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.

    • Menzie

      I understand the point you are trying to make but maybe you used the wrong example of Vista. I have had it since day one of release and have it on all my laptops and my desktop. I have had nothing but good come from it. So maybe try another example.

    • greg

      I don’t think they are having weapons integration issues at all as of right now. The main issue I see is with the sensor fusion which is all new hardware.

      The more graphics and video the more buggy, which is evident by every advancement is OS released to date. For example Mountain Lion is much more buggy then Snow Leopard…Because they are throwing things in.

      I don’ t think the old weapons would be a problem first off…One of the weapons they mentioned will probably be one of the oldest used the GBU-12,how old is that again? Secondly that is the purpose of plugins.

      Honestly it seems like the F-35 is farther along then most of the naysayers would like to admit at this point.

      • oblatt1

        >I don’t think they are having weapons integration issues at all as of right now.

        Because they dropped 75% of the weapons from the immediate requirements. The navy version cannot even launch a anti-ship missile.

        • blight_

          I’m not even sure if any the versions right now can fight, short of strafing their targets?

          I wonder if an F-22 can be used to do air-to-air targeting for the F-35s, who can be the equivalent of the resupply camels that carried arrows to Carrhae for the Parthian horse archers.

    • Brownie

      Yup. We need to expose the most secret of technologies to the Red Chinese once again. Let’s put some more fingers into the espionage pie. Smart.

    • blight_

      If it makes you feel better, the F-35 is mostly new code hardware. What I think is funny is that it’s talking to hardware much older than it, and perhaps originally designed to talk to software written in Ada.

      Of course, all the older missiles have been shot off, so most of the “old” weapons are on newer blocks that have steadily improved in electronics.

    • Restore Palestine

      Vista was a big flop. Slow, buggy, incompatible with many peripherals … It’s an eye-candy and not much else, just like the F-22 and F-35.

      Old hardware tend to be slow when running latest programs mainly because of processor speeds and smaller RAM. As long as the native compiler is current with recent enhancements and new functionality, problems in the program are often logical errors of the programmer, not technical problems of the hardware.

  • 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

      • 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?

      • morris

        the us elected Obama didn’t we

        • Big-Dean

          we showed our stupidity twice there eh?

      • BajaWarrior

        It’s not acceptable, just inevitable. Why can’t we learn from past “joint” projects? It seems like we have to continuously make the same mistakes

        • oblatt1

          The contracts will tell you over and over again that there is no alternative to failure. Because the reality is that they are very comfortable with failure.
          This has gone on for so long that most contractors don’t even know what success looks like anymore.

        • blight_

          Define “joint”. There are a number of early fighters that were Navy/MC and did pretty well. More recently, the Phantom was the tri-service aircraft, in contrast to the failed TFX that spawned the F-111 and the F-14. The latest Navy/MC is the F/A-18.

          The Harrier is MC-only, though conceivably could have been flown from Navy CV’s if they wanted to.

    • 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.

  • 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?

    • SMSgt Mac

      Heh. You ask an intelligent question beyond the ken of the Anti-JSF crowd. If any of these doomsayers were able to answer they wouldn’t be doomsayers. UML? Yes. Rational and Rhapsody are the biggies. In the early days, requirements definition was in Rational Rose and Rhapsody was for code building, because that was where the strengths of each were. Over the years, with version updates and software business acquisition events moving all of it under IBM (I think), it may all be Rhapsody now. (But don’t tell the locals, they still envision legions of gnomes hand-coding. Grab a beer and watch the Engineering Illiterati do their tribal dance.)

      • oblatt1

        On the other hand some of us talked to Cody and Ivar back in the day and don’t think much of where Rational went. A failed technology for a failed design sounds about right for the F-35

      • Daniel Tebar

        Thanks for the succinct answer Mac. In my 20-plus year career, only the best companies take the time to do actual design. Also, according to what I have read, it looks like the French, and Germans do software the right way. Do you share this perception?

      • Restore Palestine

        SMSgt Mac

        Can you please answer the intelligent question beyond the ken of the Anti-JSF crowd?

  • 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.

      • BlackOwl18E

        When making a weapon system you don’t want to give the defense contractor too much autonomy. They should be supervised to a certain degree to ensure that they aren’t making a faulty system so they can scam you into paying more than you should. Congress is finally starting to try to get a hold on the F-35 program as we have seen what happens when they have free reign to do as they please.

    • 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.

  • 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…..

  • 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.