WASHINGTON — The Pentagon will temporarily stop accepting deliveries of F-35 joint strike fighters produced by Lockheed Martin in North Texas after it was discovered a magnet being used in the advanced jets includes an alloy from China.
The pause does not affect F-35s already delivered and being flown by the Air Force, Navy and Marines.
“We have confirmed that the magnet does not transmit information or harm the integrity of the aircraft, and there are no performance, quality, safety or security risks associated with this issue, and flight operations for the F-35 in-service fleet will continue as normal,” F-35 Joint Program Office spokesman Russell Goemaere said in a prepared statement.
Lockheed Martin said the program supports tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs in Texas. That includes the company’s primary F-35 production facility in Fort Worth, where it has about 18,000 employees.
The company plans to keep its Fort Worth production line rolling during the pause and will simply store the completed aircraft until deliveries can resume.
It’s possible a waiver will be required for acceptance of F-35s containing noncompliant materials, meaning a senior Pentagon official would have to determine that accepting those aircraft is necessary to U.S. national security interests.
In a prepared statement, Lockheed said it’s working with partners and the Pentagon to resolve the issues quickly, resume deliveries and ensure it is in compliance with all relevant laws and contract obligations.
The prominent defense contractor said it has already delivered 88 F-35s this year and remains on track to hit its target of 148-153 jets by the end of the year.
The F-35 consists of 300,000 parts made by more than 1,700 suppliers, according to Lockheed.
The offending part that triggered the pause is a magnet used in the F-35 Turbomachine manufactured by Honeywell. It includes cobalt and samarium alloy recently determined to be produced in China.
Honeywell released a statement that it’s committed to supplying high-quality parts.
“We are working closely with DOD and Lockheed Martin to ensure that we continue to achieve those commitments on products Honeywell supplies for use on the F-35,” the company said.
Goemaere said defense contractors involved voluntarily shared information with the military once the issue with the part was discovered and have found an alternate source for the alloy to be used in the future.
“Further investigation is underway to understand the causal factors for the non-compliance and to establish corrective action,” he said.
A fifth-generation multi-role fighter, the F-35 has stealth capabilities and cutting-edge sensors that make it uniquely adept at penetrating and eliminating enemy defenses.
Upgrade challenges and cost overruns, however, have drawn criticism from watchdogs and prompted the Pentagon to temporarily reduce the number of F-35s in its annual budget request.
At the same time, U.S. military leaders have emphasized repeatedly they are committed to the plane as the cornerstone of the U.S. fighter fleet for years to come. And a number of other countries are clamoring for the jets in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Because the Pentagon is a middleman in the international transactions, the magnet issue has also put those sales on pause.