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  • Not Tiering Up Again

    ​Gen. Michael Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command, spoke during an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast event in Arlington, Va., July 29, 2014. AFA staff photo by Lyndsey Akers.

    When sequestration hits again—as Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Hostage believes it will—ACC will have to deal with it differently than it did before. During the summer of 2013, some squadrons were grounded and others flew at bare-bones rates, while those preparing to go to combat got preference. “I thought I could get away with it once,” Hostage said during an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast event in Arlington, Va., Tuesday. But he doesn’t think his airmen could “accept it if I go back to them, year after year,” and choose certain units to simply ground or “take a knee.” Hostage warned that “we would run into a morale issue pretty quickly.” That’s why the Air Force has recommended getting quickly down to about 309,000 people, to save the money necessary to keep the remaining force ready. “My contract to the young airmen is, I won’t send you (into combat) if you’re not ready,” he said. He’s also instructed his commanders they should no longer try to “do more with less, … cut corners, … (or) do the things you’re tempted to do because you don’t want to report failure.” He said when they reach the limits of what they can reasonably do with the resources available, “stop at that point, and I’ll either fix that limit or we’ll deal with it until the time comes when we can recover.” (See also Tiered Readiness at ACC.)

  • How Bad Did It Get?

    ​At the height of sequestration in 2013, Air Combat Command had "eight combat-ready airplanes" in the continental US "that weren't already on rotation or preparing to go," said ACC chief Gen. Mike Hostage. Speaking at an AFA-sponsored, Air Force event in Arlington, Va., Hostage said groundings and flying-hours cuts left him "no reservoir force if a contingency popped up in Syria, Iran, North Korea ... That's how bad it got." He said he was on Capitol Hill that whole summer "trying to explain: This is the reality of what sequestration is doing to us. We have to stop this." Hostage said, "We have clawed our way back out of that hole," thanks to the respite of the Murray-Ryan bipartisan budget agreement. "It was a long struggle" to get back to fighting trim, but "I don't see anything happening that's going to end sequestration" after the deal expires in Fiscal '16, because the nation has not yet addressed its fiscal problems, Hostage asserted. "I'm telling my force we may have to be ready to deal with a sequester budget for the duration of the law," he said. The Budget Control Act, which created sequestration, runs until 2023.  (See also Welcome to the Hollow Force from the September 2013 edition of Air Force Magazine.)

  • Defining Sixth-Generation Fighters

    The Air Force is working on a capability to succeed the F-22, but it is still defining what it might be. Speaking during an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast event in Arlington, Va., ACC chief Gen. Mike Hostage said he “told the people working on it, ‘don’t think in terms of a platform.’” In other words, the next fighter might not be an airplane, but a set of technologies that could be stand-alone or mounted on existing aircraft. Hostage said “it’s okay with me” if the next air superiority system is not a manned fighter. “It will happen someday” that a ground-based operator will have all the situation awareness needed to fly a fighter remotely, he said. Directed-energy weapons are among the attributes a sixth-gen system is likely to have, particularly because they offer a nearly unlimited magazine of shots, he noted. Hostage said his only frustration with the F-22—besides the small size of the fleet—is that while it can penetrate deeply into denied airspace, “it can only kill eight bad guys” when it gets there.  Hostage hinted at “amazing” technologies that might be back-fitted on legacy, fourth-gen aircraft that could make them relevant for decades, but he declined to name them. He wants to make it costly for an enemy to defend against offensive capabilities “that are cheap to us.”

  • Avionics Upgrade Needed to Keep Guard C-130Hs Flying

    A C-130H aircraft, assigned to the Connecticut Air National Guard’S 103rd Airlift Wing, is positioned next to C-130 aircraft from the Kentucky Air National Guard while deployed to the Combat Readiness Training Center, Gulfport, Miss., June 25, 2014. Air National Guard photo by SrA. Jennifer Pierce.

    Air National Guard officials are urging Congress to fund an avionics upgrade for their C-130Hs, warning that without the improvements all of those airlifters would be essentially grounded in six years. The Adjutant Generals of the 18 states with Air Guard C-130H units sent a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee asking them to find a way to pay for the avionics system called the Automatic Dependence Surveillance Broadcast-Out. The FAA and the International Civil Aviation Organization require all aircraft operating in civil-controlled airspace to have that system by 2020. But the Guard officials said the C-130 avionics program now underway does not include that system. And, they warned, even if a more complete avionics upgrade started immediately, it would reach only “a small fraction of the C-130H fleet by 2020” at the current installation rate. There are 122 C-130Hs in the Air Guard, 84 in the Air Force Reserve, and 57 in the active Air Force. So far, the only response from the Senate is language in the Fiscal 2015 defense appropriations bill asking the Air Force to find a way to fund the needed upgrade.

  • Hostage Says JSTARS Replacement Still Top Priority

    Air Combat Command boss Gen. Michael Hostage lists a replacement for the E-8 JSTARS battle management aircraft among his top three or four priorities. “It’s important to me,” said Hostage on Tuesday during an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast event in Arlington, Va. But, due to the budget constraints from sequestration, “I would have to fund it out of hide” by taking cuts in current programs, he said. The geographic combatant commanders that he supports do not like the idea of near term reductions, he added. The Air Force conducted an analysis of alternatives on a JSTARS replacement and proposed a business-jet class aircraft as the platform for the ground surveillance radar, command, and control systems and a crew of 10 to 12. But the Air Force has been unable to fund a major new start within the restricted budget. The JSTARs are expected to remain in service until 2030. Hostage stressed the importance of the JSTARs and the E-3 AWACS aircraft to control the air battle space. Because potential adversaries are working on ways to disrupt that control, the Air Force is working on “distributed control,” he said. Centralized command and decentralized execution is something that makes the US military unique, Hostage added.

  • Managing the CAF Despite Post-Sequestration Paralysis

    ​Air Combat Command boss Gen. Michael Hostage repeatedly expressed frustration with the paralysis of post-sequestration force planning during an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast event in Arlington, Va., on Tuesday. "Politics is not letting us make the hard decisions," Hostage said, specifically mentioning the debate surrounding the retirement of the A-10 fleet and the U-2 high altitude spy plane. The combat air force is stretched thin, and that's affecting the nation's strategic reserve. Although Hostage said he is focused on multi-mission aircraft versus single-mission aircraft, he would like to keep about 250 A-10s. However, he acknowledged USAF just doesn't have the funds. There are 334 Warthogs in the active inventory. Hostage also said that single mission, fourth generation assets would have a hard time in an environment like Syria. He said he would hesitate sending A-10s into a Syrian campaign unless they were preceded by several weeks of counter-air defense strikes. (See also The A-10 and a Rescue Helicopter from the July edition of Air Force Magazine.)

  • Lost in the Noise

    A four-ship of F-35A Lightning IIs returns to Eglin AFB, Fla., after a sortie Feb. 1, 2013. Air Force photo by Capt. Edward Schmitt.

    Although the F-35 has the capability to jam enemy radars, the commander of Air Combat Command does not want the fifth generation fighter doing broad electronic jamming during a strike into contested air space. With its low radar signature, the stealthy F-35 could use “small and focused” jamming as needed to clear its way through enemy air defenses, said ACC boss Gen. Mike Hostage during a July 29 AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast in Arlington, Va. The F-35’s active electronically scanned array radar can focus narrow beams of energy at a specific area. But Hostage added, “I’m happy there still are fourth generation platforms out there that would bring high-powered jamming” that would “raise the noise level so I don’t have to. I just don’t want that too close to me,” Hostage said. With the synergistic effect of the active jamming by allies, the F-35 “will disappear in the noise,” he said.

  • Watching the Competition

    The Air Force works hard to keep tabs on the capabilities of competitors such as China, said Air Combat Command boss Gen. Michael Hostage. Speaking during an AFA-sponsored, Air Force event in Arlington, Va., Hostage said USAF is more “circumspect” about publishing and disseminating these assessments due to advances in technology, which make compartmentalizing difficult. However, Hostage said USAF has a robust “red team” that tracks Chinese assessments of US capability, as well as what others think are US strengths and weaknesses. These include tracking China’s People’s Liberation Army activities in the western Pacific, around the air defense identification zone declared in November 2013, and other areas, and then determining what “they think we’re capable of,” Hostage said. Asked about criticism of the AirSea Battle concept and its focus on air and sea operations, Hostage said it matters little what the concept is called. The problem set of anti-access and area-denial scenarios is one that affects the whole US military, and not just forces in the Pacific. Hostage noted after he left Air Forces Central Command in 2011, he and the naval component commander briefed their cooperative activities in the Arabian Gulf to USAF’s “warfighter talks,” to help inform future A2/AD concepts.

  • Senate Confirms Bob McDonald as VA Secretary

    The Senate on Tuesday unanimously confirmed the nomination of former Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald to be the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs. In his July 23 confirmation hearing, members on both sides of the aisle lauded McDonald as the right man for the job, essentially assuring an easy confirmation. “I applaud the overwhelming, bipartisan confirmation of Bob McDonald as our next Secretary of Veterans Affairs,” said President Barack Obama in a July 29 statement. “As a country, we have a solemn duty to serve our veterans as well as they have served us. I know Bob will help us honor that commitment and make sure every veteran gets the care they deserve, the benefits they’ve earned, and the chance to pursue the American Dream they’ve risked so much to protect.” House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller said in a statement, “In the wake of the biggest scandal in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald certainly has his work cut out for him.” He urged McDonald to “take swift and decisive action to discipline employees responsible for mismanagement, negligence, and corruption that harms veterans while taking bold steps to replace the department’s culture of complacency with a climate of accountability.” McDonald will take the reigns from Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson.

  • Body Found in a C-130’s Wheel Well at Ramstein

    The body of a young man was found in the main landing gear wheel well of an Air Force C-130 during a post-flight inspection at Ramstein AB, Germany, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby announced July 29. The C-130 had returned from a mission into the US Africa Command area of responsibility and had made stops in Senegal, Mali, Chad, Tunisia, and the US Naval Base in Sigonella, Italy, before ending at Ramstein. It was not known at what point the man had entered the Hercules’ wheel well. The body of the youth, apparently of African origins, was discovered during a more thorough post-flight check the evening of July 27, he said. “American and German emergency responders were summoned, removed the body and transported it to a German facility for autopsy and further investigation,” Kirby said. Kirby acknowledged that the ability of the man to get into an Air Force aircraft indicated a possible lapse in security. But he noted that most of the C-130’s stops had been in austere locations not under US control. An investigation would be conducted on the security issue, he said.