Chinese magnet was found in F-35s, the US stopped production
WASHINGTON — A decade later, the manufacturers of the fifth-generation F-35 fighter made the same mistake again: they included Chinese parts in the device. The Pentagon has temporarily suspended the receipt of Lockheed Martin fighter jets after the manufacturer discovered that a metal component in its engine came from China.
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This is an unauthorized action similar to one that already took place between 2012 and 2013 to try to help reduce the high cost of aircraft. On that occasion, the Pentagon itself ignored the ban on using Chinese components and allowed suppliers Northrop Grumman and Honeywell International to include magnets for their radar systems, landing gear, and other components made in China.
In total, those responsible for the operation, with the knowledge of the US Department of Defense, used Chinese magnets costing two dollars each in 115 F-35 aircraft, including test, training, and production units.
On this occasion, the Pentagon did not allow the inclusion of Chinese units after learning the facts and chose to stop all deliveries, including those corresponding to international sales, which it also manages. On August 19, the Defense Contract Management Agency [DCMA] notified the F-35 Joint Program Office [JPO] at the Pentagon that an alloy used in the magnets contained in the aircraft’s turbocharger bombs came from China.
JPO spokesman Russell Goemaere explained that they have now “confirmed that the magnet does not transmit information or damage the integrity of the aircraft and there are no performance, quality or safety risks associated with this issue”. That way, he added, “flight operations for the F-35 fleet in service will continue as normal.”
Laura Siebert, a spokeswoman for the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, specified that the exposed magnet “does not have visibility or access to sensitive program information” so that the operations of the devices are not compromised. Now, he added, “we are working with the Department of Defense to resolve the issue as quickly as possible and resume supplies.”
An open investigation
Goemaere explained that in this case, it was the contractors themselves who voluntarily shared information with the DCMA and JPO after the problem was discovered and found a strong alternative for the alloy to be used in future turbo engines. This component, created by Honeywell, integrates an auxiliary power unit and an air cycler into one unit. Its role is to provide electrical power for ground maintenance, starting the main engine and in the event of an emergency, as well as supplying compressed air for the thermal management system during ground maintenance.
A dozen countries, in addition to the United States, currently operate F-35s. Deliveries to customers could resume after an investigation into how the Chinese alloy components could have ended up in the F-35 and if authorities find the manufacturer violated the terms of the Buy American initiative, with those to guarantee the American origin of the plane’s components, Lockheed Martin would need a national security clearance to resume supplies.
The setback due to the discovery of components of Chinese origin in the plane comes at a time when the model is experiencing significant interest in the international market, stemming largely from the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24.
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