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Sharing secret F-35 data gives USAF new problem

The Lockheed Martin’s F-35’s newest snag doesn’t come from a technological issue, but an international policy problem, according to the director of the US Air Force’s F-35A Integration Office.

In order for the aircraft to become fully operational across the nine partner nations and three foreign military sales customers participating in the program, the F-35 must be able to share data in a cloud-based architecture, Maj. Gen. Jeff Harrigian said at an Air Force Association event Thursday. These mission data files, which are meant to be common across the US services and its allies, allow aircrews to make critical decisions, including identifying friend or foe.

But sovereignty issues and concerns over where data comes from have hindered that flow of information among international partners, he said. That lack of a common operating picture has become a sticking point for the program, one that even the Air Force’s chief of Air Combat Command, Gen. Herbert Carlisle, has pointed to as a significant issue, according to Harrigian.

“What will be critically important going forward is how we get data off this airplane, and it’s something that we’ve struggled with,” Harrigian said. “I will tell you Gen. Carlisle put his finger in my chest and said we’ve got to figure this out.”

The ability to accurately identify weapons, adversaries and friendly forces will rely on coherent data sharing, US Air Force Col. Max Marosko, deputy director of air and cyberspace operations for Pacific Air Forces, said Thursday. Without synchronized mission data files, allied forces may not see the same picture in the sky and be able to make a decision.

“Given an example of Brit F-35s in one lane and US F35s in another lane, if our databases aren’t synchronized you’re going to end up with conflicting identification using, which could delay employment and put the force at more risk,” he said. “We can ensure we’re all on the same playing field and we don’t have any identification problems that could most likely lead to a lack of shooting and putting the pilots at more risk. That’s an important thing to consider.”

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