Fasteners Cause Brief Break in F-35 Deliveries

Deliveries of the F-35 fighter were halted for two weeks in November after Lockheed Martin discovered a mix up with fasteners used on the aircraft, but the Pentagon has resumed accepting aircraft after an analysis of flight safety issues, Pentagon acquisition chief Ellen Lord said Dec. 10.

Lord, at a press conference discussing her office’s 2019 accomplishments, said the Defense Contract Management Agency was notified on Nov. 12 that there had been “co-mingling” of Titanium and Inconel fasteners on the F-35 production line, and deliveries were halted. However, after a quick analysis, the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin determined the jets with potentially incorrect fasteners were “safe to fly, so on 27 November, we resumed accepting aircraft,” Lord said.

She did not discuss how many aircraft were affected, or whether further corrective action would be taken. The F-35 Joint Program Office could not be reached for comment.

Lord said she is “fully confident” that “we have strong quality systems” in the F-35 program, and she said the Pentagon is “working with Lockheed” on the issue. There is “no indication of a systemic issue” with Lockheed’s F-35 quality, she said.

She also confirmed her previous estimate that the F-35 will likely get a go-ahead for full-rate production in “the fall of 2020.” The jet is now undergoing Initial Operational Test and Evaluation, and was expected to clear that milestone, allowing full-rate production, this month. However, she announced last month that the aircraft needs to be better integrated with a synthetic evaluation system, which games numbers and types of weapons in various scenarios to find the right numbers to be acquired.

A joint 2020 defense policy bill added 12 more strike fighters to the Air Force budget request, bringing the total to 60 jets.