The F-35 program has reached another milestone with the start of formal initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) to measure the effectiveness, suitability, lethality, survivability and overall mission capability of the F-35 weapons system, as Australia's first two jets are hours away from landing at their new home, RAAF Base Williamtown.
The Joint Strike Fighter Operational Test Team (JOTT), under the oversight of the independent director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E), will execute formal IOT&E with international partner participation.
The JOTT began some Pre-IOT&E events such as cold weather operations, weapons demonstrations, suitability deployments and lower threat missions earlier in 2018. 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 summer of 2019.
Vice Admiral Mat Winter, F-35 Program Executive Officer, said, "The start of formal operational testing is a milestone more than 18 years in the making. It is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication from the joint government and industry team who completed the most comprehensive, rigorous and safest developmental flight test program in aviation history."
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. The F-35 enterprise will work together to understand and holistically address any findings.
Following the evaluation and the DOT&E report provided to Congress, the US government will have data to inform its 'Milestone C' decision, leading to formal entry into full-rate production for the F-35 and its variants.
"While aircraft are in operational test, the F-35 Joint Program Office will continue to support the delivery of phased capability improvements and modernisation of the air system," VADM Winter explained.
A spokesperson for F-35 original equipment manufacturer Lockheed Martin welcomed the news out of the Joint Project Office, saying, "The approval to formally begin initial operational test and evaluation demonstrates the confidence our customers have in the maturity of the F-35’s design and performance.
"With more than 340 F-35s operating from 15 bases around the world and delivering exceptional capabilities to the warfighter, we are confident in the F-35 weapon systems’ operational performance, capability and suitability today and for decades to come. The Department of Defense serves as the lead for the formal F-35 initial operational test and evaluation, and we look forward to providing our full support."
Over the coming years, Australia will purchase 72 of the advanced fifth-generation fighter aircraft as part of the $17 billion AIR 6000 Phase 2A/B program, aimed at replacing the aging F/A-18A/B classic Hornets, with a potential expansion of the contract to 100 aircraft.
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In addition to acquiring 72 aircraft, Australia's involvement with the F-35 project will also deliver facilities, weapons and new support systems to meet fifth-generation requirements, supporting the development of key industry partners, including prime contractors and specialist, leading-edge Australian SMEs.
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