The Complex

U.S. Stealth Jets Have 363 Production Flaws, Inspectors Say

The Pentagon's inspector general has found 363 problems in the way Lockheed Martin and five other defense contractors build the Pentagon's primary fighter jet of the 21st century. Hundreds of production errors "could adversely affect aircraft performance, reliability, maintainability, and ultimately program cost" of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, according to an IG report published today.

The flaws largely consist of the companies' failure to follow safety and quality control techniques while building the stealth fighter jets. Contractors failed to make sure that manufacturing spaces were clear of harmful debris or that glues used to hold parts of the jets together had not passed their expiration dates. Instructions telling workers how to install parts on the airplane were incorrect.

These production flaws likely contributed to each jet in a recent batch of F-35s needing an average of 859 "quality action requests" before they were ready for delivery, according to the IG. This means that about 13 percent of all work done on a brand-new F-35 is "scrap, rework and repair" work to fix problems built into the planes, according the 126-page report.

"This was a wake-up call that we had to be more rigorous," Eric Branyan, Lockheed's F-35 vice president of program management, told Reuters. Branyan said the company plans to get the rework rate down to about 6 percent.

The report also knocks the Pentagon's F-35 program office and the Defense Contract Management Agency for "ineffective" oversight of Lockheed and the five other contractors that make the fighter jets.

"Although it would be unrealistic to expect first production to be issue free," the contractors need to improve their "quality assurance" techniques, how they communicate design requirements to subcontractors, and their discipline in adhering to manufacturing processes "if the Government is to attain lower program costs," reads the report.

This echoes what Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the Pentagon's man in charge of the $400 billion fighter jet program, said a year ago when he was the No. 2 military official involved in the program.

In September 2012, Bogdan told Killer Apps that the F-35 effort must fall back on the fundamentals of good weapons buying if it were to have a shot at success.

"That means know where every penny is, know where every person on the program is and what they're doing, and know where every pencil is. What I mean by pencil is, all the equipment -- you've got to have that kind of discipline." Bogdan reiterated that last sentence when asked how the F-35 program will be run going forward.

"There is no more money or no more time in the development of this program," said Bogdan. "We will not go back and ask for anymore."

If the program is run with discipline, transparency, accountability, and a focus on how to make the airplane affordable in the long term, "we've got a shot at getting this done. We've got a shot -- it will not be easy, though," Bogdan added.

The Defense Department plans to buy a total of 2,443 F-35s for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps over the coming decades. The F-35 will replace thousands of the U.S. military's Cold War-era fighters and ground-attack jets such as F-16 Vipers, A-10 Warthogs, AV-8B Harriers, and F/A-18 Hornets. Eleven other countries also plan to fly the stealth jets. Total cost over the program's estimated 50 years: $1.5 trillion.

The F-35 has been plagued by development problems leading to hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of redesigns. These redesigns in turn have led to years' worth of production delays for the airplane and a massive reduction in the planned number of jets the Pentagon plans to buy. The latest figures indicate that the military will only have 365 JSFs by 2017 instead of the 1,591 it originally planned on having by then.

Pentagon and Lockheed officials have blamed the F-35's production woes on the fact that Lockheed is trying to design, test, and build a supersonic stealth fighter all at once.

To be fair, it looks like Bogdan and Lockheed are making progress on these fronts. The Pentagon says it has already addressed 269 out of the 363 problem "findings" identified by in the IG report.

Just a couple of weeks ago Bogdan told reporters that Lockheed is on track to deliver combat-ready jets to the Marines by late 2015 and the Air Force by late 2016. But that was before this latest report.

Lockheed Martin

The Complex

Marines Sack Two Generals For Failing to Stop Afghan Attack

The Marine Corps' commandant has sacked of a pair of two-star generals for failing to prevent a massive attack on a base in southern Afghanistan that left a dozen troops dead. It's a stunning, beyond-rare move that Gen. Jim Amos made only after he found the two "did not exercise the level of judgment expected of commanders of their grade and experience."

Amos announced Monday that he was requesting that the promotion of Maj. Gen. Mark Gurganus, pictured above, be rescinded and asked Maj. Gen. Gregg Sturdevant to retire. That effectively ends the careers of two senior officers who are widely respected, and it will shock a close-knit service that prides itself on battlefield leadership.

During the last dozen years of war, generals have been regularly disciplined for inappropriate sexual and financial behavior. Few, if any, have been let go for screwing up on the battlefield; today's announcement marks the first time an American general has been relieved for combat incompetence since 1971, according to Tom Ricks, FP contributor and author of The Generals, a military history.

But there have been few attacks on U.S. forces like the September 2012 strike on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan's Helmand province. More than a dozen Taliban fighters penetrated the base and killed two Marines, a lieutenant colonel and a sergeant. The coordinated strike also destroyed six Harrier AV-8B jump jets, one of the largest losses of U.S. aircraft in decades.

In a conference call with reporters Monday, Amos praised both general officers, saying they were both "close friends" and that forcing their retirement was "the hardest decision I've made in the Marine Corps."

But he argued it was the right thing to do.

"I do not expect my commanders to be perfect, and I do not expect them to make perfect decisions all the time," Amos wrote in a memo detailing his decision.  However, he wrote, "the fog of war, the uncertain risks of combat, and the actions of a determined foe do not relieve a commander of the responsibility for decisions that a reasonable, prudent commander of the same grade and experience would have made under similar circumstances."

In the memo, Amos acknowledged the challenges both men faced on the battlefield, as forces were shrinking at Regional Command Southwest, the Marines' area of responsibility in Afghanistan. "Beyond their control, RC (SW) reduced forces from more than 17,000 to just over 7,000 personnel in a period of six months," Amos wrote. At the same time, higher headquarters had denied Gurganus's request for an increase for force protection. And Gurganus also faced a "sub-optimal" force protection command-and-control structure diminished by a complicated U.S.-United Kingdom coalition force in the area. Each commander, Amos said, faced a 60 percent personnel drawdown and had to balance the changing mission with a dwindling number of troops to conduct force protection. Amos said Gurganus "bore ultimate accountability" for the men, women and equipment for which he was responsible, and faulted the officer for an error in judgment in conducting his risk analysis.

"Ultimately, Maj. Gen. Gurganus and his staff were doctrinally responsible for executing a layered, integrated defense-in-depth force protection plan," Amos said. "While he addressed many aspects of these requirements with his higher headquarters, and was often turned down, in the end, I believe he could and should have done more."

As commander of the Marine Air Wing based on Bastion, Sturdevant failed to come up with a proper plan to his protect his troops, Amos noted. "His failures to have an effective defense plan before the attack, to fully engage with coalition partners in the important force protection decision making process, and to integrate his unit into the overall self-defense posture aboard Camp Bastion contravened the trust and confidence I had in him as a commander," Amos wrote.

The attack had stirred intense interest within the Corps.  Observers wondered if Gurganus might be shown the door. Amos, himself an aviator, has taken internal criticism for relieving other commanders, including Col. Kris Stillings, a former aide to the Secretary of Defense who had been hand-picked by Amos to lead the Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Va. The commander of another high-profile Corps unit, Lt. Col. Andrew McNulty, of 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, was also relieved after seven Marines were killed in a mortar exercise in Nevada earlier this year. A satirical news site, the Duffel Blog, ran a post earlier this year, "Commandant of the Marine Corps Attempts to Fire Entire Marine Corps."

Amos has pushed for accountability as Marines transition from battlefield back to base after a dozen years at war. But his repeated talks on the subject may not be enough. Last week, Amos told general officers at Quantico about a number of specific measures he was taking to restore accountability and discipline across the Corps as a spate of fighting incidents, sexual assault and alcohol abuse plague the service.

Amos' action against Gurganus and Sturdevant come out of the same vein.

"While I am mindful of the degree of difficulty RC(SW) faced in accomplishing a demanding combat mission with a rapidly declining force, my duty requires me to remain true to the timeless axioms relating to command responsibility and accountability," Amos wrote in the memo. "Responsibility and accountability are the sacred tenets of commandership."

Sturdevant currently serves as the director of strategic planning and policy at U.S. Pacific Command. On Monday, he attended a major event at a hotel in Seoul in which South Korea and the U.S. were celebrating the 60-year anniversary of their partnership. Sturdevant, well-respected and accessible, had long been seen as an up-and-comer. On Monday, he was seen chatting with other military officers and guests at the reception preceding the dinner, likely aware that the dramatic turn his career in the Corps was about to take would soon be made public. 

Press Release