Defense

F-35 software fixes on the way, program officer tells Congress

Shutterstock image. Photo credit: Copyright: Konstantin L

A senior defense official told lawmakers that a fix for a software glitch in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet will be tested next week in hopes of solving the issue in the next month. But it will delay the final flight test by an additional four months.

"Currently, our most significant technical concern is the development and integration of mission systems software," said Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, program executive officer of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office at the Defense Department, in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee's Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee on March 23.

At issue is the stability of a block of software that leads to timing problems between the radar and main computer, which causes the radar to shut off and reboot about every four hours of flight time. Officials hope that a fix will reduce incidents to once every eight to 10 hours, which Bogdan said is "good enough."

"With 8 million lines of code in the airplane, it is not unusual for both legacy airplanes and modern fifth-generation airplanes every now and then to have to reset one of the sensors in flight or have an automatic reset," he added. "That is not an uncommon situation."

He said the root cause of the stability problems has been identified, and fixes have been tested in the lab. If flight tests are successful, the patches will be added to a new version of a block of the F-35's software.

The glitch is in the 3i block, which includes a new helmet and display system. The final block, called 3F, is required for full warfighting capability. Bogdan said that phase has the most software risk because it has some of the same stability issues as the 3i block and because it must fuse information from a number of sources, such as satellites and ground stations.

The program office anticipates completing all 3i software testing this spring. Full 3F capability be fielded by late fall of 2017, Bogdan said.

The F-35 fleet will cost about $1 trillion to operate and support over its lifetime, according to a DOD estimate. A Government Accountability Office report released for the hearing states that the program faces "significant affordability challenges." GAO auditors also concluded that "delays could be exacerbated by the current mission system software stability issues and large number of remaining weapon delivery accuracy events that must take place."

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Aisha Chowdhry is a former staff writer for FCW.


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Reader comments

Thu, Mar 24, 2016 Don Bacon

Congressional testimony from the DOD's top tester Michael Gilmore has indicated a minimum one-year delay in F-35 operational testing. Starting F-35 initial operational test and evaluation in mid-2018 (or later) makes a Milestone C production and deployment decision impossible at the objective date of April 2019, and improbable for the Milestone C threshold date Oct 2019. This is the most important milestone in systems acquisition development, one that is never mentioned by the project office because it bumps up against the foolish JSF concurrency strategy, i.e. producing planes during development which results in hundreds of useless planes deployed to units illegally (and converting them to non-capable units). Gilmore also reported significant problems in F-5 software (8 million lines), reliability, maintainability and the autotomic logistics system. The GAO has recently reported that the F-35 engine is only about half as reliable as it is expected to be, and the unit cost in 2018 is still expected to be high at $154 million. Also there needs to be a three billion dollar modernization program on software at that time to make the F-35 fully combat-capable.

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