Parts Delays Impacting F-35 Production, Turkey Situation Likely to Make it Worse

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 production line in Fort Worth, Texas, has an average of 200 parts late each month, causing delays and extra work to produce the jet, the head of the F-35 Joint Program Office said Thursday. Lockheed Martin photo.

F-35 production lines are facing long delays in parts deliveries, a fact that would be exacerbated if Turkey is removed from the program and Turkish parts providers are cut off from the supply chain, the head of the joint program office told lawmakers on Thursday.

F-35 Program Executive Vice Adm. Mat Winter said Lockheed Martin’s F-35 production line in Fort Worth, Texas, is an average of 200 parts late each month. That means work related to these parts is pushed later on in the production line instead of a work stoppage, which is causing “a lot of extra management, extra touch, and extra work that has to occur” and is “driving that price up,” he told the House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical and land forces on Thursday.

The strategy going forward is to reduce strain on the parts providers by having them only produce new parts for the production lines and spares, and have depots focus on repairs, Winter said. Previously the providers were responsible for all three.

Sustainment costs have long been a problem for the F-35, and is reportedly what drove the Pentagon to add Boeing F-15EXs to the fiscal 2020 budget request. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told lawmakers recently there is a 50 percent difference in the operations and sustainment costs between the two aircraft.

Winter said the parts delay is causing headaches because the program office is ramping up production of the aircraft, with 131 of the aircraft expected to be delivered this year and 167 next year. There are now 395 aircraft deployed.

The recent controversy regarding Turkey’s involvement in the program could exacerbate the problem, Winter said. Turkey is moving forward with purchasing the Russian-made S-400 missile system, which US officials say endangers the country’s future with the F-35 because they do not want the US-made fifth generation fighter operating alongside the Russian system or Russian operators.

There are seven companies inside Turkey that produce parts, which combined equal about 6-7 percent of the total F-35 supply chain, Winter said. “Right now there’s no disruption to the supply chain from any partners,” but if Turkey is cut off from the program, that would interrupt the flow of parts, not only to the Fort Worth line, but also production facilities in Italy and Japan, Winter said. There would be an impact within 45-90 days of slowing down the delivery of parts, potentially causing a delay that would impact 50-75 airplanes over a two-year time period, he added.