 fighter jet, the Pentagon's costliest weapons program.
The company's claim that it has created 125,000 U.S.-based direct and indirect jobs in 46 states "is roughly double the likely number of jobs sustained by the program," the report says, which was released Wednesday.
"The real figure, based on standard estimating procedures used in other studies in the field, should be on the order of 50,000 to 60,000," the Washington-based center said.
In December 2013, the Pentagon announced what many had suspected for years -- that Hill had been selected as the new home for the Air Force's first operational fleet of the F-35A Lightning II.
Air Force officials chose Hill after a lengthy analysis of multiple locations that took nearly four years. The process included an extensive Environmental Impact Statement that examined impacts on factors like air quality, noise and land use.
The base had previously been tabbed as the Air Force's preferred site for the F-35 since 2010. Hill is also home to the F-35 depot, which provides fleet maintenance support.
The base is projected to receive 72 of the jets. They will ultimately replace the 48 F-16 Fighting Falcons currently assigned to Hill.
The Air Force's final Environmental Impact Statement for the basing of the F-35 was released late last year. While the EIS doesn't mention indirect jobs that will be created outside of Hill, it notes that the jet will bring only 13 new military positions to the base.
The EIS also notes that more than $40 million in construction projects will need to be completed at Hill in order to accommodate the new jets, which are scheduled to start arriving at the base in 2015.
Bob Delaney, an executive at Lockheed Martin, said more than 1,000 jobs associated with the jet already exist in Utah, creating an $80 million economic impact.
The number of jobs generated by the $391.2 billion F-35 program has been a key selling point for Lockheed Martin in mustering support in Congress.
Lockheed Martin spokesman Michael Rein said the Bethesda, Md.-based company stands by its figure, which he said is derived from detailed U.S. subcontractor numbers and a standard methodology for estimating how many indirect jobs are created by one direct job.
"This is an art more than a science," Rein said, disputing the center's report in a telephone interview. "The numbers don't include any direct jobs overseas. Lockheed Martin's U.S. jobs numbers "can easily be called conservative when you talk about the number of jobs worldwide," he said.
Rein said the program thus far has created 32,500 jobs in the United States tied directly to production of the aircraft, its engine and components, and another 92,500 indirect jobs.
He faulted the CIP study's central conclusion that Lockheed's figures indicate that almost four indirect jobs are created for every direct job. Lockheed's methodology indicates that about three, not four, indirect jobs are created by every direct F-35 job, he said.
But William Hartung, the report's primary author, said in an emailed statement: "The bottom line is that they claim many more indirect jobs than other studies in the field" that have assessed the relationship between direct and indirect jobs.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, told the Standard-Examiner that Hartung has been trying to undermine the F-35 since it began.
"Opponents of the F-35 have been cooking up ways to demonize the project since its inception and this report is just the latest of their efforts," Bishop said. "Regardless of whatever Lockheed projects, the F-35 is essential to the future safety and security of our country and our allies. The fact remains that we need the F-35. Our aging fleet of aircraft are unable to keep pace with advancements occurring in other foreign and often unstable countries."
Contact reporter Mitch Shaw at 801-625-4233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23.