Congress orders F-35 Software Plan


Congress ordered the Pentagon to establish an independent team consisting of subject matter experts to review the development of software for the Joint Strike Fighter program.

The House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee asked the Pentagon to submit a report by March 3, 2014 as part of the committee’s markup of the 2014 defense budget. The F-35 software program has served as one of the largest challenges for program engineers to keep on schedule.

“The committee continues to support the F-35 development and procurement program, and believes a software development review by the Department will ensure that the F-35 program remains on schedule to provide a fifth generation capability in support of our national security strategy,” the Congressional language states.

The JSF program developmental strategy is, in part, grounded upon a series of incremental software “drops” — each one adding new capability to the platform. In total, there are more than 10 billion individual lines of code for the system, broken down into increments and “blocks,” F-35 program office officials explained.

“Software development remains a focus area of the joint program office. We have a solid baseline and we need to be able to execute on that,” said Joe DellaVedova, F-35 program office spokesman.

Software drop 2B is undergoing flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md; software Block 2B builds upon the enhanced simulated weapons, data link capabilities and early fused sensor integration of the Block 2A software drop, DellaVedova added.

“With Block 2B you can provide basic close air support and fire an AMRAAM {Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile}, JDAM [Joint Direct Attack Munition] or GBU 12 [laser-guided aerial bomb]. This allows the plane to become a very capable weapons system,” he said.

Overall, DellaVedova said the F-35 program office has been making substantial progress. Software drop 3I, which is a technical refresh of Block 2B, is slated to by ready by 2016.

“This is complicated and labor intensive work but this has leadership focus from industry and government to deliver on the promise of the F-35. With its stealth and its enhanced situational awareness, the F-35 will provide a backbone for our forces for generations to come. Our progress continues at a slow and steady pace and we are focused on completing things within the schedule and budget we’ve been given.”

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • tee

    This should be fun, just think Microsoft Vista and how well that worked out for everyone. As a coder for over 20+ years, they are trying to make new code work with very old hardware ( weapons ) in some cases that were designed in the 80’s & 90’s. It may work with the new latest state of the art weapons built with more modern code & circuit boards, but the older 8/16 bit code & boards will be fun.

  • CharleyA

    Yada yada yada

  • oblatt1

    You have to remember that Lockheed deliberately chose one of the most bug prone languages to develop the 10 billion lines of code in. They then hired as many cheap inexperienced developers as they could find. Even a conservative estimate will be that there are 50 million bugs in the code.

    While this means the mean time between failure of major systems in the F-35 is 15 minutes it also ensures decades of revenue for Lockheed. Its a tradeoff – the future of Lockheed for the future of American air-power.

    We can be confident that the F-35 will never work as advertised, because it simply was never designed to.

    • blight_

      What, C++ and C?

      What’s the point of coding in Ada if you can’t find enough Ada talent? It’d be like writing computer science books in Latin, then expecting everyone to jump the hurdle of learning Latin just to learn how to program. Good luck finding enough bodies to fill those workstations.

      • Dfens

        Yeah, if C was such a problem, they wouldn’t use it everywhere in the commercial software industry. Mostly the thing that puts the cost of military software through the roof is meeting the requirements of the completely useless FAA software standard, DO-178. The only reason that standard exists is to keep real software companies from competing with bloated suck holes like Boeing and Lockheed. It is amazing to me how they can charge the US taxpayer out the ass for that crap with absolutely no evidence that meeting the standard makes software 1trillionth safer or more reliable. Of course you can trust the government, after all their contractors told them meeting DO-178 would make software better, right after they wrote that standard. No conflict of interest there. The stupidity is mind boggling!

        • William_C1

          So you blame the existence of this software standard on keeping “bloated suck holes like Boeing and Lockheed” in business rather than the usual government bureaucracy and idiocy that results in enough red tape and worthless policies to sink a cruiser?

          Not every example of government incompetence can be lain at the feet of (insert hated private contractor here).

          • oblatt1

            Winllian C always looking for excuses to explain away gross incompetence

          • Dfens

            The contractors wrote the standard. The contractors lobbied to have the standard put on all aircraft embedded software. Does it benefit the government too? Sure, it makes the bureaucracy marginally bigger. Mostly, though, it benefits the bottom line of the contractors. For them it is a twofer. It drives up the cost of developing the software, and it actually helps the contractor build in problems. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen crap software built and qualified, and all I could do is marvel at how f’ed up it is. And, of course, when you tell them to fix it, “oh no, we can’t do that, this software is fully qualified, it can’t be changed.” What a f’ing joke!

      • oblatt1

        The million monkeys fallacy – you don’t end up with Shakespeare you just end up a mess.

        F-35 speaks for itself – the only quad redundant avionics system to crash on the final test bed.

        • Dfens

          Good observation, Oblatt1, that’s exactly what it is. That’s why they did away with the weapon designer. Everyone knows when no one is responsible for the final product, when no one’s reputation is on the line, the final product is inevitably crap. It can be crap if someone’s reputation is on the line, but when no one is in charge, it’s guaranteed to be crap.

          • blight_

            “That’s why they did away with the weapon designer. ”

            As an industry insider…does a Project Manager not do the same thing? Or perhaps the difference is more about /autonomy/ than /administrative/ power?

          • TinkersDam

            You might be giving him more credit than is due.

          • blight_

            Quite possible.

      • Restore Palestine

        Good C++ programmers should have no difficulty transitioning to ADA in a matter of weeks if not less, because ADA was patterned after C++ in many constructs and grammar, with added restrictions in data typing, user-specified concurrent processing codes, and descriptive keywords to improve readability and ease of maintenance. In the mid 1990s sophomores at Univ. of Texas at Austin were routinely given parallel programming assignments in ADA – two weeks to learn the language on their own, then two weeks to code, test, debug, and turn in the assignment. Students usually had already programmed extensively in Pascal, C, C++ and some other shell scripts. That’s why instructors gave students only two weeks.

      • Hi Peter,The operating level srouce re Super Hornet instructors inferred some of them are just leaving the Service; but back to the F-35.The son of a RAAF colleague has been a Flight Test Engineer on the JSF program for about 3.5 years (as a Squadron Leader) but is not being replaced in his role as from June 2013, whatever that means.The F-15SE or the F/A-18F will not suit all nations that want to replace their F-16s and in any case it seems improbable that Boeing could up production sufficiently to offset the looming timeframe capabilities deficits. The F-16 assembly line is still extant but the possibilities in that direction are seemingly being ignored by US politicians. It all demonstrates the frightening power of LM within the military-industrial complex.The JSF project seems likely to become the biggest political embarrassment of all time for the US.

    • Josh

      Yes, because I’m sure while sitting at a table deciding on who to hire, Lockheed Martin was like, “We have to find the most inexperienced software developers there are.” You are probably too arrogant to accept this, but any engineer or developer working for Lockheed Martin is 10x more intelligent than you are.

      • Dfens

        I wouldn’t be so sure of that. Lockheed has figured out that they bill the same for an entry level engineer as they do for someone more experienced, thus they’ve gone through several years of purges. Their new engineers are a tribute to the quota system of hiring. But, hell, keep paying them more to fail. It’s working out great for all of us, isn’t it?

        • blight_

          “Lockheed has figured out that they bill the same for an entry level engineer as they do for someone more experienced”

          You’re kidding, right? As a scientist looking at job openings right now, I see tons of people hiring entry-level, or the pros right at the top with the most experience, and very few openings for mid-level people. I imagine the aerospace industry is hiring similarly.

    • blight_

      “You have to remember that Lockheed deliberately chose one of the most bug prone languages to develop the 10 billion lines of code in”

      It’s not like Ada is any better. If you coded ten billion lines of Fortran, you’d probably have bugs too.

      HTML, maybe? Hah.

    • greg

      I touched ADA at Rutgers. There are so many librarys built into C/C++ that you almost never have to re-invent the wheel for mundane tasks.

      The same can’t be said for ADA. It is what it is. ADA was dead when I graduated with my Comp Sci degree in 03.

      I don’t really think you know what you are talking about at all. Have you ever coded anything? Hello World anything?

      • oblatt1

        ah a babe in the woods LOL

  • brownie

    Folks can rant and rave, just like they did against the M1, Bradley, and F-22. This acquisition is a done deal. Move on.

    • Big-Dean

      so failure is acceptable in your world?

    • BlackOwl18E

      Nothing is unbreakable. The death spiral is still a possibility for the F-35.

  • Taylor

    Oblatt1 must be Tokyo Rose reincarnated.

  • XYZ

    On the bright side: Picture = saved. F-35s flying in formation is pretty sexy lookin’, and that’s coming from a guy who loves to make jokes at Lockheed’s expense.

    • Pointitout

      Yeah, but Lockheed makes billions at your expense.

      • XYZ

        You assume I pay my taxes! Har har. Boeing 4 Lyfe

  • Daniel Tebar

    Does anyone have info on the methodologies used for the development of these advanced avionics systems? Is UML in the mix? Is it OOA/D?

  • Brian

    Bugs aside, the biggest problem is still one of false expectation. Helmet Mounted Sights can work *very* well when kept simple & in the real-time domain where initial target / missile cueing information is simply overlaid – but that’s not how the JSF works. It works by creating a “virtual reality middleman” inside the helmet which “represents” the outside world, and the pilot interacts with the middleman, the supposed “advantage” of which is to allow the pilot to “see through the canopy” (unnecessary if the jet had decent visibility in the first place), etc, but the disadvantage is that it’s no longer in real-time – it’s massively “laggy” and plagued with stuttering / micro-stuttering, sensor lag & input delays.

    “The JSF doesn’t need to dogfight or see out of the canopy because it’s so clever and will rely completely on EO-DAS + HMS” is already looking very shaky given the “not so clever” continuous targeting issues, latency and jitter experienced with both the EO-DAS and HMS. Sometimes IRST contacts have “dropped off” for no reason, other times it’s taken far longer for it to recognize an incoming large IR target as a threat. The onboard computer is not powerful enough and is already plagued with over-heating issues (sometimes locking up completely). It cannot be replaced without major cost and yet more delays.

    And the AESA radar + super-computer + A2G targeting pod electronics all squeezed into the nose-cone is like sticking a 20kw heater in there making it highly unstealthy to anyone with a decent FLIR / IRST…

    What the F35 pilot sees can be over 1 second behind real-time (huge in any dogfight). This is what the “latency” issues are all about and they are nowhere near as easy to fix as simply upping the GHz on the CPU. It would have been FAR easier to give the jet decent all-round visibility and build a simpler but more reliable HMS that doesn’t try and “stitch” a panoramic thermal display spanning multiple cameras, but rather simply overlay directional cues & estimated range of incoming aircraft / SAM’s.

    Weapons and data-link software issues will probably be fixed, but I absolutely would not like to be on the team that has to “fix” the unfixable latency on the HMS which is an inevitable side-effect of its core-design. Processing vs latency – ask any real-time audio recording studio engineer…

    • blight_

      The problem is that LM is reinventing the wheel. The Israelis have HMD, as did the Soviets. We are puttering about with “new” HMD…and we should do so as a separate technology demonstrator program.

      Almost every doodad on the -35 is going to be researched and developed de novo, then bundled into the F-35 program. Pursuing parallel development of every program, and putting subcontractors in charge of their devices ensures maximum autonomy and perhaps better funding and cost controls, perhaps at the cost of inter-operability and an extended integration stage.

    • citanon

      I don’t understand why would it take a second to stick together 6 images when a modern GPU can render and display 4K scenes at >60fps with 10s of ms of delay?

      Image processing and graphics display is a perfectly parallelizable problem. Unless the noise artifacts processing is so onerous that they have to use dozens and dozens of passes, or the software is badly architectured, it seems that they should absolutely be able throw more silicon at it to get lower latencies.

      Once they get the software optimized, the DAS will probably work like a dream.

      • blight_

        I question if a milspec GPU is even available. It’s probable they are using a CPU to do a GPU’s work, which makes me remember the ’80s-90s and “Software Graphics”.

      • oblatt1

        One you have seen some of the military comms protocols you would no longer wonder.

      • blight_

        “The F-22A is […] the first design to fall foul of processing chip evolution outrunning the system’s development cycle, and the sheer complexity of the software creating major delays to production in its own right. The recently redesigned CIP 2000 configuration uses up to 66 COTS based Motorola/IBM PowerPC RISC (ie Apple Mac compatible) and Intel i960MX processor chips and is aimed at cost reduction and supportability, with a follow on upgrade planned to further increase computing power. Since the ‘G4’ variant, PowerPC chips typically include an embedded ‘Altivec’ short vector processor which is exceptionally well suited to signal processing tasks, as found in radar, comms and EW processing.

        The JSF is built around an evolution of the F-22A model, but much more complex in implementation due to the additional, and extensive, electro-optical suite and digital ‘soft’ cockpit. Its liquid cooled Integrated Core Processors (ICP) are intended to be a cheaper equivalent to the F-22A CIP, relying to a greater extent on COTS packaging technology. Like the F-22A, the JSF is expected to use FC-AE replacing the originally planned IEEE SCI/RT (a commercial flop) in the JAST Pave Pace model, supplemented by IEEE 1394b Firewire bussing (also used in Apple computers) in the Vehicle Management System (VMS). For SDD, the Mercury RACE++ Powerstream processor will be used for signal processing and I/O processing functions – this is a 9U VME format packaged multiprocessor, built around PowerPC RISC processors – essentially a bigger and faster cousin to the 6U VME packaged PowerPC processors now being used in F-15E, F/A-18E/F and F-111C Block C-4.

        The core avionic system, centred in the ICP and its software, will present some significant development risks. While VME packaged PowerPC hardware is now widely used, it has not been used on the massive scale of the JSF to date. The large number of interconnects, density of hardware, and the demanding thermal cycling and vibration environment has the potential to produce reliability problems, especially of the intermittent variety, in the ICP subsystem. This may not become statistically obvious until a good number of systems are operationally deployed – cyclic wearout problems in printed circuit boards and connectors often resemble the behaviour of airframe fatigue damage and will not manifest until some number of cycles is accrued. The F-22A’s Milspec hardened SEM-E packaged system was reported to have had a number of hardware reliability problems, initially misdiagnosed as software faults – the more complex and softer COTS derived ICP has the potential to do the same on a very much larger scale.”

        Trying to figure out the hardware for HMD at the moment, but it doesn’t look good.

        • citanon

          It seems to me they can afford to have IBM or AMD design an SOC for them. Something like a hardened Xbox One or PS4 chip would do just fine.

          • blight_

            Agreed, but it’s a matter of finding a contractor to ruggedize it, especially at low order counts. I get the feeling that even an Nvidia Tegra3 would beat the pants off of older-generation PowerPC parts when it comes to graphics rendering.

            That said, the words “IBM or AMD design” mean the entire program goes into a holding pattern while you wait for new architecture to arrive. Sad, but true. This whole VR thing is a serious mismatch of dream to capability.

            Bear in mind that the present day ruggedized hardware was probably ruggedized when it was relatively up to date. Design is frozen, then R&D to ruggedize it commences. By the time you’re done, your architecture is old and pricey, but can operate in interesting conditions.

            That said, this is a good time to touch base with Intel about ruggedizing chips and the like. There’s OTS Panasonic toughbooks, so someone has put in the work to consider how Intel hardware can be made to last in conditions not normally encountered by a retail desktop or laptop. But it may not be appropriate to aerospace.

  • Juramentado
  • Juramentado
  • citanon

    Are you sure it’s 10 BILLION lines of code, not 10 MILLION? Because I’ve never heard of any company putting together even 1 BILLION lines of code.

    Windows, for example, has about 50 MILLION lines of code…..

    • William_C1

      Yeah that should be million as opposed to billion. If the F-35 had 10 billion lines of code I would expect it to be smarter than all of Washington DC.

      • blight_

        It would also be the buggiest program ever.

        Does it also count subcontractor code or just LM’s?

      • Restore Palestine

        A well-written program of 10 lines is smarter than all of Washington DC.


      100 dollars per line of code. Works out.

      • Dfens

        Lockheed and Boeing both bill 8 engineering hour per line of code. Since their labor rates are about $300/hour, well, you can figure out the rest.

  • Restore Palestine

    Still 200 dollars cheaper than what lawyers cost (per line of written legal document)

  • Tom

    We had Microsoft products for a long time, and was always rebooting (Bill Gates)
    We retired and bought MAC products (they work). maybe the engineers building the most expensive jets in the world need to take notice.

    • blight_

      Dare I ask whose hardware were you using? Dell? Self-built? Hewlett-Packard? Consumer market? Enterprise-grade?