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An F-35A Lightning II from Hill AFB, Utah, makes the type's flight show debut at the Paris Air Show June 19, 2017 at Le Bourget, France. The same day, the Air Force announced that the 55 F-35As grounded at Luke AFB, Ariz., would return to flight on June 21, 2017. The Luke-based aircraft, which included USAF and international jets, were grounded on June 9 after five pilots experienced hypoxia-like symptoms over a five-week period. Air Force photo by TSgt. Ryan Crane.

​F-35A Makes Air Show Demo Debut as Program Picks up Speed

The stealthy F-35A strike fighter made its demonstration-flight debut at the Paris Air Show Monday as production rates, aircraft in service, and international interest in the fighter all ramp up. Read the full story from Adam J. Hebert who is reporting from the Paris Air Show.


Luke F-35s Will Return to Flight on Wednesday

Hours after the F-35A made its flight show debut in Paris, the Air Force announced the 55 F-35As that have been grounded at Luke AFB, Ariz., since June 9 will return to flight on Wednesday. Officials still have not determined what caused five physiological events to occur during flights from May 2-June 8, though "specific concerns were eliminated as possible causes, including maintenance and aircrew flight equipment procedures," according to an Air Force release. The strike fighters will temporarily adhere to the following restrictions, according to the release:
  1. Avoid the altitudes in which the hypoxia-like incidents occurred
  2. Ground procedures will be modified to mitigate physiological risks to pilots
  3. Physiological training will be expanded
  4. Minimum levels for backup oxygen systems for each flight will be increased
  5. Pilots will be offered the option of wearing sensors during flight to collect airborne human performance data.

"Our Active Duty, reserve, and international team has worked tirelessly to better understand the physiological events," said Brig. Gen. Brook Leonard, the 56th Fighter Wing commander. "This is a complex challenge that necessitates multidimensional solutions across a series of steps to get back to a full operating capability. We are confident that this initial step with the criteria our team developed will allow us to return to flying F-35s safely and to continue building the future of airpower." —Amy McCullough

European Exercises Stress Realism As Russia Looms Large

This month’s largely simultaneous Saber Strike and BALTOPS exercises brought in a big Air Force presence for realistic training along NATO’s eastern frontiers. The Navy-led BALTOPS is primarily over and around Poland and the Baltic Sea, while Saber Strike is an Army-led event centered on the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Veterans of multiple BALTOPS and Saber Strike exercises said this year’s iterations really ramped up the realism and intensity. Read Adam J. Hebert’s report from Poland and watch video of a C-130 taking off from a grass field in Estonia.

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Despite Intercepts, Russian Activity around Baltics Remains the Same

Le Bourget, France—Two high-profile intercepts of US aircraft in international airspace over the Baltic Sea this month generated a lot of attention, but the Air Force does not see these events as necessarily representing a deteriorating military situation between NATO and Russia. “We’ve compared the numbers” of Russian actions around the Saber Strike and Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) exercises compared to the previous two years, and “the numbers this year are equivalent to those of the past,” said Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of US Air Forces in Europe and NATO’s air component commander, at the Le Bourget airshow June 19. “The trend has remained the same.” The Russian intercepts were also handled professionally. The Air Force follows NATO and civilian aviation instructions pertaining to these sorts of incidents, and “we’re proud to report that 100 percent of the intercepts that were conducted by the Russians during BALTOPS were deemed safe,” Wolters said. The Russian actions did not interfere with US or NATO operations, and other officials said the intercepts may have been primarily for a domestic audience. Their purpose may have been to show that the Russian military is not backing down to NATO and will take action to protect Russian territory, such as Kaliningrad, which is surrounded by the Baltic Sea and NATO members Poland and Lithuania. —Adam J. Hebert

Dunford: Deconfliction Hotline Still Active After Russia Announces Pullout

The communications link between the US Combined Air Operations Center and Russian officials remained open Monday morning, after Russia said it was pulling out of the agreement after a US Navy jet shot down a Syrian Air Force plane. Read the full report by Brian Everstine.

Friction Among Gulf Nations Still Hasn’t Slowed US Operations

The US has been able to continue its operations in the Persian Gulf region, including air operations out of Al Udeid AB, Qatar, despite recent friction among countries in that region, the top US uniformed officer said Monday. Earlier this month, countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt, cut ties with Qatar claiming that country supported terrorism. The step included banning commercial flights between Doha and other cities in those countries. There has absolutely been “friction” in that region, however, the US has “been able to operate even through that friction,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said Monday. Al Udeid is host to the Combined Air Operations Center and a large number of refueling aircraft and bombers. Those aircraft have been able to maintain their operations tempo as part of both Operation Inherent Resolve and operations in Afghanistan, Dunford said. —Brian Everstine
 

More US Troops in Afghanistan Coming, But No Decision Yet

There will be a sizable increase in the number of US troops operating in Afghanistan, though the exact number has not yet been determined, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said Monday. Gen. Joseph Dunford, speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., would not confirm media reports that the US would send about 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan, saying the broader approach, based on the US State Department’s way forward in the region, would be announced in July. “No decision has been made,” he said. Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US Forces-Afghanistan, had made a request for thousands of additional troops to “thicken” the train, advise, and assist force inside the country. There is also a request to other NATO nations for more troops to help train, Dunford said. The overall goal in Afghanistan is to “drive the level of violence down, to increase the capacity of local forces such that local forces can deal with that challenge.” —Brian Everstine

For more of our coverage on the train, advise, assist mission from Brian Everstine’s recent trip to Afghanistan, read: US Airmen Train Afghans to Defend their BasesAfghanistan’s Close Air Support Workhorse is Growing, But More Progress Needed, and The Small Cessna That Carries the Afghan Air Force.


Weather Testing Keeps SDB II on Track

Raytheon has completed a series of high-wind tunnel tests on the Small Diameter Bomb II, the company announced on Monday. SDB II is designed to strike targets with accuracy in bad weather and is being developed for use by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. "Enemies use adverse weather conditions to travel, because it helps them avoid detection," said Mike Jarrett, Raytheon air warfare systems vice president, according to a company press release. "Whether they are in the rain, obscured by smoke, or on the move, SDB II will find them." The completion of the high-wind tests moves SDB II closer to operational testing. The munition’s development was previously delayed until 2022, creating a possible capability gap because the last of the aircraft that currently performs close air support in bad weather, the A-10, is scheduled to be retired the same year. With the announcement, Raytheon said it still expects to be able to meet the 2022 target. In January, the Air Force exercised an option to buy 312 more SDB IIs at a cost of $63 million.


Think Tanks Urge Another Round of BRAC

Experts from more than 30 think tanks have written an open letter to Congress urging lawmakers to approve another round of base realignment and closure (BRAC) in an effort to save money by reducing excess Department of Defense capacity. The letter says DOD will have 22 percent excess capacity by 2019, but it does not offer an estimate of potential savings from a new round of BRAC. Read the full report by Wilson Brissett.


Lockheed Martin and India’s Tata Seek to Build “Block 70” F-16s

Le Bourget, France—Lockheed Martin on June 19 announced plans to partner with India’s Tata Advanced Systems Limited to potentially build advanced F-16s in India. The partnership announcement at the Paris Air Show comes as the Indian government weighs its options to replace old MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters. The agreement “provides India the opportunity to produce, operate, and export F-16 Block 70 aircraft, the newest and most advanced version of the world's most successful, combat-proven multi-role fighter,” Lockheed’s announcement read, adding, this would be “the newest and most technologically advanced F-16 ever offered.” The Block 70 Viper would be expected to offer a host of advanced capabilities. According to Lockheed Martin, it would offer advanced avionics, overwing conformal fuel tanks, new datalinks, Advanced, Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars, automatic ground-collision avoidance (Auto GCAS) systems, and the ability to deliver a wide variety of weapons. According to India Today, the competition to build 120 “made in India” fighters appears to have come down to the F-16 and Sweden’s Saab Gripen. “Almost all the variants of the MiG-21s and MiG-27s would retire by the year 2025 and the IAF is hoping that their replacements would be ready for induction into the service in the form of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft and the 120 'Made in India' fighter planes,” India Times reported last week. The Indian government is expected to select the winning multirole fighter within a year. —Adam J. Hebert

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Army Capt. James E. Miller served as a pilot during World War I, and was the first US​​​-trained pilot to be a combat aviation casualty of the war. Courtesy photo.

WWI Aviator Awarded Distinguished Flying Cross

An Army pilot and the first aviation casualty in World War I was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross almost 100 years after his actions in France. US Army Air Services Capt. James E. Miller took command of the 95th Pursuit Squadron about 10 months after the US declared war, according to a Pentagon release. During a flight on March 9, 1918, Miller and Maj. Davenport Johnson flew a combat patrol in French-built SPAD XIII aircraft into German territory—it was the first combat patrol ever for the US Army Air Services, according to the release. The two fought off two German aircraft, but then Johnson’s aircraft had trouble with its guns. Miller was forced to take on the German pilots on his own. “Miller continued to attack the two German biplanes, fearlessly exposing himself to the enemy, until his own aircraft was severely damaged and downed behind the German lines, where he succumbed to his injuries,” Miller’s award citation reads. The award was presented to Miller’s great-grandson during a ceremony June 14 at JB Myer-Henderson Hall, Va.

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RADAR SWEEP


—Five members of the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Wing at Fort George G. Meade competed against members the National Security Agency, NASA engineers, and graduate students from the Royal Military College of Canada in the first Space Cyber Challenge at the NSA Cyber Defense Exercise recently. Competitors focused on system hardening, satellite operations, and offensive cyber operations: USAF release.

—"We must develop space airmen who have the tools, training, and resources to fight when—not if—war extends into space. Just as the Air Force built the training ranges, schools, and programs to ensure air dominance after the Vietnam War, we now must determine how best to do this in space. We are currently investing in the hardware to ensure space superiority; in the near future we will need to grow the number of space airmen and the accompanying infrastructure much like we did for the combat Air Force 40 years ago," wrote Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in an op-ed published in Defense One.