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  • Anti-ISIS Coalition Leaders Discuss Way Ahead

    ​Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left, greets NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as they meet at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Feb. 10 to discuss matters of mutual importance. Defense Department photo by Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz.

    ​The leaders of all of the defense ministries contributing to the war on ISIS met Thursday in Brussels to decide on the way forward in the fight and to push for more cooperation from the individual countries, along with NATO as a whole. “We are united by a common determination and responsibility to ensure ISIL’s lasting defeat,” ​US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said before the meeting. While NATO member countries have contributed to the fight through providing forces to conduct airstrikes and training, the organization has “collective capabilities” such as force generation and status of forces agreements to help accelerate the fight against ISIS. The Thursday meeting included non-NATO countries that are helping with the fight, and are providing input into the overall plan to defeat ISIS. This begins by defeating the group in Iraq and Syria, especially the headquarter city of Raqqa in Syria and stronghold of Mosul in Iraq, Carter said. The ministers will meet again later this year to review the progress of its plan, Carter said.

  • Get on the Seoul Trainer

    ​A rendering of the T-50A, Lockheed Martin's entry to the Air Force T-X program. Lockheed Martin photo.

    Lockheed Martin will offer the T-50A supersonic jet trainer in the Air Force competition to replace the T-38 Talon, the company said Thursday, also announcing it will build a final assembly and checkout facility for the jet in Greenville, S.C. Rob Weiss, head of Lockheed Martin’s “Skunk Works” advanced development division, said the company settled on the T-50 late in 2015 after completing 80 percent of the work on a parallel “clean sheet” design. At that point, it was clear that designing, developing, and creating a manufacturing capability for an all-new jet would be “eight times more expensive” than a modified T-50, and the clean-sheet “wouldn’t do anything the T-50 doesn’t already do,” Weiss said. The T-50A is a modification of the T-50 trainer Lockheed helped Korean Aerospace Industries design for the Republic of Korea Air Force, and derives in part from the company’s F-16. Besides avoiding the risk of an all-new design, the T-50A will allow the USAF to get jets in service possibly even before the service’s 2024 goal, Weiss said. A new design would demand a “substantial and unacceptable amount of concurrency;” compelling the USAF to develop the jet while producing it, he said. Two T-50s are being modified into production-representative T-50A prototypes and will come to the US from Korea in the next few months, Weiss said, adding that USAF will be invited to do extensive flying evaluations with them. Boeing and Northrop Grumman have both said they will offer an all-new design for the T-X competition. (See also: Teeing Up the T-X, T-X: $1 Billion a Year)

  • The Argument for T-50A

    Lockheed Martin’s T-50A would be the best bet for the Air Force’s T-X trainer because it not only meets all the service’s performance requirements, but also it would draw on the company’s incumbent knowledge of the F-16, F-22, and F-35: most of the jets the T-X will train pilots to fly, said Lockheed’s T-X capture chief, Mike Griswold. Lockheed could adapt its F-35 Ground Based Training System to the T-X, reusing hardware and software and making the transition easier from one to the other, he said. The T-50A cockpit, using flight controls and displays highly similar to that of the F-35, would also ease the transition, he said. The T-50A could also perform some F-35 training at lower cost, Griswold noted, because of embedded training software that would simulate sensors and weapons. The T-50A, with a new refueling receptacle behind the cockpit – as it is on the F-16, F-22, and F-35 – could also give F-35 pilots their first real-world tanker contacts with an experienced instructor in the back seat; something that can’t be done with the F-35, of which there are no two-seat models. The T-50 trainer has racked up 100,000 flight hours in Korean service and has trained more than 1,000 pilots, company officials noted.

  • State of the Non-Union

    Lockheed Martin’s choice of Greenville, S.C., as the site of its T-50A final assembly and checkout facility followed “extensive analysis” of all the locations where the company makes aircraft, Lockheed Skunk Works head Rob Weiss said Thursday. Greenville won out because of the “competitive cost structure” of the location and the “flexible workforce” there. It made more financial sense to choose Greenville instead of Marietta, Ga., Weiss said, even though Marietta has unused floor capacity since the F-22 line shut down. Lockheed does some P-3, C-130, and F-16 work at Greenville, and Weiss acknowledged without comment that the International Machinists Union has not organized in South Carolina; an important reason why Boeing put its 787 Dreamliner plant there. Lockheed could start T-50A deliveries from Greenville “by the end of the year,” Weiss said, even though the USAF likely won’t choose the T-X winner until 2017 or later. He told Air Force Magazine that the T-50A – which retains the hardpoints and some other capabilities of the Korean Aerospace Industries FA-50 light fighter – could become a preferred “export fighter” to US allies who don’t want or can’t manage more expensive or sophisticated jets like the F-16 and F-35. The Greenville facility is located at the former Donaldson AFB, which closed in 1962 and became Donaldson Center Airport.

  • USAF Funding Development of Domestic Rocket Engine

    ​The Air Force will have three competitive space launches in Fiscal 2017, and is funding the development and integration of a domestically sourced rocket engine, the service’s deputy undersecretary for space told reporters Thursday. The Fiscal 2017 budget proposal fully funds the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, Winston Beauchamp said in a Pentagon roundtable. It also includes $296 million for “further continuation work toward launch system solutions,” after the USAF was restricted in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act for pursuing anything other than rocket propulsion system work, said Maj. Gen. Roger Teague, the Air Force’s director of space programs. “We’re looking for the complete launch system capability, not just an engine,” Teague said. Beauchamp also said the Air Force is still conducting a review of whether it is possible or appropriate to make any changes to the EELV launch capability contract or payments; Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called for a freeze on payments to United Launch Alliance after the consortium failed to bid in the Air Force’s first competitive national security space launch. But Beauchamp disputed McCain’s allegation that the Air Force is paying ULA $800 million a year “just to stay in business.” Costs associated with the ELC fund the infrastructure for launches contracted for in a block buy, Beauchamp said. “We’re not paying them to do nothing.”

  • Winged Answer to Prayer

    ​​(From left) SrA.​ Jonathan Nigl, 384th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator; Maj. Robert Bradley; and Capt. Nathanial Beer, 384th ARS pilots, pose for a photo in front of their aircraft. Air Force photo.

    ​A tanker crew saved an F-16 pilot from ejecting over ISIS-held territory during a recent strike sortie, officials revealed. The 384th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 crew deployed to Al Udeid AB, Qatar, from McConnell AFB, Kan., broke-off refue​ling a pair of A-10s to respond to the inflight emergency last year. "The lead F-16 came up first and then had a pressure disconnect after about 500 pounds of fuel. We were expecting to offload about 2,500 pounds," 384th ARS pilot Capt. Nathanial Beer said in a release, Feb. 9. The F-16 pilot attempted to troubleshoot the problem after a second refueling attempt failed. He deduced that roughly 80 percent the fighter's onboard fuel was trapped in the wing and external tanks and couldn't be transferred to the F-16's reservoir tanks and onward to the engine. The fighter could only take on 15 minutes of usable fuel at a time, so the KC-135 crew escorted the crippled jet, refueling at several minute intervals all the way to a safe landing back in friendly territory. Beer, fellow pilot Maj. Robert Bradley, and boom operator SrA. Jonathan Nigl knew "the risks to their own safety, [and] they put the life of the F-16 pilot first," 384th ARS commander Lt. Col. Eric Hallberg said. "What motivates them is a higher calling to be the best at the mission and take care of their fellow soldiers, sailors and airmen," he added.

  • Winter Fighting Increases in Afghanistan

    ​The US is stepping up airstrikes in Afghanistan, targeting ISIS in the country’s south while Taliban is turning on the group as well. Operation Resolute Support spokesman Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner said during a Thursday briefing that there are up to 3,000 ISIS fighters in Afghanistan, and the group is continuing to support. This ISIS force and related activity has shown that there is no longer a slowdown in fighting in winter, Shoffner said. This is shown by an increase in US airpower in Afghanistan.  In January, combined forces dropped 128 weapons in Afghanistan – the most in January in the past three years, and an increase from just 31 total airstrikes in December. Aircraft flew 411 sorties, with 51 sorties with at least one weapon release, according to Air Forces Central Command.

  • Kingsley Eagles Finland-Bound

    An F-15 from the 173rd Fighter Wing awaits air refueling during a training mission in May 2015. F-15s from the 173rd FW will deploy to Finland for a training in May. Air Force photo by Capt. David Liapis.

    ​Oregon Air National Guard F-15C/D Eagles will deploy to Rissala AB, Finland, for two weeks of bi-lateral training this spring, the Finnish air force announced Feb. 11. Six to eight fighters from the 173rd Fighter Wing based at Kingsley Field, Ore., will train with Finnish air force F-18 Hornets from May 9-20, according to the release. "Cooperation with the US is close and our cooperation on a practical level has been and will continue to remain tight," Finnish defense department spokesman Mika Varvikko said, quoted by Finland's Yle Uutiset news. Though not a NATO member, Finland is an official Alliance partner and has upped recent training with the US and NATO states. Sweden and Finland jointly hosted Air Force F-16s for last year's Arctic Challenge in Sweden, and trained with F-16s and A-10s during last year's Baltic deployments. Sweden and Norway have been invited to join the exercise in May to add cross-border training opportunities.

  • Alliance AWACS Join the Fray

    ​A NATO E-3A AWACS aircraft approaches a Utah Air National Guard KC-135R Stratotanker for air refueling during a training flight over Germany on Jan. 13, 2015. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Annie Edwards.

    ​NATO will make its first direct contribution to the campaign against ISIS by deploying its E-3A Sentry AWACS to support coalition air operations, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced. Several countries including Australia, Britain, France, and the US have already contributed AWACS to operations over Iraq and Syria and NATO plans to "backfill national AWACS capabilities," he said speaking at a meeting of allied defense ministers in Brussels, Feb. 11.  Leaders also agreed on "assurance measures" for Turkey,​ which has seen both airspace incursions by Russian aircraft operating over Syria, and an influx of refugees fleeing the conflict zone. Measures include deployment of Patriot air and missile defense systems, additional AWACS surveillance aircraft, and "enhanced maritime presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the Black Sea," according to the release. Konya AB, Turkey, is a permanent forward operating location for NATO's E-3A Component and home to Turkey's own 737-based AWACS fleet. The US previously announced it would end Patriot deployments to Turkey last year, citing shifting strategic priorities.

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