F-35 test fleet completes surge

The F-35 Integrated Test Force (ITF) at Edwards Air Force Base, California, recently completed 25 missions comprising of 12 Weapons Delivery Accuracy (WDA) and 13 Weapon Separation Tests as part of a month-long weapon’s firing test surge. Historically, only one WDA take places every month given the myriad of coordination required.  The highest number previously accomplished in a month, was three in November of 2014 during 2B software testing.

These successful test events — performed using the F-35’s newest block 3F software — demonstrated the accuracy of the Lockheed Martin fighter jet.  Five of the test events featured dropping multiple weapons.  The F-35 weapons test team was given exclusive use of the Sea Test Range, an instrumented Pacific Ocean test area off the central coast near Point Mugu Naval Air Station, California.  Tests were also conducted at the US Navy’s China Lake Weapons Range, California and the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

During the surge period, a total of 30 weapons were dropped or fired, including the Joint Direct Attack Munition, AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile, GPS-guided 250-pound Small Diameter Bomb, AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air heat-seeking missile and GPS/laser-guided munition.

“The WDAs rely on the full capability of the F-35 — multiple sensors, navigation, weapons envelope, mission planning, data links and inter-agency range scheduling — all working in sequence to put steel on target,” said Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, F-35 Program Executive Officer.  “This was a tremendous effort by the F-35 test team.  They surged and worked seven days a week for more than a month to expend 30 ordnance and advance weapons testing.  This testing has moved us that much closer to delivering the full F-35 capability to warfighters within the next two years.”

The F-35 is a multi-role, next-generation fighter that combines advanced stealth with speed, agility and a 360-degree view of the battlespace.  The F-35 will form the backbone of air combat superiority for decades to come and replace legacy tactical fighter fleets with dominant air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities to deter and defeat potential adversaries.

The US Marine Corps declared the F-35B combat-ready IOC in July 2015, the U.S. Air Force declared F-35A IOC earlier this August. The US Navy intends to attain F-35C IOC in 2018.  More than 200 F-35s have flown in excess of 66 thousand fleet-wide hours, with over 300 F-35 pilots and 3,000 maintainers trained to operate and support this next-generation aircraft.

Featured image (top): Several F-35s gather for take off from Edwards Air Force Base in May 2016. (Image © Elmer van Hest)