F-35 Stealth Fighter Still Has 419 ‘Deficiencies,’ Manager Says

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II, also known as Joint Strike Fighter, taxis after landing at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Feb. 8, 2016. The F-35, visiting from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., will be part of an initial operating capability test at the nearby range complex. (Photo by Jeremy L. Mosier/U.S. Air Force)A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II, also known as Joint Strike Fighter, taxis after landing at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Feb. 8, 2016. The F-35, visiting from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., will be part of an initial operating capability test at the nearby range complex. (Photo by Jeremy L. Mosier/U.S. Air Force)

The head of the U.S. Defense Department’s F-35 program said the number of “deficiencies” in the stealth fighter jet’s hardware and software is decreasing but that hundreds of technical challenges remain.

Speaking to reporters last week in his offices in Arlington, Virginia, Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan discussed a range of issues affecting the Pentagon’s biggest weapons program at nearly $400 billion, including the hundreds of lingering deficiency reports, or DRs, known as “technical debt” in acquisition parlance.

“There are 419 things that we have yet to decide with the war fighters how we’re going to fix them, whether we’re going to fix them and when we’re going to fix them,” he said. The figure was three times higher a few years ago and “we think the technical debt that we have — the deficiencies that we have — are things that we can handle … within the next two years,” he said.

During the more than hour-long briefing, Bogdan said the roughly $50 billion development part of the Joint Strike Fighter program is on pace to wrap up in early 2018, hit back against a recent test report that was critical of the aircraft’s performance to date, and touted recent accomplishments and upcoming milestones, including the Air Force’s plans to declare the F-35A ready for initial operations in August.

Mission Systems, ALIS

When asked what technical areas were causing the deficiency reports, Bogdan said most of the issues were related to software for the aircraft’s mission systems, including radar and sensors, and inventory system, known as the Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS (pronounced “Alice”), which determines whether the plane is safe to fly.

Problems with ALIS are nothing new. The system in the past notoriously recommended grounding functional aircraft — against the recommendations of pilots and maintainers — due in part to faulty parts numbers listed in its database, officials acknowledged in a 2014 segment on the CBS News program, “60 Minutes.”

In the past couple of years, the program office and contractor overhauled the development and fielding of the logistics system, Bogdan said. Prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., for example, reassigned more engineers to improve the software, “changed out” management of the system in the company’s Mission Systems and Training unit in Orlando and added more oversight from officials in its larger Aeronautics business, he said.

“At the time, we were treating it like a piece of support equipment, not recognizing that it has twice as much code in it as the airplane,” he said.

More recently, the program office on Jan. 16 launched its first of quarterly software upgrades planned for ALIS to fix previously identified bugs, Bogdan said. The “service packs” — separate from annual software upgrades to incorporate new features — are designed to speed up the fielding of improvements, he said.

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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.