[Freemanlist2] The F-35’s Terrifying Bug List - Patrick Tucker
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The F-35’s Terrifying Bug List
The Pentagon’s top testing official has weighed and measured the F-35 and found it wanting.
February 2, 2016 By Patrick Tucker Defense One
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the most expensive military program
in 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 report
detailing major problems, or “deficiencies” with the aircraft. The report
follows the release of a December memo by Michael Gilmore, the Department of
Defense’s director for Operational Test and Evaluation, or OT&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
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
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 claimed that the override issues had been fixed.
Unfortunately, ALIS’s various updates have 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 ALIS before 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, or CMMS, “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 user logins” 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 work correctly.”
The plane’s crews need to phone Lockheed Martin tech support because the
plane can’t handle the data it needs to process in order to run missions.
“Managing data loads associated with mission planning required extensive
The F-35 Will Kill You If You Try and Eject From It
Even more terrifying than flying an F-35 is trying to get out of one by
ejecting from it.The entire ejector system is incredibly flawed, as Defense
News has pointed out previously.
Pilots under 136 pounds aren’t allowed to fly any F-35 variant. Pilots under
165 pounds have a 1-in-4 chance of death and 100 percent chance of serious
neck injury upon ejecting, according to the testing office.
“The testing showed that the ejection seat rotates backwards after ejection.
This results in the pilot’s neck becoming extended, as the head moves behind
the shoulders in a ‘chin up’ position. When the parachute inflates and
begins to extract the pilot from the seat (with great force), a ‘whiplash’
action occurs. The rotation of the seat and resulting extension of the neck
are greater for lighter weight pilots,” the report states. Ouch.
It’s a lot to fix. Yet the program executive office insisted that they could
remain on schedule to reach operational test & evaluation by the end of the
summer of 2017. “Although the DOT&E report is factually accurate, it does
not fully address program efforts to resolve known technical challenges and
schedule risks. It is the F-35 Joint Program Office’s responsibility to find
developmental issues, resolve them and execute with the time and budget we
have been given,” Bogdan stated.
Stop Block Buy
Perhaps the most important item on the report’s to-do list is to stop
pushing the so-called block buy program wherein partner governments agree to
buy a larger number of planes up front, in a “block,” rather than
incrementally. The testing office saw that as a possible recipe for huge
numbers of faulty aircraft and bugs becoming harder and more expensive to
Block buy, defense companies like to argue, is one means for pushing down
the per unit cost on the incredibly expensive planes, helping the program
push out 450 for the United States and partner nations between 2018 and
2020. But the savings realized through block buy might be illusionary,
according to the testing office.
“Is it premature to commit to the ‘block buy’ given that significant
discoveries requiring correction before F-35’s are used in combat are
occurring, and will continue to occur, throughout the remaining
developmental and operational testing?” the report asks.
Governments wishing to lock in those savings have to agree to the block buy
this year. In light of the new report, they may be asking some similar
questions in the months ahead.
Patrick Tucker is technology editor for Defense One. He’s also the author of
The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?
(Current, 2014). Previously, Tucker was deputy editor for The Futurist for
nine years. Tucker has written about emerging technology in Slate, The Sun,
MIT Technology Review, Wilson Quarterly, The American Legion Magazine, BBC
News Magazine, Utne Reader, and elsewhere.
IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis
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