Air Crews Balk at Lockheed F-35 Parts That Aren’t Ready to Use

Air crews maintaining the F-35 say they’re working extra hours to keep the Pentagon’s costliest aircraft flying because Lockheed Martin Corp. continues to provide parts that aren’t ready to install, according to leaders of a congressional committee.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee is examining Lockheed’s “failure to provide F-35 spare parts that meet contract requirements,” Representative Carolyn Maloney, the committee’s chairwoman, and Representative Stephen Lynch, who heads its national security panel, said in a letter to James Taiclet, Lockheed’s new chief executive officer, dated June 18.

On multiple base visits starting late last year, committee staff “learned troubling information about how unresolved issues with F-35 spare parts lead to excess costs” as the military must “divert personnel to troubleshoot these issues and use extensive workarounds to keep F-35 planes flying,” the lawmakers wrote. One commander warned that problems with the electronic logs needed to track each part’s vital information are “pervasive” and that time spent resolving them is a “massive manpower suck.”

Investigations have discovered instances of logs missing or containing inaccurate or corrupted information. The logs contain information such as a part’s history and its remaining useful life. Parts aren’t supposed to be installed without the data.

The commander of Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, with one of the biggest F-35 units, told investigators that from June through November 2019, 60% of the parts received had issues with the required information.

Expanding Problem

Military leaders expressed concern that deficiencies with the electronic logs “will grow and become even more challenging to address” as the F-35 fleet expands and deploys on combat missions, the lawmakers wrote. The aircraft are already in service worldwide, from Australia to Israel.

Problems with parts are a continuing blemish on the F-35 program, which has seen steady improvements in on-time aircraft deliveries and has resolved all lingering software and hardware deficiencies that were life-threatening. In addition, potential foreign sales have increased to 809 from 764 projected last year, and the program’s acquisition cost has dropped 7.1% to about $398 billion from $428 billion.

Still, the part flaws and the extra effort needed to keep aircraft flying make it harder to resolve the program’s daunting long-term problem -- reducing the cost of operating and supporting the fighter fleet over 60 years. That has increased to $1.182 trillion, or 7.8% over last year’s Pentagon program office estimate, according to the Defense Department’s annual assessment of the F-35.

Lockheed spokesman Brett Ashworth said in an email that “we will provide all relevant information” to the Oversight committee “detailing the continued affordability and success of the F-35 program. Lockheed Martin has made several improvements to automation and enhanced supplier accountability processes that are reducing costs and improving performance.”

The committee has asked Taiclet for a raft of documents by June 30, including internal and external presentations, schedules and other communications on Lockheed’s participation in efforts to reduce the number of F-35 parts that need electronic logs and on investments made to reduce the number of defects in the logs provided.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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