Lockheed’s F-22 Raptor is the most advanced
fighter in the world with its stealth capabilities, advanced radar, state
of the art weapons systems and ultra-efficient turbofans which allow the F-22
to "supercruise" at supersonic speeds without an afterburner. The
Raptor has gone up against the best that the US Air Force and Navy has to offer
taking out F-15s, F-16s and F/A-18 Super Hornets during simulated war games in
Alaska. The Raptor-led "Blue Air" team was able to rack up an impressive
241-to-2 kill ratio during the exercise against the "Red Air"
threat -- the two kills on the blue team were from the 30-year old F-15
teammates and not the new Raptors.
But while the simulated war games were a somewhat easy feat
for the Raptor, something
more mundane was able to cripple six aircraft on a 12 to 15 hours flight
from Hawaii to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. The U.S. Air Force's mighty
Raptor was felled by the International Date Line (IDL).
When the group of Raptors crossed over the IDL, multiple
computer systems crashed on the planes. Everything from fuel subsystems, to navigation and
partial communications were completely taken offline. Numerous attempts were
made to "reboot" the systems to no avail.
Luckily for the Raptors, there were no weather issues that
day so visibility was not a problem. Also, the Raptors had their refueling
tankers as guide dogs to "carry" them back to safety. "They
needed help. Had they gotten separated from their tankers or had the weather
been bad, they had no attitude reference. They had no communications or
navigation," said Retired Air Force Major General Don Shepperd. "They
would have turned around and probably could have found the Hawaiian Islands.
But if the weather had been bad on approach, there could have been real trouble.”
"The tankers brought them back to Hawaii. This could
have been real serious. It certainly could have been real serious if the
weather had been bad," Shepperd continued. "It turned out OK. It was
fixed in 48 hours. It was a computer glitch in the millions of lines of code,
somebody made an error in a couple lines of the code and everything goes."
Luckily for the pilots behind the controls of the Raptors,
they were not involved in a combat situation. Had they been, it could have been
a disastrous folly by the U.S. Air Force to have to admit that their aircraft
which cost $125+ million USD apiece were knocked out of the sky due to a few
lines of computer code. "And luckily this time we found out about it
before combat. We got it fixed with tiger teams in about 48 hours and the airplanes
were flying again, completed their deployment. But this could have been real
serious in combat," said Shepperd.
quote: the IEEE used to have a great feature in the Journal of Software Engineering that related various anecdotes where software killed people