DCMA reports reveal glimpses inside F-35 production delays

We have published a news analysis on Flightglobal.com with my findings after reviewing the hundreds of pages of monthly assessment reports on F-35 production released recently by the Defense Contract Management Agency.

A quick summary:

US government auditors monitoring the F-35 Joint Strike Fighterprogramme have warned that Lockheed Martin expects delays of aircraftdeliveries will continue for at least another year. The Defense Contracts Management Agency (DCMA) also has expressedfears Lockheed Martin will never fully recover, citing parts shortagetrends indicating the F-35 assembly line in Fort Worth, Texas, “willnot be able to achieve or sustain [full] rate production”.

The reports show Lockheed’s biggest manufacturing problem is the F-35′s wing, a fact the company has long acknowledged. Here’s more from the story.

Severe shortages of parts have forced Lockheed to send incompletewings to a mating fixture, which joins the four major wing structuresto the fuselage. Even after the missing parts arrive, finishing thewings inside the mating fixture is more difficult, which extends thedelay.

Lockheed has previously said that many of the parts shortages werecaused by the 2004 redesign. As part of an effort to save up to 1,360kg(3,000lb), Lockheed introduced stricter manufacturing tolerancesknowing many suppliers would need several years to achieve them.

The reports are a wealth of data. Here are some highlights, including several points that didn’t fit inside the news story.


  • July 2007: Five potential suppliers rejected Lockheed’s design for the F-35A gun port access panel, each calling Lockheed’s design too complex to manufacture.
  • July 2007: The Honeywell integrated power pack failed on the test stand, even as the AA-1 flight test article was already grounded. The DCMA noted these examples, along with “risks associated with concurrent development, elevate concerns and jeopardize [redacted] the flight test program schedule.”
  • August 2007: DCMA found that Lockheed “is not following, nor consistently applying [earned value management system, or EVMS] guidelines”. The report adds: “The utility of EVMS has declined to a level where it does not serve its intended purpose and the government is not obtaining useful program performance data to anticipate and mitigate program risks.”
  • December 2007: “There is a high risk of not meeting the 400hr system level mean-time-between-failure requirement by the end of [system development and demonstration, or SDD]. As risk mitigation, [redacted] had budgeted methods of ‘growing’ reliability earlier than originally planned, but cost constraints resulted in LM Aero canceling the Reliability Growth Tests. These tests were the primary vehicle for improving MTBF during SDD.”
  • December 2008: “Seat anomalies were observed in the ejection sequence during an escape system sled test on 20 Nov 08, with two successive failures occurring during subsequent qualification testing. An investigation revealed that the ejection seat sequencer failed to function properly and the ejection seat operated in back-up mode. Data indicates a communications fault during sequencer power-up — bench testing has shown that the sequencer is fully functional following the communications fault.”
  • December 2008: DCMA raised concerns about Lockheed’s monthly spending rate, projecting the SDD budget will be depleted by Fiscal 2011.

  • April 2009: “Present supplier delivery data/trends indicate LM Aero will not be able to achieve or sustain rate production of F-35 aircraft assembly, manufacturing sequence or DD-250 delivery dates.”
  • July 2009: “The Program has surpassed one year since the revised Program Master Schedule (6.1), which established an Over Target Baseline for cost and schedule, was implemented. An initial improvement in overall SDD planned versus actual activity completion performance was observed in May 2008 when MS 6.1 was implemented into the schedule. Over the last seven months, performance has averaged an approximate 40% completion rate. … MS 6.1 does not appear to be achievable – there is a strong probability of Master Schedule realignment (MS 6.2?) currently under consideration.”
  • September 2009: “The volume of major [change requests, or CRs] is projected to continue. While much of this volume was anticipated within the program, the number of major changes and the disruption to the floor were not anticipated. … Change as a result of design errors, assembly issues and integration issues were not anticipated as they have been seen.”


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4 Responses to DCMA reports reveal glimpses inside F-35 production delays

  1. Nicolas Cousineau 3 March, 2010 at 4:30 pm #

    And some people are still willing to buy that?

    Poor Kelly…

  2. Dave 3 March, 2010 at 9:29 pm #

    Lockheed should change their slogan to: “Seizing Defeat from the Jaws of Victory”. Much more accurate then “We never forget who we’re working for”.

  3. banks 29 July, 2010 at 5:57 pm #

    I think you are right. Good news, bad news, good news, I am as confused it seems as the economic recovery.

  4. kekoe 31 August, 2010 at 10:09 pm #


    “Fights between the F-22A and the PAK-FA will be close, high, fast and lethal. The F-22A may get ‘first look’ with the APG-77, the Advanced Infra Red Search and Track (AIRST) sensor having been deleted to save money, but the PAK-FA may get ‘first look’ using its advanced infrared sensor. [...] The outcome will be difficult to predict as it will depend a lot on the combat skills of the pilots and the capabilities of the missiles for end-game kills. There is no guarantee that the F-22 will prevail every time.”

    “The proposed “sixth generation fighter” is not a viable contender in this time frame. The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is not competitive and cannot be made to be competitive due to basic design limitations in aerodynamic and VLO shaping performance. The only aircraft built by the United States which can survive in airspace contested by the PAK-FA is the F-22 Raptor, and given the time frame of interest, it is the only design which can be adapted to defeat the PAK-FA.”

    “the F-35 will no longer be a usable combat aircraft for roles other than Counter Insurgency (COIN), though more cost effective and more appropriate solutions already exist for this role.”

    “the only viable … strategy [...] is to terminate the Joint Strike Fighter program immediately, redirect freed funding to further develop the F-22 Raptor, and employ variants of the F-22 aircraft as the primary fighter aircraft for all United States and Allied TACAIR needs.

    If the US does not fundamentally change its planning [...], the advantage held for decades will be soon lost… ”

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