(JNi.media) A revelation made by Defense Aerospace last week exposes what could emerge as a sinister plot on the part of the US and F-35 maker Lockheed Martin to disable at will the new aircraft while it is in use by a client state.
Back in September, JNi.media quoted Steve Over, Lockheed Martin director for F-35 International Business Development, who said that even though Israel will have “plenty of capability to do light maintenance in-country” for the aircraft, all the heavy maintenance of the airframes and engines will be done at Joint Program Office-managed, company-established facilities “just like we do with all our other partners.”
At the time, we attributed the Americans’ anxiety to the fact that Israeli technicians love messing around with their American machines until their makers can barely recognize them. We wrote: Perhaps betraying their reservations about what usually happens to the American weapons after the Israelis lay their hands on them, Lockheed executives said Israel would be able to add specific capabilities or upgraded functions—which the Israelis love doing—as long as it did not affect the overall design or the aircraft software. As Over put it: “The Israelis have an ability to do some unique things. But anything wholesale that would impact the design or capabilities driving all the airplanes for all the countries would have to be done by consensual agreement.”
According to Defense Aerospace, the US has made a unilateral decision to locate all F-35 software laboratories on US shores, where US personnel will manage the operation and support of all the F-35 fleets, foreign and domestic. This unprecedented move introduces a huge risk that the F-35—which must maintain permanent data exchanges with the software labs and logistic support computers to operate effectively—may be disabled or even downed in extreme cases, any time the two-way flow of information is disrupted.
Mind you, this vulnerability does not refer to a malicious interruption on the part of the US operators, only the loss of Internet service for any reason, such as accidentally corrupted router tables to a malicious Russian submarine cutting the undersea Internet cables which they have been aggressively operating near as of late. But, this same “problem” could become an enormous leverage for the US, should it decide to severely hamper the operation of entire foreign F-35 fleets.
For an aircraft that costs around $100 million per unit, this is some design glitch.
It will mean that all the F-35s in the world will have to update their mission data files and their Autonomic Logistic Information System (ALIS) profiles before and after every sortie—and not while in the air—to guarantee that the systems on-board are programmed with the latest available operational data and that ALIS is kept permanently informed of each aircraft’s technical status and maintenance requirements. At the moment, that process is also excruciatingly slow.
Here’s a fun fact: according to Defense Aerospace, the ALIS has been known to prevent aircraft from taking off because of an incomplete data file.
The F35’s shortcomings are well known, involving hardware malfunctions and software glitches cost its development program three years and $200 billion over budget, according to CNN. Then, while the world was watching, there was that bedeviled mock dog-fight last January, when the spiffy, new F-35 kept losing to the plane it is supposed to replace, the good old F-16, because the F-35 just couldn’t turn quickly enough to engage the F-16.
US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said back then that the dogfight provided “valuable data,” which could mean a lot of scary things. Then she promised the new F-35 will be a completely different plane when it’s fully operational and will guarantee the US’ continued air supremacy over its rivals.
But when she said that no one would have guessed she was talking about booby trapping the F-35 sold to US allies.