The Marine Corps has not been affected by a software glitch that left the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters with radar resets and other software stability issues, the Marines’ top aviator told the Senate last week.
The Marines are flying both an older 2B software version and the new 3I software, but the software problem resides in a 3I software update that the Marines never loaded, Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps for Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis told the Senate Armed Services seapower committee on April 20.
“The last iteration of the 3I software that we’ve had stability problems with – we didn’t load that. So we’re not having those problems in the Marine Corps right now,” Davis said.
“So we’re operating 2B, 3I, and we’re not having the radar resets and problems that they’ve seen with the latest software load. So we’re tracking, doing very well with that (earlier) software load and flying the airplane really well.”
The software stability problem primarily affects the radar, Commander of Naval Air Forces Command (NAVAIR) Vice Adm. Paul Grosklags said at the hearing, but because the F-35 is so integrated the glitch’s affect spans beyond the radar.
“We’re seeing system resets, system anomalies much more often than we could accept,” Grosklags said.
“So [Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher] Bogdan, the [JSF] program executive, took a step back, he chartered a red team to take a deep dive at some of these issues because he wanted to make sure that we nailed down the problems on 3I and not wait until 3F, which is the final fleet release for the Navy and for all the services once we get through operational test. We believe based on information and testing that’s been completed very recently and that’s continuing through the end of the month that the majority of the software stability issues have been resolved. We still have a few flights to verify that to ourselves, but we seem to be on a good path.”
Grosklags added that, while a pause in 3F software development to await the resolution of the 3I problems was a “prudent step” for Bogdan to take, the fielding of 3F software – set for 2017 – will be delayed by a few months. For the Marine Corps, the current 2B software is already sufficient to handle high-end threats while using stealth capability and internally carried weapons, Davis has told USNI News previously, but the 3F software will bring the ability to carry and fire weapons from external weapons pylons, among other upgrades included in the planned software package.
Davis said during the hearing that, despite problems elsewhere in the Joint Strike Fighter program, the Marines are having a good time fielding the plane and training new pilots. Current F-35B squadrons, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA-121) and training squadron VMFA-T 501, are hard at work, and the Marines will set up a second operational squadron, VMFA-211, in June.
“The popularity of the program – we’ve got a lot of captains and majors and lieutenants that are signing up to fly the airplane, and right now of all the Marine Corps flying assets that we have out there, the guys that are making their flight hours is the F-35 program,” he said, referencing a readiness shortfall plaguing other older Marine aviation platforms.
“So they’re tracking, they’re getting good training. In fact, the first three students are going through the [Weapons and Tactics Instructor] class in Yuma, Ariz., right now and bringing that fifth-generation capability to the Marine Air-Ground Task Force in a big way.”