Air Force World

March 1, 2009

Airman Dies in Iraq

SrA. Omar J. McKnight, 22, of Marrero, La., died Jan. 17 in a noncombat incident in Iraq. McKnight was deployed to Joint Base Balad from the 6th Security Forces Squadron at MacDill AFB, Fla.

As of late January, there was no further information available on the cause of his death.

CSAR-X Bids Come In

Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Sikorsky all met the Jan. 20 Air Force deadline for submitting updated bids for USAF’s Combat Search and Rescue Replacement Vehicle competition.

Barring any programmatic changes by the new Administration, the Air Force will announce the new winner in the contest this spring or summer. The selected helicopter will replace the HH-60G Pave Hawk.

Boeing, proposing its HH-47 design, won the initial CSAR-X contest in November 2006. However, the Air Force reversed course in the wake of two rounds of successful legal challenges by Lockheed and Sikorsky, which had proposed, respectively, the HH- 71 and HH-92 aircraft.

Those firms challenged the way the Air Force evaluated the initial bids, causing the Air Force to accept revised bids and redo its evaluation.

Gates Suggests Bomber May Slip

The Air Force’s goal of fielding a next generation bomber aircraft in 2018 may be delayed due to the impact on Pentagon spending caused by the nation’s economic crisis, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee Jan. 27.

Sen. John R. Thune (R-S.D.) asked Gates how to ensure that the new bomber would be operational in 2018 given comments made last year by Gates that over-the-horizon strike capability will be at a premium and will require a shift in defense policy from short-range to long-range systems.

“I made that speech at a time when the economic outlook was rather different than it is now and the prospects for the defense budget perhaps different,” Gates responded. But he added that the future bomber will be “a focus” of the Quadrennial Defense Review that is expected to start this month.

Airman Dies in Training

SSgt. Kenneth J. Wilburn, a 30-year-old combat controller apprentice from Union, S.C., died Jan. 12, three days after he lost consciousness during a water-treading exercise at a training pool at Lackland AFB, Tex.

Air Force officials said Wilburn, assigned to Lackland’s 342nd Training Squadron, did not respond to emergency life-saving efforts on the scene and never regained consciousness at Wilford Hall Medical Center. His death was under investigation.

A-10 Woes Affect Deployments

Lingering concerns over wing cracks on some A-10 ground-attack aircraft caused the Air Force to modify its plans to send an A-10 unit to South Korea this month on a rotational deployment to relieve Army Apache attack helicopters there.

Instead, the service will dispatch a contingent of 12 F-16s in their place, US Forces Korea said Jan. 13. The decision to send the F-16s is “due to increased requirements for inspections and repairs to the A-10 fleet,” USFK stated.

Last October, the Air Force grounded a sizable portion of the A-10 fleet due to wing cracks on those airframes with comparatively thinner skinned wings. As of the end of 2008, many of these A-10s had not been cleared to return to flight. It may take until June until all are repaired and return to flight status.

Fast(er) Track for KC-X

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates told the House Armed Services Committee Jan. 27 that the Pentagon may be able to restart the Air Force’s KC-X aerial tanker program “by early spring” and have responses to a new request for proposals “soon after the first of next year.”

His timetable matches the one posited by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz late last year, if the service doesn’t have to start the KC-X contest over from scratch.

Gates also came out anew against a dual buy in which both Boeing and Northrop Grumman each would build new tankers. He said it is “an absolutely terrible idea and a very bad mistake for the US taxpayer, not to mention the US Air Force.”

Raptors Arrive in Pacific

The Air Force dispatched a contingent of 12 F-22s and nearly 300 airmen from Langley AFB, Va., to Kadena AB, Japan, in mid-January and a second group of 12 F-22s and about 270 personnel from Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, later that same month to Andersen AFB, Guam. Both deployments were part of normal Air and Space Expeditionary Force rotations to the region.

Each Raptor force was expected to spend three months at the Pacific bases training with other Air Force assets as well as joint and coalition forces. Langley F-22s first spent time on Kadena back in February 2007, while Elmendorf sent a Raptor cadre to Guam last summer for three weeks of training.

Wing Passes Nuke Inspection

The 62nd Airlift Wing at McChord AFB, Wash., passed its most recent nuclear surety inspection held Jan. 7 to Jan. 12, receiving “the highest possible grade” of satisfactory.

The C-17 wing, in addition to its daily duties of hauling routine cargo and personnel around the globe, serves as the nation’s primary nuclear airlift force, with responsibility for transporting nuclear weapons and associated equipment and persons.

The Air Force is beefing up nuclear inspections as part of its broader push to improve upon its nuclear stewardship. The high bar set for passing them caused several of the services’ ICBM and bomber wings to come up short last year, prompting retests.

C-17s Reach Darfur

Two Air Force C-17s flown and supported by crews from Travis AFB, Calif., delivered about 150 tons of heavy equipment from Kigali, Rwanda, to Sudan’s Darfur region Jan. 13 to Jan. 16 in support of Rwandan soldiers who are part of the African Union-UN peacekeeping mission there.

The equipment included oversize vehicles, water purification systems, water trailers, tents, and spare parts. The airlift was the first large-scale peacekeeping support mission for US Africa Command and 17th Air Force, its air component, since they became fully operational last October.

Presidential Aircraft Sought

The Air Force announced in January its intent to acquire a new fleet of three highly modified commercial widebody aircraft to serve as the primary Presidential transport. The new “Air Force One” aircraft will replace the two Boeing VC-25s that have flown US Presidents since 1990. First delivery is planned in Fiscal 2017.

The VC-25, based on Boeing’s 747-200, is approaching the end of its design life and the Air Force’s analysis of alternatives found that replacing it would be “the most cost-effective option.”

Boeing appears to have the upper hand in winning the rights to supply these aircraft since EADS North America announced in late January that it will not compete, meaning there will be no Airbus airplane pitted against Boeing’s expected bid.

Air Guard Pave Hawk Crashes

An HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter deployed to Afghanistan from the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., crashed Jan. 16 near Kabul with no injuries to crew or passengers, the Long Island Newsday reported.

The 106th RQW airmen were on a medical evacuation mission at the time of the incident.

Finalists Named for Cyber HQ

The Air Force announced Jan. 21 that Barksdale AFB, La., Lackland AFB, Tex., Langley AFB, Va., Offutt AFB, Neb., Peterson AFB, Colo., and Scott AFB, Ill., are the six finalist locations to host the eventual permanent headquarters of Air Force Space Command’s 24th Air Force, the new cyber numbered air force. Barksdale has been the temporary seat of USAF’s cyber operations since 2007.

The service said it will determine the winning site no later than the end of June. Attributes such as a base’s proximity to other cyber operational missions, access to scientific and technical expertise, and communication and bandwidth capabilities will be key determinants.

Meanwhile, Texas delegations began to come out in force in January to lobby, respectively, for Goodfellow Air Force Base, near San Angelo, and Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls to be home to cyber training. Each is competing, along with Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Miss., to host the mission.

New B-2A Radar Approved

The Air Force awarded a production contract worth approximately $468 million Dec. 29 to the Northrop Grumman-led industry team that is upgrading the radar on the B-2A stealth bomber.

Under the terms of the deal, the team, which includes radar-provider Raytheon, will supply the remaining 14 sets of new active electronically scanned array radar units, plus two spare sets, for the Air Force’s 20-aircraft B-2A fleet. Already Raytheon has provided six production-representative sets that will be used operationally on six aircraft.

The service is upgrading the bomber’s existing AN/APQ-181 multimode radar under the $1.2 billion B-2 Radar Modernization Program through the addition of these modern arrays. Each aircraft will get a pair of new arrays, one array for each side of the cockpit. The upgrades will be complete around 2011.

New Energy Policy Issued

The Air Force issued a new energy policy in December that will serve as the blueprint for how it institutes energy efficiency and conservation in all aspects of its operations.

The document lays out an energy future that is “secure, efficient, and environmentally sound,” wrote Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley in a Jan. 6 release. It outlines the efforts to reduce the service’s energy demand while increasing supply—especially from domestic sources of renewable and alternative energy—and ushering in a cultural change so that airmen make energy conservation a daily consideration.

Among the activities, the Air Force seeks to reduce aviation fuel use per hour of operation by 10 percent by 2015, increase renewable energy use at USAF facilities, and be positioned to acquire half of its domestic aviation fuel via an alternative fuel blend by 2016.

Walk of Heroes Dedicated

The Air Force dedicated the Enlisted Heroes Walk Jan. 2 at Lackland AFB, Tex. The new memorial, located next to the base’s parade ground, is dedicated to the enlisted airmen who have received the Medal of Honor, Air Force Cross, and Silver Star. It comprises 1,024 bricks of which 164 are engraved with the names of those recipients.

Appearing at the dedication ceremony, CMSAF Rodney J. McKinley, who helped conceive the walk, said the event marked his “second proudest day” in the Air Force because the walk honors enlisted heroes. (His proudest day was the dedication of the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va., in October 2006.)

The service has created a new ceremony under which newly minted airmen who have completed Lackland’s basic military training program will walk across the new memorial.

Airmen Receive Bronze Star Medals

A1C Antonio Antunez, a member of the 99th Security Forces Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nev., received a Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device Jan. 26 for his actions in Iraq, during which he saved the life of an interpreter while risking his own.

Also receiving Bronze Star Medals were: Maj. Dan Belden from Los Angeles AFB, Calif., for work in reconstituting the Iraqi Air Force; Capt. Andrew Scott, an Air Force ROTC instructor, for directing an air strike to aid Afghan troops and US Army trainers; and Capt. Pamela Tan of Eglin AFB, Fla., for her work in Iraq as an electronic warfare officer with an Army unit.

Other recipients were: TSgt. Patrick Ashford of Shaw AFB, S.C., for aiding a unit under attack in Iraq and TSgt. James Thompson of Izmir, Turkey, for his force protection work in Iraq.

CMSgt. James Tauscher of Hickam AFB, Hawaii, received a Bronze Star Medal—awarded in May 2008—for his actions as a combat aviation advisor in Iraq.

Rhode Island Eyes More Airmen

Rhode Island officials in January started a campaign to convince the Air Force to assign an active associate element of some 400 airmen to work with the Air National Guard’s 143rd Airlift Wing at Quonset State Airport.

According to a Jan. 15 report by the Providence Journal, Gov. Donald L. Carcieri and state Air Guard officials are not only lobbying for the airmen but also for another four C-130J transports. The wing lost four of its 12 C-130s under BRAC 2005.

“We have just started to promote this,” Carcieri told the newspaper. “This is highly competitive.” But a Guard spokesman, Lt. Col. Denis J. Riel, told the Journal that Rhode Island is “on the short list” of the facilities where USAF wants to establish associate units.

North Lauds UAV Operators

Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, commander of Air Forces Central and commander of 9th Air Force at Shaw AFB, S.C., said Jan. 13 the airmen operating the service’s MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles over Afghanistan and Iraq are “absolutely incredible” and “writing history” with their exploits in supporting ground combat forces.

He made the comments during his visit that day to the 432nd Wing and its co-located 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Creech AFB, Nev., hub of Predator and Reaper operations.

“From my perspective, the airmen of the 432nd AEW are the finest in the world,” said North, who said he has observed the work of these airmen both in Southwest Asia and now firsthand at Creech.

C-5 Flies With Synfuel

A C-5A transport with the Tennessee Air National Guard’s 164th Airlift Wing at the Memphis Airport took to the skies in mid-January running for the first time on the synthetic fuel blend that the Air Force wants all of its aircraft cleared to operate by 2011.

During the first flight test on Jan. 13, only one of the aircraft’s four General Electric TF-39 engines ran on the blend, which is a 50-50 mix of traditional JP-8 jet fuel and synthetic paraffinic kerosene. On the following day, this new fuel powered all four of the C-5A’s engines.

So far, the Air Force has certified the B-1B, B-52H, and C-17 for full operations with this synthetic blend. The F-15, F-22, KC-135, and T-38 have also flown with it in tests.

First UFC Pilots Graduate

The first of the Air Force’s newly minted undergraduate pilots selected to proceed to unmanned aerial vehicle cockpits rather than going immediately to follow-on manned aircraft training completed a four-week unmanned aircraft systems fundamentals course, or UFC, Dec. 22 at Randolph AFB, Tex.

During the training, the nine new pilots completed 100 hours of computer-based simulation and academic classes. They moved on to a two-week joint firepower course in late January at Nellis AFB, Nev., and then proceeded to actual UAV flight training at nearby Creech Air Force Base.

These pilots are part of a two-pronged effort by the Air Force to get more UAV operators faster. The other element is taking nonpilot officers and training them from scratch to pilot UAVs.

F-35 Test Aircraft Completed

Lockheed Martin rolled out the first weight-optimized F-35A test aircraft from its assembly plant at Fort Worth, Tex., on Dec. 19. This asset, designated AF-1, is “at its core, the same aircraft” that will enter operational service with the Air Force starting in 2010, the company said.

Unlike AA-1, the first F-35A test aircraft, AF-1 is structurally identical to future operational F-35s. While AA-1 has a production-representative external shape and internal systems, its internal structure was designed before a 2004 weight-savings initiative that resulted in structural revisions.

The rollout of AF-1 came two days after the completion of AG-1, a full-scale nonflying, static F-35A test article that will be used in ground tests. On Jan. 21, Lockheed Martin completed BF-4, the first F-35B test aircraft with a full mission systems suite.

Nuke Warehouse Completed

The Air Force finished renovating a 48,000-square-foot warehouse on the grounds of Hill AFB, Utah, at the end of last year for storage of the service’s nuclear weapons-related materials, and began moving the materials into the facility in January.

The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center at Kirtland AFB, N.M., USAF’s lead organization for nuclear weapons sustainment, will oversee the warehouse, which was formerly owned and operated by the Defense Logistics Agency.

The Air Force is assuming oversight of its NWRM from the DLA and consolidating them at the warehouse as part of the many changes that it is making to improve its nuclear stewardship. These materials are mostly related to the nation’s Minuteman III ICBMs but also go with other USAF nuclear systems.

Montana ANG Makes Switch

The Montana Air National Guard’s 120th Fighter Wing at Great Falls Airport conducted its first F-15 Eagle sortie Jan. 15, Great Falls’ KRTV news reported.

The unit began replacing its F-16s with F-15s last year, courtesy of BRAC 2005, and expects to have all 18 of its Eagles in place before the end of 2009, said wing spokesman Maj. Rick Anderson.

Unit pilots are spending about five months making the transition from the smaller air-to-ground F-16s to the larger air-to-air F-15s.

Final WGS Satellite Funded

Boeing announced Jan. 15 that it has received full funding for the Air Force’s sixth Wideband Global SATCOM satellite. The money came via a final installment by Australia of $234 million.

Australia joined the WGS program in November 2007, receiving access to WGS communications services worldwide for the Australian Defense Force in exchange for funding the sixth satellite, which is the final spacecraft under USAF’s current program of record.

The first WGS satellite began operational service in April 2008. Its capabilities have “substantially exceeded the warfighter’s expectations,” the Air Force said. The second satellite is set for launch later this month from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla.

First F-35 Pilots Tapped

The Air Force announced in late January that it selected Lt. Col. Stephen Pieper and Maj. Chad Lewis, two F-16 pilots stationed at Luke AFB, Ariz., as members of its initial cadre of pilots to transition to the new F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter.

These two pilots will serve as the first F-35 instructor pilots, along with eight additional airmen, to train the next group of instructors. The Air Force plans to buy more than 1,700 F-35s and will draw its initial group of pilots from its A-10, F-15E, and F-16 communities.

A delegation of Arizona state and local representatives came forward in December to lobby for Luke to host an F-35 training schoolhouse at some future point.

Holloman Builds Up F-22s

Four F-22s arrived at their new home of Holloman AFB, N.M., in mid-December, giving the 49th Fighter Wing six of the 40 F-22s that will eventually be based there.

The wing’s 7th Fighter Squadron and 8th FS will each get 20 F-22s. The 7th FS, first to get its full complement, is expected to be declared ready for operations by Nov. 1.

Meanwhile, Air Force Reserve Command’s 301st Fighter Wing, Det. 1, continues to expand at Holloman with the goal of transforming itself into the 44th Fighter Group later this year to work side by side with the active duty 49th FW in operating and maintaining the F-22s.

Range Changes Get Scrutiny

Maine Gov. John E. Baldacci said Jan. 7 his state’s Air National Guard had received “verbal confirmation” that the Air Force would conduct a full environmental impact assessment of the Air Guard’s plan to expand fighter aircraft training in the Condor Military Operation Area, which includes airspace in Maine. He also said he asked for written confirmation.

The Air Guard seeks to increase the portion of Condor in which Massachusetts and Vermont F-15 and F-16 Air Guard units may fly at altitudes as low as 500 feet to train in countering cruise missile or small airplane attacks.

Baldacci has been critical of the Air Guard’s intent to press on with the changes without a full environmental impact study, saying he is not certain the Condor range “is the only space [where] such training can be done.”

More SBIRS Satellites Planned

The Air Force announced in mid-December that it intends to procure a fifth and sixth Space Based Infrared System satellite next decade from manufacturer Lockheed Martin for early warning of missile launches from positions in geosynchronous Earth orbit.

While “no firm decisions”’ have been made yet on how to fund these two spacecraft, designated GEO-5 and GEO-6, the Air Force said it is building its initial budget estimates assuming that the satellites would be “clones” of the preceding pair (GEO-3 and GEO-4), meaning that any changes would be driven solely by parts obsolescence. Under notional schedules, the service plans to award the contract for these two satellites around Fiscal 2011 for launch in Fiscal 2017 and Fiscal 2018, respectively. The first SBIRS satellite, GEO-1 is scheduled for launch in Fiscal 2010.

World War II Airman Gets His DFC

The Air Force on Jan. 29 rectified a 65-year-old clerical error by presenting a Distinguished Flying Cross to former Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Joseph Moser, 87, at an awards ceremony at McChord AFB, Wash.

Moser, who flew P-38s with the 474th Fighter Group, earned the DFC for a “highly successful bombing mission over a heavily fortified target on July 30, 1944,” according to a Jan. 26 McChord release.

But two weeks after that mission, he was shot down over Germany and held as a prisoner of war. The AAF misplaced the DFC paperwork and Moser never learned of the award until the early 1990s when he read a squadron diary.

Korean War Ace Dies

Retired Air Force Col. Ralph D. Gibson, 84, who shot down five enemy fighters during the Korean War, died Jan. 2 as the result of an accidental fall in Tucson, Ariz., where he lived.

Gibson, born in Keensburg, Ill., and raised in nearby Mt. Carmel, joined the Army Air Forces in 1943 and graduated from flying school the following year, but did not see combat in World War II. He later trained in jet aircraft, flying the F-86 Sabre with the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing during the Korean War, where he scored his five victories over MiG-15s.

From 1961 to 1962, Gibson led the Thunderbirds air demonstration squadron. He later commanded the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron during the Vietnam War, flying 105 combat missions in the F-4 Phantom.

Provisional Nuclear Headquarters Activated

The Air Force formally activated Air Force Global Strike Command Provisional Jan. 12 at Bolling AFB, D.C. The provisional command, a temporary unit led by Brig. Gen. James M. Kowalski, took the lead that day in tackling the manpower and resource issues associated with standing up AFGSC, the new nuclear-focused major command that will commence operations in September to oversee the service’s nuclear-capable bomber and ICBM operations.

“We look forward to laying the foundation needed to stand up Global Strike Command,” said Kowalski.

AFGSC(P) will also be involved in helping to identify the final location for the new command’s eventual permanent headquarters, which will be at a place other than Bolling. On Jan. 21, the Air Force announced the finalist HQ locations: Barksdale AFB, La., F. E. Warren AFB, Wyo., Malmstrom AFB, Mont., Minot AFB, N.D., Offutt AFB, Neb., and Whiteman AFB, Mo.

The Air Force said it will decide on the HQ site no later than the end of June. “Current performance of a significant operational function associated with strategic nuclear forces is an overarching requirement” in the selection, the service said.

AFGSC(P) does not have any manpower authorizations, and USAF will inactivate it on the standup of the permanent major command. Supporting the provisional organization are detachments of subject matter experts at the headquarters for Air Combat Command and Air Force Space Command at Langley AFB, Va., and Peterson AFB, Colo., respectively.

These contingents, along with personnel from Air Force headquarters, formed a temporary HQ element of about 55 airmen. The provisional command is working closely with the Air Staff’s Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration office (A10), Air Force Materiel Command, and US Strategic Command to refine the roles and responsibilities of AFGSC.

Curtain Lifts on Project Liberty

The Air Force plans to have the first of its newly acquired MC-12W intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance aircraft deployed to Southwest Asia by April, Brig. Gen. Blair E. Hansen, director of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities on the Air Staff, told reporters Jan. 23 in the Pentagon. This was USAF’s first in-depth public discussion on the new platform.

The concept for these manned, medium-altitude platforms came out of the Office of the Secretary of Defense ISR task force last year as a means to quickly bolster the overhead ISR assets already in Afghanistan and Iraq and, in particular, to relieve the heavy burden being placed on MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles.

The MC-12Ws are known as Liberty Project Aircraft after the World War II effort to quickly press “Liberty ship” cargo vessels into the fight in Europe. LPA will contribute to the fight by passing valuable full-motion video and signals intelligence data directly to ground troops at the tactical level.

Planned is a fleet of 37 aircraft, all of which are expected to be in the Air Force’s hands by year’s end, Hansen said. The first seven airframes are based on the Beechcraft King Air 350 model. The remaining assets are built upon the King Air 350 Extended Range design, which provides greater on-station time. There will be two operational squadrons of 15 aircraft each and seven assets used for training.

Hansen said the aircraft’s crew (two pilots and two sensor operators) will have the ability to communicate in real-time with ground forces, just as Predator and Reaper operators do today, via voice and video communications links.

Supporting the aircrews in disseminating the intelligence will be a force of about 100 airmen who will operate out of small-size cells at various locations throughout the theater.

Air Force Restarts TSAT Competition

Draft versions of the revised solicitation for the Air Force’s Transformational Satellite Communications System program began circulating in late December and the service may be in a position to release the final solicitation around April, Gary E. Payton, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space programs, told reporters Jan. 16 in Washington, D.C.

Doing so would make it possible for the Air Force to award the highly anticipated $11 billion contract early next year for the development of these next generation communications satellites, said Payton. Boeing and Lockheed Martin have been working under Air Force sponsorship to reduce the risk to critical technologies envisioned for these satellites.

The revised solicitation reflects the programmatic restructure directed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense in December in order to achieve first launch of a TSAT satellite in 2019, with each successive placement in orbit about a year apart. Among the changes being instituted, the initial Block 10 constellation of four satellites, plus one spare asset, will rely on Internet protocol routing for network management and moving data to deployed forces on the move.

Payton said the Air Force will let combat needs drive the schedule for when capabilities, such as laser and Ka-band communication links, are incorporated into later blocks.

TSAT satellites will represent a “huge step” in capability with their ability to provide wideband and secure communications down to the squad level of ground troops, Payton said. Tying dismounted soldiers to the US military’s information-sharing networks is “absolutely pivotal” to future warfighting concepts, he said.

Payton emphasized that the Air Force remains committed to the TSAT program. In fact, it is allotted the largest share of the Air Force’s military satellite communications budget in the service’s forthcoming six-year spending plan that starts with Fiscal 2010, he said.

Overall, the program’s total projected lifetime cost hovers between $15 billion and $20 billion.

Fighter, Bomber Readiness Rates in Serious Decline

The high pace of operations, coupled with increasing aircraft age, is taking its toll on USAF’s fighter and bomber readiness. Service data show a decline in mission-capable rates over the past five years.

According to DOD, the designation “mission-capable”—or MC—means an aircraft is in sufficiently good condition to perform at least one, and potentially all, of its designated missions. The MC rate refers to the percent of a fleet that is in this condition.

The MC rate for USAF fighters reached a recent peak in 2005, at 77.5 percent and has been declining at the rate of about one percentage point per year. It now stands at 72.1 percent, according to the data, which run into late 2008.

The MC rate for bombers peaked in 2004 at 70.3 percent, but has declined more steeply and now sits at 58.2 percent.

MC rates alone do not tell the whole story on platform availability. Indeed, the situation is worse than it appears. When one factors in the fighters and bombers that are in depot for routine overhauls, availability numbers fall precipitously.

For example, using that criterion, the fighter availability rate is now about 58.9 percent, down from a recent high of 69.2 percent in Fiscal 2005. And only 44.8 percent of the bomber fleet is ready to go now at any time, down from a peak of 57.2 percent in Fiscal 2002. In fact, the worst availability rate of any platform belongs to the B-2A stealth bomber, which is available for combat now only 36.8 percent of any given time.

On an up note, the airlift MC rate climbed to about 75 percent in Fiscal 2001 and has hovered between 73 and 75 percent ever since. And the trend for intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance platforms, including unmanned aerial vehicles, has risen steadily, from 70.8 percent in 2000 to 84.3 percent today.

Even the MC rate for KC-135s, which are among the oldest aircraft in service, has improved since 2000, when it was 71.1 percent, and now stands at 79.7 percent.

The MQ-1 Predator UAV is USAF’s most available platform, ready to go 80.6 percent of the time.

Operation Iraqi Freedom—Iraq

Casualties

By Feb. 17, a total of 4,245 Americans had died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The total includes 4,234 troops and 11 Department of Defense civilians. Of these deaths, 3,410 were killed in action with the enemy while 835 died in noncombat incidents.

There have been 31,035 troops wounded in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom. This number includes 17,370 who were wounded and returned to duty within 72 hours and 13,665 who were unable to return to duty quickly.

Iraqi Air Force, USAF Advisors Celebrate Training Milestone

Iraqi airmen and their USAF advisors celebrated a milestone for rebuilding the Iraqi Air Force on Jan. 14 when the IqAF’s flying training squadron at Kirkuk Regional Air Base reached the 5,000 flying-hour mark.

The Iraqis, who are training with the help of USAF’s 52nd Expeditionary Flying Training Squadron at Kirkuk, hit the mark when student pilot Lt. Hassan (the Iraqis often give only the first names of their pilots for security reasons) flew a regularly scheduled sortie in his Cessna 172 to practice basic flying patterns with another aircraft.

The Iraqi wing’s pilots have seen remarkable success recently, said Lt. Col. Nathan Brauner, 52nd EFTS commander. The pilot trainees needed only 41 days to accumulate the last 1,000 flying hours, whereas it took the wing 177 days to amass the first 1,000 hours after its launch in late 2007.

Brauner said the training wing is rapidly expanding to its planned capacity of 130 students. For that, the wing needs to train about 40 Iraqi instructor pilots. As of mid-January, there were five Iraqi instructor pilots at the training wing and another six students were training to instruct classes.

Leading up to the January milestone, the size of the wing had doubled in the previous six months and saw its first graduating class.

Operation Enduring Freedom—Afghanistan

Casualties

By Feb.17, a total of 647 Americans had died in Operation Enduring Freedom. The total includes 646 troops and one Department of Defense civilian. Of these deaths, 428 were killed in action with the enemy while 219 died in noncombat incidents.

There have been 2,689 troops wounded in action during OEF. This number includes 949 who were wounded and returned to duty within 72 hours and 1,740 who were unable to return to duty quickly.

Combined Operations Strike at Taliban Networks and Leadership

Coalition forces killed two Taliban commanders and 19 militants during multiple operations Jan. 19 in eastern and southern Afghanistan, according to US and Air Force officials.

In Kapisa, forces killed Taliban commander Mullah Patang and 18 others during operations to disrupt the Taliban’s network in the Tagab Valley, north of Kabul. Patang was responsible for several roadside bomb attacks and attacks on Afghan troops and civilians.

As coalition ground forces approached targeted compounds, groups of militants came out of nearby buildings and began to fire at the force with small arms and maneuver against them. Returning fire, coalition forces requested air support, which responded and prevented the militants’ movement against the coalition troops. After neutralizing the enemy, coalition forces searched the targeted buildings, finding more than 20 AK-47s, grenades, and ammunition.

Near Kandahar, coalition forces killed a second Taliban commander, Mullah Abdul Rahim Akund, and another militant while targeting an improvised explosive device network. The Taliban commander was linked to efforts to plan and coordinate roadside bombings in the region.

News Notes

  • The Air Force Research Laboratory announced in mid-January that the launch of the Tactical Satellite-3 would not occur until later this year due to the need to resolve an issue with the experimental spacecraft’s avionics.

    • A C-17 from the 315th Airlift Wing at Charleston AFB, S.C., was damaged on Dec. 23 at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, when it departed the hard surface of the runway at about 6:20 a.m. local time, Air Forces Central said. Another Charleston C-17 was damaged the following month during a Jan. 30 “wheels up” landing at Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield.

        MSgt. Terence Jackson, a KC-10 flight engineer with the 305th Air Mobility Wing at McGuire AFB, N.J., surpassed 10,000 flight hours on Jan. 23 during his deployment to the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron covering Southwest Asia operations.

          The “Warrior Airmen” exhibit opened Jan. 12 at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. It highlights the contributions of airmen to the Global War on Terror, both in the air and on the ground.

            Maj. Jon Williams, an air battle manager on E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft from Tinker AFB, Okla., surpassed 8,760 flight hours—the equivalent of one full year airborne—during a Jan. 15 mission over Southwest Asia.

              A C-130 transport crashed shortly after takeoff near Baghdad Airport, Iraq, on June 27, 2008, due to the stall of three of its four engines while the pilot was reacting “in accordance with applicable directives” to a defensive system alert, Air Force accident investigators reported in January.

                Rolls-Royce announced Jan. 12 that its LibertyWorks advanced research shop in Indianapolis successfully completed the initial test of the YJ102R high-Mach propulsion system that it is developing under the Air Force-DARPA High Speed Turbine Engine Demonstration, or HiSTED, program.

                  SrA. Victoria Drefs, a technician with the 376th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron’s Petroleum, Oils, and Lubricants Flight, on Dec. 26 reached the milestone of pumping two million gallons of fuel into KC-135 tankers during her four-month deployment to Manas AB, Kyrgyzstan.

                    The Air Force is sponsoring the No. 43 car for a new NASCAR Sprint Cup team that Gillett Evernham Motorsports and famed driver Richard Petty of Petty Holdings are forming for the 2009 racing season. The Air Force will use the car as a recruiting tool.

                      The first E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft fitted with new Pratt & Whitney JT-8D-219 engines made its maiden flight Dec. 20 from lead contractor Northrop Grumman’s facility in Melbourne, Fla. This flight began military air worthiness certification testing of the engines.

                        The Air Force debuted a career badge for the new 38F Force Support Air Force specialty code in December. The new code incorporates services with the previously merged personnel and manpower career fields.