By Mike Stone
WASHINGTON, May 19 (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin said on Tuesday it will slow production of its stealthy F-35 fighter jets at its Texas facility, possibly delaying delivery of between 18 and 24 jets due to a parts shortage as the coronavirus hampers production across the jet's vast supply chain.
Greg Ulmer, who runs Lockheed Martin's F-35 program, told Reuters in an interview that "we're going to slow the production rate down for about two to three months."
The virus' impact on defense production was foreshadowed by Ellen Lord, the Pentagon's chief weapon's buyer, who in April said she anticipated that major weapons programs would experience a three-month delay.
Companies that make parts for the structural components of the jet aircraft are having to slow production due to the virus, Ulmer said.
The company said in a statement it expects the financial impact "to be consistent with what we've reported previously," and that they will share any new information during the next earnings call.
Ulmer cautioned that it was too soon to say the company would not meet its delivery target of 141 F-35 jets, "because we have the ability to surge, and we'll be working with our suppliers to do everything we can to come out of this on the backside strong."
Lockheed Martin has exceeded its 2019 goal of 131 F-35 deliveries by 3 jets.
The parts slowdown began in early to mid-April, when European suppliers began to feel the impacts of the coronavirus. Later, suppliers in the U.S. were impacted, Ulmer said.
The slower production schedule will begin on May 23.
Ulmer said the slowdown could last through late-July, but could be extended or shortened depending on suppliers.
F-35 assembly facilities in Japan and Italy were both impacted by COVID-19 earlier this year. (Reporting by Mike Stone Editing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio)