Building the World’s Most Advanced Fighter

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SOFTWARE YOU WISH YOU HAD:
INSIDE THE F-35 SUPERCOMPUTER

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There’s no doubt a fighter jet is a modern marvel of aerospace engineering, but it may come as a surprise that the F-35 also houses enough computer programs to make any software engineer drool.

Highly sophisticated software enables the game-changing capabilities of the F-35, operating its navigation, communications and targeting systems. Each jet will have more than 8 million lines of code—more than any other U.S. or allied jet in history.

On board each F-35, nearly half a million lines of code are dedicated to capturing, analyzing and combining stunning amounts of information into an integrated picture for F-35 pilots. The F-35’s supercomputing brain even tracks maintenance needs and trends for the global fleet, thanks to the Autonomic Logistics Information System, better known as ALIS. 

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The human brain relies on five senses—sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing—to provide the information it needs to analyze and understand the surrounding environment.

Similarly, the F-35 relies on five types of sensors: Electronic Warfare (EW), Radar, Communication, Navigation and Identification (CNI), Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) and the Distributed Aperture System (DAS). The F-35 “brain”—the process that combines this stellar amount of information into an integrated picture of the environment—is known as sensor fusion.

At any given moment, fusion processes large amounts of data from sensors around the aircraft—plus additional information from datalinks with other in-air F-35s—and combines them into a centralized view of activity in the jet’s environment, displayed to the pilot.

In everyday life, you can imagine how useful this software might be—like going out for a jog in your neighborhood and picking up on real-time information about obstacles that lie ahead, changes in traffic patterns that may affect your route, and whether or not you are likely to pass by a friend near the local park.

F-35 fusion not only combines data, but figures out what additional information is needed and automatically tasks sensors to gather it—without the pilot ever having to ask.

The F-35 also changes the way data are displayed for pilots. The full Panoramic Cockpit Display enables data from all sensors to be shown on one screen in integrated form. Each pilot can customize the size and layout of the single display—much like we do with our home computers. All of this greatly improves the pilot’s ability to assess the situation and make smarter decisions in the battle space.

“We do things with fusion now that a decade ago, many thought were impossible,” said Lockheed Martin Senior Fellow Tom Frey. “When you have capability that no one ever dreamed of, it changes the way you operate and fight.”

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The F-35 is a data-rich platform. From its sensors, the jet captures health monitoring data up to 60 times per second. The Autonomic Logistics Information System turns those bits of data into actionable information for F-35 pilots, maintainers and military leaders.

“As the backbone for F-35 fleet management, all maintenance and sustainment data flow through ALIS,” said Jeff Streznetcky, ALIS director at Lockheed Martin. “ALIS continuously captures and analyzes the fleet’s overall readiness, and that information can be used to pinpoint cost saving opportunities and increase aircraft availability.”

ALIS not only provides information about the aircraft itself, but also integrates applications that encompass operations, maintenance, supply chain and training. Through ALIS, technicians have all the information they need about these areas at their fingertips. For instance, the data collected through ALIS can determine if parts have the durability and longevity expected.

Because of ALIS, F-35 maintainers can intervene whenever they need to, unlike previous fighter aircraft that were maintained on a set schedule. This would be like taking your car in for an oil change when it is first needed versus as soon as you hit 3,000 miles. Condition-based maintenance saves cost and keeps the jets flying.

A DIGITAL JET

From flight controls to fusing together the F-35’s sensor data to form a clear and comprehensive picture of the battlespace, software is essential. Watch this video to get a pilot’s perspective on the power of sensor fusion and other capabilities that are integrated into the F-35’s helmet: