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F-35 Chief Cautious But Hopeful on F-35 Software

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This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

The F-35 program executive officer is "moderately confident" that the stealthy fighter’s prime contractor can deliver two iterations of software crucial to ending the development program on time, allowing for an F-35B operational debut as soon as 2015.

The so-called 2B and 3I software packages are expected for delivery in 2015 and 2016, respectively, USAF Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s airland panel April 24.

If provided on schedule, the U.S. Marine Corps plans to declare its first squadron operationally capable in 2015 with that 2B package, which has limited electronic warfare and weapons capability but provides a significant improvement over the AV-8B that the single-engine fighter will replace.

The 3I increment includes 2B capability but adds some hardware deemed necessary for international release of the capability for allies.

A bigger question, however, is whether Lockheed Martin will be able to deliver the 3F package, which includes significantly expanded weapons and electronic warfare abilities, as expected by the end of development in 2017. "There is some risk there," Bogdan said.

Once the 2B package has about six months of flight testing complete and a critical design review for the Block III F-35 is wrapped up by summer’s end, Bogdan says he will have a better idea of whether that critical 3F software package will be on track for delivery in 2017.

The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin have invested in improving the pace of software work on the program after earlier problems. Bogdan says those efforts are paying off. The basic coding is nearly complete, but there is "still a ways to go" in integrating the various pieces of the software, he says.

Of $337 million in remaining incentive fees for Lockheed Martin in the F-35 development through 2017, $237 million is tied to the company delivering the aircraft on time and within the remaining funds available to the program at the end of development, Bogdan says. "If [they] don’t meet that criteria, [they] will not earn a penny of that," he says.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates sidelined $614 million of available award fees in 2010 for the program owing to his disappointment over dismal progress at the time. Of that amount, $190 million was removed altogether for eligibility for Lockheed Martin.

Another $100 million up for grabs in development is divided as follows: $40 million for delivery of 2B software; $25 million for delivery of 3I software and $35M for delivery of 3F software.

Of $101 million up for grabs since Gates set aside the money, Lockheed has earned only $34 million based on incentive milestones, Bogdan said.

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