back to article Flying blind: F-35's radar software fails in the air

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has run into yet another software bug, according to a report in IHS Jane's Defense Weekly. The glitch is in the software that operates the fighter's radar. During flight, Jane's reckons, the radar software becomes unstable. The report quotes US Air Force Major General Jeffrey Harrigian as saying …

  1. JeffyPoooh

    All that formal process (DO-178,etc.), but still a serious bug slips thru...

    And now, because of all that, it takes over a month to issue a patch.

    How about this?

    SW QA: "You must follow the process before issuing the fix."

    SW Lead: "Your process failed. It's been suspended for two months."

    1. Yag

      Re: All that formal process (DO-178,etc.), but still a serious bug slips thru...

      You forgot the last line :

      FAA/EASA/... : "Certification denied."

      I guess you misunderstand the aim of the DO-178B/C process. It only ensure that the software is fully compliant with its specification.

      This lead to one very annoying side effects : if a given case is not specified, then it won't be tested, mostly because there's no expected behaviour to check.

      Just for the sake of the argument, what kind of process would you recommand?

      1. TheOtherHobbes

        Re: All that formal process (DO-178,etc.), but still a serious bug slips thru...

        I suppose "Doesn't crash in mid-air" wasn't considered a possible use case.

        1. Yag

          Re: All that formal process (DO-178,etc.), but still a serious bug slips thru...

          Would be rejected as "not testable". This is too broad of a requirement...

          "Any unexpected interruption shall be caught and logged in BITE if possible. Once the default is logged, the system shall be restarted." would be testable and cover a lot of cases.

          Can't remember the last time I've seen such a requirement, unfortunately...

  2. elDog

    Oh, piffle. There's nothing here that a few $100M can't solve.

    Only this will be over and over. Eventually the Federal Reserve will run out of ink.

  3. Number6

    Perhaps it's afraid of heights?

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Heh. A look-down radar with vertigo.

  4. Old Handle

    "What would happen is they'd get a signal that says either a radar degrade or a radar fail – something that would force us to restart the radar”

    Even in advanced military systems, standard tech support advice remains the same, I take it.

    1. Chairo

      Perhaps they can just use Crtl+Alt+Del? Or is there a reset button, apart from the lever marked "eject"?

      1. Roger Greenwood

        I like to think that the pilots all carry a paper clip to be unfolded in an emergency.

        1. PNGuinn

          " I like to think that the pilots all carry a paper clip to be unfolded in an emergency."

          If this is/was "Windoze for Warplainz" ....

          That would be Clippy.

          "you seem to be trying to find your way back to the airfield ... do you need some help with that / crash the plane ...."

        2. Triggerfish

          "It looks like you are trying to do a low level incursion at 700mph, would you like some help with that?"

          # "Yes, please switch the bloody radar back on"

          # "No it's fine I can hit the mountain on my own."

        3. Pedigree-Pete


          Mine is already unfolded because emergencies tend to happen rather quickly...

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Also cause a Foreign Object Damage hazard

          I flew F-4 Phantoms for 8 years, before working as a software engineer for Lockheed Martin. I can just see the pilot going to zero gee for a quick roll, and then the paperclip floats out of her pocket. (I suppose that I must assume a female pilot, plus it is fun to blame them). Then the paper clip causes an electronic short circuit, or a plastic paper clip jams your ejection mechanism. That used to happen all the time with pencils.

          1. Eltonga

            Re: Also cause a Foreign Object Damage hazard

            In that case, you have run out of options to restart the radar. If there is a bible on board specifically for this kind of oopsies or the pilot happens to have some prayer written down, that would be the right moment to put it in use.

          2. Vic

            Re: Also cause a Foreign Object Damage hazard

            I flew F-4 Phantoms for 8 years



      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        It displays the message 'game over - please insert a coin'.

      3. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: reset button

        Well, there is some sort of reset button, kinda. It's in the cockpit of the other plane, marked 'Fire'.

  5. Kev99 Silver badge

    What a waste

    EMI, bugs, security, and who knows what else and they haven't tested a a single bit against any of them. Plus, it's a POS airplane that isn't doing what Lockheed promised. Why three versions instead of just one was also idiotic.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: What a waste

      Next step: testing will show that cybersecurity is slightly worse than on the average IoT device.

    2. Tank boy

      Re: What a waste

      The the three versions are one for the Air Force (super sonic/stealth capabilities), one for the Navy (they have to be able to perform carrier landings, enforced landing gear and airframe), one for the Marines (to give it S/VTOL capabilities, they are mightily angry about being forced to give up their Harriers).. All in all, the plane is a dud. It's already cost a trillion and change just to get to where they are now, with more good money to be chased after bad. Time to scrap the project, sue the company that sold the US this bill of goods, look into better more inexpensive and more agile airframe that could be brought up to production in a year. From drawboard to production in a year. Add the bells and whistles when it's in the air.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What a waste

        Time to scrap the project, sue the company that sold the US this bill of goods,

        Why sue Lockheed? They are merely trying to meet the specification of pleasing all of the people all of the time. With a very, very few exceptions, multi-role combat aircraft have never realised their potential, but despite the long history of expensive failure the US DOD thought they'd have another go.

        You can certainly build better, simpler, cheaper, airworthy role-specific airframes, But in a year? Ignoring the multi-nation and multi-role fiascos, the excellent Rafale and Gripen fighters still took about twenty years or so from inception to full service.

  6. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Nuke it....

    The plane or planes, the contractor, the government people involved in buying this, etc. Just nuke it. What a POS it's been from the start.

    1. PNGuinn

      Re: Nuke it....

      Relax - it's just a cheap 'merican copy of europe's own shiny POS.

      Show the hardware some pity - Nuke the fat cat suppliers. On both sides.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What are they trying to achieve here? Worst/Most-Expensive IT Fail Ever?

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Hmm... I would provide a benchmark against which every other failed project would look, well maybe not exactly good, but somewhat better...

      "Yes, I know, things worked out suboptimal, but hey - at least it's not a desaster like the F-35, right?"

    2. skeptical i

      "What are they trying to achieve here?"

      Ladling a little military-industrial gravy over as many Congressional districts as possible, from what I've observed. Keeps Congresscritters from killing this boondoggle, the fear of having to tell constituents that no, they don't get to make that handful of obscure aircraft innards anymore. Clever bastards, I'll give them that.

    3. Tank boy

      Jack, that's not a failure, it's a feature.

    4. Eltonga
      Black Helicopters

      Mnope. They just got who to blame on every single failure the plane will have in the future, from flat tires to weapon carrying capabilities. "yet another software bug".

  8. Spamfast

    Failure is not an option

    It doesn't matter how many cock-ups, overruns, over-costs, and reductions in capability a government defence contract delivers (*) it will always be heralded as a great success and the future of warfare.

    The politicians, senior defence department/ministry civil servants and military personnel who are involved in the commission have too much to lose to do anything else. First they would lose face and second they would lose some of their kick-backs, sorry, non-exec directorships, fact-finding trips, etc.

    (*) Multi-billion pound aircraft carriers with no fixed-wing aircraft, anyone? Upgradable? Of course - just double the current price.

    1. BlackDuke07

      Re: Failure is not an option

      If I was a F-35 pilot, I would have only one message to Lockheed-Martin

      "Your cock-up... my arse!"

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Failure is not an option @ BlackDuke07

        You may want to proof read that mate.

        Or maybe not, not judging like, just saying.....

        1. BlackDuke07

          Re: Failure is not an option @ BlackDuke07

          It's a line from an old comedy show in the UK... The Thin Blue Line. I couldn't stop myself from using it.

      2. Blank-Reg
        Thumb Up

        Re: Failure is not an option

        Upvote up for channeling Inspector Grim

    2. Vic

      Re: Failure is not an option

      For this aircraft, it's absolutely true. Failure is not an option.

      It comes fitted as standard.


  9. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "can't check engine and airframe maintenance data from government networks"

    Well, given the sorry security state of government networks, I'd take that as a plus for cybersecurity.

    It's probably the only one, and they want to fix that.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: "can't check engine and airframe maintenance data from government networks"

      No problem. They can always just ask PLA Unit Whatsitsnumber for a copy.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: "can't check engine and airframe maintenance data from government networks"

      "Well, given the sorry security state of government networks, I'd take that as a plus for cybersecurity."

      I think you misunderstand. The US military are the ONLY ones who can't get the data from Lockheed Martin.

  10. MrT

    Nothing to worry about...'s just a level of stealth that means the plane can't be tracked by looking for its own RADAR emissions.

    Call it a gift.


    Your forward-thinking Lockheed Martin development team.


    1. DropBear

      Re: Nothing to worry about...

      Oh, I know what happened - they used a router chip that had that FCC requirement about "mandatory back-off when radar emissions are detected' built-in didn't they...

      1. MrT

        Re: Nothing to worry about...

        Just some old stock they had lying around.

        A bit like a reverse of Small Soldiers, y'know, where someone puts military-grade chips into a range of toys...

  11. M7S

    Given that all the best and brightest minds in IT are working on this

    and its just one aeroplane, it doesn't fill me with total confidence that autonomous (ground) vehicles with the multiplicity of suppliers, differing traffic regulations etc will go quite so smoothly

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: Given that all the best and brightest minds in IT are working on this

      I doubt that the best and brightest are working on this. Even if they wanted to work for a large, bureaucratic organisation rather than a silicon valley start-up they'd still have to pass security vetting.

      1. Yag

        Re: Given that all the best and brightest minds in IT are working on this

        Spot on. The best and brightest does not usually works in critical embedded system.

        The issue is not really on the security vetting however...

        Industry is far from being as sexy and interesting as Google's pet projects, and does not pay as well as the banking and financial sectors.

        However, in this case, there's a quite known name involved :

  12. AndysWings

    Retired Military Pilot

    As I have said from the very beginning, the F-35 is a gold-plated piece of dog crap. The only thing Lockheed-Martin has successfully produced is the most masterful marketing program in military history. They could sell ice cubes to Eskimos--except the cubes would melt before being delivered "because of a deficiency in the water component and the interface between hydrogen and oxygen, which will be corrected with the next software release, sometime next year... or the year after."

    1. Vic

      Re: Retired Military Pilot

      the F-35 is a gold-plated piece of dog crap.

      No, that's completely untrue.

      It's iron pyrite...


  13. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Down


    ... the People who brought you the F104 Flying Coffin Starfighter...

    1. GitMeMyShootinIrons

      Re: Lockheed-Martin...

      And the associated bribery and conniving to flog it to other countries. Bad enough that it was a key factor that resulted in the US Foreign Corrupt Practices act. Makes you wonder what a desperate project might do behind closed doors these days.

    2. Florida1920

      Re: Lockheed-Martin...

      ... the People who brought you the F104 Flying Coffin Starfighter...

      But also the C-130, A-10, C-141, U2, SR-71, C-5, F-16, and F-117, to name a few successes. Guess they're entitled to fall down once in a while.

      1. Tank boy

        Re: Lockheed-Martin...

        The A-10 was Fairchild Republic.

      2. AJ MacLeod

        Re: Lockheed-Martin...

        The F-16 was produced by General Dynamics...

  14. Dave Ross

    This truly gives the lie to the program I watched recently about the UK super aircraft carriers which praised the F-35 to the skies (somewhere it hasn't been very good at getting so far).

  15. Velv

    Harking back to the old nomenclature of Rainbow codes in military technology it's good that they've been able to resurrect the old Blue Circle radar system

    1. Sargs

      This is more Blue Screen than Blue Circle, which was at least stable. Absolutely rock-solid, in fact.

  16. Cynical Observer

    I see said the blind man

    They are flying blind and will fix it by issuing a patch.

    Damn - that's another irony meter just gone pop!

  17. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge


    the radar system runs on win7 and Lockheed left the auto updates on and now every plane has win10 and the radar wont play nicely....

    1. Fatman

      Re: Nawww

      <quote>the radar system runs on win7...</quote>

      and the pilot gets in mid flight a message from Microsoft Technical Support telling him (or her) that his "PC" is infected.

      Perhaps the best way to end this 'scourge' of the PC industry would be for the pilot to request landing co-ordinates so the "Technical Support" personnel can """inspect""" the problem first hand.

      The only problem the pilot would have is in explaining why he (or she) is short a missile or two upon return to base.

  18. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    I guess at this point the only option to get the F-35 program back on track is to obtain a specimen of the Chinese version and copy that.

  19. Holtsmark

    While remaining quite critical to the F35*, it should be noted that not everyone is unhappy with the machine:

    *I do not think that a single engine aircraft is the best product for flying in an environment that contains seagulls, a very common mode of failure for the F16.

    1. MT Field

      At last! A reason for seagulls to exist

  20. Florida1920

    All your thrust belong to us

    Wait for this message on the intercom, when a hacked F-35 passes through 30,000 feet: "Send 100 bitcoins to us and we decrypt your engine software so your plane keep flying."

  21. Maty

    I was thinking more of something like:

    'Hello,this is Lockheed technical support. Press 1 if your radar is malfunctioning, 2. if your plane is dropping out of the sky and 3 if you are experiencing a serious software failure during combat.'

    'I'm sorry all our operatives are busy with other calls right now. Please hold for the next available operator. Your aircraft is important to us. Please hold.'

    Have you heard of the new, updated F-36 with new, innovative features? Contact your congressman about it today!

    Thank you for your patience ...'

    1. Triggerfish

      Yeah wait till the fake windows support guy teamviewers in.

  22. Dagg

    I wonder...

    HAL turn on the radar.

    Sorry Dave, I can't do that.

  23. Jason Hindle

    So remind me

    How goes the development of this mass produced, simpler, lower cost alternative to the Raptor, for export? Oh, hang on a minute.

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