Two F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft ferry from Lockheed Martin's production facility in Fort Worth, Texas, to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in May. (Lockheed Martin)
While there have been improvements, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program continues to struggle with quality management issues, according to a new report from the Pentagon’s Inspector General.
The watchdog found 363 issues, 147 of which it identified as “major.” The report defined major issues as “a nonfulfillment of a requirement that is likely to result in the failure of the quality management system or reduce its ability to ensure controlled processes or compliant products/services.”
Challenges identified in the report include the need for improved training, the need to improve criteria for acceptance of a plane, and unnecessary over-mixing of sealant used on the wings.
“Although it would be unrealistic to expect first production to be issue free, our contractor assessments indicate that greater emphasis on quality assurance, requirement flow down, and process discipline is necessary, if the Government is to attain lower program costs,” the IG wrote.
Inspectors found small improvements in the number of “quality action requests” needed for each lot of planes, with 972 requests per fighter in LRIP-1, 987 in LRIP-2, 926 in LRIP -3, and 859 in LRIP-4.
Similarly, there was a small change in the average rework, repair and scrap rates per aircraft, improving from 13.82 percent in FY 2012 down to 13.11 percent in FY 2013. The IG report describes these improvements as “only a moderate change.”
“F-35 Program quality metric data show improvement in scrap, rework, and repair rates and in software and hardware quality action requests per aircraft,” wrote the IG’s office. “However, the Government incurred and will continue to incur a significant cost for these issues, either through the previous cost-plus incentive/award/fixed-fee contracts or via quality incentives on future fixed-price incentive-fee contracts.”
The report was conducted between February 2012 and July 2013, a time period that saw dramatic changes to the F-35 program, including turnover at the top of both the Joint Program Office (JPO) and Lockheed Martin’s JSF team. Because of that time frame, the report is focused primarily on the first four low-rate initial production (LRIP) lots.
Lockheed and the JPO reached an agreement on LRIP-5 late last year, and announced Friday the details on lots six and seven, which top program officials have marked as a major milestone due to cost reductions.
The IG’s report focused on work done by Lockheed, in the role of prime contractor, but also inspected work done by five key suppliers: Northrop Grumman, the center fuselage integrator; BAE, the aft fuselage integrator; L-3 Display Systems, who handles the cockpit display; Honeywell Aerospace, managing the on-board oxygen generation system, and United Technologies work with the landing gear system.
Engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney was not included in the report.
In an emailed statement, F-35 JPO spokesman Joe DellaVedova called the report “thorough, professional, well-documented and useful to the F-35 Enterprise.” But the statement also noted that much of what was in the report has been previously documented and is being addressed.
“A majority of the findings are consistent with weaknesses previously identified by the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) and the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO), and do not present new or critical issues that affect the health of the program,” DellaVedova’s statement read. “The assessment contains 363 findings, from which, 343 corrective action recommendations (CARs) were generated. As of September 30, 2013, 269 of the 343 CARs have been resolved (78%), with the remaining 74 still in work with Corrective Action Plans (CAPs) in development, or approved by not fully-implemented.”
“This 2012 DoD IG report is based on data that’s more than 16 months old and majority of the Corrective Action Requests (CARs) identified have been closed,” a corporate response from Lockheed Martin read, while noting that all open CARs are scheduled to be closed “by April 2014.”
“When discoveries occur, we take decisive and thorough action to correct the situation, continued the statement. “Our commitment is to deliver the F-35’s world class 5th Generation fighter capabilities to the warfighter on time and within budget.”