WASHINGTON — The F-35 joint program office is rolling out a new strategy that it hopes will make updates to the jet more efficient and agile, the head of the program announced Wednesday.
Vice Adm. Mat Winter will bring a new plan to the U.S. Defense Department’s top acquisition official for final approval in late October, Winter said during a keynote speech at the Defense News Conference.
“The current acquisition strategy has us doing a serial [and] sequential design, develop, integrate, test [and] deliver strategy. I’m not convinced that’s the most efficient and effective way, most importantly, to deliver and continuously deliver capability to our war fighters ... as we go beyond Block 3F,” he said.
“Envision in your head: The pilot jumps in the jet, fires it up, the panoramic cockpit display comes up. We have different sensors on the airplane. One of them is an electro-optic system” called EODAS for short, he said. “Envision a little window pops up and says: ‘latest EODAS software update ready for download, yes or no?’ Similar to what you do on your smartphone.”
That will entail changing the F-35’s acquisition strategy to allow for agile software development where development and testing happen concurrently, and incremental updates are continuously pushed out, he said.
This new way of doing business will allow the joint program office, or JPO, to field F-35s with 3F software — which expands the plane’s flight envelope and allows it to use its full suite of weapons — and deliver 3F jets for operational testing on time. The major change is that it would now fix minor software deficiencies after the fact.
However, Winter stressed that this will not impact the timeline of the F-35’s follow-on modernization program, sometimes called Block 4, which is slated to start in 2019 and will involve adding software capability for new weapons and sensors.
The result will allow the JPO to more effectively prioritize corrections for software and firmware deficiencies that impact every part of the F-35 enterprise, including the sensors, mission-planning system and logistics suite, he said.
Those deficiencies are usually pretty trivial — for instance, a map that refreshes in five seconds instead of the three seconds specified by requirements — but they need to be corrected, he said.
“There is a DR [deficiency report] database against the 3F capability. We are going to continue to chip away where we have time and it makes sense, to enhance and improve the Block 3F capability while putting the design/development plan together for these brand new requirements and bring them into a blended correction of deficiency and Block 4 development delivery,” he said.
“That timeline, we’re reassessing the priorities of those new requirements with our war fighter based on technical feasibility and the resources available to execute.”
Winter said the JPO has provided continuous updates to congressional defense committees about the plan and will conduct a more robust briefing if the strategy is approved. However, the new strategy “has a lot of friction and inhibitors,” he said.
“I am going to be asking the system to do things it’s never done before,” he said. “I’m asking the system to do true model-based systems engineering simultaneously with capabilities-based testing. The same time. With DT [developmental testing] and OT [operational testing happening at the] same time. Real time. Allowing us to be able to truly change the way we contract and cost estimate.”
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.