Software Glitch Causes F-35 to Incorrectly Detect Targets in Formation

F-35As fly in formation. (AF photo)Engineers are trying to fix the F-35’s software package after it was discovered the sensors for the Joint Strike Fighter malfunction when detecting targets when the aircraft flies in formation.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, Program Executive Officer, F-35, said he didn’t have a date when the correction would be made. However, he said the problem would not delay the declaration of the Marine variant of the aircraft, the F-35B, ready for combat.

“When you have two, three or four F-35s looking at the same threat, they don’t all see it exactly the same because of the angles that they are looking at and what their sensors pick up,” Bogdan told reporters Tuesday. “When there is a slight difference in what those four airplanes might be seeing, the fusion model can’t decide if it’s one threat or more than one threat. If two airplanes are looking at the same thing, they see it slightly differently because of the physics of it.”

For example, if a group of F-35s detect a single ground threat such as anti-aircraft weaponry, the sensors on the planes may have trouble distinguishing whether it was an isolated threat or several objects, Bogdan explained.

As a result, F-35 engineers are working with Navy experts and academics from John’s Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory to adjust the sensitivity of the fusion algorithms for the JSF’s 2B software package so that groups of planes can correctly identify or discern threats.

“What we want to have happen is no matter which airplane is picking up the threat – whatever the angles or the sensors – they correctly identify a single threat and then pass that information to all four airplanes so that all four airplanes are looking at the same threat at the same place,” Bogdan said.

The F-35 is engineered to fuse relevant information from a variety of sources into one common operating picture for the pilot to view – such as digital maps, radar information and sensor information all combined into a single set of screens, JSF officials said.

The F-35’s Electro-Optical Target System, or EOTS, is an infra-red sensor able to assist pilots with air and ground targeting at increased standoff ranges while also performing laser designation, laser range-finding and other tasks.

In addition, the plane’s Distributed Aperture System, or DAS, is a series of six electro-optical sensors able to give information to the pilot. The DAS includes precision tracking, fire control capabilities and the ability to warn the pilot of an approaching threat or missile.

The F-35s also have an Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar which is able to track a host of electromagnetic signals, including returns from Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR. SAR paints a picture of the contours of the ground or surrounding terrain and Ground Moving Target Indicator, or GMTI, locates something on-the-move-on the ground and airborne objects or threats.

Overall, information from all of the JSF sensors is fused through the aircraft’s computer, providing the pilot with clear, integrated view of the battlefield. The aircraft also have a data link enabling them to share information with one another in real time.

The F-35 software, which shows images on display screens in the cockpit as well as on a pilot’s helmet-mounted-display, is designed to fuse results from various radar capabilities onto a single screen for the pilot.

The Marine Corps plans to declare their short-take-off-and-landing F-35B variant ready for combat by June of this year by declaring what’s called Initial Operating Capability, or IOC, with the 2B version of the software.

Software Block 2B, while still short of the full final 3F software configuration, can provide data link capabilities and early fused sensor integration, program officials have said.

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], JSF program officials said.

“We will declare IOC with an older version of the software that does not have all the fixes in it. They (Marine Corps) have ways of mitigating those problems which they feel are sufficient for them to go to war,” Bogdan said.

Bogdan explained how F-35B pilots will be able to use concepts of operation to work around the sensor fusion problems until the software fixes are in place. Some of these tactics could include turning off certain sensors or flying in groups of two instead of four planes, Bogdan explained.

“We want to fix this so it is inherent in the airplane. We have always said that fusion was going to be tough. We are going to work through this,” Bogdan said.

— Kris Osborn can be reached at

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • BlackOwl18E

    “However, he said the problem would not delay the declaration of the Marine variant of the aircraft, the F-35B, ready for combat.”

    You have got to be kidding me…

    These aircraft will be declared “ready for combat” alright but if we were to actually use them in a fight they would be a greater danger to our own servicemen than they would the enemy.

  • Ray

    This aircraft has been far more of a major problem then an asset.

    • Chuck

      Be thankful we’re working out the glitches now instead of in combat when it costs lives. The same can’t be said for past planes such as the F-4.

      • Docsenko

        The F-4 was one of the most powerful planes of its day. Problem, no gun. Next problem, unreliable air to air missiles. Made a better bomber than a Mig killer.

        • wpnexp

          Of it’s day. Still couldn’t drop a bridge until long after it entered production.

    • CHOPS

      Go to and read the truth about this L M POS.

  • royrdsjr

    I’m soooooooooo glad that these will be the planes that will replace the A-10.*sarcasm strongly implied*

  • Big-Dean

    Next Headline will read
    “F-35 Software glitch mistakes blue ocean for blue sky, software patch coming in 2021 but Navy F-35C pilots are advised to ignore cockpit “your flying upside down” warnings while flying over water”

  • citanon

    This is a _hard_ problem. NO previous fighter has had this capability. NONE. Not surprised that they having problems.

    Essentially, they are trying to allow a team of F-35s flying utilize their sensors in cooperative fashion to detect and track the same object. If you can do this then _even_stealthy_adversaries_ will have a hard time avoiding detection and attack because they will be pinged by radar, imaged by IRST and listened to by passive sensors from multiple angles spread across a large volume in space. The formation of F35s will act as a very advanced, stealthy, flying IADS.

    When you look around the world, competing air defense systems are just _starting_ to try to build this type of capability for platforms that are _stationary_ on the ground. The F35 is going to do this on planes moving at 600 knots in random and dynamically changing trajectories at 50000 feet.

    Once it works, it will be unbelievably lethal to adversary aircraft. This is why, paired with proper missiles, the F35’s advantages in air combat against things like the Su-35 and even the Pak FA and the J20, will be _overwhelming_.

    But they have to get it to work properly. Does that mean that IOC F-35s are not going to be more capable than legacy platforms even without this capability? Heck no, even a single F-35 has better sensors and sensor fusion than any legacy fighter. Furthermore, they will still be able to network. They just can’t all use their sensors at the same time.

    • Bobpep

      Well said Citanon. Written by someone armed with information, vice gossip.

      • Jim

        Will it?

        How long will its “budget” stealth last against advances in radar?

        I’ve read that out amraams are expected to not have the success we hope due to advances in Russian and Chinese electronic attack, so probability of hits is going to be a lot lower. The Lightning II only carried 4 in stealth mode, IIRC… So assuming it can stay stealthy long enough to get the first shot, when it shoots it’s not as stealthy anymore, allowing return shots.
        If it’s first volley doesn’t hit it stands a good chance of getting close with faster, more maneuverable fighters, where its stealth and sensor fusion won’t help much.

        The situation is worse if it goes up against a stealthy air superiority fighter.

        I’m not seeing the dominance.

    • Wowser

      Citanon is a public relations schill from one of the following: aircraft manufacturer, DOD, or aircraft subcontractor. It’s almost as if this person had written this rebuttal prior to the publication of the article(s)….. hmmmmmm

      Citanon: nothing you have said mitigates the recurring fact that this Program has been a huge government-managed boondoggle that hasn’t performed to-schedule and to-budget, since it’s inception.

      In total, state and federal agencies are so bloody politicized that they can’t manage a Project / Program because the first person to break radio silence on problems is scorched.

      Watch the schedule and budget continue to bloom like a mushroom cloud over the DoD budget…. that is, if there were actual traceability and accountability in the program budget management process (HAHAHAHA!!)

    • BH1

      “Once it works, it will be unbelievably lethal to adversary aircraft.” Which will be in what decade?

  • majr0d

    A good example of how advanced technology and new capabilities can create unforeseen problems..

    This isn’t isolated to the F35. We’ve had problems with other systems. Sometimes it takes decades ti get them fixed (we’ve been at it that long in meshing the dismounted and mounted situational awareness systems and STILL working it).

    This should be a lesson learned for the technology can solve every problem crowd but it won’t be.

    Not saying we shouldn’t pursue technology. I’m saying one should be more skeptical of all the promises until they are demonstrated.

  • Lance

    More Super Hornet and Harriers for USMC less this Stealth crap!

  • conradswims

    Cancel it!

  • Blue1

    So what they’re trying to tell me is that the software cannot solve advanced algebra/trig? I’m over simplifying it, yes, but its really just a series of triangles. The complex part is that the triangles change size over time, so really it is a calc problem. Must be the kids from the back row doing the math.

    • oblatt22

      Back row kids are cheaper - Lockheed hiring manual.

      • blight_

        H-1B visa is even cheaper.

    • wpnexp

      Like discussed above, more likely a velocity and maneuver problem as the formation aircraft change airspeeds and angles vs maneuving targets as the formation maneuvers in time and space. That is a hell of a lot of data to crunch.As the data is being crunched new data is coming in, adding to the problem. Imagine four aircraft maneuvering in three dimensions tracking four other aircraft in three dimensions, adding new variable data every second and coming up with a clear picture. Spread the sensor info between the radar, EOTS, DAS and EW systems all providing imput at essentially the speed of light.

  • guest

    F-35, not ready for prime time.

    • wpnexp

      No, it actually is ready for prime time meeting and exceeding current generaation technology, with the understanding thateven better technology is still being added. Fact is, the F-35 can do essentially anything a current F-15, F-16 or F/F-18 can do on the battlefield today.

  • fatman

    This kind of target recognition actually isn’t that hard. There is a plethora of image analysis software that can make these distinctions, and the laugh is that having multiple sensors usually makes them more accurate not less.

    This is another major design and coding problem for the program, but don’t worry, the pentagon will only waste another few million to get it figured out.

    • citanon

      Try doing that in real time against targets that are at the edge of signal to noise limit and actively trying to deceive you.

      • oblatt22

        and the F-35 cant do it for clear signals of aircraft not trying to evade.

      • Fatman

        Again, all things multiple sensors are supposed to help with, not hinder.

    • NathanS

      They’ve previously had problems with the F-35’s sensors being too sensitive. It’s purely an issue with the immaturity of the fusion software. It will get better with time, as these anomalies will build up test cases that future versions need to pass to be deemed operational.

      I’m not convinced it’s a difficult problem to solve. All aircraft would be aware of the location of the (duplicate) target. The aircraft closest to it can simply project the target to the other aircraft overriding their own signals.

      • Dylan

        A large part of the difficulty is in deciding if it’s the same target, or a ‘second’ target. The worst thing you can do is to have your software blank out additional targets because they’re close to one that has already been recognized. This is INCREDIBLY difficult to figure out. What if you have a weak or partial radar return? What’s the estimated level of accuracy of the return for each F-35 that is trying to ‘fuse’ its data? Which one will override the other? At what point do you stop overriding and declare it an additional target?

        The fact that only one ship in a formation has to make a detection for a threat to appear on everyone’s scope is, no doubt about it, absolutely game changing. If it was simple, every modern air force in the world would be pushing like hell to acquire this capability.

    • retired462

      You should replace the “M” on million, to a “B” for billion!

  • Jon

    I’m not a computer engineer, but I work in a related field - wouldn’t simple geo referencing solve this? WTF kind of software program are they running for the JSF? I hope Canada doesn’t buy this suck the U.S. Govt’ dry creation. The Hercules is a great aircraft and maybe the F-35 will be, but you can only dress up a pig so much - it’s still a pig.

    • Dylan

      So, what’s your error filter for distance? Say, any contact that geo-locates to within 200 feet of another contact acquired by a different F-35 would be ‘fused’? What happens when you have a flight of two bogies flying in tight formation? Now the software says there’s only one? What’s the estimated positioning accuracy of each radar return from each F-35 trying to fuse its sensor data with others? How do you determine which F-35’s sensor detects override another’s?

      It’s a simple problem to solve…IF you know you can 100% trust the location and accuracy of each return. You have thousands upon thousands of variables that cascade into affecting the accuracy of each detection, and if you have a system that is going to start overriding detections, it has to have some incredibly brilliant parameters for determining when to do it.

    • Mark

      Here is what I see. The single F-35 detects 3 planes in tight formation. The second sees 3 planes in tight formation. Reliability probability of proper detection is weighted. Highest waited probability trumps lower. Each system then knows to use that plane’s data set till probability flips to next plane. Then the next plane’s Dara set is used on everyone’s display.

    • OldFedVet1941

      Look at who is building these Pigs, LocMart. Their only goal in life is to suck up our hard earned tax dollars. What a total Crock! When are going to stop this rape of
      the American Taxpayers.

      • blight_

        Free market, needs even less rules. Abolish the IRS, EPA, GAO…


  • Johnny cat

    This f35 is like the Ryan Leaf of jets

  • hibeam

    Why are you telling us this?… now the Chines will know about the bug in their software.

  • JimmyD

    Does the cannon fire yet? Or is the software still scheduled for 2017?

  • JohnD

    What a piece of crap, was this turkey ever ready in design or was all the bells an whistles added in over run monies? This is the biggest POS since the P-35! Can’t shoot, can’t detect targets can’t use special bombs, other than waste money, what can it do? The Air Farce people who pushed this POS need to be court martialed!

  • ArmyVet

    “so that groups of planes can correctly identify or discern threats.”

    So it cant properly identify targets and they still are going to release it? What a joke. The guns are not ready past 2020? Guns are over rated- just like they thought in Vietnam they wouldn’t need them either. Billions wasted on a flying turkey. This is to the Airforce what the Comanche was to the Army! Cut the funding or continue to throw tax payer money in the furnace on this one.

  • oblatt22

    Everything is hard when you are incompetent.

    That a pair of F-35s cant tell the difference between a single bogy and a pair of bogies because the F-35s are at different locations is a complete joke. In fact it says that the F-35 doesn’t do sensor fusion at all.

    But tucked away there is another problem, they cant fly more than two F-35s together because the communication between more than 2 aircraft breaks down.

    Lockheed is trying to dribble out the bad news and survive because the story as a whole is a complete disaster.

  • rat

    Not good at all…. Actually, very bad. If threats can be filtered out by the software and not presented to the pilot this can spell disaster.

  • jffourquet

    I give up! Just give Lockheed a trillion dollars and cancel the program. At least then no one will get killed in one of these things.

  • Carl

    That AF LT.Gen must think people are stupid,that sounds like a lame excuse,as much as that damn jet cost,If it can’t track a target correctly or has a problem how can it be combat ready? then if something goes wrong the service is ready to blame the pilot,problem after problem this doesn’t make any sense for an aircraft that is way too expensive to start with,people’s lives are at stake.

  • robert crawford

    All this money….and here we go again.

  • steve

    The F-35, the best argument for overhauling our procurement system that has ever been made.

  • janes smith

    as a former QA inspector on the F-35 from my experience the jet is a very poor design im just glad I don’t have to work on it any more . Lockheed got over on the gov this time you don’t even know about all the problems that this jet has when I saw all the bls I knew it was time for me to go

  • Kirk Walker.

    The A-36 Apache was a POS until mated with the Merlin engine to become the P-51 Mustang. Not trying to compare the two, but if fighter delevopment was that easy, we’d all be building them. Why not ask Lockheed why they canned all of their top tier software engineers and hired scrubs to replace them. THAT is a relevant question. The results speak for themselves. Sounds like middle managers wanted that bonus.

  • jffourquet

    Concept of operations to overcome problems? What about rear visibility. The way the canopy is designed pilots cannot see behind them. Maybe what Gen Bogdan is really saying is that fighter pilots should transition to transport aircraft.

  • Biggles

    So so many experts on this forum. Impressive.

  • hibeam

    Can we use all these false radar returns as justification for more F-35s

  • robert crawford

    Plausable deniabilty…(Let’s get it on) Bush was right.

  • Mr_Darrell

    A single “AAA threat” could certainly contain numerous “objects” that are operating together, each performing a different function. This AAA can also be networked together (like the F-35) and operate with other AAA units geographically separated. With multiple sensors, some sensors have more validity than other sensors due to aspect angles and other aircraft maneuvers. The software isn’t adequately determining which inputs to retain and which to temporarily ignore. It isn’t exactly an easy problem to solve, but I’m sure they will solve it.

    And hopefully China hasn’t already hacked the F-35‘s design.

  • j.vargas

    so let me get this right your trying to tell me that they are saying that marine pilots altho superior fighter pilots dont have to worry because their system is different that a computer glitch could put them at risk that is not cool at all but thank god they have redundant over laps from ship radar and real time satilite radar

  • Paul Lundwall

    What was wrong with the F22 targeting? First sight, First shot and First Kiil? The Red, Green and Yellow is very clear seeing potential targets.

  • stpaulchuck

    the F-35 is a glitch - a billion dollar glitch

  • Docsenko

    i saw a program where the F-35 was designed to work with the F-22. Not sure if this will be the case. For the present, the F-22 is a superior airframe. It has proven itself on the battlefield and scared the heck out of some Iranian pilots who never saw it comimg. As a fighter, nothing is really known as yet. Someone would have to get the nerve to send up fighters against it. And if the F-15/16s do not get to them first. Then there would be no test.

  • William Eudy

    This plane is more than a disappointment. It’s a disaster. Who forgot that one plane cannot do it all.

  • mpower6428

    WELL…… at least it fly’s…. it does fly, right…?

  • Craigpv2d

    As an old Marine avionics tech I would think that the difference in sensor angles, (offset), while flying in tight formation would be so small that the software might have a problem with it. If the aircraft talk to each other, (and know where other friendly aircraft are), maybe it as simple as setting a simple minimum distance before fusing the sensor pictures together. In other words, when two or more aircraft are within, for example, 1000 feet of each other, then only one aircraft will provide the sensor data.

  • JJMurray

    The fusion issue has always been the heart of and the largest obstacle to the F-35. Without that a large portion of the reasoning for the F-35 to exist goes away. Without it the F-35 is not much better than a Super Hornet with a few more electronic assists onboard.
    As for going IOC for the USMC - Someone there is simply not making good decisions and is forcing the drive ahead no matter what the cost or degradation in capability. Someone must have been promised a job after retirement.

  • txkboy

    That’s what happens when you buy an overbudget piece of metal.

  • GI dude

    “What? You wanted them to CORRECTLY identify targets? Now that’s gonna cost you!”
    ——Lockheed Martin Spokesman

  • jffourquet

    The F-35 cannot run, climb, turn, use warm fuel, cannot fit certain types of munitions in its internal weapon bays and now it cannot see. Lets just give Lockheed 1 trillion dollars and cancel the F-35 program. At lease this way no one will get killed in this thing.

    • Dfens

      Yeah, that will teach them…

    • William_C1

      Could you try a new series of falsehoods instead of that same old nonsense? The “cannot run, climb, turn” line was never true, nor is this fuel idea of yours, and the SDB II clearance issue will be fixed well before SDB II is even scheduled to be integrated. Or are you upset because you can’t fit a MOAB into a F-35’s weapons bays?

  • William_C1

    The technology is still a work in progress so we might as well just scrap it and go back to relying solely on the Mk.1 eyeball, great thinking.

    If the experts like those in the comment section were in charge we’d still by relying upon biplanes with fixed landing gear. Anything else is too complicated to work the bugs out of.

  • Super Tex

    JaMarcus Russell says the F-35 is the biggest bust ever……

  • oblatt22

    People think that its just an excuse but one of the reasons why the air force wants to get rid of the A-10 really is that they need the experienced maintenance staff on the F-35 program.

    The F-35 failure rate in the limited basic training being attempted is horrendous. Each flight requires 3 days of maintenance on average, The air force is looking at tripling the number of maintenance personnel to keep even the first tier IOC training the trainer being little more than pilots in the mess making whooshing noises.

  • Bernard Bethel

    Haven’t these guys heard of Automatic Correlation?

  • Craigpv2d

    Lack of hard deadlines and ever changing requirements is a major source of the R&D costs in many military programs today. It’s no different than building a new home where the wife keeps changing the design and colors, etc. and expecting the builder to absorb the costs. I don’t think that the contractors and engineers are purposely creating a bad product just to stretch things out. I mean, who wants to list a cancelled project on their resume? That said, I do think that many people and companies involved in government today are too “risk averse”, and are unwilling to take chances on anything less than perfect.

    • Dfens

      So what requirement on the F-35 program has changed? I suppose I should be more specific. What requirement on the F-35 program has changed because the government, not Lockheed, asked for the change? As usual, there will be no answer because everyone knows this bs is true, after all the defense contractors told us it is true.

  • OldFedVet1941

    You can be assured Bubba that the Marines will figure a way around the glitches.
    Being a Marine you have to be creative expecially since they get mostly hand me Downs! This coming from an old SAC Zoomie!

  • OldFedVet1941

    And these Morons want to relegate the A-10 to the Boan Yard! A real Brain Trust in my USAF these days ain’t it! Time to clean house and get rid of all of these Perfumed Princes and Obama worshipers! Lord help us these clowns have destroyed our once proud Air Force!

    • blight_

      The Close Air Support brawl probably predates the establishment of the Air Force.

      • CHOPS

        Okay, but really-lets take a vote on the best CAS platform of the three-A10-F16—F35-. and the winner is ? It would be nice to see common sense and fiscal responsibility win out for once.

  • David…

    The Chinese and Russian supporters on this site are right we should look to them for guidance when it comes to advanced weapon systems. I mean just look at the link above… Those T50s with their advanced technologies and tremendous numbers are going to eat us alive.

  • blight_

    If only Lockheed had thought of lumping the brain control interface into F-35 R&D. It would have been good for a few more billion dollars for the company, and a few million to the shareholders.

    They should have an “idea bounty” for things to bill the government for.

    • CHOPS

      Go to and read the long list of problems we did and did not know about this L M POS.

  • superraptor

    Once the flight envelope restrictions are being lifted which has to happen by the Marine IOC date the F 35 will fall out of the sky and maybe we learn that it would make sense to start production of an upgraded F 22 instead

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Early on the first page of this thread, NathanS asked BlackOwl if he thought the F-35B was unlikely to reach IOC with the Marine Corps on the date then scheduled. Since those posts were made, we have read that the Marine’s needed software block 2B needs additional testing. Offhand, it appears that BlackOwl is more likely to win that bet then he was even four days ago.

    I wonder if the Marine’s IOC is anything more than a political gesture to protect the F-35B from budget pressure. They need it for CAS even more than does the AF; does anyone really expect any current or near term enemy to challenge American air supremacy? And it’s precisely the ability of the platform to provide CAS that is conceded to be lacking for several years to come.

    I hope we don’t find out that the fatigue life of the infamous aluminum bulkhead is worse than expected at the cost of pilots’ lives.

    • citanon

      The marines want the f35b badly because it is better than the Harrier it is replacing in every single way and especially in safety. The harrier is notorious for killing its pilots. A list of accidents over the decades:…

      More than anything, the compromises in the JSF were made so that the Marines can get a better jump jet. They will basically do anything to protect it.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    It’s a bit late to wonder about the F-35’s long term suitability now … it’s the Marine’s CAS platform from the moment they declare IOC. If they get genuine CAS capacity out of it within five years of IOC, we’ll have done as well as it seems we’re going to do. I suspect that means block 4 software; and (worse) we might have to do “mid-life” overhauls within that time to replace that damn bulkhead.

    • citanon

      Replace that bulk head? The only thing needed to be changed to make SDBIIs fit was to move a single wire and a hydraulic line a few centimeters…..

      • blight_

        I was under the impression that they shortened the bay to make room for LiftSystem or to save weight. Didn’t realize that that was all they did..and seemingly for little reason at all.

        • citanon

          No the bay is to make room for the lift system, but the bay itself is still big enough to carry most of the weapons. The reason the SDBII doesn’t fit is not because of the bulkhead, but because a couple of simple lines get in the way if you try to fit four of them in there.

          Since they don’t consider the issue a major engineering obstacle, it’s getting punted until the software actually comes online to use the SDBIIs. This is so in case they find more fitment problems with other weapons, they can just fix it all at once.

  • “Doc”

    Sure… Let’s pump another few BILLION into a aircraft that hasn’t worked correctly since it was first put on a runway!!
    Sad that taxpayer money continues to hemorrhage because someone greased someone’s political palm to get a contract. You can bet that the discovery of misconduct, graft and bribes will “Shock” us all. HAHAHAHAHA

  • Brad Davis

    And people say that rebuilding the Avro Arrow will be a waste of time and money?