Sunday, March 25, 2018

Lack of spare parts hampers F-35 program

Congressman Matt Gaetz: “While we’ve not been late in graduating any pilots yet, I’ve been told that we are rapidly approaching the inability to accomplish the mission.”

EGLIN AFB — Problems with repairing parts and acquiring spare parts for the F-35 Lightning II could jeopardize pilot training for the next-generation stealth fighter jet, according to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Without a quick solution for the spare parts issue, “Eglin will begin missing pilot graduation goals,” said Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, whose congressional district includes Eglin Air Force Base.

The issue has also attracted the attention of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

In a Thursday email, the senator’s press office said Rubio’s staff “recently met with the commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base to discuss the maintenance and availability issues the wing is facing.”

The email noted that Rubio “will work with the Air Force to find a solution to ensure F-35 pilot training continues to grow in Florida.”

Eglin is one of two F-35 training sites, the other being Arizona’s Luke Air Force Base. The spare parts problem, comprising both a shortage of parts and problems with the quick repair of broken parts, has been widely reported in the aviation press.

Aviation Week & Space Technology reported recently that maintenance personnel at the 33rd Fighter Wing “are constantly battling for parts.”

The Aviation Week & Space Technology quoted Gaetz from a March 7 hearing of the Tactical Air and Land Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

“We’ve gotten report after report that the parts are not available to ensure that we’ve got capable aircraft to meet the training syllabus,” Gaetz told the subcommittee, according to the magazine story. “While we’ve not been late in graduating any pilots yet, I’ve been told that we are rapidly approaching the inability to accomplish the mission.”

Gaetz said Friday the availability of spare parts for the F-35 has become such an issue that, on occasion, when a part is sent in from Eglin for repair, the repaired part may be sent to an aircraft elsewhere that might have a more immediate need for repair.

Neither Eglin’s main public affairs office nor the public affairs office at the 33rd Fighter Wing responded directly to requests for comment last week. The main public affairs office referred calls to the 33rd’s public affairs office, which referred questions to the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command in Texas. Emails and phone calls to the Air Force’s main public affairs office had not produced any answers as of Friday, although the office indicated in an email that “a couple of folks are working your questions.”

The Air Education and Training Command sent a similar email late Friday afternoon.

Additionally, neither the military’s F-35 Joint Program Office in Washington, D.C., nor Lockheed-Martin, the contractor for the F-35 program, responded to requests for comment.

According to Gaetz, the Department of Defense and Lockheed-Martin “have lightly pointed fingers at each other” in assessing blame for the problems. Gaetz said that in his estimation, there are two approaches needed to address the issue: establishing F-35 “parts depots” at locations around the country to ensure that parts are readily available when needed, and cutting down on the bureaucracy of parts acquisition and repair.

Gaetz said the federal spending plan approved by Congress late last week includes funding to address the F-35 the problem in the way he outlined.

“There is a plan to resolve this problem,” he said.

Original article can be found here ➤ http://www.newsherald.com

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