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.

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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.

  • 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

  • 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.

      • Restore Palestine

        No, Josh idiot. Real, qualified, and honest engineers already know the answer to the “fixing the problems” part. In short, they cannot be fixed. The tough part is taking the rational and obvious step to deal with the problems, i.e. canceling the JSF program. You can take it to the bank, idiot.


          The cost of the JSF program makes it impossible to be cancelled. But from your tone, it seems you are concerned from the product that will be mad from the program. Mad bro?


      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.

  • 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:

    • wpnexp

      Formidable and capable are two different things. He didn’t say they would survive in a high threat environment. Do you really think that they would survive an engagement say int he Taiwan Straits? SA-20s can already cover the entire island of Taiwan, much less in the straits. The F-22 could likely survive, but we certainly didn’t buy enough of them either.


        F-22s are deployed in that area. Also, I don’t think the SA-20s can track the F-35; its just to advanced for the systems. The F-35 isn’t the stealthiest plane out there, but stop pretending it has a massive RCS.

    • William_C1

      “Formidable” doesn’t cut it. We need something superior to the next generation of Chinese and Russian aircraft. An aircraft that could be considered the “hi” in the old “hi-lo mix” concept.

      • BlackOwl18E

        If you want that we should kill the F-35C and let the Navy move forward with F/A-XX. The F-35 sure won’t cut it. The Super Hornet will at least be able to hold its own and with the right pilots, the best of which are in the US Navy, it will still be lethal and effective.


          F-18, like I have maintained, is a seriously underrated aircraft. It is quite a capable platform, and the navy pilots that fly them do the Hornets justice. Now, personally, I would say that we go ahead and start funding the preliminary research for the F/A-XX. Put in a little bit of money, and have it spent over a a “long” period of time.

  • 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.


      Yeah. How are those PAK FA’s and J-20’s coming along? I would imagine that they have to be raising a few eyebrows. I can’t imagine that they are exactly cheap either.

      • BishopOne

        Last time I heard the PAK FA won’t be tasting operational status untile 2015, if it doesn’t run into any major set backs.

        If you ask me, from what I’ve seen the PAK FA larger design and engine setup kind of negates its stealth capabilites. If nothing it just makes it a bit hard to track on radar.

        The J-20 is basically a clone so one can only imagine how thats turning out.


          The J-20 has canards, which is a big no-no on stealthy planes. Now, I will find it impossible to believe that the Russians won’t hit any set backs on the PAK FA project. They are dealing with something completely new. And finally, the shape I am seeing is rather large. Like, even a “massive” F-15 is dwarfed by the PAK FA’s predecessor, the SU-27.

        • tee

          Russian T-50 Fighter Jet to Start State Flight Test in 2014

          Read more:

        • Stratege

          “If you ask me, from what I’ve seen the PAK FA larger design and engine setup kind of negates its stealth capabilites. If nothing it just makes it a bit hard to track on radar. ”

          – Existing PAK-FA’s engine is an interim solution.
          – This engine setup hardly affects frontal aspect

      • gaylord_gaylordson

        The feeling in the ONI is that they will not be able to deploy these in effective numbers till the mid 2020s at the earliest and that these are not on a par with the F22 or F35.

        The US is on it’s 7th generation of stealth. LRS-B being the 6th….and certain classified projects are laying out the ground rules for the development of the 7th.

        The Russians and Chinese are perhaps on a second iteration of stealth design…capable of producing capable weapons systems, yes, but there is definitely not much hand wringing in the pentagon. In public, yes, but in private there are more serious concerns. Advanced SAMs would be one of them.

        The design of the PAKFA for maneuver/energy fighting is an acknowledgment in public that the Russian AF (VVS) is not yet capable of reliably harnessing the kinds of material science, EW, precision manufacturing etc needed to make a VLO fighter in the US mold. Frankly, the Chinese effort is much more serious about reducing observability.

  • 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.


      I wouldn’t say that the orders for the F-35 have “stabilized” yet. The RAF might know their direction, but what about Canada, Aussies, and maybe even the USA?

  • 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.

    • Sanem

      the F-35 is billions worth of computer power, it’s 10 years ahead of everything else

      except it won’t be operational for another 10 years. by then older aircraft will be outfitted with new hardware and software, and new aircraft will have F-35 grade hardware off the shelf, at a fraction of the price, bugs worked out

      not to mention much F-35 technology will be simply outdated by then, namely stealth and sensors, and its computers and software will be capable but outdated by comparsion

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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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