FORT WORTH, TEXAS: After graduating from college with a mathematics degree, the youngest son of Portuguese immigrants from south New Jersey got a break to go to work on a new combat system for Navy warships.
Orlando P. Carvalho’s work ultimately led to the development of a combat computer and radar system that is now aboard one-third of all Navy warships, known as the Aegis Weapon System.
“I cut my teeth definitely on that project,” he said.
After that, he moved outside of his engineering expertise and launched a marketing effort that convinced the Spanish Navy to buy the system that he had helped to develop.
“It was one of those opportunities where, at the beginning ... there wasn’t a lot of hope that we would be successful,” he said.
More than three decades later, Carvalho faces another new challenge: overseeing Lockheed Martin’s efforts to improve operations on the nation’s largest weapons program: the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
Selected in March as the top executive at Lockheed’s aeronautics division, Carvalho, 54, is charged with wringing success from a program that has been embattled by cost overruns and controversy almost since its inception in 2001.
“The F-35 program is the most significant undertaking that we, as a country, have ever done in the Defense Department,” Carvalho said at his office in west Fort Worth.
Carvalho, who previously was the top executive in charge of the F-35 program, was promoted at a critical juncture in the plane’s development, shortly after Pentagon leaders had publicly voiced frustration with rising costs and delays. He succeeded Larry Lawson, who left Lockheed and took an executive position at a smaller manufacturer.
Last month, Pentagon officials visiting the plant showed the first visible signs of support for the program in years. Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for acquisitions, told media at the Fort Worth factory on June 13 that the Pentagon expects to ramp up production of the F-35 in the fall. About 30 airplanes are expected to be completed by the end of the year.
“This is not the program I saw in 2010,” Kendall said. “It’s much more stable. ... Issues have been fleshed out, and we have a path to try to resolve them.”
What also became quickly apparent is that Carvalho’s appointment has eased tensions between the Pentagon and Lockheed, which has operations in Akron.
Last fall, Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan said the relationship between Lockheed and the military was “the worst I’ve seen.”
More recently, Bogdan, who heads up the F-35 program for the Pentagon, said that Carvalho is “making a positive difference” in the relationship with Lockheed, describing him as a “customer-focused leader.”
He said the new executive is driving people to “be accountable, produce results.” What’s more, Bogdan said, Carvalho is making good on Lockheed’s promise to the F-35 program.
Carvalho is the youngest of two sons born to Portuguese immigrants in Malaga, N.J. His father, a carpenter by trade, set his sights on a better life in America in the 1920s. He returned to Portugal after World War II but only to claim a bride, Carvalho’s mother.
Carvalho’s father ran a small general contracting business in southern New Jersey. At night, he went back to school and obtained a college degree, then a graduate degree, in order to become a high school counselor, Carvalho said.
Carvalho heard a clear and resounding message while growing up. Be truthful. Play it straight. Work hard.
Carvalho longs for his mother’s ethnic cooking and feels right at home in the effusive culture of his European parents.
Some longtime aerospace workers who still recall the days when one-time chief and Defense Department executive Gordon England ran the plant say Carvalho’s style reminds them of him.
Carvalho moved to Fort Worth from Moorestown, N.J., in August 2011 after serving as president of Lockheed’s Maritime Systems and Sensors business unit. He was hired in Fort Worth to help guide the Pentagon’s restructuring of the joint strike fighter program. In less than a year, he was promoted to be the program’s general manager. A year later, he became the chief of Lockheed’s aeronautics division.
Now the Pentagon is hoping to ramp up production of the F-35 by the fall, and wants to raise production more over several years, Kendall said. The goal is 42 planes by fiscal 2015; 62 in 2016; 76 in 2017; and 100 in 2018, according to a Pentagon budget document obtained by Bloomberg News.