US gov’t shutdown threatens defense contractors

By Dan De Luce, AFP

WASHINGTON — Defense companies warned Friday they are days away from placing thousands of workers on unpaid leave if the U.S. government shutdown drags on and halts arms manufacturing. Failure by Congress to approve a budget for the new fiscal year has dramatically disrupted military contract work because the Pentagon has no money to cover compulsory inspections and audits. Without inspections, defense firms have no legal way to keep building warplanes, naval ships, submarines and other weapons, even though they have funds from previously approved contracts. Four days into the shutdown, the “industry is experiencing an urgent problem that needs to be addressed,” according to the Aerospace Industries Association and the National Defense Industrial Association. In a letter to Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel, seen by AFP, the lobby groups said: “The most immediate concern is the absence of Defense Contract Management Agency inspectors.”

“The manufacturing process must stop if these inspections and certifications are not performed,” it said. Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, lead contractor for the biggest weapons program in U.S. history, the F-35 fighter jet, said Friday that about 3,000 employees would be placed on furlough from Monday. The Maryland-based firm said the number of workers forced on unpaid leave would likely increase if there is a protracted shutdown.

The employees were furloughed because of the absence of inspectors. The government office which employs them is closed. United Technologies, which includes helicopter builder Sikorsky and aircraft engine maker Pratt & Whitney, has said it will furlough 2,000 employees on Monday because of the lack of Pentagon inspectors. If the shutdown continues through next week, the company said it expects an additional 2,000 workers to be suspended at Pratt and Whitney and UTC Aerospace Systems.

The CEO of defense giant BAE Systems, Linda Hudson, has warned employees that 1,000 workers in intelligence and security have been “excused from work” due to the shutdown.