The U.K. is claiming a to be ahead of the U.S. in work to integrate its fifth-generation F-35 to be interoperable with other military assets.

The U.K. defense ministry has contracted BAE Systems to carry out simulation work on how well the F-35 will operate and communicate with a number of U.K. platforms including the Eurofighter Typhoon, the U.K.’s fleet of Boeing E-3D Sentry airborne early warning aircraft and the Type 45 anti-air destroyer.

“In the main SDD (System Development and Demonstration) program there is a level of interoperability work, paper testing, lining up different interoperability standards so we make sure those are compatible, but the U.K. wanted to do more end-to-end to prove capabilities,” explained Tony Hall, BAE’s ship and air systems integration manager on the F-35.

Using a collection of four F-35 cockpit simulators located at BAE Systems’ Samlesbury facility, BAE Systems have linked in simulators for the Type 45. They also have networked to U.K. defense ministry simulators for the Sentry. The company has also been investigating the sharing of data between F-35s.

BAE has already completed the first phase of testing, and is now moving into the second, which will integrate mission planning. Eventually the testing will broaden to ensure the aircraft can operate with a range of foreign coalition platforms.

Hall said the U.K. was leading the way in terms of interoperability testing as its smaller fleet of aircraft made the issue more acute than in the U.S.

“They [the U.S] haven’t gone to this level of interoperability testing,” Hall said.

He said there was recognition that the Link 16 system was not a stealthy method of communication between the two aircraft and there was exploration of other data link options including those being studied in the U.S.

"There are other technologies being developed within the U.K. and [elsewhere] that are looking at how that is going to be addressed. Some work has already begun with the F-22 in that area, and the U.K. is fully ingrained into developing those new pieces. They are not reliant on Link 16 and the work on JTRS [Joint Tactical Radio System] involves a lot of the key technologies,” said Mark Bowman, BAE’s chief test pilot.

Some limited testing has already taken place with the real hardware too.

A recent series of flight trials undertaken in May, involving the U.K. Royal Air Force’s flight test unit, 41 Squadron out in the U.S. saw them flying their Typhoons with an Edwards AFB, California-based F-35B. According to the U.K. defense ministry the limited trials tested the ability to send real-time situational awareness and targeting messages over the Link 16 data link.

According to a report in the ministry’s Desider in-house magazine, “the test results proved significant capability between the two aircraft types and hinted at the potential for capability growth between the two complementary aircraft types.”

Hall was not permitted to reveal how much the defense ministry work was worth, but said it was commensurate with the high-risk work that interoperability between the F-35 and U.K. platforms had been deemed.