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 of the opportunity, 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 during a recent interview 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 west-side plant showed the first visible signs of support for the program in years. Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's undersecretary of defense for acquisitions, told a room of reporters and photographers 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.
Last fall, Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan said the relationship between Lockheed and the military was "the worst I've seen." Last week, 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, meanwhile, is hesitant to accept so much adulation, so early.
"It's not that anything has really changed in the last month or two," Carvalho said. "No miracles occurred here in the last month or two, and no miracles were planned to occur in the last month or two."
(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)
Carvalho is the youngest of two sons born to Portuguese immigrants in Malaga,
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