The F-35 program, the most expensive weapons system ever, has hit another delay. It won’t move to full-rate production until next year. Valerie Insinna, Air Warfare Reporter for Defense News, spoke on “Government Matters” about this delay as well as a change to the software that controls the airplane.
Insinna explained that while low-rate production refers to when a company is still learning how to manufacture something and training their workforce, full-rate production occurs when the program has matured and the company will start to make money. “It’s a big kind of symbolic milestone for Lockheed,” she said.
In order for the Defense Department to decide whether or not to move the program to full-rate production, the F-35 has to finish operational tests, explained Insinna. The F-35 needs to go through tests in a Joint Simulation Environment (JSE), in which the plane takes on advanced threats that cannot be emulated in the real world.
Insinna said COVID-19 may be contributing to the delays to the JSE test schedule. The F-35 testing in the JSE was supposed to happen this year but now is not going to start until sometime next year. “A lot of bases that are doing operational tests right now, they had to kind of roll back the number of people that were going into work. A lot of the work on the JSE – I would think pretty much all of it – is going to be classified, so you really need people in work on those classified computers … in order to do that work,” Insinna stated.
Insinna also discussed the replacement of the problematic Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) with a program called the Operational Data Integrated Network, or ODIN. ALIS, which is used for tasks including training, mission planning and the supply chain and maintenance of the F-35 aircraft, is “based on very old technology from the early 2000s – so think of it more like a dial-up modem or … your old school AOL,” she said.
ODIN is a modern, cloud-based program that will be a lot faster to use, Insinna explained, and that could mark a turning point. “I think it’s going to make it easier to maintain the plane; it’s going to make it easier to collect data on the plane that will allow the Defense Department to use it more efficiently and effectively … planes are going to be more mission-capable.”