The Defense Department F-35 Joint Program Office’s (JPO) oversight of prime contractor Lockheed Martin [LMT] was inadequate while Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) oversight of the contractors was ineffective, which may result in nonconforming hardware, less reliable aircraft and increased cost, the Defense Department’s inspector general (DoD IG) said in a “quality assessment” released Monday.

DoD IG said it performed an evaluation of the F-35 program by conducting a series of quality assurance assessments of the JPO, prime contractor Lockheed Martin and major subcontractors Northrop Grumman [NOC], BAE Systems, L-3 [LLL], Honeywell [HON] and United Technologies Corp. [UTX]. DoD IG assessed conformity to the contractually-required Aerospace Standard (AS)9100, “Quality Management Systems-Requirements for Aviation, Space and Defense Organizations,” contractual assurance clauses and internal quality assurance processes and procedures for prime and subcontractors.
A F-35 refuels via a KC-135 aerial refueling tanker. Photo: Air Force.

DoD IG said the JPO did not:

* Ensure Lockheed Martin and its subcontractors were applying rigor to design, manufacturing and quality assurance processes;

* Flow down critical safety item requirements;

* Ensure Lockheed Martin flowed down quality assurance and technical requirements to subcontractors;

* Establish an effective quality assurance organization; and

* Ensure that the DCMA performed adequate quality assurance oversight.

DoD IG also found that the DCMA did not sufficiently perform government oversight of F-35 contractors.

The JPO said in a statement while the DoD IG quality assessment is well-documented and useful, a majority of the findings are consistent with weaknesses previously identified by DCMA and the JPO and do not present new or critical issues that affect the health of the F-35 program. The JPO also said the quality assessment includes 343 findings and recommended corrective actions and that as of September, 269 of the findings, or 78 percent, had been closed. The remaining 74, the JPO said, were still in work with corrective action plans in development, or approved, but not fully implemented.

Lockheed Martin in a statement criticized the quality assessment, saying it was based on data more than 16 months old and that a majority of the corrective action requests identified have been closed.

DoD IG said the root cause of nearly half the findings was the lack of adherence to established processes and procedures or insufficient detail in documentation. Major process discipline issues, DoD IG said, were in planning for product realization, design and development, software development, manufacturing operations, production tooling, calibration of management systems and engineering change management. DoD IG said production planning lacked the appropriate level of detail, design changes were uncontrolled or unapproved and system-level plans were not maintained. As a result, documentation did not always match the processes and equipment required to perform the manufacturing operation.

DoD IG laid out several recommendations for the JPO, including:

* Ensuring compliance with (AS)9100 throughout the F-35 supply chain;

* Ensure Lockheed Martin approves all design and material review board changes and variances with DoD concurrence;

* Modify its contracts to include a quality escape clause to ensure DoD does not pay for a non-conforming product; and

* Establish an independent quality assurance organization that has the authority and resources to enforce the (AS)9100 standard and F-35 product quality.

UTC subsidiary Pratt & Whitney develops the F135 engine for the F-35. The JPO said Friday DoD and Lockheed Martin finalized two F-35 contracts worth $7.8 billion for a total of 71 jets to be produced in the sixth and seventh low-rate initial production (LRIP) lots.