Trump: make all F-35 parts in US; DoD spends $1B on COVID response; Intelsat, bankrupt, and more.

No F-35 parts should be made abroad, U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday.

“We get parts from all over the place, it’s so crazy,” Trump said during an interview with Fox that aired Thursday morning. “We should make everything in the United States.”

While the president no doubt had politics in mind, politics is part of the reason why the F-35 draws upon a global supply chain — and for that matter, why nearly every U.S. state makes something for the fifth-generation combat jet. Doling out lucrative work to potential customers and to many lawmakers’ constituents helped get the massive program off the ground and keep it going through controversy. 

But even before the pandemic, this vast supply chain had proved unwieldy. Getting spare parts for F-35s has been a problem for years. A May 12 Government Accountability Office report found that in 2019, F-35 suppliers “struggled to meet increased production demands…and, as a result, the program witnessed increased rates of late deliveries or parts shortages.”

In other words, the suppliers delivered parts late to Lockheed Martin, which assembles the bulk of F-35s in Fort Worth, Texas. That’s prompted Lockheed to reconfigure its assembly line, making it less efficient.

Further complicating F-35 production: the U.S. has kicked Turkey, which makes more than 1,000 of the plane’s parts, out of the program last year after Ankara received S-400 interceptors from Russia. Pentagon acquisition officials planned to remove all Turkish suppliers by March, but then said Turkey would continue making some parts through the end of the year.

A Pentagon acquisition official told GAO that Turkish companies would continue supplying parts through “the end of lot 14 deliveries” — scheduled in 2022. This is being done “in part, to avoid disruptions to aircraft deliveries and additional cost growth from standing up new suppliers.”

About those new suppliers. It’ll take time for them stand up manufacturing facilities and certify new parts. Lockheed representatives told GAO “it would take over a year to stand up these new suppliers, with lead times dependent on several factors, such as part complexity, quantity, and the supplier’s production maturity.”

And again, all of the estimates in GAO’s report were done before coronavirus.


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Tracking DoD’s Coronavirus-Response Contracts

The Pentagon has spent more than $1 billion to buy personal protective equipment, build temporary hospitals, and most recently, purchase syringes to allow for quick distribution of a coronavirus vaccine, whenever that arrives. Here’s a list of some major deals:

  • April 3: The Pentagon said it has spent $165 million on mobile hospitals being stood up in major cities’ convention centers and other locations. It says an additional $100 million has been spent on “to provide medical resources including masks, respirators, ventilators, gloves, gowns, fuel, food and other means of support.”
  • April 13: The Pentagon says it has placed a $415-million order with Battelle for 60 machines that can disinfect the much-in-demand N95 masks. Each machine can clean up to 80,000 masks per day. The deal also includes workers to run the mask cleaning devices.
  • April 21: The Pentagon said it “will invest” $133 million to increase domestic N95 mask production to more than “39 million over the next 90 days.”
  • April 29: The Pentagon said it would invest $75.5 million in “Defense Production Act Title 3 funding” to increase swab production. :Puritan Medical Products was awarded the contract, which will quickly establish a new manufacturing facility capable of doubling its current monthly output of 20 million to 40 million swabs.”
  • May 6: The Pentagon said it signed a $126 million contract with 3M for 26 million N95 masks per month beginning in October.
  • May 13: The Pentagon said it signed a $138 million contract with ApiJect Systems America for “Project Jumpstart” and “RAPID USA.” The contract “will support ‘Jumpstart’ to create a U.S.-based, high-speed supply chain for prefilled syringes beginning later this year by using well-established Blow-Fill-Seal (BFS) aseptic plastics manufacturing technology, suitable for combatting COVID-19 when a safe and proven vaccine becomes available,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “The contract also enables ApiJect Systems America to accelerate the launch of RAPID USA manufactured in new and permanent U.S.-based BFS facilities with the ultimate production goal of over 500 million prefilled syringes (doses) in 2021.” 
  • May 13: The Pentagon awarded a $134 million contract to the Federal Resources Supply Company PPE kits that include protective eyewear, gloves, gowns, and masks for medical personnel at 15,000-plus nursing homes. The deal includes 1.2 million goggles, 64.4 million pairs of gloves, 12.8 million gowns and 13.8 million masks.

Two GAO Reports to Check Out

F-35: The price of new jets is falling, but the cost to modernize existing ones is rising, according to a new Government Accountability Office report. “The F-35 program produced more aircraft and negotiated lower prices in 2019. However, the program is not meeting standards aimed at ensuring consistent, high-quality products, and fielded aircraft do not meet reliability goals,” the May 12 report said. “Also, the cost to modernize aircraft systems went up about $1.5 billion (14%) since the program’s May 2019 annual report to Congress. Due to development delays, this reporting requirement will expire before the effort is complete. We suggest Congress consider extending it.”

Top Pentagon and Navy officials have spent years trying to shorten the time each ship spends pierside for maintenance. “We found that the Navy has lowered costs from initial estimates for ship repair. But that work continues to run over schedule—due, in part, to the extra time it often takes to coordinate funding for additional repairs that may have been expected but could not be quantified when the contract began” GAO said in a May 11 report. “The Navy is testing a potential solution via a pilot program, but doesn’t have plans to assess its impact.”

Intelsat Files for Chapter 11

The company made the announcement on Wednesday, just minutes before midnight. “On May 13, 2020, Intelsat and certain of its subsidiaries voluntarily filed for Chapter 11, which allows companies to restructure their finances through a court-supervised process while continuing to operate the business as usual,” the company wrote on its website. “Intelsat General (IGC), which serves the Company’s U.S. commercial, government, and Allied military customers, is not part of the Chapter 11 proceedings.” Intelsat joins OneWeb as the latest satellite company to file for bankruptcy amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Boone Group Opens Office in Austin

Boone, the D.C.-based consulting firm that specializes in adapting commercial technology for the military will open an office in the Texas technology hub. “Boone Austin will be dedicated to exploring the growing opportunities for small tech businesses to contribute to the Army Futures Command mission, specifically by collaborating with the 75th Innovation Command, which has helped power technological leaps for the Army since World War II,” the firm said in a statement. “The office will also focus on furthering relationships with military innovation units, including the Defense Innovation Unit, AFWERX, and others.” The office will be led by Erin Ackley, who has worked in various Pentagon posts, most recently in the Strategic Capabilities Office

Aerojet Rocketdyne Fires Up New ICBM Rocket Motor

The company successfully tested a solid rocket motor called the Missile Components Advanced Technologies Demonstration Motor as part of an Air Force Research Laboratory experiment. The rocket’s design “incorporates numerous advanced technologies and materials” including a “graphite composite case, an affordable advanced nozzle and high-energy, long-life solid propellant,” the company said in a statement. “The program’s primary goal is to develop technologies to increase propulsion performance and lower manufacturing and operational costs for future applications.”

Kongsberg to Build Gun Turret for Marine ACV

The Norwegian company has been selected by BAE Systems to build the gun turret for the Marine Corps Amphibious Combat Vehicles. BAE is the lead contractor on the project. Kongsberg will build up to 150 MCT-30 turrets. The first test turrets are expected in early 2021, the company said in an emailed statement. The MCT-30 is the same turret used on up armored Stryker vehicles in Europe.