HomeLatest newsChinese Parts Found in U.S. Fighter Show F-35 Must Be Brought Back...

Chinese Parts Found in U.S. Fighter Show F-35 Must Be Brought Back to Earth

Published on

- Advertisement -

Even as Russia’s war with Ukraine dominates much of America’s news coverage, diplomatic interest, and financial resources, a more significant threat has already wormed its way behind our defenses: Illegal technology from China is being used in planes purchased for the United States and allied militaries.

In September, the Pentagon suspended deliveries of its beleaguered F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program because of its use of metal alloys sourced from China. U.S. law explicitly prohibits the use of specialty metals or alloys from bad actors like China, North Korea, Russia, and Iran. While the issue will not affect F-35 jets currently in service, it was correctly addressed by the Pentagon because U.S. taxpayer dollars were sent to China via Lockheed Martin, which supplies the fighter.

While the parts supplied by China have been found to be up to standard, the procurement issue is just one indicator of the deeper problems that have plagued the JSF program since its inception in the mid-1990s. The program has consistently run over budget and behind schedule. And there are still some occasional crashes—like one in Texas in December—that have brought deliveries to a halt.

- Advertisement -
Coming Down to Earth
A F-35B fighter jet prepares to land on the flight deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Arabian Sea.

Although Lockheed Martin claims the sticker price for an F-35 is roughly $78 million each, the actual number is closer to $110 million per plane—and it could even be as high as $165 million per plane, which is what the Swiss government is paying for the whole package—including spare parts, ammunition, and other critical components of a functioning weapons system. as the planes age and require upgraded software and hardware refits, the Project on Government Oversight projects that this number will increase.

An April 2022 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) did not make for comfortable reading for taxpayers or backers of the F-35. The report criticized the Pentagon’s costly decision to order planes “before determining that the aircraft is ready to move into the full-rate production phase.” GAO auditors warned: “The more aircraft produced before testing is complete, the more it might cost to retrofit those aircraft if issues are discovered.”

Why then is the Pentagon still committed to ordering more and more planes? When will the testing process be finished? The latest scandal over metal alloys shows the difficulties in creating sound military contracts. Although a U.S. contractor is responsible for building F-35 airframes, manufacturing of certain engine parts was outsourced to Honeywell, which sources materials from China. By creating layer after layer, the process becomes more opaque and problems like this become inevitable.

- Advertisement -

The questions raised by the alloy problem and GAO’s report should have been answered by now. Why is a company like Lockheed Martin given seemingly unlimited access to taxpayer funds despite such a checkered track record?

A clear lesson from the JSF is that more strenuous testing of weapons systems must occur before the DOD is tied into long-term contracts (the contract for the F-35 was awarded in 2001). It’s irresponsible to have a decades-long contract that becomes a sunk cost, instead of shorter contracts which still provide contractors profit as they develop new systems and test them out. As things stand, the Pentagon seems willing to throw good money after bad.

There are, however, signs the white elephant’s number may be up. The Biden administration’s 2023 fiscal year budget is set to fund the purchase of another 61 F-35s to be used by US armed forces. Military contractor trade publication Defense One notes that’s 24 fewer planes than were purchased the previous year. It is also about one-third fewer than the 94 F-35s that were initially planned to be purchased in 2023. This looks like a tacit acknowledgement that Lockheed Martin can’t deliver the scale or quality of planes the Pentagon might like. Given the calamitous story of the F-35 so far, it’s clearly time for the Pentagon to start over—yes, with a different plane, but also with an entirely different strategy that puts process and results over expensive hopes and prayers.

- Advertisement -

Born and raised in the Middle East, Sara Scarlett Willson studied politics and international relations at Royal Holloway, University of London. She now works as an investigative journalist, podcaster and author.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

- Advertisement -

Latest articles

On what Google Bard can and cannot do

Google launched its chatbot, Bard, yesterday to offer a new experience to users in...

OnePlus 11: Real-Time Battery Test | follow up

OnePlus introduced to the world at the beginning of the year its new phones...

More like this