OSI Civilian Agent Killed
Air Force Special Agent Rick A. Ulbright, 49, died Aug. 8 from injuries sustained during a rocket attack on Kirkuk AB, Iraq.
Ulbright, who was assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigation’s 33rd Field Investigation Squadron, Andrews AFB, Md., deployed to Iraq in June to conduct polygraph examinations.
Ulbright had retired from active duty in July 1998, after 21 years in the Air Force. He first served as a helicopter maintenance technician, then transferred to the OSI in 1986. He began to work with the OSI as a civilian in August 1998.
F/A-22 Delayed Five Months
The Air Force is postponing by five months the delivery of the first operational F/A-22 Raptors to Langley AFB, Va. The first deliveries from Lockheed Martin’s production facility in Marietta, Ga., were to have been made at the end of this year.
The first Raptors now will reach Langley in May 2005, according to the Air Force in a July 21 response to query.
The delay will allow Lockheed Martin to use its own factory to make any modifications that are identified during developmental testing. Otherwise, the contractor would have to make such changes in the field.
In previous deliveries to F/A-22 test and training units, modifications were completed after the aircraft were delivered. The time it took to modify these aircraft after delivery “significantly impacted unit training and test,” said the Air Force.
For example, USAF said, aircraft had to be given their low observable treatments twice—once before and once after modifications were made.
By delaying deliveries up front, the Air Force said, the fighters “will be ready for the warfighter” once they arrive at Langley.
B-2 Gets New Stealth Coating
The Air Force this summer received the first B-2 bomber modified with an updated stealth coating. With B-2s being modified at a rate of three aircraft per year, the entire B-2 inventory will receive the upgrade by 2011.
Northrop Grumman applied its specially developed Alternate High Frequency Material (AHFM) low observable coating to Spirit of Washington when the bomber went through programmed depot maintenance at the company’s Palmdale, Calif., facility. The rest of USAF’s 21-aircraft B-2 fleet will receive the AHFM coating during regularly scheduled depot overhauls.
The new coating, which is applied via a robotic spray paint system to areas where routine base-level maintenance is performed, significantly reduces the maintenance time needed to get the stealth bomber ready for combat. Originally, the B-2 was designed to have specially formulated tapes and caulks applied to the surfaces near maintenance access panels. Each time routine maintenance was performed, the ground crews had to remove the tapes and caulks, then reapply them and let them cure before returning the aircraft to operational status.
AHFM will replace about 3,000 feet of tape and reduce maintenance time from several days to several hours, said Northrop Grumman.
Airman Dies in Accident
TSgt. Joseph Gardner III, of Eight Mile, Ala., died July 18 after being crushed under the spoiler on a C-17 wing while performing a maintenance inspection at Charleston AFB, S.C. The Air Force is investigating the accident.
Gardner, 37, was an integrated avionics technician with the 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Charleston. He had entered the Air Force in August 1988.
Luke Buys Land as Buffer
Luke Air Force Base in Arizona recently completed a $950,000 purchase of 143 acres adjacent to the base’s munitions storage area. The purchase is the first step in a plan announced last March to protect the base from encroachment and ensure access to the Barry M. Goldwater Range.
The Air Force plan includes purchasing a total of 273 acres and installing security fences around the munitions storage area. The move will enable the Air Force to connect the storage area with the base, thus providing a continuous security buffer zone.
The service also included purchase of easement rights for nearly 1,800 acres of land in the base flight departure corridors.
Arizona Sens. John McCain (R) and Jon Kyl (R) have supported the plan. Kyl said in July that the “partnership” of local and state officials, landowners, and USAF was “well on its way toward executing the necessary strategy to prevent encroachment and preserve operations at Luke Air Force Base for years to come.”
Luke is USAF’s primary training facility for F-16 fighter operations.
DOD Installs Missile Interceptor
The first ground-based interceptor for the new national missile defense system was installed at Ft. Greely, Alaska, on July 22. Plans call for Greely to have six missiles and Vandenberg AFB, Calif., another four by the end of the year.
The missiles are part of the Missile Defense Agency’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense System. They will give the United States its first realistic defense against enemy ballistic missiles.
The system is still immature, but Army Maj. Gen. John W. Holly, who leads the program for MDA, noted that four of the last five test shots have been successful. “While this system will constitute an initial limited capability, it is a vast improvement over our current defensive posture—which is nonexistent,” Holly said.
Army Seeks Separating Airmen
As the Air Force moves to “balance its books” by cutting a net of more than 20,000 airmen from its active duty rolls by the end of next year, the Army is stepping in to recruit many of these former airmen to fill its high-demand jobs. The effort is dubbed “Operation Blue to Green.”
USAF announced in January that it must reduce its force level by 16,000 airmen to meet its authorized end strength. That figure had grown to 24,000 by May. (See “Force Shaping,” July 2004, p. 58.) The Navy also plans to trim its force—by about 8,000 sailors.
Meanwhile, the Army has been given the green light by DOD and Congress to increase its end strength by as much as 30,000 personnel. At issue, still, is whether it will be a permanent increase or a temporary one that might last several years. To help speed new troops to the field, the Army wants to recruit honorably discharged airmen and sailors.
Officers and enlisted members are eligible. Applicants in grades E-1 through E-4, if accepted, will retain their same grade; eligibility for those in grade E-5 will be determined by the Army’s Human Resources Command. Some enlisted applicants, depending on their specialty, may receive bonuses.
The Army said that those potential soldiers whose current field exists in the Army will only undergo a four-week warrior transition course. Others must take a retraining course in addition to the basic transition course.
USAF Names Top 12 Airmen
The Air Force on July 17 announced its 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2004. They were selected from among 45 nominees “based on their superior leadership, job performance, and personal achievements,” said the service.
The airmen will be formally recognized at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference this month. They are:
Should F-35 Be Scaled Back?
Pentagon officials say the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is so much better than the aircraft it will replace that DOD could trim requirements. That would help reduce the program’s current weight and schedule problems. That, at least, was the view of the Navy’s acquisition executive, John J. Young Jr., who oversaw the F-35 until program responsibility switched back this summer to the Air Force.
Young told Inside the Navy in late June that the Pentagon should take a new look at the fighter’s requirements. The short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the airplane is worth a special look, he noted, as it is currently the version of the strike fighter with the worst weight problem.
Compared to legacy aircraft, the F-35 is “significantly more capable ... in terms of range, signature, maintainability,” Young noted. “If we lower that [requirements] bar a little bit, we’re still putting an enormous warfighting capability in the hands of the pilot,” he said.
DOD recently slowed the F-35 development program to give DOD and contractors time to solve the weight issues.
Three variants of the fighter are being developed for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps; some of these variants will be sold to international partners. The Air Force plans to purchase both the conventional and STOVL variants as replacements for its F-16 and A-10 fighters.
First Quad Dormitory Opens
The Air Force opened its first “quad” dormitory July 17 at Nellis AFB, Nev., giving 144 junior airmen an immediate quality-of-life boost.
The quad dorm features apartments with four private bedrooms, each with its own full-size bathroom, a common kitchen, and a small social area with a table and balcony. Each apartment also has a full-size washer and dryer.
“It’s almost like living off base,” commented A1C Brian Clement, a crew chief with Nellis’ 57th Equipment Maintenance Squadron.
Gary Faron, the base civil engineering facility projects team chief, said the new dorm took 16 months to construct at a cost of about $10 million.
The Air Force adopted the 4+1 style in 2002 as its new standard. At the time, eight bases elected to construct new quad dorms. The DOD standard is 1+1, in which only the bedrooms are separate, but the department approved more floor space and private baths if the building can be constructed at no greater cost.
Navy Tests Seven-Carrier Surge
The Navy in late July successfully completed a major test of its ability to “surge” seven aircraft carrier battle groups worldwide on short notice. During Summer Pulse 2004, the Navy deployed the carriers to five theaters simultaneously—the first test of the Navy’s new Fleet Response Plan operational concept.
The plan calls for developing Navy capability to put six aircraft carriers and their strike groups into action within just 30 days. They would be followed by two more strike groups within three months.
Historically, carrier battle groups have deployed according to fairly rigid schedules that allowed three groups to deploy at a given time.
“Friendly Fire” Pilot Loses Appeal
Less than two weeks after Maj. Harry Schmidt was found guilty of dereliction of duty, the Air National Guardsman lost his appeal to set aside the punishment imposed. Schmidt faces a letter of reprimand and a fine of $5,672—the maximum allowed under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The saga began April 17, 2002, when Schmidt, an Illinois Guardsman flying an F-16, mistakenly bombed Canadian troops participating in night exercises in the Tarnac Farms area of Afghanistan. Four Canadians were killed and eight injured.
Gen. (sel.) Bruce Carlson, commander of 8th Air Force at Barksdale AFB, La., was the presiding authority for Schmidt’s nonjudicial hearing. (See “Aerospace World: ANG Pilot Found Guilty of Dereliction,” August, p. 13.) Schmidt immediately appealed to Carlson to set aside the punishment meted out July 6, but Carlson denied his request.
Under Article 15 of the UCMJ, the appeal was sent to the next superior authority, which, in this case, was Gen. Hal M. Hornburg, commander of Air Combat Command. Hornburg, Schmidt’s last recourse, denied the appeal on Aug. 3.
Retired Maj. Gen. Charles W. Sweeney, who led the atomic bomb mission over Nagasaki, Japan, near the end of World War II, died of a heart ailment July 16 in Boston. He was 84.
Sweeney, a 25-year-old Army Air Forces major and commander of the 393rd Bombardment Squadron, piloted the observation/photographic aircraft that accompanied the B-29 Enola Gay on its Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
When Japan failed to surrender, Sweeney piloted the B-29 Bockscar on a second atomic bomb mission against Japan. The Aug. 9, 1945, attack destroyed 60 percent of Nagasaki. Japan surrendered shortly thereafter.
During the historic mission, Bockscar experienced weather and mechanical problems, and the aircraft’s special bomb-bay fuel tanks were unable to pump fuel to the engines. According to Sweeney’s official biography, “only his special training on how to squeeze every possible mile from his initial supply kept the plane aloft.” The mission originated on Tinian in the Mariana islands.
In 1946, Sweeney left active duty as a lieutenant colonel, and then served with the Massachusetts Air National Guard, where he rose to the rank of major general. In the 1960s, Sweeney coordinated civil defense work in Boston. He was also co-owner and operator of a leather brokerage business. He retired from the Guard in 1979.
USAF To Stand Up STRATAF for STRATCOM
The Air Force has said it plans to create Strategic Command Air Forces (STRATAF) as the single focal point for global strike capabilities for US Strategic Command. The new command will provide bombers, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance systems, and information operations (IO) capabilities to STRATCOM.
USAF recognized the need to create an organization similar to CENTAF, Central Command Air Forces, the Air Force component to US Central Command. CENTAF draws primarily on capabilities provided by 9th Air Force, Shaw AFB, S.C. STRATAF will draw primarily on the forces of 8th Air Force, Barksdale AFB, La.
Eighth Air Force has responsibility for the nation’s nuclear bombers and the intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance systems needed to conduct global operations. When STRATCOM’s mission was enlarged to include global strike and military information operations, 8th Air Force was tasked to supply these capabilities as well. However, STRATCOM did not have a single point of contact.
In the past, such forces had been provided through a series of task forces, noted Brig. Gen. Michael W. Peterson, who is Strategic Command’s deputy commander for global strike and the air component coordinator for STRATAF at Offutt AFB, Neb. Rather than stick with individual task forces, the Air Force decided to move toward “an integrated capabilities approach,” said Peterson.
Air Combat Command chief Gen. Hal M. Hornburg said in an interview that 8th Air Force is “in a perfect position to be the [air and IO] component commander” for STRATCOM.
As commander of 8th Air Force, Gen. (sel.) Bruce Carlson is the first STRATAF chief. The job reflects USAF’s recent push to more closely align numbered Air Force (NAF) commanders with their warfighting missions, so that they are not overwhelmed with organize-train-equip responsibilities.
STRATAF will have both an air operations center and a network operations and integration center at Barksdale. Hornburg said some personnel shifts will be made as “we identify or ear-tag these people that are going to be 100 percent dedicated to the warfighting mission.”
Earlier this year, the Air Force had considered including all USAF capabilities provided to STRATCOM under the new warfighting entity, STRATAF, which at one point was identified as AFSTRAT for Air Forces Strategic Command. In addition to global strike and IO, it was to include space forces provided by 14th Air Force, Vandenberg AFB, Calif., and the ICBM forces of 20th Air Force, F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo. Instead, USAF elected to continue to provide those forces through their respective NAFs.
The Fiscal 2005 Budget at Midyear
House and Senate appropriators in July approved a $416.2 billion money bill for Fiscal 2005. The total is slightly less than the President’s amended request of $417.8 billion, and billions more than was appropriated for 2004.
When President Bush, on Aug. 6, signed the defense spending bill, he noted the 3.5 percent across-the-board pay raise for military personnel, saying it brought the total pay raise over the last four years to 21 percent. Bush said, “This money is well earned, well deserved, and well spent.”
By major account, the appropriations bill includes $103.7 billion for military personnel; $121.1 billion for operations and maintenance accounts; $77.7 billion for procurement; and $69.9 billion for research, development, test, and evaluation. The total also includes $25 billion in supplemental funding to pay for the cost of ongoing combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yet to be completed before Congress took its summer recess was the companion defense authorization bill.
Aircraft ProcurementThe Air Force’s premier fighter program fared well in the spending bill. The appropriators agreed to $3.6 billion for procurement of 24 F/A-22 Raptors, the number the Air Force sought. On the authorization side, the House met the Air Force’s request, but the Senate would cut two Raptors.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter saw a slight reduction in funding, with appropriators trimming the $4.6 billion request to $4.4 billion. According to DOD, even a relatively small cut, at this critical juncture in the program, could undermine the Pentagon’s efforts to fix the fighter’s weight problems. House and Senate authorizers met the budget request.
Appropriators raised the number of C-17 airlifters requested by one for a total of 15, setting procurement funding at $2.7 billion. The two authorization committees recommended meeting the Administration’s request for 14 C-17s in 2005 and left procurement funding at $2.5 billion. The Senate version of the authorization bill recommended that USAF exercise an option on the current multi-year contract to extend production from 180 C-17s to 222, the minimum number that US Transportation Command believes the Air Force should purchase.
With the lease/buy arrangement for KC-767 tankers on hold, the appropriators created a $100 million “Tanker Replacement Transfer Fund” that could be used to begin a tanker modernization program. On the authorization front, the House cited concerns about the age of the KC-135 tanker fleet and added $98.5 million for KC-767s—$80 million for development and $15 million for advance procurement. However, the House stipulated USAF must enter into a new contract and DOD must review the contract. The Senate included nothing for the program.
Space ProgramsA pair of major Air Force military space programs currently under development saw their budgets dramatically cut by appropriators. The Transformational Satellite Communications (TSAT) system had its $774.8 million request reduced by $300 million, to $474.8 million.
Lawmakers cited technical immaturity and the need for risk reduction as reasons for the cut. House and Senate authorizers already passed identical $100 million cuts to the TSAT budget request.
The Space Based Radar Program, meanwhile, was almost killed. Appropriators left just $75 million in place from an Air Force request of more than $327 million. Claiming the program was neither affordable nor likely to perform as claimed, lawmakers instructed the Pentagon to take SBR out of demonstration and validation and “return this effort back to the technology development phase.”
US Spirits Nuclear Materials Out Of Iraq
The United States secretly airlifted more than a ton of potentially dangerous nuclear materials out of Iraq in June, Spencer Abraham, Secretary of Energy, announced July 9. The operation was conducted jointly by DOE and DOD.
Twenty DOE nuclear experts “packaged 1.77 metric tons of low-enriched uranium and roughly 1,000 highly radioactive sources” from Iraq’s Tuwaitha nuclear complex just outside Baghdad, according to a DOE release.
The Defense Department airlifted the radioactive materials to the United States on June 23. DOD also “provided security, coordination, planning, ground transportation, and funding for the mission,” the release stated.
Abraham said the operation will “keep potentially dangerous nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists.” He added, “It also puts this material out of reach for countries that may seek to develop their own nuclear weapons.” The uranium would have been usable in a radiological dispersion device, commonly known as a “dirty bomb,” or for reprocessing in a more advanced nuclear weapons program.
The Iraq Story Continues
CasualtiesBy July 26, a total of 908 Americans had died while officially supporting Iraqi Freedom—906 troops and two Defense Department contractors. Of those casualties, 673 were killed by hostile action, while the other 235 died in noncombat incidents, such as accidents.
President Bush declared major combat operations in Iraq complete on May 1, 2003. Since that time, 768 troops have died in Iraq: 562 in combat and 206 in nonhostile incidents.
The two DOD civilians were killed in the line of duty earlier this year.
Philippines Caves to Terrorists ...The government of the Philippines withdrew its force from Iraq ahead of schedule to meet the demands of terrorists who had kidnapped a Filipino working in Iraq. The decision was immediately condemned by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other international leaders.
“When a country negotiates with and acquiesces” to terrorist demands, Rumsfeld said, “it encourages that type of behavior on the part of terrorists, and that’s unfortunate.” Speaking on Fox News, Rumsfeld added that sovereign states will make their own decisions, but other nations with captured citizens had refused to “make a separate peace” with the terrorists.
The Philippines had planned to remove its contingent of 51 troops by Aug. 20. Truck driver Angelo de la Cruz was captured by militants who threatened to behead him if his country did not remove its troops by July 20. The Philippines complied on that date, and Cruz was released.
... More Hostages Promptly TakenFollowing the withdrawal of the Philippine troops, terrorists took six more civilians hostage the very next day.
A terror group on July 21 took three Indians, two Kenyans, and an Egyptian hostage and threatened to behead one every three days unless their private employer left Iraq. The six were reported to be truck drivers. None of those nations has military forces in Iraq.
By July 22, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was urging governments to show restraint and resist dealing with terrorists. In a meeting with the Bulgarian foreign minister, Powell noted Bulgaria “stood fast” after one of its citizens was kidnapped and murdered. Another Bulgarian is still unaccounted for, and Powell thanked the country for its “clear understanding” that terrorists cannot be negotiated with.
“This kind of activity cannot be found acceptable and cannot be negotiated with,” Powell said.
Panel Links al Qaeda to Khobar Towers Blast, Other Attacks
The national commission investigating the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States found “strong but indirect evidence” that al Qaeda played an “as-yet unknown role” in the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia.
The attack killed 19 airmen and injured 372 other Americans. Many had blamed the bombing on the Hezbollah terrorist group. In a staff report released at the end of June, however, commission members noted that “ambiguous” evidence of involvement by Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organization had been present from the beginning. Evidently, bin Laden was not considered a prime suspect at the time because of the “historical animosity between Shia and Sunni Muslims.” Many had concluded that al Qaeda would not align with Hezbollah.
“Later intelligence, however, showed far greater potential for collaboration ... than many had previously thought,” the report stated.
The commission noted that the US had intelligence reports prior to the Khobar Towers bombing that bin Laden “was seeking to facilitate a shipment of explosives to Saudi Arabia.” And, on the day of the attack, bin Laden “was congratulated by other members of the Islamic army,” a loose coalition of terror organizations with al Qaeda at its core.
According to the report, bin Laden had in fact sent al Qaeda operatives to visit Hezbollah camps in the years before the Khobar Towers attack. The commissioners said that bin Laden “reportedly showed particular interest in Hezbollah’s truck bombing tactics in Lebanon.” In 1983, such an attack killed 241 US servicemen, primarily Marines. The attack on the Khobar Towers high-rise residence was conducted using an explosive-laden truck.
The report cited several other plots against Americans in the 1990s, plots in which bin Laden may also have had a previously unknown role. First, the December 1992 explosions outside two Yemen hotels frequented by US troops headed to Somalia were linked to a Yemeni terrorist organization whose leader was “close to” bin Laden, the report noted.
In October 1993, stated the report, bin Laden probably contributed to the attacks on US forces operating in Mogadishu, Somalia. Eighteen soldiers died after two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down over the city by rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). According to the report, al Qaeda, prior to the attack, sent experts in the use of RPGs to the city with instructions to “kill US troops.”
Next was a November 1995 car bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that killed seven, including five Americans. Three of the four perpetrators who were arrested and executed by the Saudi government said they had been influenced by bin Laden.
Finally, the commission refused to rule out an al Qaeda factor in two other deadly attacks: the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 plot to blow up a dozen US airliners over the Pacific Ocean. Bin Laden’s role in both “remains a matter of substantial uncertainty,” the commission reported.
News NotesBy Tamar A. Mehuron, Associate Editor
USAF Lt. Gen. (sel.) Henry A. Obering III became the new director of the Missile Defense Agency July 2. He succeeded Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish, who retired Sept. 1.
Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Tex., plant began assembling the fuselage of the first test F-35 in early July. The fuselage and wings are slated to be joined in May 2005. First flight is scheduled for early 2006.
Air Force Secretary James G. Roche approved the use of the “V” device (for valor) for any Distinguished Flying Cross awarded for heroism. Any active duty, Guard, or Reserve airman who received a DFC for heroism on or after Sept. 18, 1947, is eligible to wear the device.
A new three-year test program puts noncommissioned officers in Air Force ROTC classrooms as instructors in 10 universities. USAF hopes the move will foster an earlier understanding of the relationship between enlisted members and officers. If the program is effective, it will be expanded to all 144 USAF ROTC detachments.
USAF officials concluded that standing water on the runway caused a B-1B accident Feb. 27 in Southwest Asia. The accident report, released June 16, noted that the aircraft hydroplaned off the runway. It noted, too, that the accident might have been avoided if the aircrew had been told of the landing conditions, but, the co-pilot’s premature release of aircraft controls used to counter crosswinds also contributed to the accident. Damage was estimated at $7.6 million.
Spatial disorientation and the inability of the pilot, Capt. Jonathan P. Scheer, to recover caused the fatal nighttime crash Feb. 25 of an A-10 north of Eielson AFB, Alaska, concluded an accident report released June 23. (See “Aerospace World: A-10 Pilot Dies in Crash,” May 2004, p. 18.) According to other pilots, weather conditions created a situation where there was little or no horizon visible. Lacking an external reference, Scheer had to depend on cockpit instruments. The investigation board president noted that Scheer may also have had to contend with an onboard instrument problem.
All military personnel assigned to US Central Command’s theater of operations and to Korea, under US Pacific Command, will soon be receiving anthrax and smallpox vaccinations, DOD announced in late June. Previously, only those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan received the shots, but greater availability of the vaccines led DOD officials to conclude additional troops could be protected.
A Delta II rocket boosted a replacement Global Positioning System satellite, GPS IIR-12, into orbit June 23 from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla.
Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field, Nev., is the new home for the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Battlelab, formerly located at Eglin AFB, Fla. USAF currently bases its three Predator UAV squadrons at Indian Springs.
Boeing engineers began assembling the at fuselage of the Navy’s newest electronic warfare aircraft, the EA-18G, in early July. A variant of the F/A-18F Super Hornet, the aircraft is slated for first flight in 2006 and will begin replacing the EA-6B Prowler in 2009.
Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Tweets by @AirForceMag