One phase of the F-35’s IOT&E remains incomplete, despite the aircraft being approved for full-scale production and more than 400 of the advanced jets rolling off Lockheed Martin’s assembly line: the Joint Simulation Environment (JSE), an advanced simulator that’s lagged behind in development for years.
“The JSE is a man-in-the-loop, F-35 software-in-the-loop mission simulator intended to conduct IOT&E scenarios with modern threat types and densities that are not able to be replicated in open air,” including weather, geography and range, according to a Fiscal Year 2018 handout on the F-35 program by the Director of Operational Testing & Evaluation (DOT&E).
“Without the JSE, the IOT&E will be unable to adequately assess the F-35 against dense and modern threats that are not available for open-air testing, resulting in operational risk,” the 2018 handout reads. “Once the JSE completes development and accreditation, it should be an invaluable resource for follow-on F-35 testing and possibly for testing of other platforms.”
The JSE was expected to be operational by the end of 2017, but even by FY 2018 it was already apparent that the program would be delayed until at least 2019. The chief delay, according to the handout, has been accreditation of the simulator. Military.com noted neither the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) nor the US Department of Defense could provide a timeline for completion of the JSE’s testing phase.
"This final phase of IOT&E will occur when the JSE is ready to adequately complete the testing," DoD spokesman Air Force Lt. Col Mike Andrews said in a Wednesday statement quoted by Military.com. "The JSE is required to adequately perform F-35 IOT&E against modern adversary aircraft and dense ground threats in realistic scenarios."
The JSE has been located at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in southern Maryland since its introduction in 2015, but the Air Force intends to build two future sites for testing not only the F-35, but the F-22 and other advanced platforms, according to May testimony given to the House Armed Services Committee by DOT&E Robert F. Behler.
The Air Force’s two sites will be a 72,000-square-foot facility at Edwards Air Force Base in California for developmental testing and a 51,000-square-foot facility at Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base to be used for operational testing, according to a USAF publication from January. However, groundbreaking for both sites is scheduled for May 2020, according to the publication.
"DOT&E is not aware of any viable substitute for the JSE that would be ready sooner," Andrews said. "Any substitute simulation would still require high-fidelity F-35, weapons, threat and environmental models to be able to provide the operationally representative scenarios and data required to complete IOT&E.”
IOT&E for the F-35 only began a year ago, in September 2018 - 16 months behind schedule. Sputnik reported at the time that delays resulted from enormous numbers of broken test aircraft. The last of Lockheed’s three versions of the jet, the carrier-capable F-35C, only carried out its initial operational capability (IOC) testing early this year, permitting the jets to begin combat duties.