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 Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. 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.

  • 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: http://www.aviationweek.com/Blogs.aspx?plckBlogId

    • 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.

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        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.

        • USS ENTERPRISE

          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.

  • 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_

    http://www.gao.gov/assets/590/589454.pdf

    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.
    http://www.anft.net/f-14/f14-history-f14x.htm

    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

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      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_

      The -15, -16 and -18 lines are open, but if the next shooting war against someone with real radar begins, it’ll be Brewster Buffalo vs Mitsubishi Zeroes all over again. The American military was too embarrassed by WW2 such that it has embraced technological superiority as its panacea to everything.

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        “Real radar”. Okay. Who is that again? Let me point out, a war with China would ruin its economy, and a war with Russia would even further deplete its economy.

      • Belesari

        The Germans, and Japanese both had technologically superior machines in most instances. They got bombed to shit.

        Having been told by people who Know that Naval Radars can see through stealth aircraft I doubt it matters. EW comes into play there.

        We aren’t talking brewster buffalo vs Zero’s. We are talking about P-40’s vs Zero’s.

        I’d rather have enough P-40’s and lose a few pilots than a have not enough Zero’s and lose the war.

        Stealth is only worth it the first days of combat after that? Not really. So have a small number of Stealthy High performance strike aircraft and Fighters. Then a have a large amount of High performance dependable non stealthy fighters/bombers/attack.

  • blight_

    Digging out more information on the electronics of the JSF. Starting with Integrated Core Processor:
    http://www.embeddedstar.com/press/content/2004/2/

    “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.
    http://www.mrcy.com/products/boards/race_powerpc7
    http://www.mrcy.com/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?i

    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.

    • Restore Palestine

      The US government is insane, and has been insane for decades. Insanity is the norm, not the exception in America.

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        Takes one to know one.

  • 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.

    • blight_

      I think the Air Force is now assuming they will loiter high in the sky in stealth mode, dropping JDAMs and SDB’s without actually descending from heaven to strafe a target, let alone shoot it with rockets.

      I suppose Army will have to procure some Super Tucanoes (or AT6-B armed trainers) to work in tandem with helicopter gunships.

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        That is the most logical course of action. If I were to do a CAS mission, I would want A-10s and F-15Es loiter sky high, and Apaches and Tucanoes jumping in when we have a little nest of resistance.

  • 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

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      Yeah, basically, at one point or another, Lockheed has come out and “suggested” that the F-35 is the answer to everything in the air force, and should replace everything. Thank god that won’t happen.

  • kiki

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

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