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By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, March 18 (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp , the Pentagon's largest supplier, has named Orlando Carvalho the new head of aeronautics in place of Larry Lawson, the defense contractor said on Monday.
Carvalho, 54, will take over immediately as executive vice president of the aeronautics business area. Lawson, 55, was set to retire on April 5, the company said.
Defense industry analysts said the change was part of an effort by Lockheed to improve its often tense relationship with the Pentagon over the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet program, the largest U.S. weapons program.
"This is part of an effort by the company to put its relationship with the Pentagon on a better footing," said Loren Thompson, a Virginia-based defense consultant.
Lawson moved into his position about a year ago, after heading the F-35 program and before that Lockheed's F-22 fighter jet program.
He was seen not only as a tough negotiator, but one who could be argumentative, according to industry executives who worked with him over the past two decades.
Lawson's departure comes just weeks after the Pentagon's F-35 program chief, Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, accused Lockheed and another contractor of trying to "squeeze every nickel" out of the U.S. government for the planes.
Marillyn Hewson, who took over as CEO of Lockheed in January, has sought to repair frayed relations with the Pentagon after Bogdan earlier described the relationship as "the worst I've ever seen."
Defense officials told Reuters that Carvalho has been lauded for bringing a more personable approach to his negotiations with Pentagon officials.
Carvalho previously led Lockheed Martin's mission systems and sensors business before joining aeronautics in 2011, where he has been responsible for the performance of all aspects of the F-35 Lightning II program.
He is scheduled to appear on Tuesday at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, representing Lockheed at a ceremony to mark the arrival of four F-35 jets and the start of operational testing at the base.
Lockheed also named Lorraine Martin, 50, as vice president and general manager of the F-35 program. She has recently worked closely with Carvalho on the F-35 system development program.