The new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter arrives at the Avalon airshow in Avalon, near Melbourne, Friday, Mar. 2, 2017.
The new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter arrives at the Avalon airshow in Avalon, near Melbourne, Friday, Mar. 2, 2017. AAP Image - Tracey Nearmy

F-35 fighter caught ‘spying’

THE marketing campaign makes it clear: The F-35 justifies its enormous cost and limited weapons load by being sneaky and enormously well informed.

But its international customers probably didn't expect this.

Norwegian defence officials have caught one of their new $A120 million (less research and development costs) F-35A Lightning II Block 3F stealth jets sending sensitive data back to its US manufacturer - Lockheed Martin.

Norway is the first non-US user of the F-35 to have a mission-critical software package enabled through the provision of Mission Data Files.

It's a critical database and software package that is supposed to finally deliver what the advertising videos have been promising for more than a decade: 'revolutionary situational awareness'.

But it appears that 'situational awareness' cuts both ways.

Turns out the US military megacorp is getting detailed telemetry on everything Norwegian pilots are doing delivered to its Fort Worth, Texas, facility.


Norway has ordered 40 of the jets, with an option for a further 12.

It took delivery of its first three aircraft in November.

It's already discovered a problem understood by most smartphone users:

"The development from F-16 to F-35 is like comparing an old Nokia 3210 with an iPhone X. As the amount of features increases, data is also increasing and the need to protect it," Norwegian Defense Ministry consultant Lars Gjemble told ABC Nyheter.

"In a way, it looks like the challenge of what information your iPhone shares with the manufacturers."

Put simply, the manufacturer is tracking and assessing the habits of Norwegian pilots.

While privacy is a concern when it comes to personal internet and smartphone use, it's becomes a whole different matter when applied to the military.

"Due to national considerations, there is a need for a filter where the user nations can exclude sensitive data from the data stream that is shared by the system with the manufacturer Lockheed Martin," Gjemble told ABC Nyheter.


At the heart of the problem is the F-35's artificial intelligence dubbed ALIS: it is responsible for logging performance data, as well as monitoring and optimising the aircraft's sophisticated equipment.

To do so it 'phones home' to Texas.

Norway says it has become impatient with continued delays in the promised provision of a data "filter" by Lockheed Martin. So it's started its own project to find ways to block its new F-35s from reporting back to their former US masters.

It's also worried that it won't be able to optimise - or protect - the extremely sensitive Mission Data Files. These data packs optimise aircraft performance under different conditions, as well as provide a database of regional challenges and conditions.

Again, Norway wants Lockheed Martin out of the loop.

"Norway has entered into a partnership with Italy to jointly finance the procurement and operation of a laboratory where we can enter nationally sensitive data, as we currently do on F-16," Gjemble said.

Australia took delivery of its first two F-35s earlier this year. It has about 70 of the aircraft - which represent the world's most expensive conventional weapons program ever - on order.

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