The United States hopes to continue deliveries of Lockheed Martin F-35s pending an investigation if no apparent security or safety risks are linked to the Chinese alloy used in the jets, a top Pentagon official said.
In a September 9 press briefing, Undersecretary of Defense William LaPlante said that if the probe finds the Chinese component is a direct breach of defense acquisition regulations, a waiver would be needed saying that keeping the production lines running is in the best interest of US national security.
“They’re looking at two things, right? One, impact on security, if any, and impact on air worthiness … Right now, it doesn’t appear to be either of them but I’m waiting for them to finish what they’re looking at and come to me … So I’m hoping this can be resolved pretty soon,” LaPlante said.
Deliveries Temporarily Halted
Last week, the F-35 program office temporarily halted deliveries of the aircraft after discovering that the alloy used in the jets’ pump magnets was manufactured in China.
Both the jet’s prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, and the F-35 program office stated that the magnets do not pose any risks. However, Honeywell – the creator of the F-35’s turbomachine – has already ceased working with the Chinese alloy supplier.
Instead, an alternate US-based source has been tapped to continue F-35 production with new alloy, Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Laura Siebert said.
‘Supply Chain Illumination’
As F-35 production raised concerns regarding defense acquisition regulations, LaPlante said there lies a larger issue among defense contractors known as “supply chain illumination.”
Supply chain illumination concerns prime suppliers’ awareness of all the parts in their supply chains.
He gave the example of “a CEO of a company” telling him he thought he had 300 suppliers, but when he counted all of his suppliers, “he probably had 3,000.”
“The good news is there are tools coming out using artificial intelligence and open source that can dive in and maybe find some of these things, but I think it’s going to be a constant — a constant issue for us, is — is understanding our supply chain,” LaPlante said.