The F-35 Lightning II program has reached a major milestone with the official start of its operational testing.
The formal F-35 Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) started last week. The Joint Program Office (JPO) anticipates it will last until late summer 2019.
Operational testing evaluates the complete air system and identifies any technical and operational areas for improvement.
During the IOT&E all three F-35 variants (A/B/C) will be field tested, under realistic combat conditions, for the purposes of determining the weapons systems’ operational effectiveness and their suitability for combat.
The F-35’s IOT&E was initially planned to start in August 2017.
The independent Director of Operational Test and Evaluation and Joint Strike Fighter Operational Test Team will carry out the IOT&E with US Services. Personnel from the UK, Holland and Australia will also participate.
All of the test events will be conducted at testing ranges and facilities in the USA. Following the evaluation, data will be shared with partner nations and to inform the USA’s own future acquisition decisions, leading to formal entry into full rate production at the end of 2019.
Vice Admiral Mat Winter, the F-35 program’s executive officer said, “The start of formal operational testing is a significant milestone for our entire F-35 enterprise.
“It is the culmination of years of technical, programmatic and operational work and dedication from our joint government and industry team. I am extremely proud of our team’s commitment to testing excellence and dedication to providing our warfighter affordable, effective capabilities for mission success.”
According to the JPO there are already 340 F-35s operating from 15 bases around the world. The final developmental flight of the F-35 took place during April 2018.
Last month the the Italian Air Force’s F-35 fighter jets reached initial operating capability, the first time the aircraft has achieved the milestone in Europe.
Italy plans to order 90 F-35s and has so far taken delivery of 10 F-35As and one F-35B. Two of the As and the B aircraft are being used for training in the USA, while eight of the As have been deployed to an Italian Air Force base in Amendola, southern Italy.