F-35 technical and quality-management issues cited

The F-35 program suffers from technical and quality management problems that could adversely affect aircraft performance, reliability, maintainability, and program cost, according to the inspector general of the US Department of Defense. In a report titled “Quality Assurance Assessment of the F-35 Lightning II Program,” the inspector general's office writes, “The F-35 Program did not sufficiently implement or flow down technical and quality management system requirements to prevent the fielding of nonconforming hardware and software…. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company (Lockheed Martin) and its subcontractors did not follow disciplined AS9100 Quality Management System practices….”

The report cites the Joint Program Office (JPO) for failing to ensure that Lockheed Martin and its subcontractors were applying rigor to design, manufacturing, and quality-assurance processes.

The report recommends that the JPO take these steps among others: ensure compliance with AS9100 throughout the supply chain, perform process proofing of all critical processes to include first article inspections, modify its contracts to include a quality escape clause, perform technical and quality-assurance requirement flow down and verification throughout the supply chain, establish an independent quality-assurance organization, and revise the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) memorandum of agreement to include explicit quality-assurance oversight requirements.

The JPO concurs with many of these recommendations. For example, with respect to AS9100 (Quality Management Systems—Requirements for Aviation, Space, and Defense Organizations), the JPO says that the government has had limited insights into some AS9100-related reviews and audits, adding, “DCMA at Lockheed Martin Fort Worth reorganized in February 2013 to provide more focus and inspection emphasis to ensure AS9100 compliance and a quality product.”

However, the JPO does not fully concur with other recommendations. The report says, “The Joint Program Office stated that it does not have the resources to perform process proofing of all critical processes nor has the responsibility or resources to perform requirement flow down verification throughout the F-35 supply chain.” The JPO also disagreed with respect to an independent quality-assurance organization, arguing that the DCMA performs the role of the independent quality-assurance organization for the F-35. These points remain in contention. The inspector general's office has asked for additional comment from JPO and DCMA by October 28.

You can read the 136-page report here.

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