WASHINGTON — The military’s top weapons tester has been warning for months that the F-35 will not be ready for its final test phase until 2018 at the earliest. On Tuesday, the Pentagon officially acknowledged the schedule slip.“We reviewed the status of operational test planning, and there is consensus that that is likely to occur in calendar year 2018 given the realities of the schedule at this time,” said Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, during a Tuesday conference call. “The target was the middle of 2017, but it’s clear we’re not going to make that.”This slip reflects a six-month delay for initial operational test and evaluation, or IOT&E, the last major period of testing before full-rate production. IOT&E will test the F-35”s full combat capability, verifying the jets can fly real, operational missions as intended.The joint program office’s objective to begin IOT&E was August or September 2017, said JPO chief Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, speaking to reporters along with Kendall after the F-35 chief executive officer roundtable in Phoenix. But that start date has slipped to January or February, he said.
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