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GAO Urges DoD to Address F-35 Sustainment Challenges

The Government Accountability Office has found that the Defense Department‘s F-35 fighter aircraft program faces sustainment challenges primarily due to the lack of comprehensive sustainment plans and aligned funding.

GAO said in a report published Thursday DoD’s repair capacity for F-35 parts at military depots is six years behind schedule, doubling average part repair times to 172 days from the original goal of 60 to 90 days.

The report also found that F-35 aircraft were unable to operate 22 percent of the time from January through August due to ongoing spare parts shortages.

DoD has yet to identify all technical data it needs from prime contractor Lockheed Martin to allow competition for sustainment contracts in the future, GAO said.

The congressional watchdog added that the U.S. Marine Corps‘ initial ship deployment of F-35s in 2018 will not include necessary intermediate-level maintenance capabilities that enable repairs at sea.

DoD plans to implement initial intermediate capabilities to address the issue, but the department does not have funds in place to support implementation.

The Pentagon plans to award multi-year performance-based sustainment contracts to Lockheed by 2020, but GAO cautioned the department against entering such deals because of insufficient performance metrics and technical information.

DoD has forged performance-based agreements with Lockheed on a trial basis but the department has yet to achieve its desired aircraft performance, GAO said.

Performance metrics used in the pilot agreements do not fully reflect processes that are under Lockheed’s control, the report noted.

DoD also lacks information on F-35 sustainment costs and technical characteristics due to system immaturity.

GAO urged DoD to revise sustainment plans, reassess metrics and gather sufficient information on F-35 sustainment costs and technical characteristics before awarding performance-based contracts.

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