The U.S. Air Force is negotiating a three-year sustainment contract with Lockheed Martin [LMT] for its F-35A Lightning II fighter–a contract that is to have performance incentives for cost reduction, Air Force Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson, the service’s top military acquisition official, told a Senate hearing on June 22.

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-35 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.

“One of the things we’re doing is negotiating a three year, instead of an annual, sustainment contract that has performance incentives in it,” Richardson told a Senate Armed Services Committee Airland panel hearing on the Air Force budget in response to a question on the F-35 from Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.). “The second thing we’re doing is a business case analysis to see what is the best way to attack those four levers. That may lead to a change. It may not. I don’t know yet. That [analysis] is ongoing. It will conclude this summer.”

The F135 has created big sustainment costs for the Air Force.

“There are 30 some odd holes that we’re faced with right now on the engine,” Richardson testified on June 22. “We’re looking at our spares posture on the engine and doing a number of things there. I can assure you that we’re not happy with where we’re at…but we’re also not sitting around waiting. We’re working very closely with the [F-35] Joint Program Office to bring those costs down. I think we’re going to make a lot of headway.”

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.

When a part on the F-35 breaks, the aircraft “tends to stay down for a very long time, and that’s because we haven’t stood up a repair infrastructure,” Richardson said on June 22. “We should have gotten started on that frankly a lot sooner. That’s the part that we’re really attacking…the depots to repair the parts, whether they’re government or contractor depots. We need to get those depots stood up so that when the part does repair, we can get it replaced quickly and back into the jet.”