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A B-52H Stratofortress from Barksdale AFB, La., lifts off the runway at RAF Fairford, UK, June 6, 2017. Crew members aboard B-52s will participate in BALTOPS, an annual, multinational, maritime-focused exercise involving NATO allies and partner nations. BALTOPS provides bomber crews with opportunities to integrate capabilities with regional partners and is part of the United States’ commitment to supporting global security. Air Force photo by A1C Randahl J. Jenson.

Russian Su-27 Intercepts B-52 in Baltics

A Russian Su-27 intercepted a B-52 strategic bomber that was flying over international waters near Russia’s border on Tuesday, reported Reuters. The Russian fighter took off from its Baltic fleet air defense unit based in Kaliningrad, which is located along the Baltic coast between Poland and Lithuania. Three nuclear-capable B-52H Stratofortresses from Barksdale AFB, La., on Tuesday began flying missions in support of the US Navy’s Baltic Operations exercise, commonly referred to as BALTOPS, according to an Air Force release. While in Europe, the bombers also will support the NATO exercise Saber Strike, working alongside Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. "The fact that NATO forces are converging near Russia's borders and carrying out military exercises supported by strategic bombers from the USA capable of carrying nuclear weapons hardly helps de-escalate tensions in Europe," the Russian-backed Sputnik news service, quoted Foreign Ministry official Mikhail Ulyanov, according to the Reuters report. The Air Force did not immediately respond to Air Force Magazine’s request for comment.


Fiscal 2018 Budget Starts Rebuilding Readiness

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff David Goldfein faced a skeptical Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, defending the administration’s Fiscal 2018 budget request, the current pace of acquisition, and the need to rebuild readiness. Read the full report by Brian Everstine.


Al Udeid Operations Continue Despite GCC Nations Cutting Ties With Qatar

Air Force and Defense Department leaders are working with the State Department to ensure that operations at al Udeid AB, Qatar, continue to work smoothly. Speaking at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said he has spoken to the commander at the base in Qatar who assured him “they are working now” with the US ambassador and country team there to ensure the base can remain operational. On Monday, nations including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt cut diplomatic ties and sea, air, and land connections with Qatar, claiming the country supports terrorism. There has been no impact on operations at Al Udeid, which hosts dozens of USAF tankers, airlifters, B-52 bombers, and JSTARS aircraft. Goldfein and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told lawmakers the base will continue to operate normally, but there are contingency plans in place if a change away from the base has to be made.

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Wilson: SECAF Position Harder Without Political Nominees in Place

Heather Wilson, who took over as Air Force secretary last month, said her job is being made “more difficult” because of a lack of confirmed positions inside the Pentagon and in the Air Force itself. The service has six positions that need to be confirmed by the Senate, with four candidates “preferred” and interviews being conducted for the other two. None of these candidates have been nominated, Wilson told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday. “It is becoming difficult,” she said. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Wilson if the problem is with the White House not putting forward the nominations, and she replied, “I don’t know."

US Backed Fighters Begin Offensive on ISIS Capital

US-backed Syrian forces on Tuesday began their offensive against ISIS in the group’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, both the coalition and Syrian Kurdish fighters announced. The “multi-ethnic” Syrian Democratic Forces have proven themselves in Manbij, Tabqah, and other towns across Syria and are ready to take on ISIS in its home city, the coalition said in a statement. Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said in a statement that the fight will be difficult, but will end in a decisive blow to ISIS. “It’s hard to convince new recruits that ISIS is a winning cause when they’ve just lost their twin capitals in both Iraq and Syria,” Townsend said in a statement. US and coalition aircraft will support the SDF and Syrian Arab Coalition with air support, along with advising. The Kurdish YPG announced it was beginning the “great battle” for Raqqa liberation and had entered the neighborhood of Al-Mashalab.

AMC Launches Aviation Retention Task Force

Air Mobility Command boss Gen. Carlton Everhart stood up the AMC Aviation Retention Task Force earlier this month in an effort to address the command’s growing pilot shortage. Though attention often is focused on the fighter community, AMC is expected to be short more than 400 pilots by Fiscal 2022. In addition, roughly 60 percent of the Mobility Air Force manpower and aircraft is in the reserve component, but the Air Force Reserve is only manned at 94 percent and the Air National Guard at 85 percent. Everhart first reached out to airmen via social media in mid-April seeking their input on aviation retention concerns. The command received more than 600 responses from a variety of career fields, ranks, and services ranging from quality of life initiatives to career progression concerns, according to a June 6 Air Force release. “The team is poring over inputs by airmen from throughout AMC,” said Brig. Gen. Samuel Mahaney, AMC deputy director of operations and the task force chair, in the release. “We are listening to AMC airmen, acknowledging their informed observations, and considering both their evolutionary and revolutionary suggestions.”


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RADAR SWEEP


—Pacific Air Forces commander Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy talks about the challenges his command faces in a recent video to airmen: DVIDS release

—Fairchild AFB, Wash., is the preferred location to base 12 KC-135 tankers and MacDill AFB, Fla., is the reasonable alternative, according to an Air Force release.

—The annual mission to recover remains and aircraft debris from a 1952 USAF C-124 crash on Colony Glacier began on June 5 and runs through June 30: USAF release

—US Strategic Command and the German air force signed a memorandum of understanding to assign a German officer to the Joint Functional Component Command for Space: USAF release

Correction: An item in the Radar Sweep section of the June 6 column incorrectly stated that enlisted airmen could fly MQ-9 Reapers. The Air Force is currently accepting applications for enlisted airmen to fly RPAs, though they are only eligible to fly RQ-4 Global Hawks.