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Lockheed Martin under fire again from Congress over F-35, this time for missing spare parts

The Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II supersonic aircraft, which started its operational testing on the amphibious assault ship USS America. According to a new release, Lockheed Martin delivered more F-35 aircraft this year than originally planned. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

A group of high-ranking Congress members is launching an investigation into Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet program after being told U.S. military had to spend $300 million in the last five years on defective and missing parts.

The trillion-dollar F-35 program is just getting over many of the problems that plagued its early design and production and has now hit on delivery targets three years in a row and recently announced it had lowered the per-plane cost to $77.9 million.

But an investigation by the Department of Defense’s Inspector General said last year the office overseeing the spare parts program “did not receive … F\u201135 spare parts in accordance with contract requirements and paid performance incentive fees on the sustainment contracts based on inflated and unverified F\u201135A aircraft availability hours.”

The problem with spare parts will continue to cost the military about $55 million a year, the report said.

Now the problems are drawing the attention of U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the New York Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. She sent a letter to Lockheed on Tuesday demanding thousands of documents related to the F-35\u2032s spare parts program.

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“The military is spending tens of millions of dollars a year to overcome unresolved issues with the system Lockheed Martin built and maintains to track spare parts for the F-35,” the letter said. “These problems must be resolved quickly as they create a significant administrative burden for military maintenance personnel.”

The other three lawmakers signing onto the letter were Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, D-Mass. and chair of the Subcommittee on National Security, and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif.

According to the letter, one military commander told a Congressional delegation that the spare part issues are “pervasive” and a “massive manpower suck.”

A spokesman for Lockheed Martin said the Bethesda, Md.-based company will cooperate with the oversight probe.

“We will provide all relevant information to the House Government and Reform Committee detailing the continued affordability and success of the F-35 program,” said Lockheed Martin spokesman Brett Ashworth. “Lockheed Martin has made several improvements to automation and enhanced supplier accountability processes that are reducing costs and improving performance.”

Lockheed Martin has already had to slow work on the F-35 program during the COVID-19 pandemic, putting its 2,500 production employees on rotations with hopes to make up for lost time later this year. The company said it has had its own problems with slowed work from suppliers inside and outside the U.S.

There are about 18,500 aeronautics division workers at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, where F-35s are assembled.

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© 2020 The Dallas Morning News