The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced that the US Department of Defense (DoD) incurs losses worth millions of dollars due to a lack of accountability over parts for the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet programme.

The department owns certain F-35 spare parts that contractors manage, but the Pentagon doesn’t account for the parts. This is partly because various DoD offices and contractors have not agreed on whether the spare parts are government-furnished property.

The lack of agreement affects how the DoD processes lost parts. It churns one’s stomach to imagine the amount lost when we consider the government expects to spend $1.7tn over the life of F-35 aircraft.

Of about a million lost parts worth $85m, the DoD reviewed the circumstances surrounding 2% of identified losses since 2018.

The GAO say there is no accountable property system of record that allows the DoD to monitor changes to property records. Currently, the contractors have this information. The government cannot manage its own interests in this matter at all.

Of the spare parts – which include engines; tires; landing gear; and other parts such as bolts, screws and fasteners – that are not accountable under a contract and are not government-furnished property, the contractor does not enter these parts into the system for the DoD to track losses and disposition.

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The GAO makes recommendations: the department must take steps to ensure that all spare parts in the global spares pool are accountable under a contract. It must also develop a process for contractors to report losses and dispose of spare parts that are excess, obsolete, or unserviceable.

US industrial strategy

The lack of accountability for the parts demonstrates a lack of clarity in the government’s industrial strategy.

While the Biden administration focuses on strengthening America’s defence industrial base – particularly for emerging technologies such as hypersonics – the loss of parts undermines the government’s effort to create advanced capabilities.

It is not enough to pump cash injections arbitrarily into various emerging areas that can advance military capability.

An accountable system where the DoD can manage its own interests is a priority. It ensures that the department is not entirely at the mercy of private sector businesses, cashing in all it has for the perception of wielding advanced capability.