An F-35 joint strike fighter is rolled out of the Lockheed Martin production facility in Fort Worth, Texas. (Lockheed Martin)
Throughout the year, officials for the F-35 joint strike fighter have consistently said the program is on track. But if the US government shutdown continues for too long, a plane that has been long characterized by its historic delays could find itself falling behind once again, according to the head of the JSF program.
“The current closing of the federal government coupled with the furloughs from earlier this year has not been good for the F-35 program,” Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the head of the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO), said in a statement Thursday.
“The shutdown is negatively affecting our ability to conduct flight tests and other areas of the program, such as development, aircraft deliveries and sustaining the fleet, are also at risk of delay and disruption,” Bogdan said. “Maintaining a stable program is one of the key drivers to keeping the F-35 on track and on budget; we look forward to a quick resolution that will enable our government to properly function again so we can continue to carry on with our mission.”
At the core of production delays is the fact that many Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) workers have been furloughed due to the shutdown. DCMA has oversight of major acquisition projects, auditing and approving work being done on military platforms.
While a Pentagon official confirmed that noncivilian DCMA workers are still active at Lockheed Martin’s F-35 plant in Fort Worth, Texas, it is likely that reduced numbers mean a drop in productivity.
If there are no inspectors who can OK production as it occurs, prime contractor Lockheed Martin and engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney could see delays — and delays mean extra costs.
While expressing disappointment in the shutdown, Lockheed released a statement saying it would continue to work on the F-35 unless the Pentagon asks it to stop.
“Unless we are directed otherwise by our customers, our facilities will remain open, and our employees will continue to receive their pay and benefits. We will monitor the situation and provide regular communications to our employees throughout this process,” the statement read.
“Various contracting activities for our military engines business have been suspended due to the shutdown,” a Pratt & Whitney statement read. “Lack of DCMA support is already affecting Pratt & Whitney production engine deliveries, spare part deliveries, and progress in engine component improvement programs. The government shutdown directly affects our ability to meet our military customers’ mission requirements.”
UTC, the parent company of Pratt & Whitney, has already said it intends to furlough its own workers starting Monday due to a lack of DCMA inspectors.