DoD Mulls More Joint STARS
The Pentagon wants to talk with Congress about buying more Joint STARS radar airplanes, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen said.
Last year's Quadrennial Defense Review reduced the planned Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System buy from 19 to 13 aircraft. In addition, NATO decided late last year not to proceed with a Joint STARS purchase, throwing even more doubt on the program's future and planned costs.
"We have to go back and see what we can work out. ... JSTARS [is] very important," said Cohen in a Jan. 31 discussion with reporters.
The proposed 1999 Air Force budget contains $531 million for the 12th and 13th production Joint STARS models. Some members of Congress have asked that long-lead money for two more airplanes be inserted in the budget.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) said on Feb. 3 that he will seek to add $72 million to Air Force funds for just such a purpose. The money would "keep the [Joint STARS production] lines moving," he said.
Meanwhile, Defense Department officials may be looking at a two-engine version of the airplane. Placing Joint STARS radar capability on a business jet-like aircraft, instead of the current four-engine 707 platform, could make an expanding US Joint STARS fleet affordable. It might also make the airplane more attractive to Britain and other NATO Allies.
Northrop Grumman is currently developing a smaller Joint STARS based on the Gulfstream V for Britain's Airborne Standoff Radar competition. Britain is seeking up to five ground radar aircraft but does not want a large four-engine version.
USAF Chief Pushes Base Closure Plan
The Air Force needs to close more bases so that it can afford to create and maintain powerful expeditionary wings of the future, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael E. Ryan told members of Congress at a Feb. 4 meeting on Capitol Hill.
Ryan is looking at reorganizing the service around fewer, larger units that can provide a strong deployed force while still supporting the service personnel who remain in the United States. A smaller service base infrastructure would make operation of these "superwings" more efficient, he told members of the Congressional Air Power Caucus.
His plea for fewer facilities is likely to be echoed by many top Department of Defense and armed services officials this year.
As part of his transmission of the proposed 1999 military budget, Secretary of Defense Cohen has asked Congress for two more rounds of base closings, to take place in 2001 and 2005. Such Base Realignment and Closure proceedings would free some $2.8 billion annually for weapons modernization, according to Pentagon estimates.
Cohen Seeks BRAC Ammunition
Lawmakers already are resisting the Administration's call for closing more bases, inasmuch as bases are often key employers in Congressional districts. To help argue his case, Cohen has called for accelerating publication of a Congressionally mandated report on the costs and savings from past BRAC rounds.
The study, produced by the Defense Department Inspector General, claims that base closings have been more lucrative than projected, with savings underestimated by $1.7 billion and costs overestimated by $1.5 billion.
"We have to ask ourselves: Do we want depots in government hands or high-tech weapons in soldiers' hands?" said Cohen in a January address to the US Conference of Mayors. "Do we want to protect facilities or protect troops?"
Unknown Service Member Might Be USAF Flier
Six bones buried in the Tomb of the Unknowns in 1984 may be the remains of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael J. Blassie, whose A-37 was downed over Vietnam in May 1972.
Documents received by Blassie's family now indicate that may be the case.
Searchers found the remains, plus a wallet and Blassie's identification card, at the crash site in 1972. The remains were sent to the US government forensic lab in Hawaii, where examiners believed, but could not prove, that they were Blassie's.
A Pentagon board reclassified the remains, by then known as X-26, as unidentifiable in 1980. In 1984 the bones were chosen to be placed in Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns, along with unidentified US remains from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War.
Upon the selection, all documents pertaining to X-26 were destroyed. The family has asked that the bones be exhumed and modern DNA tests be carried out upon them.
DoD spokesman Navy Capt. Michael W. Doubleday said the case is a "very sensitive issue" and that the Pentagon will undertake a thorough investigation before deciding what to do.
Court Rules for Contractors in Navy's A-12 Dispute
The US Court of Federal Claims on Feb. 20 awarded General Dynamics and Boeing nearly $1.8 billion in compensation for cancellation of the Navy's A-12 stealth fighter program. The federal court's judgment consisted of $1.2 billion in payment plus more than $500 million in interest, at more than $200,000 per day.
The court rejected government claims that bad faith and negligence by the two companies led to inflated costs for the $52 billion program. The ruling also rejected claims that the companies had negotiated improperly generous settlements with subcontractors after the program was halted in early 1991.
DoD announced immediately that it is filing an appeal, thus continuing what may be the most expensive federal contract dispute to date.
Work was halted on the carrier-based, radar-evading attack aircraft on the grounds that it was overweight and over budget. General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas, now part of Boeing, had claimed that the fixed-price contract had imposed undue financial and technical risks on the firms and that the project would have eventually met military requirements.
The dispute has extended over seven years, during which the government suffered three successive defeats. The appeals process could last another three years, and, considering the daily interest charge alone, could add another nearly $220 million to the Pentagon's bill.
VA and DoD Collaborate on Health Care
Veterans, active duty service members, and taxpayers stand to benefit from increased coordination between the Department of Veterans Affairs and DoD.
An executive council of senior VA and Defense Department health care officials is in the process of improving communication between the two departments, finding ways for their health care systems to work together, conducting joint research projects, and eliminating overlap in medical services.
The departments have already agreed to conduct joint exit physicals for service members. VA requirements are now incorporated into DoD physical exams of members leaving or retiring from military service. In turn, VA has agreed to conduct physicals for separating or retiring service members filing claims with the VA before the person leaves the military.
Other initiatives include:
President Authorizes Call-Up
President Clinton on Feb. 24 signed an executive order authorizing the call-up of 500 National Guard and Reserve members to support operations in Southwest Asia.
Acting on the Presidential Selected Reserve Call-up Authority, Defense Secretary Cohen authorized the services to call up, for up to 270 days, selected reserve units and individuals not assigned to units. The reservists will beef up logistical and combat support skills in the Gulf region.
Types of units that might be called to active duty may include USAF Special Operations C-130 aircrews. More than 1,000 reservists are already on active duty to support Operation Southern Watch.
New Report Sees Lower NATO Expansion Costs
Defense Secretary Cohen on Feb. 23 released a report to Congress that downplays the anticipated costs of NATO expansion. The new DoD figures endorse NATO estimates of $1.5 billion over 10 years, rather than $6.2 billion announced by the Pentagon early last year.
The NATO estimate is based on a December 1997 study and reflects "more recent and more complete information than the [Pentagon's] February 1997 illustrative common-funded cost figures of $4.9 billion to $6.2 billion," stated Cohen. He had briefed Congress in October, after reviewing NATO's preliminary report, that he thought the DoD figures would prove high.
Release of the report came the day before Cohen and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to make a final pitch for Senate approval of NATO expansion. This led some critics to claim that the cost estimates may have been manipulated for political reasons.
The Congressional Budget Office in 1996 estimated the total cost of expansion at $61 billion to $125 billion over 15 years. DoD's February 1997 study had estimated the total cost at $27 billion to $35 billion over 13 years. A study by Rand Corp. offered a figure of $42 billion. [See "The Cost of NATO Expansion," December 1997, p. 56.] The cost estimates used different time frames, assumptions about potential threats, and types of costs.
DoD Outlines Health Care Priorities
In a speech to military health care professionals on Feb. 9, Rudy de Leon, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, outlined priorities that he says are critical to the continued success of the military's health care system.
Protecting deployed forces from health hazards should be a top goal of US medics and doctors, de Leon said. This includes making sure immunizations are up to date for deployed troops and training service members to protect themselves in a nuclear, biological, or chemical warfare environment.
Improved access to health care is also a major concern. "It's tough to get in [to military hospitals and clinics]," de Leon admitted. "We have to work better."
The Defense Department also needs to take better care of its older patients, according to the Pentagon's top personnel and readiness official. While Medicare Subvention is a first step, DoD is studying other options for the future. "How we treat retirees is an important display of how we will treat the current active duty force when they are retired," he said.
Leveraging information technology could help meet DoD medical goals. De Leon said he strongly backs two major medical initiatives: computerized health records and digital "dog tags" which carry medical information on a chip.
"While we have a system in transition, it is a system dedicated to excellence," de Leon concluded.
Medicare Subvention Test Begins
On Feb. 12, Secretary of Defense Cohen announced the beginning of the Tricare Senior Project-a demonstration that will allow some Medicare-eligible military retirees to receive comprehensive health care services through military treatment facilities.
Congress authorized a test of Medicare Subvention in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 and approved funding in the Fiscal 1998 defense budget.
Since Tricare began in 1995, 65-and-older retirees have complained about not being able to receive the space-available care they are entitled to in military facilities. Under the subvention process, these Medicare-eligible retirees will be able to have all their health needs provided by military facilities. Medicare will then reimburse these facilities for the costs not covered by DoD participating hospitals.
The demonstration features two specific plans: Tricare Senior and Medicare Partners. The Senior option will work just like Tricare Prime, with test enrollees paying the same fees and receiving the same services as other military retirees. The Partners option will allow 65-and-older retirees who are enrolled in a limited number of Medicare+Choice plans to receive their health services in military facilities.
The demonstration will be conducted at these sites: Keesler AFB, Miss.; Brooke Army Medical Center and Wilford Hall Medical Center, San Antonio; Ft. Sill, Okla.; Sheppard AFB, Texas; Ft. Carson and the Air Force Academy, Colo.; Madigan Army Medical Center, Wash.; Naval Medical Center San Diego, Calif.; and Dover AFB, Del.
Enrollment at the first sites is planned for this summer, with health care delivery at the sites beginning 60 days after enrollment starts.
Tricare Prime Becomes More Portable
All Tricare Prime enrollees can now take their health benefit program with them if they move from one DoD health service region where Tricare is operational to another.
Such ease of portability has been the case for active duty families since last July. As of Dec. 1, 1997, portability has been extended to all other Prime enrollees, as well.
Active duty families can make such a switch as often as they like. Prime enrollees other than active duty families may transfer twice during an enrollment year, as long as the second move is back to their original region.
"Split" enrollments-the ability to pay one family enrollment and have family members enrolled in different Tricare regions-will be available in the spring of 1998, according to the DoD Tricare Support Office.
GAO Backs Choice of Warner Robins for C-5 Maintenance
The Air Force was correct in its choice last year of Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins AFB, Ga., to perform maintenance on the C-5 airlifter, according to a review of the award done by Congress' General Accounting Office.
Maintenance on the C-5 went up for grabs after the Base Realignment and Closure commission designated the original work site, San Antonio ALC, at Kelly AFB, Texas, for closure. Private contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin vied with Warner Robins ALC for the job.
Contractor officials had complained about some aspects of the competition. But the GAO review of the proposal cost evaluation and adjustments found that "the award resulted in the lowest cost to the government, given Air Force assumptions and conditions at the time of the award," according to the report.
Battlelab Conference Shares Ideas
The Air Force Command and Control Battlelab hosted an all-military-service battlelab directors' conference at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jan. 21-23.
The purpose of the meeting was to explore opportunities for Joint research and set up communication links between the disparate battlelabs. Attendees included the heads of the six Air Force, 10 Army, one Navy, and one Marine Corps battlelabs, as well as a representative from the Joint Battle Center, Suffolk, Va.
"This way we can ensure we're working together and not wasting our time and efforts on a project somebody else has already done or is doing," said Col. Mike Carpenter, C2 Battlelab commander.
Air Force battlelabs currently focus on rapidly identifying and proving the worth of innovative operations and logistics concepts, said Lt. Col. Ray Santiago, C2 Battlelab logistics program manager.
The C2 lab, for instance, is working on an advanced Joint forces air component command-and-control initiative with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The Air Expeditionary Force Battlelab, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, is working on a "common boresight system" that promises a significant reduction in logistics footprint and increased weapon system accuracy.
The Force Protection Battlelab at Lackland AFB, Texas, is working on an initiative named "Project Geese," which is studying how a wide array of passive and active sensors can improve force security response times at remote surveillance sites.
The Information Warfare Battlelab, Kelly AFB, Texas, is looking at an early warning system for computer network-based attacks.
The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Battlelab is working on the capability to suppress enemy air defenses from unmanned platforms. The UAV initiative was recently put to the test in a series of demonstrations near Cannon AFB, N.M. A
Hunter UAV flew a number of two-hour missions carrying a direction-finding package to identify and locate potential threats and an improved data modem to transmit information to fighters.
New USAF Executive Transport Makes First Flight
The first of four new USAF aircraft intended to carry high-level US government officials all over the world made its initial flight on Feb. 11.
The Boeing C-32A-a slightly modified 757-200-took off from Renton MAP, Wash., and landed two hours later at Boeing Field in Seattle.
"The C-32A is designed as a place for conducting business," said Mark Rogers, Boeing C-32A program manager. "The US Air Force has a need for a dependable, efficient, and affordable office-in-the-sky for government officials, and that's exactly what Boeing will deliver in the C-32A."
The 89th Airlift Wing, Andrews AFB, Md., was scheduled to receive two of the aircraft in late March. Two more are scheduled to be delivered in October. The four airplanes will replace the aging fleet of VC-137s, Boeing 707-derived aircraft, that now fly the vice president, cabinet members, and Congressional delegations on official business.
Some Air Force VC-137 models are over 30 years old. Their C-32A replacements are state-of-the-art airliners that are far quieter and more fuel efficient than their predecessors. Each C-32A will be able to carry 45 passengers and 16 crew members and is designed for a 4,150-nautical-mile mission.
Looking Glass Fleet Flies Toward Retirement
The first of seven EC-135 "Looking Glass" command-and-control aircraft scheduled for retirement recently reached its final destination-the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, otherwise known as the Air Force "boneyard."
Looking Glass EC-135s got their name from the fact that they mirrored the ground command post of the old Strategic Air Command. Those aboard were capable of launching a retaliatory nuclear strike if their command counterparts on the ground were knocked out.
At least one Looking Glass aircraft was always in the air from 1961 through July 1990. Subsequently they flew up to eight hours a day from their home base at Offutt AFB, Neb.
The planned retirement of the EC-135 fleet will also mean the deactivation of the 7th Airborne Command Control Squadron. All EC-135s are scheduled to reach their final resting place by October.
The airborne strategic command post mission will then pass to 16 US Navy E-6Bs. They will fly roughly the same shortened schedule that Looking Glass aircraft have kept up since 1990.
Super Hornet Procurement Depends on Fixes
On Feb. 5, Secretary of Defense Cohen told a Congressional committee that he will not approve the Lot II purchase of 20 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets unless he is convinced that wing-drop problems with the airplane have been fixed.
Some $2.4 billion for the Lot II buy is part of Fiscal 1998 Pentagon procurement money. Release of the cash is currently scheduled for early spring.
The wing-drop problem involved uncommanded bank angles due to asymmetric lift. Navy officials call the glitch minor.
Proposed fixes include the addition of stall strips, a porous wing fairing, and an extension of the wing snag.
Bad weather has slowed flight tests of the Super Hornet from NAS Patuxent River, Md., but the Navy is confident Cohen will find nothing wrong when the time comes for his decision.
The seriousness of the wing drop rates "a two or three on a 10-point scale," Navy Secretary John H. Dalton told Congress on Feb. 5. "We did not view it as a significant problem."
USAF Works on Munition-Carried BDA Sensors
Air Force officials are working on ways to mount battle-damage assessment equipment on the very munitions whose work the sensors would check.
The program is known as the Responsive Mission Objective Reconnaissance Apparatus and is based at the Air Force armament product group at Eglin AFB, Fla. Mission objectives include low-cost use of off-the-shelf components.
Under REMORA, inexpensive weapons such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition would be outfitted with a sensor that would trail behind the bomb, connected by a long wire. The sensor would transmit data about the impact and subsequent destruction to command-and-control facilities.
Sensors for more expensive munitions, such as the Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile, would not be wire-attached.
Instead, they would be deployed from the weapon and then fly to the weapon's target coordinates via parasail or miniature vehicle. The sensor would hover and record the weapon's effects.
Penetrator weapons might use sensors connected in some manner to warhead accelerometers. These sensors would float behind on a parachute or balloon and collect data on the materials that emanated from the penetrators' entry points.
If all goes well REMORA equipment could pass the demonstration stage in 2000, according to Air Force officials.
USAF Wants to Remove Darts, Restore Wilderness
The Air Force is looking at ways to remove hundreds of 17-foot aluminum darts now embedded in a part of the training range at Luke AFB, Ariz., that has been designated a national wildlife refuge.
The darts were previously used in air-to-air target training. Between 1956 and 1994, about 1,000 landed on what is now the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. When Congress declared most of the refuge legal wilderness in 1990, the Air Force and the US Fish and Wildlife Service began talking about ways to remove the darts.
"Wilderness is a place you should be able to go and see no trace that humans have been there," explained Laura Thompson-Olais, refuge ecologist. "That's why we'd like to remove these darts. But we need to do it without leaving tracks or disturbing the animals or vegetation."
A small Luke AFB team recently completed a test removal with personnel from the refuge.
"Because most of the refuge is defined as 'wilderness,' use of vehicles is very limited," said Maj. Scout Monroe, a Luke environmental official. "The two darts we removed recently were very near a road, but many of the darts are miles from roads. Plus, they weigh more than 200 pounds, so carrying them out isn't easy."
The refuge may allow a trial removal via helicopter in the fall. Helicopters may be the only option for darts deep in the wilderness, says Monroe. But the first stage of removal will depend on base volunteers digging up the darts closest to existing roads.
USAF Ends T-38 Crash Probe
The Oct. 22 midair collision above an Edwards AFB, Calif., test range that killed two crew members of an AT-38 Talon training jet was caused when the pilot of an F-16, flying in formation with the trainer and a B-1, swerved to avoid hitting some birds, according to the final Air Force report about the incident.
The F-16 pilot, Lt. Col. Richard Stevens, misjudged how close he was flying to the AT-38, said Air Force officials.
When he banked to avoid the birds his left wing sliced through the training airplane's canopy. US Air Force flight instructor Lt. Col. William Nusz and a visiting Royal Air Force pilot, Flt. Lt. Leigh Alexander Fox, were knocked out of the airplane at 2,700 feet. Their parachutes were attached to their ejection seats, which remained in the airplane.
The two aircraft were flying photographic support for a B-1B that was conducting test drops of a practice bomb. The F-16 landed safely, although 3 feet were sheared off the airplane's left wing.
Reserve Navigators May Move to Pilot Seat
Some Air Force Reserve Command C-141 and KC-135 navigators who face job loss due to aircraft modernization may qualify to switch to the pilot's seat under a program that waives age restrictions on such a move.
The displaced navigators would have to be less than 33 years old on Sept. 30, 2001, to enter specialized undergraduate pilot training, said Air Force officials. Those who qualify include C-141 navigators whose units are converting to C-17s and KC-135 navigators displaced by the avionics modernization program Pacer CRAG.
Paperwork for the move must be submitted by Sept. 30, 1999. Those interested must also have at least 10 years total commissioned service eligibility remaining before mandatory separation date and score at least the minimum on the Air Force Officer Qualification Test, among other requirements.
Two AWACS Go to Gulf
In February two E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft deployed to Southwest Asia, and approximately 100 personnel from Air Combat Command's 552d Air Control Wing, Tinker AFB, Okla., were airlifted there by an Air Mobility Command C-5.
"People and aircraft from the 552d will provide airborne command and control for coalition aircraft and surveillance of the northern and southern 'no-fly' zones over Iraq," said Col. Charles Winstead, 552d ACW vice commander.
The wing brings to Southwest Asia an airborne battle management platform with AWACS. The E-3 provides theater commanders with an airborne radar platform that identifies all friendly aircraft in its range and any potential airborne threats.
Air, Space Basic Course Begins
A trial run of the Air and Space Basic Course School began at Maxwell AFB, Ala., Feb. 9, with 13 new second lieutenants attending.
The initial test will be a dry run of the two seven-week test courses planned for this summer and fall. It will focus on checking the ASBC curriculum for content, achievement of objectives, and flow.
The curriculum includes instruction and practice on Air Force core values, core competencies, importance of teamwork, and studies in air- and spacepower history, according to Col. Stefan Eisen, ASBC School commandant. It was created to help new officers understand the airman perspective and their role on the air- and spacepower team.
At the end of the course, "lieutenants will better understand how they fit into the air- and spacepower picture," Eisen said. He added that the main objective of the course is to equip participants with a better understanding of how air- and spacepower are generated, supported, and applied.
The course is designed to provide all new officers entering the Air Force with a common experience, fostering greater teamwork, and increasing officers' personal identification with the service.
More Nighthawks Deploy to SWA
About 140 troops and six F-117A Nighthawks from Holloman AFB, N.M., deployed in early February to Southwest Asia to add to the Air Force aircraft and thousands of Air Force members already in the area.
About 70 people from various units within the 49th Fighter Wing deployed to directly support F-117 operations.
Additionally, about 35 people from the 48th Rescue Squadron deployed, as well as 20 to 30 49th Materiel Maintenance Group members.
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