By Andrea Shalal
Image Attribute: F-35 Bravo Lightning II stand ready on the deck of amphibious assault ship USS Wasp for day two of the first phase operational testing in the Atlantic Ocean in this handout photo taken May 19, 2015 and provided by the U.S. Navy. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Chief Mass Communication Specialist Willam Tonacchio/Handout via Reuters
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A failure in the computer-based logistics system that serves as the "brains" of Lockheed Martin Corp's <LMT.N> F-35 fighter jet could potentially ground the fleet because it lacks a back-up for processing data, according to a congressional report.
The Government Accountability Office, the research arm of Congress, on Thursday, released two reports on the $379 billion F-35 program, including one on the jet's $16.7 billion Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS.
The second report, on the overall health of the Pentagon's biggest weapons program, said acquisition costs had decreased since 2014 and manufacturing efficiency was improving, but the program still faces difficult software testing and big affordability challenges in coming years.
ALIS supports everything from the plane's operations, pilot scheduling, mission planning and supply chain management to maintenance, making it one of the three major components of the jet, along with the airframe and engine.
The Pentagon's F-35 program manager, Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, has repeatedly cited concerns about ALIS, which is so large it could be a separate arms program.
The GAO report recommended the Pentagon develop a holistic plan to address myriad issues with ALIS to ensure that the most pressing problems are resolved before the start of full production, instead of dealing with issues on a piecemeal basis.
It also cited a Pentagon-commissioned study from 2013 that found any delays or problems with ALIS could drive the cost of the overall F-35 program up by $20 billion to $100 billion.
GAO said one of the biggest concerns raised by 120 F-35 pilots, maintenance staff, contractors and program officials interviewed for the report was the lack of a redundant system for processing ALIS data.
Reliance on a single point of entry for all ALIS data and a single main ALIS operating unit in Fort Worth, Texas, means a weather-related loss of electricity or other failures could affect fleet operations or even ground it, GAO said.
Pentagon officials told GAO they recognized the risk and were in the early stages of trying to buy up to two more ALIS operating units for back-up, though no funds had been allocated for that purpose.
The report also raised concerns about a lack of testing of a new, more deployable version of ALIS, the inability of the system to communicate with systems used to support older fighter jets and continuing information security concerns.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Dan Grebler)