Yet another problem with the F-35 Lightning may ground the entire fleet

It seem like only this week that we were talking about the F-35 Lightning’s radar system needing to be periodically rebooted like a Windows 95 desktop. (Wait… it was just this week.) But right on the heels of that news, another story has emerged and not only isn’t the picture getting any prettier, this one could wind up grounding every new Joint Strike Fighter in the entire program until they can get the software figured out. (Daily Mail)

Now, a new report says problems with its logistics software system could ground the entire fleet.

The problem is with what the Department of Defense officials call the ‘brains’ of plane, also known as the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS).

It is designed to support operations, mission planning and to spot any maintenance issues with the vehicle…

A Government Accountability Office report says a failure ‘could take the entire fleet offline’ because there is no backup system.

There’s no need to go into the weeds on the function of the ALIS systems here, though you can read quite a bit about it at the linked report. Suffice it to say that the program monitors many vital functions of the plane’s operation and maintenance. The good news is that if it goes kaput during a mission the plane won’t immediately go up in flames or fall out of the sky, but it also won’t pass certification to get up in the air in the first place. Unfortunately, the system isn’t run locally (as in onboard the aircraft) but from ground control. There is no onboard backup for the system either, so if it loses the thread to home base and the link can’t be reestablished, it’s pretty much down for the count.

This project has been the most expensive military expenditure in the history of the nation’s armed forces and there are already dozens of F-35s deployed in the field for the final phases of testing and operational maneuvers. We’re supposed to be ready for full deployment to the Air Force this August and for the Navy in 2018. The price tag just for development and testing has been staggering and the final cost of delivery was estimated to be more than $400 billion for roughly 2,500 of the planes when it was fully rolled out.

Now, one estimate of what it will take to get the ALIS systems in shape predicts that we’re looking at anywhere from $20M to $100M in additional costs. Unfortunately I don’t know of anyone who seriously thinks we can pull the plug on the project at this point, regardless of the plane’s rather sketchy performance in initial combat testing and countless setbacks in the development process. The only question we may be able to do something about is how we arrived at this point in the first place. Who approved this package initially and what government entities (outside of Lockheed Martin) were in a position to review the proposal with enough technical expertise to discover these issues before the green light was given? We have to keep most of the details as closely held secrets during development if we hope to maintain any sort of competitive advantage over our adversaries while a new generation of weapons is developed. But clearly we have to find a way to get some serious expertise into the review process on the government side of the equation. This entire process has been simply unacceptable and the cost is being born by the taxpayers.