The Pentagon announced on September 7, 2022, that deliveries of the F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation fighter were suspended because the turbomachinery of the aircraft, manufactured by Honeywell, contained an alloy of cobalt and samarium produced in China.
The presence of cobalt-samarium magnets was reported by Honeywell to Lockheed Martin, which then alerted the United States Department of Defense. The use of material made in China could contravene the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations Supplement (DFARS), and thus an investigation was launched.
“They’re looking at two things,” explained William LaPlante, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, in a press briefing on September 9, 2022. “One, impact on security, if any, and impact on airworthiness.”
Despite the airworthiness investigation, the F-35s already delivered were not grounded. The F-35 Joint Production Office (JPO) is currently seeking a national security waiver to resume deliveries.
“We have confirmed that the magnet does not transmit information or harm the integrity of the aircraft, and there are no performance, quality, safety, or security risks associated with this issue, and flight operations for the F-35 in-service fleet will continue as normal,” Russell Goemaere, a JPO spokesman, said in a statement quoted by The Warzone. “The F-35 Joint Program Office will seek a national security waiver from the Defense Acquisition Executive to continue delivery. Pending the approval of the National Security Waiver, the program does not anticipate replacing magnets in delivered aircraft.“
A recurring concern
It is not the first time that components made in China have created controversy in the US defense industry.
In 2014 already, Chinese-made electronic components were found in sensors of the Power and Thermal Management System (PTMS), also manufactured by Honeywell, which manages the F135 engine cooling system and the F-35 cockpit pressurization.
“This is a common electrical sensor found on a circuit card that is widely available in commercial applications around the world,” Honeywell spokesman Scott Sayres said at the time.
Though the sensors were deemed a low-security risk as they were not programmable, Honeywell moved their production to Michigan.
The same year, a Pentagon investigation found Chinese materials, specifically magnets, in other platforms such as the B-1B bomber and the F-16 fighter.