The F-35 Lightening II is the most sustainable tactical aircraft out there according to Lockheed Martin, but the US Department of Defense (DoD) wants to optimise its fleet sustainment and readiness performance even further.

On 23 February, the DoD awarded F-35 designer and manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, a $32.5m contract modification against a previous order for a fleet of the stealth aircracft.

This modification adds scope to design, develop, and establish the F-35 NextGen Open Mission services. Lockheed will encompass the usage of modern cloud-based technologies and modern software methodologies for the Joint Strike Fighter programme.

Cloud-based technologies are increasingly being invested in and are beginning to play an integral part of the defence industry. The concept of a shared IT infrastructure provides flexibility, resource-efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

GlobalData states that cloud allows sensors, services and agencies to interconnect, giving forces the necessary superiority to overwhelm enemies that lag behind in such force multipliers.

Lockheed’s logistic failures

Lockheed Martin had initially adapted its Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) to its first rollout of F-35s. However, this logistics system – which had been intended to monitor all aspects of the F-35 maintenance and the fleet at large – demonstrated problems of inaccurate or missing data according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2020.

ALIS’s successor system, the Operational Data Integrated Network (ODIN), was introduced in 2021. ODIN has since proven to be vast improvement. The Joint Strike Fighter programme website tells us ODIN’s properties.

“ODIN will be a cloud-native system that incorporates a new integrated data environment and a new suite of user-centered applications; it will be a significant step forward to improve F-35 fleet’s sustainment and readiness performance”.

However seamlessly this system may be working now, the fact remains that the DoD’s modification suggests that it has new demands for the IT backbone of its greatest vehicle asset.

Cloud as pathway to evolution

What is known – from this modification and the success of ODIN – is that cloud is identifiably the future system for the F-35 fighter. But what cloud capabilities should Lockheed Martin devote to R&D with the US Government’s investment?

As the war in Ukraine has shown, opposing forces can deploy electronic warfare (EW) assets that rely on heavy jamming outputs that can easily interrupt telecommunications. In such an environment, cloud computing would face serious challenges.

Part of Lockheed’s development modification to F-35 logistics may look to strengthen the security of its cloud infrastructure.

There has already been growing interest in this area in Q1 2023. On 23 February, NV5 Global acquired Axim Geospatial, which offers “cloud services” and “critical infrastructure and security”. This acquisition demonstrates the increased concern for cloud security in the defence and intelligence industry.

Moreover, another key target of research concern would be to improve the seamless flow of data collected from sensors.

The aerial objects shot down over North America so far this year have given the high-altitude surveillance market increased attention. The Chinese spy balloon has particularly drawn US concern to protecting its intelligence, particularly critical data.

It seems reasonable that attention will be given to the data flow between sensors and the wider cloud network.

GlobalData’s report on Cloud Computing in Defense tells us that the US Airforce (USAF), which heavily relies on the continuous flow of data from multiple sensors, is shifting the sensor-to-shooter cycle operational approach into one of data-to-decision. It is a much wider one that refers to the core capability of this period, the collection and analysis of data, to make an informed decision.

If this modification tells us anything, it is that a demand for cloud-based technologies, and their secure maintenance, are only expected to increase as we enter a phase of modern warfare that uses data as an asset to be exploited.