Banned Chinese alloy in all F-35s annoys the US, raising security concerns

825 F-35 fighters delivered so far contains parts of alloy that is illegal under US law and Pentagon regulations.
Baba Tamim
Stock photo: A close view of a F-35A Lightning II in a high G maneuver.
Stock photo: A close view of a F-35A Lightning II in a high G maneuver.


According to Pentagon officials, all F-35 stealth fighter jets include a banned alloy developed in China.

And, to ensure that the F-35 program conforms with regulations relating to "specialty metals," the Pentagon delayed deliveries of new F-35s on Wednesday.

The program office that manages the F-35 aircraft has stated that every one of the more than 825 F-35 fighters delivered so far contains a part of Chinese alloy that is illegal under US law and Pentagon regulations, South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Saturday.

"The component – a magnet used in an aircraft-powering device supplied by Honeywell International Inc. – has been used in the plane since 2003," said the Pentagon's F-35 program office.

According to F-35 spokesman Russell Goemaere, the program, which could produce over 3,300 jets, will now ask the Pentagon's senior acquisition official, William LaPlante, for a national security waiver to start deliveries of already completed new aircraft containing the alloy.

Goemaere stated that the project office does not anticipate "replacing magnets in delivered aircraft" since it would be costly and time-consuming to retrofit more than 500 US operational and training aircraft.

"A waiver was likely if there were no security or safety issues," LaPlante said in a presser on Friday. "I'm hoping this can be resolved pretty soon."

The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin Corp., which builds the aircraft, claimed to have found a US supplier of the alloy required for the next aircraft, as per the report.

The F-35 program office had received a Defense Contract Management Agency report detailing the breach on August 19,

The alloy that annoyed the US

The referenced item is a magnet found within a Honeywell turbomachine that combines an air cycle machine and the aircraft's auxiliary power unit into a single piece of machinery that supplies electrical power for ground operations, main engine start-up, and emergency power.

It contains a cobalt and samarium alloy that was "recently determined to be made in the People's Republic of China" and magnetized in the US.

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According to Lockheed Martin, it was given to Honeywell subcontractor by a lower-tier source.

"We are working with our partners and DOD to ensure contractual compliance within the supply chain, to resolve the issue as quickly as possible to resume deliveries," Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Laura Siebert said in a statement.

Lockheed Martin has already delivered 88 of the 148 F-35 aircraft that had been ordered earlier.

The part, according to the program office, has no technical flaws and doesn't put the US's top stealth fighter or its 8 million lines of software at risk of being compromised. The issue is supply chain security and the reason Honeywell failed to find the prohibited alloy.

Honeywell had previously stated that it is committed to producing "high-quality products" that meet or exceed all customer contract requirements. But, its spokesman Adam Kress made no additional comments regarding the most recent developments.

In order to avoid further slowing down the already troubled F-35 program, the Pentagon gave Honeywell permission ten years ago to utilize Chinese magnets in other F-35 parts.

However, US law and Pentagon acquisition guidelines prohibit the use of specialty metals or alloys produced in China, Iran, North Korea, or Russia.

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