F-35’s Buggy Software Prompts Pentagon to Call in Universities

The Pentagon has tapped the software expertise of three top U.S. universities to assess what still must be done to fix balky software on Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35, the costliest U.S. weapons system.

An independent technical assessment is being executed by software subject matter experts from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, the Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute, and the Georgia Tech Research Institute, according to F-35 program spokeswoman Laura Seal.

The F-35 is a flying computer. Each of the fighter jets made by Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed will have more than 8 million lines of code, more than any previous U.S. or allied fighter, and software flaws have bedeviled the $398 billion program.

F-35’s Buggy Software Prompts Pentagon to Call in Universities

After “analyzing a broad range of information,” including the assessment from the university experts, the Defense Department’s F-35 program office plans to report new dates for program milestones by the end of this month, Seal said in an email.

That will include a date to start crucial, and repeatedly delayed, combat testing in a highly sophisticated simulator to evaluate how the F-35 -- and future aircraft and electronic warfare systems -- would perform against the most advanced Russian and Chinese aircraft and air defenses.

It will probably be months into President Joe Biden’s administration before his Pentagon team has all the information needed to decide on full-rate production, the most lucrative phase for Lockheed.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is likely to recuse himself from any F-35 decisions because he had served on the board of F-35 engine maker United Technologies Corp. since 2016 and then Raytheon Technologies Corp. for about nine months after the two merged last year. He has left that position.

The Pentagon’s annual F-35 Selected Acquistion Report says the U.S. estimates it will spend $66.4 billion on the F-35’s engine program.

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