Worldwide F-35 operators meet to discuss parts shortages.

Representatives from countries with F-35s came to Scott AFB in Illinois to discuss a common problem plaguing their fifth-generation fighters: getting spare parts.

More than 60 foreign nationals and Department of Defense employees joined the quarterly task force on global asset management, during which the US Transportation Command hosted the various uniformed members and civilian attendees.

According to USTRANSCOM‘s head of distribution process initiatives, Walter Reed, who helped organize this quarter’s task force, these meetings are necessary to resolve the F-35 global asset management process.

Discussions here will “set the stage for all participating partners, foster communication, and help us discover solutions to unique problems,” Reed said.

One of the problems that the task force aims to solve is the shortage of spare parts, which has caused the plans to become unavailable. A 2022 report from the US Government Accountability Office noted that while US F-35s have improved their mission capability ratings, the fighter jets “continue to fall short of program targets,” citing the lack of spare parts and maintenance equipment as key factors.

However, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Schmidt, executive director of the Joint F-35 Program Office, stated that “the current average mission capability (MC) rate across the services’ entire F-35 fleet Americans is 56%. And that “Our deployed fleet, with combat code, significantly exceeds this average.”

These challenges are compounded by the fact that, unlike other military aircraft, all nations that operate the F-35 share the same pool of spare parts. This was done to reduce costs since they are also shared among the 17 countries that finance the program.

During the 2023 Sea-Air-Space conference, Schmidt said, “The international aspect of this program is absolutely incredible.”

“This program is like no other,” he continued. “We have international partners… [who] have invested in developing this program along with the United States. Together they pay about 20% of all development costs for this program.”

Despite its potential, the program is now facing difficulties due to the complexity of the supply chain and the need to adhere to the countries’ varying customs and import restrictions.

To solve these problems, the JPO negotiated a Service Level Agreement with USTRANSCOM for global shipping and distribution and with the Defence Logistics Agency for storage in North America.

This change brings global benefits, Royal Dutch Air Force Lt. Col. Roberto Joannes, who is responsible for global asset management on behalf of the Dutch, said during the quarterly task force held at Scott Air Base.

“We are creating […] a system for the program that allows for the freedom of movement of items [from the global stockpile of spare parts] to support the F-35 anywhere in the world,” Joannes said. “USTRANSCOM will be in charge of managing the transportation, and so the [JPO] asked the various countries to create and test a [customs] duty system.”

“We have a fifth-generation weapon system and will be flying with this system for the next 30, 40 years. So we need a long-term view,” he continued. “It is not created today or tomorrow. But we must have a collective vision to increase our weapons system’s availability, affordability and agility. I believe in this program, and we must do it as a team, together, not for us, but for the fighter.”

The group, diverse in uniform, language and nationality, is united under the same ideology: support the fighter. This shared passion propels the F-35 to new heights, outperforming its competition to win the high-end fight of tomorrow.

US Transportation Command