Pentagon Discloses New Quality Glitch on Lockheed's F-35 Jets

  • Deliveries halted a month through Oct. 20 as fixes reviewed
  • Pentagon says fastener flaw poses no safety hazard to pilots

F-35C Lightning II carrier variant joint strike fighter 

Source: U.S. Navy

The Pentagon’s F-35 program office is weighing how to fix to a newly discovered glitch in the fighter -- the military’s most expensive program -- that halted deliveries of the Lockheed Martin Corp. plane for 30 days.

The problem was linked to a primer that’s supposed to be applied as a protective layer on aluminum fasteners to prevent corrosion. The Defense Department temporarily stopped deliveries of the next-generation jet for the month ending Oct. 20 to assess the issue. 

“After a thorough government and industry investigation, it was discovered that Lockheed Martin had not applied the required primer in fastener holes on F-35 substructures during the aircraft production process,” Pentagon spokesman Joe DellaVedova said in an email. “This is a production quality escape issue and, though it needs be corrected to prevent potential future corrosion, it does not pose a safety of flight risk to the F-35 fleet or affect current operations.”

Discovery of the flaw came after the Pentagon already has taken delivery of about 250 F-35s to date and plans to accelerate production to include a block purchase by U.S. allies of as many as 211 jets starting with the 12th production lot.

A Lockheed Meeting

The fastener glitch has been flagged to Pentagon officials preparing Ellen Lord, the undersecretary for acquisition, for a meeting scheduled Nov. 6 with top Lockheed officials, including Chief Executive Officer Marillyn Hewson, according to an official who asked not to be identified because the meeting hasn’t been publicly announced.

Lord will be reviewing all major Lockheed programs with company representatives, including the F-35, according to the official. Lockheed spokeswoman Maureen Schumann declined to comment when asked about the meeting.

Upkeep of the F-35 fleet will become more challenging as the Pentagon prepares for what the manager of the program has called a “tsunami” of new production toward an eventual planned U.S. fleet of 2,456 planes plus more than 700 additional planes to be sold to allies. The fastener example is another instance of the potential maintenance burden on the program.

Read More: F-35 Program Costs Jump to $406.5 Billion in Latest Estimate

“We are taking a holistic fleet-wide approach to plan and implement corrective action on aircraft in production and fielded jets, which allowed deliveries to resume,” Lockheed spokeswoman Carolyn Nelson said in an email. “We continue to be on track to meet our delivery goal of 66 F-35s by the end of 2017 and have delivered 54 aircraft year-to-date.”

The disclosure also comes a week after Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson visited the Lockheed facility in Fort Worth, Texas. It’s not known whether they were informed of the glitch.

“The F-35 Joint Program Office is leading the effort with the U.S. services, international allies and Lockheed Martin on a comprehensive engineering assessment and corrective action maintenance plan to implement the necessary repairs” to all deployed aircraft “while minimizing impact to operations,” DellaVedova said.

In the interim, “primer will be applied to fastener holes of fielded aircraft as panels are removed during routine F-35 maintenance operations.,” he said. “Lockheed Martin has taken action to correct the production line work order error to ensure primer is applied to all fastener holes on future aircraft.”

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