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Air Platforms

Contractor-reliant F-35 model a legacy of Total System Performance Responsibility

15 November 2019
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The Pentagon in the early 2000s took a new contracting approach with the F-35 and gave the contractor, Lockheed Martin, more freedom to be innovative in management practices with less government oversight. It did not work out as planned, according to a former Pentagon acquisition chief. Source: IHS Markit/Gareth Jennings

Key Points

  • The F-35 programme’s structure, where it is mostly run by prime contractor Lockheed Martin, is the legacy of an early 2000s acquisition reform effort
  • The idea was to give the contractor more freedom to be innovative in management practices but it created poor contractor incentives

The contractor-reliant model of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme is the legacy of a well-intentioned acquisition reform effort that did not perform as expected, according to a former Pentagon acquisition chief.

Frank Kendall, former under secretary of defence for acquisition, technology, and logistics (AT&L) under former US President Barack Obama, told Jane’s on 14 November that the F-35 programme was set up in the early 2000s as a Total System Performance Responsibility (TSPR) effort. TSPR was designed to foster an environment for the government and contractor team to gain efficiencies by identifying redundant or unnecessary practices, eliminating those practices, and using commercial practices to replace or enhance the acquisition process.

TSPR dictated that the Pentagon should take a step back and give the contractor greater freedom to be innovative in its management practices without the traditional level of government oversight. Instead of this, Kendall said TSPR institutionalised vendor lock, or sole source sustainment roles, and created poor incentives. This was the opposite of TSPR’s intent, he said.

Dan Grazier, military fellow with the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) watchdog group in Washington, DC, said in a June blog post that the US military services, by design, cannot independently perform many of the most basic functions needed to properly employ the F-35. Lockheed Martin accomplished this by securing contracts that gave the company control over the technical data rights of the programme, meaning that it retains ownership of the design details and software code, he explained. This put the Pentagon in a position where it would have to negotiate a substantial fee with Lockheed Martin to buy this information, Grazier added.

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