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European F-35 pilots begin interoperability trials
F-35B. © BAE Systems

European F-35 pilots begin interoperability trials

For the first time, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots from the UK have teamed up with fellow F-35 pilots from Italy and the Netherlands for a series of F-35 interoperability trials.

For the first time, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots have teamed up with fellow F-35 pilots from Italy and the Netherlands to take part in the latest interoperability trials, which involve coalition forces flying F-35s in a simulated mission scenario with other UK military platforms across land, sea and air. 

The trial is part of a series of simulation exercises that links together facilities from multiple locations across the UK and creates a common synthetic environment that can evaluate F-35 interoperability with other UK platforms.

The pilots flew the F-35 aircraft from desktop simulators supplied by Lockheed Martin at BAE Systems’ site in Samlesbury. Linking into the live scenario, a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) identified nearby ground threats from a hilltop position and requested close air support (CAS) for coalition troops under fire.

This request was coordinated through a simulated Air Support Operations Centre (ASOC), and passed to two Royal Navy Sea King aircrew who provided command and control directions to the F-35 pilots. As they approached the target area the pilots checked in with the JTAC using the Variable Message Format (VMF) datalink and then proceeded to prosecute their assigned Digitally Aided Close Air Support (DACAS) missions.

The trial took advantage of recent investments in the simulation facility which enabled the F-35 pilots to experience the helmet mounted displays (HMD) used during flight.

The aim of the overall trials programme is to progressively evaluate the interoperability of UK and Coalition Partners’ F-35s with other military platforms including: Command and Control (C2) platforms; Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms; and Combat assets, with the goal of identifying issues, fixing and re-testing them ahead of Initial Operating Capability (IOC).

The tests are part of efforts to establish an IOC interoperability baseline for the UK and F-35 Partner nations and to develop a Coalition Concept of Operations (CONOPS) and common tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs), explains Tony Hall, F-35 Programme Manager for the interoperability trials at BAE Systems.

A further trial is scheduled later in the year which will concentrate on the interoperability between the F-35 and Italian naval and airborne platforms and will link simulation facilities from multiple UK and Italian locations.

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