Six operational test and evaluation F-35As are participating in an important test mission that will evaluate the joint strike fighter's (JSF) capabilities in three mission sets.
More than 85 airmen from the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron (TES) are taking part in the mission that will test the F-35A Lightning II's abilities in suppression of enemy air defences, close air support and air interdiction.
The F-35As will integrate with F-15E Strike Eagles from the 366th Fighter Wing at Mountain Home AFB and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 124th Fighter Wing at Gowen Field, Idaho.
According to the 53rd Wing at the Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), the US Air Force will declare F-35A's initial operational capability later this year, based on the experience of the F-35A squadron in deploying, employing and sustaining the aircraft's operations.
The month-long mission test is being undertaken at Mountain Home AFB in Idaho, as it provides a secure location with ranges to employ fourth-generation aircraft.
The 53rd Wing at Eglin AFB, which includes the 31st TES, is leading the design, management and execution of the F-35A deployment test. Nellis AFB in Nevada will be a simulated remote air operations centre for the tests.
The 53rd Wing said that the aircraft will engage in simulated combat scenarios to exercise "representative mission processes such as tasking, execution, debrief and intelligence reporting."
"The test team will be working to capture a broad spectrum of capabilities and limitations of the F-35 system to include both operations and maintenance.
"The team will focus on areas such as mission planning, scheduling, weapons building / loading, sortie generation, life support, mission employment, debrief and aircraft turn."
The F-35 Lightning II JSF development is scheduled to be completed in 2017, while the programme executors are plugging the various fixes. The aircraft currently has 419 deficiencies to be corrected while 700 to 800 deficiencies have already been addressed.
In its budget proposal for financial year 2017, the USAF has decided to take a cut in the programme, by reducing the procurement of F35As by five aircraft.
Image: Two F-35As taxi after landing at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. US Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse.