Wednesday, September 19, 2012

F-35: How the Pentagon and Its Partners are Pushing Technology and Their Purse

Foreign Policy published a recent article about the emergence of the Pentagon's latest fighter jet, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), and we are able to get a glimpse at the largest weapons purchase in the Pentagon's history and the inherent obstacles within this project.

The F-35 jet is the latest in the JSF series with an expected price tag (life long, maintenance and fuel) of more than $1.5 trillion. Why is this JSF so expensive? Well, the F-35 is packing the most high tech software to ever be installed in a JSF (more than 10 million lines of software code), a complex maintenance system to protect classified information called ALIS (Automatic Logistics Information System), a helmet that displays all of the jet's vital flight and combat information on its visor and night vision capability, and possibly other features not mentioned in the FP article. Overall, the F-35 is a behemoth because the software partners, the international developers and partners, and the US Defense Department officials all add layers of complexity to the project's software and oversight.

The complexity and difficulty of the F-35 bogs down the actual implementation of JSF because problems arise: 1.) the helmet's software designed by Vision Systems International doesn't display information correctly, 2.) ALIS's sensitive information is vulnerable to hacking because it lacks proper security software, and 3.) the contract negotiations are dragged on by Lockheed Martin, JPO, and stakeholders, thus, exacerbating the program's execution and cost, according to JSF program manager Air Force Maj. Gen. Christopher Bogdan.

Though there is no clear cut solution, Maj. Gen. Bogdan will not ask (Congress) for additional funds and time. The F-35 project's immense obstacles will only dissipate with greater efficiency in almost every aspect of its production, as ambiguously stated by the general.

Questions for the class: is the price tag of the F-35 justified for its approximate lifespan of 20-25 years, how can the Pentagon be more efficient with its JSF research/development/production, and what other military investment options would ensure the US's air superiority and strategic effectiveness?

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