Defense

Software glitch is latest F-35 woe

Shutterstock image. Photo credit: Copyright: Konstantin L

A software glitch that hampers the radar of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet is the latest setback to the long-delayed, most expensive defense program in U.S. history.

Discovered late last year, the glitch degrades the radar, forcing the pilot to turn it off and on in mid-flight, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, director of the Air Force's F-35 Integration Office, told IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.

The software flaw is the biggest threat to the Air Force's plan to declare initial operating capability for its F-35 fleet between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31, according to the report.

"Lockheed Martin discovered the root cause, and now they're in the process of making sure they take that solution and run it through the [software testing] lab," Harrigian said. The Air Force will receive new software that rights the error by the end of the month, he added.

The F-35 program has been plagued by delays and exploding costs. The fleet will cost about $1 trillion to operate and support over its lifetime, according to a Defense Department estimate. Helmets alone will cost $400,000 per pilot, more than four times what the Air Force has paid for helmets for other aircraft, according to an Air Force Times report.

The fighter jet has also had its share of IT-specific problems. A recent report by the Pentagon's weapons tester found that for months DOD personnel have been locked out of a Lockheed Martin database that holds F-35 maintenance information because the database did not comply with U.S. Cyber Command policies.

The jet also has more than 8 million lines of code, according to Lockheed Martin -- an expansive footprint to defend against hacking. A U.S. government document leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and published by German newspaper Der Spiegel alleges that Chinese hackers have stolen terabytes of data on the F-35 program.

Lockheed Martin has pulled resources from across its huge firm and added a development lab to help with the F-35 software. Company spokesman Mike Rein told FCW the defense firm is working on an engineering fix to the software flaw and believes it will be able to resolve the issue, as it has with other problems that have arisen in the program.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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