Its supporters have argued for much of the last year that the F-35 was further along and in better shape than its critics were willing to give the program credit for. The plane, they argued, was close to combat-ready and once the first weapons tests occurred, people would see the truth of it.
Well, the Marine version of the plane, the F-35B, performed the first airborne weapon separation yesterday. And the JSF program moved heaven and earth to get the video and story cleared for public release as soon as humanly possible. As you can see from the video, the plane drops an inert JDAMS, one of the staples of the precision guided munitions used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Here’s the technical bumpf for those who want to know which aircraft flew and all that sort of thing. “BF-3, a short take-off and vertical landing F-35 variant, released an inert 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) separation weapon over water in an Atlantic test range while traveling at 400 knots at an altitude of 4,200 feet,” a statement from NAVAIR said.
Weapons testing is always an important milestone for a military aircraft and this is no exception. It doesn’t really mean the plane is ready for combat. Unless we faced some dire emergency I doubt the Pentagon would be willing to send the plane into harm’s way without at least another 18 months more testing. But credit where credit is due.