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—John A. Tirpak

The F-35 program probably won’t enter initial operational test and evaluation on-time by August, likely slipping a minimum of 16 months, Pentagon test director Michael Gilmore said in his final test report to Congress Tuesday.

Gilmore said the program office “plans to reduce or truncate” developmental testing to “minimize delays and close out” the system development and design phase as quickly as possible, but “even with this risky, schedule-driven approach” he doesn’t see IOT&E starting until late December 2018 or early 2019 “at the soonest.”  

He cited 16 areas in which issues either aren’t being addressed or aren’t being addressed fast enough in order to meet the planned schedule. Most have to do with software for the final, 3F version, which Gilmore said have only recently reached “adequate maturity” for testing to begin. The biggest hurdle for the software is for it to all be tested together in an integrated way, he said.

Gilmore also said early production models of the F-35 aren’t reliable enough to keep up the required pace of testing, and there continue to be issues with the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), which he said is six months behind. Gilmore said the plan to “delete planned mission systems [developmental test] points by using other data” represents a risk to later operational test.  

According to Gilmore’s charts, the principal issues have to do with the Marine Corps’ F-35Bshort takeoff and vertical landing variant and the Navy’s F-35C carrier-capable version, which is the last to go through development. The Air Force’s F-35A model has seen “0.0 percent” increase in required test points in 2016, and has actually exceeded planned test points flown by 8.1 percent. The F-35A has 112 flight science test points to go, against a requirement for 12,327 test points.

For mission systems, which are shared by all three variants, there are more than 5,800 test points to go, versus an overall requirement of 9,702. That’s because the final, 3F software is only now becoming available for testing. The need for mission systems additional test point has grown more than 25 percent, Gilmore said.

The Marine Corps and Air Force are 18 months and six months, respectively, past declaring initial operating capability on the F-35 with the 2B software version. The Navy will not become operational until the 3F version is available.

The F-35 program office could not be reached for comment by presstime.