* Lockheed sees contract agreement soon
* System making progress after cyber issue last year
* Big focus on cutting costs
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, Aug 22 Lockheed Martin Corp
said it is close to an agreement with the Pentagon for a more
portable and 40 percent cheaper version of the operations and
logistics system that controls the F-35 fighter, the Pentagon's
most expensive weapons program.
Lockheed aims to finalize a contract with the Pentagon's
F-35 program office in coming weeks that will pay for
development of lighter units to operate the new warplanes when
they are deployed or based on ships, company officials told
Reuters late on Wednesday.
Lockheed began work on the project last month using its own
funding to ensure that the new system would be ready by the
first quarter of 2015, in time for the Marine Corps to start
using the F-35 B-model in combat by the middle of that year.
The Lockheed is developing and building three variants of the
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the U.S. military and eight
partner countries: Britain, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Italy,
Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands. The U.S. development and
procurement program is expected to cost $392 billion.
The Pentagon had been projecting that it would cost an
additional $1 trillion to operate and service those planes over
55 years, but recently slashed its forecast by more than 20
percent to $857 billion.
As it developed and started producing the new planes,
Lockheed has also been building a computer-based system, the
Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS, that will serve
as the management "backbone" for the global fleet of F-35s - a
project large enough to qualify as a major weapons program on
ALIS got a lot of attention last year after Navy "hackers"
uncovered a cyber vulnerability during a planned security test.
Industry and government officials say it has made progress since
then, although they are still trying to drive down the cost.
Built using many commercial off-the-shelf software systems,
ALIS enables daily operations of the F-35 fleet, including
mission planning and flight scheduling to repairs and scheduled
maintenance, as well as the tracking and ordering of parts.
Technicians use ruggedized portable computers instead of
paper manuals to check all the plane's systems, and far more
rapidly repair any gaps in its radar-evading stealth coatings.
The system includes a giant server based at Lockheed's Fort
Worth, Texas facility, where the jets are built; one separate
gateway system for each country that uses the F-35; and
individual computer units for each squadron of planes.
Military officials have pressed for a more "deployable"
version of those individual computer units since the new planes
will eventually be used on a variety of Navy ships and at other
locations around the world, where space is limited.
Mark Perreault, Lockheed program manager for the F-35 ALIS
system, declined to give the overall value of the contract being
negotiated with the Pentagon, but said each of the new standard
operating units (SOU) would be far cheaper.
"The projected overall acquisition cost of an SOU is going
to be greater than 40 percent reduced," Perreault told Reuters
in an interview near the Pentagon.
The new operating units will weigh just 1,000 pounds
(455kg), about half of what they weigh now, and each will be
broken down into smaller, more portable components. Eventually
more than 150 such systems will be purchased, mostly at the new
The Pentagon's F-35 program office had no comment on the
discussions with Lockheed. It said the portable version of ALIS
must be affordable and meet the military's needs.
Tom Curry, another key Lockheed official on the ALIS
program, said that while the ALIS system was not perfect
Lockheed was making good progress in maturing the system. He
said the company had developed a preliminary way of safeguarding
security through an "air gap" that requires personnel to
manually transfer data between the classified and unclassified
The fix, called a "sneaker patch" by the Marines, takes up
to 45 minutes now for each F-35 flight, but that will be cut to
a few minutes in an updated version of ALIS planned for delivery
in the summer of 2014, according to Lockheed officials. They
said additional security changes will be phased in over time.
The ALIS system is already used to operate and maintain
F-35s at eight locations, including Edwards Air Force Base in
California and the Marine Corps air station in Yuma, Arizona,
which will receive the first of the newer more portable units.