Air Combat Command temporarily lifted its F-22 fleetwide grounding to let the 28 aircraft based at JB Langley-Eustis, Va., escape Hurricane Irene, which hit the East Coast in late August.
Grounded due to a malfunction with the aircraft’s onboard oxygen-generation system, the fighters flew to Grissom ARB, Ind., Aug. 26, taking shelter until the storm passed.
The aircraft were cleared for unrestricted flight for the return trip as well, before resuming the flight ban several days later, Langley officials said.
The clearance was a "one-time flight authority to get out of the area affected by Irene," said spokeswoman Monica Miller Rodgers. However, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff, said he expected the flight ban to be lifted "soon," pending a report from the service’s Scientific Advisory Board due in mid-September.
Base officials evacuated aircraft and nonessential personnel from both Langley and Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., ahead of the storm. Sixty F-15Es from the 4th Fighter Wing and eight KC-135Rs of the 916th Air Refueling Wing at Seymour Johnson sought refuge at Barksdale AFB, La., while many Air National Guard assets flew as far west as Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.
Despite early concerns, all active duty and reserve component bases in the storm’s path escaped largely unscathed.
On the Offensive in Cyber
The Pentagon is looking to shift its cyber warfare strategy away from simply defending to going on the attack if necessary.
Unlike DOD’s recent cyber strategy, focused primarily on defending against computer attacks, a new policy directs "a thorough and accurate legal review" of all potentially offensive cyber actions at the service’s disposal.
The document clearly defines such capabilities as "any device or software payload intended to disrupt, deny, degrade, negate, impair, or destroy adversarial computer systems, data, activities, or capabilities."
The assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition is responsible for ensuring the legality of all cyber weapons and for monitoring "the lethal characteristics and accuracy of weapons under review."
This is no easy task for the Air Force, according to the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News, which notes that law and policy regarding cyberspace is often poorly defined. Where it exists, it is largely "inconsistent with the use of offensive cyber tools."
USAF Civilian Hiring Freeze
The Air Force in August halted civilian hiring, issuing a 90-day freeze to compensate for deeper-than-expected cuts to the Fiscal 2012 defense budget.
Officials had already put restrictions on hiring in May, but Fiscal 2012 funding levels still fell short of "onboard strength," according to a memo signed by Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, vice chief of staff, and Air Force Undersecretary Erin C. Conaton.
Effective Aug. 11, the Air Force implemented the freeze for all permanent, temporary, and term vacancies, with few exceptions.
"The Air Force recognizes the invaluable contributions of our civilian workforce; however, we must address the current fiscal environment affecting the nation, the Department of Defense, the services, and all federal agencies," stated the memorandum, circulated to all major commands.
McRaven Takes Command at SOCOM
Adm. William H. McRaven took command of US Special Operations Command from Adm. Eric T. Olson in a ceremony at MacDill AFB, Fla.
McRaven, a Navy SEAL, had led Joint Special Operations Command since June 2008. He planned and directed the raid that killed Osama bin Laden earlier this year.
Olson, who was the first Navy SEAL promoted to the rank of four-star admiral, retired following the handover Aug. 8. He had served as commander of SOCOM since July 2007.
KC-46A Clears First Milestone
Boeing’s KC-46A tanker passed its interim baseline review after a week of consultation with the Air Force, Aug. 24.
Working with Pentagon officials, the Boeing-led contract team drafted an outline of how the program will accomplish its goals, said Jennifer Cassidy, an Air Force spokeswoman.
Boeing is to deliver 18 new-build aerial refuelers by 2017 under the initial fixed-price-incentive contract for the tanker’s engineering and manufacturing development phase.
The Air Force plans to purchase a total of 179 aircraft, replacing its oldest KC-135s at an estimated cost of $30 billion, depending on the options exercised.
HH-60 Recap Slips
A new fleet of combat rescue helicopters may be delayed up to three years, according to an updated request for information issued by the Air Force.
The initial RFI, filed last October, called for battle-ready helos to replace USAF’s fleet of 112 HH-60G Pave Hawks by the end of 2015. The current HH-60 fleet has been in service since the early 1980s and suffers some of the lowest availability rates of any aircraft in USAF service.
The updated program, however, now requires initial operational capability (four training aircraft and four mission aircraft with training and support systems in place) by Fiscal 2018 "or sooner."
Under the "medium risk" plan, the service is seeking "an existing production helicopter with modifications using existing mature technology with only limited integration of existing subsystems as required," according to the RFI.
The helicopter should also include "multiple situational awareness/tactical data links."
Intel Center To Watch Civil Air Traffic
The Air Force has been tasked with organizing the creation of an inter-agency intelligence center specifically aimed at monitoring civilian air traffic.
Dubbed the Civil Aviation Intelligence Analysis Center, the facility’s specific mission will be to monitor and analyze US airspace for "illicit activity or threats to the United States, its allies, or its interests involving civil aviation," according to a Department of Defense directive handed down by Michael G. Vickers, intelligence undersecretary.
To be staffed by the 29th Intelligence Squadron currently at Fort Meade, Md., or a "successor organization," the center will "coordinate and synchronize DOD support for the civil aviation intelligence mission," while keeping contact with "key civil aviation intelligence stakeholders."
DOD instructions mandate a strategy review and development of requirements to begin monitoring civil aviation for potential security threats by Fiscal 2013.
Order of the Sword To Fraser, North
Gen. William M. Fraser III, then commander of Air Combat Command, and Gen. Gary L. North, commander of Pacific Air Forces, were inducted into the Order of the Sword in separate ceremonies earlier this summer.
Fraser received the honor in a ceremony near JB Langley-Eustis, Va., Sept. 12, while North was inducted in a ceremony at the enlisted club on JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, in August.
"Your dedicated service, your trust, your faith, and your confidence in me, and the privileges I have had, specifically to be afforded to serve along side of you, is the greatest privilege that an officer could ever have," said North. Established in 1967, the order is the highest honor USAF’s enlisted cadre bestows on an individual.
"His concern for people and his ability to put people at ease is remarkable. We hope that all airmen would care for people this way," said CMSAF James A. Roy at the ceremony for North at Hickam, Aug. 26.
Last V-22 Production Contract Looms
Bell-Boeing recently submitted to the Navy a proposal to construct the final V-22 Osprey tilt-rotors planned for the Marine Corps and Air Force Special Operations Command. The company proposed building seven AFSOC CV-22s under the second five-year, fixed-price-incentive proposal, which would complete USAF’s Osprey fleet at 50 aircraft between Fiscal 2013 to Fiscal 2017. Under the same contract, Bell-Boeing would build 115 additional MV-22s for the Marine Corps.
"In an era that demands greater fiscal responsibility, the MYP II [second multiyear procurement contract] would enable us to deliver this revolutionary capability to our customers in the most efficient way, while generating additional savings for the American taxpayer and bringing strength and stability to the industrial base," said John Rader, Bell-Boeing V-22 program executive director.
V-22 work was "on time and under budget" as of August, according to the companies.
Laser Maverick Cleared for Testing
The Air Force recently finished developmental testing of the new generation Maverick laser guided missile, clearing the way for operational testing with the Navy.
"The joint testing community conducted a series of very demanding tests, including two where the missile contended with targets at 65 and 72 mph," said Harry Schulte, vice president of Raytheon Missile Systems’ Air Warfare Systems product line, in a company release in August.
Raytheon’s AGM-65 E2/L includes an enhanced laser seeker and new software to reduce collateral damage caused by the missile.
The Air Force and Navy conducted aircraft integration, laboratory, and flight tests on the A-10, F-16, AV-8B, and F/A-18 aircraft, including three live-fire shots against moving and static targets from an A-10 and F-16.
The Navy anticipated completion of flight testing this summer.
Hancock Gets Reaper Schoolhouse
The Air Force chose the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Fighter Wing at Hancock Field near Syracuse to host ANG MQ-9 Reaper training for pilots and sensor operators.
The unit will train remote aircrews from all three service components using airspace over the Adirondack Military Operations Area in northeast New York for flight training.
Syracuse currently operates MQ-9s in combat over Afghanistan and already trains active duty, Air Guard, and Air Force Reserve maintainers on the airframe. "The addition of the pilot training mission is a natural extension of our MQ-9 Field Training Detachment which has been active since October 2009," said Col. Kevin Bradley, 174th FW commander.
The training unit will add 44 full-time personnel and five contractors at Hancock Field, announced officials in August.
Global Hawk Block 10 Retired
The Air Force retired the last of its Block 10 Global Hawk fleet earlier this year, handing down five of the seven airframes to the Navy and NASA.
"They were used in a lot of roles that the Air Force never thought about as they were fielding this system," said Bill Walker, Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk business development manager.
Deployed in support of US Central Command in 2006, the Block 10 fleet accrued nearly 35,000 flight hours gathering imagery and intelligence over the CENTCOM area of operations, Walker noted in an industry brief, Aug. 16.
With 75 percent of designed airframe life remaining, three Block 10s will enter Navy service as a stopgap until its MQ-4C Broad Area Maritime Surveillance aircraft arrive in 2015. The Navy has operated two Global Hawks over the Persian Gulf since 2006; three additional aircraft will allow it to expand operations. The two other aircraft joined NASA’s research fleet.
Block 10s were replaced in theater by the more capable Block 30 in May.
Maryland Guard Gets Its First C-27J
Maryland’s Air National Guard recently received its first Alenia C-27J Spartan, christening the aircraft Pride of Baltimore II in a ceremony at Martin State Airport.
Delivered to the ANG’s 135th Airlift Group, the Spartan is the first of four C-27Js slated to replace the unit’s C-130J Hercules given up under BRAC 2005.
Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, ANG director, and Brig. Gen. Allyson R. Soloman, Maryland ANG assistant air adjutant, welcomed the new airframe, along with Army Maj. Gen. James A. Adkins, the adjutant general, Aug. 13.
The final Super Herc was due to leave the base at the end of August, bringing the C-130J’s short tenure with the Maryland Guard to an end.
"It is a cultural change for us. It is like going from a Cadillac to a Maserati," said Soloman. "We will see how the aircrews handle a sports car."
GPS Bird Back From Retirement
For only the second time in a quarter-century, the Air Force is reactivating a decommissioned Global Positioning System satellite.
The clock on the GPS IIA vehicle—SVN-30—began malfunctioning in May, dashing its "gold standard of performance" and prompting an on-orbit swap by the 2nd Space Operations Squadron, Schriever AFB, Colo.
"We keep on-orbit spares for exactly this purpose," said Lt. Col. Jennifer Grant, 2nd SOPS commander. "The robustness of our current constellation and the recent completion of the Expandable 24 architecture provide us with the flexibility to perform replacements like this with minimal impact to global users."
Boeing and Aerospace Corp. contractors working alongside 2nd SOPS engineers immediately launched preparations to bring SVN-35 back online, replacing the ailing satellite in August.
SVN-35 had been shifted in 2009 to make room for the latest GPS Block IIR in the constellation, but its navigation signal continued to function.
Senators Make Beale Appeal
California’s senators urged leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee to keep the MC-12 Liberty fleet in the Air Force, to avoid disrupting the beddown already under way at Beale Air Force Base.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) oppose language in a draft version of the Senate’s Fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill transferring the MC-12 fleet to the Army. "We urge you to support removing this provision when the legislation reaches the Senate floor," stated Boxer and Feinstein in a letter to committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
"We can think of no reason why the Air Force cannot continue to support the intelligence needs of [its] sister services with the Liberty," they argued.
The House bill contains no similar language to divest the Air Force of its MC-12 fleet.
Antarctic Night Drop
A C-17 recently accomplished the first-ever winter airdrop in complete darkness over the South Pole, on an extended mission from Christchurch, New Zealand, to deliver critical medical supplies.
The supplies were needed at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station to treat a gravely ill National Science Foundation researcher, wintering-over at the austere outpost.
After a routine stop at McMurdo Station, the crew lifted off for the Amundsen-Scott station, more than two hours distant, safely delivering two mini-pallets despite high winds.
In summer, ski-equipped LC-130s can land directly on the ice to evacuate critical patients. However, "during the winter, the only option was to air-drop supplies in," said Lt. Col. Edward Vaughan. He is acting joint operations director for Operation Deep Freeze, the annual support mission for NSF researchers.
Forward deployed to Christchurch, the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron crew from JB Lewis-McChord, Wash., made the drop a mere 10 days into Deep Freeze’s winter support mission.
US, Russia Practice Hijack Intercepts
The US, Canada, and Russia flew a second Vigilant Eagle hijack-response exercise this summer, testing international cooperation.
"This exercise provides the opportunity for Russia, Canada, and the United States to enhance our coordination and partnership to cooperatively identify, intercept, and follow a suspect aircraft as it proceeds across international boundaries," said Canadian Air Force Col. Todd Balfe, deputy commander of the Alaskan NORAD Region.
The five-day exercise tested hand-off, between a USAF E-3 AWACS and a Russian counterpart, of a simulated hijacked US airliner. Communication between air operations centers at JB Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski Arpt., Russia, were also tested.
"Vigilant Eagle 2011 builds upon the remarkable success of last year’s exercise, when we conducted the first live-flying event between Russia and the United States since the Second World War," added Balfe.
China Carrier in Sea Trials
China’s first aircraft carrier put to sea for trials on a maiden voyage Aug. 10, highlighting once again the country’s rapid military buildup.
China purchased the unfinished Soviet Kuznetsov-class ski-jump carrier Varyag—stripped of electronics, weapons, and propulsion systems—from Ukraine in 1998.
Military sources note the sea trials fall in line with China’s ongoing refit project, adding that refinement and test work will likely resume on the ship’s return to port.
The Chinese began restoration of the ship in 2004, after towing her from Ukraine to Dalian shipyard in northeast China.
Adm. Gary Roughead, then Chief of Naval Operations, said in March that the US and regional partners are increasingly concerned by China’s recent stealth aircraft and anti-shipping missile development programs. China’s growing assertiveness over territorial issues, specifically the South China Sea, has further heightened concern in recent months.
In June, a Chinese Su-27 fighter pursued a U-2 reconnaissance flight over the Taiwan Strait until intercepted by a pair of Taiwanese F-16s.
RPAs to Beat IEDs
Northrop Grumman won an Air Force contract Aug. 12 to develop its Sand Dragon remotely piloted aircraft for the counter-improvised explosive device role.
The Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, signed a $26.2 million contract modification for the Sand Dragon B program, Pentagon officials announced.
The Air Force has been working with California-based ChandlerMay, Inc., since early 2010 on the medium-altitude, long-endurance RPA designed for route surveillance missions lasting upward of 24 hours, Military and Aerospace Electronics reported.
Under the cost-plus-fixed-fee arrangement, Northrop Grumman’s San Diego-based Integrated Systems Air Combat division will work to develop and field the system, which doesn’t need a runway.
Senator Seeks Minnesota Associate
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) called on Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley to designate the 148th Fighter Wing, Minnesota Air National Guard, at Duluth Airport, as an active associate unit for the operation and stewardship of its F-16 Block 50s.
"I respectfully urge you to consider active association at Duluth as a means to reduce costs while improving the mission readiness of active duty airmen," Klobuchar wrote in a letter to Donley, Aug. 3.
An active associate unit would benefit from both the "experienced personnel" of the 148th FW and the "excellent training opportunities" available in Duluth, wrote Klobuchar. The area also offers "access to affordable housing, transportation, education, and recreation," she continued. The wing converted from F-16 Block 25 aircraft to more capable Block 50s just last year.
Nuclear Security Group at Kirtland
In the interest of unifying security at the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center at Kirtland AFB, N.M., Air Force officials recently activated the 377th Security Forces Group.
The unit’s standup will "not only strengthen nuclear and non-nuclear security, but also triple the leadership of the Air Force’s largest nuclear security tasking," said Col. Robert L. Maness, 377th Air Base Wing commander, unfurling the unit flag Aug. 15.
The group now oversees protection of the AFNWC weapons, personnel, and facilities, and is tasked with the critical mission of ensuring the reliability, sustainment, and modernization of USAF’s deterrent arsenal.
The Air Force activated the 377th Weapons System Security Squadron and realigned the 377th Security Forces Squadron under the new group, now comprising more than 600 personnel.
The 377th SFG first stood up at Ramstein AB, Germany, in 1985, inactivating in May 1991.
Hurlburt Preferred for Reserve MQ-1s
The Air Force prefers Hurlburt Field, Fla., as the future site of an Air Force Reserve Command MQ-1 Predator remotely piloted aircraft squadron, officials announced Aug. 4.
Operating the reconnaissance drone from Hurlburt would add 140 personnel and associated equipment to the base, though no MQ-1s would be physically located there.
Reservists working from ground control stations in Florida would operate the Predators via satellite data link—termed "remote-split operations"—in combat zones worldwide.
Officials announced in May that they would choose from among bases located within USAF’s Eglin Complex, including Hurlburt, Eglin Air Force Base, Duke Field, Camp Rudder, and Choctaw Field.
"The Air Force looks forward to working with the communities surrounding this base to ensure any concerns are addressed" through the pending assessment process, said Kathleen I. Ferguson, USAF’s deputy assistant secretary for installations.
Service technicians recently began using a mild abrasive solution made with black coal to clean the engines of KC-10s in depot maintenance.
"Desert climates cause buildup of silica and sand on engines blades, which heat up and melt to the blades during operation," said Steven Slatter of Air Mobility Command’s fuel efficiency office. This can "cause engine performance to degrade more rapidly ... and result in engines needing maintenance at a quicker interval," he added.
Testing of six KC-10 CF6-50 engines found that cleaning them with the mixture significantly reduced gas temperature as well as fuel burn by an average of 335 pounds per hour, said Slatter.
The method reduces fuel consumption, extends service life, and may save thousands of pounds of aviation fuel, while decreasing the number of maintenance failures, according to AMC estimates.
Valorous Moody Pilots
Two pilots from Moody AFB, Ga., were recently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device.
Capt. Aaron Palan, a 75th Fighter Squadron A-10C pilot and Capt. Thaddeus Ronnau, a 41st Rescue Squadron HH-60G pilot, were decorated for heroism in Afghanistan.
Palan was sent to defend a Special Forces team ambushed by Taliban fighters on Oct. 1, 2010. His "superior leadership, exemplary airmanship, and skilled weapons employment saved a Special Forces team from certain defeat," contributing to the death of 20 to 30 insurgents, according to his citation. The sortie was Palan’s fourth since initial mission qualification.
Ronnau flew eight nonstop casualty evacuation missions over the span of several hours on June 27, 2010, saving the lives of 13 US and coalition troops.
Two of the evacuations required unconventional and hazardous maneuvers. Extracting a soldier injured from a 200-foot fall, "we started hovering down until we could get to him. The back half of the HH-60 was hanging over a 500-foot cliff the entire time," recalled Ronnau.
Airman Gets Bronze Star Medal
MSgt. Christopher Banks was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device in August for defensive action during the fatal shooting of US air advisors in Kabul, Afghanistan.
On April 27, Banks, a medic from Offutt AFB, Neb., was deployed as an advisor with the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing when a disgruntled Afghan Air Force officer opened fire at the Kabul Airport, killing eight airmen and one US contractor.
Risking his own life, Banks conducted triage on the airmen wounded at the scene, helping to transport victims to a nearby Afghan facility where he continued to render aid.
"This is a very bittersweet moment for me, both personally and professionally, and I am very much honored," said Banks. "I feel I did what any other airmen in the same situation would have done and did my best to help my fallen comrades."
Five other members of the same unit were awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal, including four with Valor Device, for their response to the tragedy.
Missing B-24 Crew Identified
The Defense Department announced that forensics experts identified the remains of a B-24D crew missing in the Pacific theater since World War II.
Assigned to a reconnaissance mission on Oct. 27, 1943, the Liberator crew took off from an airfield near Port Moresby, New Guinea, never to be seen again. A DOD team located the New Guinea crash site in 2003, recovering the remains in 2007.
Remains representing the entire crew were buried together with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, Aug. 4.
Members of the crew were:
Second Hypersonic Test Vehicle Lost
DARPA’s Falcon Hypersonic Test Vehicle-2 launched successfully only to suffer a telemetry failure approximately nine minutes into the flight.
A Minotaur IV rocket launched Aug. 11 from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., and "successfully inserted the aircraft" into the desired trajectory, according to DARPA. A rocket camera confirmed the unmanned glider achieved booster separation, attaining Mach 20 before its signal was lost over the Pacific Ocean.
"We know how to boost the aircraft to near-space; we know how to insert the aircraft into atmospheric hypersonic flight," said Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz, DARPA HTV-2 program manager. "We do not yet know how to achieve the desired control during the aerodynamic phase of flight." He added, "I’m confident there is a solution. We have to find it."
The Air Force is keenly interested in a global strike platform capable of reaching anywhere in the world in 60 minutes or less, but the technological challenges are formidable. The first test vehicle entered "higher-than-predicted yaw," causing the aircraft to depart controlled flight and cutting short its planned 30-minute flight last April.
DARPA officials believe HTV-2 fell into the Pacific along its intended flight path, though results could not be verified without telemetry data.
Data gleaned from the most recent flight is now undergoing analysis by an independent engineering review board to determine the program’s next step.
Global Hawk 30’s Whirlwind to IOC
With combat operations in Libya and Afghanistan long since under its belt, the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 variant finally achieved initial operational capability this summer.
"The basic requirement for Block 30 IOC is to support one continuous Block 30 24-hour orbit for 30 days," announced Gen. William M. Fraser III, Air Combat Command boss Aug. 10. "There are enough assets and infrastructure in place to support the one continuous Block 30 orbit requirement for IOC."
A Block 30 Global Hawk led the opening air strikes in Libya this spring, using its moving target indicator capability for the first time to operationally detect, track, and identify targets.
"Global Hawk was the first aircraft on station … so as to provide targeting information for the coalition forces," stated Bill Walker, Northrop Grumman business manager for Global Hawk.
Block 30s from Andersen AFB, Guam, also provided nonstop imagery of Japan’s severely damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility at the height of contamination fears following the earthquake and tsunami in March.
"Each mission was able to cover [the entire disaster area] with very high-resolution imagery … many times during a single sortie," continuously between March 26 and 29, said Walker.
The current Air Force plans call for a fleet of 31 Block 30s.
More BACN, Please
Pentagon officials have requested funds to modify two additional RQ-4 Global Hawks as battlefield airborne communications node (BACN) relay aircraft.
Fielded under an urgent operational need, BACN-equipped airplanes deployed last fall and have been providing "almost continuous coverage for Central Command" in Afghanistan, stated Bill Walker, Northrop Grumman Global Hawk business development manager.
Congress also is considering redirection of funding to expand the communications capability of the Air Force’s BACN fleet, Walker said.
USAF currently operates two Global Hawk Block 20s, augmented by three Bombardier BD-700 Global Express jet aircraft equipped with Northrop Grumman’s BACN suite.
In addition to upgrading and expanding the fleet, DOD also requested funding to purchase two of the Global Express jet aircraft which were previously leased.
The Air Force already purchased one of the three airplanes in June, designating the aircraft E-11A in USAF service.
Walker said the two types of aircraft have vastly improved communications on the ground in Southwest Asia.
He described them as "low-hanging satellites," allowing troops in the most challenging terrain to keep in contact.
"Ground troops that are in a convoy down in the middle of a valley can now talk through a Global Hawk. … They’re always in touch."
BACN also improves ground forces’ ability to coordinate close air support and is further able to "translate" voice and data streams, allowing communication between a broad range of air and ground assets.
Previously, a commander in the field had to wait for aircraft to arrive on scene to begin coordination. "Now he can talk to the pilot as soon as he takes off, so by the time he gets on station he doesn’t have to loiter," Walker said.
The War on Terrorism
Operation Enduring Freedom—Afghanistan
By Sept. 15, a total of 1,760 Americans had died in Operation Enduring Freedom. The total includes 1,757 troops and three Department of Defense civilians. Of these deaths, 1,396 were killed in action with the enemy, while 364 died in noncombat incidents.
There have been 13,896 troops wounded in action during OEF.
Herc, Drone Collide Over Afghanistan
A C-130 cargo airplane assigned to the 914th Airlift Wing, Niagara Falls Arpt./ARS, N.Y., collided with an Army RQ-7 Shadow remotely piloted aircraft over Afghanistan on Aug. 15. While the aircrew was unharmed, the Hercules was forced to make an emergency landing at a forward operating base in eastern Afghanistan, USAF Capt. Justin Brockhoff, a NATO spokesman, told the Wall Street Journal.
"The C-130 received light damage during the incident," Brockhoff told the paper. He added that there are "no reports at this time to indicate any injuries or damages were caused when [the Shadow] impacted the ground."
The Shadow, a short-range tactical drone operated by the Army and Marine Corps, was on a surveillance mission and carrying no weapons when the incident occurred.
USAF firefighters from US Air Forces Central’s quick strike team recently deployed with three crash tenders to an austere airstrip at Forward Operating Base Apache in Qalat, Afghanistan.
The crash and fire rescue team is now supporting Ohio Air National Guard C-27J Spartans, which provide forward resupply to Army forces there.
Safety regulations "only [allow] for us to fly four flights in 14 days here without crash, fire, rescue on scene," said Maj. Jason Helton, regional command south air mobility liaison. "Now that CFR has arrived, we can land as many planes as we want" at Forward Operating Base Apache.
Having the firefighters and equipment at the FOB not only cuts risk for aircrew, but saves lives on the ground as well. "The fact that we can now fly supplies in means less supply convoys my men will have to run," said Army First Sergeant Mark Dasch, 24th Infantry Division, adding that fewer convoys "mean less casualties; it’s that simple."
Ohio ANG C-27Js flew their first combat mission in theater Aug. 4.
F-35 Grounding Lifted
The F-35 joint program office lifted a fleetwide grounding, allowing F-35 development aircraft at Edwards AFB, Calif., and NAS Patuxent River, Md., to return to flight, according to JPO spokesman Joe DellaVedova.
Officials also lifted the ban for ferry and acceptance flights, allowing delivery of F-35As AF- 10 and AF-11 from Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Tex., facility to Eglin AFB, Fla., Aug. 31.
The JPO grounded the entire F-35 fleet—test and production aircraft—Aug. 3 after the integrated power package, responsible for starting the engine and cooling, malfunctioned on an F-35A test aircraft. Ground operations resumed Aug. 10 and monitored flight operations were authorized Aug. 18.
Initial indications pointed to a valve malfunction, though an Air Force Safety Investigation Board was still reviewing the issue in September.
"Completion of the root cause investigation and any corrective actions are required to return to unmonitored operations," JPO officials stated.
While it is unclear how the grounding affects the system development timetable, officials say there is built-in margin in the schedule to absorb setbacks.
DellaVedova said AF-8 and AF-9, Eglin’s first two F-35A production aircraft, are still undergoing maintenance testing and awaiting flight clearance, which is expected this fall.
Getting RPAs Into National Airspace
Despite a profusion of remotely piloted aircraft operating in Afghanistan, the Air Force’s RPA fleets still face restrictive rules at home.
As operations in Afghanistan wind down over the next three to four years, the Air Force anticipates shifting many RPAs home to US airspace, said Steven Pennington, USAF’s director for airspace issues on the Air Staff.
"When you bring them home, you’ve got to be able to operate and train with them here," he said at an RPA conference in August.
The large number of MQ-1s, MQ-9s, and RQ-4s coming home to active duty, Guard, and Reserve stations around the country for the first time poses a real challenge.
Today, the Department of Defense uses "certificates of authorization" to fly RPAs domestically, but Pentagon officials are working to build a highway for RPA civil operations in the national airspace by demonstrating concepts, experimentation, and developing new tools, said Pennington.
The short-term transition plan calls for shifting from restricted operations in segregated airspace, to what’s called "routine access"—flying into and out of national airspace using ground-based sense-and-avoid technology.
Long term, the department wants to expand the use of air-based sense-and-avoid tools on RPAs, in addition to air traffic control, and sensors.
With a vast increase in RPA activity on the horizon, these concepts must first be tested in regular airspace, noted Pennington, making Federal Aviation Administration support and funding for these initiatives critically important.
Senior Staff Changes
CHANGES: Brig. Gen. Scott L. Dennis, from Vice Cmdr., 7th AF, PACAF, Osan AB, South Korea, to Cmdr., Kandahar Airfield, US Forces-Afghanistan, CENTCOM, Kandahar, Afghanistan ... Brig. Gen. Michael E. Fortney, from Chief, Nuclear Ops. Div., STRATCOM, Offutt AFB, Neb., to Dir., Nuclear Spt. Directorate, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Fort Belvoir, Va. ... Brig. Gen. James E. Haywood, from Dir., Rqmts., AFSPC, Peterson AFB, Colo., to Dir., Strat Plans, Prgms & Analyses, AFMC, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio ... Brig. Gen. James F. Martin Jr., from Dir., Financial Mgmt., AFMC, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, to Dep. Asst. Secy., Budget, Office of the Asst. SECAF, Financial Mgmt. & Comptroller, Pentagon ... Brig. Gen. Kurt F. Neubauer, from Cmdr., 332nd AEW, ACC, JB Balad, Iraq, to Vice Cmdr., 7th AF, PACAF, Osan AB, South Korea ... Brig. Gen. Linda R. Urrutia-Varhall, from Sr. Mil. Asst. to the Dir., Natl. Intel., Pentagon, to Dir., Intel., SOUTHCOM, Miami ... Maj. Gen. (sel.) Martin Whelan, from Dir., Nuclear Spt. Directorate, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Fort Belvoir, Va., to Dir., Rqmts., AFSPC, Peterson AFB, Colo.
COMMAND CHIEF MASTER SERGEANT CHANGE: CMSgt. Linus Jordan Jr., to Command Chief Master Sergeant, AFSPC, Peterson AFB, Colo.
SENIOR EXECUTIVE SERVICE CHANGES: Stephen A. Cantrell, to Dir., Tech. Collection & Analysis, DUSD, Intel. & Security, Office of the USD, Intel., Pentagon ... James J. Kren, to Dep. Dir., Defense Security Svc., Quantico, Va. ... Robert M. Maxwell, to Dir., Resources, AFRICOM, Stuttgart, Germany ... David C. Merker, to Dir., Nuclear Treaty Monitoring Directorate, AF Tech. Applications Ctr., AF ISR Agency, Patrick AFB, Fla. ... Patricia J. Zarodkiewicz, to Dep. Administrative Asst. to the SECAF, OSAF, Pentagon.
Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., closed its doors after more than a century of service, Aug. 27. Merged with the National Naval Medical Center under the 2005 BRAC, the combined Walter Reed National Military Medical Center will be located on the Navy site in Bethesda, Md.
A remotely piloted MQ-9 Reaper was damaged on landing following a training sortie from Holloman AFB, N.M., Aug 24. Assigned to the 29th Attack Squadron, the mishap is the unit’s third such incident since stand-up in 2009.
Morocco officially joined the F-16 club, receiving the first four of 24 F-16 Block 52s ordered from Lockheed Martin under a 2008 foreign military sale. Moroccan officials welcomed the aircraft in a ceremony at Ben Guerrir AB, Morocco, Aug. 4.
Canada restored "Royal Canadian Air Force" as the official title of its air service Aug. 16. Merged into a single service in 1968, the change does not affect the Canadian military’s structure, but aims to reconnect airmen with their "proud history and traditions," said defense minister Peter G. MacKay.
An Arkansas Air National Guard C-130E joined the National Museum of the US Air Force Aug. 18, filling a notable gap there. Severely damaged in Vietnam, two of Spare 617’s crew members received the Air Force Cross for resupplying forces in the 1972 An Loc siege.
The 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron seized a rare opportunity Aug. 5 to train with Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters during a deployment to South Korea. F-15E crews from RAF Lakenheath, UK, located and marked targets for the helicopters over the Jikdo Island training range, near Kunsan Air Base.
A French Mirage 2000 fighter deployed as part of NATO’s Baltic air policing mission collided in midair with a Lithuanian L-39 attack aircraft Aug. 30. Though neither crew suffered severe injury, the Lithuanian crew was forced to eject. The aircraft was destroyed.
The Air Force inactivated the last unit at Brooks City-Base, Tex., casing the colors of the 311th Air Base Group. The base officially closed Sept. 15, along with 22 additional bases closed by the 2005 BRAC.
Daily Report: 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.
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