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