By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The computerized logistics system that controls the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jet still needs work, but it will be able to support three F-35s on their first overseas trip for two UK air shows this summer, a top Pentagon official said.
U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Robert Schmidle, deputy director of the Pentagon's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, said he was "very confident" the F-35 logistics system would work when the new U.S. warplane makes its international debut in July.
"Based on the amount of attention that it's getting, I'm very confident that it will be able to support them right now," he told an event hosted by the Association of the U.S. Navy. Schmidle headed Marine Corps aviation programs before moving to his new job, and was instrumental in approving the plane's participation in the UK events.
Schmidle said certain systems in the $399 billion F-35 program still need work, including the Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS, that will serve as the management "backbone" for the global fleet of F-35s.
"There is some maturation that needs to occur on that system ... It's not clearly doing what we want it to do," Schmidle said, adding that both the Pentagon's F-35 program office and Lockheed were focused on improving the system.
"There an awful lot of attention and lot of focus on it," he said. "We all know what has to happen."
Lockheed is developing and building three variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the U.S. military and eight partner countries: Britain, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Lockheed had to revamp the ALIS system in 2012 after Navy investigators uncovered a cyber vulnerability during a planned security test, and other issues have surfaced in recent years. It is also developing lighter ALIS units to operate the new warplanes when they are deployed or based on ships.
Built using many commercial off-the-shelf software systems, ALIS enables daily operations of the F-35 fleet, including mission planning and flight scheduling to repairs and scheduled maintenance, as well as the tracking and ordering of parts.
The system includes a giant server based at Lockheed's Fort Worth, Texas facility, where the jets are built; one separate gateway system for each country that uses the F-35; and individual computer units for each squadron of planes.
Marine Corps officials twice tested a version of the ALIS system from a U.S. base in Britain before approving the plane's trip to the Royal International Air Tattoo and the Farnborough air show in July, according to a source familiar with the issue.
Schmidle said hangars were also being built for the planes at the military base in Fairford that will host the RIAT air show from July 11-13. The planes will fly over the Farnborough air show the following week but not land there.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Tom Brown)