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323 TES Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E)
 
Latest update: August 2019
 
In what should have been a surprise visit two Royal Netherlands Air Force Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning IIs visited the Netherlands. Currently eight F-35s have been delivered to the RNLAF. Three are assigned to 323 Test and Evaluation Squadron (323 TES) at Edwards AFB, California and five to The Netherlands F-35 Training Detachment (NODF-35) which is embedded within the 308th FS “Emerald Knights” / 56th Fighter Wing Luke AFB, Arizona. The later is assigned to training new F-35 personnel for the RNLAF which will see its first F-35A to be operated in The Netherlands delivered to Leeuwarden Air Base at the end of October 2019. 323 TES is working alongside colleagues from the RAAF, RAF, USAF, USN and USMC conducting collective test operations with all three variants of the Lightning II.
 
Deployment concept test: long range strike mission
 

Part of the operational test and evaluation phase of the Lightning II is conducting a long range strike-mission. This task was assigned to the RNLAF. Originally the plan was to strike a target at a range in Hawaii but this was changed to The Netherlands.

On June 10 two 323 TES F-35A’s departed their home base supported by one KDC-10 of 334 squadron based at Eindhoven AB. After crossing the USA both aircraft landed at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland while the tanker continued its journey to Bangor IAP, Maine. From here the detachments prepared for their long range strike mission. The planned departure of on June 12 was cancelled as the KDC-10 was unserviceable. The next day the flight departed however the KDC-10 again experienced problems resulting in all three aircraft landing at CFB Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador. Meanwhile the second KDC-10 had departed France heading for a rendezvous with the fighters near Greenland to escort them to The Netherlands. Right on time the two flights joint, a few minutes later the F-35s had either returned to Canada or landed at an airport in Greenland.

Roughly 200 kilometers before reaching the target – which was set up at RNLAF gunnery range ‘De Vliehors’ on the island Vlieland - both pilots started their preparation for the air strike. Both aircraft were armed with two inert bombs (two GPS guided GBU-49s and two laser guided GBU-12’s of 500 pound). At ‘De Vliehors a  JTAC team (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers) consisting Royal Netherlands Army special forces (Korps Commandotroepen) guided the Lightning’s to their target using a laptop sending the information about their own and the target position. The target was created of 3 stacked sea containers. The strike resulted in one bomb hitting the target splitting the containers from top to bottom with the others smashing the construction. After the aircraft completed their attack they turned south heading to Volkel AB to take part in the RNLAF Luchtmachtdagen (air show). The visit to the RNLAF Luchtmachtdagen was already rumored for some time on the internet with the RNLAF confirming the aircraft had taken off to conduct their test deployment concept in the morning of June 13. Both aircraft landed after performing a touch and go around 22.00 (CEST). The total mission lasted around eight hours. Ground crews, who were flown in by a USAF Boeing C-17A Globemaster III, with support equipment, then started to work to get the aircraft ready for a their new assignment.
 
Luchtmachtdagen (June 14/15)
 
Each day both aircraft were towed from their shelters to the combined static / flightline. One aircraft participated in the Air Power Demo and flew as part of the RNLAF heritage flight together with a F-16 and Spitfire. The other aircraft was on static display. On Monday June 17 one aircraft departed Volkel again heading to “De Vliehors” then joining the tanker for the flight back to the USA. The second aircraft experienced a malfunction and is due to return to the US after its has been repaired and  tanker support for the return flight is available.
 

RNLAF F-35A's

 
Aircraft Squadron Prod. Batch Delivered
       
F-001/OT 323 TES Lot 3 / LRIP 3 25.07.13
F-002/OT 323 TES Lot 4 / LRIP 4 12.09.13
F-003 NODF-35 / 308th FS / 56th FW Lot 11 / LRIP 11 04.02.19
F-004 NODF-35 / 308th FS / 56th FW Lot 11 / LRIP 11 07.02.19
F-005 NODF-35 / 308th FS / 56th FW Lot 11 / LRIP 11 19.03.19
F-006 NODF-35 / 308th FS / 56th FW Lot 11 / LRIP 11 06.03.19
F-007 NODF-35 / 308th FS / 56th FW Lot 11 / LRIP 11 12.03.19
F-008 323 TES Lot 11 / LRIP 11 10.05.19
       

Notes (last August 2019):

Aircraft F-001 returned to Edwards AFB on July 17, 2019.

Aircraft F-008 was to be delivered to NODF-35 but was flown from Fort Worth to Edwards AFB, CA to augment to two original test and development aircraft. It arrived at Luke AFB on July 26, 2019 and became the 100th F-35A to be assigned to the 56th FW.

Aircraft F-009 will be the first aircraft to be delivered by FACO Cameri in Italy. It’s first flight is expected to take place in July and delivery by the end of October. The order for LRIP 11 consist of eight aircraft with F-010 to be delivered by the end December 2019. By mid August the aircraft had to make its first flight.

A total of 37 aircraft are ordered with the Dutch MoD planning to acquire another 15 aircraft. The US DoD / F-35 JPO have yet to officially award production lots 12 through 14 to Lockheed Martin
.
 
Photo gallery
 
F-001 in the 323 TES 70th anniversary markings. Both F-35A's on the combined static / flightline. F-008 returns after taking part in the flying display.