F-35 Program To Speed Up Fielding Of New Anti-Collision System

The U.S. Defense Department’s F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) has announced that it plans to accelerate the integration of the new Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto-GCAS) into the fighter jet, citing the software’s ability to save the lives of pilots.

The JPO said late Jan. 30 that it intends to add Auto-GCAS to the F-35 Lightning II fleet by 2019, five years earlier than previously planned. The software, which the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), NASA and Lockheed Martin [LMT] initially developed for another fighter, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, has been credited with saving the lives of seven F-16 pilots and their jets since 2014. 

Hill Air Force Base F-35As fly in formation over the Utah Test and Training Range, March 30, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)

Hill Air Force Base F-35As fly in formation over the Utah Test and Training Range, March 30, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)

“Expediting this life-saving technology into the F-35 fleet by 2019 is estimated to prevent the loss of three aircraft and, more importantly, save the lives of three pilots,” said Navy Vice Adm. Mat Winter, the F-35’s program executive officer. “Over the service life of the F-35 fleet, having Auto-GCAS is estimated to prevent more than 26 ground collisions from happening.”

Auto-GCAS is designed to take control of a plane when the aircraft is headed for a crash with the ground and the pilot is not responsive. Auto-GCAS directs the plane to take evasive maneuvers to avoid a crash.

F-35s are currently equipped with a manual ground collision avoidance system. But the manual system requires a pilot to hear, see, process and heed its warning, which the pilot may not be able to do if he or she is disoriented or incapacitated, the JPO said.

“Now that Auto-GCAS technology is mature and operational on other aircraft, engineers and program managers from the F-35 Joint Program Office, AFRL and Lockheed Martin were able to confirm this capability was ready to enter a rapid integration process on the F-35,” the JPO said.

In a separate statement, the JPO said it is working to fix readiness problems cited in a recent report by the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E). For example, in fiscal year 2017, the program spent $1.4 billion to increase spare-parts purchases, build up repair capacity and improve the speed of repairs.

“While there is no quick fix, these initiatives have been put in place and are continuously monitored to ensure effectiveness,” Winter said.

The DOT&E report said that the F-35’s reliability growth has “stagnated” and that fleet-wide availability rates have been stuck at about 50 percent for years (Defense Daily, Jan. 25). Lockheed Martin has so far delivered more than 265 F-35s to the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy and foreign militaries.

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