Kendall: F-35 delivery pause is 'hurting already'

By Vanessa Montalbano / March 8, 2024 at 11:54 AM

Delays in getting the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter reconfigured with Block 4 and Technology Refresh 3 upgrades are inhibiting the Air Force’s ability to “stay competitive,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told reporters yesterday at the annual Washington conference hosted by McAleese and Associates.

“We really need those to stay competitive and we’re going to need them at quantity,” he said. “It’s hurting already.”

Deliveries of TR-3 enabled aircraft were originally scheduled to start in April 2023, but that date has since slipped twice. The Defense Department last year paused acquisition of Lot 15 jets until Lockheed Martin can produce F-35s fully integrated with TR-3, which is needed to support modernized capabilities brought on by Block 4 - - including new sensors and munitions.

Since then, the plane maker has been holding incomplete F-35s in its facilities.

“As we delay acceptance it affects costs in the units that we had expected to replace airplanes,” Kendall said. “We’ve got to carry existing aircraft, generally speaking, for longer than we had planned.”

Plus, the “operational capability impact is significant,” he added.

Asked whether he would consider accepting incomplete versions of the fifth-generation fighter jet, Kendall said he wants “to hold industry responsible for delivering what they promised.”

“My bias, if there is one, is to not accept products that are not what we’ve been promised, but there’s an operational argument that we made that, you know, a better capability as opposed to the current capabilities is a preferred outcome,” he explained.

In January, Lockheed CEO Jim Taiclet told shareholders that the company is anticipating deliveries to start back up in the second quarter of the calendar year, between April and June, or even into the third quarter.