The F-35A might not meet the criteria required to be declared operational in August, Pentagon Director of Operational Test & Evaluation J. Michael Gilmore said in an annual report released Monday. The report, which covers all services, included a 70-page assessment of the F-35 program. In it, Gilmore says USAF briefed the Joint Requirements Oversight Council in December that due to struggles with the 3i version of the F-35A software, the jet is “at risk” of not having the capability required to declare initial operational capability on time. August is the threshold, or desired date, but December is the “objective” or must-do date for IOC, and that seems more likely, he said. Developmental testing of the 3i software was eight months late. Gilmore also asserted that it’s “unrealistic” to think completion of flight testing the objective mission systems software, version 3F, will wrap up as planned in May 2017. He said the program office is “referencing” a date of July 31, 2017, and Gilmore said the more likely date will be January 2018. Even to hit that late target, flight testers would have to keep up a pace of 6.8 flight tests a month—faster than the planned six flights per month—to burn down all the necessary test points, with discoveries of new issues only five percent of the time. The program could, “as has been the case in testing previous software increments,” decide that some of that testing is unnecessary, but he’d want an explanation. (Read the full report; Caution, large-sized file.) (Go straight to the F-35 section of the DOT&E report.)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.