The US Air Force is scheduled to start an operational utility evaluation (OUE) of its Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) fleet at Eglin AFB, Florida, on 10 September.
The OUE is scheduled to last 65 training days, says Lt Col Randy Efferson, 33rd Operations Group deputy commander and lead planning officer for the evaluation. The review is being led by the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center (AFOTEC) though an F-35 Joint Operational Test Team (JOTT).
"What they are here to do is evaluate the entire air vehicle system that Lockheed Martin has delivered," Efferson says. "That entails the logistical support, the maintenance side of it, the maintenance training side of it, and the pilot training and the pilot execution side. So it's everything."
The OUE is service specific. "Each service will conduct its own evaluation of the system provided by Lockheed Martin," Efferson says. However, at present, the US Marine Corps and US Navy do not have an OUE scheduled.
The OUE will exactly track the F-35 training syllabus that has been designed by the Eglin training cadre. There will be four pilots who are going to be part of the OUE. Two of those aviators are from the Eglin initial training cadre while two others are from the JOTT. Two additional pilots will go through the F-35 academics course and simulator training during the OUE, but will not fly as part of the evaluation.
The JOTT team must assess if the F-35 is safe to operate and if there are any changes that might need to be made to the training syllabus. They will then submit a report to the USAF's Air Education and Training Command (AETC). "We really don't expect anything that isn't already known to come out of this report," Efferson says.
Evaluators will have 90 days submit their report to AETC chief, Gen Edward Rice, which should happen early in 2013. Rice will then either accept or decline any recommendations made in the report and is subsequently expected to formally authorize the start of training at the sea-side base. "Although this is not a go-to-war configuration, it will be used early on in training to populate the various bases with a cadre of pilots that are familiar with the aircraft and can train the next generation," Efferson says.
It is important to note that the OUE is only "a snap-shot in time," Efferson says. While the OUE is going to be conducted with the F-35 Block 1A configuration, a number of aircraft at the base have already been upgraded to the newer Block 1B standard. The aircraft at the base will continue to be upgraded after the OUE. "So we're moving on," Efferson says.