The US Department of Defense’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOTE) warned that the multinational F-35B fighter jet fleet is lagging behind a key flight-hours metric needed to show maintenance maturity.
On top of that, the supersonic stealth jet project’s move towards Agile methodology for “minimum viable product” (MVP)-phased development of critical flight and weapons software every six months is a “high risk” strategy, according to DOTE.
The F-35B fleet worldwide needs to rack up 75,000 flight hours before DOTE thinks it has gathered enough data to meet the contract spec. Currently the B model has just 45,000 hours across the board – and with HMS Queen Elizabeth due to deploy to the Pacific next year with two squadrons of F-35Bs aboard, this could mean the aircraft carrier will set sail with jets that haven’t met their required reliability standard. So far the B fleet is unable to meet its target of flying for 12 hours or more between critical failures.
Software development processes used to build F-35 software also fall under DOTE’s remit, and the auditor is not impressed by what it saw.
In its report (PDF, 14 pages), DOTE said it “assesses the MVP and ‘agile’ process as high risk due to limited time to evaluate representative IDT/OT data before fielding the software,” adding:
Testing will not be able to fully assess fielding configuration of the integrated aircraft, software, weapons, mission data, and ALIS capabilities prior to fielding. The aggressive 6-month development and fielding cycle limits time for adequate regression testing and has resulted in significant problems being discovered in the field.
ALIS is the F-35’s notorious maintenance software. Last seen on El Reg having been given Internet Explorer 11 compatibility two years ago, we now learn from DOTE that version 3.6, which was intended to be the Windows 10-compatible version with “cybersecurity improvements” will now no longer be developed. Instead the F-35 Joint Project Office, the US military unit in charge of F-35 development, “announced it plans to release capabilities via smaller, more frequent service pack updates.”
This, wailed DOTE, “increases timeline uncertainty and schedule risk for corrections to ALIS deficiencies, particularly those associated with cybersecurity and deploying Windows 10.”
Comically, the F-35 JPO has also drunk the DevOps Kool-Aid for these ALIS service packs – giving it the genuine codename “Mad Hatter”. DOTE appeared unsure whether Mad Hatter was DevOps-based or agile, however, commenting: “It is unclear that new approaches, such as ALIS NEXT and ‘Mad Hatter’ will sufficiently improve ALIS, or if more resources are needed.”
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