WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N), the Pentagon's largest supplier and maker of the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, 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, after 26 years with Lockheed.
Lockheed also named Lorraine Martin, 50, as vice president and general manager of the F-35 program, succeeding Carvalho at the helm of a program that will eventually account for about 20 percent of Lockheed's revenue.
"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.
Lockheed has had an often tense relationship with the Pentagon over the controversial $396 billion F-35 fighter jet, the most expensive U.S. weapons program.
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.
"Larry's decision to leave Lockheed Martin is personal and has absolutely nothing to do with the F-35 program," said company spokeswoman Jennifer Whitlow.
Lawson moved into his position a little less than a year ago, after heading the F-35 program for two years and before that Lockheed's F-22 fighter jet program for six years.
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.
In a statement announcing Carvalho's promotion, CEO Marillyn Hewson noted that under his leadership the F-35 program exceeded flight test plans, improved on-schedule delivery of software and delivered 30 aircraft while lowering costs.
"Orlando is a proven leader with nearly 33 years of experience with Lockheed Martin, a strong record of achievement, and a keen understanding of our customers and their mission," she said.
Defense officials told Reuters that Carvalho has been lauded for bringing a more personable approach to his negotiations.
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.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Writing by Ros Krasny; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz, Steve Orlofsky, G Crosse and Michael Perry