Lockheed Martin celebrates 20 years in Pinellas

- The F-35 fighter is built to be America's "do anything" warplane for all military branches. The new jet hasn't been ordered into combat yet, but the builder of the jet, Lockheed Martin, says more than 200 are now deployed and awaiting orders.

"Today the U.S. Marine Corps has F-35Bs deployed to Okinawa and they just moved them to Guam," said Joe LaMarca, Jr., Lockheed Martin's vice president of communications.

Parts of the F-35, including the jet's canopies, are manufactured at Lockheed Martin's facility in Pinellas Park, which is marking its 20th anniversary in Pinellas County. The anniversary event follows President Donald Trump's announcement that the U.S. will step up its role in Afghanistan.

"Nobody wants to have to be over there, but I also understand how important it is to fight terrorism," says U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, (D) St. Petersburg, who attended an anniversary ceremony the Lockheed Martin facility.

Lockheed Martin says the F-35 will dominate the battlefield. The planes cost $95 million apiece, though LaMarca says the cost will be reduced as more planes are produced.

He says 240 people now work at the Pinellas facility. They expect to add 80 to 100 employees over the next several years.

"It makes me feel proud that we have them here in our county because these are the folks that keep our soldiers and military families safe," says Pinellas County Commission Chairman Janet Long. 

LaMarca calls the F-35 a "game changer."  It could soon be ordered into the game for the first time.

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