WASHINGTON ― Lockheed Martin has sent $1.1 billion in accelerated payment to support its network of suppliers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the company announced Friday.

The defense contracting giant has also hired 8,300 employees since the crisis began in March, with plans to hire 3,200 more before the end of the year. The hires mark a contrast with the rest of the U.S. economy, which saw the unemployment rate hit 13 percent this month and began a recession in February.

“In this volatile environment, it is more important than ever before to maintain the operations of the defense industrial base and support our men and women in uniform,” Lockheed’s new president and CEO, Jim Taiclet, said in a statement.

Ever since the Pentagon announced it would speed progress payments to its suppliers to keep cash flowing in the defense-industrial base, it says it has made $3 billion in contract obligations. The Pentagon is working to support smaller firms in particular.

Lockheed Martin said Friday it has “flowed all of the accelerated payments it has received from the Department of Defense to its supply chain, giving priority to small and vulnerable suppliers, as we continue our efforts to mitigate COVID-19 risks and promote a healthy Defense Industrial Base.”

This wasn’t the only good news for the sector this week. Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said at a Monday news conference that nearly all of the defense firms closed by the pandemic have reopened.

“We see an enormous amount of recovery in the defense-industrial base. It depends on location and what type of work is being performed, but there is enormous progress coming back,” Lord said. “Obviously for manufacturing we need people on the line, so we’re doing things differently in terms of following [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s] guidelines and so forth.”

Still, the Pentagon expects to see “inefficiencies” across most programs as well as cost growth. “COVID-19 is shutting down defense manufacturing facilities and production lines, disrupting supply chains, and distressing the financial stability of the companies DoD relies on to protect the nation,” Lord said.

Due to the effects of the pandemic, Lockheed said it would slow F-35 production, leaving it anywhere from 18 to 24 jets short of the 141 scheduled for delivery this year.

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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