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  • A-10s Support Inherent Resolve

    ​Several A-10 Thunderbolts II arrived in Southwest Asia Nov. 17, 2014, to support regional military activities including Operation Inherent Resolve. Air Force photo by TSgt. Jared Marquis.

    The first A-10s recently redeployed from Afghanistan to the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing at an undisclosed base in the Gulf region, marking the first confirmed deployment of the close air support aircraft in support of anti-ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria. The A-10s, assigned to the 122nd Fighter Wing at Fort Wayne ANGS, Ind., arrived in the Gulf Nov. 17-21 and are now flying in theater as the 163rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron. They will work with coalition forces to support Operation Inherent Resolve, and other "regional operations," according to a Nov. 24 Air Forces Central Command release. "The A-10s now will only be supporting military requirements in the Gulf region, including but not limited to, Operation Inherent Resolve," AFCENT spokesman Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis told Air Force Magazine. Before relocating to the Gulf, the 122nd Fighter Wing briefly deployed to Afghanistan to meet close air support needs driven by the withdrawal of partner nation CAS in Afghanistan, a "temporary but urgent requirement for additional CAS during the most recent period of base closures or transfers," and other "transition operations" as the US and NATO forces wind down their combat presence in the country and transition to an advise and assist role, said Sholtis. The aircraft will now operate under the recently reactivated 332nd Air Expeditionary Group, which previously stood down in 2012 after years of supporting combat operations in Iraq.

  • Pentagon: Hagel Won’t Alter Agenda in Lame Duck Period

    Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel remains focused on implementing reforms and recommendations he and his team have worked to put in place before he leaves the position. Speaking to reporters the day after Hagel announced his resignation, Kirby said that despite multiple reports of tensions between the Pentagon and the White House national security team, Hagel considers himself a “strong partner” with the Administration. Hagel is not focused on “atmospherics” and “sniping” from anonymous sources, but the large number of unfinished tasks at the Defense Department, added Kirby. “We’ve got a mission ending in Afghanistan, and a new one on the way,” Kirby said, in addition to budget uncertainties and engaging with allies to defeat ISIS. Kirby said Hagel will work hard to push through reforms he has focused on during his time at the Pentagon, such as reforming the military justice system, finishing a pending medals and awards review, and continuing to focus on improving the fight against sexual assault in the military. There is an understanding Hagel will “implement and carry to conclusion” some of these initiatives, Kirby said. (OSD also issued a white paper on Monday outlining Hagel’s priorities and accomplishments).

  • F-35s and Cost Comparisons

    ​The cost of F-35As in the eighth production lot is $94.8 million each, the system program office announced last Friday. We reported that this makes the cost comparable to that of some fourth generation fighters. Several readers have noted, however, that the cost quoted does not include the F135 engine. Pratt & Whitney, maker of the F135, declines to state the unit cost of its engines, for competitive reasons. The contract awarded to Pratt & Whitney in October for F135 engines was $1.052 billion for 48 of the motors, which would yield a unit cost of about $22 million each; however, a P&W spokesman noted that the contract also included other things, such as engineering work and spares. At the gross figure, however, an F-35A with engine would cost about $116 million. That tracks with the Lot 7 price, provided by the F-35 SPO, of about $112 million for an F-35, engine included. In 2008, Boeing received a $2.3 billion contract from the Republic of Korea for 21 F-15K fighters. That contract, too, included things other than simply the aircraft. However, at the gross value, the unit cost works out to $109 million, or $120 million in inflation-adjusted dollars. The F-35 SPO is aiming for a base-year 2010 unit cost of F-35As in the $80-$85 million range, which would make the F-35 comparable not only to F-15s but to less expensive aircraft such as the F-16.

  • British Forces End Afghan Combat Operations


    British forces ended their combat role in Afghanistan, handing Camp Bastion to Afghan forces in preparation for a transition to the advisory and training role. “We have said farewell to British Forces in Helmand and now Kandahar, bringing to a close our combat mission here in Afghanistan,” said British Army Maj. Gen. Ben Bathurst, commander of UK forces in Afghanistan, in a Nov. 24 Ministry of Defense release. “The UK’s focus now switches to training the Afghan Army’s future officers and providing continuing support to the security ministries in Kabul,” added Britain’s Defense Secretary Michael Fallon. Tornado GR4 strike aircraft completed the Royal Air Force’s final tactical deployment to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, earlier this month, according to an MOD release. The RAF’s expeditionary air wing at Kandahar provided close air support, aerial refueling, tactical airlift, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and remotely piloted support. British were operationally responsible for Helmand province alongside US marines and Danish forces in Southern Afghanistan, often seeing intense action. Some 453 British troops and defense civilians were killed in action since 2001, according to MOD figures.

  • Kentucky Guard Unit Returns from Senegal

    ​TSgt. Brian Leach, an aerial porter from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Contingency Response Group, directs the positioning of a forklift to offload pallets of humanitarian aid from a Halverson cargo-handling vehicle at Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport in Dakar, Senegal, Nov. 12, 2014. Air National Guard photo by Maj. Dale Greer.

    Members of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Contingency Response Group recently transferred control of a humanitarian cargo hub in Senegal to a relief group. The Ebola-response mission was initially set to last 45-to-60 days, Maj. Dale Greer, spokesman for the Joint Task Force-Port Opening Senegal, told Air Force Magazine in October, shortly after the unit’s arrival. While in the country, the unit established an international staging base to help route supplies and equipment from the airport into the affected areas, processed more than 750 tons of relief supplies for airlift to Liberia, and “ensure[d] capabilities [were] rapidly provided to the affected region and to health care providers,” Greer said. The humanitarian operation will continue at the Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport, despite the 123rd CRG’s departure. The 787th Air Expeditionary Squadron will take it from this point. "As one of the first Air Force assets in theater, the 123rd Contingency Response Group's mission was to open an airfield for military cargo operations, establish an aerial port of debarkation, and hand off the operation to follow-on forces within 60 days," said David Mounkes, commander of the 123rd, in a release. "We've now completed that mission, and the 787th is ready to take over. I know they will do a superb job."

  • NATO Pursuing Allied Tanker Fleet


    ​The Netherlands is spearheading acquisition of a pooled NATO air refueling tanker-cargo fleet in association with Allied and European acquisition officials. The Multinational Multi Role Tanker Transport fleet project "is now beginning to take tangible form to realize an additional air-to-air-refueling capability for Europe, NATO Support Agency manager Mike Lynden said in a Nov. 21 allied release. NATO signed a cooperation agreement with a group of European acquisition officials to oversee the selection and acquisition of a shared tanker fleet, similar to its pooled AWACS and heavy airlift consortiums. In addition to the Netherlands and Norway, NATO members Belgium and Poland also expressed interest in the MMRTT project, IHS Jane's reported. Potential aircraft include the KC-46 Pegasus chosen by the Air Force, or Airbus A330 MRTT operated by Britain and recently selected by France. Commercial tanker services also intend to bid on the contract, which is expected to be awarded in 2015, according Jane's. Initial operational capability is planned for 2019.

  • NATO Secretary General Visits Baltics


    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg paid a visit to Lithuania on Nov. 21, hailing the Alliance’s air policing mission in the Baltics as a successful example of solidarity between its members as Russia ramps up air exercises and long-range aviation patrols in the region. Stoltenberg and senior Lithuanian officials visited the Karmelava Airspace Control Center, where Lithuanian and NATO forces manage and direct air policing activities in the Baltics, to receive a brief by troops currently training at the center. In a joint appearance Friday with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, Soltenberg praised Lithuania’s cooperation and work with the NATO air mission, saying it has been “significantly strengthened in the recent months.” Since the start of the year, he added, NATO allies have conducted more than 200 exercises. These events “provide assurance to the Baltic countries and to the Alliance as a whole.”

  • North Pole SATCOM Ready for Production


    The control segment of the Air Force’s future satellite communications system to enable secure communications to and from the North Pole passed its last major review before production, Northrop Grumman announced. The Enhanced Polar System Control and Planning Segment passed its integrated baseline review demonstrating “the program is ready for this next phase,” said Linnie Haynesworth, company vice president for ISR, in a Nov. 24 release. The EPS consists of two extremely-high frequency, jam-resistant tactical communications payloads hosted on third-party satellites, a gateway system that translates the signal to interface with other communications and the control segment. The control segment operates and monitors the health and functioning of the satellite payload, and compiles operational data to ease maintenance and sustainment, according to the system’s factsheet. Northrop Grumman delivered the EPS payloads to Air Force Space Command early last year, and EPS is scheduled to begin operations in 2018. (USAF factsheet)