COVID-19: F-35 Testing Suspended; Edwards AFB Flight Tests Halted

COVID-19: F-35 Testing Suspended; Edwards AFB Flight Tests Halted

Five F-35s flying over Edwards AFB in September 2019

WASHINGTON: The final testing of the crucial Joint Simulation Environment, as well as all cyber testing, for the F-35 program has been suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. All flight operations at Edwards AFB, home of F-35 testing, are also in limbo, according to a source familiar with the program.
Cyber testing will apparently continue using regular operational F-35 units, instead of test units at Edwards. The 2019 annual report from DoD’s director of Operational Test and Evaluation, Robert Behler, said that cybersecurity testing “continued to demonstrate that deficiencies and vulnerabilities identified during earlier testing periods have not been remedied. More testing is needed to assess cybersecurity of the latest ALIS 3.5 release and in the air vehicle itself.”
The ALIS is the long-troubled Autonomous Logistics Information System made by Lockheed Martin.
The annual testing report also says that “on-aircraft or appropriate hardware- and software-in-the-loop facilities are imperative to enable operationally representative air vehicle cyber testing.” Replacement parts on the aircraft are also open to question because, the report says, “testing of the JSF supply chain to date has not been adequate. Additional testing is needed to ensure the integrity of hardware components for initial production of air vehicles and ALIS components, plus resupply of replacement parts.”
It looks as if that testing will at least be disrupted for a bit as it moves from Edwards to operational units.
 “The F-35 Test Enterprise is experiencing impacts across most major verification venues as various organizations respond to federal, state, and local COVID-19 restrictions. As of today, F-35 flight test organizations have ceased flight operations, but organizations that can continue verification activities via telework are continuing to do so. Additionally, select lab and ground test activities are ongoing, and aircraft limited maintenance activities are ongoing to maintain fleet readiness,” Brandi Schiff, Joint Program Office spokesman, said yesterday in an email.

The program is “taking steps now to ensure our teams can resume flight test activities after COVID-19 restrictions are removed.” she added. “Although certain developmental and fielding activities will likely experience delays, the F-35 teams continue to assess ways of furthering efforts while protecting and preserving our workforce’s health and safety.”

Meanwhile, we hear that Australia, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, who want to stay at Edwards for their sovereign IOTE testing (the data which they gather is shared with the US) have not gotten an answer to whether they will remain there after roughly a year of requests. Our source says this is increasing friction with those allies and raising questions in their minds about the US commitment to a truly joint allied program.

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