F-35 Stealth Jet Enters Combat Testing Phase 

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II has begun a year-long Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) under the supervision of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), according to a new report from Bloomberg Government.

The IOT&E will measure the effectiveness, suitability, lethality, survivability and overall mission capability of the stealth jet, said the F-35 Joint Program Office, which had delayed the testing for more than 15-months due to software glitches. 

According to the report, all three variants of the F-35 (F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant, the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant, and the F-35C carrier variant (CV)) will be undergoing field training exercises under realistic combat conditions for the goal of determining the stealth fighter’s operational effectiveness for combat with China or Russia. The test is expected to last through late summer 2019.

The Joint Program Office said some pre-IOT&E testing in cold weather operations, weapons demonstrations, suitability deployments, and lower threat missions were conducted in 2018. 

“The F-35 enterprise will work together to understand and holistically address any findings,” said the Joint Program Office.

“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.”

Bloomberg provides F-35 IOT&E program highlights from a recent exchange with Vice Adm. Mat Winter, F-35 Program executive officer, via an email statement:

“Start of formal operational testing is a milestone more than 18 years in the making,” Vice Adm. Mat Winter, F-35 Program executive officer, said in an email statement

By law, F-35 must undergo full combat testing to demonstrate that it’s “operationally effective and suitable” against the most sophisticated aviation and air defense threats before Pentagon can buy the bulk of a planned 2,456 aircraft

NOTE: More than 320 F-35s are already operating from 15 bases worldwide as Pentagon and Lockheed continue to wrestle with resolving more than 900 deficiencies, including flaws in the plane’s complex software

A successful test would result in first full-rate production contract of as many as 168 jets, up from 141 in a just-completed award

In a recent statement, Lockheed said the decision to move forward with the IOT&E, shows the stealth aircraft is nearing full operational preparedness. 

“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 company said.

“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."

In November, the Pentagon awarded Lockheed a $22.7 billion contract to supply 255 F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters for the three branches of the US armed services and international operators. The massive deal covers production into 2023.

As the global economy hits an economic brick wall in 2018, next year will be much worse and could spark heightened geopolitical tensions between Washington and China/Russia. That is exactly why the Pentagon is preparing its stealth jets for combat because the next fight is around the corner.