The 'fifth' generation fighting aircraft, trying hard to become the sixth, are being matched by the Chinese and Russians, and America has convinced (by means fair and perhaps foul) western nations to buy American, and especially their latest F 35. And what a troubled gestation it is being. It is a very complicated plane and what it can do (promises) is complicated too. But is it up to the job?
It is not just the engine performance and the stealthiness, but the software that drives its systems has been very difficult to 'write'. So much so that few know even what is written in. Not only is the aircraft beset by reports of problems, but now some otherwise secret aspects are becoming uncovered. And they are disturbing allies, much to the delight of potential adversaries.
So I listened in the Tavern today as Jamie Seidel and Claire Bickers gave us some news and views. The Norwegians, for example are a bit miffed.
‘Spy’ F-35s send sensitive Norwegian military data back to Lockheed Martin in the United StatesIs Australia spending $17 billion for the privilege of being spied upon? Norway has just caught its new aircraft secretly sending sensitive data back to the United States.THE marketing campaign makes it clear: The F-35 justifies its enormous cost and limited weapons load by being sneaky and enormously well informed.But its international customers probably didn’t expect this.
Norwegian defence officials have caught one of their new $A120 million (less research and development costs) F-35A Lightning II Block 3F stealth jets sending sensitive data back to its US manufacturer — Lockheed Martin.
Norway is the first non-US user of the F-35 to have a mission-critical software package enabled through the provision of Mission Data Files.It’s a critical database and software package that is supposed to finally deliver what the advertising videos have been promising for more than a decade:
‘revolutionary situational awareness’.But it appears that ‘situational awareness’ cuts both ways.Turns out the US military megacorp is getting detailed telemetry on everything Norwegian pilots are doing delivered to its Fort Worth, Texas, facility.Norway has ordered 40 of the jets, with an option for a further 12.It took delivery of its first three aircraft in November.It’s already discovered a problem understood by most smartphone users:“The development from F-16 to F-35 is like comparing an old Nokia 3210 with an iPhone X. As the amount of features increases, data is also increasing and the need to protect it,” Norwegian Defense Ministry consultant Lars Gjemble told ABC Nyheter.“In a way, it looks like the challenge of what information your iPhone shares with the manufacturers.”Put simply, the manufacturer is tracking and assessing the habits of Norwegian pilots.While privacy is a concern when it comes to personal internet and smartphone use, it’s becomes a whole different matter when applied to the military.“Due to national considerations, there is a need for a filter where the user nations can exclude sensitive data from the data stream that is shared by the system with the manufacturer Lockheed Martin,” Gjemble told ABC Nyheter.At the heart of the problem is the F-35’s artificial intelligence dubbed ALIS: it is responsible for logging performance data, as well as monitoring and optimising the aircraft’s sophisticated equipment.
To do so it ‘phones home’ to Texas.Norway says it has become impatient with continued delays in the promised provision of a data “filter” by Lockheed Martin.
Hmmmmm. It seems no-one was told of this small feature. It begs the question of what else all the complex software does.So it’s started its own project to find ways to block its new F-35s from reporting back to their former US masters.It’s also worried that it won’t be able to optimise — or protect — the extremely sensitive Mission Data Files. These data packs optimise aircraft performance under different conditions, as well as provide a database of regional challenges and conditions.Again, Norway wants Lockheed Martin out of the loop.“Norway has entered into a partnership with Italy to jointly finance the procurement and operation of a laboratory where we can enter nationally sensitive data, as we currently do on F-16,” Gjemble said.Australia took delivery of its first two F-35s earlier this year. It has about 70 of the aircraft - which represent the world’s most expensive conventional weapons program ever - on order.
Many countries join Norway on the customer list. Australia is one. We here in Oz have had several American aircraft 'sold' to us, even causing us to cancel far better ones. (TSR2 vs F111) and all in the pursuit of 'interoperability'. This is a word a bit like 'tolerance', 'diversity' and 'multiculturalism' in its opaqueness.
Oz, so far has just two, which we like to show off, like new toys found under the tree on Christmas morning. Oz sees it as a new bread-slicing gizmo, but does it burn toast too?
Australia’s F-35A stealth fighters may cost millions to bring up to a fighting standardOUR new F-35 stealth fighters could right now be flying in South Korea, the defence ministry states, saying our aircraft can’t be compared to their troubled US counterparts.AUSTRALIA’s two shiny new F-35 Strike Fighters may never go to war. Needing some 160 modifications to make their model combat worthy, the US Air Force is reportedly considering abandoning those already delivered in favour of new purchases.
Touted by manufacturer Lockheed Martin as the most advanced fighting machines ever built, virtually the entire production run of over 100 machines so far has one glaring problem.They can’t fight.Australia took delivery of two F-35A Lightning II aircraft amid much fanfare at the Avalon air show in Victoria earlier this year. Several more are in the late stages of construction, due for delivery next year.
|Will it be flown by feminist lady pilots of a certain size?|
These are almost exactly the same in their technical specifications to the 108 F-35As delivered so far to the United States Air Force.But a controversial development and delivery contract process — known as concurrency — has produced an aircraft with software and components that were never fully tested.The argument was (that) computer simulation could streamline the whole process, eliminating risk, reducing cost and speeding up delivery.It didn’t.Now two senior US Pentagon officials responsible for the F-35 program have admitted they are seriously considering abandoning vital upgrades and fixes of those aircraft already delivered.A major ongoing issue is its software, integrading a wide range of hardware flight, sensor and weapons systems. An upgraded from its Block 2B to 3i version is underway - but neither delivers a fully functional combat aircraft. Nor does the next in the progression, the 3F, due next year.
|And the toastiness lever is under here.|
Then there are the many hardware issues built into the early production aircraft, many of which US defence auditors say pose serious safety risks.Australia has at least two F-35s that will likely require many millions being sunk into reconstruction and upgrade before they are fully capable of fighting on the front line.Or they could be restricted to limited training roles, reducing the number of the incredibly expensive aircraft available for active duty.Or they could be handed to pilots expected to fly into combat with the software and hardware equivalent of
Bring on Mandy Rice Davies for voice delivery tips.one arm tied behind their back.A spokesman for the Defence Minister has rejected any suggestions Australia’s F35s won’t be combat ready.“Australia does not possess any F-35A Lightning II Block 2B variants,” he said. “Both of our planes were updated more than a year ago. The Australian F-35 is currently operating a much newer software package, the Block 3i. This is similar to the types of planes operating in South Korean military exercises a few weeks ago.“The Australian fighters cannot be compared directly to the experiences of the United States Air Force. Australia’s 72 Joint Strike Fighters will be the most potent warfighting planes in the world.”
Hahahaha. This is a fine attempt at pulling wool over people's eyes. Snatching a pyhrric victory scenario from the jaws of defeat.But the US Marines F-35B ‘jump jet’ variants being operated in South Korea are also not yet fully operational. Their “Initial Operational Capability (IOC)” status means they are flying under restricted parameters and with limited sensor integration and weapons loads.And they face the same - if not more - costly hurdles to bring them up to “Full Operational Capability” as their air force F-35A siblings.In 2015, the US Director of Operational Test and Evaluation Michael Gilmore wrote testing at that time “did not — and could not — demonstrate that the Block 2B F35B is operationally effective or suitable for use in any type of limited combat operation, or that it is ready for real-world operational deployments”.The consequences of that finding have come home to roost.“From a production perspective, we have literally 150 to 160 modifications that have to occur on some of our tails to get it to a Block 3(F) configuration,” US Vice Admiral Mat Winter, head of the F-35 Joint Program Office, told the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space and Cyber conference earlier this week.“Our mods program is almost as exciting and dwarfing our production program.”
Don't you just love the obfuscation.The Pentagon is considering not modifying all 108 F-35As in its possession to the Block 3F standard. While itself far below advertised F-35 capabilities, the 3F version of the aircraft and its operating system will enable it to carry and use a selection of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons.The reason given: doing so would be very expensive.It may be cheaper to just buy new ones off the production line.“We’re looking at a solution space that gives our warfighter options,” Admiral Winter said, while admitting his office was expecting a more “logical, more digestible” delivery schedule — meaning further delays.
US Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein also admitted at the Air Force Association conference that there was debate within the Pentagon.“You’re going to see us continuing to do a business-case analysis of retrofit of these aircraft,” he said earlier this week.The upshot is dozens of early-delivery US Air Force F-35s are likely to relegated to training duties. They can’t use a worthwhile load of missiles or bombs. Nor can they effectively fire their 20mm cannon. And then there is a swath of yet-to-be-addressed safety issues.Given those aircraft so far delivered to Australia are essentially the same specification....
This is a re-hash of buying F-4s while waiting for the F-111, for which the far and away better TSR2 was cancelled.the Royal Australian Air Force must now either find the money to fix those F-35s it already has — or accept a smaller than expected fighting force than expected.Exactly how much additional delay these fixes place on the F-35 program is also an issue. The RAAF has already had to buy a handful of F/A-18 Super Hornets to maintain its capabilities while it waits.
It had hoped the F-35A would begin to enter limited service in July 2019, with full operational capability by 2023.Project Director for F-35 Missions Systems at Australia’s Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG) Stephen McDonald, told Australian Defence Magazine in July he did not see any risk in terms of Australia’s F-35’s capabilities.The expanded range of weapons needed for Australian initial operational capability had already been tested, he said.“The 3F software is being tested quite strongly right now,” he told ADM. “That will be delivered in 2018 and we don’t go to IOC until the end of 2020, so we’ve got two years’ float and all systems are go.”But that was before the senior US F-35 project commanders began casting doubt on the viability of upgrading existing aircraft to the Block 3F standard.It’s not the first time the defence contract concept of concurrency has failed to deliver.The predecessor of the F-35, the F-22 Raptor, suffered a similar fate.Some 30 examples of this ultra-advanced stealth interceptor will never see combat. They’ve been used only as trainers since production ceased a decade ago because they were not delivered up to expected standards.This leaves just 150 combat-capable F-22s on active USAF service.And there is considerable confusion over exactly where the F-35 program stands on actual operational capabilities. The US Marine Corps last year accepting its F-35B jump-jet variants as having met initial operational capability requirements — even though only 89 per cent of the necessary software was delivered, leaving several combat systems inoperable.Full operational capability is only certified after rigorous and independent testing proves a weapon system can be operated and maintained.But the US Marine Corps’ small fleet of unproven F-35Bs has already been pressed into service in Japan and South Korea.The fix list for problems is extensive.Many are potentially fatal.The Pentagon’s director of operational testing and evaluation reported earlier this year there were 158 “Category 1” software flaws that could cause death or injury.Some modifications are as simple as updating the applications on a smart phone. Others need hardware upgrades. Yet more may require extensive rebuilding, such as addressing the vulnerability of its rear engine compartment and tail structure, fixing the pilot’s oxygen supply and making the jet’s ejection seat safe.
Fighting aircraft, it seems, are getting too complex to even build, let alone win on anything but a financial battlespace.And the aircraft isn’t allowed to fly anywhere near lightning.Eight aircraft are currently being assembled as the RAAF’s next batch of F-35s. They’re due for delivery next year.Exactly how many of the above problems relate to these airframes is unclear.
But wait ! There's less. There are no free steak knives either.Lockheed Martin and the USAF made much fanfare about the release of its Block 3 software update earlier this month. But analysts say this ended up being just an interim patch (3i) — not the full 3F version promised.Lockheed Martin has since admitted it has again pushed back the update’s release: “We are well positioned to complete air vehicle full 3F and mission systems software development by the end of 2017,” a statement reads.But a US Government Accountability Office report says the delivery date is more likely to be May next year, and warns no further orders for the aircraft should be placed until independent testing is completed.Lockheed Martin ran 46 F-35s off the production lines in 2016. In 2018, it is expected to be in full-swing delivering 130 machines each year. About 900 are due to be delivered over the next five years.Exactly how much they really cost is anyone’s guess.A defence policy investigator at the Project on Government Oversight recently summed up the confusion and controversy surrounding the F-35 project: ‘Price tag is the only thing stealthy about the F-35.”Australia reportedly took delivery of its first two F-35As for $US94.6 ($A119.5) million each.Lockheed Martin is boasting it has since reduced the per-aircraft procurement cost of an F-35A to $US85 ($A107.4) million. This may be why the USAF is considering dumping its non-functional examples in favour of fresh copies.But the price tag does not include the incredible research and development component of the cost — nor the long list of updates, spare parts and man-hours needed to make each one operational.
Meanwhile the Russians are wowing everyone with their superdooper Su 35 and the Su 57.Australia ordered its first 14 F-35As in November 2009. A second batch was ordered in April 2014 — this time for 58 aircraft. An order for a potential final tranche of 28 is yet to be made.
Not that they are not without problems of their own.
For the politicians it is a great way to spend lots and lots of taxpayers' money so that budget deficits blow out and taxes have to be raised.
Ahhh well, It won't be long now.
Meanwhile the drinks in the Tavern are free, so down the hatch and refill your glasses.