US Air Force Debuts Some Unconventional MUSTANGS

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Not the kind we're used to, but they are Fords nonetheless.

The US Military has just tested a new state-of-the-art data transfer system for the F-35 A Lightning II aircraft, and it goes by the name MUSTANGS. MUSTANGS is an acronym, standing for Multi-Utilization Secure Tactical and Network Ground Station, and these units have reportedly hit a major milestone while testing with the 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron during the system's participation during Pacific Edge 22.

Usually, when we're talking about a Mustang on this site, we're talking about the one and only Ford Mustang, but this is actually related to a completely different vehicle in Ford's lineup: The F-550. Funny enough, the Ford Mustang and the F-35 Lightning II actually do have a history together. It's hard to get more American than the Ford Motor Company and the best-selling vehicle in the US.

U.S. Air Force
U.S. Air Force

The MUSTANGS are a completely unique animal though. Built on an F-550, the unit is a vehicle that can download, process, and offload vital data from the aircraft's Quick Reaction instrumentation Package-equipped aircraft without the need for physical, fixed operational test infrastructure. During the exercise, the MUSTANGS proved it can process, curate, and send flight data to a reprogramming facility all in a matter of minutes.

The vehicle is packed with state-of-the-art data equipment, all with the goal of assisting the F-35s to adjust and be flight ready much quicker than ever before by allowing data to be transferred on the go. The fighters need this to be operationally ready for each mission, so the quicker the turn around the better. Surprisingly or not surprisingly, the previous system was very outdated.

U.S. Air Force
U.S. Air Force

Before, all of this data was downloaded directly from the aircraft in a secure facility after a flight. This was then transferred to some sort of physical medium (i.e. a hard drive or CD,) and then hand-delivered to a data customer. This process could take anywhere from days to weeks for a turnaround and would be a nightmare scenario in a large-scale military offensive.

"Right now, MUSTANGS are for the test community, but it has massive operational implications," said Lt. Col. Nathan Malafa, 59th TES commander. "A modern, contested environment is constantly changing. The faster and more accurate data is made available to decision-makers, the more likely the warfighter will succeed over the adversary."

The next phase in testing will come from the upcoming Northern Edge 23 exercise expected to take place in Alaska this year.

U.S. Air Force
U.S. Air Force

In this trial, the F-35s will attempt to find a unique waveform in the operating environment, transfer the data to MUSTANGS, curate the data, and then send it to the US Reprogramming Laboratory which is a part of the 513th Electronic Warfare Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

As it's still in the testing phase now, it's hard to know when it will be operationally ready, as there are basically no other details available on the project. All we know is that this data management will change how these fighters operate, which as Malafa says, is great for the future of air combat.

"Data evolutions like MUSTANGS turn edge data into information rapidly, which is exactly the kind of innovation we need to stay ahead in the modern age of warfare," Malafa said. "There is no doubt that those who can transmit information at the speed of relevance will win."

U.S. Air Force
U.S. Air Force

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