Pentagon Wants F-35 Contractor Accountability As It Weighs Output Boost

By Andrea Shalal-Esa/Reuters
October 28, 2013
Credit: Lockheed Martin/Randy A. Crites

The Pentagon’s chief arms buyer wants details on how Lockheed Martin Corp and other companies will be held accountable for the quality and reliability of the F-35 fighter jet as he considers whether to approve an increase in the plane’s production, U.S. defense officials said on Friday.

Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, is asking the Pentagon office that runs the $392 billion F-35 program to map out how it will ensure the quality, reliability and maintainability of the new warplanes as production ramps up in coming years, said the officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Kendall chaired a five-hour review of the Pentagon’s biggest arms program on Monday that showed progress in F-35 development, production and testing, and confirmed that Lockheed and its suppliers were technically ready to increase production.

But Kendall and other Pentagon officials want to make sure that they have contractual language and other tools in hand to hold Lockheed and engine maker Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp, responsible if problems arise.

“The government wants to see how it can incentivize the contractors to do well, and what leverage it will have if they don’t,” said one source familiar with the program.

The Pentagon drive for more rigorous oversight could result in additional clauses in the next contracts for jets and engines. The contracts are being negotiated separately by Pratt and Lockheed with the government in coming months.

Government plans call for Lockheed to increase F-35 production from around 36 planes this year to 45 in 2016 and ramping up to 110 planes a year by the end of the decade. The company expects to build about 200 jets a year when the program, the largest in Pentagon history, is in full production.

Decisions on future production rates have been complicated by the lack of a federal government budget for the new fiscal year that began October 1 and uncertainty about additional cuts in Pentagon spending due to take effect under sequestration unless Congress agrees on other deficit-reducing measures.

Production levels also depend on F-35 orders by other countries, such as South Korea, which is expected to announce plans as early as December to buy F-35 fighters.


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