NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program could have its first, limited, five-year performance-based logistics contract by the end of the year.
Lockheed Martin, the main manufacturer of the F-35, has wanted to move to a performance-based logistics contract since 2019, saying it would save the government money, allow faster repairs and result in improved availability of spare parts.
The Pentagon is cautiously open to the idea, but lawmakers have been skeptical. The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act limits the Pentagon’s ability to enter into one of these contracts for the F-35. Before agreeing to such a deal, lawmakers said, the department must first show such a deal would either lower costs or improve readiness over the 2021-2023 contract worth up to $6.6 billion.
Performance-based logistics contracting means the contractors are paid on expected performance outcomes, instead of the typical “transactional” model where contractors are paid for discrete parts and services.
Bridget Lauderdale, vice president and general manager of the F-35 program for Lockheed Martin, said on Monday the company is working together with the F-35 Joint Program Office to transition to a performance-based logistics contract covering supply by the end of 2023. Lauderdale made her comments during a panel at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
The JPO said in a statement to Defense News that could happen, but did not commit to such a contract being awarded.
“Assuming the [performance-based logistics contract] meets the conditions laid out in [the 2022 NDAA] the [contract] could be awarded by the end of 2023,” JPO spokesman Russell Goemaere said in an email.
Goemaere said the supply chain contract being considered would cover all F-35s worldwide, including those flown by the U.S., partner nations, and foreign military sales customers.
Lauderdale said a performance-based logistics contract would cover all companies involved in the F-35 supply chain.
“That’s not just a Pratt & Whitney [the manufacturer of the F-35′s engines], LM [Lockheed Martin], that would be the entire industry participating,” Lauderdale said. “The expectation is that it improves performance and speed, and it reduces cost.”
And she said such a deal would differ from previous, time-consuming “transactional” agreements by, for example, allowing the option of repairing parts instead of replacing them with new pieces.
Lockheed officials told reporters in an August 2022 briefing that the performance-based logistics contract it was proposing would run from 2024 to 2028. Lockheed said then it was working with the JPO, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation to analyze the proposed contract and compare its costs and readiness predictions to the 2021-2023 contract.
Air Force acquisition chief Andrew Hunter said in a March 7 roundtable with reporters at the Air and Space Forces Association’s conference in Colorado that the JPO planned to leverage the negotiations over the performance-based logistics contract to obtain more rights to the data on the F-35.
The military wants to be able to conduct more sustainment work on the F-35 at its own “organic,” or in-house, facilities. But to do that, it needs access to more of Lockheed Martin’s proprietary data on the fighter, which has resulted in a years-long dispute with the contractor.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said at that AFA roundtable that when the Pentagon struck its original F-35 deal with Lockheed Martin, “the government wasn’t diligent about getting the data rights it needs, and I think that’s created a lot of difficulties over the past 20-odd years.”
After Monday’s Sea Air Space panel, F-35 program executive officer Lt. Gen. Michael Schmidt told reporters that the military has recently made progress in resolving some of its disagreements over data with Lockheed Martin. When the Pentagon negotiated the newest contract for lots 15-17 of the F-35 contract in 2022, it included more ability to order data on the F-35, he said. This data sharing agreement covers previous contracts as well as the new contract, and did not cost the government anything, Schmidt said.
“That was a big win,” Schmidt said. “We didn’t stand this program up previously to be a traditional organic maintaining kind of thing, but we’re moving more and more in that direction.”
Schmidt said that Lockheed Martin isn’t necessarily resisting giving the military some of the data it needs. The problem, he said, is that the data is not in a format the military can use, but conversations are taking place about how to resolve that issue.
“Certainly we have our [intellectual property] issues still that we work through, but that’s not necessarily the big” limiting factor, Schmidt said. “It’s getting the right data, the data that we need to go do the things we need to do in the field, or in the depot with the data. More and more, we have the tools to be able to do that, and the industry is being cooperative in that.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.