Football-sized device could transform how the Air Force collects F-35 data

WASHINGTON — An Air Force check and analysis squadron hopes a football-sized device mounted in an F-35 fighter’s weapons bay may revolutionize how it collects in-flight data on operational fighter jets.

Air Combat Command’s 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada earlier this 12 months started including these gadgets, dubbed the Quick Reaction Instrumentation Package, or QRIP, to operational F-35s. Before that work started in March, QRIPs had been utilized in a dozen check F-35s throughout the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

And in a Nov. 10 interview with Defense News, squadron commander Lt. Col. Nathan “Sheik” Malafa stated he hopes to develop the use of those gadgets to extra Air Force fighters — and maybe even different plane throughout the fleet — permitting it to gather and “crowd-source” flight data rather more cheaply than the service used to .

“QRIP is the finish results of the good points of know-how that we’re in a position to make use of to get all the things smaller, extra compact, and have an even bigger influence,” Malafa stated.

The Air Force recurrently collects flight data from its plane, which is then despatched again to contractors so the corporations can enhance their software program. At the finish of the course of, the upgraded software program is pushed out to fight plane.

In the previous, Malafa stated, check F-35s recorded data with a 2,500-pound pod that took up a complete weapons bay and value $25 million apiece. Sometimes data took weeks or months to entry. That sort of device was too cumbersome and costly to even consider integrating into an operational plane, he stated.

Advancements in know-how and miniaturization of chips and different elements made a way more compact system doable, he stated.

Airmen in the 59th began growing the thought for a extra compact data assortment instrument about three years in the past. The data being collected by check fighters was insufficient and never coming in quick sufficient, he stated, prompting the squadron to brainstorm concepts.

“It was a bar serviette sort of thought,” Malafa stated. “What if we scale back the measurement? Because the program was not delivering the flight check instrumentation necessities in time for what we would have liked to do when the F-35s went from Block 2 to Block 3. So, necessity bore that innovation.”

That thought quickly grew to become QRIP, an 8-pound device roughly the measurement of a soccer that’s bolted inside the F-35’s weapons bay with out taking over all the room or requiring any panels to be eliminated. It can report nearly a terabyte of data per flight. The price ticket for a single Curtiss-Wright Corporation-made QRIP: $230,000, a fraction of the outdated system’s price.

The QRIP is wired to the F-35’s computer systems to gather car system and mission system data — all the things from altitude, energy ranges, efficiency and any potential malfunctions that engineers must sift by way of after a flight to determine what issues could must be mounted.

The squadron started putting in QRIPs on check F-35s just a little greater than two years in the past, Malafa stated, after which started contemplating the risk of including them to operational fighters.

The 59th has to date added QRIP to 19 operational Air Force F-35As, starting in March 2022, and extra are on the approach. These F-35s are in a wide range of areas, though Malafa wouldn’t specify the place, and a few have taken half in workouts exterior of the continental US

Having the QRIP loaded on operational F-35s flying real-world missions will permit the Air Force to gather a larger number of flight data that it would not get in a check setting, Malafa stated.

“They’re flying in Alaska the place there’s mountains, [and in other] differing types on environments and gathering that sort of data,” Malafa stated of the operational F-35s.

Right now, QRIP is just not on some other plane however Malafa stated the squadron desires to place it on F-22s subsequent — first check Raptors subsequent 12 months, and finally shifting to operational F-22s. An F-22-mounted QRIP is “nicely down the improvement pipeline” and being examined, he stated.

The subsequent step might be working with F-22 maker Lockheed Martin to determine the finest approach to combine QRIP into the F-22, though Malafa could not say when it may be built-in into the F-22.

The squadron can also be engaged on a QRIP for F-16s and A-10s, he stated. F-15s already gather sufficient data, he stated, however may want a brand new system to handle the data. And Malafa stated his squadron is how to get these gadgets into MQ-9 Reapers and bombers akin to the B-52 Stratofortress.

And as the Air Force strikes ahead with its B-21 Raider, Next Generation Air Dominance household of fighter programs and drone wingmen often known as collaborative fight plane, Malafa stated it will likely be vital for the Air Force to “bake in” this type of data assortment functionality from the begin. That approach, the service will not have to return years later and retrofit them with know-how like QRIP.

The flight data QRIP collects will assist enhance the mission data recordsdata the F-35 makes use of to grasp its setting and know what threats to seek for, Malafa stated. It may even permit the Air Force to search out and repair bugs in the software program, gather data that intelligence workplaces could use, and assist maintainers discover or predict the place the F-35 must be mounted.

And if one thing goes improper with a fighter down the line, the pool of data collected by QRIP over the years could assist the Air Force return and attempt to discover early warning indicators of the drawback.

Malafa stated the Air Force desires to work with corporations that present synthetic intelligence and machine studying know-how to develop instrument units that could let it higher use the data collected by QRIP.

“One of the issues we’re doing [with QRIP-collected data] is that predictive upkeep,” Malafa stated. “If you may get forward of the ballgame on that, that is a game-changer.”

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He beforehand lined management and personnel points at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, particular operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cowl US Air Force operations.

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