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Pentagon pushes F-35 testing, full-rate production to 2021

Pentagon pushes F-35 testing, full-rate production to 2021
The active-duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings conducted an F-35A Combat Power Exercise at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, in January. Photo by R. Nial Bradshaw/U.S. Air Force | License Photo

Oct. 27 (UPI) -- The Pentagon has delayed plans to move the F-35 program to full-rate production because simulation testing that's needed before that can begin has been delayed until next year.

That testing phase was originally scheduled for 2017 but had been delayed to December of this year.

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Now it's being moved back again because technical preparations aren't complete, and both testing and the production decision have been pushed to 2021, according to Jessica Maxwell, spokeswoman for Defense Department acquisition chief Ellen Lord.

"The F-35 JPO currently estimates that completion of Initial Operational Test & Evaluation (IOT&E) will not support a March 2021 date," Maxwell wrote in a statement sent to UPI, adding that the joint project office is working on an updated project schedule.

It isn't clear why the test schedule has been delayed again, but in April Lockheed said it expected lower sales and slower deliveries for several of its programs this year due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the F-35 program being particularly hard hit.

The company now estimates it will deliver 121 F-35s by the end of 2020.

That's 20 jets short of the 141 originally forecast this year, a shortfall Lockheed attributes to manufacturing slowdowns across the supply chain.

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