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Pentagon criticizes Pratt & Whitney for 'systemic' F-35 production issues

An F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is test-flown June 27, 2012, near Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.

The Pentagon’s head of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program office said Wednesday that “systemic issues” at Pratt & Whitney have interrupted or delayed engine deliveries for the tactical aircraft.

In an update to a congressional subcommittee, Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher C. Bogdan, executive officer for the F-35 program office, said that “far too often engine deliveries are interrupted by technical issues and manufacturing quality escapes.”

These production issues, Bogdan said, result “in product holds and material deficiencies that increase overall risk to meeting future production goals.”

Pratt & Whitney, a division of Hartford, Conn.-based United Technologies Corp., said the manufacturing issues were with a small number of parts, “none of which impact the performance or operation of the engine.” The company said it is also replacing parts that have shown to not meet “full life.”

Engine problems with the Joint Strike Fighter program have resulted in the fleet being grounded numerous times, while other quality and accounting issues have caused the Pentagon to withhold payments to Pratt & Whitney.

Last year, the Pentagon grounded the fleet twice. In January 2012 the problem was a crimped hydraulic hose in an engine, and in February 2012 it was a crack that appeared on an engine’s turbine blade.

In October, problems with Pratt & Whitney’s cost and scheduling management system caused federal contracting officials to withhold 5 percent, or $25.7 million, of payments to the company.

Bogdan said the Pentagon has withheld funds from Pratt & Whitney because of quality issues before — sometimes for good.

“My production and quality teams continue to work closely with Pratt & Whitney to resolve the systemic issues which result in these product holds,” Bogdan said.

As of February, Pratt & Whitney has delivered 134 engines and 46 lift fans that are used in the short take-off and landing version of the aircraft, Bogdan told congressional leaders. In 2013, engine delivery increased to 4.3 per month from 4.0 engines per month in 2012.

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