The Defense Department “radically” changed and improved how it designs, tests and delivers F-35 software increments, going from a rate of one increment every 30 days to every three days, according to DoD’s F-35 chief.

F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office Program Executive Officer Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan said yesterday Lockheed Martin [LMT], the F-35’s prime contractor, invested in additional facilities and labs to do testing, which increased software code throughput. Bogdan said DoD also helped Lockheed Martin invest to connect the workstations that build code.

Bogdan, speaking at a forum in Washington hosted by Credit Suisse and Jim McAleese and Associates, said software code writers previously were not connected, making for an inefficient process.

“We had software code writers who sat at terminals that were not connected to other software writers, so that when they had to integrate the software, they literally sneaker-netted the software across…to another computer,” Bogdan said. “Not the way you want to do business.”

Bogdan said this is part of a “much more disciplined,” well-tried and well-tested way of measuring software progress in terms of integration and delivering capability to the flight program. Bogdan said there are 10 million lines of software code on the airplane itself and an additional 10 million lines on the offboard systems, including the mission planning system and the Automated Logistics Information System (ALIS). ALIS is the information technology (IT) backbone that gives F-35 operators the ability to plan ahead, maintain and sustain its systems over the life of the airplane, according to Lockheed Martin.

“That’s a huge amount of software,” Bogdan said. “Software is a dangerous business no matter what field you’re in and it’s especially tricky when you’re fielding a fifth generation airplane.”

The increased efficiency in software production from producing an increment every 30 days to every three days, with “about a 100 percent increase” in quality, Bogdan said, is reassuring.

“(That) gives me some better confidence that we’re at least on the right track to solving all the problems we have on this program, and there are lots,” Bogdan said. “Make no mistake about it.”

While the Government Accountability Office (GAO) improved its F-35 outlook in a report released Monday, it remained concerned that while software management has improved, integration and testing continue to lag behind plans. GAO said most concerning is that development of software-intensive mission systems lag with the most challenging work ahead. GAO said the F-35 software development effort is one of the largest in DoD history and is essential to achieve capabilities such as sensor fusion, weapons and fire control, maintenance diagnostics and propulsion.

Bogdan also said an initiative that his predecessor, retired Vice Adm. David Venlet, started where senior executives from the Navy and Air Force sit as “co-chairs” on technical review boards has paid dividends. Bodgan said these seasoned engineers and technical experts with experience in programs like the F-16, F-15 and the F-22 are moving the program forward.

“It’s those people who I look to (for) the thumbs up or thumbs down,” Bogdan said. “It has injected an awful lot of discipline in the way we’re looking at our technical problems and technical issues on the program.”