F-35's Logistics System Moves Forward With New Software Upgrade

By Stew Magnuson

Photo: Lockheed Martin

The Defense Department’s F-35 office has given the Navy and Air Force the green light to upgrade the aircraft’s information technology backbone, the Automatic Logistics Information System.   

ALIS is the joint strike fighter’s fleet management system. Pilots use it to plan and debrief missions, while technicians need it for preventative maintenance and to order spare parts.

The upgraded ALIS software — called version 2.0.2 — will be installed at all operational F-35 sites by the end of 2017. The Marine Corps is expected to approve the software upgrades in early summer, according to a statement from the aircraft’s builder, Lockheed Martin, which is also developing ASIS.

It will also improve the tracking of life-limited parts and streamline resource management for deployed operations, it added. The upgrade will integrate propulsion data, which allows users to manage the F-35 engine from inside ALIS, eliminating the need for multiple maintenance systems and field service representatives to assist with engine diagnostics, analysis and maintenance, the statement said.

“For the first time, the entire F-35, from tip to tail, including the propulsion system, is integrated within ALIS,” Reeves Valentine, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of F-35 logistics, told reporters April 26.

Pratt & Whitney’s F135 engine comes with its own performance and health monitoring system that also requires software upgrades. It was operating separately from ALIS, but is now fully integrated — with the exception of the Marine Corps’ F-35B version of the aircraft.  

There was a lag in software upgrades Pratt & Whitney needed for the F135 short take-off and vertical-landing engine on the F-35B, he said. That is complete, and will be in place when the Air Force and Navy begin installing the 2.0.2 upgrades, he added. 

ALIS is operating at more than 20 locations and has supported more than 90,000 F-35 flight hours, the statement said.

The ALIS program has two goals: bring down operations and maintenance costs and increase aircraft availability, Valentine said.

“This upgrade will allow deploying units to predict ‘what if’ scenarios inside ALIS, removing most of the manual planning that is done today,” he said in a statement. “ALIS 2.0.2 will allow users to forecast and make those decisions. Picking the best jets, support equipment, spare parts and personnel for the deployment and managing resources throughout their lifecycle — that type of data should ultimately translate to better aircraft availability.”

He acknowledged that Lockheed Martin is in talks with customers to see if there is any interest in converting ALIS for use in other aircraft, but declined to say which platforms have been mentioned.

The next ALIS upgrade — known as 3.0 — is scheduled for “early next year,” Valentine said. There will be a 4.0 version following about a year after 3.0 is released, he added. Some of the capabilities originally slated for the earlier software updates have been pushed to 3.0 and 4.0, he said. “Right now, we have those important capabilities that are important to the user all within 3.0, and that is on track for the end of this year,” he added.

The announcement came on the heels of a withering Government Accountability Office report earlier in the week, in which the government watchdog warned of further cost overruns and delays in fielding the services’ F-35s because of setbacks in the aircrafts’ operating system. 

The problem is the mission system software — which is separate from ALIS — needed to fly the aircraft known as Block 3F. GAO reported that program officials think they need five additional months to finish testing the software, but the office said 12 months is a more realistic estimate. The five-month delay will increase costs by $532 million. A 12-month delay would swell those costs to $1.7 billion, GAO stated.

The U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force declared initial operational capability for the F-35 in 2015 and 2016, respectively. The Navy is scheduled to declare initial operating capability in 2018.

Further, GAO criticized the program for getting ahead of itself by planning the development of the Block 4 software upgrades before testing is complete for 3F.

“DoD will not have the knowledge it needs to present a sound business case for Block 4,” GAO said.

In a written response to the report, James A. MacStravic, who is performing the duties of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said the program needs to begin the process of developing the Block 4 software as it is currently scheduled, to account for contracting lead time and to assure a seamless transition to a system development and demonstration phase.

Topics: Logistics, Maintainability

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