The US F35 jet is partially made in China

The Pentagon repeatedly waived laws banning Chinese-built components on U.S. weapons in order to keep the $392 billion Lockheed Martin 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.

The F35 program is already years behind schedule and 70 percent over initial cost estimates. At the time Kendall was granting the waivers, officials were acutely worried that further delays and cost increases would erode the foreign orders needed to drive down the future cost of each warplane.

According to Pentagon documents reviewed by Reuters, chief U.S. arms buyer Frank Kendall allowed two F-35 suppliers, Northrop Grumman and Honeywell International, 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.

The waivers apply to inexpensive parts, including $2 magnets, installed on 115 F-35 test, training and production aircraft, the last of which are due to be delivered in May 2014. Lawmakers noted that several U.S. companies make similar magnets.

Kendall said the waivers were needed to keep production, testing and training of the Pentagon’s newest warplane on track; avert millions of dollars in retrofit costs; and prevent delays in the Marine Corps’ plan to start using the jets in combat from mid-2015, according to the documents. In one case, it would cost $10.8 million and take about 25,000 man-hours to remove the Chinese-made magnets and replace them with American ones, the documents indicate.

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