February 20, 2019:
American and foreign users of the F-35 fighter all have one major complaint; ALIS (Autonomic Logistics Information System). ALIS does not work and when it seems like it is working it is often working against the user. In development for over a decade, ALIS was not considered ready for users until 2016, or 2017 or 2018 depending on who you ask. ALIS has already cost over half a billion dollars to develop and the developer (Lockheed-Martin, the manufacturer of the F-35) is being give a new contract to build a new version of ALIS that works. Lockheed-Martin, in cooperation with the U.S. Navy and Air Force, created ALIS and its software to handle aircraft maintenance more efficiently. ALIS was developed with the F-35 in mind and as an automated supply system and maintenance scheduler that would eventually be used by most other American military aircraft. ALIS was more than just an automated method for ordering spare parts, special maintenance equipment and services. ALIS was meant to be integrated with mission planning software systems (used by F-35 pilots and units to plan missions) and fleet management (to provide data on all F-35s a user controls). Lockheed-Martin would also use all the data collected to determine which upgrades or fixes were needed for F-35 components. So far it has not worked as expected.
Foreign customers have additional complaints because ALIS is being forced on them and one of those customers, Israel, has refused to depend on ALIS exclusively for F-35 maintenance and other services. Another problem foreign customers have is all the information on their ALIS supported aircraft the system will collect and send back to the United States. Some of this data (like who is flying a mission and what the mission is for) is protected by local laws and that, plus continued software development problems are bothering foreign F-35 users.
Then there are the American political problems related to ALIS and the F-35. For example, Lockheed-Martin, in order to obtain maximum political support for the F-35, selected suppliers with an eye towards where they were, in addition to what they could do. The object of this (a common practice) was to have suppliers in as many of the 435 Congressional districts as possible, especially those held by a politician providing crucial support for keeping the F-35 project funded. This means that there are more suppliers than are actually needed and that security in any networked supply system is only as strong as the weakest company connected to the network. While testing the network security on ALIS actual and potential vulnerability to hackers was revealed as a major weakness. Fixing it is difficult because so many suppliers are involved and the demands of foreign users have made the task even more difficult.
ALIS is more than just a convenient way to order spare parts and other F-35 maintenance supplies. It also contains analysis capabilities that predict the health of individual F-35s, based on what they have been doing. If an enemy can break into ALIS, they know what the F-35 fleet (of, eventually, several thousand aircraft) has been doing and what is being planned. Building, maintaining, and now making ALIS more resistant to attack is itself a multi-billion dollar project. Failure to protect ALIS puts all F-35s at risk. It’s a new vulnerability, the dark side of the many benefits coming from the use of networks and new analytics capabilities.
ALIS is also another example of a large Department of Defense software development project that was mismanaged and not only failed to deliver the specified benefits but actually makes the situation it was supposed to improve worse. Current users spend more and more time working around ALIS rather than with it. ALIS is considered a liability rather than an asset and many users have developed or adapted other software to do things ALIS is supposed to take care of (like determining which aircraft are combat ready and which need what sort of maintenance.
ALIS was supposed to be a victory for efficient use of software to manage complex aircraft. Instead, ALIS is a complication new F-35 users don’t want. Even if ALIS is upgraded to work as promised, many users, especially foreign ones will be wary of trusting, or using, ALIS.