U.S. Waived Laws to Keep F-35 on Track with China-Made Parts

Photo Credit: Reuters/U.S. Navy/Handout

Photo Credit: Reuters/U.S. Navy/Handout

The Pentagon repeatedly waived laws banning Chinese-built components on U.S. weapons in order to keep the $392 billion Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter program on track in 2012 and 2013, even as U.S. officials were voicing concern about China’s espionage and military buildup.

According to Pentagon documents reviewed by Reuters, chief U.S. arms buyer Frank Kendall allowed two F-35 suppliers, Northrop Grumman Corp and Honeywell International Inc, to use Chinese magnets for the new warplane’s radar system, landing gears and other hardware. Without the waivers, both companies could have faced sanctions for violating federal law and the F-35 program could have faced further delays.

“It was a pretty big deal and an unusual situation because there’s a prohibition on doing defense work in China, even if it’s inadvertent,” said Frank Kenlon, who recently retired as a senior Pentagon procurement official and now teaches at American University. “I’d never seen this happen before.”

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, is examining three such cases involving the F-35, the U.S. military’s next generation fighter, the documents show.

The GAO report, due March 1, was ordered by U.S. lawmakers, who say they are concerned that Americans firms are being shut out of the specialty metals market, and that a U.S. weapon system may become dependent on parts made by a potential future adversary.

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