Operational Test and Evaluation is a crucial part of staying at the cutting edge of technology and maintaining air, space and cyberspace superiority.
The Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, headquartered at Kirkland Air Force Base, N.M., is at the epicenter for ensuring our innovations are relevant and timely in getting to the warfighters so they are best prepared in fighting the good fight.
Hosted at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., AFOTEC Detachment 6 is responsible for the operational test and evaluation of the Air Force’s fighter jets. After nearly eight months of planning and coordination, the F-35 U.S. Operational Test Team stood up Dec. 19, 2019.
The UOTT is the successor to the JSF Operational Test Team, which is currently executing the multi-national and multi-service Initial Operational Test and Evaluation mission, with the participation our foreign partners in the United Kingdom, Australia and the Netherlands.
The UOTT is be a multi-service operational test organization responsible for ensuring the interoperability of the three F-35 variants across the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps operational test squadrons and will provide a unified and comprehensive tri-service evaluation of all F-35 variants.
Test squadrons include the 422nd TES at Nellis AFB, VMX-1 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., and the VX-9 Detachment at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
The UOTT acts as a joint unit from the top down.
The current director is U.S. Air Force Col. David J. “Derby” Ross, and the current deputy director is U.S. Marine Crops Lt. Col. David A. “Penguin” Merritt. In a virtual ceremony scheduled for May 1, Air Force Col. Scott C. Mills will assume command. Mills comes from the Pentagon. Ross is heading to Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, where he will be deputy commander of the 8th Fighter Wing.
The UOTT’s manning and expertise spans all three services as provided by AFOTEC and Operational Test Forces for the Department of Navy. Air Force and Marine Corps personnel are currently housed in the AFOTEC Detachment 6 building at Nellis to enable the UOTT’s mission per the memorandum of agreement signed by AFOTEC and COTF in December 2019.
Navy and Air Force UOTT personnel are also assigned to Edwards with plans extend operations to Yuma in the future as well.
The F-35 achieved Initial Operational Capability status from each service between 2016 and 2018. As the newest fighter aircraft in the Defense Department’s inventory enters sustainment and follow-on modernization, the UOTT is responsible for operationally evaluating the effectiveness and suitability of the newly integrated capabilities on the Air Vehicle System for decades to come. Creation of the unit was a huge milestone in the F-35 enterprise, and it’s already reaping benefits as the unit has met the COVID-19 challenge head-on and produced several test plans, long range plans, and other F-35 work in a safe environment when others in the enterprise could not due to factors outside their control.
Innovation is still alive and thriving and despite the uncertain times we are facing when things return to normal, there is progress to being made to keep our stronghold as a superpower.