26 avril 2019 | International, Aérospatial

Government watchdog finds more problems with F-35’s spare parts pipeline


WASHINGTON — Only about half of the F-35s worldwide were ready to flyduring an eight-month period in 2018, with the wait for spare parts keeping jets on the ground nearly 30 percent of the time, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

Over the past several years, the Defense Department has sought to improve mission capable rates by making improvements to the way it and F-35 contractor Lockheed Martin order, stockpile and repair spare parts. However, GAO's findings imply that the situation may have gotten worse.

The GAO's report, released April 25, investigated how spare parts shortages impacted F-35 availability and mission capable rates in 2018, with most data gathered between a May and November sustainment contract period.

“In 2017, we reported that DOD was experiencing sustainment challenges that were reducing warfighter readiness, including delays of 6 years in standing up repair capabilities for F-35 parts at its depots and significant spare parts shortages that were preventing the F-35 fleet from flying about 20 percent of the time,” GAO said in the report.

“According to prime contractor data, from May through November 2018, F-35 aircraft across the fleet were unable to fly 29.7 percent of the time due to spare parts shortages,” it said. “Specifically, the F-35 supply chain does not have enough spare parts available to keep aircraft flying enough of the time necessary to meet warfighter requirements.”

That lack of improvement may make it more difficult for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps to hit an 80 percent mission capable rate by the end of fiscal year 2019, as mandated by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last fall.

The military services stopped providing mission capable rates for aircraft last year, citing operational sensitivities. However, the data put forth by the GAO indicates that progress stagnated in the lead up to Mattis' order.

From May to November 2018, mission capable rates — which measure how many planes possessed by a squadron can perform at least one of its missions — hovered around 50 percent for all versions of the F-35.

But when GAO assessed how many planes were fully mission capable — meaning that they were ready to fulfill all of their mission sets — all variants were far from meeting the 60 percent target. Only 2 percent of F-35C carrier takeoff and landing versions hit the fully mission capable mark, with the F-35Bs slightly better at 16 percent and the F-35A at 34 percent.

The GAO is skeptical that the services will be able to hit the 80 percent mission capable rate goal this year, and it is even more critical of the Defense Department's plans to fund spares in future years.

The department intends to buy “only enough parts to enable about 80 percent of its aircraft to be mission-capable based on the availability of parts.” However, that planning construct will likely only yield a 70 percent mission capable rate at best, the GAO said, because it only accounts for the aircraft on the flight line and not jets that are in the depot for longer term maintenance.

No silver bullet for parts shortage issues

Like all complicated problems, there is no single solution for the F-35 spare parts shortage, which is driven by a number of factors.

GAO indicated that the Defense Department still has “a limited capacity” to repair broken parts, creating a backlog of 4,300 parts still needing to be addressed. Between September and November, it took more than six months to fix parts that should have been repaired in a window of two to three months.

The F-35's much-maligned Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) was designed to be able to track parts and automate the process of generating and expediting work orders, however, GAO notes that the system still requires manual workarounds from users in order to accomplish tasks.

Supply and maintenance personnel cited challenges such as “missing or corrupted electronic spare parts data,” limited automation and problems caused by ALIS's subsystems not communicating with each other properly, it said.

As the F-35 is still a relatively new platform, it has taken time for the program to assess which parts have been failing more often than previously estimated — but that is an area where the Defense Department is making progress, the GAO stated.

“DOD has identified specific parts shortages that are causing the greatest aircraft capability degradation, and it is developing short-term and long-term mitigation strategies to increase the quantity and reliability of these parts,” the report said.

One such component is a coating used on the F-35's canopy to help it maintain its stealth characteristics, which has been found to peel off at an unexpected rate, creating a heightened demand for canopies.

“To address these challenges, the program is looking for additional manufacturing sources for the canopy and is considering design changes,” the GAO stated.

But — somewhat paradoxically — the F-35 has been flying for a long enough time that there is significant parts differences between the first jets that rolled off the production line to the most recently manufactured planes. The GAO found “at least 39 different part combinations across the fleet” on top of variations in software.

“According to the program office, DOD spent more than $15 billion to purchase F-35 aircraft from the earliest lots of production, specifically lots 2 through 5 ... but it faces challenges in providing enough spare parts for these aircraft,” the report stated.

One problem — the cannibalization of F-35 aircraft for parts — is partially user-inflicted.

“From May through November 2018, F-35 squadrons cannibalized (that is, took) parts from other aircraft at rates that were more than six times greater than the services' objective,” the GAO stated. “These high rates of cannibalization mask even greater parts shortages, because personnel at F-35 squadrons are pulling parts off of other aircraft that are already unable to fly instead of waiting for new parts to be delivered through the supply chain.”

During an interview this February, Lt. Col. Toby Walker, deputy commander of the 33rd Maintenance Group, told Defense News that F-35 maintainers at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., had stopped pulling parts off a cannibalized F-35 and had seen some improvements to mission capable rates as a result.

“We're not continually moving parts from one aircraft to another. We're relying on the program to provide our parts,” he said. “It was a very strategic plan to do that to increase aircraft availability by not sitting an aircraft down.”

In a statement, Lockheed Martin said that it had taken key steps to improve parts availability, such as transitioning some suppliers to performance based logistics contracts that incentivize companies to meet certain targets, as well as “master repair agreements” that will allow other suppliers to make longer term investments in their production capability.

“These actions are beginning to deliver results and we're forecasting additional improvement. Newer production aircraft are averaging greater than 60 percent mission capable rates, with some operational squadrons consistently at 70 percent,” the company said.

“From a cost perspective, Lockheed Martin has reduced its portion of cost per aircraft per year by 15 percent since 2015. Our goal is to further reduce costs to $25,000 cost per flight hour by 2025, which is comparable to legacy aircraft while providing a generational leap in capability.”


Sur le même sujet

  • Au salon Eurosatory, l’Eurosatory Lab, un pôle pour encourager les ponts entre innovations civiles et militaires

    17 juin 2022 | International, Aérospatial, Naval, Terrestre, C4ISR, Sécurité

    Au salon Eurosatory, l’Eurosatory Lab, un pôle pour encourager les ponts entre innovations civiles et militaires

    Au salon Eurosatory, qui s'est tenu au Parc des expositions de Paris-Nord Villepinte du 13 jusqu'à ce vendredi 17 juin, les startups étaient fortement représentées. Hébergées au sein de l'Eurosatory Lab, le pôle du salon dédié à l'innovation, 67 startups françaises et internationales ont été accueillies, dont un grand nombre proposant des produits ou des technologies ayant un usage dual, à la fois civil et militaire : la cybersécurité, l'intelligence artificielle, la simulation, la robotique, la réalité virtuelle... L'Usine Nouvelle cite notamment Conscious Labs, une startup française spécialisée dans les neurotechnologies, qui propose des casques qui analysent l'activité cérébrale. Présente surtout dans le secteur médical, elle se propose d'utiliser sa technologie pour l'analyse de l'activité cérébrale des pilotes d'avions ou d'hélicoptères dans des situations de stress intense. Emmanuel Chiva, directeur de l'Agence de l'innovation de défense au sein du ministère français des Armées, entend favoriser les liens entre secteur civil et militaire : l'objectif est de « construire des ponts entre les innovations militaires et civiles », a-t-il affirmé à l'occasion de son discours d'ouverture de l'Eurosatory Lab. En 2022, les armées françaises devraient consacrer pour leurs crédits dédiés à l'innovation un montant de l'ordre d'1 Md€, indique L'Usine Nouvelle. L'Usine Nouvelle du 17 juin

  • Sikorsky Delivers Two More CH-53K® Helicopters To U.S. Marine Corps

    14 février 2023 | International, Aérospatial

    Sikorsky Delivers Two More CH-53K® Helicopters To U.S. Marine Corps

    Stratford, Conn., February 13, 2023 – Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company (NYSE: LMT), delivered two CH-53K helicopters to the U.S. Marine Corps in the final quarter of 2022. These CH-53K heavy...

  • Safran inaugure sa plateforme de recherche sur les aubes de turbines avancées à Gennevilliers

    7 février 2019 | International, Aérospatial

    Safran inaugure sa plateforme de recherche sur les aubes de turbines avancées à Gennevilliers

    Gennevilliers, le 6 février 2019. Safran inaugure la nouvelle plateforme de recherche sur les aubes de turbines avancées pour moteurs d'avions et d'hélicoptères en présence de Florence Parly, ministre des Armées, d'Ursula von der Leyen, ministre de la Défense allemande et de Philippe Petitcolin, Directeur Général de Safran. La plateforme de recherche sur les aubes de turbines avancées de Safran Tech, centre de Recherche et Technologie du Groupe, rassemble les compétences d'une trentaine d'ingénieurs et doctorants, dans un b'timent de 3 000 m2 doté d'équipements de haute technologie, pour mener l'ensemble des travaux de développement des futures aubes de turbines à très haute performance. Conception multi-disciplinaire, fonderie mono-cristalline, noyaux céramiques par fabrication additive, barrières thermiques, circuits de refroidissement, digitalisation des procédés, micro-perçage auto-adaptatif, contrôles non destructifs avancés utilisant l'intelligence artificielle sont quelques exemples des domaines d'expertise et d'innovation mis en oeuvre au sein de la plateforme. Les nouvelles aubes de turbines réalisées sur cette plateforme seront intégrées sur les moteurs actuels du Rafale afin d'améliorer la disponibilité opérationnelle des aéronefs et diminuer le coût du maintien en condition opérationnelle ainsi que le coût de production. Les technologies développées par la plateforme intègreront également le futur moteur militaire à haute performance de Safran Aircraft Engines dans la perspective du Système de Combat Aérien du Futur franco-allemand (SCAF). La plateforme développe également des technologies qui seront utilisées sur les moteurs civils et les moteurs d'hélicoptères. A cette occasion, Florence Parly, ministre des Armées et Philippe Petitcolin, Directeur Général de Safran ont signé le renouvellement de la convention de soutien Action PME, en présence de trois PME, Alliance Outillage, Chesneau et MSC Scanning, fournisseurs notamment de la plateforme de recherche. Le site de Gennevilliers, en activité depuis 110 ans, est l'un des sites historiques du Groupe. Situé à une quinzaine de kilomètres au nord-ouest de Paris, il regroupe, sur 15 hectares en bord de Seine, les activités de forge, de fonderie et d'usinage de pièces aéronautiques de Safran Aircraft Engines réparties en trois centres d'excellence industrielle : pour les aubes de turbines, les aubes de compresseurs et les pièces tournantes. https://www.safran-group.com/fr/media/safran-inaugure-sa-plateforme-de-recherche-sur-les-aubes-de-turbines-avancees-gennevilliers-20190206

Toutes les nouvelles