Key Chinese components in F-35s show vulnerabilities of US military industrial complex
Written by Drago Bosnic, independent geopolitical and military analyst at infobrics.org.
It is no secret that in the last couple of decades the global economy has become so intertwined that any sort of trouble in one seemingly unimportant market can cause a ripple effect on a scale that could affect the entire world. However, what’s less expected is that the same can be true for the massive Military Industrial Complexes of superpowers such as China, Russia or the United States. This is especially true for the latter, as the US economy plays a central role in the globalized world, as the US dollar is still the world’s most important reserve currency, despite clear signs its importance is dwindling.
The US military has a number of highly complex armament programs that also play a crucial geopolitical and geoeconomic role, even at the expense of such programs’ security/military impact. One of the most prominent examples of this is the massive Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program which gave way to the much-touted, yet troubled F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighter jet. One of the numerous issues this program has encountered are the constantly overflowing costs. In order to reduce the massive price tag of the project, the JSF program went on to outsource much of the work that needed to be done, as the production costs in the US alone would’ve made the troubled jet prohibitively expensive, quite possibly even more so than the F-35’s older “cousin”, the F-22 “Raptor” which saw its production run cut short barely 5 years after it went into service with the US Air Force.
However, the cost-saving measures seem to have gone “too far” this time, as some of the outsourced components for the F-35 came from countries the US itself defines as adversaries. The delivery of the F-35A (otherwise known as the “Lightning II”) fighter jet has been placed on hold by the US military after it became known that certain key components contained materials that were made in China. The component, reportedly a magnet used in F-35 turbomachine pumps, “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,” Russell Goemaere, a spokesman for the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) said in a statement.
The Pentagon claims that “neither flight operations for the F-35 in-service fleet, nor the production of the aircraft by manufacturer Lockheed Martin have been affected.” However, the use of Chinese-made products in the JSF jet raised enough concerns for the Pentagon on August 31 to order deliveries of the aircraft temporarily halted for an unspecified period of time, which clearly indicates the seriousness of the issue, although the Pentagon officials are trying to downplay its importance when giving public statements.
“On Aug. 19, the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) notified the F-35 Joint Program Office that an alloy in magnets used in F-35 turbomachine pumps is potentially in non-compliance with Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations Supplement (DFARS), as the alloy was produced in the People’s Republic of China,” Goemaere said in a statement. “Defense contractors voluntarily shared information with DCMA. Based on the additional information, the F-35 JPO temporarily paused the acceptance of new F-35 aircraft to ensure the F-35 program’s compliance to DFARS pertaining to specialty metals.”
This is the second component issue to affect F-35s in only a few months. Back in July, an ejection seat issue grounded more than a hundred F-35s. The fighter jet has seen an extremely troubled and prolonged research and development cycle, along with numerous production problems. In addition, the ever-increasing cost of the JSF program is measured in trillions of US dollars, resulting in multiple production cuts and unplanned cost-saving measures. Unexpectedly, the program was “conveniently” reinvigorated as a result of the Ukraine crisis escalation, which the US Military Industrial Complex capitalized on in a major way, getting orders from countries (such as Germany) which previously wanted to avoid the F-35 due to its numerous problems.
Another major issue for the JSF program is the troubled Pratt & Whitney F135 jet engine, which has caused a plethora of problems with the fighter jet’s kinetic performance. In addition, back in July, a shortage of spare engines left many F-35s grounded because it took far longer than planned to repair some of the key engine components, according to a report filed by congressional auditors.
“Inadequate maintenance depot capacity leading to a shortage of operating engines has grounded F-35s more often and for longer time periods than expected,” the Government Accountability Office said in a report on July 19.
And yet, the leading US military corporation, the infamous Lockheed Martin, continues its relatively successful lobbying campaign that the F-35 is “essential” to both the US and its numerous satellite states. However, the jet seems to be more of a way for the US to exert greater control over its vassals, as the F-35 is also an intelligence platform due to the sheer amount of sensors and data it can transfer to the US. Thus, in addition to being a geopolitical and geoeconomic project aimed at tying the vassals to the US even more, it is also a premier ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) platform which allows the US military unprecedented access to other countries’ intelligence-gathering capabilities. This is especially aimed against Russia and China. However, the aforementioned issues with outsourced components show this goes both ways and that the US is not immune to outside influences.
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