The F-35A Joint Strike Fighter TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Photo: Ty Greenlees
Photo: Ty Greenlees

F-35 program won’t be fully operational at Wright-Patt until 2022

The program will not become fully operational until the spring of 2022, an Air Force Materiel Command spokesman told the Dayton Daily News. The relocation remains on schedule, said Gen. Arnold Bunch Jr., commander of the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patt.

“It’s going well. We haven’t run into any hiccups,” Bunch said. “It’s going to be composed of members of all the services members of our the partner countries (and) there’ll be some industry folks there…But it’s tracking. We’re very happy that it’s there.”

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Former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in May signed off on the decision that Wright-Patt would become the new home to the F-35 Hybrid Product Support Integrator Organization at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.

It could bring at least 400 jobs to the base, U.S. Senators Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, announced last year. The value of Wright-Patt hosting the program amounts to “hundreds of billions of dollars” over the next several years, Loren Thompson senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute said last month.

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HPSI supports a global fleet of more than 340 aircraft and when it moves to its new location at Wright-Patt it will be led by the Air Force with a workforce from the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, international partners and industry. The organization will be directly accountable to the product support manager within the F-35 Joint Program Office.

The F-35 HPSI’s primary role is to integrate support across the supply chain, maintenance, sustainment engineering, logistics information technology and training disciplines. It will deliver support for fielded F-35s while preparing for future force expansion.

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“I think it capitalizes on the skill set that we have as an Air Force for managing large fleets,” Bunch said. “I think we’re in a good place to do not only that, but also meet the commitments that we made with our allies important.”

The current F-35 HPSI organization is moving from Crystal City, Virginia to Wright-Patt. The move will be a positive one, Bunch said, because of the synergy it will create.

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The HPSI program will be able to capitalize on being closer to the Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patt, as well as the Air Force’s sustainment center, Bunch said. The Life Cycle Management Center — a $238-billion enterprise — is responsible for developing and sustaining the Air Force’s weapon systems.

In the coming years, thousands of F-35 aircraft will be operated by the Air Force, Marine Corps. and the United States’ allies, Thompson has said. The F-35 is the country’s most expensive weapons system, with projected operating costs of more than $1 trillion, according to an April report from the Government Accountability Office.

The F-35 program is in the midst of a $10.5-billion modernization effort that will run through fiscal year 2024, according to the GAO. A shortage of parts, repair backlogs and mismatched parts have also kept many F-35 jets grounded, with nearly 30 percent unable to fly 30 percent of the time from May through November 2018, the GAO reports.

» RELATED: Why it's important to protect Wright-Patt and what Dayton is doing about it

But, parts and cost issues are unlikely to impact the HPSI program’s move to Wright-Patt, Maurice “Mo” McDonald, executive vice president of aerospace and defense for the Dayton Development Coalition said last month.

The Air Force is looking for ways to drive down the cost to sustain F-35s and one avenue could be with the help of the business community, Bunch said. It’s a discussion Bunch said the Air Force is having when it comes to all of its aircraft.

“It’s in everybody’s interest that we drive down costs to sustain the fleet,” Bunch said. “Some of that is public private partnerships…So, I don’t think it’s only the old or only the new. I think it’s kind of a where the best return on investment is. We need to have that dialogue.”

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