WASHINGTON — Although the Joint Program Office maintains the F-35 program remains on track, the Pentagon's top weapons tester recently raised concerns that the fifth-generation fighter jet's software development could fall behind.
The JPO recognizes there are about four months of "potential risk" in the 3F testing schedule, but maintains testing will be completed by the summer of 2017, according to spokesman Joe DellaVedova. He stressed that the JPO will not take any "shortcuts" to meet that deadline.
"The JPO does not intend on 'short-cutting' any required test points," DellaVedova wrote in a Jan. 22 email to Defense News. "Removal of test points by the combined JPO, industry and warfighting team occurs only after a thorough and disciplined review of what is required to deliver the promised capabilities."
The goal is to deliver full Block 3F capabilities in the fall of 2017, he said.
As of Jan. 15, Block 3F development flight testing had completed approximately half of all baseline test points, DellaVedova noted.
"Any critical deficiencies identified during the remainder of development flight testing and IOT&E will be coordinated with key stakeholders including the Services and operational test team, to determine the need for any required fixes or other follow-up actions," DellaVedova wrote.
Gilmore's memo, first reported by Aviation Week on Jan. 22, also points to "poor performance" during developmental testing of Block 3i, which is the next planned software release. The Marine Corps declared its F-35B variant operational — called Initial Operational Capability — last summer using Block 2B software; the Air Force plans to declare IOC for its F-35As later this year with Block 3i; and the Navy will declare IOC for the F-35Cs in 2018 with the full 3F software package.
DellaVedova defended Block 3i, saying the software has been continually improved throughout the development test and evaluation process. Early versions of 3i did contain deficiencies, but these issues were addressed and resolved in later increments of the software, he said. The latest version of 3i is being flown with "improved results," he said.
The IOC dates for the Air Force and the Navy are on track, according to DellaVedova.
However, some on Capitol Hill are concerned about potential schedule delays due to software issues, according to a pair of congressional sources.
Gilmore's memo also raised concern about the Autonomic Logistics Information System, the F-35's integrated maintenance and management system, particularly regarding cyber deficiencies.
"(ALIS) continues to struggle in development with deferred requirements, late and incomplete deliveries, high manpower requirements, multiple deficiencies requiring work-arounds, and a complex architecture with likely (but largely untested) cyber deficiencies," Gilmore wrote.
The JPO has supported more than 2,000 cyber tests of the program, and is committed to ensuring the F-35 will be cyber-secure, DellaVedova said.
"The JPO absolutely agrees with DOT&E that robust cyber vulnerability testing is essential," he wrote. "Our shared objective is to safeguard the F-35 enterprise against the continually evolving cyber threat."