Despite F-35 glitch, Hill AFB won’t face delays

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Software issues continue to plague the F-35 as program officials work feverishly to fix a glitch that causes the jet’s radar to shut down sporadically.

During testimony given to the House Armed Services Committee last month, Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan said significant challenges remain in completing the final block of software for the controversial next-generation fighter. In particular, those challenges include a problem that results in the jet’s main computer and radar failing to sync. 

Bogdan’s entire testimony, along with that of other government oversight officials, can be viewed at armedservices.house.gov.

“What the pilots are seeing is when they take off and they need to use the sensors, particularly the radar, there are some instances where the communication between the radar and the main computers in the airplane are mistimed,” Bogdan said during the HASC hearing. “That mistiming builds up little delays, and eventually those delays get to be big enough where the radar shuts off.”

Bogdan said that in tests, the radar eventually recovers, but “will … take a few minutes to regain the picture that it had.” The general said some of the other sensors on the plane are experiencing similar problems.

“That is not good,” Bogdan said, noting that the glitch is happening about once during every four hours of flight time. 

“We need the system to be much more stable than that,” he said. “Something on the order of once every eight to 10 hours.”

Michael Sullivan, director of acquisition and sourcing management issues at the Governmental Accountability Office, told members of the committee the latest software issue is a “serious problem,” but also said similar complications were overcome in previous F-35 software blocks. 

“It’s certainly a critical thing,” he said. “I don’t know if I’d want to be a pilot and watch the screen go blank.”

During the hearing, Michael Gilmore, the chief adviser to the secretary of defense on Defense Department weapons systems, said the issue could have some serious combat-related implications. 

“You want the time between these instability incidents to be long enough that you have a very low probability that it would occur in a multihour combat mission,” he said. “Whether eight hours would be sufficient is something we’ll certainly be looking at.”

Bogdan said program officials and F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin are working on a number of fixes for the issue, which should be flight tested over the next month.

The general said he’s optimistic the software problem will be fixed and cause no delays to Hill Air Force Base’s “Initial Operating Capability” timeline for the jet, a status given when a weapons system reaches the minimum requirements for use in combat deployment. Hill’s fleet of F-35s is scheduled to reach IOC status by August.

“If those fixes work … then the impact of this problem to Air Force IOC will be minimal,” he said.

Hill spokesman Rich Essary said the F-35 is scheduled to fly in this year’s base air show, set for June 25-26. The jet, which will come from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, will fly with other World War II, Korean and Vietnam-era aircraft.

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