So just a bit of context, on the front page there is an article reporting Donald Trump saying that he’s going to “Save billions” on the F-35 program. Having just returned from a Department of Defense sponsored conference for a bunch of their contractors (many in aerospace) I can assure you - that ship sailed over a decade ago. Why? Two words - signed contracts.
The dirty secret behind this program is that the “private industry” that builds these parts is also all in agreements with one another to make sure everyone gets their slices of the pie. And if there isn’t enough pie? Call up the DoD and order another pie! And here’s the kicker - He already pledged to increase defense spending. Doesn’t matter if he’s going to fund other departments or projects. Increased spending overall basically means that everyone gets a payday.
Okay, I’m sure you’ve had enough baseless claims and want to know why I say this. Well, let’s walk through what happened at this conference. We were meeting to discuss how to replace some toxic metals in a lot of the paints and coatings on military hardware, particularly on the fighter jets and drones/missiles. We use metals like cadmium and hexavalent chrome to achieve the necessary adhesion and protection of critical hardware like landing gear, wing flaps, control surfaces, canopies, and more. You don’t want your multi-million dollar fighter to have a part fail cause it rusted while on the deck of your aircraft carrier. Nowadays, we have lots of replacements which are as good, or better, than the toxic paints and primers and whatnot. We have parts ready to go, right now, on these planes and are replacing them as-needed. So far, so good, right? Weeeeeeeeeeeeelllllll.....This is all well and good for the F-22, A-10, F-18, and more where production has stopped and planes in service are in constant need of parts and maintenance. But for the new F-35 we’ve got a bit of a conundrum. Follow along and see if you can spot the issue.
1. The F-35 components are manufactured per the agreements and contracts already signed years ago. Using the materials that were agreed upon and spec’d in years ago.
2. The F-35 is assembled and shipped out to wherever it needs to be. BUT! Technically, the plane is not supposed to fly as-is as the paints/primers on those parts are not supposed to be in use due to, again, agreements and contracts signed by the contractors and the military. However, there are exceptions so the plane can be used for now.
3. The very first time the plane needs any service or maintenance, it HAS to be decommissioned while the non-conforming parts are taken off and the new ones are put on. Whether the non-conforming parts need to be replaced or not is irrelevant.
4. The plane, now in full compliance, is sent back into service and the old parts are stripped, analyzed, and either recycled for scrap or sent back to be refinished. Ultimate irony would be if they’re sent back to be repainted and primed with the toxic metal materials. But I don’t know if that’s the case or not.
Why do we do this? Well when I asked the answer that I got is that the deals were done and signed and I guess not doing it is just as expensive due to fees or penalties or something. There are other reasons too (supposedly) and I’m sure I cut some corners here. But I just wanted to share some info from a recent trip I took and hopefully shed some light on where exactly things went south.
It’s just a 5 minute hot take and, again, there’s more to it than what I’ve said here but it’s a damn bit more than just “Shit’s expensive and it shouldn’t be.....we think?”. And understand - this conference and these discussions and this riamarole is just because of the paints and coatings for aerospace. I’m sure there’s a dozen more examples all across the military.