Maintainers from the 419th and 388th Fighter Wings Hill AFB,
Utah, conduct preflight checks on an F-35A Lightning II during Red Flag
17-1 at Nellis AFB, Nev., Jan. 24, 2017. Air Force photo by A1C Nathan Byrnes.
The F-35A is ready for combat and will deploy “in the spring to summer” overseas, Air Combat Command chief Gen. Hawk Carlisle told defense writers in Washington, D.C., Friday. Carlisle said he’s perfectly comfortable with the F-35A’s combat capability, recently borne out during a Red Flag exercise where they “performed extremely well.” While it hasn’t been decided exactly where the Lightnings will go first, the thinking is it will be a “short deployment to the Pacific, and a longer deployment to Europe,” or vice-versa, Carlisle observed. The type will also deploy to the Middle East “in the not-too-distant future,” he said. Though still few in number, the operational F-35s are part of the force, Carlisle explained , and the rest of the fighter force is already oversubscribed. “It’s an operational asset. We’ll use it accordingly,” he asserted. Responding to a reporter’s question that F-35s and F-22s in Operation Inherent Resolve might be “overkill,” Carlisle said they are becoming the bulk of the force and will go where platforms are needed. He also said he’s had full confidence in the F-35 since declaring initial operational capability with the type last August.
Gen. Hawk Carlisle thinks the Air Force’s nascent Penetrating Electronic Attack aircraft may actually go operational before the Penetrating Counter-Air platform that will notionally succeed or complement the F-22 and F-35 in the air superiority role. The Air Combat Command chief, speaking with defense reporters on Friday, said the PEA, which he described as a “partnership platform” with the F-22, F-35, and B-21 bomber, could be “autonomous or semi-autonomous” and escort strike aircraft going into the most heavily defended enemy airspace as a stand-in jammer. The Navy, he reiterated, has a need to do a different kind of electronic warfare, and USAF and the Navy are working out who will do what with regards to electronic warfare through the Joint Air Dominance Organization, set up to apportion such roles and missions. Carlisle said he’d like both the PCA and PEA programs to “move to the left,” meaning appear in service earlier than now planned. “Sooner would be better,” he added, noting the electronic combat environment is getting “intense.”
An E-3G Sentry, an Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, sits on a flightline. Air Force photo.
Though there’s a “lot of life” in the current fleet of E-3 AWACS airborne battle management aircraft, the shape of how the AWACS mission will be done in the future will flow from a “multi-domain command and control enterprise collaboration team” study now underway, Air Combat Command chief Gen. Hawk Carlisle said Friday. Carlisle said the AWACS mission “may be disaggregated”—meaning performed by a number of smaller platforms—but he suspects there will still be a “central node” that is airborne, and it will likely coordinate the functions of both manned and unmanned aircraft, all with sensors and communications relays. From the study, which will take about a year, “I think we’ll learn a lot” about “the technology and where we’re headed; how we do command and control, how we get resilient capability, and what … multi-domain command and control looks like in the future.” Carlisle said there will be a recapitalization of the Airborne Battlefield Management Command and Control Capability (the EC-130 ABCCC), but the E-3 will likely last “into the 2030s,” he said, attributing the longevity of the 30-year-old aircraft to thorough depot maintenance. “I’d like to start working on the next generation sooner than that,” Carlisle added, and the ECCT review will create a roadmap that will only depend on funding. For now, though, the budget topline can’t accommodate a new AWACS, he said.
An F-16 from the Alabama
Air National Guard flies a mission with the 134th Expeditionary Fighter
Squadron in support of Operation Inherent Resolve on Dec. 13, 2016. Air Force photo by MSgt. Benjamin Wilson.
As the US-led coalition closes the noose on ISIS in Mosul, Iraq and, later, Raqqa, Syria, deconfliction with Russia’s separate air campaign is going to be critical, Air Combat Command chief Gen. Hawk Carlisle told defense writers in Washington, D.C., Friday. “Increased … dialog has got to happen,” Carlisle said, because as ISIS becomes increasingly geographically confined, strike aircraft will be operating in an ever-more constrained airspace, making for an “extremely … complex” battlespace. Making sure there’s no confusion about who will be where is essential “to make sure there’s not a miscalculation” on either party’s part. “We’re going to beat ISIS,” Carlisle said, almost matter-of-factly. “I know we are going to win,” he added, but “Then what? That’s a ‘whole of government’ question.” Carlisle said ISIS survivors will probably flee to Nigeria and the Philippines to stir up trouble in those countries, while the power vacuum left in the Levant will invite conflict including Russia, Iran, and other entities, as everyone tries to “gain influence.” It’s also unclear whether Russia would increasingly turn to striking US-backed forces opposing the Assad regime once ISIS is wiped out, Carlisle said, and Turkey’s approach to the Kurds may go in a new direction, as well. “It’s going to be an interesting national security discussion,” Carlisle said, adding “we as a nation have got to look at this” and debate the US role in the aftermath of victory against ISIS before it happens. Carlisle is retiring March 10.
The Iraqi Air Force on Friday conducted its first strikes inside Syria, hitting ISIS targets in the area of Abu Kamal in response to that group’s attacks inside Iraq. Iraqi F-16IQs conducted “good strikes” on ISIS facilities, which had been linked to the planning of attacks in Baghdad and the rural area of Rutbah. Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said Iraq told the US-led coalition about the strike in advance, and the US helped provide intelligence. However, Iraq operates outside of the US Combined Air Operations Center Air Tasking Order and conducted the strikes independently. The Iraqi government also notified the Syrian government about the strikes in advance, Davis said. The Iraqi government was “justifiably interested” in the ISIS targets, and the strike was “valid” and supported by the US, Davis said. Iraq currently has 14 US-supplied F-16s, which are conducting strikes daily.
The Air Force awarded a $15.6 million contract to ELTA North America Inc., to deliver 21 “counter-unmanned aerial systems,” according to a Feb. 21 Pentagon announcement. The devices, which the announcement also calls “Man Portable Aerial Defense System kits,” will be produced in Israel and delivered to the continental US for training by the end of July. In October 2016, the US military acknowledged it was facing a threat from ISIS drones carrying explosives and was seeking new methods to counter those attacks. A spokesperson from Hanscom AFB, Mass., which is managing the ELTA contract, told Air Force Magazine by email that “the Air Force is exploring and testing multiple technologies and systems” to respond to the UAV threat. The spokesperson said the Air Force response has focused so far on “non-kinetic options ranging in size from handheld technology to larger stationary and mobile systems that can be operated on the ground or in the air,” but that “kinetic options to defeat small UASs are also being explored.” While refusing to comment specifically on the nature of the ELTA system, the spokesperson said, “The Air Force expects to have a counter small UAS program of record by the end of fiscal year 2018.”
The Air Force demonstrated a number of new information gathering and targeting procedures at Red Flag 17-1 that will help the service transition to a more networked approach to the battlespace. For the first time, the use of Network Centric Collaborative Targeting (NCCT) was a stated goal of the exercise held at Nellis AFB, Nev., and NCCT operators were integrated into the exercise’s combined air operations center. Controllers also for the first time made use of cooperative geolocation, a machine-to-machine process that employs sensor data from two or more platforms to locate and track targets more quickly. These ISR firsts at Red Flag showed an operational commitment to the Air Force leadership’s message that networks, more than the capabilities of individual systems, will be at the heart of the air battle of the future. At this Red Flag, “crews weren't mission planning with just their own aircraft in mind, but also where it is in relation to the other aircraft, ”said Lt. Col. Justin Tindal, chief of the futures branch at Air Combat Command, according to a press release.
David Shulkin, the freshly minted Secretary of Veterans Affairs, said without congressional support, his agency’s claims backlog will likely “grow.” He also aims to fix the Choice Program, is “anxious” to get reports about potential additions to the agent orange presumptive list, and is planning to meet with governors around the country to discuss ways to battle veteran homelessness.Read the full story from Gideon Grudo.
An artist rendering of robotic arms servicing a commercial satellite in Geosynchronous Earth Orbit. DARPA illustration.
Space Systems Loral, recently partnered with DARPA
on a satellite-servicing project, is already partnered with DARPA and
NASA on two other programs, both aimed at modifying satellite culture in
space. The company's Restore-L and Dragonfly programs aim to change forever space’s “throwaway culture.”
An MQ-9 Reaper awaits maintenance Dec. 8, 2016, at Creech AFB, Nev. Air Force photo by SrA. Christian Clausen.
The Air Force is preparing to say goodbye to the MQ-1 Predator as it focuses its remotely piloted aircraft forces on flying the newer, more deadly MQ-9. The Reaper, which reached initial operational capability in 2007, is the unmanned platform of the future because of its close air support capabilities. Its payload capacity is almost 10 times greater than that of the Predator, which allows it to bring more firepower into the fight. Given the requirements placed on RPA crews around the world today, “transitioning to an all MQ-9 force is imperative for readiness," said the commander of the 432nd Operations Group at Creech AFB, Nev., according to a press release. The change will also streamline pilot training and allow airmen to move more easily among squadrons without the need for retraining on a new platform. The Air Force plans to stop flying the MQ-1 altogether sometime in 2018. Originally designed as a line-of-sight ISR platform called the RQ-1, the renamed MQ-1 evolved over its lifespan to add armaments and remote piloting capability. "The MQ-1 is a great example where the Air Force took a technology demonstrator and turned it into a major weapons system having daily effects on the battlefield," said the commander of the 20th Attack Squadron, Whiteman AFB, Mo. The Air Force does not release the full names of RPA operators for security reasons.
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