Tag Archives: Lockheed Software Bugs Cause Delays

Deceptive Pentagon Math In $89.2 Million F-35 Fighter Price

(Photo: DoD / Staff Sgt. Devin Doskey, U.S. Air Force)


This figure is the unit recurring flyaway cost—the price tag for just the aircraft and engine, which by themselves do not make a fully functioning weapon system.

That $89.2 million does not include procurement funds spent on initial spare parts, flight training simulators, the expensive – and poorly performing – ALIS support system, and more, all unique to the F-35.


“Pentagon leaders are likely reveling in the news that they have negotiated an agreement with Lockheed Martin that they claim drives down the unit cost of the F-35 joint strike fighter to below $80 million in the next few years. While any reduction in costs for the most expensive weapons program in history is an improvement, all is not as it appears in the industry trade press. A quick perusal of publicly available Pentagon budget documents shows the real cost of the F-35 to be above $100 million per copy for the fiscal year 2020 buy. Given the work that remains, and the way the Pentagon has surrendered many key responsibilities to the manufacturer, the price is likely to be at least that amount or higher for the foreseeable future.

The most commonly mentioned figure is for the F-35A, the Air Force’s conventional takeoff variant and the least expensive model. The current estimate for the lot of aircraft currently in production is $89.2 million apiece. This figure is the unit recurring flyaway cost—the price tag for just the aircraft and engine, which by themselves do not make a fully functioning weapon system.

When we also consider the future modifications necessary to correct both the known and potential design flaws and the aircraft’s $44,000 per-flight-hour cost, it is easy to see why the F-35 program is the most expensive in history.

A handy tool for anyone interested in knowing more about actual costs of military programs and weapons is readily available online. The Pentagon posts budget materials for each fiscal year on the comptroller’s webpage. Included are budget estimates and the justification documents containing more charts and figures than any reasonable person would care to view.

The Air Force’s fiscal year 2020 budget pays for the 48 F-35As in Lot 11. The current $89.2 million dollar price the Pentagon uses is calculated by separating out just the costs for the airframe and the engine from the larger total procurement cost that includes ALIS, simulators, initial spare parts, and more to get to the artificially low $89.2 million. That is far from the whole story.

The Pentagon’s own budget documents list the FY 2020 procurement cost for those 48 aircraft as more than $101 million, nearly $12 million more than the figure rolled out for press reports. Using the Navy’s charts and the same math shows that the real costs for each F-35C is more than $123 million, while each F-35B costs in excess of $166 million. But even that figure doesn’t tell the whole story.

None of this factors in the research and development costs of the program. Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, announced on October 29 that the program needs more money to complete the developmental and testing phase of the program. The latest publicly available figures show that taxpayers will have spent approximately $55.5 billion for F-35 research and development. If the Pentagon purchases all 2,470 F-35s in the current plan, the true cost of each aircraft goes up by nearly $22.5 million. Program officials had expected to complete development and operational testing by December 2019. But designers and engineers have struggled to complete the Joint Simulation Environment, a highly accurate simulator necessary to complete operational testing. The troubles stem from programming flight data and aircraft performance data gathered during real-world flights into the simulation software. The Joint Strike Fighter program will run out of development money before the simulator and the subsequent operational testing can be completed. The Pentagon expects to announce before the end of 2019 just how much more money beyond the program’s current $406.4 billion budget will be needed to complete this phase of the program.

No matter how the production costs are calculated, that money alone will not buy you a fully functional F-35. Engineers were not able to complete all of the combat capabilities that were supposed to be included as part of the original development phase of the program. This incomplete work, which taxpayers have already paid for, will now be completed in a new development phase and called “follow-on modernization.” Only time will tell how much will ultimately be spent in this effort, but taxpayers are already on the hook for $10.5 billion.

There is also the matter of the cost of maintenance and ownership. Lockheed Martin stands to make most of its money from the F-35 program in annual non-competitive sustainment contracts. As POGO has reported before, the services can’t independently perform many of the most basic maintenance functions on the F-35 and must instead rely on civilian contractors. Lockheed Martin currently receives $2 billion a year to keep the fleet of approximately 400 aircraft flying, meaning the annual operating cost for each F-35 is $5 million.

Pentagon officials had expected to make the long-anticipated full-rate production decision for the F-35 program before the end of this year. Also known as a Milestone C decision, the program must complete all the steps, including operational testing, as required by federal law. No one appears to be letting such trifling details stand in their way, however. The recent cost estimates emerged as part of the announcement of a $34 billion deal for three years’ worth of F-35 production—478 aircraft for the U.S. services and international customers—beginning in 2020. Officials continue to call this “low-rate initial production,” but this is essentially full-rate production in everything but name. The announced 169 F-35s for Lot 14 is the full-rate production figure for the program.

The public shouldn’t fall for the gimmicks the Defense Department constantly uses on aircraft unit cost, but the press, amazingly, seems to fall for it every time. Congress shouldn’t buy these phony cost projections and compound the program’s problems, based on a phony buy-in price by buying more F-35s before testing is complete.”


F-35 Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) Not Working- “Mad Hatter” To the Rescue


“The acronym for the Autonomic Logistics Information System is pronounced “Alice,” and a Mad Hatter initiative is set to fix the system


ALIS is a proprietary system built to Defense Department standards. Let’s break that down a bit. Proprietary means little to no leveraging of commercial technology or open standards.

“The Air Force is moving forward on a way to to fix things — a promising and actually innovative approach called Mad Hatter (clever, right?) that one can only hope will also offer up some better practices for future development.”


“Let’s look backward, shall we, to October 2001. That’s when Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, Texas, received an $18.98 billion cost-plus-award-fee contract for the Joint Strike Fighter Air System Engineering and Manufacturing Development Program. According to award details, the objectives were to “develop an affordable family of strike aircraft and an autonomic logistics support and training system.”

So, a little more than 17 years ago.

Nothing about the timeline is terribly unusual for development of a military platform. The F-35 program faced more than its fair share of problems and criticisms tied to delays, cost overruns and manufacturing problems that needed to be addressed. But as far as time to full-rate production, complex systems take a long time.

Theoretically, though, it would seem ludicrous to allocate nearly two decades to develop a tech system, considering how rapidly technology evolves. And that brings us to ALIS.

Again, the F-35 has wrestled with a lot of challenges over the years. But what currently receives the most attention — criticism actually — is ALIS. It’s not working. And it’s frustrating maintainers to no end. Our air warfare reporter, Valerie Insinna, has extensively reported on the problems, but here it is in a nutshell: After years of updates and improvements, the F-35’s system, designed to bring efficiency to maintenance and flight operations, continues to be beset by data gaps and bugs that actually make it harder, not easier, to keep the F-35 mission-ready. Maintainers are figuring out ways to work around ALIS and its failures to get the job done. That’s a problem.

There’s a saying in the tech community: “Fail fast, fail often.” It would appear ALIS is nailing the latter, but taking far too long to do it.

And there’s a reason for that. Nothing about ALIS development mirrored the best practices of the tech community, and the result was “good code in a fairly bad user interface and a bad architecture,” as noted by the Air Force’s top acquisition official, Will Roper, in a recent interview with Defense News. Why is that? ALIS is a proprietary system built to Defense Department standards. Let’s break that down a bit. Proprietary means little to no leveraging of commercial technology or open standards. It means a single point of failure. And with standards predetermined by the Department of Defense, the ability to take an agile and therefore adaptable approach to development was all but squashed.

This issue is top of mind for me, as we’ve been reporting a lot recently about the cultural disconnect between the Pentagon and the tech community — “Silicon Valley,” some might say, though not really bound anymore by that specific geography. And, truly, you might say ALIS is the poster child for the failures within the traditional defense community to understand how best to develop technology. To resurface a tongue-in-cheek comment from Josh Marcuse, director of the Defense Innovation Board, about the Pentagon’s approach to innovation: “It’s OK to fail, you just have to fail very slowly, you have to fail very expensively and you have to fail with a high degree of documentation.” It would appear ALIS met that standard beautifully.

The Air Force is moving forward on a way to to fix things — a promising and actually innovative approach called Mad Hatter (clever, right?) that one can only hope will also offer up some better practices for future development.

The F-35 is not your typical tech development program. I get that. One might argue that the sensitivity of the data managed by the logistics systems, combined with the complexity of requirements, prevent commercial practices or open standards from being used. But that argument doesn’t hold water. Smart tech development doesn’t happen in lieu of security.

Did the defense community understand that back in 2001? Maybe not. But let’s hope everyone knows it now.”


Lockheed FAA Software Bug Impacts 1,000 Flights Across the Country



Image: Novell.com


“The FAA has pinned a software glitch as the reason many flights in the Washington D.C. region were cancelled or delayed over the weekend.

The Washington Post reported that nearly 1,000 flights were affected across the country because the problems in the D.C. area rippled across the nation.

The software issues were part of an upgrade of the En Route Automation Modernization system installed by Lockheed Martin.

The FAA said it is working with Lockheed to prevent future outages.

A Lockheed spokesman said, “The Lockheed Martin team continues to work with our FAA partners to answer questions related to the August 15 issue at the Washington DC Air Route Traffic Control Center.”

The software issue involved a recent upgrade that allowed individual air traffic controllers to customize their view of frequently needed data. The data was supposed to be removed once the controllers deleted it, the FAA said.

But the information remained in memory until the storage limit was filled and this consumed processing power needed to operate the overall system.

The FAA said it has suspended use of that function until it can be corrected.

The ERAM system is an important program for Lockheed as it feeds into the FAA’s plan for a new nation wide air traffic control system, known as NextGen. Building NextGen could be a $40 billion undertaking, according to the Washington Post.

Lockheed’s air traffic control business also is part of the IT business that Lockheed Martin is looking to divest sometime in the next year.”