Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 25, 2016. Screenshot photo from CSIS video.
The Defense Department must be willing to take on more “risk” and be more “willing to fail,” said Gen. Paul Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Thursday. Speaking on the importance of innovation in US military strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., Selva described 21st century military challenges as “exponentially different” from those of the Cold War because state actors like Russia and North Korea, as well as non-state violent extremists, have taken up “asymmetrical approaches” that demand, in response, “new ways of doing things.” Pointing to the development of technologies like GPS, he rejected the notion that the military is “genetically predisposed not to innovate.” Selva urged senior leaders to look down the chain of command for “nuggets of potential change” by leading with the question, “are you willing to be wrong?” He said DOD officials have often conceived of innovation and risk-taking as a “wildfire” when they should be seen as “brush fires” that clear out new ways forward, and he asserted that such an approach is “becoming systemic in the department.” (Watch Selva's speech.)
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul J. Selva on Thursday called on the Defense Department to regain its lost position of leadership in research and development. In 1996, Selva said, “the military spent 10 times more than civilian companies” on development of new technologies, but he said the situation is now reversed and the commercial sector far outpaces the military in technological innovation. The way forward, Selva suggested, lies not in a further reversal of the trend, but rather in enhanced military-commercial partnerships. “We’re not venture capitalists,” Selva said, “but we borrow from them, trying to pinpoint where risk is most likely to payoff.” (See also: DOD Opens Second Startup Technology Office.)
An F-16C Fighting Falcon takes off from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, on Aug. 22, 2016. Air Force photo by Capt. Korey Fratini.
July marked the first full month that US aircraft had the authority to target the Taliban in Afghanistan, and that authority resulted in the busiest month of the past year. US aircraft in July dropped 130 bombs in Afghanistan in July, bringing the total for the year to 675 bombs dropped in 3,029 total close air support sorties, according to US Air Forces Central Command statistics. These airstrikes are not “unilateral,” instead they are specifically tied to what the Afghan forces are doing on the ground, said US Army Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, the deputy chief of staff for communications for the Resolute Support Mission. In early July, most of the airstrikes focused on the Kunduz region, and after that calmed down there was increased fighting in Helmand Province, Cleveland said. About 80 of the strikes were tied to the authority to target the Taliban, he said. At the same time, the Afghan Air Force has increased its capability. The AAF on Thursday received five more MD-530 attack helicopters, in addition to the 23 that are already operational. These helicopters have seen action in Helmand in particular, Cleveland said. The AAF also has eight A-29 Super Tucanos that it is using for close air support across the country, he said. (See also: Afghan Air Support Picks Up and The Afghan Air Force's Manning Shortfall.) (Watch video of USAF F-16s taking off and landing at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.)
USAF jets will be taking to the skies over Bulgaria in September to assist the NATO partner with air policing for the first time. The two F-15s will join Bulgarian MiG-29s for one week starting on Sept. 9, according to a NATO release. Bulgaria’s air policing is being enhanced by a foreign service for the first time at the request of Bulgarian authorities. NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said the enhanced measures are “a demonstration of solidarity and support” for Bulgaria, according to the release. NATO allies, including USAF, have carried out an air policing mission over the Baltics for more than 10 years. Former US Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa commander Gen. Frank Gorenc said last year the scope of that mission had expanded significantly following Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea. F-15s from the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing and C-130Js from the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein AB, Germany, were in the Eastern European country to train with the Bulgarian Air Force during the Thracian Flag exercise earlier this summer.
Iranian boats for the second consecutive day harassed US Navy ships in the Arabian Gulf on Wednesday, prompting a US Navy ship to fire warning shots into the water. On Wednesday, the USS Squall fired shots into the water as Iranian boats came within 200 yards of the patrol coastal ship after repeated warnings. Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said the crew of the ship determined the Iranian vessels were coming at them in an "unsafe and unprofessional manner." They were forced to fire warning shots to "de-escalate" the situation, said Cook. The incident came the day after the destroyer USS Nitze was harassed by Iranian boats in the Arabian Gulf. The US ships were in international waters and the sailors "were conducting themselves professionally as they are trained to do. We did not see the same from the other side," Cook said. Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan said Thursday that Iran will continue to confront US vessels if they are in "Iran's maritime region," Reuters reported.
While Afghan forces are able to handle the bulk of ongoing missions targeting ISIS and the Taliban, there are still about 20 percent that involve US forces, including one earlier this week that resulted in the death of a US Army Green Beret. Eighty percent of Afghan missions are conducted “completely independent” of NATO, which means “they don't need any assistance whatsoever,” US Army Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, the deputy chief of staff of communications for the Resolute Support Mission, said in a Wednesday briefing. Half of the other missions NATO calls “enabled operations,” which means that while NATO forces do not “go outside the wire” they help plan and sometimes provide surveillance support, Cleveland said. There's still 10 percent of the missions that involve NATO forces going out with Afghan forces, he said. While these still are called “advise” missions, NATO forces travel with Afghans and usually stop at the last safe spot to help Afghans execute the mission. This was the type of mission that was taking place on Tuesday when Army SSgt. Matthew Thompson was killed by an improvised explosive device in Lashkar Gar, Helmand Province. Afghanistan is still a “dangerous place” and incidents such as this can happen while troops are on the move, but still not in the middle of a combat situation, Cleveland said.
US and NATO advisers responded to Wednesday's terror attack at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul to help Afghan troops end the siege, but did not actively take part in the assault. US Army Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, the deputy chief of staff for communications for the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, said the Afghan Interior Ministry, with its police and special operations troops, stopped the attack that resulted in the deaths of at least 13 and dozens more injured. At least three gunmen stormed the university with guns and explosives, and two were killed in a battle with Afghan troops, according to CNN. There has been no official claim of responsibility, though there has been increased Taliban activity in the area. Cleveland said the crisis was handled by Afghan forces, however, NATO special operations forces advised the Afghans in their response, and a NATO quick reaction force was on standby if needed. US aircraft also provided surveillance for the Afghans, Cleveland said during a Thursday briefing. (Secretary of State John Kerry's statement on the attack.)
One of the Defense Department’s top priorities is the development of technology that enables the “partnership of humans and machines to speed the making of decisions,” said Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, during a speech Thursday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. While warning of the dangers of fully autonomous weapons systems, Selva described the ongoing development of semi-autonomous systems, operating at “the confluence of smart machines and smart humans,” as crucial to US response to the “great power competitions” with China and Russia, as well as the fight against “violent extremism.” On ethics, Selva drew a “bright line” at the question of “whether the tools we’re using absolve humans of the decision to execute a military operation.” Still, Selva admitted, “I don’t think it’s impossible that someone will build an entirely autonomous system” and that while the international system “will need to examine the body of law that applies” to these new technologies, the US military needs to “prepare for those who will ignore those conventions.” (See also: The Pointy End of Third Offset and Building Skynet.) (Read "Autonomous Horizons," released in June 2015 by the USAF chief scientist’s office.)
Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division wait to board a C-130 Hercules at Pope Army Airfield, N.C., Aug. 4, 2016. Air Force photo by MSgt. Brian Ferguson.
A group activated this summer at Pope Army Airfield, N.C.—the only en route operations group in the continental United States—is overseeing a large increase of joint operations there. The 43rd Air Mobility Operations Group, activated in June, has no aircraft of its own, but manages transient aircraft and the missions they fly with Army paratroopers at Fort Bragg, N.C., according to a USAF release. In the past year, the number of missions flown a month at Pope has increased by 20 percent, from about 27 to 34. The 900-airmen group is “built to provide that excess capacity as we continue to grow the numbers of transient aircraft coming through to support airborne operations at Fort Bragg,” Commander Col. Kelly Holbert said, according to the release. USAF aircraft have already provided the Army at least 56,000 jumps this fiscal year, an increase of 6,000 over Fiscal 2015, according to the release. The repetitive training is key for the paratroopers who make up the global response force, said Army Lt. Col. Mark Ivezaj, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. “In order for our paratroopers to be confident in what they do they have to practice it and that relies heavily on the Air Force,” he said.
Republic of Singapore Air Force weapons systems officers (left to right) Capts. Alex Ong and Chia Chi Yu and F-15SG pilot Maj. Wang Kee Yong stand on the flightline at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, Aug. 17, 2016. USAF photo by SrA. Lauren-Taylor Levin.
The first three Singaporean weapons instructors graduated from the Singaporean Fighter Weapons Instructor Course at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, earlier this month. F-15SG pilot Maj. Wang Kee Yong and weapons systems officers Capt. Alex Ong and Capt. Chia Chi Yu of the Republic of Singapore Air Force learned combat maneuvers and tactics during the course, which is modeled after the USAF Fighter Weapons School, according to a 366th Fighter Wing release. The head of the Singaporean air service, Maj. Gen. Mervyn Tan, and its Air Combat Command commander, Brig. Gen. Tommy Tan Ah Han, visited Mountain Home Aug. 17-20 to recognized the graduates. "They say 'It takes a village to raise an Olympic champion' but in this instance it took two air forces to graduate these three airmen," said Lt. Col. Tham Yeow Min, the 428th FS senior ranking officer.
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