The annual Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) report includes multiple concerns regarding the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s software capability developments, and expressed doubt that the Joint Program Office (JPO) could keep up with scheduled updates as it transitions to its next tranche of upgrades.
The program continues to carry 873 unresolved deficiencies, noted the report, which was released Jan. 30. Many are being fixed, but the majority are “significant deficiencies that should be addressed to ensure the … baseline configuration is stable prior to introducing the large number of new capabilities planned in Block 4,” or the forthcoming update package.
DOT&E leader Robert Behler critiqued the current Continuous Capability Development and Delivery (C2D2) process – during which aircraft are expected to receive software updates every six months – and stated that many software changes that were meant to introduce new capabilities or fix deficiencies instead “often introduced stability problems and adversely affected other functionality.”
The report also questions the F-35 program’s plan to depend more strongly on modeling and simulation when “no significant changes in the simulation venues have occurred.”
The DOT&E report asks for more testing to assess cybersecurity in both the F-35 aircraft and the latest release of the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), stating that cyber deficiencies and vulnerabilities that were recorded in earlier test periods have not been remedied.
Concerns remain over the ALIS program, which was developed by F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin [LMT] and is used for various components of mission planning, maintenance and supply chain issues. Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord recently announced the Pentagon’s plan to replace ALIS with a new cloud-based system called Operational Data Integrated Network, or ODIN, in the next few years.
The DOT&E report expressed optimism over efforts by Lockheed Martin and the JPO to improve ALIS’ functionality with interim efforts such as Mad Hatter and ALIS NEXT, but also hinted that more resources may be needed to help return broken aircraft to mission capable status.
Attempts to improve the mission capable rate of the F-35 fleet have not been successful, Behler noted. “Although the fleet-wide trend in aircraft availability showed modest improvement in 2019, it remains below the target value of 65 percent.”
Air Force Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, F-35 Program Executive Officer, said in a Friday statement that the report was performed “with the F-35 program’s full cooperation and access to information. All of the issues mentioned are well known to the F-35 JPO, U.S. Services, our International Partners, Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customers, and our industry team, and are being aggressively addressed.”
“The F-35 JPO will continue to work with the Operational Test community to aggressively and proactively address any identified effectiveness and suitability challenges, while ensuring transparency with our stakeholders and the public on our progress,” Fick added. “The basic design of the F-35 is sound and test results reinforce our confidence in the game-changing performance the U.S. and its partners and allies demand.”
Over 490 F-35 aircraft have been delivered worldwide, and Poland recently became the latest nation to commit to procuring the aircraft via foreign military sales (Defense Daily, Jan. 31). Fick noted that the JPO delivered 134 aircraft in 2019, three more aircraft than the original goal of 131 aircraft and almost a 50 percent quantity increase in delivered over 2018.