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​Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Holmes presents the Silver Star to retired Lt. Col. Gregory Thornton for his actions in a 33-hour battle in Afghanistan in Iraq on April 6, 2003. Screenshot photo.

Retired A-10 Pilot Gets Silver Star

A retired A-10 pilot on Friday received the Silver Star more than 14 years after helping save an Army Task Force under fire from Iraqi armor. Then-Capt. Gregory Thornton, who retired as a lieutenant colonel, was flying his Warthog supporting Advance 33, a ground forward air controller who was attached to Task Force 2nd and the 69th Armor Battalion near Baghdad on April 6, 2003. The group’s lead element came under fire from enemy tanks and armored vehicles and Thornton, “with complete disregard for his personal safety,” provided support to the ground forces despite lowered visibility caused by a sand storm, his citation states. Thornton “braved the ever increasing hailstorm of anti-aircraft fire” for 33 minutes, and killed and demobilized three T-72 tanks, six armored personnel carriers, and multiple utility vehicles. His actions allowed the task force to cross the river and accomplish their objective—linking up with coalition forces to fully encircle Baghdad. "The sound of her gun makes our enemy run and hide, but the distinct sound of her engines makes our friendly forces give a little bit more. They get a little bit stronger and it can turn the momentum of a close air support fight," said Thornton during a Friday evening ceremony at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. "We've had many people come and tell us that when they heard the sound of tht A-10 engine, it felt like I was ok now and it's turned the tide of the entire battle." Thornton was presented the award by Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Holmes. (Watch video of Thornton's Silver Star ceremony.)  — Brian Everstine


Donovan Nominated to be Air Force Undersecretary

President Trump on Thursday nominated Matthew Donovan, a 31-year Air Force veteran and majority policy director for the Senate Armed Services Committee, to be the next undersecretary of the Air Force. If confirmed, Donovan would succeed current under secretary Lisa Disbrow. Donovan, before serving as majority policy director, also served as a professional staff member and advised the chairs of the air land subcommittee, according to the White House announcement. Donovan retired as a colonel in the Air Force, commanded an F-15C squadron, and commanded the US Air Force Officer Training School.

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ULA Wins Third Competitively Awarded EELV Launch Contract

The Air Force awarded a $191 million launch services contract to United Launch Alliance (ULA) in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program on June 29. The award is the third competitive source selection in Phase 1A of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, and the first win for ULA after SpaceX won contracts to launch GPS III satellites in the first two rounds of competition. While SMC launch enterprise director Claire Leon declined to name the second competitor, SpaceX is currently the only other EELV-certified launch services provider. Leon called the decision “a best value source selection.” Read the full report by Wilson Brissett.

SMC Releases Final RFP for Five Launches

The Air Force released a final request for proposal (RFP) on June 29 for five launches in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The batch includes launch services for the fourth, fifth, and sixth GPS III satellites—which will be awarded as a “winner take all” block—and two other missions, AFSPC-8 and AFSPC-12, to be awarded individually. The Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) has asked for responses by Aug. 14 and expects to award contracts for launch services in February 2018. AFSPC-8 will place Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness satellites five and six into orbit during the third quarter of Fiscal 2020. AFSPC-12 will launch during the second quarter of Fiscal 2020 and will carry a Wide Field of View (WFOV) Testbed and a propulsive Secondary Payload Adapter carrying a group of unspecified smaller payloads. In April, SMC had released a draft version of the RFP that included a sixth mission, AFSPC-52. That mission was not included in the final RFP because SMC decided that it required “a different set of evaluation criteria,” Claire Leon, director of SMC launch enterprise, told reporters in a conference call on June 30. She expects SMC to release a stand-alone RFP for AFSPC-52 by the end of 2017.—Wilson Brissett
 

Senate Armed Services Approves $640B Base Budget for 2018

The Senate Armed Services Committee completed its mark of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act last week, voting unanimously to report the bill to the full Senate. SASC proposed spending $640 billion in the base defense budget and $60 billion in overseas contingency operations (OCO), according to a summary released by the committee. The $700 billion grand total for defense spending is close to the $696 billion recently proposed by the House Armed Services Committee in its mark,  but the House would include only $621 billion in base spending with $75 billion moved to OCO. The SASC and HASC budgets would each exceed the spending cap of $549 billion established by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The SASC mark would fund 94 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, including 60 F-35As for the Air Force, and 17 KC-46 aircraft. HASC would only fund 87 F-35s, 56 of which would be the A variant, but has money for 18 KC-46s. The SASC mark also includes acquisition reform policy, expanding the role of the Chief Management Officer, a position created in the FY17 NDAA, to be the Pentagon’s No. 3 official and to oversee all business operations of the service Secretaries. It also creates a new Chief Information Warfare Officer who would oversee all information warfare in the areas of “cybersecurity and cyber warfare, space and space launch systems, electronic warfare, and the electromagnetic spectrum.”—Wilson Brissett

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A dummy attached to a GR7000 parachute is recovered following a test drop at the ROWE drop zone south of Edwards AFB, Calif. Members of the 418th Flight Test Squadron are testing a new parachute canopy for the Advanced Concept Ejection Seat II, or ACES II. Air Force photo by Ethan Wagner.

USAF Testing New Ejection Seat Parachute

The Air Force is testing a new parachute for the Advanced Concept Ejection Seat II, with the goal to improve safety and expanding the weight range of aircrew. The 418th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB, Calif., has been testing a GR7000 parachute on the ACES II system, which is meant to handle a greater weight range for pilots and provide a slower rate of descent and oscillation, according to an Air Force Materiel Command release. So far, the squadron has conducted 10 dummy drops, 20 live-person jumps, and five drops of a test vehicle from a contracted Skyvan aircraft to evaluate the new parachute. The ACES II has been in use since 1978, and is used in the A-10, F-15, F-16, F-22, B-1, and B-2. The system has only undergone two major changes, including expanding the allowable weight range and updates to let pilots wear heavier helmet-mounted devices, the release states.

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RADAR SWEEP


—The remains of Army Air Forces SSgt. Byron Nelson, the nose gunner aboard a B-24 bomber that was shot down over Italy on April 25, 1944, were returned for burial in his hometown near Primgha, Iowa: Iowa's The Daily Progress

—The Air Force has posted new challenges on its crowdsourcing website aimed at revitalizing the squadrons. The first challenge closed on June 19, with an average of more than 3,000 views per day and more than 16,000 total votes: USAF release

—USAF Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks assumed command of Special Operations Command Africa from Army Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc on June 28: AFRICOM release