The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently conducted an investigation revealing a startling fact: the US Department of Defense (DoD) has lost track of approximately 1 million F-35 spare parts, amounting to a value of $85 million. These parts have gone missing over a span of nearly five years, and the government lacks an effective system to track them.
The F-35 program, involving multiple countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Italy, Canada, Israel, Japan, and South Korea, manages spare parts in a unique manner. The GAO has identified a global pool of spare parts accessible to all participating nations. This pool encompasses a wide range of components, including engines, tires, landing gear, support equipment, bolts, and screws. The Department of Defense retains ownership of these parts until they are installed on an aircraft.
The GAO report suggests that the primary issue lies in the lack of accountability and a reliable tracking system for these spare parts. Consequently, the true quantity and value of the lost parts may exceed the 1 million count determined by the main contractor, Lockheed Martin. In addition, the report highlights a significant oversight in monitoring how contractors in the supply chain handle critical components for the F-35 aircraft.
Lockheed Martin has responded to these concerns by collaborating with the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) and the Defense Contract Management Agency. The aim is to ensure that all necessary documentation is available for the proper disposal of components classified as “excess, obsolete, or unserviceable.” Lockheed Martin asserts that it manages F-35 spare part inventory in accordance with contractual requirements and continues to work with the JPO to improve visibility into spare part availability and support fleet readiness.
The F-35 program office, in an email to Defense News, acknowledges the GAO’s recommendations for enhancing spare parts tracking. They claim to possess knowledge of the whereabouts of most F-35 spare parts within the global supply chain. They cite the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement rules, which call for 95% accuracy in recorded inventories. They further state that the F-35 program has surpassed this goal, with an error rate of around 1%.
However, they express a commitment to collaborate with the services and industry partners to enhance spare parts accountability and ensure readiness for military personnel.
The JPO explains that non-government systems are currently utilized to monitor F-35 spare parts. However, efforts are underway to transition this data to a government system through collaboration with the industry. The GAO auditors’ recent report suggests that William LaPlante, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, should ensure accurate categorization and tracking of all spare F-35 parts under a contract, irrespective of their location.
Additionally, policy updates are recommended to provide clarity on when parts should be classified as government-furnished property.
The revelation that the US Department of Defense has lost track of 1 million F-35 spare parts worth $85 million is a significant cause for concern. This lack of accountability and a reliable tracking system raises questions about the effectiveness of oversight within the F-35 program.
While efforts are being made by Lockheed Martin and the F-35 program office to address the issue and improve spare parts accountability, it is crucial that comprehensive measures are implemented to ensure the accurate categorization and tracking of all spare parts.
The success of the program relies on the responsible management of spare parts and the continued collaboration between the government and industry partners.