The F-35 program has a “handshake agreement” with Lockheed Martin [LMT] on a three-year sustainment contract for the company’s F-35 Lightning II fighter–a contract that will come with incentives for the defense contractor to improve full mission capable (FMC) rates for the aircraft, the head of the F-35 Joint Program Office told the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) on July 13.

The Government Accountability Office has said that the F-35 has an FMC rate of 54 percent–18 percent below the goal.

“In our tireless pursuit of affordability, I am pleased to announce that late last month the program reached a handshake agreement with Lockheed Martin on a ’21 to ’23 [2021 to 2023] air vehicle sustainment contract that emphasizes improved aircraft full mission capable rates and continues cost reductions for all our services, partners, and customers,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, the F-35 program executive officer, told a hearing of the HASC Tactical Air and Land Forces panel on the Pentagon’s fiscal 2022 request for fixed wing tactical and training aircraft.

Among the sustainment cost problems for the F-35 have been a shortage of working Pratt & Whitney [RTX] F135 engines for the fifth-generation fighter and lower than needed depot capacity (Defense Daily, Apr. 23).

The Air Force divides F-35A sustainment costs into four areas: consumables and repairables for items on the aircraft that can break, manpower, fuel, and sustaining support in which the Air Force needs Lockheed Martin aid.

While the Air Force has had consumable/repairable issues with specific F-35 parts, such as the F135 engine and the  canopy, the service contends that a lack of depot capacity has been the biggest problem, as F-35s needing repairs tend to remain out of service for the required maintenance for a long time.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson, the service’s top military acquisition official, told a Senate Armed Services Committee last month that the three-year sustainment contract with performance incentives would entail lower costs than annual sustainment contracts (Defense Daily, June 22).

At the July 13 HASC Tactical Air and Land Forces panel hearing, Raymond O’Toole, the acting Pentagon director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E), said that concerns remain about the F-35 Joint Simulation Environment (JSE).

“While a majority of the F-35 initial operational test and evaluation [IOT&E], including open air testing, is complete, one essential element of the T&E program remains–trials of the JSE,” O’Toole said. “The JSE is the only means, other than actual combat against a peer adversary, to assess the F-35 against threat types, density, and operational scenarios we’re expected to face. DOT&E therefore cannot issue its IOT&E report without the data the JSE will gather from executing the planned 64 trials.”

Those final 64 tests are to allow the F-35 program to complete IOT&E. The F-35 program established JSE for F-35 IOT&E some five years ago after the program decided to take over work on the simulation environment from Lockheed Martin.