The United States Department of Defense has ended its freeze on accepting deliveries of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, apparently ending a dispute over who would be financially responsible for the repair a significant issue plaguing most, if not all, of the air frames delivered thus far in the program’s lifespan.
Early last month, it was announced that the United States and at least two allied nations had stopped accepting deliveries of the fifth-generation fighter after reports of “corrosion exceeding technical limits” began coming in from units fielding the jet. Apparently, a lack of protective coating at the fastening points where body panels are mated to the aluminum frame has allowed for corrosion to begin setting in at alarming rates. Because these aircraft are expected to remain operational for decades to come, this issue poses a significant threat to the existing fleet of F-35s, only half of which are currently operational due to other technical issues.
The endeavor to repair this corrosion issue will likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars, as F-35s will need to be stripped back to their frames to apply protective coating on these fastening points. The Defense Department made it clear that Lockheed should have to foot this repair bill, as they are responsible for the aircraft’s production; however, Lockheed claimed the fault was on the federal government — for failing to identify the issue during their own testing and inspection process.
That disagreement saw a halt in deliveries of the jet, but even Lockheed didn’t seem to take that delay seriously, as they continued production unabated, secure in the knowledge that, at this point, the American government is far too invested in the program to stop taking receipt of the jets. The United States intends to replace several aging platforms with the jack-of-all-trades F-35, including many close air support aircraft and multi-role fighters ranging from the legendary A-10 Thunderbolt II to the workhorse fighter of the U.S. Air Force — the F-16 Fighting Falcon.