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F-35 Tries To Keep Its Secrets
by James Dunnigan
December 23, 2009

Rather than risk having a hostile (or competing) nation obtaining the software that controls the inner workings of the new F-35 fighter-bomber, the U.S. has decided that no foreign country will have access to the source code (the plain text version of the code that is written by programmers, and then turned into the 0s and 1s by a compiler program so that it can operate inside the dozens of microprocessors inside the aircraft). Britain and Israel had threatened to back out of buying the F-35 if they could not get access to the source code (to make their own modifications.) Both nations are expected to buy the F-35 anyway. In return, the U.S. Air Force will set up a fast-response software modification service for everyone using the F-35. Thus foreign users can get custom versions of the software, as least as fast, and at the same price, they would pay if they had the source code and used their own programmers. Israel has been offered the integration, by U.S. engineers, of Israeli software, to the basic American made software package.

The F-35 source code comprises about 8 million lines of code (a file about two gigabytes in size, that could easily fit on a thumb drive). Most modern PC operating systems have source code ten or more times as large. The contractors who created the F-35 software, did not let the source code anywhere near the Internet, to insure that Chinese hackers did not grab it.

The 27 ton F-35 is armed with an internal 25mm cannon and four internal air-to-air missiles (or two missiles and two smart bombs). Plus four external smart bombs and two missiles. All sensors are carried internally, and max weapon load is 6.8 tons. The aircraft is very stealthy when just carrying internal weapons.

Development costs for the new U.S. F-35 fighter-bomber has grown by a third, to $60 billion, over the last few years. That means the average development cost of the estimated 5,000 F-35s to be built, will be about $12 million each. The additional development costs are accompanied by an additional delays before the aircraft enters service. Production costs will average about $84 million. With a share of development costs, that makes the per aircraft cost $96 million.

Like the F-22 fighter, the F-35 is stealthy, and is stuffed with lots of new technology. Most (about 60 percent) of the F-35s will be used by foreign nations. The rising cost of the F-35 brings with it reluctance to buy as many aircraft currently planned. The success of smart bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan has also made it clear that fewer aircraft will be needed in the future. In any event, it's likely that F-35s are end up costing more than $100 million each.


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