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.

23 Comments on "Let Humans Override F-35 ‘ALIS’ Computer: Bogdan"

  1. 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.

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

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

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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).

  10. 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.

  11. "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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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"


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

  15. "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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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.'

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

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


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

  22. 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..

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

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