Operational Homes for F-35A
Burlington Arpt., Vt., and Hill AFB, Utah, will serve as the first operational homes for the Air Force’s combat-ready F-35 strike fighters, announced USAF officials.
The decision comes more than three years after the service first announced its preferred initial basing sites for the fifth generation fighters.
Burlington was selected after a lengthy analysis of operational considerations, installation attributes, and economic and environmental factors, according to a Dec. 3 USAF statement.
Timothy K. Bridges, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, noted Burlington’s airspace and ranges can support projected F-35A operational training requirements while offering joint training opportunities with F-15Cs from the Massachusetts Air National Guard and Canadian CF-18s in Quebec.
The Vermont ANG will receive 18 F-35s, scheduled to arrive in 2020. The location also has a “mature and highly successful” active associate arrangement with the Air Force for its F-16s; they will transition elsewhere with the arrival of the F-35.
For the Active Duty, Hill’s location near the Utah Test and Training Range provides access to one of the largest and most diverse ranges in the Air Force, Bridges said. Hill also is home to the F-35 maintenance depot.
Construction will begin immediately on facilities, and the first of 72 aircraft will arrive at Hill starting in 2015.
Haney Takes Charge of STRATCOM
Air Force Gen. C. Robert “Bob” Kehler relinquished command of US Strategic Command to Adm. Cecil D. Haney during a ceremony at Offutt AFB, Neb., in November.
“I intend to work diligently with this team of professionals to ensure the effectiveness of the global operations Strategic Command conducts,” said Haney, who previously led US Pacific Fleet, during the Nov. 15 ceremony.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel presided over the ceremony and praised Kehler, who had led the command since January 2011.
“For the past three years, you have had a remarkable leader in General Bob Kehler,” said Hagel.
Kehler retired officially Jan. 1.
Syria Peace Talks
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will bring the Syrian government and opposition forces to the negotiating table on Jan. 22, marking the first time the two parties have tried to work out their differences diplomatically since fighting began in March 2011, according to a Nov. 25 UN release.
The hope is that the conference—known as Geneva II—will lead to a “political solution to the conflict through a comprehensive agreement,” stated the release. “I expect all partners and parties to demonstrate their support for constructive negotiations,” said Ban.
More than 100,000 people have died in the conflict and nearly nine million have been displaced from their homes, stated the release. As of early December, the list of conference invitees was still being finalized, though Iran and Saudi Arabia could provide delegations. Representatives from Damascus and the opposition might also attend, according to the release.
A-10 Pilot Receives DFC
The Air Force awarded Maj. Michael J. Stock, an A-10 pilot, the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions during a December 2010 deployment to Afghanistan.
Stock, who was attached to the 75th Fighter Squadron at Moody AFB, Ga., at the time, distinguished himself when he spotted enemy forces nearby while providing close air support for 75 embattled US and coalition forces, according to an Air Force release. Enemy combatants ambushed the coalition forces with rocket propelled grenades and machine gun fire from multiple locations, sometimes as close as 98 feet away.
Stock coordinated with the joint terminal attack controller for multiple strafing attacks and engaged the enemy from a low altitude, rendering himself more vulnerable to attack. His actions saved the lives of 75 individuals, stated the Nov. 1 release.
“We were just doing our jobs on that particular day, and there are many close air support aircrew downrange doing this work day in and day out, and for that I’m proud of them,” said Stock.
Stock is a combat Air Force programmer for the Air National Guard Readiness Center at JB Andrews, Md., where he was awarded the medal on Oct. 31.
Guard Pilots Awarded DFC
Lt. Col. Paul Zurkowski and Maj. Christopher Cisneros, both A-10 pilots assigned to the Maryland Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Squadron, were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor for their heroic actions during a firefight in Afghanistan. The pilots are credited with saving the lives of 90 US soldiers, according to a Dec. 11 release.
Zurkowski and Cisneros continued to provide close air support to ground troops, including some danger-close strafing runs, even as weather conditions worsened and the enemy fired at their aircraft. “I had a difficult time seeing the friendlies because of the weather. There [were] lightning strikes and these guys really needed my assistance,” said Cisneros. “Eventually two other A-10s joined the fight and we were able to execute coordinated 30 mm attacks to neutralize the enemy and provide cover to HH-60 Pave Hawk casualty evacuation helicopters.” It wasn’t until the A-10s landed back at Bagram Airfield that Zurkowski realized his airplane had been hit twice. “I saw tracer fire and I knew I was getting shot at but I went right back into supporting the ground troops,” said Zurkowski, the squadron commander. The DFC ceremony was held Dec. 8 at Warfield ANGB, Md.
STO Receives Bronze Star With Valor
Air Force Special Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. Eric E. Fiel presented the Bronze Star Medal with valor device to Maj. F. Damon Friedman, an AFSOC special tactics officer, on Nov. 13 during a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Fiel recognized Friedman for his gallant actions during an April 2010 mission in Afghanistan.
Friedman, then a captain with the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, was the lead joint terminal attack controller for a mission in Korengal Valley, complex terrain nicknamed “Valley of Death,” in northeast Afghanistan, according to AFSOC officials. He was tasked with directing strikes to clear the area of enemy forces.
“When we came in, there were about 100 enemy forces in the area,” Friedman said, recalling the event. “I was up for three days without a second of sleep, conducting close air support with numerous aircraft overhead.”
Friedman coordinated and deconflicted more than 200 attack aircraft for a total of seven days while frequently coming under hostile fire. Friedman was credited with 40 enemies killed and wounded, stated the Nov. 14 release.
Battling Procurement Fraud
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations recently activated its first-ever Office of Procurement Fraud to consolidate and bolster its counterfraud efforts. The office is located at JB Anacostia-Bolling, D.C., according to OSI’s Nov. 20 release.
“We have consolidated our procurement fraud mission under one centralized command and control element … to better streamline the investigative process from beginning to end,” said Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Jacobsen, OSI commander.
The office “offers the Air Force a better means of ensuring sustainment of our existing fleet and facilities as well as proper acquisition of new equipment,” said Jacobsen during the Oct. 17 activation ceremony.
Since 2001, OSI fraud investigators have recovered nearly $1.9 billion for the Air Force, stated the release.
DOD’s First Arctic Strategy
The Defense Department issued its first Arctic strategy, laying out how the US military will work to promote security, stewardship, and international cooperation in the region.
“This strategy identifies the department’s desired end-state for the Arctic: a secure and stable region where US national interests are safeguarded, the US homeland is protected, and nations work cooperatively to address challenges,” read the executive summary of the document, released by DOD Nov. 22.
The strategy, based on the Obama Administration’s broader 2013 National Strategy for the Arctic Region, noted: “The Arctic is at a strategic inflection point as its ice cap is diminishing more rapidly than projected and human activity, driven by economic opportunity, … is increasing in response to the growing accessibility.”
These developments “present a compelling opportunity” for DOD to work with allies to promote human and environmental security in the region, stated the summary.
Find out more about the new strategy on www.airforcemag.com. Search “First Arctic Strategy.”
Next Generation GPS Satellite
Lockheed Martin’s Global Positioning System III satellite prototype successfully communicated with the existing GPS constellation already in orbit during recent testing, announced company officials.
The testing of the GPS III nonflight satellite test bed—a full-size, functioning prototype—concluded mid-October at Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla. It demonstrated the ability of an Air Force receiver to track navigation signals transmitted by the next generation satellite, stated a Nov. 21 release.
“These tests represent the first time … the GNST’s flight-like hardware has communicated with flight-like hardware from the rest of the GPS constellation and with a navigation receiver,” explained Paul Miller, Lockheed Martin’s director for GPS III development. “This provides early confidence in the GPS III’s design to bring advanced capabilities to our nation, while also being backward-compatible.”
The GPS III will provide three times better accuracy; up to eight times greater anti-jamming capabilities; and extended life expectancy of 25 percent, stated the release. The Air Force is expected to receive the first GPS III in 2014 in time for a 2015 launch.
Red Flag’s Back
Red Flag, the Air Force’s top air combat exercise, is back on the books for 2014 after sequestration forced officials to cancel such exercises at Nellis AFB, Nev., and Eielson AFB, Alaska, earlier this year. “That cannot continue,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III told reporters at the Pentagon on Dec. 13. Welsh said the $63 billion in sequester relief, included in the two-year budget deal that passed the House Dec. 12, “will help us make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Officials at Nellis already are halfway done planning for Red Flag 14-1, which will be held Jan. 27-Feb. 14, and have started work on 14-2 to be held in March. They also expect to announce a third exercise early next year, Nellis spokeswoman A1C Monet Villacorte told the Air Force Magazine.
Welsh said the difference between the USAF and other air forces is “not just size. It’s also capability.” He added, “The difference in the US Air Force is the way we train, the level of sophistication in our training, the difficulty of our training. Red Flag is integral to that.” More than 125 aircraft, including USAF F-22s, F-16s, B-2s, F-15s, RC-135s, HH-60s, HC-130Js, KC-135s, and HC-130Js, are slated to participate in January’s exercise. Allied participation includes fighters and AWACS from both the Royal Australian Air Force and the British Royal Air Force, according to Nellis’ release.
Lockheed Martin Completes 100th F-35
Lockheed Martin celebrated the completion of the 100th F-35 strike fighter during a Dec. 13 ceremony at its Fort Worth, Tex., facility. The aircraft, the first training-coded F-35A, will be delivered to the Air Force in the first quarter of 2014. It will be assigned to the 56th Wing at Luke AFB, Ariz., where USAF pilots and foreign F-35A users will learn to employ the aircraft.
Training is set to begin in mid-2015 with 17 aircraft, said Gen. Robin Rand, head of Air Education and Training Command, at the ceremony. Rand said the Air Force will “rethink” the number of simulators used “because the fidelity is so high” allowing them to take on more of the training mission as funding pressure mounts on flying hours.
During a briefing with Pentagon reporters the same day, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III praised the company for the progress the program has made in recent years. “We’re at a point in the F-35 program right now where production rates are going up. Production costs are coming down. I am confident the company knows what it costs to build an airplane now and our program office is fully confident in that,” said Welsh.
“Since 2011, the program has met milestones consistently. Now, the 100th airplane coming off the production line is not a minor thing,” he said.
T-X Still in Limbo
Despite a push from industry to keep the T-X program alive, Air Education and Training Command boss Gen. Robin Rand said there is no funding for a new trainer in Fiscal 2014 or Fiscal 2015.
Rand told the Air Force Association’s Daily Report on Dec. 13 he hopes to begin discussions with Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III in February during Corona—a periodic powwow of top Air Force leaders—on the way forward for the T-X. He said the program may also replace T-38s used as companion trainers for the F-22 Raptor and B-2 bomber.
Several members of industry met at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, in January 2012 to discuss options available for the T-X. Boeing earlier announced it would partner with Sweden’s Saab Group to bid on the T-X.
Air Force Announces Force Management Initiatives
The Air Force recently announced a series of voluntary and involuntary force management programs intended to help it reduce its overall end strength by as much as 25,000 over the next five years—a necessary step under the sequester. “The difference from years past is that we announced voluntary programs first, then involuntary,” said Lt. Gen. Samuel D. Cox, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services.
“This year, due to the limited time frame, we’re announcing all programs at once to allow airmen time to consider their options and ensure their personnel records are up-to-date,” he said.
For enlisted airmen, programming includes the chief master sergeant retention board and the quality force review board. Officer initiatives include force shaping boards and the enhanced selective early retirement board. Officers and enlisted airmen in overmanned career fields with more than 15 years but less than 20 years also will be eligible for the temporary early retirement authority. Some airmen, both officer and enlisted, may qualify for voluntary separation pay, states the release.
Plan for Civilian Workforce Reductions
The Air Force rolled out a series of voluntary force shaping measures on Dec. 11 that will help it reach its goal of cutting about 900 civilian positions and leaving some 7,000 vacancies unfilled in Fiscal 2014, according to a release. Although specific positions have not been identified, civilian force shaping measures will “maximize” use of voluntary early retirement authority, which allows agencies undergoing reshaping to temporarily lower requirements to increase the number of employees eligible for retirement, and voluntary separation incentive pay, stated the release.
“Over the last couple of years the Air Force has gone through significant civilian pay budget challenges,” said Brig. Gen. Gina M. Grosso, director of USAF force management policy. “By implementing voluntary programs now we hope to mitigate future involuntary losses to the civilian workforce.” Despite the ongoing fiscal constraints, Grosso said the Air Force’s strategy does not include furloughs at this time.
Thunderbirds Are Back
The Thunderbirds are back after a one-year hiatus due to sequestration. The demonstration team was to kick off its 2014 season with a Jan. 1 flyover of the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif.
Other planned high-profile events include a Feb. 23 flyover at the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla., and a March 9 flyover during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in Las Vegas. A Dec. 11 release states that the annual show will wrap up in November at Nellis AFB, Nev.—home of the Thunderbirds.
The Air Force canceled the 2013 season due to budget constraints, but “we’re glad to be back,” said Thunderbirds commander and lead pilot Lt. Col. Greg Moseley. “Right now, we’re focused on training. While we’re excited to know we’ll be able to tell the Air Force story on the road, we’re completely focused on ensuring we have a safe show season,” he said.
The 2014 season marks the team’s 32nd year.
Philippines Relief EffortsFollowing the devastating super typhoon Haiyan that swept through the Philippines, killing more than 3,000 people in early November, the US military sprang into action in Operation Damayan. In total, US military assets delivered 2,495 tons of relief supplies and equipment, according to Lt. Col. Wesley T. Hayes, spokesman for the joint task force activated to conduct the humanitarian assistance operations. In addition, US military aircraft logged some 2,700 flight hours in 1,304 flights and evacuated 21,402 people from the affected areas, Hayes said.As part of the immediate relief efforts, personnel and five C-130s assigned to Yokata AB, Japan, deployed to Clark AB, Philippines. Most of the airmen and three of the Hercs were on their way back to Japan after participating in Exercise Cope South—a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise in Bangladesh—when they were rerouted to the Philippines.“This is exactly the kind of mission we train for,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Menasco, 36th Airlift Squadron commander, in a Nov. 17 news release.The Air Force’s 353rd Special Operations Group opened airfields at Ormoc, Guiuan, and Borongan on Samar Island, located among the Philippines’ central islands—making it possible for the delivery of food and supplies and for Philippine citizens to be airlifted.Airmen from Kadena AB, Japan, also provided support as they received a C-17 from JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, which carried a water purification unit to Tacloban—one of the hardest hit areas, stated a Nov. 16 Kadena news release.Pacific Air Forces prepared its 36th Contingency Response Group at Andersen AFB, Guam, which includes communications assets, runway repair capabilities, and RED HORSE engineers. PACAF officials proceeded to help the Philippine armed forces with air-tasking and airlift operations. Special operations U-28 aircraft were called in.By the first week of December, the US military was out of the Philippines, Hayes said. At the operation’s height, he added, 13,446 personnel from all services were involved.
Missileer Burnout?An unpublished RAND study commissioned by the Air Force and obtained by the Associated Press found that members of the nuclear missile force have low job satisfaction and often feel job-related “burnout,” according to the AP report published Nov. 20.During the three-month study, RAND conducted confidential interviews with some 100 launch control officers, security forces, missile maintenance workers, and others in the missile field, stated the report.Chaitra M. Hardison, lead author of the study, told the AP participants rated their work experience on a scale of one to seven—an average of four or more was considered burnout. The 13 launch officers interviewed and 20 junior enlisted airmen assigned to the missile security forces scored a 4.4, according to the article.The study also found that courts-martial in the ICBM force were 129 percent higher than the Air Force as a whole in 2011, on a per capita basis, and 145 percent higher in 2012.An Air Force Global Strike Command spokesman told Air Force Magazine the AP article failed to mention that those percentages are not only trending down, “in fact, the numbers of nonjudicial punishment in 20th Air Force are actually below [that of] the Air Force for 2013.”The spokesman acknowledged the study is “useful for commanders.” However, he said it also must be considered in the context of other studies with much larger sample pools, such as the Unit Climate Assessments (3,500-plus participants), the Air Force Culture Assessments Safety Tool (7,000-plus participants), as well as senior leader visits with airmen and commanders. He said the Air Force has been “100 percent effective from an operational perspective,” though he said the ICBM mission can be stressful.Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III told the AP there is no evidence of fundamental problems in the ICBM community. “There are issues like there are in every other mission area we have in the United States military, and we deal with the issues as they come up, and we deal with them aggressively. But, as far as getting the job done, they’re getting the job done. They do a great job of that every single day,” said Welsh.—Amy McCullough
Competing AmendmentsLawmakers considered a host of competing amendments aimed at curbing sexual assaults in the military as they worked to finalize the Fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill by the end of the year. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and a bipartisan team of senators released a letter Nov. 19, signed by 26 retired generals, admirals, and other military leaders supporting an amendment that if approved would remove a commander’s power to make decisions about cases involving sexual assault and instead give that authority to an independent prosecutor. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) tweeted Nov. 19 that he publicly supports the legislation. However, Defense Department spokeswoman Army Lt. Col. Catherine Wilkinson told Air Force Magazine there are several “misperceptions about the role of the commander.” For example, she said, “Commanders do not investigate [military sexual assault crimes]; that is the job of independent military criminal investigators.” She added that it is the commanders who are “responsible” for setting and enforcing standards. “They lead by example. We need to have commanders more involved, not less involved, in this process,” she said.Wilkinson said the independent panel set up by Congress to study how US allies combat military sexual assault found no evidence that removing a commander from the decision-making process had any affect on the reporting of sexual assaults.The Air Force Association sent a letter to Sen. Carl Levin (R-Mich.), the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and other committee members. The letter, which opposed Gillibrand’s bill, was signed by 112 generals and USAF Chiefs of Staff. Meanwhile, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) continued to push for a competing amendment that would remove the commander’s ability to change or dismiss court-martial convictions in cases of sexual assault. However, McCaskill’s amendment does not completely remove commanders’ authority over sexual assault cases. In June 2013, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) authored, along with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), legislation that would provide sexual assault victims a trained military lawyer to guide them throughout the legal process.
The War on Terrorism
Operation Enduring Freedom
By Dec. 17, a total of 2,289 Americans had died in Operation Enduring Freedom. The total includes 2,286 troops and three Department of Defense civilians. Of these deaths, 1,798 were killed in action with the enemy while 491 died in noncombatant incidents. There have been 19,526 troops wounded during OEF.Solidifying Afghan ProgressAfghan security forces have taken on the overwhelming majority of military operations in the country; however, gaps still exist in capabilities and logistics operations, according to the Defense Department’s twice-yearly report on security and stability in Afghanistan. The Afghan National Security Forces conduct 95 percent of conventional military operations and 98 percent of special operations in Afghanistan, stated the November report. The only unilateral operations the International Security Assistance Force conducts are force protection, route clearance, and redeployment activities. However, the ANSF still will require “substantial train, advise, and assist (TAA) mentoring—as well as financial support” following the 2014 withdraw of US and coalition combat forces, stated the report. Afghan air capabilities also lag behind other developments, according to the document. The Afghan Air Force has reached initial operational capability for its Mi-17, Mi-35, and C-208 aircraft, but IOC for the C-130 and the A-29 is not expected until 2016. The AAF can execute operations and disaster relief, but its ability to generate sorties is affected by maintenance backlogs. Logistics and maintenance continue to be a “major challenge” for the AAF, stated the report. —Marc V. SchanzAAF Takes On Instructor RolesAfghan Air Force flight instructors are now teaching air mission planning courses, a major milestone for the country as its forces take on more control of their own security. According to a Nov. 25 Air Forces Central Command news release, the AAF this past fall began taking on instructor roles in their unit’s air assault planning certification course that had been previously taught by advisors with the US Army’s 10th Combat Aviation Bridge. “Afghans are now teaching Afghans,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Brandon Deacon, commander of the 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron. “Now that they have the initial capability, we can move on to ensuring they have trained instructors who can assess their ability to train themselves.” The 438th AEAS consists of USAF and Czech Republic advisors, who mentor Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopter pilots, stated the release. The 10th CAB augments the overall 438th AEAS mission. Students undergo a three-week course that aims to increase the effectiveness of air operations, including a week each of classroom instruction, simulator training, and actual flying, stated the release. Post-2014 Afghan Ops in LimboAs of mid-December, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had refused to sign a bilateral security agreement that would allow thousands of US troops to remain in country as trainers and advisors to Afghan security forces following the end of NATO combat operations in 2014. A grand assembly of thousands of Afghan delegates approved the draft bilateral security agreement, but in a surprising move, Karzai called for delaying its signing until after the Afghan presidential election in April, reported Britain’s Guardian on Nov. 24. “If I sign and there is no security, then who is going to be blamed for it?” asked Karzai in addressing the delegates. Secretary of State John F. Kerry said “the critical next step” in a long-term partnership with the United States “must be to get the BSA signed in short order,” according to a Nov. 24 statement.
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