This document comes from the United Stated Government Accountability Office, and was published in April 2019.
What GAO Found
F-35 aircraft performance is falling short of warfighter requirements—that is,
aircraft cannot perform as many missions or fly as often as required.
Figure: F-35 Fleet Aircraft Performance, May 2018—November 2018
This lower-than-desired aircraft performance is due largely to F-35 spare parts
shortages and difficulty in managing and moving parts around the world:
• Spare parts shortages and limited repair capabilities. F-35 aircraft were
unable to fly nearly 30 percent of the May—November 2018 time period due
to spare parts shortages. Also, the Department of Defense (DOD) had a
repair backlog of about 4,300 F-35 parts. DOD is taking steps to fix these
issues, such as improving the reliability of parts. However, it has not fully
determined actions needed to close the gap between warfighter
requirements and the performance the F-35 supply chain can deliver.
• Mismatched parts for deploying aircraft. DOD purchases certain sets of F35 parts years ahead of time to support aircraft on deployments, including on
ships. But the parts do not fully match the military services’ needs because
F-35 aircraft have been modified over time. For example, 44 percent of
purchased parts were incompatible with aircraft the Marine Corps took on a
recent deployment. Without a process to modify the sets of parts for
deployments, DOD may be unable to meet the services’ operational needs.
• An immature global network to move F-35 parts. DOD’s networks for
moving F-35 parts around the world are immature, and overseas F-35
customers have experienced long wait times for parts needed to repair aircraft. Without a detailed plan for the network, DOD may not be ready to support an expanding fleet. In addressing these challenges, DOD must grapple with affordability. The Air Force and Marine Corps recently identified the need to reduce their sustainment costs per aircraft per year by 43 and 24 percent, respectively. DOD has spent billions of dollars on F-35 spare parts but does not have records for all the parts it has purchased, where they are, or how much they cost. For example, DOD is not maintaining a database with information on F-35 parts the U.S. owns, and it lacks the necessary data to be able to do so. Without a policy that clearly defines how it will keep track of purchased F-35 parts, DOD will continue to operate with a limited understanding of the F-35 spare parts it owns and how they are being managed. If left unaddressed, these accountability issues will impede DOD’s ability to obtain sufficient readiness within affordability constraints.