Pentagon has stopped accepting most deliveries of F-35 jets from Lockheed Martin Corp over a dispute related to costs involved with fixing a production error found last year on more than 200 of the stealthy jets.
Speaking on conditions of anonymity, three people familiar with the matter have revealed that the issue is who will pay for the complex logistical fix that could require technicians to travel widely to mend aircraft based around the world.
The latest stopped in acceptance in deliveries of the F-35s is the second one as last year also the US Department of Defense had stopped accepting deliveries for 30 days after discovering corrosion where the carbon fibre exterior panels of the planes were fastened to the airframe. Once a fix had been devised, the deliveries resumed, and Lockheed hit its target aircraft delivery numbers for 2017.
During routine maintenance at Hill Air Force Base in Utah last year, the Air Force detected “corrosion exceeding technical limits” where the carbon fibre exterior panel is fastened to the aluminium airframe. A lack of protective coating at the fastening point that would have prevented corrosion was identified as the primary problem, the Pentagon said at the time.
When the Pentagon stops taking delivery of F-35s, foreign customers can also be affected. So far at least two foreign governments have stopped accepting F-35s as a result of this issue, two of the sources said.
A Lockheed spokeswoman said on Wednesday: “Production on the F-35 programme continues and we are confident we will meet our delivery target of 91 aircraft for 2018. While all work in our factories remains active, the F-35 Joint Program Office has temporarily suspended accepting aircraft until we reach an agreement on a contractual issue and we expect this to be resolved soon.”
It was not clear when the suspension of deliveries began. The delivery pause is the latest of several production issues that have arisen in the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons programme, and comes at a time when the administration of President Donald Trump has criticized the cost of the fighter.
In 2016, a fix for insulation problems in the fuel tanks and lines of the jets caused a slowdown in deliveries.
Two jets were received by the Pentagon despite the suspension because of specific needs in the field, one of the people said.