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  • Air Superiority, 14 Years Away

    Courtesy photo of two F-35s.

    ​USAF’s projected force structure “is not capable of fighting and winning” an air war in 2030, demanding a faster approach to fielding new weapons and an array of new technologies that aren’t available yet, according to the just-released “Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan.” The report is the result of a year-long Air Force cross-specialty analysis of what it will take to control the skies 14 years hence. Though the results of the study were briefed to the press last month, the new document offers additional details about USAF’s approach, saying it will seek “a balanced approach” between stand-off and stand-in methods to take down enemy air defenses. The B-21 bomber particularly will be needed to strike enemy airfields and air defenses “repeatably,” and there will need to be investment in “long-range, high-capacity” weapons, whose development will be “paired” with new platforms, including a “stand-off arsenal plane.” In the near future, there will be a “campaign” of experiments launched, aimed at defeating “agile intelligent targets,” and USAF also expects to start an analysis of alternatives for a “Penetrating Counter-Air,” or PCA, system next year. However, it specifically rejects “traditional” approaches to developing new systems, saying the typical long timeline “guarantees adversary cycles will outpace US development,” resulting in “late to need delivery of critical … capabilities.” (For more on Air Superiority 2030 read the Aperture column in the May issue of Air Force Magazine.)

  • Two Troops Injured in Iraq, Syria

    ​Two US troops were injured by indirect fire from ISIS over the weekend in Iraq and Syria, but the Pentagon maintains they were not in combat. Defense Department spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said one service member was injured near Erbil, Iraq, and the other was injured north of Raqqa in Syria. Davis would not elaborate on how they were injured, other than to say they were hit by indirect fire and were not on the front line “trigger-pulling” in combat. He also declined to say which service the troops belonged to. Neither of the incidents represents a large-scale offensive on US troops or allied forces, he noted. This is the first time the Pentagon has announced an injury to a US service member in Syria, where small teams of special operations forces are advising and assisting vetted rebel forces.

  • When Everything Goes Wrong

    6/1/2016

    ​Maj. Jack Nelson is honored during a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., May 25, 2016. Air Force photo by Andy Morataya.

    ​Maj. Jack Nelson, a U-2 pilot assigned to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Osan AB, South Korea, was flying at high altitude when his autopilot, navigation, primary heading, and reference system display malfunctioned. Then, not long after he reset the multi-function displays, the plane’s environmental control system stopped working and the temperature in the aircraft plunged below zero. Still, Nelson persevered and safely landed the aircraft. For his skill and ingenuity, he was awarded the 2015 Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy. “Flying planes is a risky business, but it’s really great to know you have one of the best teams in the world that’s got your back when you are out there flying and something does go wrong,” said Nelson during a May 25 Pentagon ceremony. ​Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said the award, named after a pilot who was declared missing after his T-33 Shooting Star disappeared in 1955, is “about taking a situation that’s not supposed to occur, and turning it into normal, or at least as normal as you can get.”

  • Senate Confirmations

    6/1/2016

    ​The Senate on May 26 confirmed multiple high-level Air Force nominations, including the new chief of Air Force Reserve Command. Maj. Gen. Maryanne Miller was confirmed by voice vote to be the next chief of AFRC, where she had served as deputy. She will replace Lt. Gen. JJ Jackson who has led the command since July 2012. Maj. Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach was confirmed to be the commander of Alaskan Command and 11th Air Force. He will replace Lt. Gen. Russell Handy who is serving as the interim commander of Pacific Air Forces following Gen. Lori Robinson’s move to US Northern Command. Lt. Gen. Charles Brown, currently the commander of Air Forces Central Command, also was confirmed to be the next deputy commander of US Central Command.

  • Another Test, Another Failure

    6/1/2016

    ​Another North Korean missile test appears to have failed Tuesday. South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported North Korea attempted to launch a Musudan—an intermediate-range ballistic missile—from its east coast, but it likely exploded shortly after it left its mobile launcher, Reuters reported. Three similar tests failed in April. In response to the repeated tests, the United States, Japan, and South Korea will hold a joint missile-defense exercise for the first time in June. “North Korea shows no sign of abandoning the development of nuclear missiles and so we will continue to work closely with the US and South Korea in response and maintain a close watch,” said Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, according to Reuters. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, “The situation on the peninsula remains complex and sensitive” and called on its ally, North Korea, to stop exacerbating that tension, reported Reuters.

  • Avoiding Pacific Proliferation

    ​Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment photo.

    ​North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal and China’s increased conventional capabilities could spur South Korea and Japan to seek nuclear weapons, according to a new report released by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment. While outlining the report Tuesday, author Evan Montgomery said South Korean and Japanese policy makers might begin to doubt whether the United States would employ nuclear weapons on their behalf if North Korea is able to withstand an attack and respond with a nuclear attack or has the capability of striking US territory. And if Japan or the United States isn’t able to deter China’s conventional capabilities with their own, the island nation might conclude “a small nuclear arsenal is the best the way to offset their declining military position,” he said. Instead, Montgomery proposed the United States create nuclear planning groups and sharing arrangement—similar to what is already in place in Europe—with its allies in the Asia-Pacific to allay fears. The arrangement, though a departure from current US policy, “might be preferable to watching two of its closest allies develop and field independent nuclear weapons,” the report notes. “In that scenario, the United States would have no control over these weapons, including when and how they might be used.”

  • The New Russian Nuclear Challenge

    ​Russia’s apparent willingness to use nuclear weapons in more situations could undermine NATO cohesion, a new Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment report found. “While NATO’s been progressively reducing its reliance on nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War, Russia has been more recently moving in the exact opposite direction,” author Evan Montgomery said Tuesday while introducing the report. Russian analysts, he said, believe the use of small-yield nuclear weapons would actually de-escalate a conflict by causing an adversary to back down. The new doctrine, Montgomery said, is creating an “emerging gap in the escalation ladder” and challenging US commitments in Europe. To deter Russia from engaging in nuclear coercion, the report proposes NATO incorporate additional nations, including Poland, into the nuclear delivery mission. The report notes many NATO members might see the move as too provocative, but might be open to Polish aircraft being stationed at bases where nuclear weapons are already stored. “So long as other NATO members are willing to host [US] nuclear weapons in peacetime and deliver them during a conflict, the unique structure of the alliance will continue to underpin the credibility of [US] extended deterrence,” Montgomery wrote.

  • Massachusetts F-15 Unit Reunites in Bulgaria

    6/1/2016

    ​Members of the Massachusetts Air National Guard 104th Fighter Wing, which has been deployed across Europe for the past two months, recently reunited for training in Bulgaria. The F-15 squadron from Barnes Air National Guard Base deployed in April as part of a European theater security package, according to a 104th FW release. Four of the F-15s and 100 airmen deployed to Keflavik AB, Iceland, while another eight aircraft and 150 airmen went to Leeuwarden AB, Netherlands. The squadron on May 27 reunited at Graf Ignatievo, Bulgaria, to train in the Thracian Flag exercise with the Bulgarian air force. The unit will stay In Bulgaria until the end of June, when the California Air National Guard’s 144th Fighter Wing takes over the theater security package, using eight of the Massachusetts ANG’s F-15s, according to the release.

  • Lending a Helping Wing

    ​A crew from the 21st Airlift Squadron at Travis AFB, Calif., was about to leave for a typical overseas mission when they got a call telling them to expect reassignment. The C-17 Globemaster III crew ended up transporting an Air Force family and other injured Americans back to the United States after the March 22 terrorist attacks in Brussels, according to a May 26 release. The first leg of the trip was to take troops and Humvees from a base in the US to the Middle East, but on the way back, the crew learned they would travel from Incirlik AB, Turkey, to Ramstein AB, Germany, for an “aeromedical evacuation mission.” Once in Germany, the plane was reconfigured into a mobile intensive care unit before flying to Brussels to pick up five patients and a 10-person Army burn team. The plane took the patients to Texas before returning home to Travis. SrA. Max Oldroyd said that while he has flown many missions, “this is probably the one that will stick with me the most.” A1C Austin Copeland said it was “very heartwarming” to be able to help those who were injured. Capt. Grant Hadley, a pilot and the aircraft commander, said that often, the airmen are transporting “a big metal box,” and it is difficult to know what impact their work has. “It’s easy to get bogged down and not remember the real impact, but with these sorts of missions, you can’t help but see the real impact, because it’s right there in front of you.”

  • Task Force Commemorate

    6/1/2016

    ​US European Command has created a task force to participate in events in France commemorating the 72nd anniversary of the allied invasion of Normandy. Airmen assigned to US Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa will participate in the joint task force, commanded by an Army unit out of Wiesbaden, Germany. About 400 US troops total will take part in the events, which began May 31 and will continue through June 6. The battle of Normandy, known as Operation Overlord, began on June 6, 1944, with air and naval bombardment as well as amphibious and airborne landings. The 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team is in charge of facilitating air operations for the anniversary, and the events will include representatives from eight units that participated in D-Day: the 82nd Airborne Division, the 101st Airborne Division, the 75th Ranger Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, 4th Infantry Division, 4/25th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 90th Sustainment Brigade, the 29th Infantry Division, and the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade.

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