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Problems plaguing F-35's next-gen maintenance system

April 15, 2015 (Photo Credit: Senior Airman Jason Colbert/Air Force)

The F-35's highly touted, next-generation software system designed to detail maintenance issues on the jet is plagued with problems that could lead to more delays with the jet's development.

The F-35's Autonomic Logistics Information System is a program that a maintainer plugs into the jet, and it is expected to outline what is wrong and what is working, and to streamline the process of identifying replacement parts. It has been a touted as a game-changing technology to simplify the maintenance process for the new jet.

But members of the House Armed Services tactical air and land subcommittee who spoke with maintainers last month at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, heard a different story. Maintainers there said 80 percent of issues identified by ALIS are "false positives." Additionally, the program is sluggish, slowing down maintenance instead of streamlining it, subcommittee chairman Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said during a hearing Tuesday.

"When we asked them how many false positives, I thought it would be a high number because it is a new system," Turner said. "But when they said 80, I was taken aback."

The problems affect Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy variants of the jet.

Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the program executive officer for the F-35, said that for too long in the jet's development, ALIS was more of an afterthought, as opposed to being treated as an integral part of the weapons system. As a result, the program "has changed fundamentally how we develop ALIS."

The program includes 5 million lines of code, and still "has a long way to go," Bogdan said.

The system is not meeting requirements for service members operating the jets, said Sean Stackley, the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.

"The issue of false positives is very real," Stackley said. "The concerns with regards to the reliability, responsiveness, the timeliness of ALIS informing the war fighter is at the top of our priority list."

The solution going forward will not be one simple upgrade, he said. The program is testing software upgrades to capture the known deficiency, but it won't be immediate.

"The program is improving, but it is not where it needs to be," Stackley said.

The ALIS system is currently computer racks totaling about 1,000 pounds, and was too big to be used during carrier testing. The program is developing a deployable, two-man portable version of the system that will be ready in July. The version, currently a software suite called 1.0.3, will be incrementally upgraded, with the Marine Corps going to its initial operating capability with a 2.0.1 version later this year and the Air Force getting another upgraded version, 2.0.2, for initial operating capability next summer. The Navy is expected to have initial operating capability in 2018.

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