Wednesday, March 20, 2013

F-35: GAO reports on software development

Software is the key to many of the advanced capabilities that the F-35 brings to the force.  A careful read of the GAO's report puts blame for its delays on both DoD and the contractor, Lockheed Martin:
The F-35 software development effort is one of the largest and most complex in DOD history. It is essential to achieve capabilities such as sensor fusion, weapons and fire control, maintenance diagnostics, and propulsion. Recent management actions to refocus software development activities and to implement improvement initiatives appear to be yielding benefits, but software will continue to be a very challenging and high risk undertaking for this program, especially for mission systems. Over time, software requirements have grown in size and complexity and the contractor has taken more time and effort than expected to write computer code, integrate it on aircraft and subsystems, conduct lab and flight tests to verify it works, and to correct defects found in testing.
The emphasized line is the key to much of the delay.  "Requirements have grown".  Those increased requirements then have to be implemented via coding of software.  And that means size, complexity and integration issues.  New requirements then have to be tested and integrated, defects identified and corrections made.  It is then back to testing and integration.  At some point, someone on the DoD side has to say, "no more" and refuse any new requirements being added.  It appears that's now the case.

The GAO recommended, in 2011, that certain steps be taken to speed up the development of the F-35's software.  These included:
- starting up and operating a second system integration lab, adding substantial testing and development capability;
- prioritizing and focusing resources on the next block of software and decreasing concurrent work on multiple blocks;
- implementing improvement initiatives recommended by an independent software review; and
- evaluating the possible deferral of some capabilities, either to later blocks or moving them outside the current F-35 program to follow on development efforts.
The GAO notes that their recommendations were put into action with positive results.  For instance:
[P]rogram officials reported that the time span to fix defects has decreased from180 days to 55 days, allowing the program to keep better pace even though the number of defects has increased. In addition, the time taken to build and release software to testing has decreased from 187 hours to 30 hours due to new automated processes. Contractor officials currently plan to broaden the assessment’s initiatives to other software development efforts, including logistics and training.
So, bottom line, we should see an improvement in the speed of software development.  And while the GAO calls recent management actions "positive and encouraging", it notes that there are still challenges ahead:
These recent management actions are positive and encouraging, but overall, software development activities in 2012 lagged behind plans. Most software code has been developed, but a substantial amount of integration and test work remains before the program can demonstrate full warfighting capability. Software capabilities are developed, tested and delivered in three major blocks and two increments—initial and final— within each block
 The status of the three blocks, as reported by the GAO report, is as follows:
- Block 1.0, providing initial training capability, was largely completed in 2012, although some final development and testing will continue. Also, the capability delivered did not fully meet expected requirements relating to the helmet, ALIS, and instrument landing capabilities.
- Block 2.0, providing initial warfighting capabilities and limited weapons, fell behind due to integration challenges and the reallocation of resources to fix block 1.0 defects. The initial increment, block 2A, delivered late and was incomplete. Full release of the final increment, block 2B, has been delayed until November 2013 and won’t be complete until late 2015. The Marine Corps is requiring an operational flight clearance from the Naval Air Systems Command before it can declare an initial operational capability (IOC) for its F- 35B force. IOC is the target date each service establishes for fielding an initial combat capable force.
- Block 3.0 providing full warfighting capability, to include sensor fusion and additional weapons, is the capability required by the Navy and Air Force for declaring their respective IOC dates. Thus far, the program has made little progress on block 3.0 software. The program intends initial block 3.0 to enter flight test in 2013, which will be conducted concurrently with the final 15 months of block 2B flight tests. Delivery of final block 3.0 capability is intended to begin nearly 3 years of developmental flight tests in 2014. This is rated as one of the program’s highest risks because of its complexity.
To review, Block 1.0 still has some tweeks to be made to fully meet expected requirements concerning the helmet, ALIS and IFR requirements, but is otherwise done.

Block 2.0 is scheduled to be delivered in full in late 2015 (it provides the "initial warfighting capabilites".

Block 3.0, the full up warfighting capabilities including sensor fusion, etc, is still in development and the GAO, at least, is reporting "little progress" at this point.  However, the delivery date of 2018 remains the target. 

So, as mentioned, much works remains ahead in the area of software, and delays in its development have and are having an effect on the testing schedules of the program.  GAO concludes:
In particular, the development and testing of software-intensive mission systems are lagging, with the most challenging work ahead. About 12 percent of mission systems capabilities are validated at this time, up from 4 percent about 1 year ago. Progress on mission systems was limited by contractor delays in software delivery, limited capability in the software when delivered, and the need to fix problems and retest multiple software versions. Further development and integration of the most complex elements—sensor fusion and helmet mounted display—lie ahead. Sensor fusion integrates data from critical subsystems and displays the information to the pilot. Figure 2 depicts the percentage of sensor fusion work associated with each software block [ed. - the figure shows 36% with Block 1.0, 22% with Block 2A, 25% with Block 2B and 17% with Block 3). About 36 percent of the sensor fusion work was completed in software block 1. Final verification and closure of remaining fusion requirements through block 3 will not be completed until 2016.
Blocks 2A and 2B is where the majority of the integration will take place, and that's in  development and testing now.  Delivery date remains "late 2015".  As the GAO notes, the "most challenging work" on software lies ahead.  Program management changes have helped speed up development, testing and error correction, but it remains an extraordinarily complex and ambitious undertaking.

I think it is fair to conclude that this is where the action is in the next few years and it is here where the program stands its biggest chance of seeing more delays.  Building on the improvements that have been implemented, freezing any new requirements and adding what resources are necessary to maintain the current projected schedule are ways DoD and the contractor can avoid costly delays. 

The software is the heart and soul of the F-35's capabilities suite.  The hardware is mostly an engineering challenge.  We'll cover one of those challenges tomorrow as we talk about the F-35's helmet.



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