Senior F-35 official warns on software breakdowns, relationship crisis

Washington DC
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The future of the Lockheed Martin F-35 programme is at risk over software concerns and a breakdown in the relationships between the contractor and the government, says the deputy chief of the F-35 joint programme office (JPO).

"There is no more money and no more time on this programme," Maj Gen Christopher Bogdan told reporters at the Air Force Association convention. "We will not go back and ask for more, simple as that."

Bogdan's comments covered a wide range of concerns, but he focused on the status of software development. In particular, he warned that the autonomic logistics information system (ALIS) - the nerve centre for F-35 maintenance and sustainment all over the world - is falling dangerously behind schedule.

While ALIS has been in works for several years, security issues with software have required a new approach. The new system, version 1.03, is currently in testing that is expected to be completed in November. The US Marine Corps, one of the primary customers of the aircraft, is planning to deploy short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs to its training base in Yuma, Arizona, but without a certified and functional ALIS system, the aircraft are essentially inoperable.

Some F-35s have been fully constructed by Lockheed, but the US Air Force has not accepted them for delivery "because there's no point unless ALIS works," says Bogdan. "If we don't get ALIS right, we are not flying aircraft."

 

Lockheed Martin

Software is another sticking point. The aircraft has over 10 million lines of code that it requires to function. While Lockheed has "made some tactical progress" on fixing software issues, installing and operating the complex Block 3 software remains the largest hurdle, and one that Bogdan says has greatest risk of causing programme delay.

Though technical problems put a crimp in the programme, Bogdan says that the relationship between Lockheed, the JPO and stakeholders is "the worst I have ever seen, and I've seen a lot of bad ones. It should not take 10, 11, 12 months to negotiate a contract we've been working with for 10 years," he adds. "I think that's the biggest threat to the programme today. If we do not improve the day-to-day relationship, this will not work."

Bogdan stressed the complexity of developing, testing, building and flying the aircraft at the same time, citing competing priorities from each stakeholder.

"I am seeing some glimmers of hope in Lockheed Martin's production," he says. However, the company "should be, but [isn't], ahead of the learning curve," and production efficiencies are not being translated into lower cost to the government. Bogdan says he expects Lockheed to pass savings on.

Lockheed had no immediate comment, but says it will release a statement soon.