U.S. Air Force Tests SpaceX’s Starlink Internet Aboard F-35 Lightning II Aircraft

by Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo April 12, 2022

U.S. Air Force Tests SpaceX’s Starlink Internet Aboard F-35 Lightning II Aircraft

Featured Image Source: United States Air Force/Todd Cromar 

The United States Air Force (USAF) is testing SpaceX’s Starlink Internet service aboard Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft. The 388th Fighter Wing’s Operations Support Squadron Cyber Airmen are actively assessing multiple high-speed communications systems to support operations from remote locations aboard aircraft, U.S. Air Force representatives shared on March 31st.

“We’re trying to get after what is Secretary [Frank] Kendall’s fifth operational imperative; ‘Defining optimized resilient basing, sustainment, and communications in a contested environment,’” said Lt. Col. Maxwell Cover, 388th OSS commander in a press release. “With the F-35, we are likely going to be using the ACE construct on any deployment, and we need resilient, redundant communications.” They did not directly state they are testing SpaceX’s Starlink broadband constellation, however, USAF shared a photograph of Master Sgt. Caleb Frisbie from the 242nd Combat Communications Squadron, setting up the communication equipment for the Agile Battle Labs Communications Demonstration. The antenna he installed is a SpaceX Starlink dish, pictured above. “A huge piece of agile combat operations is hardening communications,” Cover said. “These teams are helping us develop better connectivity for the massive amounts of data that we need to push through ALIS [Autonomic Logistics Information System].” 

 Source: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Alexander Cook

Cover said that the current military satellite communications systems are not sufficient to operate in remote locations and that is the reason why they are assessing multiple satellite networks to determine which one is best. They did not provide any details about what other systems they are testing, all they mentioned in a press release is that they are using a Flyaway Communications Terminal developed by the Air Combat Command Agile Battle Labs initiative and Combat Communications team, that is paired with a [Starlink] dish antenna. "The setup requires linking a small satellite-internet dish with a gateway router in a hard-sided case, then to a terminal that splits classified and unclassified data," wrote representatives, "The gateway router has the capability to connect to a hardline network, satellite internet, or it also has several slots for cellular sim cards which can transmit data from many bands and regions. The router automatically selects which signal and network is fastest and transmit data simultaneously." USAF said the technology is compact enough to fit inside the aircraft's travel pod. The performed Starlink network tests aboard the F-35 Lightning II aircraft, it "harnessed [internet] speeds up to 30 times faster during the week-long test," they stated.

SpaceX says Starlink is the world's most advanced internet infrastructure, capable of beaming internet service to the most remote places on Earth. The company currently operates around 2,200 satellites and plans to launch up to 12,000 in the years to come to build a robust internet network with high-speed coverage globally. The system already proved to be reliable and useful in times of war. SpaceX delivered thousands of Starlink user terminals to Ukraine amidst the war with Russia and it is proven to be a reliable tool for communications to continue to defend and protect civilians.   

Featured Image Source: United States Air Force / Todd Cromar








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