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Secretary of Defense Mark Esper answers questions from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., July 16, 2019. DOD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith.

​Esper Takes Over as 27th Secretary of Defense

The Senate on July 23 confirmed Mark Esper to be the 27th defense secretary by a vote of 90-8, and hours later President Donald Trump officially swore him in during a White House ceremony. Esper sailed through his confirmation process, which officially began eight days before the vote when his name was formally submitted to the Senate. The White House on July 23 also formally nominated Pentagon Comptroller David Norquist to be deputy secretary of defense. Read the full story by Brian Everstine.

USAF Leading Effort to Build Operating Base in Saudi Arabia

The Air Force is setting up a small expeditionary annex to Prince Sultan AB in Saudi Arabia to host fighter aircraft and US Army Patriot missiles. Airmen from 25 different Air Force Specialty Codes are participating in the construction. Air Forces Central Command on July 22 released a video highlighting the construction at the base, being led by Air Force RED HORSE and contingency response airmen. Read the full story by Brian Everstine.

Second Annual AFWERX “Fusion” Event Tackles Multidomain Operations

LAS VEGAS—The Air Force wants all the help it can get to tackle a wicked problem like multidomain operations. AFWERX—a multifaceted Air Force group broadening the service’s outreach to small businesses, helping grow startups, and touting fast prototyping over traditional acquisition—is trying to level the playing field so more companies can contribute to the future multidomain enterprise. The organization’s “Fusion Xperience” conference a few miles from the Las Vegas Strip brings together around 120 companies that responded to the Air Force’s call for tools that enable “rapid decision-making and coordinated response across multiple domains.” Startups stand shoulder-to-shoulder with major defense contractors; venture capitalists can scope out potential investment opportunities. Read the full story by Rachel S. Cohen.

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CENTCOM: USS Boxer Downed More than One Iranian Drone

The USS Boxer on July 18 may have downed two Iranian drones, not just one as previously reported, during a “complex” altercation in the Strait of Hormuz, the top US official in the region said. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of US Central Command, told CBS News aboard the USS Boxer that there was “a complex tactical picture, we believe two drones were successfully engaged.” CENTCOM in a statement said the Boxer observed a “splash” for one drone, but didn’t for the other. The Pentagon and President Donald Trump announced July 18 that the Boxer was harassed by an Iranian drone at a close range. The Boxer “took defensive action against the UAS to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement. McKenzie said he is confident two drones were brought down, but “there may have been more” that the military is not aware of. The July 18 incident is one of a series of recent incidents involving Iran in the Persian Gulf, including last month’s downing of a Navy RQ-4. —Brian Everstine

NSA to Launch Cybersecurity Directorate in October

The National Security Agency’s first-ever cybersecurity directorate, charged with bringing its cyber and foreign-intelligence taskings under a single umbrella and combating risks to America’s defense-industrial base and national security systems, will go operational on October 1. Anne Neuberger, who previously served as the NSA’s deputy operations director and its inaugural chief risk officer, will head the directorate and report directly to agency boss and US Cyber Command boss Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, the agency said in a release. The agency said the new directorate is meant to breathe new life into the agency’s “white hat mission,” which will, in turn, create opportunities for new cybersecurity partnerships and clients. “It will also build on our past successes, such as Russia Small Group, to operationalize our threat intelligence, vulnerability assessments, and cyber defense expertise to defeat our adversaries in cyberspace,” the release said. Additionally, the directorate is expected to foster better collaboration with the agency’s intragovernmental partners, including CYBERCOM, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.––Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory

Whiteman B-2 Maintainers Set New Readiness High

Airmen at Whiteman AFB, Mo., have set a new mark for engine mission capability across the entire Active Duty Air Force, and did so with one of the service’s most complex airframes. The 509th Maintenance Group recently reached a 375% war ready engine level for the base’s B-2 stealth bombers, meaning the base has almost four times as many engines ready as needed for the Air Force’s war tasking at a given time, according to an Air Force release. “Their ability to deliver spare engines is critical to ensuring we meet our annual flying hour commitments and, more importantly, the team is delivering safe and reliable aircraft to our aircrew members every time we fly,” Col. Mark Riselli, commander of the 509th MG, said in the release. To reach the goal, airmen said they worked closely with Air Force Materiel Command, Air Force Global Strike Command, General Electric, and Northrop Grumman to make sure they had to support, equipment, and parts to improve readiness.

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War in Afghanistan Could Be Over in a Week, Trump Says
President Donald Trump on July 22 said the United States will work more closely with Pakistan to provide relief to US forces in Afghanistan, where roughly 14,000 American troops are currently stationed. While Trump did not elaborate on what the relief measures will entail, he said the White House will have new answers on Afghanistan "very quick" because he wants to bring more troops home from America's longest war as soon as possible.

Assistant Air Force Secretary Talks “Evil Geniuses,” Space Force at Wichita Panel
Assistant Air Force Secretary Will Roper stressed the urgency of establishing a “dominant” US presence in space Monday at a panel discussion on space defense and deterrence. The panel, moderated by Sen. Jerry Moran, was held at the National Institute for Aviation Research as a part of an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. The Wichita Eagle

Will US F-35s Ever Operate from Turkey? The US Air Force’s Top General Won’t Rule It Out.
The US Air Force’s top general isn’t ready to say that the service’s stealthy F-35s will never fly out of its air base in Turkey, despite an ongoing feud between Washington, D.C., and Ankara about Turkey’s purchase of a Russian air defense system, he said in an exclusive July 20 interview. Defense News

Air Force Eyes New Deep Space Sensors in Australia, Spain
The Air Force is increasingly interested in Australia as a host for SSA capabilities because they can watch satellites over the Southern Hemisphere. Breaking Defense

“Freedom Juice”: KC-10s Work to Keep Fighter Pilots in the Battle During Talisman Sabre
This year, the monthlong air, land and sea exercise led by the US and Australia also includes forces from Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, with representatives from the Indian and South Korean militaries observing. Stars and Stripes

Donovan Visits B-21, X-37B Facilities, L3 Harris Technologies
Acting Air Force Secretary Matthew Donovan visited three separate sites in Florida to highlight investments in the future of flight in air, space, and communications July 19. Donovan visited Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Design and Development Headquarters and the Kennedy Space Center to review the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Processing Facility, as well as the newly merged L3 Harris Technologies, Inc. USAF release

Male Nominees to Service Academies Outnumber Women 3 to 1
An analysis shows the percentage of female students nominated by members of Congress for admission to US service academies has been rising, but men are still put forward at numbers nearly three times higher than women. Associated Press via US News & World Report

Special Duty Airmen: Shorter Tours will Help Maintain Family Balance, Career Edge
The recent Air Force decision to shorten the tours for airmen serving in four special duty or instructor positions will affect hundreds of airmen. And in a recent interview, two of those airmen said they think the shift will help them better maintain their work-life balance and stay up-to-date in their home career fields. Air Force Times

REPORT: Why America Needs a New Way of War
Given that US armed forces’ last major conventional combat operations were the massively lopsided victories against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1991 and 2003, many Americans might be wondering how the possibility of war and US defeat is real and growing. This report makes the case that one salient issue is that the American way of war—the implicit and explicit mental framework for US military strategy and operations—that coalesced after the Gulf War is no longer valid. Center for a New American Security

Canada Launches Contest to Build New Fighter Jet; First Delivery in 2025
Canada launched a long-delayed competition to build new fighter jets on July 23, and said it was confident no favoritism had been shown toward any one contender, though some in the industry have said the race is tilted towards Lockheed Martin Corp. Reuters

One More Thing…

Think Your Eclipse Photos Are Cool? Look at These, Taken From a U-2
It helps when your camera platform is a Dragon Lady, but it’s still not an easy shot to capture. Air & Space Magazine