PARIS --- The Marine Corps declared Initial Operational Capability of their Lockheed F-35B fighter last July despite a number of deficiencies “that preclude aircraft mission readiness in support of …. initial operating capabilities.”
That admission, contained in a May 12 contract announcement (see below), contradicts most statements made at the time, and since, by the Marine Corps, the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) and prime contractor Lockheed Martin claiming that IOC meant the F-35B was ready for “worldwide deployment” and combat.
While this was generally accepted as a public relations exercise with no real foundation in fact, the Pentagon’s admission, albeit indirect, that the aircraft were so deficient they did not meet IOC standards should be a major embarrassment for the Corps, JPO and Lockheed Martin, as well as other senior Pentagon officials who at the time made enthusiastic statements which today seem wildly excessive.
Furthermore, the fact that the Pentagon must now pay Lockheed $10.5 million to fix those deficiencies should also raise eyebrows, as it is the first time that deficiencies in IOC aircraft are disclosed.
There has been no word from the Marine Corps or the JPO to suggest that the aircraft in the IOC squadron had any deficiencies, and the various Congressional committees briefed on the F-35 program were apparently not informed of them.
The deficiencies are apparently substantial in both number and complexity.
The contract announcement states that Lockheed will supply “61 retrofit kits to correct deficiencies,” implying that each IOC aircraft has an average of 6.1 deficiencies since the IOC squadron, VMFA-121, operates ten F-35Bs.
The announcement also notes that work will not be completed before January 2019 – three years and a half after IOC – which again implies that these are not superficial defects that can be quickly fixed.
It is probable that the $10.5 million price tag announced May 12 is only an initial payment, as the JPO has a habit of breaking contracts down into smaller awards, although this is speculation on our part.
We have asked the JPO for an explanation of the contract and of these deficiencies, but because of the time difference have not heard from them by our deadline. We will add their response, if any, when it arrives.