• Credit: Defence
    Credit: Defence

Australia will continue to play a role in F-35 operational testing with Australian and British personnel joining the newly-renamed United Operational Test Team (UOTT) last month.

The UOTT, which was previously known as the US Operational Test Team, is responsible for operationally testing new and upcoming upgrades to the F-35 aircraft.

UOTT's responsibilities include both the Technology Refresh 3 (TR3) suite of software and hardware upgrades, as well as the F-35 Block 4 configuration that TR3 supports.

Australia, alongside the UK and the Netherlands, also participated in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Operational Test Team (JOTT) which completed a year-long Initial Operational Testing and Evaluation (IOT&E) campaign in October.

The JOTT, which is yet to formally sunset pending a decision known as “Milestone C” on whether to proceed with full-rate production of the F-35, commenced IOT&E operations in December 2018 with Block 3F software.

The agreement facilitating both the UK and Australia's participation in the UOTT, known as the F-35 Follow-on Test & Evaluation Agreement, will provide the operational test program with a larger pool of aircraft and skilled personnel to carry out its task.

According to the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO), the agreement enables “weapons testing and mission evaluations [to] include a combination of US, UK, and Australian aircraft.”

This new capability was put to the test during a live-fire event last month when an RAAF E-7A Wedgetail deployed to the US to evaluate the effectiveness of advanced coalition tactics as part of the live-fire event.

“The collaboration with Australia and the UK will not only to expand our partnership with the UK and Australian testers, but also to increase our ties with the UK and Australian F-35 squadrons to ultimately help guide the F-35 program to continuously improve the most critical aspects of F-35 lethality and survivability,” commented Commander Charles Escher USN, the officer in charge of the UOTT.

Group Captain Roger Elliott, Royal Air Force, said that the UK was excited to participate in the UOTT.

“UK participation in the UOTT builds upon many years of collaboration between our three nations on F-35. The operational realism we are able to achieve in this partnership, and the ability to directly influence F-35 development is extremely important to the UK. Ultimately this will keep all our F-35s lethal into the decades to come,” he said.

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