Top Acquisition Post Filled
The Senate confirmed William A. LaPlante on Feb. 12 to become the next assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition.
LaPlante previously served as principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition and fills the spot left vacant since Sue C. Payton left it in April 2009.
“I’ve spent over 28 years ... around defense systems, technologies, acquisition programs, touching all aspects of those programs [for] all services,” LaPlante said during a Jan. 16 confirmation hearing. “This experience, along with my tenure on activities like the Defense Science Board, ... offers a firsthand impression of the state and the challenges of defense acquisition.”
Back to the Drawing Board
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) called on the Defense Department to “rewrite and resubmit” the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review.
McKeon said the review, released along with the President’s 2015 budget request, “should be immensely valuable to planners and senior commanders,” but falls short because it places too much emphasis on politics and too little emphasis on policy. “For that reason, I will require [DOD] to rewrite and resubmit a compliant report,” McKeon said in a March 4 statement.
“In defiance of the [sequestration] law, this QDR provides no insight into what a moderate-to-low risk strategy would be, is clearly budget-driven, and is shortsighted,” he added.
The QDR, like the Pentagon’s five-year spending plan, assumes sequester will not continue beyond Fiscal 2016 without additional mitigating factors. McKeon has said that’s not the case. “It allows the President to duck the consequences of the deep defense cuts he has advocated and leaves us all wondering what the true future costs of those cuts will be,” he noted.
You May Call It Pegasus
Boeing’s new KC-46A tanker has been christened Pegasus.
“It will be flying in June. It’s a real thing now,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said, unveiling the name at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 20.
The Air Force will buy 179 KC-46A Pegasus aircraft, the last of them delivered in 2028, to replace a portion of the Eisenhower-era KC-135 fleet.
USAF will continue to maintain 200-plus KC-135s, which will be 65 years old or older when the last Pegasus is delivered. As a result, the KC-Y and KC-Z follow-on efforts have to be real programs “and we’ve got to get on that now,” Welsh emphasized.
“Air refueling is the lifeblood of US strategic mobility,” he said.
DOD Cuts Russian Cooperation
The Defense Department suspended all military cooperation with Russia in February as a result of Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. This included everything from exercises, bilateral meetings, and port visits to planning conferences, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said March 3.
“We call on Russia to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine and for Russian forces in Crimea to return to their bases, as required under the agreements governing the Russia Black Sea Fleet,” said Kirby.
Less than seven months earlier, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Shoygu, laid out a commitment to building “a robust agenda” for military cooperation. In fact, the two militaries had previously planned a joint naval exercise for May, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Kirby’s announcement came on the eve of Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s arrival in Ukraine for meetings with the new Ukrainian government, and of a meeting in Brussels by the ambassadors of all 28 NATO members consulting on the situation in Ukraine at the request of NATO member Poland.
Read more of Air Force Magazine’s coverage at www.airforcemag.com. Search “Ukraine.”
The Ride Begins
The prototype AC-130J Ghostrider gunship cleared the runway on its maiden post-modification test flight at Eglin AFB, Fla., in late January, Air Force Special Operations Command officials revealed. “As with any new or highly modified aircraft, the initial goal is to ensure the aircraft design or modification does not adversely affect the flying and handling qualities,” said 413th Flight Test Squadron pilot Maj. Brian Taliaferro.
Over the preceding year, technicians at Eglin modified the basic MC-130J with a precision strike package, including a 30 mm cannon, Griffin missiles, and the ability to carry the Small Diameter Bomb. New mission equipment includes all-weather synthetic aperture radar and dual electro-optical/infrared sensors.
Weaponizing the efficient J model brings “the best two C-130s together in a new weapons system,” said Todd McGinnis, US Special Operations Command Det. 1 AC-130J modification manager.
AFSOC plans to convert 32 MC-130Js under the $2.4 billion program to replace legacy gunships.
Super Galaxy Hits IOC
The Air Force declared initial operational capability with the C-5M Super Galaxy on Feb. 21, according to senior service officials.
The milestone means there are now sufficient numbers of aircraft and enough training of flight and ground crews, as well as spares on hand both domestically and at forward operating areas, to allow the C-5M to go to war if needed.
The stage was set for IOC when the 16th C-5M was delivered to Dover AFB, Del., in January of this year. By the end of 2016, Air Mobility Command expects to have all 52 C-5Ms in service at three operating locations.
The upgrade of all C-5Bs, two C-5Cs, and one C-5A includes replacement of the aircraft’s engines and more than 70 other structural and capability improvements.
It builds on the Avionics Modernization Program, completed in 2013. The Air Force has been using the initial C-5Ms for the past two years, and the giant airlifter has turned in on-time departure reliability rates between 88 percent and 93 percent, service officials said. By contrast, unmodified C-5s struggle to make 50 percent of departures on time.
AMC boss Gen. Paul J. Selva said the Air Force doesn’t need to modify the remaining C-5As, because the C-5M fleet, as now projected, will satisfy the service’s requirements.
Neighborhood Watch On High
The Air Force will launch two previously undisclosed space-surveillance satellites into orbit sometime this year that represent a “significant improvement” in monitoring activities in near-geosynchronous orbit. This band is where the United States operates some of its most valuable space assets, said Gen. William L. Shelton, head of Air Force Space Command.
Shelton lifted the veil on the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, or GSSAP, satellites in a speech at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., in February.
The satellites will carry electro-optical sensors and will function in a “neighborhood watch” role, detecting threats to US space assets such as debris or a spacecraft a potential adversary is trying to hide on orbit that could harm US satellites, said Shelton.
The two spacecraft will “drift just above and just below the GEO belt,” he said. They will complement the Space Based Surveillance System satellite that has been on orbit since 2010 and US ground-based space-monitoring sensors.
Skibirds Pick Up the Slack
A swarm of LC-130 transports airlifted researchers and supplies back from McMurdo Station, Antarctica, as the hemisphere’s summer research came to an end in February.
The LC-130s provide support to the researchers every year, but normally, the end of season heavy lifting from McMurdo to Christchurch, New Zealand, is done by Air Force C-17s.
This year, warm temperatures and volcanic ash turned McMurdo’s ice airstrip to mush, preventing C-17s from landing there. The New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing, operating the ski-equipped C-130s, stepped up instead.
“The unique capabilities of our aircraft have made it possible for scientists to do their work and get the most of the Antarctic summer research season,” said Col. Shawn Clouthier, 109th AW commander.
The wing deployed an extra LC-130, making seven in total, to help provide the additional support.
GPS IIF Launches
The Air Force and its industry partners launched the fifth GPS IIF navigation satellite into space from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., on Feb. 20. A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket, carrying the Boeing-built satellite into orbit, lifted off from Space Launch Complex 37 at 8:59 p.m., local time.
The satellite joined the four IIF spacecraft already operating on orbit as part of the GPS constellation of some 30 satellites.
Compared to earlier model GPS spacecraft, the IIFs offer greater navigational accuracy, a new civilian L5 signal, and an improved military signal with better resistance to jamming, according to the Air Force.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ MQ-9 Reaper extended-range variant took to the skies for the first time on a test flight on Feb. 12. The new configuration features two external fuel pods to increase the remotely piloted aircraft’s endurance.
The Air Force awarded a contract worth up to $117.2 million for the company to supply 38 MQ-9s with the fuel tanks by July 2016, according to a February Pentagon listing of major contracts.
Under the Accelerated Extended Range contract, the company will retrofit new-build airframes with the tanks “as they come off the production line,” said company spokeswoman Kimberly Kasitz.
The company is also developing a radical new wing design to extend the Reaper’s range. It will “carry all the fuel inside the wing to eliminate the need for external fuel tanks,” cutting drag, she said.
The 79-foot wing is “more than just an extension,” said Kasitz, noting that it’s actually “bigger in all dimensions.”
Construction of the first retrofit wing and tail assembly is slated for the summer, said Kasitz. The company plans to fly the wing mod in tests by the end of the year.
A remotely controlled QF-4 target drone launched from Holloman AFB, N.M., crashed on the grounds of the White Sands National Monument about five miles west of the base, Feb. 7.
Park officials had closed the monument ahead of preplanned Air Force tests and extended the closure to allow for “substantial cleanup” following the crash, according to Holloman officials. No one was injured in the mishap and the cause of the crash is under investigation.
Long Shadow Over Britain
An MC-130P Combat Shadow assigned to the 67th Special Operations Squadron flew the type’s final UK-based sortie early this year. The aircraft visited several former squadron haunts on its way out. “We were able to take the airplane to all the fields that the 67th SOS has been stationed at in the United Kingdom,” said the final-flight pilot—and squadron assistant operations director—Lt. Col. Scott Hartman.
From RAF Mildenhall, England, the crew flew over former 67th SOS bases at RAF Sculthorpe, RAF Prestwick, RAF Woodbridge, and RAF Alconbury, refueling a CV-22 Osprey en route on Jan. 24.
Although many of the airfields are now closed, “it was a great chance to get a feel for the long history that the 67th has had here in the UK,” said Hartman. Mildenhall is swapping its legacy MC-130Ps for MC-130J Commando IIs as part of Air Force Special Operations Command’s overall Herc fleet upgrade.
Busting Bad Beacons
The Air Force is replacing thousands of personnel-locating beacons after a series of reported malfunctions over the last three years.
Officials at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, conducted a series of rigorous tests on the URT-44 personnel recovery beacon (PRB), intended to put the system through the most extreme scenarios possible. “They had a 100 percent failure rate,” said Col. Aaron Clark, the Global Power Programs Directorate deputy director for USAF acquisitions.
The URT-44 PRB was purchased five years ago to comply with the new digital standards that make crash sites easier to find. Since then, its real world performance has decayed sharply to the point that “right now, we are seeing an observed reliability of about 55 percent” in actual ejections, said Clark.
Because of the failed accelerated-lifecycle test results at Wright-Patterson, the Air Force will replace the first 3,900 beacons by 2015, at an estimated cost of $15 million. USAF will then begin replacing beacons fleetwide for an additional cost of some $40 million, according to the release. To avoid revealing downed airmen’s locations to enemy forces, the beacons are typically used only in peacetime operations.
Coping On Guam
This year’s exercise Cope North included a new humanitarian response scenario based on lessons drawn from Operation Damayan in the Philippines last year, officials announced.
More than 1,800 service members and 50 aircraft from the US Air Force, US Navy, Japan Air Self Defense Force, Republic of Korea Air Force, and the Royal Australian Air Force participated in the 85th iteration of the annual exercise. It began Feb. 14.
Cope North 14 featured a full spectrum of fighter and bomber aircraft, as well as transport, command and control, and refueling assets. In addition to combat drills, the US, JASDF, and RAAF designed and practiced disaster response aimed at increasing interoperability in multinational relief operations.
“We live in a region with lots of natural disasters,” said Group Capt. Glen Beck, RAAF exercise director. “This is the largest international exercise we do and it’s definitely the largest footprint.”
Commission: Disestablish AFRC
The National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force recommended disestablishing Air Force Reserve Command and its numbered air forces in an effort to realign Air Force headquarters functions and rebalance the Total Force.
“As the Air Force progresses toward fuller integration at the unit level, the need for an [AFRC] as a ‘force providing’ headquarters declines, as does the need for its subordinate [numbered air forces],” stated the commission’s report.
Commission Chairman Dennis M. McCarthy said the report, released in January, recommends the position of Chief of the Air Force Reserve be retained, and along with the director of the Air National Guard, will still have direct access to the USAF Chief of Staff. “It’s a dual-hat position, and we recommended taking away one of the hats,” he told a group of defense reporters in Washington, D.C. AFRC’s units and functions would be taken over by USAF headquarters and the major commands, with increased representation.
McCarthy said the hope of the commission is that the Reserve will see the opportunity for fuller integration into USAF and the long-term benefits and savings for the Total Force. As the Air Force more fully integrates the Reserve into units and wings, the commission argued, the process of fielding equipment across the Air Reserve Components and the Active Duty will become easier with time.
Lt. Gen. James “J. J.” Jackson, commander of Air Force Reserve Command, said merging AFRC and its organizational structure into the Active Duty portion of the Air Force should not even be on the table. He said the other 40 recommendations put forth by the congressionally mandated commission, however, are worth discussing.
“The commission did great work with the task they were given in the timeline they were given,” said Jackson. “The bottom line is, though, that there are some good pieces in [the report] that I can agree with and some I cannot.”
Jackson said there are other ways to achieve similar levels of integration and efficiency, such as expanding the number of associate units. Eliminating the command would have a devastating impact on morale in the existing Reserve force as well as negatively affect recruiting in the future, he said.
Lawmakers: Nyet to Treaty Violators
Republican House members pressed the Obama Administration to confront the Kremlin over Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by testing a new type of ground-launched cruise missile, reported Global Security Newswire.
“We believe it is imperative that Russian officials not be permitted to believe they stand to gain from a material breach of this or any other treaty,” wrote House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) in a Feb. 6 letter he penned with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.).
“Other countries around the world will be closely watching the US response to any Russian violation,” they wrote. On Jan. 30, State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki confirmed that senior US officials had discussed this issue with NATO allies. However, “there’s still an ongoing review, an interagency review, determining if there was a violation,” she said.
The 1987 INF treaty bans ground-launched nuclear-capable missiles with ranges between 310 miles and 3,418 miles. The Russians may have begun testing this cruise missile in 2008, according to GSN.
Quick Reaction Satellite Delivered
Northrop Grumman recently delivered a revolutionary new satellite to the Air Force that is quickly configurable for missions ranging from communications and weather monitoring to surveillance, the company announced.
Dubbed Modular Space Vehicle, the satellite will allow payloads to be prepared and launched to support specific operational needs in a matter of weeks, instead of years, according to the company. “MSV provides ways for future development of rapid response space capabilities that will be timely, cost-efficient, and flexible,” said Doug Young, Northrop Grumman’s vice president for missile defense and advanced missions.
The satellite structure incorporates a power supply and controls that can be tailored to the specific mission needs and can be launched on a number of different boosters, including the Minotaur I and IV, Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class boosters, and the Falcon 9. It also can operate from low and medium Earth orbits, as well as from geosynchronous orbit, according to the company.
Northrop Grumman delivered the first MSV to the Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space office at Kirtland AFB, N.M., on Feb. 25.
Bomber RFP Taking Shape
A draft request for proposal for the Long-Range Strike Bomber is now out for review and comment, and a final RFP should be issued in the fall, said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. “There are two teams at present that are working on preproposal-type activities, preparing to take the next step in competition” for the LRS-B, James revealed at a defense symposium in Washington, D.C.
One announced competitor is the Boeing-Lockheed Martin team, and Northrop Grumman said it will bid. The competition will play out “in the fall time frame,” James said, adding the bomber budget “is not classified.” “We’re at a point where we’re ready to begin the selection” of the bomber contractor, with a choice coming as soon as early next year, said Lt. Gen. Charles R. Davis, military deputy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition.
Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer stated at the symposium that USAF has labored to constrain “the temptation to put more stuff on this bomber” and to keep it within the allowed $550 million unit cost, but “the folks working on this program are really working hard to get us the capabilities we need for that price. ... They’re really pushing the envelope.”
The War on Terrorism
Operation Enduring Freedom
By March 18, a total of 2,312 Americans had died in Operation Enduring Freedom. The total includes 2,309 troops and three Department of Defense civilians. Of these deaths, 1,814 were killed in action with the enemy, while 497 died in noncombatant incidents.
There have been 19,673 troops wounded during OEF.
Afghanistan Contingency Planning
President Barack Obama has asked the Defense Department to “ensure that it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal” from Afghanistan by the end of the year, according to a White House press release. The President stated that it is “unlikely” Afghan President Hamid Karzai will sign a bilateral security agreement that would protect troops operating in the country after 2014.
In a telephone conversation between the two leaders, Obama told Karzai the US would “leave open the possibility of concluding a BSA” later this year, the Feb. 25 release said, though the President noted that “the longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any US mission.”
In a statement that same day, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel added his “strong support” to moving ahead with additional contingency planning. “As the United States military continues to move people and equipment out of the Afghan Theater, our force posture over the next several months will provide various options for political leaders in the United States and NATO,” said Hagel.
At the same time, DOD will “continue planning for US participation in a NATO-led mission focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan security forces, as well as a narrowly focused counterterrorism mission,” he said.
Goodbye Manas, Hello MK
Mihail Kogalniceanu AB, Romania, is now the US military’s main air transit hub for supporting operations in Afghanistan, replacing the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan.
The Kyrgyz government decided not to renew the US lease to Manas, forcing US officials to begin planning approximately a year ago to shift operations to Romania. MK, as the hub is known, took on this lead role at the beginning of February, according to 18th Air Force.
“By standing up MK, we are able to continue to support the movement of our troops without missing a beat,” said Chris Rosenthal, 18th Air Force transition planner. “Thanks to our partnership with the Romanian authorities, we negotiated an increase in the airport’s weight-bearing capacity that allowed us to add additional fuel,” said Lt. Col. Todd McCoy, 780th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron commander.
“Now, we save over $20,000 each mission,” he said. The shift comes at a crucial time as US forces in Afghanistan are drawing down and massive amounts of military hardware and material are flowing out of Southwest Asia.
The Air Force completed its final KC-135 aerial refueling mission from the Transit Center at Manas on Feb. 24. The US lease there expires in July 2014.
Senior Staff ChangesRETIREMENT: Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward.NOMINATIONS: To be General: John E. Hyten, Darren W. McDew. To be Lieutenant General: Thomas J. Trask, Anthony J. Rock. To be Major General: Jeffrey A. Rockwell. To be Brigadier General: Kathleen A. Cook, Robert I. Miller, William P. Robertson, Andrew J. Toth. To be ANG Brigadier General: Mark W. Anderson, David P. Baczewski, Jeffrey W. Burkett, Conrad C. Caldwell III, Jeffrey B. Cashman, Charles W. Chappuis, Joel A. Clark, Patrick J. Cobb, Thomas B. Cucchi, John B. Daniel, George M. Degnon, William D. DeHaes, William D. Dockery Jr., Michael E. Guillory, Andrew E. Halter, Timothy J. Harmeson, Paul G. Havel, Jill L. Hendra, Alan K. Hodgdon, Joseph M. Jabara, Wendy K. Johnson, Timothy M. Jones, Thomas J. Kennett, Kerry L. Muehlenbeck, Timothy A. Mullen, John W. Ogle III, Ryan T. Okahara, Thomas J. Owens II, Russell A. Rushe, David P. San Clemente, Diana M. Shoop, Jesse T. Simmons Jr., David A. Simon, Mark C. Snyder, John G. Sotos, Ronald C. Stamps, Randolph J. Staudenraus, Frank H. Stokes, Scott A. Studer, Michael R. Taheri, Ronald B. Turk, Steven C. Warren, Roger E. Williams Jr., Ronald W. Wilson, Bryan F. Witeof, Brett A. Wyrick, Ricky G. Yoder.CHANGES: Maj. Gen. Theresa C. Carter, from AF Civil Engineer, DCS, Log., Instl., & Mission Spt., USAF, Pentagon, to Spec. Asst. to the Cmdr., AFMC, JB Andrews, Md. ... Brig. Gen. Steven D. Garland, from Cmdr., 36th Wg., PACAF, Andersen AFB, Guam, to Vice Cmdr., 14th AF, Air Forces Strat., AFSPC, Vandenberg AFB, Calif. ... Brig. Gen. Timothy S. Green, from Dir., Instl., & Mission Spt., ACC, JB Langley-Eustis, Va., to Dir., Civil Engineering, DCS, Log., Instl., & Mission Spt., USAF, Pentagon ... Maj. Gen. (sel.) Jeffrey A. Rockwell, from Cmdr., AF Legal Ops. Agency, JB Andrews, Md., to Dep. Judge Advocate General, USAF, Pentagon ... Maj. Gen. Steven M. Shepro, from Dir., Ops., DCS, Ops., Plans & Rqmts., USAF, Pentagon, to Vice Dir., Strat. Plans & Policy, Jt. Staff, Pentagon.SENIOR EXECUTIVE SERVICE CHANGES: James J. Brooks, to Exec. Dir., ANG, Natl. Guard Bureau, Pentagon.COMMAND CHIEF CHANGE: CMSgt. Matthew M. Caruso, to Command Chief, AFSOC, Hurlburt Field, Fla.
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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