F-35 Faces Parts Problems After Turks Expulsion

F-35 Faces Parts Problems After Turks Expulsion

WASHINGTON: It’s a familiar tale, if one told with fewer operational problems. The Government Accountability Office today details a $1.5 billion increase for 2019 in the F-35’s Block 4 costs — now up to $12.1 billion — and serious parts problems caused by the expulsion of Turkey from the Joint Strike Fighter program.

And that cost estimate may not be completely accurate, the GAO audit found, because “the cost estimate did not fully adhere to leading practices, such as including all life cycle costs.”

The program “is already addressing, to include: cost estimate baselines, risk and uncertainty analyses, and evaluation of Technology Readiness Levels for Block 4 hardware and capabilities,” Program Executive Officer Lt. Gen. Eric Fick said in a prepared statement.

But the bigger problem in the short term is that 15 key parts for the $428 billion F-35 program are “not currently being produced at the needed production rate.” How serious is this problem? How and how much will it slow production?

“The program has identified new sources for 1,005 parts produced by Turkish suppliers, but the program is assessing the effect of 15 key parts not currently being produced at the needed production rate,” the GAO audit found. I asked the JSF PEO for details and did not receive an answer by press time.

This comes on top of parts that continue to arrive late for production. The Defense Contract Management Agency found that “between August 2017 and July 2019, the number of parts delivered late increased from under 2,000 to more than 10,000. Contractors told the government that “roughly 60 percent of parts shortages are attributable to 20 suppliers.”

The other broadly significant finding by the GAO is that the program is “not meeting manufacturing leading practices identified by GAO. Specifically, only about 3,000 of the over 10,000 airframe contractor’s manufacturing key processes meet predefined design standards for ensuring product quality. Also, the fielded aircraft, over 500 so far, do not meet the program’s reliability and maintainability goals. Although the contractor is changing manufacturing processes to address problems and improve efficiency, more remains to be done. Unless the program office evaluates the risks of not meeting these leading practices, the military services and international partners are at risk of not receiving the quality aircraft they purchased.”

Boil that down — price is coming down, many, many fixes have been made to the Lockheed Martin aircraft, but the Air Force, Navy, Marines and many American allies and partners are getting aircraft that aren’t as good as they should be.

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