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​A 493rd Fighter Squadron F-15C intercepts two Russian Navy Su-30 Flankers in November. Screenshot from US Air Forces in Europe video

​Lakenheath F-15Cs Wrap Up Baltic Air Policing Deployment, Show Off Intercepts

About 140 airmen and F-15Cs are returning to RAF Lakenheath, England, after a four-month stint policing Baltic airspace in Lithuania. Before heading home, the 493rd Fighter Squadron released videos showing their F-15s intercepting Russian Navy Su-30 Flankers multiple times. Read the full story by Brian Everstine.

Cannon Airmen Receive Distinguished Flying Crosses for Afghanistan Resupply Mission

Two airmen at Cannon AFB, N.M., on Friday received Distinguished Flying Crosses for their role in a 2016 resupply mission in Afghanistan, braving enemy anti-aircraft fire to help US special operations forces on the ground. Capt. Charlotte Raabe and SSgt. Gary Bjerke of the 9th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon received the medals during a Friday ceremony at the base, where they “represent the best of what Air Commandos bring to the work we do every day,” 9th SOS Commander Lt. Col. Matthew Bartlett said in a Cannon release. On Jan 5, 2016, the airmen were flying as part of a 6-man aircrew in an MC-130J Commando II conducting an emergency resupply airdrop to special operations forces who were under fire in an isolated area of Afghanistan, according to Cannon. The aircraft flew through an area where it was within reach of small arms and anti-aircraft artillery. “It did not set in that we were taking fire until the ramp and door had opened,” said Bjerke, the loadmaster on the mission. Raabe was the aircraft’s combat systems officer. “I distinctively remember hearing the cracks of the bullets passing behind the aircraft. The only thing I could think of was that this resupply needed to be executed successfully.” The crew airdropped a bundle of ammunition and supplies, which landed within 50 meters of the team and they were able to be evacuated, according to the release. —Brian Everstine

Air Force “Hurricane Hunters” Probed East Coast Blizzard

The Air Force’s “Hurricane Hunters” squadron flew its first mission of 2018 as a large blizzard slammed the US East Coast last week. The Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, part of the 403rd Wing at Keesler AFB, Miss., sends WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft ahead of weather systems to gather data for National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration forecast models. The planes fly at 27,000 to 32,000 feet above sea level, releasing instruments called dropsondes into the path of the storm, which collect data such as air pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, and global positioning system information as they parachute down to the water surface. In response to the storm, about 500 National Guard members were on state-activation orders in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia to help local agencies respond. —Steve Hirsch

AFRL Says Its New Space Solar Cells are the Cheapest and Most Efficient Around

Engineers from the Air Force Research Laboratory say they’ve found a way to harness 15 percent more power from solar cells the same size as those commonly used in space. Solar cell technology has evolved in past decades to deal with increased power demands from new payloads, like GPS. Though ubiquitous, silicon solar cells are cheap but not very rugged in space’s unforgiving conditions, and only convert about a fourth of the energy in sunlight, according to an AFRL release. Space-oriented, so-called multi-junction cells are layered and less susceptible to radiation and like conditions in space, but require more space and weight, undoing some of their benefits in costing the very energy they convert. AFRL’s new solar cells,called Inverted Metamorphic Multi-Junction, get conversion rates into the 32-percent range. A novel, upside-down approach to cell architecture also means lightweight and less vulnerable cells. IMM cells are currently being tested, space qualification expected sometime in 2018, the release states. —Gideon Grudo

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South, North Korean Officials Set to Talk After Military Exercise Delay Announced

Senior South Korean and North Korean officials are set to speak Tuesday following the decision to delay joint US, South Korean, and Japanese military exercises. The talks, the first in years, will be held at the Panmunjom border village and “are the result of international pressure and they are a way, I think, for North Korea to start talking while keeping it contained to a benign mission,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters on Thursday. South Korean President Moon Jae-In said on Friday he will be tough and “pursue peace” based on a “strong national defense capability,” according to The New York Times. —Brian Everstine

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RADAR SWEEP

—C-130s with the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing in southwest Asia flew more sorties in 2017 than the previous five years, with a high mission capable rate of 95.8 percent in September: Air Force release.
 
—Three E-8C Joint STARS have returned to mission ready status after a Dec. 19 ground mishap damaged four of the aircraft at Robins AFB, Ga. During a maintenance test run on Dec. 19, an engine failed and spread debris on the ramp: Robins release

—A survivor of the Nov. 5 mass shooting at a Texas church has filed a lawsuit against the Air Force, claiming the service failed to report the shooter’s criminal record. The shooter, Devin P. Kelley, is a former airman who was convicted of domestic assault while serving: KXAN