The system includes a giant server based at Lockheed’s Fort Worth, Texas facility, where the jets are built; one separate gateway system for each country that uses the F-35; and individual computer units for each squadron of planes.
Military officials have pressed for a more “deployable” version of those individual computer units since the new planes will eventually be used on a variety of Navy ships and at other locations around the world, where space is limited.
Mark Perreault, Lockheed program manager for the F-35 ALIS system, declined to give the overall value of the contract being negotiated with the Pentagon, but said each of the new standard operating units (SOU) would be far cheaper.
“The projected overall acquisition cost of an SOU is going to be greater than 40 percent reduced,” Perreault told Reuters in an interview near the Pentagon.
The new operating units will weigh just 1,000 pounds (455kg), about half of what they weigh now, and each will be broken down into smaller, more portable components. Eventually more than 150 such systems will be purchased, mostly at the new lower price.
The Pentagon’s F-35 program office had no comment on the discussions with Lockheed. It said the portable version of ALIS must be affordable and meet the military’s needs.
Tom Curry, another key Lockheed official on the ALIS program, said that while the ALIS system was not perfect Lockheed was making good progress in maturing the system. He said the company had developed a preliminary way of safeguarding security through an “air gap” that requires personnel to manually transfer data between the classified and unclassified systems.
The fix, called a “sneaker patch” by the Marines, takes up to 45 minutes now for each F-35 flight, but that will be cut to a few minutes in an updated version of ALIS planned for delivery in the summer of 2014, according to Lockheed officials. They said additional security changes will be phased in over time.
The ALIS system is already used to operate and maintain F-35s at eight locations, including Edwards Air Force Base in California and the Marine Corps air station in Yuma, Arizona, which will receive the first of the newer more portable units.