The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program suffers from a lack of performance measurement process for its main logistics system, and lawmakers should require the Pentagon to develop a strategy to improve its longstanding issues, according to a new government report.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reviewed the F-35’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) over the past five years and found that while the program is performing better in certain areas, problems persist that challenge the F-35’s personnel, per its report released March 16.
“ALIS users from all 5 F-35 locations we visited reported that ALIS has improved in some aspects over the last 5 years,” but continue to report challenges that affect day-to-day operations, the report said. “DoD is currently unable to assess the overall performance of ALIS because it has not developed performance metrics. Additionally, DoD is unaware of how challenges with ALIS are affecting F-35 fleet-wide readiness.”
The report notes that ALIS users continue to face seven significant challenges operating with the system, including: Inaccurate or missing data; issues taking ALIS on a deployment due to bulky hardware or spotty internet connectivity; increasing personnel teams than originally planned; inefficient issue resolution process; poor user experience; immature applications that are difficult to navigate without contractor support; and ineffective training.
The GAO reported many of these challenges in an April 2016 report and recommended that the Defense Department developed a plan to prioritize and address ALIS issues. The department did develop a plan for system modernization and sustainment at that time, which was a “positive step,” however, “significant user issues persist today. … Continued attention on ALIS is needed to make improvements to the system, reduce the burden on its users, and mitigate risks to operations and maintenance.”
Congress should consider legislation that would require the Pentagon to establish a performance-measurement process for ALIS, the report said. The GAO also recommends that the Pentagon build a program-wide process for measuring, collecting and tracking information on how ALIS is affecting the performance of the F-35 fleet, including its effects on mission capability rates, and develop and implement a strategy to re-design the system.
The F-35 Joint Program Office and program contractor Lockheed Martin [LMT] have taken steps to decrease the issues related to ALIS over the past several months. Last fall, Lockheed announced plans to deliver an agnostic, cloud-based architecture for ALIS by 2020, in order to more rapidly develop and test upgrades (Defense Daily, Sept. 16, 2019).
In January, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord told reporters that the Pentagon was developing a new cloud-enabled logistics program called the Operational Data Integrated Network (ODIN), which would be built by Lockheed Martin while the Defense Department directed its development.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, F-35 Program Executive Officer, said at the annual McAleese & Associates Defense Programs Conference March 4 that he anticipated the program to transition from ALIS to ODIN by 2022.
“We intend to cut over the first squadron in its entirety, divorcing it from legacy ALIS in the fall of 2021, and then intend … to be at [full operational capability], all of the units transitioned by December of ’22,” Fick said. “That deployment timeline will be contingent upon the needs of the users.” DoD program offices including the Air Force’s rapid software development and fielding center Kessel Run will also help develop the new system.
In an appendix to the GAO report, Lord concurred with the recommendations and said the F-35 PEO is expected to deliver a strategy guiding ODIN’s development to her office by early Calendar Year 2020. The strategy will include key tasks, milestones and schedule, risks and opportunities, governance structure and cost estimates, she added.