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New System for F-35 Data Collection

The Air Force test and evaluation squadron predicts that a soccer ball-sized device mounted in the weapons bay of an F-35 fighter aircraft will make significant advances in the way in-flight data collection on operational warplanes.

Air Combat Command’s 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron, based at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, began adding devices called the Rapid Response Instrumentation Package, or QRIP, to the F-35s earlier this year. Prior to the study, which began in March, QRIPs had been used on several test F-35s across the Air Force, Navy and Marine.

Squadron commander Lieutenant Colonel Nathan “Sheik” Malafa said in an interview with Defense News that he hopes to expand the use of these devices to more Air Force fighters and perhaps even other aircraft in the fleet so that flight data can be collected and “crowdsourced” at less cost. “QRIP is the ultimate result of the achievements of technology we can use to make everything smaller, more compact and with greater impact” Malafa said.

Noting that in the past, F-35 test planes recorded the data with a 2,500-pound pod that covered the entire weapon bay and cost $25 million apiece, Malafa said, “Sometimes it took weeks or months to access the data. Even thinking about integrating such a device into an operational aircraft was cumbersome and expensive.”

The 59th Squadron has so far added QRIP to 19 operational Air Force F-35A from March 2022. While the mandrel did not specify where it was, he said the F-35s were located in several places. Malafa said the fleet began installing QRIPs on test F-35s a little over two years ago and then began evaluating the possibility of adding them to operational warplanes. Malafa also signalled that the fleet is also working on a QRIP for F-16s and A-10s. He added that the F-15s already collect enough data but may need a new system to manage the information.

The flight data QRIP collects could help improve the mission data files the F-35 uses to understand its environment and know what threats to look for. QRIP will also help the Air Force find and fix bugs in software, gather information that intelligence offices can use, and help developers find or predict where the F-35 needs to be fixed.

If a fighter jet should develop a problem in the future, the repository of data collected by QRIP over the years has a system that can help the Air Force look back and find early warning signs of the problem.

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