Introducing competition in the logistics chain for the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 will be key to reducing sustainment costs for the 5th generation fighter, U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told Defense Daily on Feb. 4 in a virtual interview.

“The [F-35] program office is in conversations with Lockheed,” he said. “I don’t know the current status, but a problem going back to the beginning of the program has been intellectual property and the degree to which the government can take ownership. Bill Laplante used to have a phrase that I loved when he was here called, ‘Own the technical baseline.’ I’ve given guidance to my acquisition people that we shouldn’t buy anything where we don’t take delivery of the design.”

LaPlante was Air Force acquisition chief between 2014 and 2017 during the Obama administration and is the Biden administration’s nominee to become DoD acquisition boss.

“Everything is digital,” Kendall said on Feb. 4. “In fact, programs are increasingly intimately involved with the contractor and working on the same design programs, if you will–the engineering data base and so on, so that we’re intimate partners with our contractors on these programs. But we don’t want to see ourselves in a posture where we don’t have control of the interfaces, for example, and the performance requirements and so on, so that we can break out and compete, if the government chooses to and it’s in our interests, directly for subsystems, in some cases.”

“Competition is the best way I have for every stage to reduce costs,” he said. “The more competition you can introduce, the better.”

Pilots and military leaders have averred the aerial prowess of the F-35, but supplying a sufficient number of quality replacement parts, such as power modules for the plane’s Pratt & Whitney [RTX] engines, has been a problem for the program.

Since last July, the F-35 Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin have fielded the first 14 sets of new, unclassified logistics information hardware, the cloud-based Operational Data Integrated Network (ODIN) base kit (OBK), for F-35 operational squadrons to replace the more than two decade-old Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) Standard Operating Unit-Unclassified (SOU-U) server, the F-35 program said this week (Defense Daily, Jan. 31).

While ALIS has 891 pounds of hardware, ODIN is to have just 50 pounds of hardware, and the JPO said that the procurement cost for OBK hardware was 30 percent lower than for ALIS. The JPO said that OBK is designed to run ALIS software and future ODIN software applications.

On Feb. 4, Kendall said that F-35 fixed costs, such as fuel and manpower, limit possible sustainment cost reductions.

“We’re a full court press to try to get the [F-35A sustainment] costs down,” Kendall said. “I don’t think people should have unrealistic expectations about how much opportunity exists there. Introducing competition is definitely something we need to do. I think we just started fielding ODIN, the ALIS replacement at the squadron level. That’s gonna be a big step forward in terms of operational utility of the aircraft so that it doesn’t have such a huge ground footprint operationally.”

Kendall said that he helped drive down sustainment costs for the F-35 by 10 to 20 percent when he served as DoD acquisition chief from 2012 to 2017 and that the JPO is continuing such work. He also said his goal is to reduce F-35 annual costs per aircraft while ensuring a sufficient number of flight hours and that the F-35’s status of being 10-20 percent more expensive to operate than the Boeing [BA] F-15 is not as dramatic in elevated costs as might be expected.