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​An F-35 sits on Lockheed Martin’s production line in Fort Worth, Texas. The head of the F-35 Joint Program Office warned Wednesday that the aircraft’s sustainment costs could be unaffordable unless reductions are made. Lockheed Martin photo

Program Office Warns F-35 Sustainment Unaffordable Without Cost Reduction

The F-35’s sustainment costs will be “unaffordable” unless they are brought down before the US services flying the fighter begin operating many hundreds of the aircraft in the early 2020s, Joint Program Office Executive Vice Adm. Mat Winter told reporters Wednesday. He described initiatives underway to get sustainment costs down, but said the problem actors are the oldest F-35s, and that newer ones are meeting service requirements for availability. Winter also said the F-35 won’t enter Operational Test and Evaluation until September, and that phase of the program will end more than a year from now. Negotiations on a unit cost for the next production lot are continuing, but the Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin are jointly doing a “deep dive” into touch labor costs to improve the learning curve on the factory floor.  Read the full story by John A. Tirpak.

AMC Looking to Move on From KC-46 Delays, Receive “War Ready” Aircraft

Air Mobility Command is looking forward to an eventful 2018 on its KC-46 program, where it can move beyond delays and issues in testing and get a ready aircraft on the ramp. “I hope a year from now, I can say that we got an airplane that was war ready on day one,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas Sharpy, deputy commander of Air Mobility Command. Read the full story by Brian Everstine.

House Armed Services Leaders Warn on Russia, China Space Threats

It is is “unacceptable” that the United States has allowed Russia and China to approach or match US capabilities in space, a key House Armed Services Committee member said Wednesday. Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said the situation is not likely to be remedied without major changes in the Air Force, including the creation of an independent “Space Corps.” Read the full story by Steve Hirsch.

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STRATCOM: US Nuclear Deterrent Nearly “Zero Percent” Modernized

The US military’s nuclear deterrent is almost “zero percent” modernized, while Russia, who poses the most significant threat to the country, has massively modernized its nuclear infrastructure and weapons over the course of the past 20 years, the head of US Strategic Command said Wednesday. STRATCOM Commander USAF Gen. John Hyten, speaking Wednesday at an Association of the US Army event in Arlington, Va., said the Pentagon’s recently released Nuclear Posture Review shows that nuclear deterrence is the top priority for the department, but that missile defense and the nation’s diplomats are also important in deterring threats. While Russia is the most “significant” threat, and North Korea is the most uncertain foe, China is leading the world in the speed at which it is developing. This includes China’s advances in space and hypersonics. While China is still behind the US in capacity, “holy cow they are moving fast,” Hyten said. The new NPR, which outlines modernization requirements and new capabilities to tailor deterrence to different threats, will help the US “deal with the pace of the threat,” he said. —Brian Everstine

New York Guard Wing Returns from Annual Antarctic Operation

Aircraft and airmen from the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing are returning from Antarctica where their ski-outfitted LC-130s flew as part of Operation Deep Freeze. The operation is now in its 30th year. The 109th AW, in this deployment, flew 120 missions, carrying about 2,300 researchers and staff, 2.7 million pounds of cargo, and 135,000 gallons of fuel to National Science Foundation research stations, according to an Air Force release. The wing operates during the Antarctic summer, from October to March. —Steve Hirsch

Raytheon Gets Small Diameter Bomb II Contract

The Air Force on Tuesday awarded Raytheon a $77.4 million contract for 570 Small Diameter Bomb II munitions, containers, and related equipment. The contract will cover work through July 2020, and is the result of a sole-source acquisition, according to a Pentagon announce​ment. The contract comes as the Air Force is working to replace weapons racks that have been depleted by high-tempo operations throughout the Middle East. The Pentagon’s 2018 budget request calls for a large ramp up in weapons production, including funding for 1,260 SDB IIs, along with Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Hellfire missiles. —Brian Everstine

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— USAF special tactics airmen recently wrapped up Exercise Cobra Gold in Thailand, where they practiced free fall operations, assault zone establishment, and control of both rotary and fixed wing fires alongside Royal Thai Air Force partners. USAF release

—The 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem AB, Germany, wrapped up Saber Thunder, a multinational, large-force exercise Feb. 22-23. The exercise included F-16s, Mirage 2000s, Eurofighters, KC-135s, and a NATO E-3 Sentry flying. The exercise is the first of monthly planned events. USAFE release

—Pentagon auditors are reviewing delays in constructing US Strategic Command’s $1.3 billion headquarters at Offutt AFB, Neb. Omaha World-Herald

—Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday offered to officially recognize the Taliban as a legitimate political group as part of a proposed process aimed at beginning talks to end the war. Reuters