Software to Power F-35 Running as Much as 14 Months Late

Software for Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 jet, the Pentagon’s costliest weapons system, may be as much as 14 months late for required flight testing, according to a Pentagon review.

The projected delay to September 2017 concerns the final version needed to provide full combat capability for Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps variants of the Joint Strike Fighter, the Defense Department found in the report mandated by Congress.

Software is crucial to delivering on the promised capabilities of the F-35, operating its advanced navigation, communications and targeting systems. Each plane will have more than 8 million lines of code once deployed, more than any previous U.S. or allied jet.

Cost estimates for the $398.6 billion F-35 program have climbed 71 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since the Pentagon signed its initial contract with Lockheed in 2001, even as plans were adjusted to buy 409 fewer aircraft.

The fighters, which are being built and tested while they’re under development, are flying under restrictions after being grounded this month during the investigation of an engine fire on one plane.

Schedules for software have slipped an average of more than six months a year since Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed beat Boeing Co. for the program, according to the review dated June 17 and labeled “For Official Use Only.”

Even with the expected delays, “the review team does not expect” slips in the projected dates for declaring different versions of the F-35 ready for combat, according to the report.

Marine Version

While the reviewers said the planned schedules have enough leeway to absorb the software delays, they added that the deadlines could be missed because of issues that arise in flight tests of the software or other troubles with the F-35.

Software known as 2B, which the Marine Corps needs to declare its first aircraft ready for combat in July 2015, is running five months late to begin its most rigorous testing and will be delivered in October, according to the review.

The progress of the Marine Corps version, the F-35B, has drawn worldwide attention. The U.K. and Italy have both committed to buy the variant, which is designed for short takeoffs and vertical landings on ground fields and aircraft carriers.

Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Laura Siebert said in an e-mail that “we are confident that we will complete 2B software” in time for the July 2015 goal.

‘Rigorous Systems’

Lockheed, the No. 1 U.S. government contractor, is relying on the F-35 for sales growth. The program accounted for 18 percent of Lockheed’s second-quarter sales, up from 16 percent in 2013 and 14 percent a year before that, according to federal regulatory filings.

Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the Pentagon’s F-35 program office, said in an e-mail that the office expects a delay of about six months instead of 14 months in the final software for all three versions.

Since 2011 “we have instituted a rigorous systems engineering process that develops” software plans “for each major air system component and tracks incremental capability maturity within each software block,” DellaVedova said.

The review for Congress directed by Stephen Welby, the Defense Department’s chief of systems engineering, said the F-35 program office three years ago strengthened its processes and oversight for managing software development, testing and manufacture.

The program has delivered 7.4 million lines of code for the earliest version software to test which is “unprecedented for airborne military platforms,” the reviewers said. “Software development continues to be hindered, however, by past inadequate systems engineering and integration” and “higher-than-expected” software defects.

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