GAO audit: Lack of parts slowing F-35 production

F-35 fighter planes line up at Hill Air Foce Base, Utah, on January 6. File Photo by R. Nial Bradshaw/U.S. Air Force/UPI
F-35 fighter planes line up at Hill Air Foce Base, Utah, on January 6. File Photo by R. Nial Bradshaw/U.S. Air Force/UPI | License Photo

May 13 (UPI) -- The F-35 fighter plane program is behind schedule and over budget, with production slowed by the lack of key parts, a General Accountability Office audit said.

A $1.5 billion increase in 2019 in the F-35's Block 4 costs, which pushed the update's cost over $12.1 billion, but that "the cost estimate did not fully adhere to leading practices, such as including all life cycle costs," the GAO noted in a report published Tuesday.


The GAO also said the 2019 expulsion of Turkish subcontractors, after Turkey acquired Russian-made anti-plane armaments, is likely to compound production risks and costs.

Lockheed Martin has built over 500 F-35 Lightning II aircraft, regarded as the most advanced fighter plane in the sky, in three variants for the U.S. military and several NATO allies.

Australia, Israel, Japan and South Korea also fly the F-35, and other countries have ordered or expressed interest in purchasing the plane. Manufacturing has been hampered by cost overruns and supply chain problems.

"The program has identified new sources for 1,005 parts produced by Turkish suppliers, but the program is assessing the effect of 15 key parts not currently being produced at the needed production rate," GAO said in an audit summary.


The report noted a previous study which said that over 10,000 parts for the plane typically are received late, with contractors telling the government that about 60 percent of the parts issues can be traced to 20 suppliers.

The plane is also suffering from a quality problem, the audit said, revealing that suppliers are "not meeting manufacturing leading practices identified by GAO."

Specifically, the report said, only about 3,000 of the over 10,000 airframe contractor's manufacturing key processes meet predefined design standards for ensuring product quality. And fielded aircraft, over 500 so far, "do not meet the program's reliability and maintainability goals."

The price of the plane, from $79.2 million to $108 million each, has been declining as production increases, but the F-35 is not as good a plane as it could be.

The GAO recommended in its audit that Congress should consider extending the Defense Department's reporting of modernization requirements beyond 2023, an evaluation of production risks and an update of the plane's cost estimates.

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