WASHINGTON – The latest version of the F-35's logistics system may not be ready by the time the Air Force wants to declare its jets combat-ready this summer, according to the program manager.
The Air Force has a window between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31 to declare initial operational capability for its F-35As. Aug. 1 is the target date for Air Force IOC, and the joint program office has promised to meet that goal.
But the JPO may be about 45 to 60 days behind schedule due to problems with the aircraft's Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), designed as a kind of internal diagnostic system that tracks the health of each part of each plane worldwide, according to JPO chief Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan.
"We're going as fast as we can, industry is going as fast as they can, but we're not 100 percent sure we can make up that time," Bogdan said March 10 at the Credit Suisse/McAleese FY2017 Defense Programs Conference. "We will know as we get closer, this spring and this summer."
Although the program office may not have the latest version of ALIS ready by Aug. 1, Bogdan does not see any risk to making the the Dec. 31 threshold date for IOC.
Behind ALIS, the biggest risk to Air Force IOC is software development, Bogdan has said. The JPO is racing to finish the next increment of software, Block 3i, which the Air Force needs for IOC, as well as the final software block required for full war-fighting capability, Block 3f. The JPO is still seeing some problems with software "stability," a measure of how well the sensors work, but has identified the root cause of the problem, he said. In essence, a timing misalignment of the software of the plane's sensors and the software of its main computers are causing a "choking" effect, where the jet's systems shut down and have to be rebooted.
The JPO and industry team will fly an improved software load for Block 3i, which they hope will fix the problem, on flight test planes in late March or early April, Bogdan said. This does not leave much margin in the schedule, as Bogdan has said the JPO has until May to fix or at least mitigate the stability problems before the Aug. 1 IOC date could be affected.
However, Bogdan expressed confidence that the JPO and manufacturer Lockheed Martin can get the software fixed in time. The hurdle to meeting the Aug. 1 IOC date is ALIS, not software, Bogdan stressed.
"The long pole in the tent is not software, it's ALIS, so they are both vying for who is going to be later," Bogan said.