A July 22 hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Committee is to tackle spare parts issues with the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 Lightning II fighter.
“The hearing will examine the impact on military personnel and military readiness of unresolved problems with spare parts, the extent of overpayments to Lockheed Martin, and options to mitigate and resolve issues with defective spare parts,” according to a committee memorandum on the hearing.
Lawmakers are expected to hear from Air Force Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, the program executive officer for the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO); Ellen Lord, DoD’s undersecretary for acquisitions and sustainment; Greg Ulmer, the vice president and general manager of the F-35 program; Theresa Hull, an assistant inspector general with DoD; and Diana Maurer, the director of defense capabilities and management with the Government Accountability Office.
The hearing follows a June 18 letter to Lockheed Martin’s new president and CEO, James Taiclet, from Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), and Reps. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), the chairman of the committee’s national security panel, and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).
“In late 2019 and early 2020, committee staff visited and interviewed F-35 maintenance personnel at multiple F-35 sites,” the letter said. “During these visits, DOD personnel confirmed that bases continue to receive spare parts without electronic equipment logs (EELs). For example, the commander at Luke Air Force Base reported that, from June through November 2019, 60 percent of the parts received had EEL issues. One commander warned that EEL issues are ‘pervasive’ and that time spent resolving them is a ‘massive manpower suck.'”
In addition, incorrect EELs have been a problem for the F-35 program.
“Faulty EELs force maintenance personnel in the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps to make difficult decisions,” according to the lawmakers’ letter. “They must choose between reducing readiness by grounding aircraft they believe are unsuitable to fly and ignoring warning alerts that certain parts are missing EELs. GAO [Government Accountability Office] reported that F-35 users said that by continuously ignoring alerts in the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) caused by missing or inaccurate data, squadrons could be at risk of ignoring an alert for legitimate aircraft issues.”
In June last year, the DoD Inspector General reported that the Pentagon received non‑Ready-For-Issue (RFI) spare parts for the F-35 and “spent up to $303 million in DoD labor costs since 2015, and it will continue to pay up to $55 million annually for non‑RFI spare parts until the non‑RFI spare parts issue is resolved.”
The report of the House Appropriations Committee on its fiscal 2021 defense funding bill said that the Pentagon has received $394 million for ALIS for the three F-35 variants through this fiscal year and that the DoD request for ALIS is $59.4 million in fiscal 2021, about $17.5 million more than in fiscal 2020.
During the visits by House Oversight and Reform Committee staffers to F-35 sites beginning last year, “military leaders expressed concerns that deficiencies with EELs will grow and become even more challenging to address as the F-35 fleet grows,” according to the letter to Taiclet. “The risks incurred from faulty electronic records and spare parts may compound as more F-35 squadrons deploy on combat missions.”
Reducing the number of EELs required for certain spare parts may be part of the solution, but the committee said that there has been a disconnect between DoD and Lockheed Martin on such a reduction and that company officials declined to commit to the committee that the company would reduce the number of spare parts with EELs.
“According to staff in the Joint Program Office, DOD is working with Lockheed Martin to reduce the total number of F-35 parts that require EELs by 45%,” according to the June 18 letter. “Reducing the number of parts that require electronic logs would decrease the potential for EELs to go missing or become corrupt. At a briefing with committee staff, Lockheed Martin officials were unwilling to affirm their commitment to reducing the number of F-35 spare parts with EELs.”
The House Appropriations Committee said that it is concerned by a lack of trustworthy data in ALIS and a high number of deficiency reports and that the committee approved the Pentagon’s $59.4 million request for ALIS in fiscal 2021 “only because there is little choice but to sustain the F–35 enterprise with the existing ALIS until the department determines a clear path to transitioning to a new system.”
“Although ALIS is an integral part of the F–35 weapon system, the evidence to date indicates the initial design and implementation of ALIS has failed to meet its intended purpose,” the report said. “Rather than facilitating the maintenance and readiness of F-35 aircraft, ALIS perversely absorbs additional personnel and time to remedy its common problems and institute workarounds.”
A GAO report in March said that DoD had not developed performance metrics and “is unaware of how challenges with ALIS are affecting F-35 fleet-wide readiness.”
In January, Undersecretary Lord said that the Pentagon is developing a new cloud-enabled logistics program, the Lockheed Martin Operational Data Integrated Network (ODIN).
Air Force Lt. Gen. Fick, the F-35 Program Executive Officer, has said that he expects the first F-35 squadron to move off of ALIS in the fall of next year and all units to transition from ALIS to ODIN by 2022.
The development of ALIS “has suffered from vague requirements, lack of objective performance measures, a design based on hardware and software that has been overtaken by technological innovation during the program’s prolonged development, over reliance on the assumption that the prime contractor is properly incentivized to deliver a system that meets the needs of the warfighter, and a lack of senior leadership intervention until the problems became too large to ignore,” according to the House Appropriations Committee’s report.
In addition, the committee said that the Air Force’s plan for ODIN “has not been fully developed.”
“Based on the information provided thus far, it appears that ODIN likely will result in significant de-materialization of the ALIS system by transitioning capabilities currently hosted on individual servers to a cloud-based environment, therefore rendering much of the currently procured equipment unnecessary,” per the report.
The committee recommended a provision that would require the director of the F-35 JPO to submit a report that would include “an estimate of the full procurement cost of equipment required to support the legacy ALIS for all aircraft in the program of record, as well as an estimate of the cost savings in equipment procurement that can be derived from the transition to ALIS Next and subsequent transition to ODIN.”