Sunset Launch 9

An F-35A Lightning II taxis during night flying operations at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Aug. 20, 2019. 

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — A government watchdog is urging Congress to demand more accountability from the Department of Defense’s F-35 program.

Earlier this week, the House Armed Services Subcommittee grilled executives from F-35 contractors Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney, with much of the discussion focused on the costs associated with the $400 billion program — the most expensive in DoD history.

The Project on Government Oversight had previously sent Congress a letter, asking the body to investigate why the Pentagon cannot properly account for F-35 spare parts and who is responsible. POGO says issue has implications on other current and future acquisition programs.

In June, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in-service F-35s were unable to fly nearly 30% of the time during a six-month period in 2018 because of part shortages and mismatches and repair backlogs.

The less-than-desirable performance, the GAO said, was largely due to shortages in spare parts for the next generation fighter and problems with managing and moving the parts that are available around the world.

The difficulties limited repair capabilities, with the GAO finding that F-35s were unable to fly nearly 30% of the time from May to November 2018. During that time, the DoD had a repair backlog of about 4,300 F-35 parts.

Mismatched parts were also a problem. According to the GAO, the DoD purchases certain sets of F-35 parts “years ahead of time.” But ongoing modifications to the jet have made it so some of the parts don’t fully match the military services’ needs.

POGO — an independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve transparency and accountability throughout the federal government — told Congress the GAO report and others have raised important questions about whether the program can meet the operational and readiness needs of the F-35 fleet. POGO said the issues have come because the DoD surrendered F-35 supply chain responsibility to Lockheed. POGO asked Congress to withhold approval and funding for any acquisition program that doesn’t include the purchase of full data and technical rights for the F-35’s design.

“The level of control Lockheed Martin wields over the F-35 program has impeded attempts to cut costs and increase accountability, and has hamstrung the troubled program’s overall effectiveness,” said POGO Chief Communications Strategist Tim Farnsworth in an email to the Standard-Examiner.

Hill Air Force Base was selected as the Air Force’s preferred home for the F-35A in December 2013 after a four-year environmental review process. Since the initial delivery of two jets in late 2015, the base has been accepting one to two aircraft each month. Once the full fleet of 78 Lightning IIs is complete, expected sometime before the end of this year, the planes will be divided among three fighter squadrons.

Hill currently owns more than 70 F-35s and the base’s Ogden Air Logistics Complex also performs maintenance on all Air Force F-35s. So whenever an F-35A needs to be fixed or upgrades, it comes to Hill.

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