The F-35’s Terrifying Bug List
BY PATRICK TUCKER
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the most expensive military programin the world, is even more broken than previously thought. The jet can’t tell old parts from new ones, randomly prevents user logins into the logistics information system, and trying to eject out of it will likely result in serious neck injury and maybe death. A Pentagon office is warning that the plane is being rushed into service.
The Pentagon’s office of testing and evaluation on Monday released a reportdetailing major problems, or “deficiencies” with the aircraft. The report follows the release of a Decembermemo by Michael Gilmore, the Department of Defense’s director for Operational Test and Evaluation, orOT&E. The report goes on to question the logic of pushing other governments to purchase large blocks of the aircraft until the issues are fixed.
The Air Force is currently scheduled to announce their version of the plane is ready to begin flying, known as “initial operating capability,” in August or December at the latest. That follows the Marines declaring their version flight ready last summer. After that, the next F-35 milestone is the initial operational test & evaluation phase, scheduled for 2017, in which program watchers test of the plane is operationally capable but also effective. That 2017 projection is unrealistic unless the Air Force takes some serious shortcuts in testing, according to the new report.
So what’s wrong with the F-35? Below are some of the report’s key findings.
The Version That the Marines Are Using Is Very Buggy
The Marines rushed to finish testing their version of the aircraft in May of 2015 in order to declare initial operating capability by July. The report describes serious problems with the computer software, (the Block 2B version of the software) in the Marines’ F-35 variant. Those software problems include “in fusion, electronic warfare, and weapons employment result[ing] in ambiguous threat displays, limited ability to respond to threats, and a requirement for off-board sources to provide accurate coordinates for precision attack.”
After the report came out Monday, Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, of the F-35 program executive office, issued a statement to cast the report’s findings in a rather more flattering light. “Once again, the annual DOT&E report points out the progress being made by the program,” the statement read, as though responding to a different report altogether. “This includes the U.S.Marine Corps declaring Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in July 2015. The USMC declared IOC with Block 2B software because it provides increased initial warfighting capability. Marine F-35s have the necessary weapons to conduct close air support, air interdiction and limited suppression/destruction of enemy air defense missions.”
That means that the $90 to $180 million Joint Strike Fighter shares many—if not necessarily all—of the same close air support capabilities as the $18.8 million A-10.
ALIS Is Still Terrible, Perhaps Even Getting Worse
In a 60 Minutes segment, reporter David Martin in 2014 made famous problems with one of the F-35’s key computers, the Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS, the internal diagnostic system on the plane that was supposed to keep track of the health of virtually every part. The system was heavily resistant to human overrides. After the segment aired, the Joint Program Office claimedthat the override issues had been fixed.
Unfortunately, ALIS’s various updateshave left many of the old problems intact and added new ones, according to the report. “Each new version of software, while adding some new capability, failed to resolve all the deficiencies identified in earlier releases,” it states.
The program executive office acknowledges software bugs remain “the program’s top technical risks … There is more work to accomplish in both mission systems software and ALISbefore the end of the development program.”
Lockouts, Confusion, etc.
What forms do these bugs take and what can they do the plane? Here a few of the more alarming finds:
- The F-35 doesn’t know its new parts from old parts. The computerized maintenance management System, orCMMS, “incorrectly authorizes older/inappropriate replacement parts.”
- The F-35 fails to detect if it’s been flying too fast or what effect that might have. “The Integrated Exceedance Management System, designed to assess and report whether the aircraft exceeded limitations during flight, failed to function properly.”
- The plane “randomly prevented userlogins” into ALIS.
- The plane doesn’t know how broken broken parts are: “The maintenance action severity code functionality…designed to automatically assign severity codes to work orders as maintenance personnel create them—did not