F-35 production halts as “Made in China” alloy is discovered in a crucial component

A key engine component made of an alloy used in Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jets was made in China. The Department of Defense (DOD) is questioning the security and compatibility of the jet. Deliveries halted temporarily to ensure compliance with regulations "pertaining to speciality metals". A spokesperson for Lockheed Martin has assured that "there are no performance, quality, safety, or security risks associated with this issue". The U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and ten other nations fly the fifth generation fighter jet. T

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India, portal publishing news and current affairs. He holds an M.B.A in International Business from the Maharishi University of Management, Iowa, USA. Twitter: @chackojoseph *views are Personal.

According to a government report, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is questioning the security and compatibility of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighters after they found parts made in China. 

The DoD “temporarily” stopped accepting aircraft deliveries after learning that a key engine component made of an alloy used in Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jets was made in China.

Lockheed Martin said in a press release on Wednesday that the problematic component is a magnet in the turbomachine of the jet made by Honeywell. According to reports, the magnet was magnetized in the U.S. after being made with cobalt and a samarium alloy imported from China. 

The turbomachine combines an air cycle machine and an auxiliary power unit into one piece of machinery. 

In addition to providing compressed air for the thermal management system during ground maintenance, it also supplies electrical power for main engine start, emergency power, and ground maintenance.

Honeywell’s statement says the company is dedicated to providing high quality goods that satisfy or surpass all customer contract requirements. 

According to company spokesperson Adam Kress, the company is closely collaborating with the DOD and Lockheed Martin to ensure that the company continues to fulfil the commitments on products Honeywell supplies for use on the F-35.

Lockheed Martin’s release assured that it works with its partners and the DoD to ensure contractual compliance within the supply chain.

A DoD spokesperson informed Bloomberg that the Pentagon had only “temporarily paused the acceptance of new F-35 aircraft to ensure the F-35 program’s compliance” with regulations “pertaining to speciality metals.”

Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) is looking into the “causes” of what caused the Chinese alloy to be incorporated into the F-35 programme after the jet deliveries were halted. 

For deliveries to resume, Lockheed Martin would require a national security waiver if the government found that the company had broken the Buy American law.

The national security waiver for the programme will be approved or denied by William LaPlante, the undersecretary of defence for acquisition and sustainment.

America’s $1.5 trillion-a-year defense industry relies on the production of metals and minerals from mines that are often far from American shores. 

Delivered F-35s not impacted

The F-35s that have already been delivered to the U.S. military or other nations will continue to operate normally during the production pause, the spokesperson assured, because “the magnet does not transmit information or harm the integrity of the aircraft” and because “there is no performance, quality, safety, or security risks associated with this issue.” The Pentagon asserts that a different alloy supplier has already been identified. 

The American Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and ten other nations fly the F-35.

F-35 production woes

Over 1,700 suppliers provide the 300,000 individual parts that make up an F-35 for Lockheed. Due to its complexity, enormous cost, and the Pentagon’s “one size fits all” requirements, the Pentagon’s multirole fifth generation fighter jet has encountered a never-ending stream of issues. A wide range of problems has plagued the F-35 (officially known as the F-35 Lightning II), from defective ejector seats to processor issues, engine power and thermal management problems, rust, and vulnerability to lightning, despite spending 20 years in development and having an estimated lifetime cost of $1.7 trillion.

China made parts for the F-35 issue were raised even before

In January 2014, it was reported that to maintain the $392 billion Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter programme on schedule in 2012 and 2013, the Pentagon had repeatedly waived laws prohibiting Chinese-built components on American weapons. This was done despite the fact that American officials expressed concern about China’s espionage and military buildup at the time.

According to Pentagon records examined by Reuters, Northrop Grumman and Honeywell International, two F-35 suppliers, were permitted to use Chinese magnets for the new warplane’s landing gear, radar system, and other hardware. 

Without the waivers, the F-35 programme might have experienced additional delays, and both companies might have been subject to penalties for breaking federal law.

U.S. lawmakers ordered the GAO report, which was due on March 1, 2014, out of concern that American companies are being elbowed out of the speciality metals market and that the American weapon system may become dependent on components made by a potential future foe.

The waivers covered parts installed on 115 F-35 test, training, and production aircraft, the last of which is scheduled to be delivered in May 2014. The parts in question include $2 magnets. Lawmakers noted that several American businesses produce comparable magnets.

According to the documents, the waivers were required to avoid millions of dollars in retrofit costs, delay the Marine Corps’ plan to begin using the jets in combat by the middle of 2015, and maintain the production and testing schedule and training of the Pentagon’s newest warplane. 

The documents state that, in one instance, replacing Chinese-made magnets with American ones would cost $10.8 million and require roughly 25,000 man hours.

Years behind schedule and 70% over budget, the F-35 programme was already in trouble. Officials were concerned that costs and delays would erode the foreign orders required to reduce the cost of each warplane in the future.

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