back to article Easy-to-hack combat systems, years-old flaws and a massive bill – yup, that's America's F-35

The F-35 aircraft remains woefully unprepared against malware infections and other cyber-attacks, according to POGO – the respected non-profit watchdog Project on Government Oversight. Dubbed the most expensive weapon system in history, the beleaguered fighter jet is plagued with problems, including a lack of protection …


  1. IceC0ld

    Easy to hack ...................

    hopefully, we will have a fully developed software suite for when the F35 takes to the skies as a fully formed defender of the free ......................

    apparently it will be delivered to said airframe whilst airborne, by herds of flying pigs :oP

    got to admit, I hadn't thought about the inherent hackability of all things nowadays in relation to the armed forces, was kind of hopeful that as the beastie carries rather a large amount of ordinance at tremendous cost, that someone would have put in the hours to make it both servicable AND secure

    maybe we need to start genetically altering a few pigs ready for the future upgrades ...........................................

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: Easy to hack ...................

      The sad truth that everyone with so much invested here is trying hard not to recognise is, the entire genre of things called "fighter jets" is rapidly obsolescing.

      As the Gatwick episode showed so poignantly, drones are the new rulers of the sky - and fighters are basically powerless against them. What price "air supremacy", if you can't stop the major threat that comes that way?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Easy to hack ...................

        Who are those stakeholders though?

        For the defence firms a new arms race in drones is perfect because it exonerates them from having to maintain crumbling old tech and gives them high margin new stuff to hawk.

        Pilots will still have a job (but a much safer one) until or unless AI really gets scary.

        Politicians can bestow jobs and contracts while receiving a fresh round of pork in return, all in the name of maintaining military readiness.

        This story is individually embarrassing because the specific plane is markedly worse than its much less expensive counterparts. It’s actually a good thing for the stakeholders if the solution is ‘Jets are the past. We need to move on to drones.’

      2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: Easy to hack ...................

        drones are the new rulers of the sky - and fighters are basically powerless against them

        History called...

        "It’s always been thought that many of Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s ships were bigger than Octavian’s – and were therefore less manoeuvrable."

        1. Mage

          Re: Ships

          Octavia (later Augustus) won. The civil war was like Brexit. Invoked without a plan. They assassinated Julius because they wanted the old Republic and not an Emperor. They had no plan about the next stage. So Octavia won and as Augustus became the first real Emperor as Julius, while naming himself Caesar, didn't really become Emperor.

          Also: England vs Princess / Queen O'Malley. Grianne / Grace usually won. Very large galleys with sails, but English ships needed wind and to avoid inshore. Grainne sailed to Greenwich to visit Queen Elizabeth I in her galley. She got to go home too. Side Note: This was the reign when the idea of the British Empire was invented though the 1st successful American colony wasn't until a few years after her death. Also both ladies born and died about the same time. Elizabeth was the first ruler to consolidate control over Ireland. Grianne / Grace is usually called a Princess, but by Celtic traditions she was probably the last regional ruler (King / Queen = ri / rigan, the High King, the ard ri was never a ruler in the Scottish or English sense of a king).

          England vs Armada. Though English had standardised canon/shot and weather helped. Spaniards had too tall / large ships, too many sizes of canon.

          1. ragnar

            Re: Ships

            Octavian, by the way. Octavia was his sister.

            1. Mage

              Re: Ships

              Typo ... missed the key!

    2. VikiAi

      Re: Easy to hack ...................

      "got to admit, I hadn't thought about the inherent hackability of all things nowadays in relation to the armed forces"

      Neither did the armed forces or their contractors, it would seem! :-/

      Color me a luminescent shade of surprised and put me in the sun!

    3. Mark 85

      Re: Easy to hack ...................

      One would think that any thing inside the aircraft that communicates to the outside world would be encrypted with at minimum a max of 24 between key changes. Hell, we were doing that in Vietnam with comms, certain NAV systems and IFF. I've heard that GPS (US version) has encrypted channels so they can't be fiddled with. But, given the nature of design by committee, I can believe that someone left out the "encrypt" all external comms part.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Easy to hack ...................

        I have to say I don't think we should be sharing Intel with countries that have such insecure systems. They should be pressured into removing them from their core military infrastructure.

        We should also setup independent oversight to go through their code line by line looking for other security problems.....

      2. hoola Silver badge

        Re: Easy to hack ...................

        Nah, you ask too much, it is probably all over http and if they used https then the certificates on some obscure piece of code will expire and it will stop flying.

        What could possible go wrong.........

    4. macjules

      Re: Easy to hack ...................

      Never mind. By the time the F-35 enters UK service Capita will be in charge of maintenance. Since the aircraft will never actually leave the ground we won't worry too much about the software.

      1. SkippyBing

        Re: Easy to hack ...................

        'By the time the F-35 enters UK service'

        So 10 Jan this year then?

      2. HarryBl

        Re: Easy to hack ...................

        "Since the aircraft will never actually leave the ground "

        Does that exclude the 300 that have already been delivered as of June last year?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Easy to hack ...................


          For those with an impaired sense of humour, macjules comment was a joke.

          Does someone really have to explain irony to the Yanks, every single time?

          1. HarryBl

            Re: Easy to hack ...................

            I don't know. I'm British and it didn't sound like a joke to me. It just sounded like the usual uninformed bullshit that passes for fact round here.

            Perhaps you ought to read the results of this years Red Flag


            1. lostsomehwere

              Re: Easy to hack ...................

              That was a very interesting link that paints a very different picture

            2. macjules

              Re: Easy to hack ...................

              1) The comment was aimed at MoD/Capita and not at the excellent F-35.

              2) With a 20:1 kill ratio I expect by now that HM Treasury is already reassessing how many F-35's they can cull from the order against the total airworthiness of the Russian air force (and of course the French Force de Frappe).

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Easy to hack ...................


              It must me a pretty incredible aircraft considering that it was an " 'exponentially more challenging' Red Flag, according to the article you linked to.

              With claims like that, you know the rest of the conclusions are rock solid ;)

            4. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Easy to hack ...................


              That's why I said impaired sense of humour.

              And re:"It just sounded like the usual uninformed bullshit that passes for fact round here." Yet you carry on reading it regardless... You should pop over to the Daily Express or Daily Wail / Fail / Mail - you can get even more rubbish there.

    5. Muscleguy

      Re: Easy to hack ...................

      Well the cleanup of the pigs is in hand. CRISPR was recently used to disable on board viruses in the pig genome*. Which should mean no nasty surprises as the winged ones interface with the airframe ;-)

      *IRL to make it safer to use pig organs in organ transplants in humans. Worries over porcine endogenous retroviruses have inhibited such development.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Easy to hack ...................

      The F-35 is not only easy to hack, apparently, it's also a plane which simply isn't a effective as it should be against the new generation of Russian fighters and defence systems. India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others are realising that.

  2. Kev99 Silver badge

    I learned one reason why the F-35 is such a money pit. The three versions of the plane share about 25% of their parts. Everything else is unique to each version. I still think it would have been faster, cheaper and better to build one version for the navy and have the arresting gear on a modular package that could be added or removed as needed. Actually, during the War, the F4U Corsair was used by both the Navy & Marines. The Marines would often just remove the tail hooks.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The F35 is a perfect example of an airplane designed by committee, where "no" was never said to any suggestion on their wish list.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        I recently came across the movie "The Pentagon wars" covering the development of the Bradley fighting vehicle. I'm just not sure how much of it is actually fiction...

      2. Trollslayer

        Something to consider - easier to get spares when you are thousands of miles from home.

    2. Mark 85

      Well... they wanted one airplane that does everything. They got it on paper as "F-35". What they needed was 3 different airplanes do to the operational constraints. DoD really seems to be run by muppets. I'm happy got away from the defense industry when I did several decades ago.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge


        "DoD really seems to be run by muppets."

        Now you are really insulting to muppets.

      2. dajames

        DoD really seems to be run by muppets.

        If "muppet" is the word for someone who works to transfer tax dollars to private defense contractors in whose business they have a vested interest then I think you've nailed it!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The Navy used Grumman F6F Hellcats far more than the F4U because the latter had gear issues on deck landings (IIRC was too stiff or something alike). Anyway, the F4U was designed for Navy needs too. Still both types were never used by the Army that preferred P-38. P-40, P-47 and P-51. The Navy preferred radial engines because they could bring you back with more damages, especially since they weren't liquid cooled - even if the plane aerodynamics was less efficient.

      The only fighter/bomber plane that was used by Navy, Marines and Air Force, and wasn't a dud - was the F-4 Phantom. But it was designed for the Navy and without attempting to be a "cheap" alternative to a more expensive plane. Air Force had to use it when it discovered that its F-104, 105 and 106 weren't up to the task.

      Anyway a naval plane has different needs - not only the hook - it needs sea corrosion-resistant materials, a gear able to sustain deck landings, etc. - which may increase costs and/or weight.

      The F-35 tries to be too many airplanes in a single one - and that's very difficult to achieve, and many "cost savings ideas" usually are found to be not realizable as soon as the plane is built.

      1. SkippyBing

        F4U also had the slight issue that the pilot was so far from the nose you couldn't see the carrier on finals. The RN actually took it to sea before the USN as a) they were desperate for modern fighters and b) they'd already mastered the curved final approach with the Seafire as that had the same problem.

        The USAF did also use the originally designed for the USN A-7 Corsair, although the USMC didn't going for the Harrier instead. In the UK the RN and RAF both used the Buccaneer, Harrier, Phantom, and Venom.

      2. Sanguma

        Rule seems to be

        you design for one thing primarily - air-superiority with Spitfire, Corsair, FW-190, Mustang, Zero, bombing with Ju-88, Mosquito etc - and if you have excess power left over, you use the airframe for other jobs.

        You can't get a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and designing an airframe to do two things equally well, just doesn't work - designing an airframe's a work of compromise anyway, and sacrificing performance at any point is going to cost heaps.

  3. KBeee

    My God!

    Have these people learned NOTHING from the documentary "Independance Day"?

    1. jonathan keith

      Or, indeed, from the television documentary series "Battlestar Galactica"? *

      * The later version - there's conclusive proof that much of the footage used in the earlier, discredited series was faked.

    2. TimeMaster T

      Battlestar Gallactica

      I would think the reboot of BSG would be a better cautionary tail to point at.

      Pretty much the entire Colonial fleet gets wiped out because all the high tech networked and interconnected flight systems on just about every military craft from Battlestars to recon ships gets remotely hacked and shutdown by the Cylons. Then nuked while floating dead in space.

  4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    A sporting chance

    The f-35 was widely ridiculed as being a supersonic super advanced air superiority fighter necessary to take on th air aces of America's enemies, ISIS, Al Queda, the next muslim country that discovers oil and any south American country that doesn't import enough F150s.

    By allowing these supersonic-fighter-poor but hacker-rich enemies a way to hit back they are just giving them a fair do - well played America

    1. Mark 85

      Re: A sporting chance

      It's also hailed as being a "one plane does it all". Well maybe it does but doing any one thing well is the problem. The lessons learned in WWI and WWII about aircraft and mission types has been forgotten.

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

        Re: A sporting chance

        It runs on the XINU principle - do everything and all of it badly.

        1. Joe W Silver badge

          Re: A sporting chance


          Have one of these - - - >

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A sporting chance

        Don't forget Korea and Vietnam...

      3. SkippyBing

        Re: A sporting chance

        'The lessons learned in WWI and WWII about aircraft and mission types has been forgotten.'

        On the flip side since then there have been many successful aircraft that combined the fighter and bomber roles. E.g. F-4, F/A-18, F-14 (once they remembered the software was in there), F-16 etc.

        Plus there were several aircraft in WW2 that performed fighter and bomber roles, e.g. the F4U and F6F, hell even the Seafire could dabble in bombing and reconnaissance.

  5. Lexeus

    Talk about double standards.....

    In the past Army systems were wide open to attack..... if you could connect to them. No one cared.

    Nowadays they are being judged by a new generation of internet security standards with an assumption that they will default to the most secure system design possible.

    Given that one of the main advances in the F35 is it's networked capabilities, this is just impossible. Only systems such as those used in nuclear reactors are truly ultra secure, rightfully so..... achieved by not have an external network connection, an air-gap, and even then there have been reports of USB sticks being plugged in on computers and infecting networks, that's how israel apparently got iran's uranium purification out of action.

    What use is a secure fighter jet if they haven't even made it work right yet? Get your priorities right.

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: What use is a secure fighter jet if they haven't even made it work right yet?

      You know it's possible to design for and build both at the same time, right?

      In fact, to get the thing working right they have to be done simultaneously. Can't really bolt security on afterward. Well you could, but it usually ends up a half-arsed clusterfuck.

      1. hoola Silver badge

        Re: What use is a secure fighter jet if they haven't even made it work right yet?

        Surely it is not a difficult concept to air-gap an aeroplane!

        1. dajames

          Re: What use is a secure fighter jet if they haven't even made it work right yet?

          Surely it is not a difficult concept to air-gap an aeroplane!

          You'd think ... thing is, though, it seems to be a USP of the F35 that it is NOT air-gapped.

      2. EnviableOne

        Re: What use is a secure fighter jet if they haven't even made it work right yet?

        Security By Design and Default, makes everyone better

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: What use is a secure fighter jet if they haven't even made it work right yet?

          "Security By Design and Default"

          I am pretty sure it is better than security by Dassault ;)

  6. steviebuk Silver badge

    Makes me think of...

    ...The Pentagon Wars. In fact it seems exactly the same.

  7. Kabukiwookie

    Sunken cost fallacy

    And nobody's backing down and wants to call this flying gilded death trap a failure. Hey, it's only tax money.

    At least someone will be able to buy their second or third yacht, so some of that tax money may still eventually trickle down.

    1. DCFusor

      Re: Sunken cost fallacy

      Everyone seems almost deliberately arguing things that while true, utterly miss the point.

      It's a jobs program for the MIC. It's pork to hand out for congressmen. Nothing else matters, it doesn't need to work or be on time - that would reduce the effectiveness of the original purpose.

      It took quite a fight to force the AF to keep the A-10 - whose pilots never have to buy their own drinks if ground pounders are around. For a reason - low and slow lets them hit the bad guys and not the good guys.

      Even if it worked, the F35 would suck at close air support - a mission the AF hates to admit is required, as they hate to admit they alone can't win conflicts. Those other missions they think they have for it are better done with other airframes already.

      There is no point in stealth if you have to go low and slow to ID the target. It's not invisible at that point. All it can do is deliver limited ordnance and run away fast. Running away - now that's what the AF wants! Along with too much money, of course.

      That would be if it worked. But see above - no one wants that except a few foreign customers duped into the program.


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