F-35 Operational Test Expands to Include United Kingdom and Australia

  • Published
  • By Capt. Braydon R. White
  • Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Detachment 6

The United Operational Test Team (UOTT) is a multiservice and now multinational team responsible for conducting Follow-on Operational Test and Evaluation of the F-35. Previously the UOTT was comprised of analysts, engineers, maintainers, and pilots from the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy. It has recently expanded to include participation from the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence and Australia’s Department of Defence.

A memorandum of understanding was signed Oct. 27, 2023 formalizing the state-level partnership. However, the partners have been collaborating on F-35 software evaluation together for months already. With the state-level partnership solidified, the UOTT has officially changed its name from the “U.S.” to the “United” Operational Test Team, keeping the same acronym, to recognize the permanent partnership.

The U.S. previously collaborated with the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Netherlands to accomplish the multi-year F-35 Initial Operational Test and Evaluation, the final phase of which is expected to conclude in late 2023. Follow-on “Block 4” test and evaluation has been conducted independently by the UOTT, for the past two years, while international agreements were in work. This renewed UOTT partnership has come at the perfect time to assist with the testing of multiple upcoming software releases and the new Technology Refresh 3 hardware upgrade.

While TR3 will provide great capability and performance improvements to the F-35, it will also require extensive testing and analysis for the UOTT to evaluate its suitability, effectiveness, and cyber survivability. Combining the efforts of the three nations will generate a larger pool of aircraft and expertise, allowing closer cooperation in a more conducive security environment. Under the new agreement, weapons testing and mission evaluations can include a combination of US, UK, and Australian aircraft, which mimics the fighting coalition of any future large-scale conflict. This renewed partnership lets us test the way we fight with our allies.

Commander Charles Escher, the Officer in Charge of the UOTT, emphasized the importance, “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.” He added that, “international cooperation on weapons testing and large force test events will continue to be crucial requirements for operational test.” 

UK and Australian F-35’s ability to carry some additional weapons that are not in the U.S. arsenal, such as the European developed Meteor missile, expands our alliance’s range of capabilities and tactics. This can further complicate an enemy’s problems when facing our coalition of sophisticated fighters with a variety of weapons. The united nature of F-35 operational test reflects the further strengthening of defense ties between the United States and its close allies. Our efforts to test together today support our ability to combine forces seamlessly in future combat scenarios.

Group Captain Roger Elliott, of the UK’s Royal Air Force commented on the UOTT’s new permanent partnership stating, “We are excited. 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.”

The UOTT has a busy test schedule ahead in the coming months including multiple live fire tests, participation in large force exercises, and the execution of several dedicated operational trials, testing the limits of the F-35’s mission effectiveness.