Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has told Congress that Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, is failing to live up to the Pentagon's expectations.
"The F-35 aircraft is performing well, but the contractor is not delivering the affordability that keeps solvency and security as our guideposts," he said in written comments submitted to the House Appropriations defense subcommittee and the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"We are working with the contractor to reduce the costs associated with purchasing and sustaining the F-35," Mattis continued, adding that DOD will "evaluate the performance of both F-35s and F/A-18s to determine the most appropriate mix of aircraft as we move forward."
Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan recently told reporters the Defense Department expects Lockheed to work to drive down the cost of the F-35 as it negotiates the price of its 11th lot of aircraft.
"It's not that we'll turn the screws to them, but we're going to drive affordability on the program," he said. "Because when you're producing at the volumes that we're producing now, this is the opportunity that you take cost out. When you get up on rate, then the job goes to take cost out, take cost out, take cost out. That's the law. It's like physics."
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has paused F-35 production over a dispute with Lockheed on a known manufacturing issue involving corrosion on some of the aircraft's fasteners. Though the problem is mostly resolved, DOD and Lockheed have not reached an agreement over should pay for it.
Ellen Lord, the Pentagon's acquisition chief, recently said the program's shortfalls are indicative of "sloppiness."
"What we are in the process of doing is talking with a greater level of fidelity about our expectations for performance in each of the upcoming lots," she said.