The F-35’s infamously troublesome onboard computer suite will be getting completely replaced in the next two years, a top Pentagon official said on Tuesday.
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II, better known as the Joint Strike Fighter, is no stranger to failures and faulty designs. It’s limited by the weather and even in speed, it’s had one faulty device after another, and missiles specially designed for the airplane can’t fit inside its internal weapons bays. For many Pentagon strategists, the F-35’s wide array of sensors and its hefty computer were its saving grace.
That platform, the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), is a serious number-cruncher. It handles some 65 tasks including mission planning and flight scheduling; it processes the colossal amount of information being collected by the F-35’s many antennae; it schedules repairs and maintenance on different parts of the aircraft as they wear – it’s even capable of placing automatic orders for parts!
However, the ALIS has not escaped the plagues of problems faced by other F-35 systems. According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in November 2019, one Air Force squadron spent 45,000 hours per year “performing additional tasks and manual workarounds because ALIS was not functioning as needed.”
Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord said on Tuesday that Lockheed would be replacing ALIS completely with a new system, the Operational Data Integrated Network (ODIN), streamlined for efficiency and “with the voice of the maintainer and the pilots at the forefront of the requirements list,” Reuters reported. “We have heard our maintainers on the flight lines loud and clear.”
Lord said that the new system would be based in the cloud and that all F-35s not deployed on ships will have received the upgrade by the end of 2022.
The Israeli Air Force has likewise imported its own Command, Control, Communications and Computing (C4) system on top of Lockheed’s, in part due to ALIS’ unreliability but also because of the idiosyncratic needs of the IAF compared to other forces using F-35s. The IAF operates its own version of the jet, the F-35I “Adir.”