Ellsworth Airman Dies in SWA
SrA. Michael J. Hinkle II, 24, of Corona, Calif., died in a noncombat-related incident in Southwest Asia, March 16, the Defense Department announced.
At press time, the cause of his death was still under investigation, according to DOD. Hinkle was a cyber transport systems journeyman with the 28th Communications Squadron, Ellsworth AFB, S.D.
At the time of his death, Hinkle was deployed to an undisclosed air base in Southwest Asia assigned to the 386th Expeditionary Communications Squadron.
An F-15E Strike Eagle supporting Operation Odyssey Dawn crashed in Libya on March 21. Both crew members survived ejection and were recovered.
The aircraft, assigned to RAF Lakenheath, England, and operating out of Aviano AB, Italy, suffered a malfunction during a strike sortie over northeast Libya, US Africa Command announced.
Within 90 minutes of the crash, a rescue force comprising two Marine CH-53 helicopters, two AV-8B attack aircraft, and a pair of MV-22 Ospreys from USS Kearsarge successfully recovered the pilot.
Friendly Libyan civilians recovered the aircraft’s combat systems operator. Both crew members sustained minor injuries.
According to press reports, the aircraft went down about 25 miles outside of Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, which was then in the hands of opposition forces.
The Air Force is investigating the cause of the incident.
New AFRICOM Commander
Army Gen. Carter F. Ham took over as head of US Africa Command from its first leader, Army Gen. William E. Ward, on March 9, during ceremonies at the command’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.
Ward, who had commanded AFRICOM since its establishment in October 2007, planned to retire after more than 40 years in the Army.
Ham most recently served as commander of US Army, Europe. Almost as soon as Ham took command of AFRICOM, he was placed in charge of Operation Odyssey Dawn, the no-fly zone and combat operation over Libya.
An Air Campaign First
Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward became the first female commander in USAF history to lead an air campaign, Operation Odyssey Dawn. Taking command of 17th Air Force and US Air Forces Africa at Ramstein AB, Germany, last June, Woodward quickly rose to the challenge of planning operations in Libya.
Fresh from directing refugee evacuations at the outbreak of conflict in Libya, Woodward began coordinating allied air strikes and instituted a no-fly zone against Muammar Qaddafi’s air force. Hashing out contingencies "really at the last minute," as allies joined operations by the hour, it was "almost surreal ... to have a coalition come together in that way," Woodward told the National Journal in March.
A KC-135 command pilot with 3,800 hours, Woodward flew combat refueling missions during Operation Just Cause in Panama and Allied Force over former Yugoslavia, as well as recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another F-35A IOC Slip Looms
The F-35A could face another two-year delay before it becomes operational for the Air Force, senior USAF officials said.
Lt. Gen. Herbert J. Carlisle, deputy chief of staff for operations, plans, and requirements, and Lt. Gen. Mark D. Shackelford, deputy USAF acquisition executive, issued the warning March 15. Recent changes to the F-35 program are being reviewed.
"When this analysis is complete [later this year], the Air Force will re-evaluate our [initial operational capability] estimate, but we currently expect up to a two-year delay," the generals said in prepared testimony for the House Armed Services Committee’s tactical air and land forces panel.
Last June, Air Combat Command estimated the F-35A would become operational in 2016, meaning the Joint Strike Fighter might not be ready for combat until 2018.
Some F-35s Flying Again
Some, but not all, F-35 test aircraft were cleared to resume flight operations after an in-flight anomaly with one aircraft grounded the fleet in early March.
The fleetwide flight suspension went into effect as a safety precaution after airframe AF-4 experienced a dual generator failure and oil leak during a March 9 flight at Edwards AFB, Calif.
Because initial analysis determined the issue was unique to a newer generator configuration only used on later test aircraft, three F-35As (AF-1, AF-2, AF-3) and four F-35Bs (BF-1, BF-2, BF-3, BF-4) had been released from flight suspension as of March 15, according to F-35 spokesman Joe DellaVedova.
The remaining three test assets (AF-4, BF-5, CF-1) and the initial Joint Strike Fighter production versions (AF-6, AF-7) remained grounded in mid-March as program officials continued to investigate the failure’s root cause.
Test aircraft AF-1made the first post-grounding flight, returning to the air March 14.
The Air Force has taken delivery of its 268th and final MQ-1 Predator remotely piloted aircraft from manufacturer General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. The milestone delivery came March 3.
The Predator entered service in the 1990s, and started out as the RQ-1 expendable scout aircraft which could provide full-motion video feeds to ground controllers. The aircraft rapidly proved to be of great value, particularly in 1999, during Operation Allied Force in the Balkans.
One of the Predator’s early limitations was that it could spot targets, but not strike them. Gen. John P. Jumper—then commander of US Air Forces in Europe, and later Chief of Staff—ordered some Predators to be modified so they could carry lightweight Hellfire missiles. The combination proved a great success in combat, and Predators so modified were later re-designated MQ-1 for their multimission reconnaissance and strike capability.
The type was also used by the CIA to track—and occasionally strike—terrorists in several countries.
During its service, Predator has achieved mission capable rates higher than 90 percent. The desire to carry a heavier weapons load and remain on station longer has prompted USAF to shift all production to GA’s larger MQ-9 Reaper. Eventually, plans call for all Predators to be replaced by Reapers.
USAF Tops Nunn-McCurdy List
Between 1997 and 2009, the Air Force compiled the worst record among the military services, in terms of its acquisition program performance, according to the Government Accountability Office.
GAO reported 74 Nunn-McCurdy breaches involving 47 major defense acquisition programs, 27 involving Air Force programs—about 36 percent of the total—including some projects that committed multiple infractions.
The C-130 Avionics Modernization Program managed three cost breaches, while USAF’s Space Based Infrared System satellite took the recidivist trophy, breaching the critical cost margin four times.
Army programs accounted for 19 of the breaches (26 percent), the Navy 17 (23 percent), and joint Defense Department programs for 11 (15 percent).
According to the report, "aircraft, satellite, and helicopter programs have experienced the largest number of breaches," primarily due to engineering and redesign issues, scheduling modifications, and quantity adjustments, said GAO in the March 29 report.
The first deployment of the C-27J, USAF’s newest aircraft, will occur this summer, about four months later than originally expected. The service chalked up the delay to the newness of the aircraft and some early technical glitches, which have been remedied.
The new schedule will provide ample time to prepare the aircraft for combat theater duty, Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, Air National Guard director, said March 30.
The entire C-27J fleet was grounded in December when routine maintenance discovered metal shavings in fuel cells across the fleet. In addition, the aircraft’s head-up displays were decertified, because of a tendency to slip in flight, blocking the pilot’s view. Pilots also complained that avionics systems weren’t up to standards.
The first deployment had been timed to coincide with deployment of an Army aviation brigade to Afghanistan. The pressure to deploy in March was relieved by the arrival of C-130Js in theater to provide tactical support.
Egyptian Refugees Airlifted
Air Force and Marine Corps C-130s airlifted more than 1,100 Egyptian citizens from Tunisia back to Egypt between March 5 and March 15. The operation was performed at the request of the Egyptian government. The refugees had fled Libya’s civil war and were stranded just over the Tunisian border.
C-130J transports from the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein AB, Germany, joined Marine Corps KC-130s in the mission, staging out of NAS Souda Bay, Crete.
In addition, the transports airlifted relief supplies to Tunisia to assist in coping with nearly 6,000 refugees spilling over the border each day at the height of the Libyan violence.
Taxed and Tired
Twenty of the Air Force’s 132 enlisted specialties and eight of its 125 officer specialties are stressed by high operating tempo, Lt. Gen. Herbert J. Carlisle, deputy chief of staff for operations, plans, and requirements told lawmakers, March 10.
To address the problem, "a number of programs are in place to bolster the manning in these career fields" and mitigate the strain on the airmen and their families, Carlisle told the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness panel.
Though he didn’t specify the hardest-hit career fields, USAF officials have noted drone operators, security forces, and civil engineers as among those being overtaxed.
Carlisle noted that 30,000 of the 37,000 forward deployed airmen are engaged in US Central Command’s area of operations. They include 10,000 in Afghanistan, performing missions such as close air support, airlift, aerial refueling, combat rescue, and training of Afghan troops.
Fans May Disagree
After thrilling fans at a university football game with a stunningly low flypast, last November, Maj. Christopher Kopacek received nonjudicial punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for violating altitude and speed restrictions.
Investigation found that Kopacek cleared the stadium’s press box by a mere 16 feet while leading a four-ship formation of T-38s that overflew a University of Iowa football game in Iowa City last November, despite minimum altitude restriction of 1,000 feet above ground level.
"While I understand that fans attending the game enjoyed the flyover, rules are in place to ensure everyone’s safety," said Col. Russell Mack, 71st FTW commander, adding that the flyby "was a serious breach of flight discipline," meriting official punishment.
Kopacek, an instructor pilot with the 25th Flying Training Squadron at Vance AFB, Okla., elected to leave the Air Force voluntarily, according to Vance officials.
An A-10 attack aircraft crashed during an April 1 training flight in Germany, southwest of Bonn.
Lt. Col. Scott Hurrelbrink, assigned to the 81st Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem AB, Germany, survived ejection from the aircraft, sustaining minor injuries. German first responders took Hurrelbrink to a hospital in Trier.
The A-10, returning to Spangdahlem after a local training mission, was carrying training ammunition; a USAF explosive ordnance disposal team secured the crash site. A board of inquiry is looking into the accident’s cause.
Goldfein To Take Over AFCENT
Maj. Gen. David L. Goldfein has been nominated by President Obama to receive a third star as commander of US Air Forces Central and the forward air component of US Central Command.
Goldfein has been Air Combat Command’s director of operations at JB Langley-Eustis, Va., since August 2009. In his new role, he would oversee all air operations in Southwest Asia, including Afghanistan and Iraq, but not Libya (which falls under US Africa Command’s geographic jurisdiction).
Goldfein will replace Lt. Gen. Gilmary Michael Hostage III, who has been head of AFCENT since August 2009. Hostage’s next assignment was not immediately announced.
Milestones for Special Ops Hercs
The Air Force’s new HC-130J rescue tanker successfully completed developmental testing by refueling from a KC-135 tanker on March 14. Two weeks later, Lockheed Martin unveiled the first new-build MC-130J special mission variant for Air Force Special Operations Command.
The two aircraft have many systems in common and are built on the same assembly line in Marietta, Ga.
USAF wants to replace all 37 of its 1960s-era HC-130P tankers with HC-130Js on a one-for-one basis. It has contracted with Lockheed Martin to build 15 of the 37 Combat Shadow II special mission aircraft USAF wants to procure.
Developmental testing of the tanker began a year ago. The HC-130J completed certification of the in-flight refueling capability for both aircraft, which are fitted with the same fueling receptacle.
The first HC-130Js and MC-130Js are due to be delivered in August, with initial operational capability slated in 2012 for both aircraft.
Marines Begin Training at Eglin
To ease eventual transition to the F-35B, Marine Corps aviators are currently flying F-16s with the Air Force at Eglin AFB, Fla.
The single-seat F-16’s cockpit arrangement resembles the F-35’s, making it a closer match than the EA-6 Prowlers, AV-8 Harriers, and F/A-18 Hornets the Marines fly.
"This training allows us to eliminate the added variables," said Capt. Mark Noble, Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 safety officer. "If we already understand flight-line procedures and guidelines and know what to expect from a similar aircraft, we can focus primarily on F-35B training," Noble added.
The group that began F-16 training in mid-March, will form the Marine Corps’ initial cadre of pilots to fly the service’s unique F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing variant.
F-16s involved in the program arrived at Eglin from Luke AFB, Ariz., in January.
The F-22 Raptor is the Air Force’s first fighter to be certified to use a synthetic biofuel, following flight tests at Edwards AFB, Calif.
During a March 18 test, an F-22 flew on a 50-50 blend of hydrotreated renewable jet fuel and standard JP-8 aviation fuel. The aircraft flew tests throughout the flight envelope, attaining Mach 1.5 cruise in level flight up to 40,000 feet.
The pilot reported the aircraft "performed flawlessly on the biofuel blend, citing no noticeable differences from traditional JP-8," said Jeff Braun, director of the alternative fuels certification division at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.
In February, the C-17 became the first USAF aircraft cleared for unconstrained use of HRJ blends, followed by the F-22, which USAF has designated as the lead platform to begin testing of HRJ in fighters. Derived from inedible herbaceous stock—in this case camelina—HRJ could help USAF reduce its dependence on foreign sources of petroleum.
The Air Force has finalized a contract to subject a B-1B bomber to a full scale fatigue test to ascertain its true service life potential. The five-year contract with Boeing is worth $200 million.
The service wants to make sure the B-1B’s structure can last for the remainder of its service life, now expected to end in about 2040.
Despite a design life of 9,681 flight hours, several B-1s have already surpassed 10,000 hours and "actual use has been three to four times more severe than what was planned," said Justin Evans, B-1 sustainment lead project engineer at Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker AFB, Okla., where preparatory work for the testing is already under way.
USAF officials accelerated the testing to provide hard data on the health of the airframe to ensure that the B-1 fleet merits continued investment.
The parties signed the contract March 4.
The test subjects the airframe to pressures simulating multiple service lifetimes; engineers refer to it as a torture test.
The Air Force is conducting similar tests with the F-15C, F-15E, and F-16C, since those aircraft will have to serve longer than anticipated, as well.
Operators Get Satellite-Watcher
Air Force officials announced March 14 that the 1st Space Operations Squadron at Schriever AFB, Colo., took control of the Space Based Space Surveillance satellite. The squadron is now responsible for operating and maintaining command and control of the satellite.
The turnover represents the culmination of the satellite’s on-orbit checkout processes and is another step toward real-world operations.
SBSS, launched last September, is equipped with a camera for monitoring other orbiting objects. "It’s an agile sensor, so it can be tasked to look at high-interest objects on a more frequent basis," said Col. Stephen Butler, Air Force Space Command’s chief of space situational awareness and command and control.
Boeing and Ball Aerospace built the satellite.
SBIRS Readied To Go
After a long and checkered development and production history, GEO-1, USAF’s first geosynchronous Earth orbit Space Based Infrared System satellite is being readied for launch.
The missile-warning satellite arrived at Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., March 3. It is to be launched early this month atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
SBIRS has been one of the most delayed and over-cost programs in USAF’s history, plagued by chronic requirements changes and redesigns. Air Force leaders developed new requirements "discipline" policies because of the SBIRS experience.
The second of two SBIRS HEO sensors on host satellites in highly elliptical orbit achieved operational certification last year.
Explosive Debris Killed Airman
SrA. James A. Hansen was killed in an incident at JB Balad, Iraq, last fall because he was too close to the controlled detonation of unserviceable ordnance, a USAF investigation has found.
As a result, Balad officials halted all nonemergency detonations and are currently rewriting explosive ordnance disposal operating instructions.
Hansen was one of 19 bystanders observing the blast when he was struck by flying debris.. Observers, including Hansen, were "not far enough away from the explosion to be completely outside the blast range," according to a recent Air Force Materiel Command news release on the accident investigation report.
Hansen was an airfield management operations coordinator from Eglin AFB, Fla.
JSTARS Re-Engine Engine
Pratt & Whitney completed production of the first JT8D-219 engine for the Air Force’s E-8C JSTARS ground-surveillance aircraft on March 3. After three more are built, they will be installed on an E-8C which JSTARS prime contractor Northrop Grumman uses for test and integration. The aircraft will be tested to help the Air Force decide if it wants to re-engine the entire JSTARS fleet.
The test airframe is already flying with a test configuration of JT8D-219 engines.
Developmental flight testing, slated to conclude this fall, will pave the way for the E-8C "to operate with more thrust, while consuming less fuel, compared to the TF33 engines originally installed," said Bev Deachin, Pratt’s vice president for military programs.
AFNet Good To Go
The first stage of the Air Force’s new centralized Web and e-mail management system is "suitable, effective, and mission capable," operational testers reported.
The Air Force Intranet, or AFNet, is designed to improve network security by shifting from individual base standards to a centrally managed, servicewide system and has already reduced entry points into the Air Force’s network by nearly 85 percent.
At USAF bases where AFNet is already in place, it routinely blocks 60 percent of incoming message traffic, shielding bases from malicious and spam content.
Testing was done by the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center’s utility evaluation.
"AFNet is about keeping threats from getting into the network, and the AFOTEC report validates that we’re executing on that requirement," stated AFNet system program manager Ronnie Carter.
The AFOTEC blessing, given March 18, paves the way for the system’s USAF-wide implementation by the end of the fiscal year.
Faulty Parts Check
The Air Force is checking some of its rockets for faulty parts, since similar parts caused a recent NASA rocket to fail. The rockets are slated to launch payloads later this year.
Three Minotaur rockets, built by Orbital Sciences and planned for use in upcoming space launches may share "common hardware" with the Taurus XL rocket that malfunctioned in March, destroying NASA’s Glory satellite, USAF said. Taurus is also made by Orbital.
"We believe the parts that did not function properly ... are common to the boosters we’ve got coming up—two in May and one in August," Air Force Space Command boss Gen. William L. Shelton told the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces panel on March 15.
Officials at USAF’s Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles AFB, Calif., quickly began analysis of the three upcoming launches: the Operationally Responsive Space-1 satellite, TacSat-4 spacecraft, and Hypersonic Test Vehicle-2.
Investigators surmised that the Taurus’ payload faring failed to properly separate from the craft after the rocket left Earth’s atmosphere, Shelton said. At the time, he said, it was still too early to say if the Air Force would delay the launches, or what measures may be needed to adequately address the issue.
Launch Record Unbroken
The Air Force hasn’t lost a payload during a launch since April 1999, when a software glitch doomed a Milstar communications satellite.
The failure of NASA’s Glory satellite to reach orbit in March due to a shroud-separation failure didn’t count against the national security satellite record, Air Force Space Command said in response to a query.
"We are at 75 and holding for successful national security space launches," AFSPC said.
National security space launches include all Air Force Space Command, Navy, Missile Defense Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and National Reconnaissance Office orbital missions, AFSPC said.
The Wyoming Air National Guard is now better equipped to fight fires, thanks to installation of new firefighting gear on its C-130s.
The 153rd Airlift Wing in Cheyenne recently received its first new generation Modular Airborne Firefighting System, MAFFS II.
The MAFFS II achieves denser coverage from higher altitude than its predecessor system. The new gear uses a single pressure-fed nozzle ducted through the aft paratroop door. It can drench a 100-foot-wide, quarter-mile-long path from 150 feet above ground.
Besides being more accurate, blowing the pressurized jet of fire retardant away from the aircraft prevents fuselage corrosion, while the self-pressurizing system cuts the amount of ground equipment needed to prep the aircraft. The Air Force aims to equip all of its Air Guard and Air Force Reserve Command aerial firefighting units with MAFFS II.
The 153rd AW is currently awaiting its second MAFFS II kit. The California Air Guard’s 146th AW was the first unit to transition to the new system.
T-6 Mishap Branded Pilot Error
An instructor pilot’s error led to the crash of a T-6A trainer aircraft near Laughlin AFB, Tex., last year, an investigation team concluded.
According to Air Education and Training Command’s accident investigation board, the instructor inadvertently shut down the aircraft’s single engine during formation flight training with a student, then incorrectly executed the engine restart, causing catastrophic damage to the engine. The accident took place Sept. 24, 2010.
Instead of attempting a forced landing at the nearby auxiliary field, both instructor and student were overly focused on restarting the engine, and with time running out, ejected from the aircraft.
The error resulted in the loss of a $5 million aircraft, caused significant back injury to one of the pilots, and inflicted nominal damage on private property.
GPS vs. iPhone
A proposed commercial 4G broadband network could jam the Global Positioning System, Gen. William L. Shelton, Air Force Space Command chief, told lawmakers March 15.
A company called LightSquared plans to erect more than 40,000 towers in urban centers across the nation, which USAF thinks will interfere with navigation equipment.
"We believe from what we have seen thus far that virtually every GPS receiver out there would be affected," said Shelton.
The Air Force would like to thoroughly test the actual equipment LightSquared plans to use "so that we can collect empirical data, as opposed to analytical data," Shelton said, adding that the company has shifted from "largely a space-based effort with terrestrial augmentation," to "a terrestrial-based network with space augmentation."
The company must submit specific data to obtain an operating license from the Federal Communications Commission, said Shelton. The FCC filing is due in June. Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III petitioned the FCC to defer action until DOD has had a chance to fully analyze the data.
Hercs To Alaska
The Alaska Air National Guard’s 144th Airlift Squadron has received the first of four former Tennessee ANG C-130s.
The transports arrived at JB Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, on March 24. They will grow the unit from eight to 12 aircraft, forming the basis of a new active duty association between the 144th and its active counterpart, the 537th AS, as dictated by the 2005 BRAC.
Stood up at the end of April, the 537th AS will reach initial operational capability this fall. "The active duty will work with the Pacific Air Forces air mobility division, so they can task the tails," said Lt. Col. Rich Adams, 144th AS commander.
"Whether it’s the long-range radar sites here in Alaska, or to fly in the desert in a deployed status, or in the Pacific Command area of responsibility will be up to the active duty," explained Adams.
PJ Gets Bronze Star Medal
SSgt. Andrew Rios, a pararescueman with the 38th Rescue Squadron at Moody AFB, Ga., received the Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device for combat action March 4.
Flying as an HH-60G Pave Hawk door gunner in Afghanistan in 2009, Rios covered the evacuation of wounded troops from a convoy after it was hit by an improvised explosive device.
When the helicopter’s gun jammed, Rios returned fire with his personal weapon, covering Pedro 15—a second Pavehawk—as it airlifted wounded troops from the ambush site.
When Pedro 15 was then forced down, Rios sprinted from his helicopter to provide aid, volunteering to stay at the crash site until all wounded were evacuated.
"When under fire, he only saw the tasks that needed to be accomplished and did exactly what he needed to do to complete them and save lives," said CMSgt. Matthew Wells, 38th RQS enlisted manager.
Iraqi Flight Training Resumes
An Iraqi Air Force instructor pilot has begun training students for the first time since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Flying the Hawker Beechcraft T-6 II, Lt. Col. Hussein Hamid conducted the first IqAF instructional flight from Tikrit Air Base March 19.
Hamid intends to train an additional 30 IqAF instructor pilots to attain a critical mass before the departure of US air advisors in December.
Beyond instructors, "I think the biggest hurdle we face for the T-6 is getting the necessary support to keep our operation airborne. Items such as maintenance will be a very critical part of our success," said Hamid, who has been commander of Tikrit’s Squadron 203 since 2009.
Graduating from flight school in 1986, Hamid flew Iraqi Mirage fighters for 12 years. He left the service but rejoined in 2004 after longtime dictator Saddam had been deposed.
About 250 USAF and British airmen got together at Nellis AFB, Nev., in March to share ideas on how best to protect desert air bases.
Airmen of the 822nd Base Defense Squadron at Moody AFB, Ga., joined members of the Royal Air Force’s 4 Force Protection Wing for the first-ever Desert Eagle exercise.
Modeled closely on threats encountered in Southwest Asia, the exercise tasked participants to defend a simulated air base from civil unrest, direct assault, and terrorist action.
"Both we and the British kept in mind what we’ve seen down range. We wanted the scenarios to directly mirror those experiences so that we get the maximum training value," explained 822nd BDS intelligence officer Capt. Tyler McSpadden.
"We’ve worked with them before, but ... it’s the first time the squads and leadership have been fully integrated," noted MSgt. Dean Mays of the 822nd BDS.
The 54-hour exercise took place March 14 to March 16 at the Nevada Test and Training Range.
Raytheon Completes Upgrade
USAF’s Upgraded Early Warning Radar at Thule AB, Greenland, passed all system requirements and testing and is ready to begin supporting US ballistic missile defense, Raytheon announced in March.
Thule has the third Air Force early warning radar modified by Raytheon to detect ballistic missiles. Together with radars at Beale AFB, Calif., and RAF Fylingdales in the United Kingdom, Thule’s radar enables the US and allies to precisely track and classify missile threats early in their trajectory.
"Our ability to leverage the technical knowledge and real-world experience from the previous upgrades at Beale and Fylingdales enabled us to deliver a system that meets current and future operational needs on time and under budget," said David R. Gulla, Raytheon’s vice president for national and theater security programs.
A Tsunami of Help
Air Force airmen flew upward of 25 sorties a day at the height of Operation Tomodachi—Japanese for "friend"—to provide relief and supplies for the thousands of people injured and dislocated by the massive magnitude 8.9 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeast Japan in March.
Cooperating with Japanese and US Navy personnel, airmen quickly established staging points for humanitarian relief in many of the most damaged areas.
By April 1, Pacific Air Forces air assets had flown more than 444 sorties, airlifting more than 2,892 tons of relief cargo and 1,223 passengers in support of the relief operation, according to Air Force figures.
More than 750 airmen and USAF civilians deployed to Japan, augmenting the 13,000 personnel already stationed there, while 5,269 dependents and personnel were voluntarily evacuated to the US under Operation Pacific Passage.
To help confront the burgeoning nuclear disaster threatening the population and ongoing relief efforts, C-130s from Yokota AB, Japan, airlifted seven pallets of radiation-shielding boron to engineers working to stabilize the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
A Global Hawk from Andersen AFB, Guam, overflew the plant March 17, employing its electro-optical sensors to assess damage to the plant’s interior, while a WC-135 Constant Phoenix staged from Eielson AFB, Alaska, monitoring atmospheric radiation levels.
As operations shifted in April from disaster relief to recovery, "we are posturing ourselves for a long-term support and an enduring commitment," said US Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, speaking from Yokota Air Base, April 5.
2011: An Airspace Odyssey
US combat operations over Libya officially ended in early April, but direct support of the no-fly zone by US military air assets will continue, Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said April 5.
"We had about 50 aircraft involved in the strike operations," Donley said. They returned to bases in the US and Europe. About 39 other aircraft will remain indefinitely to support allied operations.
NATO took command of the UN-sanctioned Operation Odyssey Dawn on March 27, taking over responsibility for policing the no-fly zone over Northern Libya, protecting opposition rebels and enforcing the international arms embargo against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
"Our airpower has significantly degraded [Qaddafi’s] armor capabilities, his ability to use his armor against cities like Benghazi," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told NBC March 27, noting that over time, the broader coalition would assume "a larger and larger proportion of the burden," for combat operations.
USAF strike aircraft hit the bulk of Libya’s fixed air defenses, securing a no-fly zone over eastern Libya in the first two days of operations. Aircraft then expanded coverage westward toward the Libyan capital, granting rebels "greater freedom of movment," and allowing delivery of humanitarian assistance, said Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, head of US Africa Command.
Prior to the handoff, US aircraft flew 529 of the 875 coalition sorties since the first salvo on March 19, said Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, Joint Staff director, in a Pentagon briefing. Gortney added that US aircraft constituted more than half of the coalition’s 350-strong combat force.
The Defense Department can’t predict how much operations will cost, since it’s not clear how long—and in what capacity—the US will remain engaged in the operation, according to Robert F. Hale, the Pentagon’s top budget official. He told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 29 that Odyssey Dawn had thus far cost DOD $550 million. USAF operations had cost $50 million alone, Donley said. He added that the service had not yet resolved how it would be paid for.
A wide array of ground and support aircraft supplemented the traditional fighter types patrolling the no-fly zone over Libya. They included AC-130 gunships, A-10 attack aircraft, and B-1B bombers, as well as E-8C JSTARS and RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance aircraft.
Twenty-two USAF General Officer Billets Cut
The Air Force is losing 22 general officer authorizations as part of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ initiative to shed Pentagon overhead. All will disappear as incumbents complete their current tour.
The USAF positions are among 102 in total from across the services that Gates is eliminating in the latest round of efficiency cuts. Announced in a March 14 memorandum, most of the reductions target joint organizations, which in theory the moves were to affect all services equally. The service specific reductions disproportionately struck USAF, however.
The Air Force will lose twice as many slots as the Army and Navy—each losing 11—while the Marine Corps was untouched.
General officer billets under the axe are the commanders of 19th Air Force, Air Force Institute of Technology, 9th Reconnaissance Wing, 55th Wing, 76th Maintenance Wing, 309th MXW, 325th Fighter Wing, and 402nd MXW, as well as the vice commanders of 12th Air Force and 17th Air Force.
General officer positions disappearing at higher headquarters levels will be the: Air Forces Central assistant deputy commander; Air Mobility Command deputy director of operations; Air Force Special Operations Command special assistant; Air Force Space Command special assistant; Air Force Secretariat director of cyberspace operations; military deputy director in the Air Staff’s studies and analyses (A9) office; assistant surgeon general for strategic medical plans and programs, and USAF’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" review working group director.
Rounding out eliminations are the ACC staff judge advocate, AFMC SJA, AMC SJA, and USAF’s deputy legislative liaison. These final four positions are among nine imposed by Gates over the objections of the Air Force and other military services.
X-51’s Achilles’ Seal
As the Air Force’s X-51 Waverider hypersonic research vehicle geared up for a second test flight—this time aiming for speeds in excess of Mach 6—officials said a breached seal caused the early termination of last year’s flight, which they deemed a success nonetheless.
The scramjet-powered aircraft "ran for 143 seconds before we had a vehicle anomaly," said Charles F. Brink, USAF’s X-51 program manager. That duration was an order of magnitude greater than any air-breathing hypersonic craft had previously achieved.
The seal problem caused exhaust gases to accumulate inside the fuselage, severing the craft’s telemetry data link and damaging avionics.
Engineers determined that discrepancies between design and actual fabrication of the interface between Boeing’s vehicle and Pratt & Whitney’s engine were to blame. The discovery will allow engineers to make the interface on the three remaining X-51 test vehicles "much more robust," said Brink.
The X-51 program involves four vehicles, all designed to demonstrate scramjet-powered hypersonic flight before falling into the ocean. The vehicles were not designed to be recovered, but it is hoped that each flight will last longer than the previous ones.
The X-51 comprises the Waverider vehicle mounted on an Army Tactical Missile System missile. Both are carried aloft by a B-52 mothership. After release, the ATACMS missile fires, boosting the Waverider to high speed in 30 seconds. The booster falls away and the ramjet engine is then ignited, and should continue to operate for a "nominal demonstrator flight of 240 seconds," said Brink.
On the second flight, "we plan to go fly the same profile that we tried to fly last time," he said. "We met about 80 [percent] to 90 percent of our flight-test objectives" on the first run, and "the [upcoming] flight will be to see if we [can] repeat the same success and move out further in the Mach regime," Brink told reporters.
Beginning in Fiscal 2012, the Air Force will begin pursuing "weaponizing" the X-51, Brink said. Initial efforts will focus on the miniaturization of subsystems needed to make room for a warhead, or onboard sensors.
"We are going to work on the technologies that are in the X-51 to start transitioning ... to a more weapons-friendly design," said Brink.
The War on Terrorism
Operation Enduring Freedom—Afghanistan
As of April 14, 2011, a total of 1,523 Americans had died in Operation Enduring Freedom. The total includes 1,521 troops and two Department of Defense civilians. Of these deaths, 1,187 were killed in action.
Afghan Helo Instructor at Last
Mi-17 helicopter pilot Col. Mohammad Rahim Azimy became the Afghan Air Force’s first instructor pilot to train an AAF student, US Air Force air advisors announced.
"We are now starting to rebuild this Air Force," said Azimy, who operates from the AAF training center at Shindand Air Base.
US and NATO instructors have greatly helped the infant service, mentoring personnel and helping institutions grow to finally achieve this landmark, Azimy said.
Afghan autonomy in areas such as helicopter flight training is essential to developing an air arm capable of operating independently after NATO forces leave the country.
"As the first training center to provide training for flight engineers, pilots, and crew chiefs, [Shindand] is a very important place," Azimy said, underscoring his plans to "fly with more students so they, too, can become experts."
Bagram Herc House
Workers have completed the first permanent C-130 maintenance hangar in Afghanistan at Bagram Airfield. It opened for business March 14.
Sheltering Hercules aircraft and maintainers of the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron from Afghanistan’s harsh climate, the double bay, 60,000-square-foot facility will "boost the C-130 sortie rate and mission performance by allowing maintenance to continue working during inclement weather," said 455th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Phillip Howard.
At a cost of $18 million, USAF personnel constructed the hangar in two years’ time.
"One of the most critical elements of what we supply is what the C-130 fleet does. ... This facility takes our ability to supply the ground force commander with combat capability to the next level," added 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Jack L. Briggs II.
Expeditionary Squadron Inactivates
The Air Force inactivated the 766th Air Expeditionary Squadron, operated from Sharana Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan, effective March 23.
This unit was responsible for airmen serving in joint expeditionary and individual augmentee deployments at 58 NATO forward operating bases and combat outposts throughout the eastern region of Afghanistan.
The 966th AES at Bagram Airfield will now administer and oversee the operations of detached, forward deployed airmen. With the change, the 966th AES becomes Bagram’s largest squadron, marshaling more than 2,700 joint expeditionary tasked and individual augmentee deployed airmen at more than 153 locations throughout eastern and northern Afghanistan.
Air Force By the Numbers
For Fiscal 2010, the Air Force’s approved Total Force end strength is 686,944 personnel, Daniel B. Ginsberg, assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs, told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel March 10.
This includes 331,700 active duty airmen, 106,700 Air National Guardsmen, 69,500 Air Force Reservists, and 179,044 civilian employees.
For Fiscal 2011, the Air Force seeks Congress’ blessing to expand that number to 702,669, said Ginsberg.
Under this plan, the active duty component would increase by 500 airmen, the Air Guard would remain the same size, there would be 1,700 additional Air Force Reservists, and the civilian sector would swell by 13,525 persons.
Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said March 2 the service has no plans to significantly grow or reduce, for that matter, the size of its active duty end strength.
“Our plan is to hold at about 332,000 going forward,” he told reporters in Washington, D.C.
In fact, the end strength is scheduled to hit 332,800 in Fiscal 2012—600 airmen more than in Fiscal 2011—and remain at that level, according to USAF personnel officials.
However, inside that fixed-size force, there are growing career fields competing for manpower, and the service faces the challenge of freeing up the personnel for them, said Donley.
As an example of how this is being done, Donley cited the decision in 2009 to reduce the size of the fighter force and shifting manpower to address growing intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance requirements, including generating more remotely piloted aircraft operators.
In that process, “the manpower pieces were just as important” as the dollars that were shifted, he said.
Of the current Total Force end strength, there are some 40,000 airmen deployed “on any given day” in Southwest Asia supporting the fight there, Gen. Carrol H. Chandler, USAF vice chief of staff, told House lawmakers March 16.
In addition, there are about 5,300 airmen serving in joint expeditionary taskings with the Army and Marine Corps and another 131,000 or more airmen “performing deployed-in-place missions for combatant commanders,” he said. This includes tasks such as manning ICBM launch centers.
NOMINATION: To be Lieutenant General: David S. Fadok
CHANGES: Brig. Gen. Mark C. Dillon, from Cmdr., 86th Airlift Wg., USAFE, Ramstein AB, Germany, to Dir., Regional Affairs, Office of the Dep. Undersecretary of the AF, Intl. Affairs, USAF, Washington, D.C. ... Maj. Gen. John W. Hesterman III, from Vice Cmdr., 9th Air Expeditionary Task Force, ACC, Southwest Asia, to Asst. DCS, Ops., P&R, USAF, Washington, D.C. ... Brig. Gen. Paul T. Johnson, from Cmdr., 451st AEW, ACC, Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, to Dep. US Mil. Rep. to NATO, Brussels, Belgium ... Maj. Gen. Wendy M. Masiello, from PEO for Combat & Mission Spt., Office of the Asst. SECAF, Acq., Washington, D.C., to Dep. Asst. Secy., Contracting, Office of the Asst. SECAF, Acq., Washington, D.C. ... Brig. Gen. Eden J. Murrie, from Dir., Leg. Affairs, Office of Leg. Affairs, Natl. Security Staff, Exec. Office of the President, White House, Washington, D.C., to Dir., AF Svcs., DCS, Manpower, Personnel, & Svcs., USAF, Pentagon ... Brig. Gen. David E. Petersen, from Dep. US Mil. Rep. to NATO, Mil. Committee, NATO, Brussels, Belgium to Dep. Dir., Intel., Ops., & Nuclear Integration, AETC, Randolph AFB, Tex.
SENIOR EXECUTIVE SERVICE CHANGES: Gail M. Jorgenson, to Dir., Acq., TRANSCOM, Scott AFB, Ill. ... Rory S. Kinney, to Dep. Dir., C4, TRANSCOM, Scott AFB, Ill. ... James L. McGinley, to Dir., Program Analysis & Financial Mgmt., TRANSCOM, Scott AFB, Ill. ... Barbara A. Sisson, to Dir., Log., Instl., & Mission Spt., AETC, Randolph AFB, Tex. ... Robert C. Shofner, to Dir., Enterprise Sourcing Gp., AFMC, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio ... David E. Walker, to Assoc. Dep. Asst. Secy., Acq. Integration, Office of the Asst. SECAF, Acq., Pentagon.
COMMAND CHIEF MASTER SERGEANT CHANGE: CMSgt. Brian S. Hornback, to Command Chief Master Sergeant, AFGSC, Barksdale AFB, La.
The Air Force’s second and final low-rate production F-35A strike fighter flew for the first time from NAS Fort Worth JRB, Tex., March 4. Currently in testing at Edwards AFB, Calif., the aircraft will be assigned to Eglin AFB, Fla.
US and Russian arms control delegations met March 28 in Geneva, Switzerland, for the first Bilateral Consultative Commission session under New START. Meeting twice a year, the commission aims to "coordinate and discuss technical issues" related to implementation, according to the US State Department.
Negotiations between the US and Turkey over Turkey’s planned $16 billion procurement of 100 F-35s have stalled over US refusal to release sensitive software codes that would allow modification of the aircraft. Turkey had discussed upping its F-35 buy to 116 earlier this year.
Air Force Reserve Command’s entire 920th Rescue Wing’s fleet simultaneously took to the sky for the first time in 15 years on March 6. Simulating a mass hurricane evacuation, three HC-130 tankers and six HH-60G Pave Hawks left Patrick AFB, Fla., refueling over the Atlantic coast.
The Air Force Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy at Maxwell AFB, Ala., established the CMSgt. Richard Etchberger Team Award for distinguished graduates. Named for Medal of Honor recipient CMSgt. Richard L. Etchberger, the award mirrors Airman Leadership School’s John Levitow Award.
Randolph AFB, Tex., celebrated 50 years of operating the supersonic T-38 Talon trainer on March 17, by painting one in its original 1960s-era paint scheme. Nearly 70,000 airmen began their careers flying the T-38 at Randolph since 1961.
The Collings Foundation unveiled a newly restored F-100F Super Sabre in a March 29 ceremony in Houston, Tex. The aircraft is painted in the colors of the F-100 flown by Medal of Honor recipient George E. Day, now a retired colonel. During festivities, Day flew the F-100 for the first time since he was shot down in one, which led to his captivity as a POW 43 years ago in North Vietnam.
The Air Force has awarded Goodrich a contract for two Senior Year Electro-Optical Reconnaissance Sensors payloads for the U-2. Housed in the extended nose section, the suite boasts improved range, resolution, and coverage over existing capabilities, operating across two visible and four infrared bands.
Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
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