The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) is looking to target late delivery timelines and quality inefficiencies with its next production lot by instating new production efficiency initiatives, the program executive officer said Oct. 1

The lot 11 production award for the Joint Strike Fighter, announced Sept. 28, includes provisions that are meant to incentivize the aircraft’s contractors – to include Lockheed Martin [LMT] and engine-maker Pratt & Whitney [UTX]– to avoid production and performance issues during final assembly, Vice Adm. Mat Winter told reporters at a media briefing at the JPO in Arlington, Virginia.

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, March 30, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)

The JPO announced last Friday that the lot 11 contract award includes newly reduced unit costs for all three variants of the F-35, with the lowest cost ever for the F-35A, at less than $90 million per aircraft (Defense Daily, Sept. 28). But the program has suffered from lengthy delivery delays caused by quality inefficiencies and production line issues, he said.

“We continue to make progress and make our [unit recurring flyaway cost] goals, but as we go forward, those inefficiencies on the production line will challenge us to be able to do that,” Winter said, adding, “To date, we have been able to deliver all aircraft by the end of the year, but we are not meeting our monthly deliveries, and we need to get better at that.”

These new performance and production efficiency incentives “will allow us to take those first steps that will ensure the flow of that production line” can successfully meet the planned delivery dates for lots 12, 13 and 14 moving forward, Winter added. The office has implemented a similar incentive structure on its propulsion contract, and both Pratt & Whitney and Lockheed Martin have embraced the proposal, he noted.

The JPO has received Lockheed Martin’s cost proposals for the next three lots and is evaluating now, with the goal of beginning Lot 12 negotiations in November, Winter said. But if the quality inefficiencies are not reduced before the next lot begins to roll off the line, “we will continue to produce aircraft, but it will be slower and it will cost more and I will not be able to meet the capacity deliveries,” he said. Lot 12 is expected to include 157 aircraft, he noted.

Meanwhile, the F-35 JPO continues to move toward full-rate production over the next year. The office is beginning an operational test readiness review on Oct. 2, which will look to ensure that appropriate certifications and qualifications are in place ahead of beginning a formal initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) phase, Winter said. That phase is projected to begin in mid-November and end sometime in summer 2019 with a full-rate production decision scheduled for the end of next calendar year, he added.