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US needs to address F-35 supply chain problems: report

The F-35 military jet is facing performance issues making it fall short of expectations, according to a new report Thursday.

The report published by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (USGAO) said the U.S.'s most expensive weapons system with a projected operating cost of more than $1 trillion has been facing performance problems due to spare parts shortages, which led to it being unable to fly 30% of the time between May and November 2018.

When analyzing the performance of the planes, it was found just 27% were able to conduct all missions assigned, not even reaching half of the minimum target of 60%. The jets also failed to reach the minimum target of aircrafts able to complete one mission, 75%, with only 52% of planes being able to do so.

During that same period, there was a backlog of 4,300 parts that needed to be repaired.

Another set of problems were mismatched parts, which had to do with the fact that many sets of F-35 parts were purchased years ahead of time. By the time they were delivered, the parts were no longer compatible with the aircraft because of updates done to the infrastructure.

An undeveloped international network to deliver parts overseas has also curbed the ability for the partner countries in the F-35 program to be able to receive needed parts for repairs.

The report comes two weeks after a Japanese F-35A jet crashed into the Pacific Ocean after disappearing on radar while on a training mission, the second incident where an F-35 crashed in an accident.

In September, a U.S. F-35B crashed in Beaufort, South Carolina.

- F-35 program 'unique'

The fifth-generation, single seat, single engine aircraft was developed by Lockheed Martin.

Among the international partners of the F-35 Join Strike Fighter program are Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

Turkey first joined in 2002 and has invested more than $1.25 billion. It also manufactures various aircraft parts for all F-35 variants and customers.

Turkish firms have supplied key components, including airframe structures and assemblies and the center fuselages.

In addition to these nine partners, the program also has three foreign military sale (FMS) customers -- Israel, Japan and the Republic of Korea.

The report noted that the design of the F-35 supply chain is "unique". The parts within the aircraft's supply chain are owned by the U.S. when not installed, and partners in the program do not purchase the parts but buy access to the parts.

Therefore, instead of the Department of Defense being the sole owner of the spare parts for the aircraft, "the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps -- along with eight international partners and other foreign military sales customers -- share a common, global pool of F-35 parts that are managed by the prime contractor."

- Recommendations for supply chain problems

The study offered a number of recommendations for the defense secretary as the Pentagon attempts to solve problems.

The study said the Department of Defense should create a mechanism to provide an increased availability of parts, and modify the deployment of spare parts so that they match the aircrafts they are being sent to.

One of the main goals behind the recommendations is to "close the gap between warfighter requirements and F-35 supply chain performance."

The USGAO also said the way spare parts are prioritized among the different partner countries should be revised and the Pentagon should create a detailed plan for the establishment of a network for moving F-35 parts globally.

Other recommendations dealt with accountability measures for the U.S. to make sure they are obtaining costs for spare parts from the prime contractor Lockheed Martin, recording their spending on parts, and creating a strategy to manage the parts that are circulating in the fighter jet program's supply chain.

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