Because the F35 is the most scrutinised defence programme ever, is surrounded by a clutch of vested interests and as many opinions as there arseholes in the world trying to make sense of its progress is almost impossible.
Costs are going up, costs are going down, on any given day you can find evidence of both.
There has recently been much discussion about delays on the F35 due to software, if you listen to the more the shrill reporting you will learn that there are more lines of code than atoms in the universe!
What I find most interesting is how the software argument so often comes down to quantity.
Looking at the F35.Com website, the official LM information site;
From the program’s outset, the software team has focused on developing six key software releases known as Blocks:
Block 1A/1B – Block 1 comprises 76 percent of the more than 8 million source lines of code required for the F-35’s full warfighting capability. Block 1A was the ready for training configuration while Block 1B provided initial multi-level security.
Block 2A – Block 2A is currently released to the F-35 fleet. It provides enhanced training including functionality for off-board fusion, initial data links, electronic attack and mission debrief. Under Block 2A, nearly 86 percent of the required code for full warfighting capability is flying.
Block 2B – Block 2B provides initial warfighting capabilities, including but not limited to expanded data links, multi-ship fusion and initial live weapons. The U.S. Marines will declare IOC with Block 2B. Under Block 2B, more than 88 percent of the required code for full warfighting capability is flying.
Block 3i – Block 3i provides the same capabilities as Block 2B. The principal difference between 2B and 3i is the implementation of new hardware, specifically the updated Integrated Core Processor. The Air Force will declare IOC with Block 3i. With Block 3i, more than 89 percent of code required for full warfighting capability will fly.
Block 3F – Block 3F provides 100 percent of the software required for full warfighting capability, including but not limited to data link imagery, full weapons and embedded training. Requirements development for Block 3F was completed in June of 2013.
It also describes the current status of software development.
As of March 2014, more than 88 percent of the required F-35 software is currently flying. Approximately 97 percent of the required software has been coded. This equates to about 200,000 lines of code that remain to be written.
In 2013, the F-35 program flight tested the first four iterations of Block 2B, the software configuration the Marines will use to declare Initial Operating Capability. Pilots conducted sensor fusion operations, executed night landings on the USS Wasp and dropped both air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance. The software is proving to be stable and performing well.
So 88% of the code is already flying and 97% has been coded.
That puts some perspective on the ranting but what it does not do is describe timescales for the remaining code and what functionality the same remaining code is related to.
If we say the remaining 12% is going to take 10 years and is needed for weapons release then Houston, as they say, we have a problem.
Those whose job it is know will no doubt know.
Advocates and critics will take their positions and nothing will change their minds, I tend to think the F35 is the product of the cream of the Western aerospace engineering profession and together, they are unlikely to deliver a pup.
Costs on the other hand, lets be honest, and this should come as no surprise, it is going to cost a great deal.
In a world of unlimited defence funds this would be taken with a shrug of the shoulders but we do not and whatever the industrial benefits of the F35 (and they are many) we should not let the industrial tail wag the military dog.
The defence budget has many competing demands and the UK armed forces have to avoid being hollowed out due to single capability areas.
With the UK is due to confirm its first production order for the F35B with final numbers being decided in SDSR 2015 the MoD should remember.
Balance is all.