The stealthy F-35 aircraft, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, is slated to replace several different types of aircraft in the U.S. fleet. Three variations of the plane—one that can take off vertically, one suited to aircraft carriers, and one designed for regular runways—are heading to the Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force, respectively. Plans call for the U.S. to buy 2,456 of them. It is a gargantuan investment and the nation’s most costly weapon system. For sustainment alone—repairs, maintenance, etc.—the cost estimate tops $1 trillion to keep the aircraft flying through its projected 60-year lifespan. With F-35 aircraft development nearing completion and the Department of Defense preparing to ramp up production, DOD’s ability to sustain the F-35 is of critical concern. Doing so requires a capable supply chain. Today’s WatchBlog explores our report on DOD’s efforts to sustain the growing F-35 fleet. Sustainment Efforts Already Falling Short and Grounding Aircraft DOD and its international partners have more than 250 F-35 aircraft in their possession and plan to triple the fleet in the next 4 years. But DOD is already facing sustainment challenges that are degrading the fleet’s readiness for action, including:
- A 6-year delay in establishing F-35 part repair capabilities at military depots, resulting in long repair times;
- Parts shortages that kept aircraft from flying about 22% of the time from January through August 7, 2017;
- The inability to conduct all required maintenance during initial planned F-35 shipboard deployments.
- DOD has not achieved desired aircraft performance under pilot agreements.
- DOD may not be using appropriate metrics to incentivize the contractor.
- DOD does not know enough about the costs and technical characteristics of the aircraft.