Saturday, February 12, 2011

It takes forever.

The new F35 fighter has been nine years in development. Aviation Week estimates that they have 6 more years of testing to go. So far 600 test flights have been accomplished. Over the next 6 years 7800 more test flights will be flown. That's a helova lotta test flights. My old Air Force fighter squadron (20 aircraft) only flew 3000 sorties a year.
A lot of this test flying is for the airplane's software. F35 has 8 million lines of code integrated and flying, and another 4 million lines to go. Software is released in blocks. Block 0.35 is flying and only provides basic "aviate and navigate" functions. Block 1 (which requires a hardware upgrade) does "sensor fusion" what ever that might be. Block 2 integrates weapons and datalinks, Block 3 is the final release. Sounds like we don't have a real fighter until block 2. Not much use to a fighter that can't launch weapons.

You have to wonder how much of this software is really necessary. For instance the Air Force was happy with the quality of the synthetic aperture radar maps returned from test flights. Mapping is not a core mission of fighters, we have recon aircraft and satellites to do that. Expensive fighters ought to be used go gain air superiority (shoot down enemy fighters).
By the time all the testing is finished and the F35 can go into mass production and squadron service the damn thing will be obsolete.


DCE said...

The F35 is a very sophisticated weapons platform, more complex than the F16 (the first 'electric jet', meaning computer controlled fly-by-wire controls). Considering it's taking on the functions of the F15, F16, F/A-18, and AV8-B Harrier, I would expect it to take longer to test out and move to operational status. The software is always a concern because a single bug in just the wrong place can make the F35 a very expensive lawn ornament. Software has to be tested to a level unheard of in the regular software world. It has to be fault-tolerant and bug free. (If Windows was tested to this level and as fault tolerant as the F35 software it would never fail, ever.)

I'd rather have them prove and test the software under every conceivable condition to make sure it works exactly as it's supposed to before rolling it out to the troops.

Dstarr said...

I'd rather have a simplier less software intensive aircraft. My Air Force experience was with the F-106 (with MA-1 the first airborne digital firecontrol) and the F105, which had zero software content. The primitive vacuum tube and drum memory computer on the F-106 had it's quirks, but when it failed, the plane still flew. Might not launch missiles, but as long as the pilot had his hands on the stick and the throttle, the plane flew just fine.
The F-105 was even more primitive, no digital computers at all. But it's ECM was good enough to penetrate North Viet Namese air defenses and it's mechanical analog toss bomb computer was good enough to hit one lane bridges.
I'm wondering what all those 8 million lines of code are doing, that really needs doing.
And, I surely hope the damn thing will stay in the air after the computer running all those millions of lines of code takes a hit.