Military members severely lack detailed manuals for F-35s.
Without necessary and complete technical data from Lockheed Martin and its subcontractors, repair times have lagged. When the F-35 program began, GAO said, the Pentagon thought it would be more cost-effective to have contractors handle the bulk of the jet’s sustainment. As a result, the Pentagon didn’t require Lockheed to hand over the technical data that would allow the military to “organically” handle maintenance itself.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has repeatedly criticized that decision, earlier this year calling it “a serious mistake” the service won’t repeat on its sixth-generation Next Generation Air Dominance fighter.
The acquisition philosophy in vogue at the time of the F-35 program’s launch two decades ago, dubbed Total System Performance, meant the contractor on the program would own it for the system’s entire life cycle, Kendall said during a May breakfast with reporters.
This creates “a perpetual monopoly,” Kendall explained, and amounts to “acquisition malpractice” on the F-35.
Officials at an unidentified depot told GAO that maintenance manuals for some key parts are “ambiguous and rarely are detailed enough for depot personnel to make the repair.”
“As a result, depot personnel not only cannot fix the part, but they cannot learn and understand how to fix the part,” the watchdog wrote.
The training process for service members to maintain the F-35 is also lacking, GAO said. Maintainers told GAO they mainly learned how to fix the jet while on the job. Initial Lockheed Martin-led training mainly relied on PowerPoint slides in a classroom, with limited hands-on lessons, GAO said.
Training personnel acknowledged to GAO the maintenance training is “poor and inadequate,” adding that because Lockheed Martin runs the training, the firm controls what information is presented to maintainers.
“Since so much of the technical data used to maintain the aircraft is proprietary and unavailable to the military services, trainers in the military services cannot develop effective training programs for maintainers,” GAO wrote.
The situation differs considerably from F-15 and F-16 maintenance, which includes detailed manuals spelling out how the systems operate that allow maintainers to troubleshoot nagging problems.