Pentagon had temporarily suspended the delivery of F-35 fighter jets after discovering that a magnet in the Honeywell-built turbomachine was made using a cobalt and samarium alloy developed in China, EurAsian Times reported.
A turbomachine is an engine component that powers the engine’s starter/generator. It has been found that Chinese metals are already used in all F-35 fighter jets manufactured. The Chinese alloy is found in all 825 F-35s delivered to date, including those for foreign buyers.
Although the Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter contains a Chinese component, which violates Pentagon purchasing norms, the F-35 Joint Production Office has chosen to obtain a national security waiver to continue deliveries.
According to F-35 spokesman Russell Goemaere, the Pentagon will now request a national security waiver from the Pentagon’s senior acquisition official, William LaPlante, to begin deliveries of already finished new aircraft containing the alloy, according to Bloomberg.
The Defense Contract Management Agency notified the F-35 program headquarters of the breach on August 19. At least three aircraft have already been delayed in delivery due to the temporary ban imposed on August 31 in response to detecting the Chinese alloy in the aircraft.
“All delivered aircraft have components containing these specialty metals. The F-35 team, including Lockheed Martin and the Joint Program Office, assess that there is no security risk or safety of flight risk to the aircraft or program from the turbomachine components,” Russell Goemaere, a JPO spokesman, said in a statement.
The JPO argued for the waiver under the idea of no harm to national security. “We have confirmed that the magnet does not transmit information or harm the aircraft’s integrity, and there are no performance, quality, safety, or security risks related with this issue, and flight operations for the F-35 in-service fleet will continue as usual,” it added.
“The F-35 Joint Program Office will seek a national security waiver from the Defense Acquisition Executive to continue delivery. Pending the approval of the National Security Waiver, the program does not anticipate replacing magnets in delivered aircraft.”
Russell Goemaere, a spokesman for the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO), stated unequivocally that the magnet used in F-35 turbomachine pumps “does not transmit information or harm the integrity of the aircraft, and there is no performance, quality, safety, or security risks associated with this issue.”
The program, according to Goemaere, does not intend to “change magnets in delivered aircraft.”
Retrofitting over 500 US training and operational planes could be costly. However, it is also worth noting that the US Department of Defense awarded Lockheed Martin a contract in July 2022 to build 375 F-35 fighter jets over three years.
“Over the last 5ish years, there’s been an effort to get Chinese “stuff” out of the DOD supply chain because we know that the PRC has compromised some hardware by them placing a backdoor. So, to ensure no DOD systems are compromised, there is a desire to remove anything and everything that the Chinese might have compromised. It’s no different than when Beijing “generously” built the African Union HQ in Ethiopia; they bugged the entire facility,” said Lt Col. Jahara Matisek, USAF Pilot and Military Professor at the Naval War College.
The current suspension imposed on the aircraft would not affect either the F-35 in-service fleet’s flying operations or the aircraft’s production by manufacturer Lockheed Martin. However, there has been an unprecedented uptick in aircraft sales since Russia invaded Ukraine. In addition, several countries are discussing or have already completed a deal with Lockheed Martin.
According to Lockheed Martin, the F-35 contains about 300,000 parts produced by 1,700 suppliers. However, it is a no-brainer that a Chinese component would be a red line for the Pentagon. In the past, the US has accused China of stealing stealth technology and other military secrets.
However, the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, assured the Pentagon that, moving forward, magnets made from a different alloy using American-made components would be used to produce turbomachines. All F-35s created up to this point will still be equipped with the contentious part.
However, the Pentagon will move toward seeking a waiver that will permit deliveries to continue because it seems there are no safety or security concerns with the component, which was magnetized in the US, William LaPlante, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, told reporters at a briefing.