F-35B Needs Workaround to Fuse Sensor Data, General Says

F-35 training

The U.S. Marine Corps’ next-generation fighter jet will initially rely on a workaround to merge targeting data from multiple aircraft, a general said.

Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, the service’s deputy commandant for aviation, on Monday discussed the issue during a conference call with reporters. He oversaw the recent operational readiness inspection of 10 F-35B jump-jet versions of the Lockheed Martin Corp.-built plane. 

“Right now, inside the 2B software, we have some latency issues with trying to tie all four airplanes together,” he said, referring to the block of computer code that runs the aircraft and was used to merge sensor information.

“There’s no latency at all with the first two airplanes; there’s no latency problems with ships three and four,” he said. “It’s when I try and tie all four together that sometimes a target is kind of slightly misplaced on the ground, or it’s not but I’m not confident in 100 percent of the cases exactly where it’s supposed to be.”

As a temporary workaround, Lockheed engineers devised a software patch that will share sensor data from two aircraft with another pair of aircraft by using a Link 16 tactical data connection, Davis said.

“What they’ve done is they’ve gone to two-plus-two with a Link 16 tie-in, so they’re able to share targeting information with all four airplanes,” he said. “But they’re doing sensor fusion as two-two ships vice a four-ship.”

Davis said the workaround performed well during the recent operational readiness inspection. Indeed, he said the 10 F-35Bs passed all IOC criteria and met the requirements for a declaration of combat readiness. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford is reviewing the results and is expected to declare the F-35 ready for initial operations “soon,” he said.

Even so, Davis said he would have liked to have had for “full four-ship fusion” for the early operational F-35Bs, along with a new night-vision helmet, Small Diameter Bomb II, GAU-22/A four-barrel 25mm Gatling gun and the ability to stream video. Many of the enhancements will be included as part of a future software upgrade, known as 3F, which is slated for fully operational F-35Bs in late 2017, he said.

Lockheed engineers are working on resolving the sensor fusion issue. “They’re getting closer,” Davis said, though a solution might be a year or year or more away. “We demand it be fixed for 3F.”

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.
  • All_too_easy

    Lt. Gen. Incompetence needs to keep his mouth shut.

  • Mark

    Aside from the partial how on the 2+2 everything else is old news.

  • blight_

    Is is this positional uncertainty larger than the circular error probability of a bomb? If still smaller than CEP, the bomb will probably land on the target regardless of uncertainty. For them to worry about it seems to suggest that there are test cases where the uncertainty of the target position is greater than the CEP of the weapons they expect to use.

    A four ship fusion with leave-one-out results in four combinations. Calculate all four combinations, omit the combinations that contribute to the greatest variance. Bombs away.

    • Dfens

      Bombing targets aren’t effected by this. It’s only moving targets that would have an issue.

      • blight_

        The latest generation of SDB will allegedly be able to track targets, so they’d be able to correct for uncertainty imposed by latency associated with fusing multiple inputs in serial with time delays large enough to be problematic.

        • Dfens

          The only moving targets that would be an issue would be air to air. Ground targets move too slowly to be effected.

  • Robbie

    ????????? The reason all new systems include an OT&E phase in their acquisition is to find and fix exactly this type of developmental issue before the system is declared fully operational. It is astonishing that so many people believe that a new combat aircraft incorporating so much cutting-edge technology would zip thru OT&E without finding any problems. So isn’t this story an example of a well-designed F-35 OT&E program?

    • blight_


      “Due to the AOL, numerous test points needed for the
      Block 2B fleet release and Marine Corps IOC were blocked
      and cannot be attempted until the restrictions are lifted.
      - These test points include:
      ▪ Loads and buffet, Short Take-off and Vertical Landing
      (STOVL) envelope expansion, and propulsion testing
      for F-35B flight sciences
      ▪ Loads and buffet for F-35A flight sciences testing
      ▪ Manual ground collision avoidance system testing (for
      both aircraft). The manual ground collision avoidance
      system is a warning system that alerts the pilot that the
      state of aircraft attitude and altitude may be entering an
      unsafe condition (Service IOC requirement). ”

      Have they lifted the AOL yet?

      • NathanS

        Aircraft Operations Limitations were lifted last year for test aircraft.

        2B has been long finished testing, and I think the hardware refresh (3I) has too. I think I read 3F is code complete, but I not finished testing.

    • Dfens

      Hell yeah, my dog designed an interconnected network fusing the data of multiple types of sensors in his dog house over a single night. And when it was connected with other dog houses it worked perfectly the first time. Why the f do we even pay engineers? We should totally cancel this airplane. After all, Lockheed really really wants that $10 billion cancellation check.

      • blight_

        Well, since they are using a commercial aircraft as their avionics demonstrator if JSF gets canned LM can sell it as a Block 90 upgrade for the Saudis. No reason why taxpayer R&D money shouldn’t contribute to shareholder value.

      • rtsy

        The $10 billion cancelation fee is obviously a tool to force the continuation of the program no matter what, but the government could void the contract for any reason it wants and refuse to pay much in the same manner it screws over veterans on a regular basis.
        I realize it would never happen, especially with the political intertia of the program but I can always hope.

    • Leon Suchorski

      I remember back in the late 60s, when we were incorporating the new ALQ-86 system into the EA6-As. We had a lot of problems, including the one that the system did not have the range that they hoped for. In fact, they were griping that it had very little range. They quit flying for a week, and brought in two antenna specialists for that week. They figured out that actually no one knew how to use the system correctly, and that was the problem. After they showed everyone their findings, the brass realized that the system gave them far greater range than they had expected. And from this we got the EA6-B, the Prowler, and the Growler. All just because the original system needed a shake down period. These are the aircraft that the pilots do not want to go into combat without at least one of them with them.

  • Lance

    And again hence we waste more millions on this P.O.C!!!!!!!!!

  • Dfens

    It’s almost like Lockheed gets paid more to have problems. Like, let’s say Lockheed got paid $1.10 for every $1.00 they spend in development of this airplane, then you’d expect them to have constant problems always causing the program to drag on and causing costs to skyrocket. Oh wait, they do have a contract that does that very thing.

    Clearly the answer is to cancel the program then, because that will give Lockheed an extra $10 billion on top of the $50 billion they’ve already earned dragging this program out forever. Pure f’ing genius that plan. What we wouldn’t want to do is stop giving them contracts that allow them to spend themselves rich. Oh no, let’s cancel the program because that will really teach them — just how stupid the US taxpayer really is.

    • blight_

      “Here, take this high school exit exam. We will give you an extra 1% test score for every minute you spend reading the test questions vs answering them competently. And once we get fed up with your incompetence, we’ll give you an extra 20% on the test so we can go home and drink our Two Buck Chuck”

  • superraptor

    We need a new Super F-35 with a more streamlined fuselage and a new ADVENT type engine and meteor missiles to have a chance in the air-to-air role. It would take too much to go in this direction as everybody is saying the F-22 line cannot be restarted

  • Curt

    So to summarize, this entirely new capability only works like 1000pct better than the Harrier. Clearly, we shouldn’t use it operationally yet!

    • Dfens

      It’s actually infinitely better because the Harrier has 0 comperable capability.

      • Curt

        Not true, the Harrier pilots can still use the radio to coordinate between themselves and integrate the picture in their heads. I gave that some capability albeit clearly not very good compared to the F-35. Maybe 1000 times better as opposed to 1000pct. Even the ability to just integrate all the sensors onboard is light years ahead of the Harrier. And of course, there is no difference between a Block 3F aircraft and a Block 2B aircraft outside of lines of code, so it will be easily updated later.

        • Dfens

          Ok, you got me on that one. I forgot about the analog world for a moment.

  • highguard

    SDB is 250-lb class Precision-Guided Munition (PGM). Amen to bringing back F-22 production with ADVENT engines. USAF needs to make a few jumbo size ones that will carry JASSM internal.

    As for this article, does anyone feel like we should start looking for pics to identify a connection with Caprica 6……ding ding….ding ding ding…..ding ding

  • BlackOwl18E

    Isn’t sensor fusion what they’ve been hard selling this thing on? Now that we’re getting close to a supposed IOC date the truth comes out only now? What about the F-35A and F-35C? I doubt the problem is limited to just the -B.

    • Curt

      What about the F-18? it still doesn’t have a radar that is deemed operationally suitable yet or even better than the APG-73 it replaced. It doesn’t match any of its initial performance objectives except bring back weight. It still has NATOPS restrictions on certain maneuvers since they will result in an unrecoverable spin that they still haven’t figured out a way for the FCS to prevent. It even has NATOPS restrictions from flying into known lightning conditions. We should cancel it.

      • BlackOwl18E

        Ha! Don’t even bring up maneuverability. The F-35 is disadvantaged against the F-16 so the F/A-18 is still better than it! By the way, that article that came out about the APG-79 was discussing the advantages of AESA over mechanically scanned arrays and was questioning if they were really worth it. The radar of the F-35 is designed by the same company. If the radar in the Super Hornet fails to provide much of an advantage, so will the F-35’s.

        Also, there’s this place called the Arctic that the F-35 can’t operate in, but the Super Hornet can. Might want to think about that.

        What I find hilarious about this most of all was that I brought up sensor fusion and you totally went everywhere else except there, trying to divert attention away from it. You’re too easy to see through.

    • citanon

      It still has more sensor fusion than anything currently in the inventory.

      • BlackOwl18E

        There’s no evidence to support that.

        • blight_asdf

          Well, F-35 has more sensors, therefore more things to fuse. /shrug

          • BlackOwl18E

            None of them work and the ones that do have been proven to be already obsolete because they’ve fallen behind the upgrade curve. The EOTS is not as good as the latest renditions of the SNIPER pod that can be mounted on the F-16 or F-15E. If it’s not as good as the SNIPER pod, I doubt it will even hold a candle to the IRST21 pod Lockheed is making for the Super Hornet that will likely come out in 2017.

          • Curt

            Well, the Marines would say you are wrong.

            And, just so you have your fact straight, the Navy projects Q3FY18 for the IOC of the IRST pod with the bulk of the funding (179 kits for Block II F-18E/Fs or production block 26 and above) being in FY19 and FY20 (as in funny money - total cost is projected at just under $1.6 Billion or roughly $10 million a pop, but installation is free!). The cost for an equivalent system is already included in the F-35 price. Don’t believe me, then check out the Navy FY16 budget document, its available on the SECNAV Comptroller website.

          • Mark

            You can’t have “none of them work,” and “and the ones to do..”

            You just stabbed your entire rebuttal.

          • BlackOwl18E

            The admin has deleted a lot of my comments on this thread, where I had better explanations.

            The point is that the EOTS is 10 years behind current podded sensors and Lockheed Martin is making a podded sensor for the Super Hornet that is going to be operational in 2017.

            Apart from that the Super Hornet actually does have sensor fusion along with classified upgrades that will keep it good out to 2030.

          • blight_

            EOTS is indeed a design that was frozen some time ago, whereas the pods have been allowed to involve since they are being used in the field at the moment. EOTS and Sniper are both Lockheed programs, so I would expect that at some point that EOTS will be upgraded. Perhaps EOTS development and integration should have been deferred such that they would have forked off of later, more modern targeting pod systems instead of forking years ago.

  • Robbie

    30 million lines of computer code-what a shock that it needs wringing out. Again, that’s what the OT&E phase of development exists for……

  • Robbie

    Here’s a more complete report on the general’s comments on the F-35:

  • mmurray0369

    During the latest at-sea deployment only two of the six planes could be kept in the air. That pitiful rate was with full contractor / corporate maintenance and supply support, in addition to the USMC. Wow, that’s battle ready alright.

    • Dfens

      Yeah, we’re way better off with a drawing of an airplane and a $10 billion cancellation fee than we are with an actual airplane.

  • Dfens

    Oh hell no. That means our pilots will actually have an operational airplane to fly instead of another half trillion dollar museum piece. On the up side, the continued efforts of the shills to get Lockheed that $10 billion cancellation check should continue because their CEO needs that $34 million a year salary every year, not just this year. Come on people, CEO’s have bills to pay too.

  • spartan

    businessinsider quoting the marines… LOL. It’s not even worth the time to read a line.

  • Steve

    The F-35 has no business advertising itself as an air-to-air fighter and will fail in that role to jets 30 years older. It is nothing more than a more complex Harrier/F117 hybrid and neither of those jets were famous for minimal maintenance or safety. Neither of those jets were designed for air-to-air combat either and could only compete with 3rd world air forces in that role. For the Marines to put all of their eggs in one basket for the F-35 is a tragically shortsighted mistake. Limit it to ground attack, reduce the number and find a better air-to air fighter like the F-22.

    • Mark

      So you decide to ignor the stomping that the F-35 gave to 9 air to air advisories in their ORI for IOC this past month? Pull your head out of the sand. Look at the writing on the wall. Smell the coffee etc….

    • USMarine64

      The Harrier is an ATTACK (AV-8B) aircraft, not a fighter and was never designed to be one. The F-117 was a FIGHTER aircraft, hence the “F” designator. Just an FYI.

      The F-35B will be designated an F/A - 35B which means it has both fighter and attack (bombs) capability. How well that works in the near-term does not appear promising and it may be premature to field it to an operational combat squadron (personal opinion).

  • Scott Dillard

    Consider the USAF insistence on doing away with the A10 — the only good close air support bird since the British Hurricane. Does anyone in the aircraft development business have any idea what they are doing? The one aircraft fulfills all roles has been generally an expensive disaster.Remember the F111?

  • Scott Dillard

    Next they’ll take away the AC 130 gun ships. Aren’t Antonovs being used to drop bombs somewhere in the Middle East?

  • Kevin

    This is technology that is going to be essential not only for the military but with the growing market of the internet of things, recently I found a software product produced by TinMan Systems that does real time sensor data fusion that proved helpful. I believe the name was tinman realtime