DOD Pushes Lockheed, F-35 Program Office to Embrace Full-Rate Mindset

Senior Defense Department leaders say Lockheed Martin and the F-35 Joint Program Office should operate as if the strike fighter was in full-rate production today even though the milestone is years away. Courtesy photo by Chad Bellay/Lockheed Martin.

The Pentagon wants Lockheed Martin and the F-35 program office to operate with the pace and mindset of full-rate production, even if the actual production line is years away from this milestone.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, speaking off camera with reporters right before the holiday break, said in his mind Lockheed and the program office need the “mindset and the behaviors, and how we’re leveraging productivity of a full-rate environment.”

Full rate production, of about 160 F-35s per year, is expected in 2023. In 2017, Lockheed hit its delivery target of 66 aircraft, including 31 F-35As for the US Air Force. That was more than a 40 percent jump in total aircraft deliveries from 2016. In the near future, “nothing major” is preventing the F-35 program from hitting its 2023 goal, Joint Program Office Director Vice Adm. Mathias Winter told Air Force Magazine in September.

Though the program cannot reach full-rate production until testing and evaluation is completed, changes are being made already in Fort Worth where the jets are produced. For example, Lockheed has 8,800 employees working on the mile-long line and plans to hire hundreds more.

“If we wanted to wait until 2020 to start behaving differently, I think we’ve missed an opportunity,” Shanahan said.