Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach
EGLIN AFB — The Air Force is taking a three-pronged approach to addressing spare-parts issues threatening the F-35 stealth fighter jet program at Eglin Air Force Base and elsewhere, according to its Air Education and Training Command.
Last month, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., whose district includes Eglin AFB, said problems with acquiring spare parts and repairing parts for the F-35 could seriously compromise the base's role in training pilots for the next-generation fighter jet.
"While we've not been late in graduating any pilots yet, I've been told that we are rapidly approaching the inability to accomplish the mission," Gaetz said.
Questions posed at various levels of Air Force command following Gaetz's comment went unanswered until a few days ago. The deputy director of public affairs at AETC, which has broad responsibilities for training across the Air Force, responded via email late last week to questions initially posed to Eglin's public affairs office.
Lt. Col. Tracy Bunko stressed that the "supply challenges do not pose any safety concerns for our aircraft, which are always maintained and operated within applicable USAF guidance and policies."
Bunko said that AETC is working with Air Force Materiel Command and the F-35 Joint Program Office "to accurately assess the supply impacts and establish a way forward."
The Materiel Command provides acquisition management services and logistics support to the Air Force. The Joint Program Office manages the F-35 program for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, the U.S. military services that will be using the F-35.
According to a recent report in Defense News, the Department of Defense is considering moving F-35 management from the joint office to offices within each of the services using the aircraft.
Among the strategies for dealing with spare parts and repair issues with the F-35 is increasing the pace of establishing "organic depot repair capabilities," Bunko said. "Organic" repair facilities are facilities operated by the military, as opposed to the current situation, where the Department of Defense has had to rely on contractors to address spare parts and repair issues.
That developing approach will, Bunko said, "improve spares availability and reduce repair costs."
Also according to the email, the F-35 program has established an initiative "to actively address spares demand by exploring alternative replacement technologies and parts." The email did not specify what sorts of alternatives would be explored, and Friday calls to the AETC were not returned immediately.
Bunko went on to note that the F-35 program has been taking steps to address some of its spare parts issues for at least the last two years. In that time, she said, $2.1 billion has been spent to address what her email called "urgently needed spares" for three versions of electronic warfare hardware and software in the aircraft.
The Air Force is the single largest customer for the F-35. In all, the Air Force plans to buy nearly 1,800 F-35s, with the Navy and Marine Corps slated to purchase nearly 700 F-35s. A number of U.S. partner nations have been, and will be, purchasing the aircraft.
The F-35 is projected to remain in service until 2070.
©2018 the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.)