The U.S. Department of Defense wants to restructure the F-35 Lightning II program to give the military services more control over the maturing fighter jet, according to Pentagon officials.

DoD envisions that the F-35, which is currently managed by a joint program office (JPO), will eventually transition to service-run program offices, Pentagon acquisition chief Ellen Lord wrote in a March 27 letter to congressional defense panels. An Air Force office will oversee the F-35A conventional-takeoff-and-landing variant, and a Marine Corps/Navy office will handle the F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing variant and the F-35C carrier variant. 

Hill Air Force Base F-35As fly in formation over the Utah Test and Training Range, March 30, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)
Hill Air Force Base F-35As fly in formation over the Utah Test and Training Range in March 2017. (Air Force photo)

With the current program ramping up to full-rate production, conducting follow-on development and implementing long-term sustainment efforts, DoD leaders believe a management restructuring is in order.

“In order to effectively integrate and sustain the F-35 in the joint force, the military departments must have more direct ownership of the F-35 program and leverage organic capabilities, processes and infrastructure,” the letter says.

The service-run offices will initially report to a joint program executive officer, said Navy Cmdr. Patrick Evans, a DoD spokesman. Eventually, each service office will report to its service program executive officer and service acquisition executive.

To facilitate the transition, DoD plans to implement a series of “near-term” steps, such as appointing Air Force and Marine Corps colonels and a Navy captain to be “service deputies” in the JPO, the letter says.

DoD has not yet fleshed out a complete timeline for the transition, which will be implemented in phases. The department intends to begin developing the implementation plan later this year, and it will ask international partners to participate in that effort.

“The full transition dates will be determined through a conditions-based detailed implementation plan with risk-informed criteria,” Evans said.

According to Lord’s letter, DoD reviewed the F-35’s management structure because the Lockheed Martin [LMT]-built fighter, after many years of development, is now becoming operational in the United States and overseas and “will form the backbone of U.S. air combat superiority for decades to come.” The department sent its study results to Congress as required by a provision in the fiscal year 2017 defense authorization act.