Australia has approved the purchase of 58 more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, which could cost up to $12 billion.
The ABC says the Federal Government has given the go-ahead, and is set to announce the deal, which will take the total number of planes on order to 72.
“Together with the Super Hornet and Growler electronic warfare aircraft, the F-35 aircraft will ensure Australia maintains a regional air combat edge,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.
“The F-35 will provide a major boost to the ADF’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.”
The F-35 is billed as the most advanced fighter jet the world has seen, though its development has been plagued by a series of setbacks.
The first of the fighters will arrive in Australia in 2018, and will not enter service until 2020. More than $1.6 billion will be spent on upgrading facilities at bases in Williamtown in NSW and Tindal in the NT, according to the ABC.
This year, head of the F-35 program US Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan visited Australia, and said there were still issues with the jet’s maintenance and reliability.
Issues with the software used by pilots to control the aircraft and its advanced systems have also been raised, with some experts warning it could be hacked, rendering the F-35 inoperable without a single shot ever being fired.
The F-35′s helmet displays an augmented reality overview, which is drawn from six cameras across the body of the plane. This enables the pilot to look around the cockpit and, instead of seeing the interior of the plane, see directly through the cameras at the world outside.
This computational capability is all run by a computer system called ALIS.
David Martin, a correspondent for 60 Minutes, reports that ALIS (emphasis ours):
… Looks basically like a laptop computer, and the pilot carries it out to the plane and sticks it in a slot right next to him in the cockpit. That contains all the information about the mission he’s gonna fly. The servers which run all of this software take up a room about the size of a shipping container.
This is a juicy, juicy target for a hacker. If your adversary can hack into all that software that’s running [the mission], then they’ve essentially defeated the plane. All without firing a bullet.
So it seems the ALIS has been given too much power over the F-35. For example, ALIS has the ability to ground planes indefinitely if it detects anything wrong with the plane. Human intervention cannot overrule ALIS, either.
If hackers could manage to infiltrate the network that ALIS relies on, it is very possible that they could brick an entire F-35 fleet. This would render the plane, the most expensive weapons system ever, completely useless.
Below is Martin’s full story on the possible flaws within the F-35:
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