WASHINGTON — Both the Defense Department and Lockheed Martin had become too relaxed in ensuring deliveries of new F-35s met requirements, but recent pause on F-35 deliveries exemplifies how the department will now hold Lockheed to stricter standards, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official said Friday.
On Wednesday, Lockheed Martin confirmed that the Pentagon had stopped accepting deliveries of some F-35s due to a disagreement over whether the government or the company should pay for repairs for more than 200 F-35As with fastener holes that were not treated with the appropriate corrosion-preventing primer.
“The issue itself is well on its way to being resolved,” Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters during a roundtable.
However, the debacle establishes the “department’s point of view” that Lockheed had gotten sloppy in meeting the specified manufacturing requirements — and that the Pentagon got not been rigorous enough in enforcing them, she said.
“The department, in an effort to move forward with the program, has perhaps not been as thoughtful as we want to be from this point forward in terms of what we consider acceptable performance,” she said. “I think this corrosion issue is one example where we have expectations for workmanship, and at this point we’re not seeing those workmanship levels being achieved.”
Lockheed Martin officials understand that, Lord said, including its CEO Marillyn Hewson, who has been meeting with Lord every month to talk about the Pentagon’s new expectations for the development, production and sustainment of the program.
“What we are in the process of doing is talking with a greater level of fidelity about our expectation for performance on each of the upcoming lots,” she said. “I know that there is a much higher level of fidelity around expectations and the details that we are discussing at all levels of management.”
Since the department partially suspended deliveries, it has accepted 14 F-35s, Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the Air Force’s top uniformed acquisition official, said during a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing on Thursday. Five aircraft—three U.S. Air Force F-35As, one for Norway and another for Australia — have been deferred.
The pause has been going on “for a few weeks,” he told reporters after the hearing. “Hopefully it will be done in a few more.”
Over the past several months, Pentagon leaders have come down on Lockheed for what they see as an unacceptable level of production defects.
Vice Adm. Mat Winter, the government’s F-35 program head, told reporters in February that he was concerned that minor quality escapes were adding up, growing the cost of the aircraft and the time spent manufacturing it. As production ramps up, that could become even more of a problem.
“I don’t have concerns that we’ll be able to keep having aircraft coming down the line and putting them together and delivering them. We’ll be able to do that,” he said. “But I have concerns that we might not be able to do it at the rate that our war fighter has asked us to do it.”
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.