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  • No Plan B Yet on F-35 Maintainers

    SSgts. Jonathan Morris, Andrew Fries, Matthew Reed, and MSgt. Scott Grabham, of the 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, are trained on F-35A crew station post operations inspections. Air Force photo by SSgt. Jason Westberry.

    The Air Force still doesn’t know where it will find some 800 maintainers it needs for the F-35 fighter, service F-35 integration chief Maj. Gen. Jeff Harrigian said Thursday. Speaking at an AFA Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event in Arlington, Va., Harrigian—recently minted as the Chief of Staff’s “single point of contact” between USAF and the F-35 Joint Program Office—said the service still “has some work to do” to identify an F-35 maintainer pool. The plan was to harvest A-10 maintainers freed up by retiring that airplane, but Congress, for the second year in a row, is making clear in budget markups that it wants to keep the A-10s. Conclusive planning is “somewhat dependent” on the final, signed defense authorization, Harrigian said, but USAF is looking at drawing from other systems. However, with no letup in demand for any USAF capabilities, that probably won’t work, as “we’re still going to have to deliver those forces while we continue to grow” the F-35 workforce, he acknowledged. Another option is to assign very junior maintenance airmen to the F-35, but that would skew the desired “balance” of maintainer experience levels, Harrigian said. The clock is ticking, though. “By this fall, we’re going to have to have a pretty solid understanding of where we need to go” on the issue, he said, noting initial operational capability, set for August 2016, won’t be affected by the issue. However, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said in January IOC could indeed be “at risk” if Congress failed to approve the service’s force structure proposals allowing experienced maintainers to transfer to the F-35.

  • And No Fix On Fifth Gen Comms

    Not only hasn’t the Air Force solved the problem of how to get its fifth-generation F-22s and F-35s talking to each other, it still hasn’t figured out whose job it is to fix the problem, service F-35 integration director Maj. Gen. Jeff Harrigian said Thursday. “It’s not me,” he told reporters after an AFA Mitchell Institute event, adding that the inability of the two fighters to stealthily communicate is one of the problems that drove the creation of his office, which serves as a single point of contact between USAF, the F-35 Joint Program Office, and the contractors. “You’ve got to have the ‘who owns this?’” discussion, he said, adding that he is working with Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh and Air Combat Command chief Gen. Hawk Carlisle to answer it. He said the looming inception of the F-35 into the fleet could be a “forcing function” to solve not only fifth-to-fifth ​gen comms, but also fourth-to-fifth and other issues. He said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about a solution, noting, “there’s things being done on this,” but as to command and control issues, “I haven’t taken that on, yet.” Industry officials suggested the problem might not be USAF’s fault, given that USAF can’t buy a solution unless it’s compatible with an inter-service interoperability standard … and there may not be one, yet. The two jets actually can communicate one-way: F-22s can receive info from F-35s via the Link 16 datalink, but not send.

  • The Bumpy Path to F-35 IOC

    The Air Force is holding to its Aug. 1, 2016, initial operational capability date for the F-35A, but this date should be seen as merely a “pit stop” on the way to a more robust capability, Air Force F-35 integration director Maj. Gen. Jeff Harrigian said Thursday. At an AFA Mitchell Institute briefing in Arlington, Va., Harrigian said, “the plan to [get] to IOC is solid,” and he’s satisfied USAF will have the 12 jets needed with the necessary software, maintainers, and parts in order for Gen. Hawk Carlisle, Air Combat Command chief, to declare IOC on time. However, there are “challenges” to achieving IOC, including having deployable versions of the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) maintenance kit and some software, which is behind schedule. He said Carlisle thinks “there will be some deficiencies,” and has some “concerns about data fusion” on the F-35, but these may not be sufficient to delay IOC. Harrigian also said that correcting some deficiencies in the 3F version of F-35 software may “slip” to be corrected in the Block 4 update, which is supposed to be a series of improvements and upgrades to weapons and functionality. F-35 system program office spokesman Joe Della Vedova acknowledged there will be “some cleanup” in the Block 4 update.

  • Features Becomes Upgrades

    Some capabilities planned for the F-35 Block 3F—the planned all-up configuration for all three services flying variants of the fighter—will migrate to the Block 4 upgrade, Air Force F-35 integration director Maj. Gen. Jeff Harrigian explained Thursday. Most of the planned 3F capabilities that will become part of the first upgrade package live “in the classified world,” Harrigian said, begging off detailing what they are. “Some of it is hardware-driven, some of it’s software driven,” he told reporters after an AFA Mitchell Institute event. However, he said USAF is working to find “mitigation strategies” to make sure some of those capabilities “don’t move” from the 3F configuration. USAF is trying to determine, “What’s the constraint? Is it time? Is it money? ... And, that’s the discussion we need to have” with the Joint Program Office, he said.

  • Boneyard Boss Relieved of Command

    Col. Margaret Romero, commander of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., was relieved of command “due to a loss of confidence” in her “ability to effectively lead the organization,” according to an Air Force statement. Brig. Gen. Carl Buhler, commander of the Ogden Air Logistics Complex, which oversees the group, made the decision on May 11, according to the short statement. However, officials did not say what caused him to lose confidence in Romero, who led the 309th since last June. The AMARG is most commonly referred to as the “boneyard” because it is the Air Force’s main storage site for aircraft. Col. Matthew Powell, deputy commander for maintenance at the Ogden Air Logistics Complex, has been appointed the new commander, according to the statement.

  • USAF Releases 20-Year Strategic Plan

    The Air Force released the unclassified sections of its 20-year strategic master plan, which aims to outline the practical applications of the 30-year strategy published last year.  "We must be more flexible in our posture at home and overseas, … align our science and technology efforts with innovative concepts … that will offer the opportunity to dominate in the future environment we envision, and adapt rapidly when it changes," service Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh wrote in the plan's introduction. The plan states that the Air Force's two main goals are to increase "agility" and "inclusiveness," according to its executive summary, released May 21. The plan targets agility by "strengthening our culture of adaptability and innovation" in future training, weapons, and organizations, according to the document. "Inclusiveness" aims at "empowering the members of the Air Force team, improving the structure and culture that populates it, and expanding our connections both outside and within the service," it states. Service leaders said the plan "fills a void in strategic direction," gives "year-on-year coherency" to planning, and provides "actionable tasks" for every level of command. The SMP gives a 20-year outlook, which will be updated every two years, while its four annexes—covering human capital, strategic posture, capabilities, and science and technology—will be updated annually.

  • Fighter Aces Receive Congressional Gold

    Congress bestowed its highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, upon the 1,447 American fighter aces on May 20 for their “heroic service to the United States throughout the history of aviation warfare,” according to a statement from House Speaker Rep. John Boehner’s office. Thirty-six of the 77 remaining Aces—who range in age from 72- to 104-years-old—attended the ceremony in the Emancipation Hall at the Capitol Visitors Center. “What an honor it is to welcome these living legends to the United States Capitol,” said Boehner, according to a release from the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Wash., home to the American Fighter Aces Association. “This medal is meant to honor the feats these men achieved and the sacrifices their families made to keep the skies, and the world, safe for democracy.” The museum enlisted the help of some 20 pilots and “a fleet of small and mid-sized jets to fly the Aces and their families” to Washington, D.C., so they could participate in the ceremony. “Because wars are fought differently today, the American fighter Ace is indeed passing into history at a rapid rate,” said Doug King, president and CEO of The Museum of Flight, in the release. “Before today’s ceremony, our single purpose was to get as many of these living Aces as possible to Washington, D.C., for this celebration of their bravery and their lives.” To become an Ace a pilot must shoot down at least five enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat. Congress unanimously passed a resolution honoring the Aces last year.

  • China Exercises Bombers Over Miyako Strait

    ​H-6K bombers with the People's Liberation Army Air Force carried out an exercise over the Miyako Strait for the first time on May 21, according to PLA officials and the Xinhua state news wire. The exercise, which the PLA said was intended to "level up the PLA Air Force's mobility and combativeness" in operations over water, was within international airspace and did not disrupt any civil aviation. The Miyako Strait lies between Okinawa and Miyako Island in the Okinawa Prefecture of Japan. The drill is the second long-range PLAAF drill in the past two months, with its first long-range Western Pacific exercise taking place this past March over the Bashi Channel. Pictures posted by the Ministry of Defense show the exercise featured what appears to be the PLAAF's H-6K bomber, a Chinese version of the Tupolev Tu-16, which is capable of carrying cruise missiles. PLA officials said the exercises are not targeted at any particular country, but added similar exercises may be planned in the future and will simulate real-world scenarios. Chinese forces are working to improve long-range aviation capabilities beyond Chinese territory, according to PLA watchers, and have expanded training and exercising activities as a result.

  • Dempsey: Forces “Drove” Out of Iraq, They Weren’t “Driven” Out

    Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, weighed in on the changing situation in Ramadi, Iraq, on May 20, saying Iraqi forces deliberately retreated and were not driven out by ISIS forces. During a stop in Brussels, Belgium, Dempsey said US officials are working with Iraqi leaders to figure out what happened, stressing he believed Iraqi security forces drove out of the city during a May 16 sandstorm after assessing their position. A large group of Iraqi security forces were deployed in Anbar Province, but believed they were not supported well enough to face an ISIS offensive, he added. The sandstorm also precluded US air support, which was critical to operations in Tikrit in March, causing the Iraqi commander on the ground to make “what appears to be a unilateral decision to move to what he perceived to be a more defensible position,” Dempsey said. Over the past week, reports indicated ISIS had pushed Iraqi security forces out of large portions of Ramadi, the capital city of Anbar Province, which lies west of Baghdad. Ramadi has been disputed territory for months, going back to late last year when ISIS forces seemingly threatened to overrun most of the province on their way to Baghdad’s international airport.

  • USAF Awards Contract Mod for Eight More MQ-9s

    5/22/2015

    As the Air Force attempts to rebalance its remotely piloted aircraft force structure, it continues to buy more aircraft for the booming mission. On May 20, USAF announced a $72 million contract modification award to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for eight more MQ-9 Reaper Block 5 production aircraft. Work on the extension will be performed at the company’s facility in Poway, Calif., and will be complete by December 2017. The Block 5 variant, an upgrade from the original Block 1 “Predator B,” offers greater electrical power, more gross takeoff weight, enhanced communications and payload integration, and “trailing arm” main landing gear.

  • Winnefeld Addresses Missile Defense Misconceptions

    Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined three common misconceptions regarding ballistic missile defense during a recent speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. The first, “and most obvious,” he said, is that the United States’ defense system can’t “hit-to-kill.” He cited the successful June 2014 test interception of an intermediate-range ballistic missile launched from the Army’s Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands as an example. “Overall, the ground-based missile defense system is four for seven, and there’s nothing like having your most recent shot a success,” Winnefeld said during the May 19 speech. He also cited the US’s “excellent track record with our regional systems,” noting that “THAAD is 11 for 11; AEGIS BMD is 21 for 25; and the Patriot PAC-3 is 21 for 25.” He added, “That’s not bad, but we’re determined to make it even better." Second, Winnefeld said it’s not “as easy as it might look on paper” for an adversary to employ ballistic missile defense countermeasures. And, finally, he said, “It would be hubris” to think that “missile defense needs to be 100-percent effective in order to be successful.” Though he said that will always be the goal, Winnefeld acknowledged that, “No system can achieve perfection even though we always strive for it.” (Winnefeld transcript.) (See also A Pain and No Gain Approach to Missile Defense.)

  • Speckled Trout Shuffle

    5/22/2015

    Col. Rod Todaro (center-left), 412th Operations Group commander, and Lt. Col. Michael Davis (center-right), 412th Flight Test Squadron commander, furl the 412th FLTS guidon signifying the inactivation of the squadron. Air Force photo by Rebecca Amber.

    The 412th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB, Calif., officially inactivated in a ceremony there earlier this month, bringing an end to the unit's combined senior leader airlift and test mission, officials announced. The squadron's single modified KC-135 "Speckled Trout" aircraft will shift solely to the test support role with Edwards' 418th FLTS, according to a May 20 release. "It's the only KC-135 on base that's receiver capable, so we're planning on using it as part of the testing with the KC-46," said former 412th FLTS Commander Lt. Col. Michael Davis. Gen. Curtis LeMay directed the modification of a KC-135 to transport senior Air Force leaders in 1957 and "the Trout in its various forms and squadrons has transported 15 Chiefs of Staff over the years," Col. Rodney Todaro, 412th Operations Group commander said. The 412th FLTS stood up Jan. 1, 1994, according to the release.

  • Memorial Day Holiday

    5/22/2015

    The Daily Report will not publish its next column until Tuesday, May 26 because of the Memorial Day holiday.