Hill, Robins to provide F-35 software sustainment

F-35As fly in weapons evaluation

F-35A Lightning II aircraft from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, proceed down the taxiway at the base. (Paul Holcomb/U.S. Air Force)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Hill has earned another big piece in the future of sustaining the F-35, America’s newest fighter jet.

The base already provides depot level modifications and maintenance on the Air Force’s entire F-35 fleet. Now, the Ogden Air Logistics Complex’s 309th Software Maintenance Group will be part of an Air Force and Navy team that provides organic software support for the F-35.

More than 8 million lines of code help provide the multi-role F-35’s flight controls, radar, communications, electronic attack, sensor fusion, weapons deployment and logistics.

The 309th SMXG here is currently planned to oversee pilot and processor systems, the autonomic logistics information system and software integration.

The Ogden ALC will build on successful software work already performed on the F-16 and F-22, said Kelly Capener, 309th SMXG director.

The 402nd Software Maintenance Group at Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex at Robins AFB, Ga., will tentatively be responsible for functions in the areas of F-35 communications and mission systems.

AFSC Commander Lt. Gen. Lee K. Levy II said the F-35 organic software workload will be performed by a mix of experienced software engineers moving over from other systems, coders and developers from other commands, and new hires.

Hundreds of new jobs across the DOD will be created by F-35 software support. Agencies have already begun taking on new employees on a limited bases and larger hiring efforts will be phased in over time.

Levy noted his workforce includes a large number of software developers to support the fifth-generation fighter fleet, which is expected to grow as the center postures for the new workload in support of the F-35.

“The future of air dominance will revolve around software, but the dedication and ingenuity of our people will be key to our success,” Levy said. “The Air Force Sustainment Center is ready to take on this new workload and complete these missions to make and keep the F-35 even more lethal and capable.”

The Air Logistics Complexes are working closely with a joint Department of Defense organic transition team comprised of Air Force and Navy members, who have formulated the initially recommended software sustainment assignments, said Donna Frazier, 402nd SMXG director at Robins.

“The transition team is also developing the overall F-35 Software Sustainment Transition Plan,” she said.

The Program Office assigned nine software integration functions to the Air Force Sustainment Center and seven to the Navy.

AFMC and NAVAIR sustainment organizations and their industry partners expect to provide initial implementation plans to the Joint Program Office within the next 180 days. Winter said the plans should include specific Centers of Industrial and Technical Excellence designations, timelines and resource requirements to meet statute implementation not later than four years after achieving IOC.

“In order for us to be able to sustain and maintain fifth- and sixth-generation aircraft, we need to have a fifth- and sixth-generation workforce,” Levy said. “As a result, the Air Force Sustainment Center has been working very diligently to put ourselves in a position to do just that.

“I’m confident our software maintenance groups will be able to tackle this new workload with flying colors, allowing us to do what we do best and that’s provide combat power for America,” Levy added.

Vice Adm. Mat Winter, director of the Joint Strike Fighter program, requested Air Force Materiel Command and Naval Air Systems Command develop depot activation plans for software sustainment on their respective variants of the F-35 at the end of June.

“The F-35 Lightning II Joint Program is approaching completion of System Development and Demonstration and transitioning to production, follow-on modernization, and sustainment,” Winter wrote in the memorandum. “As production ramps up and the global fleet size rapidly grows over the next few years, the program is at a critical junction in making software sustainment assignments to meet operational requirements.”

The Air Force declared Initial Operational Capability for the F-35A in August 2016 and the JSF program is in Low-Rate Initial Production for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, international partners and allies including Israel, Japan and South Korea.