F-35’s Ambitious, New Fleet Management System

By Amy Butler
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

In practice, it is intended to make fleet management easier from the unit to headquarters by allowing commanders a single system through which to view all aspects of the fleet. And Lockheed Martin's ALIS Program Director Mark Perreault says it is intended to make the maintainer's job easier. The F-35 is a data-intensive aircraft, and built into it are diagnostic tools that will alert ALIS based on pre-programmed parameters. This information exchange happens at the aircraft, when an ALIS portable maintenance aid (PMA) or portable classified aid (PCA)—ruggedized laptops used for aircraft management at the squadron level—is plugged into the jet for a download.

This use of digital tracking for fluids replaces use of gauges, says Sharon Parsley, a Lockheed Martin spokeswoman. The company boasts that flight-control-rigging maintenance now takes 5 min. for the F-35, compared to 8-14 hr. on legacy fighters, she adds. This is “something unique in fifth-generation systems,” says Tom Curry, Lockheed Martin's F-35 Director of ALIS, noting that its roots are on the F-22 program.

The use of ALIS also eliminates the need for paper manuals; all of the information is stored in the system and configuration updates are automatically provided.

ALIS is programmed to prioritize parts allocation based on principles agreed upon by all partners in the last Joint Executive Steering Board in March, Mellon explains. The agreement allows for squadrons in wartime operations to be prioritized no matter what nation owns them, he notes.

Each F-35 squadron will have a standard operating unit (SOU), a server on which the unit's data is housed. Each country will have a central point of entry (CPE), which holds all of the data from its fleets. Each country's CPE then transmits data to the single autonomic logistics operating unit (ALOU), which is housed at Lockheed Martin's Forth Worth facility and acts as a global fleet-management storage device. “It is the one place where you can integrate for each service and country information across the fleet,” Mellon says.

The Pentagon plans to field a second ALOU for redundancy, though funding and timing are not yet set, adds Mellon. Data are now backed up from the single ALOU on tapes, and reconstituting the system would be a timely venture, he says. Each aircraft can operate without ALIS connectivity for 30 days if needed.

Varying versions of these elements are already fielded at each F-35 site: Edwards AFB, Calif; Nellis AFB, Nev.; Eglin AFB, Fla.; NAS Patuxent River, Md.; and MCAS Yuma, Ariz. Italy will be the first foreign partner to have this equipment based on its soil. And the Air Force is planning to field the equipment at Luke AFB, Ariz., where the next F-35A unit is set to be established by year-end.

One of the complex tasks ahead, however, is to field SOU version 2, which is a more transportable and modular. This is needed to support expeditionary operations, especially those on the ship for Marine Corps initial operational capability (IOC) by the end of 2015. Though “Lockheed's past performance on ALIS has been poor, . . . over the past year they have improved their ALIS software development processes and deficiency correction process to the point where we now believe we can deliver the ALIS capabilities we have committed to support the services' IOCs,” says Bogdan. “I'm confident we'll be ready to meet Marine Corps IOC.”

Mellon acknowledges the SOU version 2 schedule is challenging. “It is not going to be a 12-inch putt, but it is not a 30-foot putt, either,” he says. “I'm pretty confident of the hardware solution. It is the other software versions . . . coupled with the hardware that presents the risk.” However, the procurement cost of the version 2 system will be about 40% less than the current version, says Perreault.

Comments On Articles