Nearly all F-35 jet engines ordered last year arrived late

An F-35A Lightning II flies over the flightline at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. Aug. 21, 2017.


By TONY CAPACCIO | Bloomberg | Published: March 3, 2020

Nearly all the engines ordered for the next-generation F-35 jet were delivered late last year as the Pratt & Whitney unit of United Technologies Corp. struggled to solve nagging difficulties with parts and suppliers, according to the Pentagon.

About 85% of the engines for the stealthy fighter were delivered late in 2019, the Defense Department's F-35 program office reported, adding that Pratt & Whitney did manage to deliver more engines than required. The tardiness figure was in line with data from 2018, but up from 48% and 58% in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

"In general, the monthly schedule performance continues to be impacted by issues with parts and suppliers which the program office is monitoring closely," the program office said in statement Tuesday. Pratt & Whitney "continues to perform reviews" within its expansive production chain and "has made some progress but more progress is needed to meet the monthly schedule," it added.

Engine delivery issues are just one problem that has plagued the jet's manufacturing ahead of a key decision expected in the next year on whether to move ahead into full-rate production on the $428 billion F-35 program. The fighter has also been flagged for breaking down too often, carrying a 25mm gun that doesn't shoot accurately and having shortages in its supply chain for spare parts from tire assemblies to seats. Some of the problems have since been fixed.

Nevertheless, the jet is a key part of a broader weapons modernization effort meant to bolster not just the U.S. military but those of key allies from Poland to Japan. As the sole provider of F-35 engines, Pratt & Whitney and its subcontractors are in line to collect as much as $66 billion of the total jet contract. Congress has approved about $27 billion to date for F-35 engines. But the eventual decision on full-rate production means Pratt & Whitney needs to show it can ramp up production effectively.

Overall, 128 of 150 engines delivered last year arrived late, eight arrived on time and 14 came in ahead of schedule, according to the F-35 program office. Of 93 engines in the 11th low-rate production contract bloc, 90 arrived an average of 41 days late.

In a statement, the company emphasized that it "exceeded its annual F-35 engine delivery commitment" for 2019. "This represents a 60% year-over-year increase in deliveries. We remain laser-focused on working closely" with the program office and "our supply base to achieving on-time delivery in 2020."

Pratt & Whitney remains under a high-level "Corrective Action Request" that the Defense Contract Management Agency issued in December 2018, citing "poor delivery performance." The agency said it's evaluating the company's corrective actions and may rescind the CAR by month's end. The company has made improvements in four areas, including deploying "focus teams" to subcontractors for ensuring adequate "critical hardware" and qualifying additional suppliers, DCMA said.

Asked if the company was ready for accelerated full-rate engine production, the agency said "as the P&W suppliers demonstrate success in meeting their contract delivery rate the probability of P&W meeting their full-rate production level increases."