The “F-35 in a box” Joint Simulation Environment (JSE), a high-tech flight simulator necessary for evaluating the stealth aircraft’s capabilities, has been delayed in beginning its tests yet again. According to Jessica Maxwell, a spokesperson for the office of Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord, both the testing and the final decision on certifying the F-35 for full-rate production “are scheduled in 2021, Bloomberg reported on Monday.
The simulator is necessary for testing some of the situations the F-35 might face in combat, but which are not replicable in training, Defense News explained.
It’s not clear exactly which situations or threats that refers to, but it could include nuclear scenarios. Earlier this year, the Pentagon released photos showing the F-35 testing its ability to carry and drop simulated B61-12 thermonuclear gravity bombs, and the aircraft is slated to replace nuclear-certified aircraft in a slew of European countries’ air forces, including those of Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium.
The JSE trials are the final step in the F-35’s initial operational testing and evaluation (IOT&E) phase, after which it will be certified for full-rate production, enabling the Pentagon to buy larger batches of the jet at a time as Lockheed Martin slips into a more standardized model for the F-35’s many features. Until now, the Pentagon has been locked into low-rate production, buying small batches of the jet that are continually updated, resulting in a wide array of abilities between newer and older F-35s for which it has become a real headache for the Pentagon to compensate.
At full-rate production, Lockheed could turn out 14 F-35s a month, or 168 jets a year, Darren Sekiguchi, Lockheed’s vice president of F-35 production, told Defense News earlier this month.
Defense News noted that even if the simulator is online by January 2021, it will take several months for the evaluation, meaning the advancement to full-rate production isn’t likely before March 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic is responsible for at least part of the delay, with the nationwide lockdowns that began in March closing Edwards Air Force Base in California, where work was being done on the simulator.
In August, the US Air Force approved construction contracts for two massive testing facilities at Edwards as well as Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base, which will house not just the JSE, but simulators for other similar aircraft like the F-22 Raptor, an interceptor also built by Lockheed Martin.