August 23, 2013
Credit: Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin said it is close to an agreement with the Pentagon for a more portable and 40 percent cheaper version of the operations and logistics system that controls the F-35 fighter, the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program.
Lockheed aims to finalize a contract with the Pentagon’s F-35 program office in coming weeks that will pay for development of lighter units to operate the new warplanes when they are deployed or based on ships, company officials told Reuters late on Wednesday.
Lockheed began work on the project last month using its own funding to ensure that the new system would be ready by the first quarter of 2015, in time for the Marine Corps to start using the F-35 B-model in combat by the middle of that year.
The Lockheed is developing and building three variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the U.S. military and eight partner countries: Britain, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands. The U.S. development and procurement program is expected to cost $392 billion.
The Pentagon had been projecting that it would cost an additional $1 trillion to operate and service those planes over 55 years, but recently slashed its forecast by more than 20 percent to $857 billion.
As it developed and started producing the new planes, Lockheed has also been building a computer-based system, the Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS, that will serve as the management “backbone” for the global fleet of F-35s - a project large enough to qualify as a major weapons program on its own.
ALIS got a lot of attention last year after Navy “hackers” uncovered a cyber vulnerability during a planned security test. Industry and government officials say it has made progress since then, although they are still trying to drive down the cost.
Built using many commercial off-the-shelf software systems, ALIS enables daily operations of the F-35 fleet, including mission planning and flight scheduling to repairs and scheduled maintenance, as well as the tracking and ordering of parts.
Technicians use ruggedized portable computers instead of paper manuals to check all the plane’s systems, and far more rapidly repair any gaps in its radar-evading stealth coatings.