Pentagon’s F-35 Waiver is Third in A Decade Over Honeywell’s Chinese Parts
(Source: Defense-Aerospace.com; posted Oct. 11,2022)

By Giovanni de Briganti
Despite having pledged in 2014 to ensure no Chinese parts would be used in the production of F-35 fighters, the Pentagon and prime contractor Lockheed Martin have failed to follow through, leading to the ‘discovery’ of new Chinese parts in early September. (LM photo)
PARIS --- The Pentagon’s October 8 waiver allowing Lockheed to resume deliveries of the F-35 fighter aircraft is the third time since 2012 that subcontractor Honeywell has been faulted for illegally using Chinese-made parts in the aircraft.

Each time, main contractor Lockheed Martin and Honeywell undertook to replace the Chinese parts, and to find other sources in the United States, but the practice continued unabated, as evidenced by the latest “discovery” in September that Honeywell was still using Chinese-made magnets in an F-35 component.

This begs the question of why, eight years later, Honeywell was still illegally using Chinese magnets in F-35 components, given that the various administrative fixes announced in 2014 were intended to ensure that no foreign components were included in the program.

Like this time, the illegal parts discovered in 2012 and 2013 were also “Chinese magnets used in the F-35’s landing gear and other hardware,” Reuters reported on Jan. 3, 2014.

US laws have banned the procurement of specialty metals produced outside the United States for use on U.S. weapons since 173, and a separate 2006 law also bans the purchase of end-use items and components that include such specialty metals, Reuters reported.

First known waivers in 2012-13

The first known waivers, first reported by Reuters on Jan. 3, 2014, took place in 2012 and 2013, and allowed “two F-35 suppliers, Northrop Grumman Corp and Honeywell International Inc, to use Chinese magnets for the new warplane’s radar system, landing gears and other hardware. Without the waivers, both companies could have faced sanctions for violating federal law and the F-35 program could have faced further delays.”

“It was a pretty big deal and an unusual situation because there’s a prohibition on doing defense work in China, even if it’s inadvertent,” said Frank Kenlon, a retired senior Pentagon procurement official, told Reuters at the time. “I’d never seen this happen before.”

The Government Accountability Office was examining three similar cases involving the F-35, according to documents seen by Reuters at the time. The GAO report, due March 1, 2014 was ordered by U.S. lawmakers who say they are concerned that Americans firms are being shut out of the specialty metals market, but no such report was released in March.

Pentagon spokeswoman Maureen Schumann told Reuters on Jan. 12, 2014 that the Pentagon’s Kendall had granted national security waivers to allow foreign-built parts on other aircraft in the past, but had no immediate details about those cases.

Explaining the waivers at the time, Kendall said they were needed to keep production, testing and training of the F-35 on track and to avert millions of dollars in retrofit costs. In one case, it would cost $10.8 million and take about 25,000 man-hours to remove the Chinese-made magnets and replace them with American ones, the documents seen by Reuters indicated.

At the time, Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) at the Pentagon, told Reuters that the office was committed to ensuring that federal defense acquisition laws were strictly followed.

“There was never any risk of technology transfer or other security breach associated with these manufacturing compliance issues,” he said. “The JPO is working with industry to put in place long-term solutions to avoid the need for future waivers.”

DellaVedova also told CNBC that all the Chinese-built sensors would eventually be replaced on the F-35s, but the process had not yet been completed. He had no immediate information on how many Chinese-built sensors were installed on the planes, but assured that “This will all be taken care of.”

That undertaking was never implemented, as the latest Chinese parts episode shows.

Compliance asserted, never proved

Just over a month ago, on Sept. 9, Bloomberg reported that the F-35 Program Office had again "temporarily paused the acceptance of new F-35 aircraft to ensure the F-35 program's compliance" with defense regulations "pertaining to specialty metals," citing an email from Defense Department spokesman Russell Goemaere.

And Oct. 08, William LaPlante, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, reacted in exactly the same way as his predecessor Kendall and signed a waiver allowing deliveries to resume. “Today, I signed the National Security Waiver that allows DoD to accept Lot 13 and Lot 14 F-35 aircraft containing non-compliant specialty metals in Honeywell Integrated Power Package Turbomachines,” adding that “Acceptance of the aircraft is necessary for national security interests.”

These successive episodes show that, contrary to US laws and to its repeated assurances, the Pentagon has in fact tolerated Honeywell’s illegal use of Chinese-made components since virtually the beginning of the F-35 program.

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