Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) integration testing on the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) variant is expected to begin as early as mid-December, according to a service spokeswoman.

The JSF kicked off the integration phase of weapons testing Oct. 26 when the Air Force’s F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant successfully completed the first in-flight test with an AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), the service said in a statement. It was also the first time a weapon communicated with the aircraft during a flight using a data link. An F-35 Integrated Test Force Weapons Integration Group spokeswoman said Tuesday a JSF radar data link was used.

The spokeswoman said both the AMRAAM and JDAM will continue their integration work throughout Systems Development and Demonstration (SDD) and GBU-12 Paveway III laser-guided bomb separations from the F-35A are expected to begin in February.

The AMRAAM milestone rounded out a successful month of flight testing that also included inert weapons separation tests of both the AMRAAM and JDAM. Before Oct. 26, mass models with no internal electronics were used during all F-35A weapons testing. The AMRAAM used during the integration test contained the same electronics as a full-up missile, but without the rocket motor.

Successful integration testing, along with the safe separation releases in October, means the F-35 Integrated Test Force can continue progressing toward the weapon delivery accuracy test phase and live fire testing scheduled to begin in early 2013.

“Starting in February and continuing through the end of April, we are anticipating releasing roughly two weapons per week,” 412th Test Wing, F-35 Program Manager Air Force Col. Roderick Cregier said in a statement.

The F-35A is designed to carry a payload of up to 18,000 pounds using 10 weapons stations. The F-35A features four internal weapons stations located in two weapons bays to maximize stealth capability. The F-35A can also utilize an additional three weapon stations per wing if required.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a Nov. 15 report plans by the Air Force and Navy to extend the lives of some of their fighter jets because of delays in the F-35 program could cost more than expected (Defense Daily, Nov. 26). The F-35 has been plagued by massive cost overruns and years of delays. The Defense Department, in February, restructured the F-35 program for the third time, reducing the number of F-35 buys over the next five years to save an estimated $15 billion and give more time for the aircraft to mature (Defense Daily, July 19).