JPO Links F-35 Sustainment Package To Demand For Data Rights 

Credit: USAF

The F-35 joint program office (JPO) has linked a proposed multibillion dollar sustainment package to a demand for Lockheed Martin to provide access to critical data at the back end of the multiyear deal, Program Executive Officer Lt. Gen. Eric Fick said March 4.   

The negotiations over a performance-based logistics (PBL) contract for the F-35 have become a tool in a larger strategy for the government to alter its role in the sustainment phase of the aircraft. 

In the original contract for the F-35 signed in 2001, the government ceded control of the sustainment phase to Lockheed, including rights to the underlying design and technical data required to maintain and upgrade the aircraft, Fick said, speaking at the McAleese Defense Programs Conference. 

Now the government wants to play a more hands-on role in the F-35 sustainment phase, although it is still defining what that role will be, he said. 

Meanwhile, Lockheed submitted a white paper to the JPO last year calling for F-35 sustainment to convert from a series of annual contracts to a multiyear deal, in which the contractor guarantees mission capabilities rates or aircraft availability levels for a certain, prenegotiated fee. 

But the JPO determined that Lockheed’s white paper fell short of the government’s demands for entering a PBL, Fick said. The JPO has now started a process to redefine the government’s role in the F-35 sustainment phase, such as shifting more maintenance to flight lines and military depots from Lockheed, he said. Once that role is defined, the JPO will be able to counteroffer Lockheed’s PBL proposal with specific requests for access to data, either through licensing or clawing back ownership of the rights to the data.

“Sometimes it will be licensing. Sometimes it’ll mean that we’re going to challenge a data rights assertion that the vendor has made,” Fick said. 

In the meantime, the JPO will continue to negotiate annual sustainment contracts with Lockheed and other F-35 suppliers, so that the government is not forced to agree to a multiyear PBL that falls short of its demands, he said.

Lockheed has cast the PBL arrangement as critical to reaching a JPO objective to lower the cost per flight hour of the F-35A to $25,000 from about $44,000 in 2019. 

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.