Concerns Linger Over F-35 Software Delays

Top U.S. Defense Department officials say they’re concerned the slow pace of software development may delay the delivery of the most lethal version of the F-35 fighter jet beyond 2017.

The program manager, Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, told lawmakers today the issue was his top priority.

“My biggest concern in development is software,” Bogdan said in remarks prepared for a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “I see more risk to the delivery of Block 3F, our full warfighting capability, by 2017.”

That model of the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made aircraft is designed to be equipped with a suite of internal and external weapons, including the GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition, laser-guided Paveway II bomb, Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile and infrared Sidewinder missile.

The program office will have a better estimate of the planned delivery date this summer after reviewing at least six months of flight testing data, Bogdan said.

The Joint Strike Fighter is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons acquisition program, estimated to cost almost $400 billion for a total of 2,457 aircraft, according to a 2011 defense acquisition report. It’s designed to replace such aircraft as the F-16, A-10, F/A-18 and AV-8B.

The department next year plans to spend $8.4 billion to buy 29 F-35 Lightning IIs, including 19 for the Air Force, six for the Marine Corps and four for the Navy, according to its budget request released earlier this month.

The concerns over software remain despite making a “major shift” in oversight the past year, Bogdan said. That change has resulted in faster software development and integration, reduced coding errors and better collaboration between the program office and Lockheed, he said.

The Bethesda, Maryland-based company and its subcontractors “still need to improve both the speed and quality of software development to be able to catch up from previous software delays,” Bogdan said.

The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, echoed those comments during a separate briefing with reporters to announce an updated effort to improve how the department buys goods and services. “We still got a fair amount of software to write,” he said. “There are some risks there.”

The military is about 40 percent through the F-35 test program, Kendall said.

In addition to software, “there are still a few other issues we haven’t quite put to bed yet, but I’m feeling cautiously optimistic,” he said without elaborating. “I won’t say there won’t be any additional schedule slips.”

The department is working to reduce program expenses by negotiating better terms on production contracts, Kendall said. “I want to keep the pressure on to drive it down as much as we can,” he said.

Kendall described sustaining the aircraft as “our biggest opportunity” to find long-term savings. The cost of keeping the F-35 in service for 50 years is estimated at more than $1 trillion and the Pentagon plans to hold competitions for the work.

“We can achieve the greatest results there,” he said.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • William_C1

    In before people shouting “kill it!” without suggesting any realistic alternatives. And please remember that upgraded F-15s, F-16s and F/A-18s won’t cut it, the F-22 can’t operate off a carrier, and there are no other STOVL fighters in production or development.

  • pedestrian
  • eric

    the jsf is just a sympton of a failing system, that’s the scary part.

  • Tinto

    Never ending Fleesing of our Defense Department by the Contractors. What project in the last 50 years that has not been Overbudget and Late. Remember, Eisenhower warned about the Defense Contractor Complex.

    At the same time, our own Services are not without Stain, good equipment Surplused or Destroid. Remember we have to sue our budget up or loose it. I worked many years in the Defense Industry, have seen fraud on both sides.

    • Mark


  • Sanem

    the reason that there are no alternative is because they killed all alternatives (USAF F-22 and J-UCAS, RN Harrier)
    if they stopped wasting such obscene amounts of money on the F-35, they could develop cheap and effective alternatives, like the UCLASS or a STOVL UCAV
    not that it matters, F-35 will never see IOC


      Trouble is, we have already wasted hundreds of Billions on the F-35 program. Pulling out right now would be even worse than the F-22 procurement fiasco.

      • Cranky Observer

        Google “sunk cost fallacy”.

  • WhatMeWorry

    With the cost of the F-35 will military planners even consider deploying the aircraft in hostile conflicts for fear of losing one or more.

    • Josh

      No. There has already been $400 billion poured into this program. They aren’t going to all of a sudden cut it. So all the people screaming to cancel the program need to shut up and sit down because it’s not going to happen. You just better hope that Lockheed Martin fixes these problems. If Lockheed Martin fixes the problems and produces a plane that meets the requirements for the JSF, it will be an excellent fighter. But that’s the tough part, fixing the problems.


      Well, a lot of the money is spent on R&D, so they might not be so afraid to hurl a few F-35s in, especially considering that if they don’t use the F-35, they have to turn to the “more expensive” F-22. Its kinda like the argument of whether or not we should use the B-2. Expensive, but works. (Given time, that is).

      • Restore Palestine

        That’s BS, BS ENTERPRISE mental.

        They will never use the F-35s against countries that have the tools to shoot them down like ducks. But against small, poor, powerless countries without an air force or air defense system, that’s a different question.

        Cut the BS, and go take your meds, loony.


          Okay great. China and Russia I am guessing. Let me say this. If war broke out today, or tomorrow, the USA would win. Simple as that. Argue about whatever you want. But the sheer economic stress would bring your heroic nations down hard. I am not saying the US won’t suffer, but we would emerge victorious.

    • gaylord_gaylordson

      In a word, no. Of course not.

      …and 5 thumbs up for that comment.

      Shows the level of acumen we are dealing with here.

      There are some platforms that will be used sparingly, but these will only show up if they crash. IE Abbotabad.

      • Restore Palestine

        Imagine sending these expensive pieces of crap out on a mission and losing half or all of them to SAMs or enemy fighters that cost 30 to 50 times less.


          Who said they will be lost?

          • Restore Palestine

            People with healthy, normal brains and a good, real education.

            Have you taken your meds yet?

  • BlackOwl18E

    USN Admiral, director of the Navy’s air warfare division, confirms classified systems being added to Super Hornet that will keep it formidable through late 2020s-early 2030s:

  • blight_

    They’ll probably spin off all the tech they can from JSF to justify it hanging on as an R&D program instead of something meant to replace standard Hornets.

    I suppose it would have been too lazy to produce JSF’s with less cutting-edge electronics. We set the 5th gen bar so high we can’t produce them cheaply and effectively.

  • wdan

    the “most lethal version”?…didn’t know that there was a lethal version at all, short of falling on the enemies’ officer’s club…upgraded 15’s/16’s and 18’s are what is needed, already have supply chains, maintenance and common training with other countries…cut our losses and RUN NOW!!!

    • gaylord_gaylordson

      ..and your expertise in low observables engineering and tactical fighter evaluation comes from where?

      …your hindquarters?

      • STemplar

        No, that’s where your mother birthed you though.

  • blight_

    What’s interesting is the procurement cost rises pretty quick, even as the JSF order count stabilizes around 2.4k. Development holds around 50->60B.

    Without adjusting for inflation, this is competitive with the B-2’s procurement costs. Though I suppose we will hit the inflation-adjusted value soon enough.

  • wpnexp

    what you need to understand is that the F-35 will always continue to have more and better computers and software. F-15s, F-16s, and F/A-18s are limited to older computers, older software codes, limited computer memory, and a host of obsolence issues. Even the B-2 was designed with ancient computer systems, although the size of the aircraft will make it somewhat easier to upgrade over time. If you try to upgrade the legacy aircraft to do what an F-35 will do, don’t you think they will have the same or more complicated software problems? But, the F-35 is designed to grow its software over many decades. Try to run 9 million lines of code in an F/A-18 and watch the computer crash, making the whole plane useless. The code being written for the F-35 will continue until most of us are dead. And every year the plane will continue to get more lethal. But eventually, even the F-35 will need to be replaced as new computing techniques are developed. But holding on the the legacy birds does not get you as much as what the F-35 has to offer.

  • Belesari

    You want a suggestion of how to replace the F-35? Dont make it a jack of all trades stealth/stovl/attack/fighter/etc. They are always more expensive and under perform.

    F-14 Super Tomcat.

    Or Tomcat 21.

    There is nothing present now which can do the job we need so lets use what worked. The A-6 was perfect for its job. And it was damn flexable. So build off of that. Same for the Tomcat.

    Then start preliminary work on a STO/VL aircraft for the Marines. NO STEALTH. Attack aircraft. And continue work on the UCAV’s…or whatever you want to call them. UCLASS whatever.

    Then after these are accomplished take a look at future aircraft and remember the lessons of Joint hell.


      Well, I agree that the the plane shouldn’t be asked to do literally every role in the US military, but the trouble is you can’t ignore stealth. Ever since the F-117, you have seen that aircraft have been geared to be more and more stealthy. An F-14, while an amazing piece of engineering, is far from stealthy. Same with the A-6. So while the idea is great in our minds, it wouldn’t, sadly, work on the battlefield.

    • Sanem

      a cheap STOVL for Marines or any forward operating unit would be an excellent idea
      stealth is an expensive luxery here, it limits its ability to operate from forward bases and for close air support chances are it’ll get shot at anyway
      UAVs are an excellent option in this role, being easier to operate, not risking pilot lives, generally being cheaper… if stealth is not chosen then it doesn’t need to “silent” anyway, and units in the field could take direct control of it on attack runs. going for a large number of light UAVs with small amunitions would also allow for large numbers of expendable attack craft, an excellent choice in such a high attrition environement
      I’m not saying it should be the only asset, but within an integrated military network (without which the F-35 could not operate either btw) such a low cost, easy to operate asset would be much more interesting for forward air support, not unlike ground units use small UAVs for unit support

      stealth is a capacity, and potentially a very valuable one. but the question is if it warrants the cost, especially when the USAF already declared that AESA equiped F-15s would be capable of detecting stealth aircraft at stand off ranges

      • blight_

        In a close support role, JSF is fairly likely to encounter radar-guided AA, in the form of guns and missiles. There’s also IR-guided weapons system, and the Mk1 eyeball if the JSF is flying low and slow.


        Knowing that the F-15 can detect stealth aircraft from “safe” distances is very reassuring. I am guessing it can see the F-35.

  • Big-Dean

    The only time joint aircraft was a success is when the air force used the Navy version, not visa-versa i.e. the F-4 Phantom


      The F-4 shot down a lot, but it never fulfilled all of its requirements effectively.

  • retired462

    Cut the “buy” by 75%, and build more F-15, F-16, F-18, and F-22’s.

  • blight_

    Digging out more information on the electronics of the JSF. Starting with Integrated Core Processor:

    “Mercury Computer Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ: MRCY) announced that Raytheon Company (NYSE: RTN) has licensed its RACE++® Series multicomputers for use in the Integrated Core Processing (ICP) system of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).”

    RACE++ is a COTS product, and was used on the JSF demonstrator. That /should/ have made hardware development go more smoothly.

    The latter describes the rugged version of the RACE++. The Level4 conduction cooled variant can operate at 70,000 feet and be stored at 100,000 ft. Perhaps the JSF needs something like the level 3: 0-70,000 feet operation, 0-100,000 feet storage, 50G z-axis shock, 80G x and y-axis, operating temp -40 to 71C. Yeech.

  • wmcritter

    “It’s designed to replace such aircraft as the F-16, A-10, F/A-18 and AV-8B.”
    How on God’s green Earth is the F-35 supposed to replace the A-10?????? It can’t go low and slow, it can’t linger, it can’t take a hit, and it can’t saw a tank in half with it’s gun. It literally has zero capabilities of the A-10. At least the F-35 can do a few things that an F-16, F-15, F-18, or AV-8B can do. But it can do absolutely nothing an A-10 can do. Trying to use an F-35 for CAS will be a disaster and get a lot of good people killed. It’s absolutely insane.

  • johnvarry

    Anyone remember the A-16 with two 30mm gunpod nightmare that almost was? It was decided A-10 was more survivable.

    Unless the F-35 is coated in some magic armor that deflects bullets I dont see F-35 replacing A-10 in CAS role. Besides, Boeing will soon be able to do new build A-10’s.

  • Big-Dean

    The air farce also said that in addition to the F-35 replacing the F-16, F-15, F-15E, A-10, AV-8B, F-18, B-52, Apache, Osprey, B-1, F-22, F-111, F-4, Army and Marine Corp, drones and missiles, they also said it’s going to replace the Beatles, rock and roll, toilet paper and beer.

    THAT”S why the darn thing cost so much and is behind schedule, getting the “code” to understand and play Beatles songs-talk about mission creep. ;-P

  • kiki

    Must be Russian 1950 technology. This planes look obsolete and the design so paltry.

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