Wednesday, October 5, 2022

‘Made In China’ F-35 Stealth Fighters’ Component Not A Security Threat; Joint Program Office Appeals For Waiver

The US temporarily suspended the deliveries of new F-35 fighter jets after discovering that a Chinese alloy was being used in the aircraft. However, the decision could soon be reversed, with the F-35 Joint Program Office appealing for a waiver.

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EurAsian Times reported on September 8 that Pentagon had temporarily suspended the delivery of F-35 fighter jets after discovering that a magnet in the Honeywell-built turbomachine was made using a cobalt and samarium alloy developed in China.

A turbomachine is an engine component that powers the starter/generator mounted on the engine. It has been revealed that all F-35 fighter jets produced already have Chinese alloys. The Chinese alloy is present in all 825 F-35s delivered so far across variants, including those for foreign buyers.

f-35
File Image: F-35 Lightning II

Even though the Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter has a Chinese component against Pentagon purchasing regulations, the F-35 Joint Production Office has decided to request a national security waiver to allow deliveries to continue.

The usage of specialty metals or alloys produced in China, Iran, North Korea, or Russia is prohibited by American law and Pentagon acquisition standards.

According to F-35 spokesman Russell Goemaere, the program will now ask the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, William LaPlante, for a national security waiver to start deliveries of already completed new aircraft containing the alloy, Bloomberg reported.

On August 19, the Defense Contract Management Agency notified the F-35 program headquarters of the breach. At least three aircraft have already been delayed in delivery after a temporary suspension was put in place on August 31 in response to the discovery of the Chinese alloy in the aircraft.

“All delivered aircraft have components containing these specialty metals. The F-35 team, including Lockheed Martin and the Joint Program Office, assess that there is no security risk or safety of flight risk to the aircraft or program from the turbomachine components,” Russell Goemaere, a JPO spokesman, said in a statement on September 9, 2022.

No Threat To National Security

The JPO went on to make a case for the waiver on the pretext of no harm to national security. It further read, “We have confirmed that the magnet does not transmit information or harm the integrity of the aircraft, and there are no performance, quality, safety, or security risks associated with this issue, and flight operations for the F-35 in-service fleet will continue as usual.

“The F-35 Joint Program Office will seek a national security waiver from the Defense Acquisition Executive to continue delivery. Pending the approval of the National Security Waiver, the program does not anticipate replacing magnets in delivered aircraft.”

Pratt & Whitney F135 - Wikipedia
Pratt & Whitney F135 that powers the F-35- Wikipedia

A spokesman for the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO), Russell Goemaere, stated categorically that the component which is a magnet used in F-35 turbomachine pumps, “does not transmit information or harm the integrity of the aircraft and there is no performance, quality, safety, or security risks associated with this issue.”

According to Goemaere, the program office does not foresee “changing magnets in delivered aircraft.” Retrofitting more than 500 US training and operational aircraft could be expensive and time-consuming. It is also pertinent to note that the US Department of Defense awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin to build 375 F-35 fighter jets over three years in July 2022.

Lt Col. Jahara Matisek, USAF Pilot and Military Professor at the Naval War College, told EurAsian Times – “Over the last 5ish years, there’s been an effort to get Chinese “stuff” out of the DOD supply chain because we know that the PRC has compromised some hardware by them placing a backdoor.

So, to ensure no DOD systems are compromised, there is a desire to remove anything and everything that might have been compromised by the Chinese. It’s no different than when Beijing “generously” built the African Union HQ in Ethiopia, they bugged the entire facility.” 

On September 2, the DFARS’s non-compliance with the alloy used in the magnets was formally disclosed to the F-35 JPO. “Further investigation is underway to understand the causal factors for the non-compliance and to establish corrective action,” he said.

Flaws In The US Supply Chain?

The current suspension imposed on the aircraft would not affect either the F-35 in-service fleet’s flying operations or the aircraft’s production by manufacturer Lockheed Martin. There has been an unprecedented uptick in aircraft sales since Russia invaded Ukraine. Several countries are negotiating or have already sealed a deal with Lockheed Martin.

According to Lockheed Martin, the F-35 contains about 300,000 parts produced by 1,700 suppliers. However, it is a no-brainer that a Chinese component would be a red line for the Pentagon. The US has, in the past, accused China of stealing its stealth technology and other military secrets.

F-35B
A fixed-wing aircraft mechanic with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, conducts preflight checks on a #F35B Lightning II aircraft at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan – Twitter

That being said, manufacturer Lockheed Martin assured the Pentagon that magnets produced from a different alloy employing components from the United States would be used going forward in the production of turbomachines. However, all the F-35s built until now will carry the controversial component nonetheless.

The turbomachine is a component of the Integrated Power Package (IPP), which is the central part of the power and thermal management system, according to Laura Siebert, a Lockheed Martin official who talked with The War Zone earlier. The IPP supplies electrical power to start the engine and conditioned bleed air for cooling aircraft systems.

However, the Pentagon will move toward seeking a waiver that will permit deliveries to continue because it seems there are no safety or security concerns with the component, which was magnetized in the US, William LaPlante, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, told reporters at a briefing.

But the main problem, according to LaPlante, is how complicated the supply chain for the defense industrial base may be. He stated that contractors need to understand their supply chains better.

When the suspension decision came to light, China refuted it as a ‘red scare.’ Chinese state-run publication China Daily said that the incident shows the ridiculous situation of high anxiety the US administration has forced upon itself due to the self-inflicted red scare.

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