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SINGAPORE: Lockheed favours incremental F-35 software updates

Lockheed Martin’s aeronautics head believes a new software update regime for the F-35 fighter will greatly improve efficiency, and also says that sustainment for the type is improving.

The plan will see smaller updates applied more frequently, as opposed to sweeping, all-inclusive updates applied every few years. Lockheed says “our plan is to move ahead with it for the F-35 as part of follow-on modernisation.”

The idea is akin to Microsoft’s Windows 10, which uses frequent small updates, as opposed to older versions of Windows, where only large updates are applied infrequently.

“The approach is a great one that we very much embrace,” says Orlando Carvalho, executive vice-president of aeronautics at Lockheed Martin. “Instead of waiting a long period of time for a new capability – and by long periods we’re talking years – you can save time with agile loading as opposed to one big block update.”

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Carvalho says the approach is dubbed C2D2, an acronym for Continuous Capability Development and Delivery.

“Instead of waiting years for the whole set, I can divvy the work up into smaller, bite-sized pieces, and within six months I can get something out. It might be less impactful [than a large update], but you’re not waiting three years to get everything at once.”

Carvalho adds that it is likely to make the airworthiness process easier. Given that the base software will already have been certified, airworthiness authorities will only need to deal with incremental updates.

“It’s easier to look at a bite-sized piece, as opposed to looking at a long laundry list at the end, that makes a much greater impact to the base software. It actually makes airworthiness better.”

One area where the F-35 has come in for some criticism of late is sustainment, following a negative report by the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation.

Carvalho admitted that there have been some shortcomings in spares and support, but that these are being addressed as the programme matures and the F-35 becomes more reliable.

“We have 260 aircraft that are largely supporting training,” he says. “Our sustainment processes are quickly maturing, as we’re supporting more and more airplanes. Part of this is to make sure there are enough spares in the field to support the availability the services are looking for. At the same time, not only is there the procurement of spares, but the repair capacity. You need to have this capacity to repair things coming off the airplane.”

Lockheed is working to get more efficient about sourcing spares and build up the right quantities.

“It’s an area that has not improved significantly the last few years, and we recognise that, but I believe today a lot of those processes are coming together that will enable this to improve.”

Carvalho adds that more recent production models of the aircraft are more reliable than aircraft produced earlier in the programme’s history. This factor, combined with better spares and maintenance support, should greatly improve aircraft availability in future.

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