Marine Gen. James Mattis, then-commander of US Central Command, speaks during an Air Forces Central Command change of command ceremony in Southwest Asia, Aug. 3, 2011. Air Force photo by SrA. Paul Labbe.
President-elect Donald Trump announced his intention to appoint retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense during a rally in Cincinnati on Thursday evening. “We are going to appoint 'Mad Dog' Mattis as our Secretary of Defense,” said Trump during the rally, teasing the audience to keep the secret until the official announcement is made on Monday. If confirmed, Mattis, who retired in 2013 and last served as commander of US Central Command, would be only the second retired general to serve as Secretary of Defense. Congress would not only need to confirm the appointment, but it would need to approve a separate waiver to existing federal law, which states that someone cannot have served on Active Duty for at least seven years before serving as Defense Secretary. It has done so one other time in history, for Gen. George Marshall in 1950. Mattis is a highly respected Marine known for his sometimes salty, but nearly always direct talk. Mattis share’s Trump’s views on Iran, saying in April that Iran is “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East,” even though discussions often center on ISIS or al-Qaeda. However, he criticized Trump during the campaign for saying NATO was “obsolete.” Mattis also served as the head of US Joint Forces Command and Nato Supreme Allied Commander Transformation from November 2007 to 2010.
A ski-equipped Air National Guard C-130 on Thursday rescued Buzz Aldrin from the South Pole on Thursday. Aldrin was part of a private tour group to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station when he became ill, according to the National Science Foundation. An LC-130 from the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard responded to fly Aldrin from the South Pole Station to McMurdo Station, where he was then taken to New Zealand for care. There were no additional details on Aldrin's status as of Thursday afternoon. The ski-equipped LC-130s deploy to Antarctica to support the National Science Foundation by flying an “air bridge” between the remote Amundsen-Scott station to McMurdo.
ISIS fighters continue to be holed up in a one-mile radius area, roughly two city blocks, shown here in the city of Sirte, Libya. The US began supporting Libyan forces in their effort to rid the city of the terrorists on Aug. 1, 2016. Google images photo.
US aircraft and the Libyan Government of National Accord have forced remaining ISIS fighters into two city blocks in the city of Sirte, where they have held out for weeks in the face of constant airstrikes. US aircraft began supporting Libyan forces on Aug. 1 in their effort to oust ISIS from the city and airstrikes from remotely piloted aircraft and manned aircraft off the USS Wasp have regularly hit ISIS positions. Aircraft on Wednesday hit 14 fighting positions inside the city bringing the total to 467, according to US Africa Command. The "very few" remaining ISIS forces are in apartment buildings in smaller than a one mile radius, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said Thursday. The fighters have stubbornly remained there for weeks, showing limitations of Libyan forces in their ability to finally clear the city. It is "ISIL's last stand" in Libya, Davis said.
Potential adversaries will likely take advantage of the changing US presidential administration to flex nuclear muscles through tests, the head of the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said he expects countries like North Korea, Russia, and China to take advantage of the changing administration by testing missiles and nuclear devices. Tests such as these show how important it is that the US has a credible deterrent, because “diminished US credibility in the world equals a more dangerous world,” Thornberry said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event in Washington, D.C. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who spoke alongside Thornberry, added that the credibility of the US deterrent is reliant on the military publicly showing its ability to respond. “We ought to make it very clear to them that we will respond in kind,” Panetta said. “We're strong enough to be able to respond in kind if we have to. I do think we have to make it clear to North Korea that they can't continue to develop nuclear weapons without crossing some lines that we have to make clear.”
A Japan Air Self-Defense Force maintainer, prepares for the arrival of the first Japanese F-35A Nov. 28 at Luke AFB, Ariz. Air Force photo by TSgt. Louis Vega Jr.
The first Japanese F-35 arrived at Luke AFB, Ariz., Monday. The aircraft, which was rolled out at a Lockheed Martin ceremony in Forth Worth, Texas, in September, was also the first foreign military sales F-35 to arrive at Luke, according to a release. Japanese Air Self-Defense pilots will train there with the 944th Fighter Wing. Under the program, FMS pilots from Israel and South Korea will also learn fly F-35s alongside pilots from the United States as well as partner nations Australia, Italy, Norway, Turkey, Netherlands, Denmark, and Canada. Luke will ultimately house six fighter squadrons with a total of 144 F-35s.
Three fairings are placed near the leading edge of the wing at the engine pylons of a C-17 Globemaster III for phase four of C-17 drag reduction testing at Edwards AFB, Calif. Air Force photo by Kenji Thuloweit.
Soon to be completed drag reduction testing on the C-17 transport aircraft could lead to design changes that would save the Air Force as much as 7.1 million gallons of fuel and up to $48 million per year. The 418th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB, Calif., is nearing the end of its year-long project to reduce drag and increase the fuel efficiency of the C-17, according to a release. The team has used 3-D printed parts and laser positioning to produce five modifications of the C-17 external configuration to best gauge how to reduce drag on the aircraft, which is “the largest consumer” of fuel in the Air Force. Recent configurations have featured the addition of microvanes and fairings to the aircraft. Each configuration is flight-tested using identical conditions so that engineers can determine which produces the greatest improvement in efficiency. The project’s final flight is scheduled to take place in December.
An upgraded ground control system for the Air Force’s GPS satellite constellation is fully operational, according to a press release from Lockheed Martin. The Commercial-Off-the-Shelf Upgrade #2 (CUP2) has been managing the 31 satellites that provide data for the GPS system from Schriever AFB, Colo., since Oct. 15. The upgraded system provides enhanced protection from cyber attack. Lockheed Martin designed CUP2 under the GPS III contract, and the system is further upgradable to control the first GPS III satellites, scheduled to be launched in 2017 and 2018. Eventually, the entire GPS III system will transition to a next generation ground control system, OCX, which is currently being developed by Raytheon. OCX has experienced numerous delays and cost overruns, culminating in the Air Force declaring a Nunn-McCurdy breach on the program in July because it reported a greater than 25 percent cost overrun. In February, Lockheed Martin was awarded an "insurance policy" contract to produce the OCX system in the event that Raytheon is unable to deliver.
The military is beginning to think about how best to protect space assets from increasing threats, but there is still a long way to go. Audrey Schaffer, the director of space strategy and plans for the Defense Department, said Thursday the Pentagon is “beginning [to make] changes to architecture” to ensure space capabilities could be available in the face of threats. “But that's just beginning,” she said. Future administrations need to continue this focus to harden space assets to deter allies from not just operating in space, but threatening the US in any theater that involves space-based capabilities. This needs to be addressed in multiple ways: enhancing the resilience of current architectures, developing new defensive operations, and addressing how to replenish capabilities if they are lost.
A Minotaur 1 rocket carrying the first Operationally Responsive Space satellite lifts off at from the Wallops Flight Facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia in June 2011. NASA photo.
The Air Force is continuing its move toward cheaper, smaller satellites that will enable it to respond to operational demands much quicker than the billion-dollar satellites that take years to develop. The main example of this change is the series of Operational Responsive Space satellites, which started with the 2011 launch of ORS-1, said Col. Shahnaz Punjani, the director of the Operationally Responsive Space Office. For that mission, US Central Command identified an urgent need for strategic intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and in a short window the Air Force was able to strap a U-2's sensor suite to a satellite bus and launch it on a relatively cheap Minotaur I.The ORS program has not been perfect, however. In 2015, ORS-4 failed shortly after takeoff from a range in Hawaii. The ORS payload was atop an experimental Aerojet Rocketdyne Super Strypi rocket. The Air Force is getting ready to launch the next satellite in this series, ORS-5 on a Minotaur IV next year from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla. Planning for ORS-5 began in 2014, and will launch within three years, which in space acquisition is “pretty darn spotty,” Punjani said. The launch is going through FAA-certified commercial procedures, instead of regular intense National Security Space launch procedures. Because this satellite program is about $100 million, and the satellite itself will stay in orbit for just a few years, the same procedures used on a billion-dollar program aren’t as necessary, she said. That isn't to say the service is going away from its large-scale projects. “We need larger programs,” she said, but while the service will still do those “exquisite solutions,” smaller programs, such as ORS-5, show there are efficient ways to complete other missions.
The US-led coalition targeting ISIS has determined that three airstrikes possibly resulted in civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria, and will further investigate three more. Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve received 18 reports of possible civilian casualties from airstrikes it conducted in October, according to a Thursday news release. Of those, 12 were determined to not be credible, three are viewed as credible, and three more need further investigation to determine if the claims are credible. The coalition, because it is unable to visit the site of airstrikes, investigates by interviewing aircrew, viewing surveillance and targeting video, and using open source and classified intelligence, the release states.
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