F-35 avionics: an interview with the Joint Strike Fighter's director of mission systems and software

FORT WORTH, Texas, 20 April 2010. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a fifth-generation jet fighter that has even more sensors than the F-22 Raptor. The program, led by Lockheed Martin, uses that state-of-the-art avionics with as much commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware and software as possible, says Eric George, director of mission systems and software for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, in the interview below.

Posted by John McHale

FORT WORTH, Texas, 20 April 2010. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a fifth-generation jet fighter that has even more sensors than the F-22 Raptor. The program, led by Lockheed Martin, uses that state-of-the-art avionics with as much commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware and software as possible, says Eric George, director of mission systems and software for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, in the interview below.

George will discuss the F-35 avionics suite in a keynote address to the Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum on 3 June 2010 at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego. Register for the event online at www.avionics-usa.com/index/registration-information.html

Q: What is Lockheed Martin's strategy for integrating COTS electronics throughout the Joint Strike Fighter's avionics?
A: Most COTS electronics within the F-35 occur at the component level; there are no COTS subsystems. At the component level we make extensive use of military or industrial parts throughout the system. There are few custom ASICs (application specific integrated circuits) or other parts that don't decompose to parts out of the commercial industry. There are of course exceptions where the commercial market does not have applications to yield the parts we need. Our use of COTS also extends into the software arena where we use COTS operating systems and software development tools.

Q: What is the breakdown between custom electronics vs. COTS electronics in the F-35 avionics systems?
A: I don't know of any breakdown that could be readily generated.

Q: How are you managing obsolescence and life cycle costs in the F-35?
A: We have a process whereby we track our parts for possible obsolescence issues and then evaluate the options that include form, fit, and function (FFF) replacements, redesign and end of life (EOL) buys. Our system development and demonstration (SDD) program provided for two updates to many of our processors during the SDD phase. This assured that we exited SDD with processing systems that were not already facing diminished manufacturing sources (DMS) issues. It also allowed us to demonstrate our ability change this processing without major changes to the software.

Q: Can you describe the unique middleware you designed for use in the avionics systems and how it enables COTS integration?
A: We utilized COTS operating systems, higher-order languages, model-based designs, and proven design patterns that made us less susceptible to changes in the underlying processing or network architecture. Many of the design patterns are codified in standard libraries we utilize across the avionics.

Q: What are some examples of COTS products used in the F-35 cockpit -- displays, processors, real-time operating systems, databuses, etc.?
A: Power architecture processors, field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), DDR RAM, DDR2 RAM, flash memory, active matrix liquid crystal displays (AMLCDs), PCI, PCIe, PCI-X, RapidIO, openGL, Green Hills Integrity-178 real-time operating system (RTOS), IEEE-1394, Fibre Channel, etc.

Q: Are there different avionics requirements for the different F-35 variants?
A: F-35 avionics are essentially 100-percent common across all three F-35 variants.

Q: What performance advantages does the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter have over current fighters including the F-22 Raptor?
A: The F-35 is the only stealth multi-role fighter in the world. F-35's very low observable stealth properties enable deep penetration of the most sophisticated air defenses, including those expected to emerge in the 2020 time frame. With a full internal weapons payload (5500+ pounds), the F-35 can fly at Mach 1.6, launch air-to-air weapons at maximum speed, and even launch 2000-pound JDAMS supersonically. The F-35 possesses the most comprehensive and powerful avionics suite of any fighter that has ever flown, providing unprecedented situational awareness, command-and-control and network-centric warfare capability. The F-35 and F-22 are not competing designs. Each does some things better than the other, by design. The F-35 builds on much of the stealth, aerodynamic, and sensor technology pioneered on the F-22, but the F-35 is a decade newer, and carries more sensors and nearly four times more software code than the F-22

Q: When is the first F-35 expected to be deployed to U.S. forces?
A: F-35 deliveries will begin in the 4th quarter of this year, with the U.S. Air Force taking initial deliveries of training aircraft for Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The U.S. Marines are the first service to go operational with F-35s, in 2012.

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