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​Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson addressed a variety of issues during a Friday Mitchell Institute event on Capitol Hill from the service's effort to procure a new light attack aircraft, the decision to cancel the JSTARS recapitalization program, and the future of space operations. Staff photo by Amy McCullough.


USAF’s Five-Year Plan Includes $2.4 Billion to Procure Light Attack Aircraft

The Air Force has set aside $2.4 billion in the five-year future years defense program to start buying a new fleet of light attack aircraft, Secretary Heather Wilson told reporters on Friday after an AFA Mitchell Institute event on Capitol Hill. Exactly how many aircraft the service intends to buy, though, is still not clear. Wilson said the  “concept of operations and, frankly, engagement with our allies will tell us how many we want to buy,” but she noted that more details will be available in the service’s Fiscal 2020 budget request. Read the full story by Amy McCullough.


Wilson Defends Move to Establish Space Command Vice Commander Post

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson Friday defended the Air Force’s decision to create a three-star vice commander of the service’s Space Command, saying Congress may have eliminated a similar deputy chief of staff for space position in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, but it “didn’t tell us anything particular to put in place of it.” Read the full report by Steve Hirsch.

The JSTARS Challenge

The Air Force does not plan to have a prime contractor oversee the multiple systems that will make up the JSTARS alternative, Secretary Heather Wilson told reporters on Friday after an AFA Mitchell Institute event on Capitol Hill. She acknowledged the idea of integrating a network of sensors from multiple domains is more difficult to “understand and visualize,” but said, “inherently a network” is “more resilient than a single point platform. Read the full story by Amy McCullough.

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As Shift Focuses to Afghanistan, US Aircraft Still Conducting the Most Strikes in Iraq and Syria

While US Central Command officials have said Afghanistan is the main focus of its forces, US and coalition aircraft were busiest in Iraq and Syria again in January. US and coalition aircraft dropped 448  bombs on ISIS targets as part of Operation Inherent Resolve last month, down from 584 in December 2017 and dramatically less than the 3,600 total in January 2017. At the same time, US aircraft dropped 321 bombs in Afghanistan last month, according to Air Forces Central Command statistics released Friday. Earlier this month, Maj. Gen. James Hecker, the commander of the 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan, said operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan are now CENTCOM’s “main effort.” While there were more strikes in Operation Inherent Resolve, US aircraft flew more airlift sorties to Afghanistan (1,047) than the 800 sorties as part of the war on ISIS. —Brian Everstine


STRATCOM: Flexible Nuclear Deterrence, Low-Yield Options Needed for Current Threats

The largest changes in the military’s Nuclear Posture Review, a new low-yield missile and a focus on responding to non-nuclear attacks, are aimed at providing flexibility and the need to tailor responses to specific threats, the leader of US Strategic Command said Friday. STRATCOM Commander USAF Gen. John Hyten, speaking Friday at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., said the global strategic threat environment is “dynamic” and changes constantly, so the US must be “equally dynamic to address these threats.” The Nuclear Posture Review, unveiled early this month, seeks to increase the number of options the President has available to respond to threats. The review calls for the creation of a new low-yield, submarine-launched missile that is more survivable than the air-dropped B61 bomb carried by fighter and bomber aircraft. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, testifying before Congress on Feb. 6, said this development could be used to help convince Russia to return to compliance with the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty. While that is possible, Hyten said it isn’t the main reason behind the development of the new weapon. Instead, it will be a survivable option that could be launched closer to a threat such as North Korea, and is needed quickly to provide more options and an even more credible deterrent. “We must tailor our approach to every potential adversary,” Hyten said. “This ... requires us to have flexible capabilities that include a broad mix of yields and modernized platforms to credibly deter the spectrum of adversaries and threats we face today and in the future.” —Brian Everstine

Two Mildenhall Special Operations Airmen Receive Distinguished Flying Crosses

Two special operations airmen at RAF Mildenhall, England, received Distinguished Flying Crosses for their role in a 2016 resupply mission in enemy territory that helped save fellow special operators. Capt. Joseph Castro, 67th Special Operations Squadron pilot, and SSgt. Joshua Call, 67th SOS loadmaster, received the awards Feb. 8 for the Jan. 5, 2016, mission in Helmand Province, according to an Air Force Special Operations Command release. The airmen were part of an MC-130J Commando II crew that, shortly after finishing an 18-hour mission, were called back into the air to help special operators under fire and in need of resupply. The crew flew with an armed escort to the pinned down forces and took small arms fire and anti-aircraft artillery. As the MC-130 approached the drop zone, the supply bundle got stuck and Call had to manually deploy the bundle despite incoming fire, dropping it within 50 meters of the special operations team. Two other members of the crew, Capt. Charlotte Raabe and SSgt. Gary Bjerke, of the 9th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon AFB, N.M., both received DFCs last month for their role in the mission. —Brian Everstine

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RADAR SWEEP


—The Air Force will retire the MQ-1 Predator and transition to an all MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft force on March 9: USAF release.

—Aerojet Rocketdyne wants the USAF’s Space and Missile Systems Center to renegotiate its 2016 contract for development of the AR1 rocket engine to reduce costs to the company: Space News.

—Air Force Research Laboratory leaders supported a robot competition earlier this month in Dayton, Ohio, aimed at urging students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics career fields: AFRL release.

—Defense Secretary Jim Mattis met with senior Turkish officials on Feb. 14 to reaffirm their alliance as tensions have increased over fighting between the Turkish military and Kurdish fighters in Syria: DOD release.