The US DoD has again pushed back the decision to proceed to full-rate production of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II after delays in starting simulation tests.
The Milestone C decision has already been delayed several times, the most recent from December 2019 to March 2021. The latest delay has been attributed to delays in putting the jet through a series of tests in the joint simulation environment (JSE) which simulated advanced threats that cannot be performed in flight.
Media reports have linked the delay in JSE testing to difficulties in gathering the appropriate staff together due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the Joint Strike Fighter program was started in 2002, Milestone C had been expected to be achieved in 2012. But a three-year delay to the program saw a redesign of all three models of the aircraft as part of an effort to reduce weight, and this was followed by multiple delays and minor redesigns attributed to concurrency issues found during testing while low-rate production ramped up.
But the Milestone C decision is now considered more-or-less redundant, especially as ‘low-rate’ production has been steadily increasing in recent years, peaking at 134 aircraft being delivered to US, partner, and FMS customers in 2019, just 30 shy of the expected full-rate of 160 aircraft per year.