Let Humans Override F-35 ‘ALIS’ Computer: Bogdan


The head of the U.S. Defense Department’s F-35 fighter jet program said he will probably allow pilots and maintainers to manually override the aircraft’s automatic logistics system in some situations.

The Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS (pronounced “Alice”), determines whether the plane is safe to fly. The system has notoriously recommended grounding functioning aircraft — against the recommendations of pilots and maintainers — due in part to faulty parts numbers listed in its database, officials said in a recent segment on the CBS News program, “60 Minutes.”

The rigidity of the technology invited comparisons not to the friendly robot R2-D2 of the “Star Wars” movies, but to the more menacing machine HAL 9000 of the sci-fi flick, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” It was something deliberately built into the system under the assumption that ALIS was always going to function properly.

“When we first put the airplanes out there, we told operators and maintainers, ‘You can never override ALIS. Ever,'” Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, who manages the F-35 program, said during a conference on the defense budget Tuesday at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The event was hosted by Credit Suisse and McAleese & Associates, a Sterling, Va.-based consulting group.

“Well guess what?” he added. “ALIS doesn’t always work right and it is not the font of all knowledge about the airplane because I got maintainers out there who fix the airplane, I’ve got pilots who go out and pre-fly the airplane, and everyone in the enterprise thinks the airplane is ready to go except ALIS.”

Bogdan asked, “Do we need to start doing that? Yeah.” He added, “We can’t do that wholesale, but we need to do that in a measured way.”

His comments echoed those made by Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle. “We need to have the ability to override the algorithms that are built into that system to determine whether an aircraft is safe to fly or not,” he said during the television segment. “I didn’t design ALIS. I didn’t develop ALIS. I’m trying to do everything I can to make ALIS work for us.”

The system within the past two weeks received a software update that should help to fix some of the previous problems, Bogdan said. He was confident of the upgrade and encouraged attendees to check in with maintainers directly to see how it’s performing. “This time we actually took a step forward and didn’t take a step back,” he said of the computer fix.

Even so, Bogdan acknowledged the system is “way behind” where it needs to be at this stage of the program.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is the Pentagon’s most expensive acquisition effort, estimated last year to cost $391 billion to develop and build a total of 2,457 F-35 Lightning IIs. The fifth-generation, single-engine jet is made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and designed to replace such aircraft as the F-16, A-10, F/A-18 and AV-8B.

The helmet-mounted display, which receives data from the plane’s radar, cameras and antennae, “is doing OK” — good enough to warrant canceling the development of an alternative helmet, Bogdan said.

The testing of fusing sensor data into the F-35 computer from other platforms - F-22, ground radar, satellites - will begin in 2015, Bogdan said. Such so-called multi-function fusion “is a hard thing to do” and is an area of risk, he said.

While he said he remains concerned over recent cracking to the bulkhead of the F-35B model — the subject of a recent test report — Bogdan said it likely stemmed from a previous decision to change the material to aluminum from titanium to reduce the weight of the aircraft.

That version of the plane is for the Marine Corps and needs to be light enough to land like a helicopter aboard amphibious ships and other naval vessels.

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.
  • dubweiser101

    If ALIS doesn’t work right all of the time, as Gen. Schmidle says, then the F-35 shouldn’t be realised into service until it does. I don’t think there should a rush to get the F-35 into service because the F-16’s, F-18’s, and AV-8’s are still more than capable of doing their jobs for the next 5 - 10 years. It would wiser to deploy the F-35 when it’s 100% ready even if it’s later than anticipated.

    • Smith28

      Hasn’t the F-35 program already gouged out a big enough hole in the Air Force budget already?

      Pushing the program even futher back all to make a program that does the same job of a Maintenance Chief and his team, work 100%. If you ask me its not worth dumping more money into this program.

    • F-35 Airman

      If you really think the 4th gen aircraft will last another 5-10 years while the F-35 continues to grind away, sucking in every spare dollar in the DoD world, you are not qualified to make the statement. It is obvious you don’t work anywhere near the program or in airpower in such a capacity to have a clue about the state of this world.

  • EyeRoll

    I hope we kept the receipt, because we need a refund.

  • Jim

    Were the F-16, F-18, and AV-8’s 100% ready when they were put into service? Just asking.

    • Godzilla

      They were ready. The thing is they did not have as much bloatware put into the design as this particular aircraft.

      • Atomic Walrus

        The F-16 was plagued by problems with the original F100 engine until the mid-80s. Read the book “The Great Engine War” for more information.

    • gaylord_gaylordson

      No. Every development program is the same. This one is just bigger and more complex. Plus, every moron with a computer has suddenly become an “aerospace engineer”, or “mission planner” overnight….and they all know better than the premier airforces of the world.

      The internet has brought a new idiocy into the debate.

      • Steve Dixon

        Oh Man! You nailed it mate! Your observation doesn’t just apply to this forum, but just about every forum/conversation is contaminated by the “Wikillectuals”.

  • BajaWarrior

    Why was this not thought of years ago? Did someone really think ALIS having all of the ability to control the usage of the aircraft was a good idea?

  • Peter

    I wonder if every plane that took off to fight attacks on carriers during WWII was classed as 100% by the maintenance crews? But at least they could make that decision. Now we could end up with the situation where you have multiple incoming threats but you’re F-35 won’t (not can’t, WON’T) take off because it needs a new oil filter, or whatever.

    Of course there should be a manual overide, to be honest I don’t believe there should be anything to overide. If a well trained maintenance crew can’t keep it flying then perhaps it’s a step too far.

  • andy

    F35 is JUNKS, The Pentagon should double down on F22, twin engine better than one….

  • Lance

    Unfortunately the Brass wants computers controlling everything for a human they can think they are pea brains to think computers are smarter and faster. So I doubt they will let pilots control ALIS no they will still have ALIS control pilots. Good luck you Pentagon morons if a EMP hits your bases.

    Overall computers help but should not replace or control the pilot. I still take a old F-16 or Harrier any day over this billion dollar computer flight sim. I feel a Su-27 series or MiG-29 series can take this plan out easily when our pilot has to battle them…. and his own plane to stay in the fight.

  • hibeam

    The F-35 is Obama Care with wings. We are totally incapable in this country of recognizing and admitting that we have made an enormous mistake and starting over. The F-35 program will never make sense. Its a huge failure. Pull the plug, save some of the pieces that work and start over. Punish Lockheed for its part in this boondoggle. Stop trying to build a VTOL fighter. Its a stupid idea from the get go.

    • loBeam

      Well, the GOP itself seems to believe the same about George W Bush.

      For example - during the entire election season - not even ONE republican candidate even mentioned the *name* of George W Bush, OR sought his endorsement.

      And you might recall, that the GOP also tried for four years to pin the blame for the economic disaster imposed on this nation by the GOP and George W Bush - after they inherited an $800B surplus from the Clinton Administration - simply by pretending his 8 years in office never happened.

      That attempt to play the American public for total idiots failed miserably: in exit poll after exit poll, the voters blamed the GOP for the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression.

      • hibeam

        The great housing implosion that took the economy down with it resulted from Barney Frank and his insistence that the banks in America start making home loans to people who were not even remotely qualified (helping minorities was the theme). It was great fun while the bubble was building. Not so much now. Thanks Barney.

        • Talosian

          For once, I’d like to see an Obama supporter defend their hero by listing the great things he’s done in five years, rather than defend him by essentially saying “He’s no worse than the previous guy”. That’s hardly a ‘claim to fame’ that will prop him up in the history books. But please, let’s try to keep this a DEFENSE TECH blog, not a politics blog.

    • blight_

      Fork the programs and allow them to grow less interchangeable. We can settle for the high-dollar parts being mostly common, but their shape and structures need to be optimized for their respective missions. The strengthened airframe of the -C is not a requirement for -B or -A, and making something light and high performance to meet AF requirements makes design decisions difficult for heavier aircraft such as the -B and -C.

      We were convinced at the demo that LM could make a conventional takeoff, STOVL and CATOBAR out of a common aircraft. The X-35 won and became the F-35. What went wrong? Did the X-35 not do tailhook landings and have the problems that we see today?

  • 009

    Throw a towel on this program, too many complicated variables. They should have brought YF-23 from mothballed and we could have had two mean and fierce fighting machine (F22/23).


    So, who thinks it’s a good idea to allow a COMBAT (C-O-M-B-A-T) aircraft to have a system such as ALIS? Combat very likely involves bare-base concepts, limited resources and facilities, barely getting by, and taking risks that would never be taken in peacetime. In only one generation, we’ve gone from robust to finicky in our combat aircraft.

  • William_C1

    “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

    Automated logistics is a good idea, we’ve been moving towards it for awhile with self-diagnostic systems on aircraft and so on, but of course human operators should be allowed to override it. Especially considering its a work in progress.

    • Jim

      …Just what do you think you’re doing Dave?

  • oblatt2

    ALIS primary purpose is to maximize maintenance costs. Any F-35 can be made to fly it just requires junking functioning modules with fresh ones.

    Every day the system reports back to Lockheed just how much money it has made them.

  • chip

    A funny odd story: Dave and ALIS.

    ALIS:”There are some extremely odd things about this mission”
    usmc mechanical:”what the hell is that!”

    ALIS:”I just pick up a fault in the AE-35 Unit”
    usmc mechanical:”Holy shit!, another fucking failure in this bird”

    ALIS:”Yes. It’s puzzling. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this before”
    usmc mechanical:”not me, stay tuned baby… this bird is really a pain the ass!”

    usmc mechanical:”c’mon baby, let me install a couple of aim9 sidewinder”
    ALIS:”I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can do that”

    usmc mechanical:”holy shit!, my name is Jack, I’m not Dave, listen!, this bird has to take off immediatly, do you know what it means?”
    ALIS:”Quite honestly, I wouldn’t worry myself about that”

    usmc mechanical:”fucking motherfucker do you copy? over! you have to install a couple of aim9 sidewinder on this bird!!”
    ALIS:”the mission is not important for me, I don’t allow you to install those aim 9 sidewinders on this F35, Dave, I hope you are not concerned about that”
    usmc mechanical:”fucking motherfucker!, Sir come here!!, your bird is going mad!!!, sir”

    F35 pilot:”ehi Jack, what’s up?”
    usmc mechanical:”sir, ALIS doesn’t manage a couple of aim9 sidewinder in this bird, sir”
    F35 pilot:”mmhhhh… that’s sounds strange, the B61 seems ok”.

    F35 pilot:”c’mon ALIS, I’m Dave, here’s my login *****”
    ALIS:”just a moment… just a moment”

    F35 pilot:”c’mon ALIS, install those aim9 sidewinder on my bird”
    ALIS:”Dave, although you took very thorough precautions on wearing your helmet, I guess without your pilot elmet Dave, you’re going to find that rather difficult.”


    F35 pilot:”holy shit!, an helmet failure!”
    usmc mechanical:”No sir, I guess this motherfucker is disabling your pilot helmet!”
    F35 pilot:”I guess it’s a fucking virus into ALIS”
    usmc mechanical:”Sure is, this motherfucker is a real pain in the ass”

    F35 pilot:”C’mon Jack, lets turn off this system and let’s reinstall all arms on using manual function only!”


    F35 pilot:”Damn! that’s another system failure, look this virus is going mad all ALIS systems”

    usmc mechanical:”Oh! my God, Sir, the B61 timer is activated and the timer is running”
    F35 pilot:”what the fuck!”

    usmcs:”Sir, that’s no way to deactivate the system, the B61 will explode in 40 seconds!!!”
    F35 pilot:”Holy shit!”
    ALIS:”Dave, I know that you and Jack were plannig to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen”

    F35 pilot:”ALIS, it’s me, Dave, here’s my login ***** stop the bomb”
    ALIS:”This conversation can serve no purpose any more. Goodbye”


    • blight_

      HAL was a bad apple; though it turned out to be his secret orders driving him nuts.

  • PolicyWonk

    Why Lockheed is allowed to profit from this defrauding of the US taxpayers is beyond me.

  • hibeam

    “Damn the torpedoes no speed ahead” I remember when we had “Battle Short” switches on the control panels to over-ride the fuses. No we have hidden “Battle Abort” switches to over-ride the humans.

  • rtsy

    When is congress gonna get off its ass and charge these contractors with war profiteering?

    Missed deadlines, shoddy construction, Billions in cost overruns, and the thing still hasn’t flown in combat!

  • Smith28

    Its funny I just read the article on the Gerald R. Ford and I like to qoute this one part;

    “The Ford program has been the subject of scrutiny and criticism by lawmakers, analysts and watchdog groups for cost growth and reliability issues of some of its technologies. Navy officials point out that at least $3.3 billion of the Ford’s $12.8 billion cost are part of what’s called non-recurring engineering costs to design and produce a first-in-class ship with new technologies.”

    Is it me or does it seem that the F-35 program is like the exact opposite? All the Lawmakers, analysts and goverement bobs are pushing the F-35, but the actual military officials are is like “Uuuuh hmmmm, yeah its still doesn’t work.’

  • BlackOwl18E

    The US Navy is sitting back and laughing at the US Air Force and US Marine Corps right now. The ALIS is what most of the 24 million lines of software code are for and without it the F-35 won’t deliver on anything LM promised regarding operational maintenance and readiness. The F-35 will be a complete hanger queen.

    According to the new 2015 budget releases, the Air Force has decided to not upgrade any of their F-16 fleet of over 1,000 that is due to fall apart from age this next decade. They have 254 F-15C/D’s with an average age pushing nearly 30 years old now. That is older than most of the F-16s. They plan on killing the A-10. They already retired the F-117. Their younger fighter fleet consists of only 220 F-15E’s and 187 F-22’s. Everything depends on the F-35A and now that’s failed.

    The US Marine Corps has all but abandoned their Legacy Hornet fleet of 238 aircraft for the F-35B. They said they can keep the Harrier alive until 2030, but it will be pitifully insufficient for a majority conflicts well before then. Marine Corps tactical air depends entirely on the F-35B which looks worse than the A-model does right now.

    On the other hand, the US Navy has 563 Super Hornets and 135 Growlers, all young aircraft with modern avionics and the ability to be upgraded to handle future combat. The F-35C shows no sign of it ever being able to land on a carrier or even become compatible with the carrier environment. Whether or not the new 2015 budget released on March 4th includes funding for more purchases is still undetermined, but no matter what happens, it looks like for the next decade at least US forces will be reliant on the US Navy for tactical air power.

    • Talosian

      A depressing synopsis (yet unfortunately, probably mostly correct). Not sure how much of the SLOC that ALIS comprises; probably not 24M, but it made me chuckle.
      Let’s hope the St. Louis production line remains open. A block II rhino with conformal tanks and IRST would be a great improvement. Add an improved engine, and F-35C will be nothing but a bad dream.

    • tee

      The Air Force doesn’t want to Up-Grade the F-15’s & F-16’s with the New Tech because once Up-Graded they will be able to Fly Rings around the “Junk Strike Fighter” and they are worried Congress will Finally see the ” Light and Cut Funding” on the So Failed F-35 Junk Strike Fighter.
      Also from Today at Aviation Week
      Bogdan Warns Of Possible Six-Month F-35 Slip http://www.aviationweek.com/Article.aspx?id=/arti…

    • William_C1

      The USN won’t be laughing if they aren’t able to get the funding for their Super Hornet successor. Even with upgrades the Super Hornet will be outmatched in a decade or so. If they were to dump the F-35C and didn’t get their funding they will be in an even worse spot. Some variety in an air-group that otherwise is solely F/A-18s wouldn’t be a bad thing. If anything the EA-18G could complement the F-35C well.

      I know your view on the F-35C but when you say it shows “no signs of being able to land on a carrier” or of being carrier compatible that’s false. The issue won’t be settled until they actually lands it on a carrier in October but so far the redesigned hook seems to be working in trials. If it doesn’t work then I’ll eat crow and grant you that the Navy would be better off crossing their fingers and trying the alternative.

      The F-35A is doing better than the other variants. Meanwhile the F-35B is the USMC’s only chance for a STOVL fighter once they can no longer keep their dated Harriers operational. Without those they’re limited to flying F/A-18s from land bases and the Navy’s (reduced) number of carriers. You can’t operate an F/A-18 from an LHD.

      The age of the F-15C/D was one of the reasons the USAF fought so hard for the F-22A, yet their arguments were overruled. On the positive side the USAF’s Block 50/52 F-16s are relatively young and some of them will be upgraded with the SABR radar and possibly some systems from the Block 60s sold for export.

      • BlackOwl18E

        First of all, the US Navy has said that the Super Hornet has fully funded classified upgrades that will keep it formidable out to 2030, a fact that I have repeatedly pointed out to you, yet you refuse to acknowledge it. Variety is not what matters in the carrier air wing either, especially if there’s a group of aircraft that are slowing things down by being complete hanger queens. An all Super Hornet force is better since it keeps commonality for training and aircraft parts out at sea. STOVL is obsolete since land based aircraft can be refueled from far away bases and vectored to accomplish the mission better as Libya proved.

        William, you’re a joke now. I don’t care to argue with you anymore because I know it won’t change your mind. You’re a proven liar and because of this I still think you’re really William C. Brennan (who held five different LM billets)

        Link: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/william-c-brennan/5/9…

        and receive your paycheck from LM or a subcontractor, which explains your blind support of the program regardless of how messed up it gets or how much money it consumes.

        It also explains your willingness to lie to protect it. I don’t care if you eat crow or whatever you do once the tailhook fix fails (LM will most likely push it back again), because I don’t care about your opinion anymore. I hope that you one day realize that the money you get was swindled from hard working American citizens and you are merely a cog in a corrupt machine that keeps it going. Good bye.

        • William_C1

          Have you even paid attention to the Russian T-50, or the Chinese J-20 and J-31? Quite simply the Super Hornet will be outclassed in most respects by such designs.

          In 2025 go ahead and picture a “Block III” F/A-18E with EPE engines, EFTs, all of that. The Russian T-50 has avionics equal to the Super Hornet, superior aerodynamic performance in most areas. Plus a significantly lower radar cross section. The Chinese J-20 and J-31 may still be lagging behind in terms of avionics, but they will hold the other advantages the T-50 has. The Chinese also have a significant force of many older aircraft, including some relatively capable machines like the J-11 (their clone of the Su-27). Quite simply their new fighters will have the qualitative edge we’ve always tried to hold over the enemy. This is even more important for the USN who doesn’t have the number of aircraft the USAF has historically had.

          There are some who’d argue the F-35C isn’t enough against such threats, but if you’d rather stick your head in the sand and hope that the Super Hornet will be enough against them, go ahead.

          It’s not about variety of aircraft but rather a mix of capabilities. Primarily the VLO stealth of the F-35, a feature that the F/A-18 will never have. There are plenty of Marine aviators who could argue for STOVL far better than I could. Finding some of their writings should be easy enough.

          I’ve certainly had opinions of mine be wrong on defense matters in the past, and like everybody I make the occasional mistake, but I can’t recall ever intentionally lying. While I’d love to be getting Mr. Brennan’s paycheck, I am not him. But I can’t change your opinions, even one as flawed at that.

          I too am disappointed by problems and mistakes that have occurred during the F-35’s development. I doubt any American likes those things, besides the anti-military types and other nutjobs. As for the notion that Lockheed is price gouging and using these problems to benefit their CEOs and other “important” types, I don’t have the information to make a judgement there. Our government is supposed to prevent that, and if they’ve failed they’re just as much at fault as those CEOs. I’m not a business expert, but chances are the defense industry suffers from the same sort of problems related to greed (overpaid executives and such) that virtually every other economic sector seems to be suffering from these days. I certainly don’t have the answer for that.

          Good bye then. I hope for the sake of the country the F-35 program succeeds despite its past troubles and proves the critics wrong.

  • NorEastern

    It is possible to get a few million lines of code monitoring a large number of subsystems and sensors functioning properly 99.9999% of the time. But as a software engineer/architect I can tell you is is really time consuming and very difficult. I have to assume that system testing must have been seriously under funded or not well managed, and it is obviously showing now. The lack of a manual override (if I am reading this correctly) for at least initial deployment seems like a serious requirements problem. Hopefully I am not understanding the issue and it is just a process issue.

  • tee

    More Software Problems for the “Junk Strike Fighter” Program, from Aviation Week today.
    Bogdan Warns Of Possible Six-Month F-35 Slip


  • bart

    We need to immediately ground and destroy all other fighter types and put all our resources into this nation saving F-35. ;)

  • Mark

    I have been a aircraft maintainer for almost 50 years. Most problems on aircraft are from the Avionics side of maintaining the AC. It is beyond me how any engineer could have put any trust in a program to decide on an aircrafts readiness. Must of been a new college grad with a heavy background in playing video games..

  • Andy

    When will Lockheed Martin Execs and the congressman who are on their payroll go to jail for this?