Pentagon F-35 program says 'laser-focused' on software issues

WASHINGTON Fri Jan 24, 2014 7:52pm EST

The F-35B Lighting II variant of the Joint Strike Fighter sits on the deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp while being tested by Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin pilots and engineers off the coast of North Carolina in this handout photo taken August 19, 2013. REUTERS/Sgt. Tyler L. Main/U.S. Marine Corps/Handout

The F-35B Lighting II variant of the Joint Strike Fighter sits on the deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp while being tested by Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin pilots and engineers off the coast of North Carolina in this handout photo taken August 19, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Sgt. Tyler L. Main/U.S. Marine Corps/Handout

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon's F-35 program office on Friday said it was "laser-focused" on finishing development of the software needed for the U.S. Marine Corps to start using its Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets from mid-2015.

The Pentagon's chief weapons tester warned in a report obtained by Reuters and published on Thursday that a possible 13-month delay in F-35 software development, coupled with maintenance and reliability problems, could delay the Marine Corps' plans.

But Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, who runs the Pentagon's F-35 program office, says he remains confident that Lockheed will complete the Block 2B software that gives the jet its initial combat capability in time.

Bogdan restructured the F-35 program office last year to put a greater emphasis on software, which he considers the No. 1 technical risk to the $392 billion program, said his spokesman Joe DellaVedova.

As part of the changes, he said Bogdan had named a number of people or "czars" to oversee the range of efforts linked to the Block 2B software and later software versions, as well as the drive to reduce the F-35's maintenance and operating costs.

"Lieutenant General Bogdan and the F-35 program are laser- focused on delivering the Block 2B capability to the warfighter," DellaVedova said. "We track and review F-35 software development data religiously and we're confident we'll deliver Block 2B in time to meet the Marine Corps' needs."

Lockheed is developing three models of the new warplane for the U.S. military and eight partners: Britain, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands. Israel and Japan have also placed orders.

Marine Corps officials had no immediate comment on the new report, but the service has not revised its plans to declare an F-35 "initial operational capability" by July 2015.

The report, which was delivered to Congress on Friday, got a muted reaction from the countries that helped pay for development of the new plane or placed orders.

Britain is expected to announce orders for 14 F-35 jets and the associated infrastructure, training and maintenance services, as early as next week, Reuters reported on Thursday. [ID:nL5N0KX2M4] It is buying the same short takeoff, vertical landing B-model jets that will be operated by the Marines.

The Dutch, who have ordered 37 planes, said they had not received the report, but did not expect any major surprises.

"The problems raised are well known and are being addressed," said Defense Ministry spokeswoman Sacha Louwhoff.

The Dutch are testing two trial planes and expect delivery of their first production plane in 2019. The first Dutch F-35 pilot completed his training at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida on Friday, DellaVedova said.

Endre Lunde, spokesman for Norway's defense ministry, said the F-35 program office was already taking steps to fix issues raised by the report, including software development.

"The information presented in this report has been briefed to all international partners at various points over the past year," Lunde said, adding that he did not expect the issues raised to affect Norway's participation in the F-35 program.

At the same time, Lunde said Norway viewed the report as a "very valuable" tool and "an important external reference in our efforts to keep the development of the F-35 on track."

Belgium is also weighing F-35 orders, but will not make a decision until after elections in May, one official said.

In Israel, one defense official said he did not see any problems for his country's order of 19 jets. "There is no delay (for Israel)," said the official, who declined to be named.

An official at South Korea's arms procurement agency said any delays beyond an intended 2018 delivery date would be "problematic". Seoul has said it would buy 40 of the F-35s, although it still has to finalize this order, a move that could come in February, according to two sources familiar with the issue.

A senior Japan Defense Ministry official said: "We can do nothing but ask the JPO (Joint Program Office) to speed up the program." Tokyo plans to buy 42 of the stealth fighters, with the first four due for delivery by March 2017.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Israel, Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Adrian Croft in Brussels, Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, Joyce Lee in Seoul; Editing by Ken Wills)

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Comments (7)
AZWarrior wrote:
As a retired Air Force officer, I have mixed feelings about the F-35 program. While th capabilities of the three variants of the aircraft are impressive and should serve well for 10 to 20 years after deployment, it is an incredibly expensive aircraft, almost too expensive to risk in combat. In any event, I predict that the F-35 will be the last manned American fighter aircraft ever fielded. The manned fighter is going out with an expensive bang with this aircraft.

Jan 24, 2014 8:59pm EST  --  Report as abuse
WhyMeLord wrote:
F-35 = an extremely expensive flying dinosaur headed for extinction.
Another Pentagon boondoggle gone horribly wrong and way over budget.
Will they ever face the fact that wars cost more than they’re worth.
Bows & arrows @ 50 paces, hand to hand combat, etc., man-cave stuff.
That should get the old blood flowing and the testosterone raging.
Generals on horseback at the front of the line, just like old times.
Probably be a lot less wars, and some needed money back in the bank.

Jan 25, 2014 12:17am EST  --  Report as abuse
RET_SFC wrote:
“The fact that we can never be sure that a computer system will function flawlessly constitutes a fatal defect. It limits what we can hope to achieve by using computers as our servants and surrogates. As computer-controlled systems become more complex and thoroughly entwined in the fabric of our lives, their potential for costly, life-threatening failures keeps growing.”
Ivars Peterson, author of Fatal Defect: Chasing Killer Computer Bugs, quoted at https://www.ece.cmu.edu/~koopman/des_s99/sw_testing/

Jan 25, 2014 6:23am EST  --  Report as abuse
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