Hill F-35s over the UTTR

Three U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning IIs, assigned to the 4th Fighter Squadron from Hill Air Force Base, conduct flight training operations over the Utah Test and Training Range on Feb 14, 2018. 

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The Air Force says there’s a problem with the rate F-35s are found to be ready for immediate action after the jets are delivered by contractor Lockheed Martin.

And it’s happening mainly because shipped parts are not being properly identified.

In a Pentagon press release, Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said the Department of Defense has been working to improve issues that are affecting the “ready-for-issue” rate for the F-35 joint strike fighter. The RFI essential means an individual plane is fully ready to go airborne and perform its intended missions.

The less than ideal RFI rate is happening because many parts for the F-35 are being delivered without an “electronic equipment log,” according to Lord, which is supposed to tandem with the F-35’s Autonomic Logistics Information System — the jet’s internal information technology infrastructure.

Lord said without the EEL, parts are not deemed to be ready by the ALIS system and might not be able to be installed on the aircraft.

Hill Air Force Base’s Ogden Air Logistics Complex performs maintenance on all of the Air Force F-35s, and the base’s 388th and 419th fighter wings fly the agency’s first operational combat fleet of the fighter jets. Hill’s first two F-35s arrived in late 2015, and the base now has 78 planes, divided among three operational fighter squadrons there.

According to the DOD, jets coming into three American bases that fly, maintain or train the F-35s, including Hill, had RFI rates as low as 43% in February.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, program executive officer for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office, explained why a missing EEL is a problem for aircraft maintainers.

“It takes a significant effort in time for maintainers to reconstruct the part history and create a digital record for that part,” he said. “This activity diverts time from scheduled maintenance, increases the probability of human error, adding cost to the program. The bottom line is, we must receive our parts on time and with all the required identification markings and electronic records.”

Greg Ulmer, Lockheed’s vice president for the F-35 program, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee last week the aerospace and defense contractor would work to “reconcile the concerns and adjudicate the cost appropriately,” but stopped short of committing to fully compensating the DOD for shipped parts that weren’t ready to be installed, according to a DefenseNews report.

Lord said the RFI rate has improved since February and the DOD is asking for more diligence on Lockheed’s part, but part of the long-term fix involves replacing the ALIS with a new, government owned and developed technology system. The new system, dubbed the Operational Data Integrated Network, or ODIN, will begin being introduced into the F-35 fleet by the end of 2021.

The parts problem isn’t the first issue the DOD has had with Lockheed on the F-35. In April 2018, the DOD temporarily stopped taking F-35 deliveries from the contractor after a dispute over which entity should pay to fix a production error.

According to the Project on Government Oversight, the Senate Armed Services Committee recently authorized $9.1 billion to purchase 95 F-35s in 2021, 14 more than the Pentagon had requested.

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