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F-35 software tests extended to fix flaws

Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is pictured in this undated company photo.  Boeing Co., Northrop Grumman Corp., and Lockheed Martin are among companies that will benefit from President George W. Bush's emphasis on defense and homeland security in a $2.4 trillion budget to be unveiled today. Source: Lockheed Martin Corp./via Bloomberg News

Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is pictured in this undated company photo. Boeing Co., Northrop Grumman Corp., and Lockheed Martin are among companies that will benefit from President George W. Bush’s emphasis on defense and homeland security in a $2.4 trillion budget to be unveiled today. Source: Lockheed Martin Corp./via Bloomberg News

The Pentagon has extended testing to debug software flaws that must be fixed before the first F-35 jets from Lockheed Martin Corp. can be fully ready for combat.

The Marine Corps wants to declare its version of the F-35, the costliest U.S. weapons system, ready for limited combat as soon as July. Flight testing of software essential to delivering the plane’s promised capabilities was supposed to be completed last month, about four months late, but now may take until mid- June, according to the Pentagon’s test office.

Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, the F-35 program’s manager, told reporters on Tuesday that the deficiencies will be fixed later this year and aren’t severe enough to delay the Marine Corps declaration. The service “understands the limitations, and has operational workarounds to ensure they have the capability they need,” he said.

Even with software deficiencies, Bogdan said, the Marine F-35 will be able to drop bombs and fire air-to-air weapons. “I support the Marine Corps,” he said. “If it’s good enough for them, then it’s going to be good enough for me.”

A declaration that the plane, known as the Joint Strike Fighter, is ready for initial operations would be this year’s biggest milestone for the $391.1 billion program. The Marine model, designed for short takeoffs and vertical landings, is the most complex of three being built. The U.K. and Italy are buying this version.

 

Flying Computer

The F-35 is a flying computer. Each of the planes made by Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed will have more than 8 million lines of code, more than any previous U.S. or allied fighter.

The F-35 program has extended testing of modified software “intended to correct deficiencies,” Air Force Major Eric Badger, the test office’s spokesman, said in an e-mail. “It began flight testing last week,” he said.

The Pentagon program office determined last month that an additional software version of the “Block 2B” software must be tested “based on a number of deficiencies revealed by ongoing testing, including problems with fusion” of data compiled by the aircraft’s sensors that operate its combat systems, Badger said.

Bogdan said the deficiencies were discovered in the most complicated test sorties, when four F-35s practiced observing air and ground threats, passing that information to each other via data links and using their onboard computers to fuse the data and generate a common picture.

The software sometimes “creates an inaccurate picture for the pilot,” he said. “We have always said that fusion is going to be tough.”

Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director of combat testing, said in a letter to lawmakers in January that it’s clear the software “will finish with deficiencies remaining that will affect operational units.”

Gilmore said through Badger, the spokesman, that he still holds that view.