The Pentagon has paused its acceptance of new Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 fighters for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps after the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) told the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) on Aug. 19 of a Chinese-made alloy in the aircraft’s turbomachine pumps by Honeywell [HON].

The Aug. 19 notification indicated that the cobalt and samarium alloy “is potentially in non-compliance with Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations Supplement (DFARS), as the alloy was produced in the People’s Republic of China,” the F-35 JPO said on Sept. 7.

“On Sep. 2, the F-35 JPO received a formal disclosure about the DFARS non-compliance for the alloy used in the magnets,” the F-35 JPO said. “Further investigation is underway to understand the causal factors for the non-compliance and to establish corrective action.”

According to an industry timeline, an F-35 3rd tier lube pump supplier for the turbomachine told Honeywell that an F-35 5th tier supplier had been using Chinese-made alloy in their magnets. Honeywell then informed Lockheed Martin last month that the alloy used in the turbomachine magnet came from China.

“We have confirmed that  the magnet does not transmit information or harm the integrity of the aircraft and there are no performance, quality, safety, or security risks associated with this issue and flight operations for the F-35 in-service fleet will continue as normal,” the F-35 program said. “Defense contractors voluntarily shared information with DCMA and the JPO once the issue was discovered and they have found an alternative source for the alloy that will be used in future turbomachines. Based on the additional information, the F-35 JPO temporarily paused the acceptance of new F-35 aircraft to ensure the F-35 program’s compliance to DFARS pertaining to specialty metals.”

While the Chinese-made alloy was magnetized in the United States, the future alloy is to be U.S.-made as well.

“Honeywell has stopped work with the supplier providing [the current Chinese] alloy, and an alternative U.S. source is already on order with anticipated delivery next month,” Lockheed Martin said.

The DFARS sections at issue are 10 U.S.C 4863 and DFARS 252.225-7009.

F-35 deliveries in the works may require the signing of a national security waiver by DoD acquisition chief William LaPlante, if it is determined that the acceptance of F-35s with the Chinese-made alloy is necessary to U.S. national security interests.

Lockheed Martin said that it has delivered 88 F-35s so far this year and still plans on meeting its annual target delivery of 148 to 153 aircraft.

Earlier this year, the F-35 JPO sought industry ideas to improve the cybersecurity of the F-35 and associated ground systems under a JPO Cybersecurity and Cyber Defense Challenge (Defense Daily, Feb. 11).

The JPO cyber team “is seeking innovative solutions to inform and integrate cyber event detection and response capabilities, meant for Real-Time Operating Systems (RTOS) and Platform Information Technology (PIT) systems, including but not limited to communication busses such as 1394, 1553, TCP/IP,” according to a Feb. 9 business notice. “A critical consideration for potential technologies will be minimal Size, Weight, and Power requirements.”

Such F-35 resistance to cyber attacks would mean that pilots would be less likely to receive false navigational and targeting data from adversary hackers. Cybersecurity concerns for the F-35 fighter and the program are not new.

In 2015, the German magazine Der Spiegel released documents provided by Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor at Booz Allen Hamilton [BAH], that suggested that China had been able to obtain plans on the F-35 from hacking a program subcontractor in 2007–efforts that helped China build its J-31 fighter. Since then, the Pentagon has instituted a  Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) program to help prevent such breaches.