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  • Lead Change or React to It Faster

    The Air Force rolled out its new long-term vision document Wednesday. Dubbed “Strategic Agility,” the plan calls for a more nimble force that is quicker at spotting geopolitical and technological change and staying ahead of it, the service’s top leaders said at a Pentagon press conference. Secretary Deborah Lee James said it’s the third part of a “trilogy” of white papers setting the “who, what, where” of USAF’s future. The 30-year look is meant to form the backdrop to decisions affecting how USAF will organize, train, and equip, and it guides the service on keeping pace as changes in threats and technologies accelerate. It calls for agility in adjusting requirements and a greater emphasis on “rapid prototyping” of new systems.  It also calls for greater “flow” between the Active and reserve components—such that members of one component may serve with the others over a career, or even leave the Air Force and return after gaining needed expertise from the civilian world.  USAF is also looking for “diversity of thought” and will seek greater connections with academia and industry. A 20-year, program-specific view is coming at the end of the year, which is to wrap together a dozen or so smaller USAF “roadmaps,” and a “10-year, balanced budget” subset will accompany next year’s budget submission, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said.

  • F-35 Fire Not a Show Stopper, New MOU In Works

    Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh offered a full defense of the F-35 during a Wednesday press conference with Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, saying changes to accident investigation protocol are in the works in the wake of a June engine fire at Eglin AFB, Fla. Welsh said the F-35 is USAF’s “only answer” for future requirements for its tactical fighter fleet. He noted that Eglin’s 58th Fighter Squadron now has a full complement of 26 F-35s, and while they remain on restricted flight status until the service completely understands the “root cause” of the June fire, he said he believes the Air Force will still make its projected initial operational capability target in late 2016. Welsh pointed out the June mishap was the first major engine fire to occur in the F-35 flight after 14,000 flight hours. However, he did posit changes to the F-35 investigation process are in the works, saying the military services are working on a new agreement for information sharing in F-35 mishap investigations. There was no such agreement in place to ensure representatives from all areas, each of the services and the Joint Program Office, could get access to key information and be a part of the interim safety board process. “This won’t happen again,” Welsh said.

  • Whiteman B-2s Hit Peacetime Flight Record

    7/31/2014

    ​The Spirit of America, a B-2 Spirit, soars through the sky at Whiteman AFB, Mo., July 25, 2013. Air Force photo by SSgt. Nick Wilson.

    The B-2s at Whiteman AFB, Mo., are logging more hours than ever as they train for their wide range of conventional and strategic missions, officials said. B-2 pilots flew 142 sorties totaling 839.3 hours in April 2014, a peacetime record for 20 operational B-2s. The previous record was 665.4 hours, set in March 2011. "You can message pretty strongly with this platform," said 509th Bomb Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Glen VanHerck in a July 23 interview. VanHerck was referring to a June deployment of two B-2s to RAF Fairford, England. A move made in part to reassure European allies weary of further Russian aggression. The Air Force also is slated to deploy B-2s soon to Alaska, where they will exercise with F-22 Raptors, which VanHerck called "an education for both.” B-2s have been at Whiteman for 21 years and the newest B-2 is 15 years old. As the fleet ages, the 509th BW must predict which parts will fail, and find replacements. Cannibalization of parts from B-2s in depot is common practice. Sixteen B-2s are combat-coded at Whiteman, three rotate through the Northrop Grumman depot line in Palmdale, Calif., and one B-2 is instrumented for test work. "My biggest concern is to maintain aircraft availability," said VanHerck. (Continue to full report.)

  • Last Crew Member of the B-29 Enola Gay Has Died

    7/31/2014

    Enola Gay crewmembers (l-r) Maj. Theodore Van Kirk, Col. Paul Tibbets Jr., and Maj. Thomas Ferebee. File photo.

    ​The last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, to accelerate the end of World War II, has died. Theodore Van Kirk died July 28 at a nursing home in Stone Mountain, Ga. He was 93. Van Kirk, known as "Dutch," was the navigator in the Enola Gay crew, led by Col. Paul Tibbets, who commanded the 509th Composite Bomb Group, which was formed to conduct the atomic bomb missions. Flying from an airfield on the captured Japanese Island of Tinian, the crew dropped the 9,000-pound weapon, called "Little Boy," over Hiroshima early on Aug. 6, 1945. Three days later, another B-29 from the 509th dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Japan surrendered Aug. 15. The Enola Gay was snarled in controversy in 1994 when the Smithsonian Institution planned to use it in a display that would have depicted the Japanese as victims. A campaign led by Air Force Magazine forced the Smithsonian to cancel that exhibit, and the bomber became a popular attraction at Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. Van Kirk always supported the atomic bombings for avoiding an invasion of Japan that could have killed hundreds of thousands of allied troops and Japanese. (See also Atomic Mission from the October 2010 issue of Air Force Magazine.)

  • USAF Considers Langley-Eustis for New Installation and Support Center

    7/31/2014

    JB Langley-Eustis, Va., will be “considered” for the location of the Air Force’s new Installation and Support Center, according to a July 30 release from the Virginia congressional delegation. The announcement followed a meeting between Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) with Air Force Assistant Secretary Kathleen Ferguson, Deputy Chief Management Officer Bill Booth, and Maj. Gen. Theresa Carter, special assistant to the commander of Air Force Materiel Command, regarding proposed personnel reductions at Langley-Eustis. The new center could bring as many as 350 new jobs to the region, which would help offset any potential personnel reductions, states the release. The Air Force promised to provide additional details to the delegation on any potential reductions within the next month. Officials also “committed to using expansive personnel transfer authority to ‘go the extra mile’ to accommodate civilian and military personnel dislocated by these reductions, including [transferring them to] other federal or military agencies,” states the release. The delegation said it remains “committed” to working with the Air Force “to ensure that all of Virginia’s military and civilian Air Force employees are provided every opportunity to continue to serve.”

  • 815th Airlift Squadron Inactivation Delayed

    ​Air Force Reserve Command announced it is delaying the inactivation of the 815th Airlift Squadron at Keesler AFB, Miss., until the details of the Fiscal 2015 defense authorization bill are clear. The Fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act required the Air Force to transfer 10 of Keesler's C-130Js to Pope Army Airfield in North Carolina and to shutter the 815th AS along with its Active Duty counterpart, the 345th AS. However, the Fiscal 2015 legislation calls for the closure of the 440th Airlift Wing at Pope, which was to receive the aircraft, opting instead to bed down the C-130Js at Little Rock AFB, Ark., according to a July 29 AFRC release. The inactivation ceremony was supposed to take place in September, Maj. Marnee Losurdo, spokeswoman for the 403rd Wing told Air Force Magazine. "We continue to evaluate the evolving situation and remain committed to safe mission accomplishment," said Col. Frank Amodeo, 403rd Wing commander, in the release. "Should the 10 aircraft in question depart, the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, the "Hurricane Hunters," will remain at Keesler as the Wing's sole flying squadron."

  • Air Force to Allow Sabbatical from Service

    7/31/2014

    Air Force officials announced plans July 30 to allow up to 40 Active Duty, Reserve, and Air National Guard personnel to take from one-to-three years of partially paid time out of uniform to focus on other personal or professional purposes under the congressionally authorized Career Intermission Pilot Program. The program allows officers and enlisted airmen who meet the specified eligibility requirements to take a sabbatical from service and then return seamlessly to duty, according to a July 30 release. “This program offers a few high performing airmen the opportunity to focus on priorities outside of their military careers without having to choose between competing priorities,” said Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. Applications will be accepted from Aug. 15 to Oct. 15 and a Total Force selection board will meet Nov. 12 to pick 20 officers and 20 enlisted airmen for the intermission. “This is a first for the Total Force,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. “We’ve been working together for a couple of years to develop common personnel practices and implement tools used by each component, but this panel represents our first opportunity to truly assess our airmen, whatever their component, as equal members of the total force.”

  • Obama Says New Russia Sanctions Will Have “Even Bigger Bite”

    7/31/2014

    ​President Barack Obama speaks about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine on July 29, 2014. White House screen shot.

    Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday urged Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Larov to “agree to a comprehensive border-monitoring mission to provide international transparency on the ongoing flows of weapons and firing of artillery from Russia into Ukraine,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. And, though Psaki noted that Lavrov indicated Russia “is willing to discuss” the terms, Pentagon Press Secretary Real Adm. John Kirby said Russian forces are continuing to gather at Ukraine’s southeast border and are still feeding “advanced weapons systems,” including multiple rocket-launched systems, artillery, tanks, and air defense systems, to separatists in the region. The Russian-backed forces are “capable across a wide spectrum of military operations, ” Kirby said, adding the continued provocation of Russian-backed forces in the area “needs to stop," as “it does nothing, again, to de-escalate tensions. … It only increases the risk of violence inside Ukraine." (Continue to full report.)

  • USAF Leadership Exploring RD-180 Options

    Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Wednesday she expects the service to announce changes to its space launch procurement program later this year. “We are heavily reliant on the [Russian-made] RD-180” engine, James said, “and our desire is to get off that reliance.” Despite indications from some Russian officials that the supply chain for the engine might be interrupted as a result of heightened US-Russian tensions, James said no interruption has occurred yet. She also pointed out the Air Force maintains a two-year stockpile of engines. USAF is currently working through both near-term and long-term options, she added, to include possibly speeding up purchases of the US-produced Delta V program, even though James said that could mean incurring greater costs. “We are working to get US entrants into the program,” she said, and USAF planners are examining how a new US-built engine program would look and whether it would be a public-private partnership or government driven. James said she expects more details on this effort to come out in the “coming months.”

  • PACOM Supports Reconsideration of European Force Cuts

    US Pacific Command boss Adm. Samuel Locklear said increasing tensions with Russia warrant reconsideration of plans to reduce America’s military presence in Europe, though he said he doesn’t believe the move would impact the planned Pacific pivot. In a Pentagon briefing earlier this month, US European Command boss Gen. Philip Breedlove said he was concerned about the plans to draw down US forces in Europe, particularly after the destruction of a Malaysian airliner by a Russian-built surface-to-air missile apparently fired by Russian separatists. Addressing Pentagon reporters July 29, Adm. Samuel Locklear said he agreed that, “given the ongoing environment we’re seeing in Europe that probably a re-look at US force posture there and a NATO posture in general … is important.” Locklear said the military reductions resulting from sequestration put “greater stress on the force to be able to stay forward” in the numbers that most of the combatant commanders would like. Among the planned force reductions in Europe is a sharp cut in Air Force F-15s, but Col. Robert Novotny, the new commander of the 48th Fighter Wing, based at RAF Lakenheath, England, suggested this week that this was no time to talk about cutting the only F-15 unit in Europe.

  • Character, Development Center to Open at JBSA-Randolph

    7/31/2014

    Two museums on JBSA-Randolph, Texas, are being consolidated into the Enlisted Heritage and Character Development Center, which looks to instill in both Air Force recruits and the public qualities that build character and resiliency in airmen. The center, which will open by October, will be replaced by a larger, privately funded $50 million facility expected to be completed in 2017. The interim center and the replacement facility both will be open to the public and will be used to educate every recruit going through Air Force basic military training. The Air Education and Training Command intends to bring recruits into the center in their final week of training for classes to meet wounded warriors and to view scenarios depicting 60 years of Air Force history and tradition. The center is part of an Air Force leadership initiative to build character and resilience in airmen “by leveraging the stories, challenges, and examples of successful airmen who exemplify Air Force core values,” said Gary Boyd, Air Education and Training Command historian in a July 29 release. The larger facility is being built in a joint venture between the Air Force and the Airman Heritage Foundation, which was chartered to fund the new project.