The F-35’s onboard software system is having even more problems

An F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft flies behind a tanker on a mission over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in September 2013. Lockheed Martin

In yet another blow for the F-35 program, the plane’s highly advanced onboard sensors are simply too sensitive, Breaking Defence reports.

The sensors are responsible for tracking and sorting through external threats facing the plane, such as an enemy missile launch. However, the plane’s sensors collect so much data that the onboard software is overwhelmed. The plane is unable to effectively sort through the information it’s receiving, leading to an unacceptable frequency of false alarms.

Dr. J. Michael Gilmore, the director of Operational Test and Evaluation for the Department of Defence’s weapons systems, wrote in his 2014 annual report that the “fusion of information from own-ship sensors, as well as fusion of information from off-board sensors is still deficient.”

“The Distributed Aperture System continues to exhibit high false-alarm rates and false target tracks, and poor stability performance, even in later versions of software,” he wrote.

Still, Gilmore noted, the onboard software did continue to make gains and is steadily improving the reliability of the sensors.

Thomas Lawhead, an Air Force civilian involved in the F-35A program, echoed this view. Lawhead told Breaking Defence that the missile warnings for the F-35 were “still a little too sensitive.” In his view, the threat-tracking software will not be ready until close to the F-35’s operational debut in 2015.

According to Lockheed Martin, the F-35 uses a set of integrated sensors that provide multiple levels of redundancy. In the case that a sensor becomes damaged, the comprehensive nature of the sensors allow the F-35 to continue to operate fully. This type of system is already in place in the F-22, but it was anticipated the F-35 would represent a significant upgrade.

Ideally, groups of F-35s should also be able to share their sensor information with each other in order to give aircraft a more complete view of the battlefield.

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