Fighter plane program plagued by software glitches

Defense Department officials are working to eliminate software glitches in the Air Force's high-profile F/A-22 Raptor fighter plane, the Pentagon's chief technical advisor said Wednesday.

"It's not unusual to have some big challenges in huge software programs," Ronald Sega, director of Defense research and engineering, said during a media breakfast sponsored by New Technology Week. "It's a work in progress to get the [F/A-22] off to where they want it to be."

The F/A-22, which the Air Force expects to be operational by 2005, is a stealth plane that can cruise at supersonic speeds, and that is equipped with advanced communications and navigation systems. The $69 billion program has been plagued with problems in recent months, including a cost overrun of nearly $700 million and a cockpit computer system that has required frequent rebooting because of software problems.

Sega said his office has been examining the startup and running components of that system. "This is becoming a more normal part of what we do, is to look at various systems and [determine] where they are in terms of the technology," Sega said. "We're in a development phase. You expect to work through and integrate various software applications into a full system."

Sega said his office also is working to develop a "whole gamut" of other technologies and systems, and deliver them to warfighters as quickly as possible. He said helping the armed services to improve their communications capabilities, largely by integrating existing systems, is a top priority for his office.

Another immediate need for U.S. warfighters, according to Sega, is the ability to communicate more effectively with their coalition partners. He said the Pentagon is working with NATO to improve the communications capabilities of foreign militaries helping fight terrorism.

Sega also noted that advanced language-translator applications developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have been tested by U.S. war-fighters in Afghanistan.

A healthy "push and pull" often exists between warfighters who know what capabilities are needed on the battlefield and Defense researchers who are developing those technologies, according to Sega. "When one says, 'What do you have,' the other says, 'What do you need?'"