But Lockheed’s complex maintenance and support system for the F-35, known as ALIS, or Autonomic Logistics Information System, is under attack on another front, too.
The Pentagon is talking to Lockheed competitors this week about running that system and others needed to operate and maintain the new plane, in an effort to rein in F-35 maintenance costs estimated at up to $1.1 trillion over the next 50 years.
If the Pentagon ousted Lockheed from running the system it built, the defense giant could lose billions in anticipated revenue. With a price tag in the billions of dollars, ALIS is large enough to be considered a major weapons program on its own.
Lockheed is trying hard to hold on. It says it has fixed the ALIS problems the Navy found and has its own cyber experts checking its own networks and any issues involving suppliers.
Defense consultant Robbin Laird downplayed concerns about ALIS performance or security in general, saying that all modern weapons systems rely on computer networks and improve over time. He said the benefits of the automated logistics systems would pay off in huge savings over time.
Still, the Pentagon will meet this week with more than 160 companies interested in competing with Lockheed on ALIS and other aspects of sustainment.
Joe DellaVedova, Pentagon spokesman for the F-35, said so many companies responded to the government’s invitation to a two-day forum on procurement opportunities that a third day was added. The goal, he said, was to inject competition into the F-35 program to reduce its “life-cycle costs.”
The F-35 program has been restructured three times in recent years, in part to try to cut costs. Earlier this year the Pentagon said “no more money” would be put toward cost overruns and the military would buy fewer planes if costs rose.
The Defense Department also is bracing for sequestration, a process that would cut the military’s budget by $50 billion a year over a decade, on top of more than $50 billion in annual cuts already on the books.
Lockheed executives plan to attend the Pentagon meetings this week and say the company uses competition to choose among suppliers on the program. Its in-house work only accounts for about 30 percent of the total cost of the plane, Lockheed says.