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A tale of F-22 Software development woes

Unread postPosted: 05 Jul 2018, 23:27
by basher54321
Do you want to know who you can blame for the latest fighter jets running hundreds of billions of dollars over budget, getting delayed for years and never living up to their potential?

You can blame me!

Well, you can blame me and thousands of others who have worked on fighters like the F-22 and F-35. These “next generation” planes are examples of what happens when the people making them don’t communicate with one another very well.

Let me tell you a story of a usual day working on the avionics for the F-22, back in 1990.

I was a software engineer working on some code that helped the F-22 communicate digitally with other planes. This was something fighters hadn’t done before and it was an important “feature” of the jet.

If the F-22 could receive digital radar information from a large radar plane 100 miles back behind the fight, it wouldn’t have to use its own radar and expose itself.

A bad system
So this new feature required unique software and hardware. It also used encrypted data, which classified the work as secret. Much of the rest of the jet had parts that were secrets as well. Maybe the name of the jet and the wheels were the only things that weren’t secret.

So, in developing this software for prototype hardware in development, I often had questions for the people who made the prototype. Unfortunately these people were in a different state.

In fact, people working in more than 35 states created the F-22. The reason for this was that in order for congress to approve the enormous cost of the plane, most congress people had to have constituents working on it. So Lockheed Martin broke up the work to ensure congress would approve.

Now it’s hard enough for people separated by a few time zones to communicate, but when they have to communicate about something with a secret classification, it gets downright near impossible.

So the conversation process was set up like this:

-I had to request permission from security to have a conversation on the phone.
-Security had to contact the hardware people and schedule a conversation. The earliest was a week away.
-I had to find something else to do for a week.
-When the appointment arrived, I was escorted to a secure room that had a scrambled phone.
-A secure room had “pink noise” (which sounds like a washing machine filling up with water) to mask any sound from leaking out.
-The scrambled phone degrades the sound quality of whoever is speaking.
-A security officer has to be present on both sides of the call.

Finally when I was able to speak to the hardware engineer about the problem I was having with his hardware, we were not allowed to have any casual conversation to start (in case I learn something about his classified details).

With the pink noise and scrambled phone connection, he was very hard to hear. So I started yelling a question into the receiver about my problem, but before I could get my first sentence out, the security officer in the room interrupts me and says I can’t go into specifics on secret technology.

I try to ask him what the point of having the call in the secure room and the scrambled phone was, but he wasn’t budging.

The conversation I waited a week for was reduced to: “I’m having a problem with something you made.”

Obviously the hardware engineer could offer little help beyond suggesting I reboot the hardware.

As a result, we had to put off getting much of the avionics to work for a year until we were able to integrate it all in a shared lab we all visited.

As you may imagine, integration was a disaster and delayed the plane for at least a year. However, we did solve the digital communication problem in a different way, described below. ... bad-system

Re: A tale of F-22 Software development woes

Unread postPosted: 06 Jul 2018, 01:14
by talkitron
Despite all this security, I suspect China was able to get its hands on a lot of tech from the F-22 and F-35 programs. :D

The F-22 was a US-only program, while the F-35 has contractors around the world. I wonder how security works in an international environment?

Re: A tale of F-22 Software development woes

Unread postPosted: 06 Jul 2018, 06:30
by hornetfinn
I doubt that China really got their hands on lot of tech from the F-22 or F-35. Maybe they've got their hands on some interesting information, but not much beyond that. Otherwise they wouldn't have so much trouble with pretty basic things like engines. Anybody can make an aircraft with some stealth features and they will very likely have some reseblance to F-22 and F-35.

Re: A tale of F-22 Software development woes

Unread postPosted: 06 Jul 2018, 07:14
by hornetfinn
Anyway, nowadays there are a lot of technological solutions for very secure communications between distant offices and labs. Many such things were not available or at least not mature enough for use in programs like F-22 in the 90s. Of course it's also matter of designing work practices and thinking these things (security, information sharing, communications) through. I think with well designed communications systems it's other things that are more dangerous to the security like human beings. There are always people with access to a lot of highly classified data and they can simply take that data with them (using USB memory sticks or other similar very small formats) and just give it to someone outside the office. Of course there are methods to try to prevent things like these, but they are never fool proof either.

Re: A tale of F-22 Software development woes

Unread postPosted: 07 Jul 2018, 14:04
by mmm
PLA got their hands on a several hundred examples of AL-31 yet they couldn't replicate, as well as IL-76, S-70 etc for that matter. I wouldn't say they didn't gain something extremely valuable from espionage. At very minimum they have something better gauge the performance. I'd go as far as saying the secrecy surrounding B-21 is probably a proof of the damage done, I mean practically the only thing that's public knowledge is its existence, and that's to a program expected to be second to probably only JSF in terms of value.

IIRC for B-2 they just flew anyone matters to the same physical workplace everyday during development. That's as far as you can reasonably go for security I guess.

Re: A tale of F-22 Software development woes

Unread postPosted: 07 Jul 2018, 17:41
by gtg947h
There don't need to be secrecy and security issues for there to be development issues. All it takes is Mike to make redlines to the drawing at installation but not let anyone know about those changes... or the structures guys and systems guys not talking because they have their little fiefdoms... or your contract-writers being incompetent and screwing up contracts with sub-contractors...