WASHINGTON -- A new report from the Pentagons internal watchdog strongly criticizes managers and workers at the Fort Worth, Texas, plant that makes the F-35 fighter jet for an alleged lackadaisical attitude that it says has led, on average, to more than 200 repairs for each aircraft and cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
The Pentagons Office of Inspector General, which assesses the departments performance from within the massive federal agency, also criticized two internal Defense Department offices responsible for overseeing the F-35 project, saying their oversight has been weak to nonexistent.
Lockheed Martins Fort Worth, Texas, quality-management system and the integrity of the F-35 product are jeopardized by a lack of attention to detail, inadequate process discipline and a we will catch it later culture, the report concluded. We believe the quality-assurance culture at (the F-35 plant) must improve and that robust technical oversight by the government is required to ensure program performance and mission success.
Lockheed Martin downplayed the report, saying it is based on old data.
Joe DellaVedova, chief Pentagon spokesman for the F-35 program, said Wednesday that the cost of each fighter jet is dropping, from $133 million last year to a projected $112 million in 2015, as problems are ironed out and full production is reached in 2018.
We havent reached full-rate production, DellaVedova told McClatchy. Were still following a learning curve.
But the Pentagon and foreign governments have slowed their purchases as problems have increased and costs have risen from original projections.
The F-35, formally called the Joint Strike Fighter, has encountered numerous design and production difficulties since it was first conceived as the U.S. militarys fifth-generation stealth aircraft more than a decade ago. Its original $400 billion price tag has doubled, with critics predicting more increases to come.
The F-35 is now the first $1 trillion weapon system in history a consistent series of cost overruns that have made it worse than a disgrace, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said last month at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
Partly in response to such criticism from lawmakers, Pentagon and congressional investigators, and outside watchdog groups, Lockheed Martin in March announced a new management team for its aeronautics division. The Joint Program Office, the Pentagon agency that oversees the F-35 project, has also overhauled its leadership.
The Lockheed Martin plant on Fort Worths west side has 14,000 employees, with more than 9,300 working on the F-35 program. The giant defense contractor has promised the project will produce 127,000 jobs in 47 states through subcontractors and suppliers.
During a 13-month probe of the troubled project, which is the largest U.S. weapons acquisition program ever, the Defense inspector general found 70 problems at the Lockheed Martin factory in Fort Worth, identifying 28 of them as major. It found 119 other major issues at Lockheed Martins five main subcontractors plants in the United States and Great Britain, including the United Technologies factory in Fort Worth where the F-35 landing-gear systems are being made.
Identified issues could adversely affect aircraft performance, reliability, maintainability and ultimately program cost, the inspector general said.