The F-35 Joint Program Office and its top contractors are once again being criticized for shoddy management of the nearly $400 billion fighter program, this time in a newly released report from the Defense Department’s Inspector General (IG).

The IG found in a Sept. 30 report that the team fell short on quality control in 363 findings. “The F-35 program did not sufficiently implement or flow down technical quality management system requirements to prevent the fielding of nonconforming hardware and software,” the report says.

The review mostly focused on hardware and did not look into software work; U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, F-35 Program Executive Officer, has said that software is the riskiest area for this program.

The IG’s office studied quality assurance and conformance to standards at prime contractor Lockheed Martin; Northrop Grumman, which builds the center fuselage; BAE Systems, which builds the aft fuselage, L-3, which builds the panoramic cockpit display system; Honeywell, manufacturer of the Onboard Oxygen Generation System; and United Technologies, which builds the landing gear. The IG intended to review the F135 engine built by Pratt & Whitney, but cuts from sequestration forced the office to scale back its probe, according to one Joint Program Office (JPO) official.

The review was welcomed by program leaders at the Pentagon, says Rear Adm. Randolph Mahr, deputy F-35 program manager. “We didn’t wait to work the findings,” he notes. None of the items presented safety issues with aircraft already fielded to customers, he said. More than 75% of the items are already resolved or are being worked, according to officials at the JPO.

The IG’s goal was to better align the oversight of the JPO and experts at the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA). The IG will conduct similar reviews of other programs, but F-35, being the largest Pentagon acquisition program, was first.

Data for the report were collected throughout 2012 and it took much of 2013 to compile them and draft the findings.

The JPO was unable to ensure that Lockheed and its primary subcontractors were applying “rigor to design, manufacturing and quality assurance processes,” the IG found. Likewise, the program office was not flowing down critical safety items and ensuring their own officials as well as those from Lockheed were flowing down technical and quality assurance requirements throughout the supply chain. DCMA also is to blame for not properly managing quality control, the IG says.

The JPO largely agreed with the IG’s findings but took issue with one. The office stated that it does not have the resources to perform process proofing of all critical processes, nor does it have the responsibility or resources to perform requirement flow-down verification throughout the F-35 supply chain, according to the report.

The IG says this job falls squarely within the JPO’s area of responsibility. “It is the Joint Program Office’s responsibility to ensure contractual compliance to prevent nonconformances,” the report says.

Roughly 2,600 government workers are assigned to the program; 800 are on the testing team and another 1,800 are helping manage the program from various locations.

Parts

When the IG looks at quality, it looks to see that parts are manufactured to specifications. At times, parts can be manufactured to specifications but still are unable to meet requirements; officials do not consider those to be quality issues. Part of the IG’s quality review assesses the ability of the manufacturers to comply with standards, such as the AS9100 standard used by the aerospace industry.

Mahr notes that “early on” in the program (Lockheed is assembling lot 5 aircraft now), there were quality deficiencies being fielded to the fleet. Now, however, “Lockheed Martin is taking positive steps to fix that,” he says.

“The quality of this program is as good or better than legacy platforms,” says Eric Banyan, Lockheed Martin vice president of program management for the F-35. One measure of this is “scrap and rework”; about 13% of the total hours were spent on scrap and rework for the F-35 at unit 100, which was fewer than the F-22 at unit 100, Banyan says. He projects that by unit 600, the F-35 will reach the 6% scrap and rework milestone achieved by the F-16 program at unit 2,500.

Orlando Carvalho, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics vice president, established a quality transformation council to develop a mindset of improved quality in his workers and those working at suppliers, Banyan says. In concert, he kicked off a Global Quality Council with the top 10 suppliers for all of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics’ suppliers.