Aug. 26 (UPI) -- Lockheed Martin Corp. was awarded a $2.43 billion contract to procure spare parts for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike fighter plane, the Defense Department announced.
The contract, announced on Friday, calls for global spares packages, base spares packages, deployment spares packages, afloat spares packages and associated hardware related to the F-35 aircraft.
The deal covers aircraft flown by the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy, as well as by non-Department of Defense program participants and foreign military sales customers. No funds were obligated to Lockheed at the time of award, but the Pentagon expects all orders under the contract to be placed by December 2020.
The F-35 is regarded as a multi-role fighter plane and a game changer in air dominance capability, with advanced stealth characteristics, integrated avionics, superior logistics support and powerful integrated sensors.
About 300 have been built, with the Pentagon intending to purchase over 2,000 more, in addition to those both ordered and delivered to other countries.
The plane's supply chain, however, has been an ongoing problem, according to military officials and members of Congress.
In May, a House subcommittee sought to approve only half of the Pentagon's spare parts purchases for F-35 jets in reviewing 2020 budgetary plans. At the time, a backlog of 4,300 parts for F-35s existed because of supply chain issues, according to the Government Accountability Office.
An April GAO report said the aircraft was unable to fly about 30 percent of the time during a seven-month period in 2018 because of shortages and mismatched parts. The report added that the company had improper inventory procedures and often lacked data on the cost and current location of its F-35 components.
During Defense Secretary Mark Esper's confirmation hearing in July, he said the U.S. fleet of F-35s was not expected to meet the Pentagon's readiness assessment target, primarily due to shortages in key parts.
The April contract came after the company announced that it negotiated new long-term logistics and repair contracts with F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft suppliers, based on performance-based logistics and master repair agreements, to improve capacity, reduce costs and enhance supply availability.
Lockheed and Defense Department officials have blamed each other for the lack of replacement parts. F-35s components are many and are made by hundreds of suppliers. Some have been manufactured by Turkish single-source suppliers who have been removed from the supply list following Turkey's purchase of Russian air defense systems earlier this year.