Senators Push for More F-35 Oversight in Spending Bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee wants to keep a closer eye on the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program.

Lawmakers added multiple provisions to the committee’s version of the fiscal 2021 defense spending bill that call for more reports on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as well as greater transparency in future budgets.

The committee is offering $1.1 billion for 12 more F-35As, and $525.5 million for five more F-35Cs, than the Pentagon requested. In total, Senate appropriators want to spend $5.5 billion on 60 F-35As for the Air Force in 2021. That’s nearly identical to the House’s plan for the F-35A, which offers $5.8 billion. The service requested 48 of the jets.

Still, appropriators seek more information on the ripple effects of America’s decision to oust Turkey from the Joint Strike Fighter program and other aspects of its progress.

As part of removing Turkey from the group of allied and partner nations that want to own the advanced fighter jet, the Defense Department said it would source several hundred Turkish-made parts of the plane from other companies. But “full transition away from Turkish parts will not occur until delivery of Lot 14 is complete,” lawmakers noted.

Members of Congress have already scolded DOD about taking at least two years longer than planned to fully ditch Turkish components, reported Defense News. Lockheed will deliver about 170 aircraft as part of Lot 14, which a company spokesman said is slated to end in 2023.

Each quarter until Lot 14 is done, lawmakers want reports from the F-35 program executive officer on the “status of contributions by Turkish suppliers to the F-35 supply chain,” as well as on the aircraft’s production and delivery schedule, according to defense spending legislation released Nov. 10.

Senate appropriators also ask military officials to add data in the fiscal 2022 budget request to show how much money Lockheed is reimbursing DOD for spare parts that could not be installed and how the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps will spend the funds. The inability to use spare parts has slowed maintenance work on F-35s and affected their readiness for flight, spurring congressional concerns on multiple related issues.

Senators also weighed in on the department’s plan to spend $17.9 billion to further upgrade the three F-35 variants.

“The committee continues to support follow-on modernization of the F-35, and despite some concerns over the ability to measure delivered software updates against planned capabilities, the synchronization of capability of fielded aircraft, and the ability to maintain training cycles, does not object to the department’s adopted acquisition strategy of ‘continuous capability development and delivery (C2D2)’ … at this time,” lawmakers wrote.

But the military needs to offer more details about how it will pay for C2D2, they said, since the Pentagon budget does not connect dollar amounts to specific C2D2 programs or projects in its paperwork.

“In order to ensure visibility into follow-on modernization cost and performance, and traceability of appropriated and requested funding to fielded capabilities, the program element and project structure for F-35 C2D2 need to be revised,” the committee wrote. “While the committee appreciates visibility into international contributions to the C2D2 program, the committee recommends appropriations for U.S. requirements only.”

The legislation also questions the savings earned from buying F-35 materials in bulk, and wants to hear back from DOD on the savings that materialize from bulk purchases with 2020 and 2021 money.