F-35 Supply Chain Recovering From COVID Slowdown, Lockheed’s New JSF Chief Says
2021 deliveries could return almost to the level once planned for 2020.
The F-35 stealth fighter supply chain is returning to “more of a normal operation” after a year of COVID-19-induced delays and closures, according to the Lockheed Martin executive who is newly overseeing the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons project.
“We're seeing the return of a good portion of the workforce back into normal operations,” Bridget Lauderdale, Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager of the F-35 program, said in an interview Wednesday. “As you watch the news every night, there are still impacts out there, but I would say that, for the most part, we're seeing the recovery of that supply chain.”
COVID-related supply chain problems and factory closures led Lockheed to slow F-35 assembly. The company delivered 120 aircraft last year to the U.S. military and international customers, short of the planned 141.
Currently, company officials expect to deliver 133 to 139 F-35s in 2021, Lauderdale said.
“We're working that with our customer now,” she said. “We are also working with them [on] the most effective way to plan 2022 deliveries and on, to make sure that we restore a production operation and a production line that is both delivering efficiently and effectively, and continuing to deliver high-quality product.”
Lauderdale, who was named head of the F-35 program in April, said F-35 subcontractors have been helped by a Pentagon policy put in place at the onset of the pandemic to pay contractors more money up front. Last month, one Lockheed F-35 supplier told Defense One that getting paid early allowed his company to order raw materials earlier and avoid layoffs.
“We were very focused as a company in accelerating payments to the small businesses,” Lauderdale said.
Lockheed has also secured suppliers for some 900-plus parts that were manufactured in Turkey, which the U.S. kicked out of the F-35 program in 2019 after Ankara received S-400 missile interceptors from Russia.
“At this time, we have stood up alternate sources for all of the parts that we had received from or were receiving from Turkey,” Lauderdale said.
Turkey will still supply F-35 parts to Lockheed until March 2022, she said.
Removing Turkey from the F-35 program will increase the cost of the plane’s F135 engine 3 percent, Matthew Bromberg, president of Pratt & Whitney’s military engines business, told lawmakers in April.
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