F-35 Will Finally Go into Full Production Next March, Acquisitions Chief Says

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Two U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning IIs, assigned to the 4th Fighter Squadron from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, conduct flight training operations over the Utah Test and Training Range on Feb 14, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)
Two U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning IIs, assigned to the 4th Fighter Squadron from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, conduct flight training operations over the Utah Test and Training Range on Feb 14, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

The Pentagon's top weapons buyer said Thursday that the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighter should finally go into full production by next March following a series of delays -- the latest for COVID-19 workplace restrictions.

"I am confident that we are going to meet the March date," said Ellen Lord, undersecretary of Defense for Acquisitions and Sustainment.

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However, Lord said she is going to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, next week with Robert Behler, the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation, to check on issues with the Joint Simulation Environment (JSE) facility for flight operations testing.

She said the trip is necessary to "understand exactly where we are" on the ability to run the JSE and get to full production.

"There have been setbacks within the JSE" on getting to full production for the F-35, the most expensive weapons system ever bought by the Pentagon, at $398 billion thus far.

The March 2021 target date, first reported by Bloomberg, was forced by delays to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines "to make sure we had a safe working environment," Lord said at a Pentagon briefing.

More than 440 F-35s have been delivered around the world as of October 2019; full rate production approval would allow Lockheed to start producing upward of 160 aircraft per year.

Military.com reported last September that issues with the Joint Simulation Environment were delaying Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) for the F-35s.

The IOT&E will go ahead "when the JSE is ready to adequately complete the testing," DoD spokesman Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Andrews said in a statement at the time. "The JSE is required to adequately perform F-35 IOT&E against modern adversary aircraft and dense ground threats in realistic scenarios."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Related: F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Executes 1st Alert Status Drill in the Middle East.

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