The Pentagon wants to remove the central entity controlling the F35 program

In a March 27, 2018 letter to the United States Congress, the Pentagon signaled its intention to divide the single entity in charge of the F35 program, into entities specific to each armed force (Air Force, Navy and Marines). This measure would aim to improve the interaction between the armies and the industrialist, and thus reduce the very important maintenance costs of the Lockheed aircraft, but also to increase its very insufficient availability today. By proceeding in this way, the Pentagon wishes to transfer part of the maintenance operations of the industrial perimeter to the armed forces themselves, and thus hopes to reduce labor costs and maintenance times for the F35.

Contrary to the announcements of the Chief of Staff of the US Air Force last week, there is indeed a major problem when the maintenance and development costs of the F35 for the Pentagon. And this measure is presented as the keystone of the program intended to reduce these costs to acceptable levels.

If, in fact, the transfer of a significant part of the maintenance effort to the armed forces should allow a reduction of up to 30% in current maintenance costs, simply because of lower labor costs for the armies that for the industrialist, it is unlikely that the measure will succeed in lowering the final score beyond 15-20%. Indeed, the armies will be able to provide direct labor, but will always be dependent on spare parts supplied by the manufacturer. In addition, device developments, which depend entirely on the manufacturer, represent 30 to 40% of overall maintenance costs. 

Finally, it is unlikely that the manufacturer will maintain the current prices for spare parts, since it will have to compensate for a significant drop in its turnover due to this change in procedure. For all these reasons, it is likely that the effective reduction per flight hour of this measure will peak at 15%, 20% in the best case, reducing the flight hour from $61.000 to $50.000.

But this reduction will only apply to the US Air Force, US Navy and Marine Corps, not to export customers of the F35. Indeed, the infrastructures to be put in place to carry out these maintenance operations are beyond the reach of the European air forces, which for the most part only operate around a hundred aircraft, or less. In addition, in order to facilitate negotiations, Lockheed distributed territorial maintenance exclusivities to the first acquiring countries, such as in the United Kingdom for the maintenance of the F35 in the Northern Europe zone, and Italy for the Southern Europe zone. The European air forces having chosen the F35 should therefore not see the benefits of operations to optimize the maintenance of the F35, and will continue to finance, at a high price, each flight hour of the American fighter. 

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