Pentagon IG Uncovers Quality Control Problems With F-35

By Amy Butler
Source: Aerospace Daily & Defense Report
October 01, 2013
Credit: Lockheed Martin

The F-35 Joint Program Office and its top contractors are once again being criticized for shoddy management of the nearly $400 billion fighter program, this time in a newly released report from the Defense Department’s Inspector General (IG).

The IG found in a Sept. 30 report that the team fell short on quality control in 363 findings. “The F-35 program did not sufficiently implement or flow down technical quality management system requirements to prevent the fielding of nonconforming hardware and software,” the report says.

The review mostly focused on hardware and did not look into software work; U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, F-35 Program Executive Officer, has said that software is the riskiest area for this program.

The IG’s office studied quality assurance and conformance to standards at prime contractor Lockheed Martin; Northrop Grumman, which builds the center fuselage; BAE Systems, which builds the aft fuselage, L-3, which builds the panoramic cockpit display system; Honeywell, manufacturer of the Onboard Oxygen Generation System; and United Technologies, which builds the landing gear. The IG intended to review the F135 engine built by Pratt & Whitney, but cuts from sequestration forced the office to scale back its probe, according to one Joint Program Office (JPO) official.

The review was welcomed by program leaders at the Pentagon, says Rear Adm. Randolph Mahr, deputy F-35 program manager. “We didn’t wait to work the findings,” he notes. None of the items presented safety issues with aircraft already fielded to customers, he said. More than 75% of the items are already resolved or are being worked, according to officials at the JPO.

The IG’s goal was to better align the oversight of the JPO and experts at the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA). The IG will conduct similar reviews of other programs, but F-35, being the largest Pentagon acquisition program, was first.

Data for the report were collected throughout 2012 and it took much of 2013 to compile them and draft the findings.

The JPO was unable to ensure that Lockheed and its primary subcontractors were applying “rigor to design, manufacturing and quality assurance processes,” the IG found. Likewise, the program office was not flowing down critical safety items and ensuring their own officials as well as those from Lockheed were flowing down technical and quality assurance requirements throughout the supply chain. DCMA also is to blame for not properly managing quality control, the IG says.

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