This is the first launch where the F-35 and AIM-120 demonstrated a successful launch-to-eject communications sequence and fired the rocket motor after launch – paving the way for targeted launches later this year in support of Block 2B fleet capability.
Recently, the F-35A variant has seen significant development in training and operations, to include the beginning of pilot training at Eglin Air Force Base, the delivery of the first operational test aircraft to Edwards and Nellis Air Force Bases, the first operational pilot aerial refuelling and the completion of high angle of attack testing.
The F-35A is designed to carry a payload of up to 18,000lb using 10 weapon stations. The F-35A features four internal weapon stations located in two weapon bays to maximise stealth capability. The CTOL aircraft can also utilise an additional three external weapon stations per wing if required.
The US Air Force has established an F-35A initial operating capability target date of December 2016. By this date, the Air Force will have fielded an operational squadron with 12 or more aircraft with airmen trained and equipped to conduct basic close air support, interdiction and limited suppression and destruction of enemy air defence operations in a contested environment.
Moving into the active phase of weapons test is another large step toward delivering Block 2B software capability that will enable initial combat deployment.