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Air Force Completes Another Round of Cold-weather Tests on 3 Versions of F-35s at Eielson

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Isaac Johnson/354th FW public affairs
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The Air Force has completed another round of cold-weather testing on the F-35A that’s been undergoing a series of tests at Eielson Air Force Base soon after it arrived in October. The testing on three versions of the F-35 was part of preparations for basing two squadrons of the warplane at Eielson beginning in 2020.

While most of us were grumbling about the 30-below cold snap that set in for a while last month, Air Force personnel who came here from Southern California say the conditions were just right to test the F-35’s ability to operate in chilly temperatures.

“Our objective essentially was to take the F-35 up to cold environment – which, that definitely qualified as being a cold environment, probably colder than I’ve ever seen. And we were able to collect as much data as possible,” says Col. Michael Starr, who commands the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center’s 1st Detachment out of Edwards Air Force Base.

Starr said in an interview Tuesday the testing that began in mid-January and wrapped last week mainly involved checking out how the aircraft handled the cold during routine functions.

“The main goal, main objective of the test was to see how the aircraft performed – not just start, taxiing and takeoff,” he said, “but also, once we got to the range, how it’s going to perform in certain mission sets.”

Those mission sets included carrying out simulated combat scenarios. Starr says testing personnel also gained important knowledge by just pulling maintenance on the advanced fighter.

“It (testing) also included a heavy workload by maintenance,” he said. “A lot of folks were out there in the cold weather evaluating what it was like to do things on the aircraft required for normal operation.”

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Credit Isaac Johnson/354th FW public affairs
The most recent round of testing also included two Navy F-35C Lightning II fighters and the F-35B, a variant designed for the Marine Corps that's capable of taking off on a short runway and landing vertically.

An article posted to the Eielson website cites a Pentagon official affirming the importance of cold-weather testing the F-35. According to the article, Robert Behler, director of the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Operational Test and Evaluation Office, “Being here and showing the aircraft’s ability to operate in this environment will tell a lot of people we have a credible weapon system.”

Starr says the next two rounds, or increments, of F-35 testing will subject the warplane to increasingly realistic combat scenarios that’ll be conducted in a different extreme environment – in Southern California, Arizona and elsewhere around the Southwest.

“Increment 2 is scaled low-intensity-type conflict issues that we’re going to be dealing with. That starts this spring, if approved, with the appropriate agencies,” he said. “And then we’ll roll into increment 3 sometime this fall – again if approved and if we’re given the go-ahead. And that’s more of a high-intensity-type conflict operational test and evaluation.”

Starr says the F-35s also are being tested by both the Navy and Marines – both would be getting their own variants of the aircraft also known as the Joint Strike Fighter. All three variants were included in the most recent round of testing at Eielson.

F-35s also are being tested by U.S. allies that are interested in adding the warplane to their air forces, including the U.K., Netherlands, Norway and Australia.