The Joint Strike Fighter Program Office (JPO) has officially cleared the Lockheed Martin F-35 to begin initial operational test & evaluation (IOT&E), the milestone coming as the first two F-35As to be based in Australia arrive in-country.
Clearance for IOT&E comes 16 months after a previously scheduled start of August 2017 and more recently, an amended planned start in mid-September, although the JPO says it has been conducting a number of “pre-IOT&E” events, such as cold weather, weapons demonstrations, suitability deployments, and “lower threat missions”, in recent months.
A successful completion of IOT&E will clear the way for a decision on full-rate production of the aircraft – dubbed ‘Milestone C’ – in late 2019 for commencement in 2021.
“The F-35 Lightning II program has reached a major program milestone with the start of formal IOT&E to measure the effectiveness, suitability, lethality, survivability and overall mission capability of the F-35 weapons system,” the JPO said in a December 6 statement.
“Formal IOT&E will test the system and identify areas for improvement in the most stressing operationally representative environments, and is expected to be complete late [northern] summer of 2019. DOT&E will analyse the data from the testing and prepare a report for Congress and the Secretary of Defense evaluating the results and the adequacy of the test.”
There are now more than 340 F-35s operating from 15 bases worldwide, Lockheed Martin noted.
VIDEO – Amazing footage of a Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35 from the Youtube channel of Dafyyd Phillips.
“The approval to formally begin IOT&E demonstrates the confidence our customers have in the maturity of the F-35’s design and performance,” the company said.
The US Director of Test & Evaluation (DOT&E) office had flagged the risk of delays to the IOT&E schedule in a report tabled in January 2017, saying the program wouldn’t be ready until late 2018 because it was lagging in unspecified readiness criteria and due to delays in fielding the latest iteration of the Block 3F software, dubbed ‘30R02’.
The commencement of IOT&E comes as the first two Royal Australian Air Force F-35As to be permanently based in Australia arrive in country. The two jets quietly landed at RAAF Base Amberley on Wednesday afternoon, ahead of flying to their new home base of RAAF Base Williamtown on Monday morning where they will be formally welcomed with an official arrival ceremony.
The RAAF’s 3SQN will conduct a two-year verification and validation (V&V) period with the F-35s from early 2019. The V&V will be the major effort in order to achieve an initial operational capability (IOC), and will validate the F-35’s capabilities in an Australian operational and maintenance environment.