Afghan Crash Kills Airman
Air Force TSgt. Scott E. Duffman, of Albuquerque, N.M., perished Feb. 18 while on duty in Afghanistan.
Duffman, assigned to the 24th Special Tactics Squadron at Pope AFB, N.C., died in the crash of a CH-47 helicopter during operations in Afghanistan.
Duffman was one of eight persons killed in the crash. Another 14 passengers were injured.
The cause of the crash and all other details remain under investigation.
US Central Command said the helicopter suffered a sudden, unexplained loss of power and control before crashing in eastern Afghanistan.
A search and rescue operation was quickly mounted. Rescuers secured the crash site and recovered passengers and crew.
North Sees Improved ISR
Intelligence collection and dissemination in Iraq and Afghanistan improved last year, the top airman for the theater told reporters Feb. 16.
These improvements, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, account for the jump in strike sorties and dropped ordnance over the past 12 months. (See “The War on Terrorism: CENTAF Air Strike Numbers for 2006 Released,” p. 22.)
“We’ve got better intelligence,” said North. “We’re finding the enemy. The enemy is presenting himself. Where the enemy presents in the theater, airpower creates an effect.”
North, commander of US Central Command Air Forces, said coalition forces in the two nations launched about 24,000 strike sorties, but not all entailed expenditure of munitions.
Many involved simply a “show of force” by aircraft, helping ground forces ferret out enemy fighters. However, strike sorties have become steadily more effective due to improved ability to gather, direct, and use intelligence.
He added that every weapon dropped “is by the direction of the ground commander,” whether the targets are time sensitive or targets of opportunity. Close coordination with ground commanders has led to better use and application of airpower.
Collaboration with Iraqi and Afghan forces has increased the amount and quality of information obtained, he added.
OK for “Surge,” Says CENTAF
The current level of Air Force assets in Iraq is sufficient to handle an increased workload brought on by the “surge” in US ground forces, according to Lt. Gen. Gary North.
The CENTAF commander said his current allotment of forces and personnel are performing well, and he has not had to request additional air and space expeditionary forces as a result of the new focus on securing Baghdad.
Air assets in theater are “sizing appropriately and positioning appropriately” to support increases in troop strength in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
North said air assets have been moved to where they can be best applied and maintained.
Scoping the SAM Threat
A sharp increase in attacks on Army and Marine Corps helicopters in Iraq is getting close attention, CENTAF commander Lt. Gen. Gary North reported. USAF also operates helicopters in the region, although none have gone down recently.
North said he is leading the effort to examine aircraft wreckage for clues as to how they were hit—by missile, rocket, or bullet—and the Air Force is developing tactics and procedures on how the aircraft move and apply their defensive systems.
“We track every one of these every day,” North said, adding that such attacks are tracked to see if they are random or part of a larger, orchestrated effort.
In the first two months of the year, seven military and civilian helicopters were shot down. The cause was concentrated ground fire and some shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weaponry.
Army Maj. Gen. James E. Simmons, the deputy commander for Multinational Corps-Iraq, told the Washington Post Feb. 20 that hostile Sunni insurgents had likely used an SA-14 Gremlin or SA-16 Gimlet to shoot down a Marine Corps CH-46 helicopter on Feb. 7, with the loss of seven troops.
Both the SA-14 and SA-16 are Russian-made portable anti-aircraft weapons, probably brought into Iraq relatively recently, Simmons added.
Urban Bomb Unveiled
Lockheed Martin officials said they are trying to interest the Air Force in an enhanced laser guided training round, as well as a weaponized version for use in close air support.
The Enhanced Laser Guided Training round, already in use by the Navy, has helped training efforts since it can be used on smaller ranges than the full-size laser guided bomb, Lockheed Martin officials reported.
The cost of the bomb is only about 15 percent that of a standard LGB and usually hits within 10 feet of a target. The company described the weapon at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium.
In addition to the training round, the company is rolling out a weaponized version called SCALPEL (Small Contained Area Laser Precision Energetic Load).
Unlike standoff weapons such as the Small Diameter Bomb, SCALPEL is a close-range, dual-mode LGB that features a lighter warhead and improved accuracy for close air support missions in tight urban environments, said Robert Balserak, senior manager, business development, Lockheed Missiles and Fire Control.
“All I need is a laser beam to take the guy out of the window without leveling the building,” Balserak said.
A concept demonstrator should be ready late this year.
“Mini-JASSM” Makes Appearance
Lockheed Martin officials are now promoting a new, small cruise missile similar to the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, or JASSM.
The Low Cost Miniature Cruise Missile would could offer a 750-mile range and fit inside the F-22 Raptor’s internal weapons bay. Company officials maintain it would give the Air Force an advantage in the early hours of a conflict with the ability to hit stationary or moving targets.
The missile is about 144 inches long, compared to the 169-inch JASSM.
Lockheed Martin is planning an advanced concept demonstration in 2008. A concept demonstrator was recently tested at Holloman AFB, N.M.
C-130J Posts High Optempo
Under wartime conditions, the C-130J has demonstrated an ability to maintain a high operating tempo, hauling more and completing more missions than its older predecessors, Col. Larry Gallogly of the Air National Guard reported.
Gallogly, commander of the 143rd Airlift Wing of the Rhode Island ANG, said his crews now have hard data to evaluate the performance of the C-130J. The deployment to the Southwest Theater involved aircraft from the 143rd AW, the 135th Airlift Group of the Maryland ANG, and the 146th AW of the California ANG.
When the 143rd first took the aircraft to the theater, Gallogly said there was an assumption that the new model was just another Hercules.
“It was a totally different airplane,” he said, noting that the internal avionics and systems made the aircraft 70 percent different from the E models and allowed 50 percent greater range.
Integrated precision radar equipment allowed J crews to make single-pass landings at narrow, difficult landing areas in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
The 143rd is due to receive upgrades soon. These will include large aircraft infrared countermeasures (LAIRCM) to fight the threat of surface-to-air man-portable missiles.
Reserve Unit for Beale
Air Force Reserve Command announced in February that it will partner with Air Combat Command to form a new associate unit with the 548th Intelligence Group at Beale AFB, Calif.
The new unit will complement the current Reserve presence at the base, which operates the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle. Under Base Realignment and Closure rules, personnel authorized for the Reserve’s 940th Air Refueling Wing headquarters and support will remain in place to provide the command structure for the new mission. The new associate unit is expected to stand up in Fiscal 2008.
The 548th IG operates the Distributed Ground System-2 and the Deployable Shelterized System-Film—elements of USAF’s Distributed Common Ground System. The group produces strategic, operational, and tactical intelligence to support combat operations around the world.
Ops Group Reactivated on Guam
The 36th Operations Group at Andersen AFB, Guam, has been reactivated to serve as the support point for the Air Force’s growing expeditionary operations on the island.
The group took over the mission of the 36th Expeditionary Operations Group and will establish a permanent command structure for Air Force assets deployed to Andersen.
The reactivation of the 36th will help to provide greater stability and longer-range planning for the Air Force’s mission in the Pacific. The group will provide forces needed to enhance security, demonstrate US commitment to the western Pacific, and provide integrated training for airmen.
The 36th’s heritage goes back to World War II and postwar Germany, where it was in US Air Forces in Europe until 1994.
F-35 Engine Axed Again
The Pentagon, slapped down once in its effort to eliminate the F-35 alternate engine, is back trying for the kill.
In 2006 deliberations, Congress countermanded a Pentagon decision to eliminate funding for the engine, instructing DOD to maintain the program as planned. The Defense Department, however, has done it again in its Fiscal 2008 budget, proposing to drop the engine and use $2 billion in savings for other purposes.
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) objected during a February hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Warner, the panel’s ranking Republican, told Defense Secretary Robert M.Gates that he and others had worked hard to keep the F-35 properly funded and expressed irritation that the Pentagon had ignored the clear intent of Congress.
Warner also said partner countries would like to get the benefits of competition on engines. Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations defense panel, told Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne that Congress believes that it is in the best interest of the Air Force to have a competitive engine—noting that if the eventual F-35 production levels grow by 50 percent, as Wynne predicts, another engine is vital.
First Raptor for Alaska
Representatives from Pacific Air Forces and Lockheed Martin gathered in Marietta, Ga., on Feb. 12 to accept the first F-22 Raptor assigned to PACAF.
Dignitaries present at the ceremony included Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and PACAF commander Gen. Paul V. Hester.
Elmendorf will be the first base in the Pacific Theater to have Raptors permanently based there. The F-22 will operate in the 90th and 525th Fighter Squadrons, as well as a Reserve associate squadron, the 302nd FS.
Boeing’s Bomber Vision
The next long-range strike system is likely to be a stealthy, subsonic platform armed with a high-speed missile, said the head of Boeing’s advanced systems division.
George K. Muellner told reporters in February that it’s not likely that a new and survivable supersonic bomber could be ready in time for the Air Force’s 2018 deadline.
Going supersonic doesn’t buy much survivability, Muellner said, unless it can top Mach 3. Heat generated at those speeds would make an easy target for infrared detectors, he added.
The Boeing official noted that Air Force and Navy operators who have come to Boeing’s simulation facilities to game out long-range strike ideas are coming to the same conclusion.
“We think high subsonic is the way to go,” Muellner said.
Iron Thunder Over Carolina
More than 100 aircraft from the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Royal Air Force in February participated in Exercise Iron Thunder, a four-day multinational exercise hosted by the 77th Fighter Squadron at Shaw AFB, S.C.
Exercise sorties practiced suppression of enemy air defenses and air-to-air combat scenarios in two phases.
The first featured blue air assets protecting a target from red air aggressors, then later featured blue air assets attacking an enemy target. The next phase featured a blue air attack on an enemy location on the North Carolina coastline. (For a description of the July 2006 exercise, see “Iron Thunder,” October 2006, p. 52.)
Participants included B-1Bs from Dyess AFB, Tex.; an E-3 AWACs from Tinker AFB, Okla.; E-8 Joint STARS from Robins AFB, Ga.; F-15Es from Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C.; F-16s from the 55th FS, 77th FS, and 79th FS at Shaw; F-16s from the Alabama Air National Guard; F/A-18 Hornets from NAS Oceana, Va., and MCAS Beaufort, S.C.; KC-135s from RAF Mildenhall, Britain; and an RAF E-3 Sentry from RAF Waddington, Britain.
Three Commit to JSF
Italy, Norway, and Turkey in January and February signed up for the F-35 production, sustainment, and follow-on development phase.
The move ensures participation by those nations in the cooperative program arrangements for the next phase of the F-35’s production.
Australia, Britain, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and Turkey are all now committed to produce the fighter. Cooperation will extend beyond the system development and demonstration phase of the program.
The remaining partner nation, Denmark, is expected to sign the memorandum soon.
SNIPERs in High Demand
Lockheed Martin says it plans to keep building its SNIPER advanced targeting pods for years to come.
Company officials, speaking at AFA’s February Air Warfare Symposium, said production will continue until at least 2011. That is because SNIPER is seeing heavy combat use in Southwest Asia.
Both F-15Es and F-16s have used the pod extensively for so-called “nontraditional” ISR as well as strike operations. The pods have turned in a mission-capable rate of 96 percent.
The Air Force currently has 522 SNIPER pods on order. Officials expect that number to rise, given requirements to equip both the A-10 and the B-1B with the precision targeting tool, said program manager Mark Fischer.
The original order was sufficient to equip only the F-16 and F-15Es, Fischer added.
Belgium, Norway, Oman, and Poland also have signed on to the program. Canada is in talks with the company to equip its F-18s with the pod as well, Fischer said.
Give That Bone a Pod
Boeing has tested the Sniper XR targeting pod on the B-1B bomber, demonstrating a capability that “Bone” crews have long asked for.
The pod lets the B-1B to use laser guided weapons. It also enables recording and transmission of high-fidelity, real-time video or infrared imagery.
The demonstration was completed in January at Edwards AFB, Calif., and validated the crew’s ability to identify moving and stationary targets in a variety of conditions.
Air Force leaders put high priority on equipping B-1Bs with such targeting pods. They are hoping to have the pod equipped on aircraft in theater by 2008.
Hurricane Hunters in Pacific
The Hurricane Hunters of Air Force Reserve Command’s 403rd Wing flew their WC-130Js to Alaska in February for a month-long mission to support winter storm reconnaissance efforts.
The Keesler AFB, Miss.-based unit deployed to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, where it flew 12-hour-long weather missions directed by the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Winter missions require crews to fly at altitudes higher than is the case in tropical weather; most of the Alaska missions were flown above 30,000 feet.
While the Hurricane Hunters are patrolling the northern Pacific, NOAA uses Gulfstream aircraft to fly out of Honolulu. Between the two units, the effort can cover most of the weather systems that affect the US.
The support missions run through April.
Kirtland Ospreys Take Wing
The 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland AFB, N.M., announced Jan. 30 that it had all of the assets required to start training CV-22 Osprey aircrews.
The tilt-rotor aircraft is replacing the MH-53J Pave Low helicopter for long-range insertion and extraction of special operations forces.
With training now under way, Air Force Special Operations Command expects to declare initial operational capability with the CV-22 in January 2009.
USAF Osprey pilots go on temporary duty assignment to MCAS New River, N.C., for initial training on the MV-22, then return to Kirtland to form crews with flight engineers and complete instruction on the CV-22.
JPADS Airdrop in Iraq Is a Success
C-130 aircrew members from the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at Balad AB, Iraq, on Feb. 16 demonstrated the Joint Precision Air-Drop System for the first time over Iraq, delivering six 1,200-pound bundles during a resupply mission. The new air-drop tool—known as JPADS—was first successfully demonstrated in combat last year over Afghanistan. (See “Aerospace World: Now, Air-Dropped Cargo Pallets Steer Themselves,” November 2006, p. 18.)
JPADS uses a wind sonde sensor and GPS technology to steer packages from altitudes of up to 25,000 feet into a desired drop zone. The C-130 crew is deployed from the 463rd Airlift Wing at Little Rock AFB, Ark.
Boeing, Canada Sign C-17 Deal
Boeing on Feb. 1 signed a contract to sell Canada four C-17 airlifters, which are to provide strategic mobility for Canadian armed forces. Delivery of the first aircraft could come this fall. The new order already has been factored into Boeing’s plans and does not change plans to shut down the Long Beach, Calif., line in mid-2009, according to company officials.
Canada joins Australia, Britain, and the US as operators of C-17s.
|Is a Resurgent Russia Looking to Rearm?
Russia has unveiled an ambitious military modernization campaign that, if actually carried to conclusion, would provide new bombers and ICBMs, replace half the Russian Army’s aged ground equipment, and produce new warships.
The target year is 2015. The plan is to fund the effort with some of Russia’s burgeoning oil and gas revenues.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced the plan to Russian lawmakers, saying the government plans to spend the equivalent of $200 billion on the upgrade.
The idea is to bolster Russia’s nuclear deterrent and sharpen its dilapidated conventional force. Specifics include the purchase of 50 new Topol-M ICBMs, 50 new bombers, and 31 naval vessels. Ivanov added that the plan calls for the re-arming of 40 tank, 97 infantry, and 50 parachute battalions.
With this plan, Moscow is signaling a commitment to military power unseen since the last days of the Soviet Union.
Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defense analyst, told the Voice of America that Russian industry may not be ready for such a modernization effort. The secrecy-shrouded acquisition process will ensure lots of cost overruns and corruption.
Russia’s military doctrine also forbids the Defense Ministry from procuring anything from abroad.
|UAVs Will Still Be Flown by Rated Officers
The Air Force is expecting to increase annual active duty pilot production from 1,000 to 1,100, but it won’t be peeling off unmanned aircraft operators as a specialty.
That’s the word from Gen. William R. Looney III, commander of Air Education and Training Command.
The increase in pilot production to 1,100 annually—and 1,300 with Guard and Reserve pilots included—does not stem from any sharp increase in aircraft enthusiasts. Rather, it comes from emerging nonflying needs, Looney said in February.
“What drives this is a number of requirements that require expertise, but are not necessarily associated with flying an aircraft,” Looney said, noting that personnel who staff air and space operations centers need an understanding of flight operations. Rated pilots are also in demand on major command staffs and the Joint Staff.
There are requirements in these other areas “that we are not quite able to meet with the current pilot inventory,” Looney said. The air staff and the major commands are now trying to figure out what the right number is.
Looney also noted a growing demand for battlefield airmen, from tactical air controllers to pararescuers, and said AETC will stand up a common schoolhouse for them by Fiscal 2011. The first class will teach basic military skills and common battlefield airmen skills and will enroll combat weathermen, explosive ordnance technicians, and tactical air controllers.
The program is slated to expand incrementally, as construction projects are completed. The battlefield airman schoolhouse will grow from 1,700 airmen in 2011 to 7,000 in 2012 and will teach 14,000 airmen annually at full capacity, Looney added. Sites currently being surveyed include Arnold AFB, Tenn., Barksdale AFB, La., and Moody AFB, Ga.
Rated pilots will continue to operate unmanned aircraft for the foreseeable future, Looney said, waving off the notion of a new special UAV curriculum.
The need for UAV operators will continue to grow, Looney said, and the Air Force is still “at the beginning stages” of deciding who will operate them, long-term. The service is still learning about the limits of UAV operations, and Looney acknowledged that the structure of manned flight is “not necessarily accommodating” to UAVs.
The Air Force and other federal agencies have yet to iron out the details of how UAVs will operate in civilian airspace, and until they do, USAF wants a rated pilot at the controls.
The Air Force has merged what used to be the weapons system officer and navigator career fields into the combat systems officer field, Looney said.
“Technology has allowed us to come to a point where one person can do both,” Looney said. Much of the training currently occurs at Randolph AFB, Tex., but will eventually move to NAS Pensacola, Fla.,where Air Force CSOs will train alongside naval flight officers in a joint program.
The Air Force is also expanding its distance learning capabilities, because so much of the force is frequently deployed around the world. USAF has merely “scratched the surface” of what it can do with distance learning, Looney said. Increasingly, classes will come to an airman wherever he is deployed through “reachback” communications. Some classes will still have to be given in person though—such as the first time a medic hooks up an IV to a real person.
|From Its Test Pilot, the F-35 Gets Two Thumbs Up
The F-35 may not have the agility of the F-22 Raptor, but it will prove to be an exceptional strike platform, says the first Lightning II test pilot.
Jon Beesley, Lockheed Martin’s lead test pilot for the F-35, had taken seven flights in the new fighter.
Talking with reporters in Orlando, Fla., at the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium, Beesley said the F-35 was not meant to be a fighter in the F-22’s class. It was not given thrust-vectoring or extreme post-stall control because those capabilities weren’t considered essential for an attack airplane.
However, he asserted, the F-35 will easily hold its own with any other fighter and is an extraordinarily “stable platform” for conducting strikes. He also said the aircraft flies so smoothly that it may exceed its combat radius requirement of 690 miles.
Beesley observed that one potentially troublesome piece of equipment has proved to be “a star performer.”
He was referring to the Integrated Power Pack. It is an amalgam of three separate, problem-prone systems: auxiliary power unit, environmental control system, and emergency power pack. In Beesley’s view, the new IPP is an “elegant” way to cut weight while improving reliability.
He said that the Air Force version, known as the F-35A, can carry as much fuel as the Raptor, without external fuel tanks.
The only in-flight glitches concerned faulty readings from an air data probe, which was quickly fixed, Beesley said. He also tested the air brakes.
With few exceptions, Beesley said, the aircraft has matched simulations with high fidelity.
He also noted that the test program will seek to find those areas that have been overengineered, so that future weight gains can be offset by weight reductions.
|Unified Command Plan Turns Sights on Africa
President Bush on Feb. 6 announced the long-expected creation of United States Africa Command.
AFRICOM will be a regional military component in the Pentagon’s unified command plan. It aims to integrate Defense Department activities now parceled out among various other US combatant commands.
The four existing regional military commands are US Central Command, US European Command, US Pacific Command, and US Southern Command. DOD also maintains a subunified command on the Korean Peninsula, under PACOM. These geographical commands are supported or supplemented by US Joint Forces Command, US Northern Command, US Special Operations Command, US Strategic Command, and US Transportation Command.
Planners said that AFRICOM will coordinate with other government agencies such as the State Department. Many of the missions will be “nonkinetic,” said Ryan Henry, the Pentagon’s policy chief. AFRICOM will work to reduce conflict, improve security, defeat or prevent the development of terror networks, and support crisis response.
Army Lt. Gen. Walter L. Sharp, the director of the Joint Staff, said DOD will emphasize building the capacity of African militaries, conducting training and medical missions, and supporting organizations such as the African Union.
Until now, defense activities in Africa had been parceled out among EUCOM, PACOM, and CENTCOM. EUCOM’s heavy involvement in particular has brought US Air Forces in Europe into the equation.
USAFE leadership believes it will still have a big role in Africa operations to complement its work in Europe.
“Even if [USAFE’s] role in Africa is reduced over time, there’s so much work left to be done in Eastern Europe that USAFE will remain … fully employed,” said Brig. Gen. Michael A. Snodgrass, USAFE’s director of plans, programs, and requirements.
An AFRICOM transition team, with a staff of 60, was set up in Stuttgart, Germany. Sharp said the team is deciding the proper size of the new AFRICOM headquarters, the eventual location of the headquarters, and how troop rotations will be handled. The goal is to have AFRICOM at full capability by the end of Fiscal 2008.
|From the Drawing Boards at Materiel Command
Gen. Bruce Carlson says the challenges posed by today’s War on Terror are posing tough problems for the airmen of Air Force Materiel Command, which he heads.
Carlson told attendees at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando that such challenges are broad in scope. On the top of the list is figuring how to get reliable, persistent tactical intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance data into the hands of deployed forces and how to integrate that data into a common operating picture.
Using technology as simple as off-the-shelf cameras and linking them with other sensors could accomplish that goal in real time, Carlson said, and store the data for retrieval or playback. This could lead to UAVs with 24/7 capability both in the visual or infrared spectrums.
“You could watch a suspected bad guy, … see who he meets with, when he meets with them, where he goes,” he noted.
The airmen and civilians across the command are working on a range of projects that include tools to provide real-time, wide-angle surveillance to forces on the ground to ways that troops can better perform their mission in urban environments and defeat improvised explosive devices.
The command had just completed an assessment last summer of its Project Angel Fire real-time ISR program at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twenty-Nine Palms, Calif., Carlson announced. The system is currently being deployed to Southwest Asia for further testing.
AFMC is also working on developing new lighter and more survivable hydrogen-cell batteries for use in tactical radios and other field equipment. They would reduce the overall weight that ground forces and battlefield airmen must haul.
Carlson announced the start of a six-week test of a new high-resolution navigation tool at Air Force Special Operation Command at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The goal: Produce virtual flight rules tools to help pilots safely navigate in brownouts.
The command is also heavily invested in aeronautics efforts—particularly the development of hypersonic engines. Carlson said the Scramjet Engine Demonstration is moving ahead toward a series of four to eight flight tests in Fiscal 2009. The program uses a hydrocarbon fuel-cooled scramjet with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency technology that relates to the shape of the airframe and the inlet duct, Carlson explained. The test platform will soon be flown on a B-52, using an old booster to accelerate from 40,000 feet to Mach 4 then to Mach 6 or 7 on scramjet power.
The SED will be capable of cruising at Mach 6.5 to 7 and could have applications in a number of areas—particularly the Air Force’s planned future long-range strike effort.
|The War on Terrorism|
|Operation Iraqi Freedom—Iraq
By March 20, a total of 3,222 Americans had died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. This total includes 3,215 troops and seven Defense Department civilians. Of those fatalities, 2,601 were killed in action by enemy attack, and 621 died in noncombat incidents.
There have been 24,187 troops wounded in action during OIF. This includes 13,415 who returned to duty within 72 hours and 10,772 who were unable to quickly return to action.
CENTAF Air Strike Numbers for 2006 Released
During a teleconference with Pentagon reporters in early February, US Central Command Air Forces commander Lt. Gen. Gary L. North released the collected air statistics for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006, which showed a steady number of air strikes and sorties over Iraq compared with the previous two years.
In 2006, coalition air forces performed 15,676 close air support sorties over Iraq, compared with 16,924 in 2005 and 14,292 in 2004.
Coalition aircraft dropped 229 munitions in 2006 in OIF CAS strikes, compared with 404 in 2005 and 285 in 2004. The busiest month of 2006 was November, when air assets dropped 48 munitions during CAS strikes.
North said these recorded sorties or strikes do not include those where rockets were employed or where aircraft used their 20 mm or 30 mm cannons.
F-16s and A-10s Make the Difference in Najaf Battle
More than 200 insurgent fighters were killed and 100 captured near An Najaf, Iraq, Jan. 28, during a fierce battle involving enemy forces, US ground troops, and support from the Air Force’s 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Balad Air Base.
The 332nd’s F-16s and assisting A-10s performed close air support after insurgents had attacked ground forces with small arms, explosives, and rocket-propelled grenades. Fighters expended more than 3.5 tons of precision munitions, 1,200 rounds of 20 mm cannon and 1,100 rounds of 30 mm cannon fire in the five square miles of the battle.
Participating aircraft included the F-16s of the 510th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, the 14th EFS, and 332nd EFS, as well as A-10s from the 74th EFS at Al Asad Air Base.
Operation Enduring Freedom—Afghanistan
By March 17, a total of 370 Americans, including one DOD civilian, had died in Operation Enduring Freedom, primarily in and around Afghanistan. The total includes 197 killed in action and 173 who died in nonhostile incidents such as accidents.
A total of 1,133 troops have been wounded in Enduring Freedom. They include 455 who were able to return to duty in three days and 678 who were not.
Air Strike on Afghan Site Kills Taliban Commander
A coalition air strike called in by NATO International Security Assistance Force troops in Afghanistan killed a Taliban chief and at least 10 others on Feb. 14, the alliance reported.
Precision, laser guided munitions blasted the target in a compound in Helmand Province—not far from the town of Musa Qala, which Taliban forces had overrun on Feb. 1. The strike killed the unnamed commander and his associates.
The leader was linked to the uprising in Musa Qala and an attack on a nearby dam. In a statement, NATO said there was no appreciable damage to other buildings in the compound and that ground forces had observed Taliban elements removing the bodies of 11 fighting age males from the wreckage—refuting claims that women or children were killed in the strike.
Air Strike Numbers for OEF Released
During his February briefing with reporters, CENTAF commander Lt. Gen. Gary North released coalition air strike statistics for Operation Enduring Freedom for 2006—revealing a sharp increase in the number of strike sorties and munitions fired last year.
In 2006, coalition air assets performed 10,519 close air support sorties in Afghanistan. In 2005, the number of CAS sorties was 7,421, and in 2004 it was 6,495.
In 2006, air assets performing CAS strikes expended 1,770 munitions—a huge jump from 2005 where only 176 munitions were dropped. Only 86 munitions were used during close air support strikes in 2004, according to CENTAF. The busiest month of 2006 was September, where air assets dropped 329 munitions in close air support strikes.
The sorties or strikes do not include those where rockets or 20 mm or 30 mm cannons were used.
- US airmen in February for the first time staged joint combat search and rescue exercises with the Peruvian Air Force. Falcon and Condor Exercise 2007 featured a simulated rescue of a US pilot and Peruvian pilot in Peru’s remote and deserted north. C-130s of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard delivered Peruvian special forces into the area, to help locate the missing pilots.
- North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven announced Feb. 8 that the 91st Space Wing and North Dakota adjutant general shook hands on a deal to create a new Air National Guard squadron at Minot AFB, N.D. The unit will support ICBM operations and consist mostly of ANG security forces, which will train and serve with the active duty 91st Security Forces Group. The move will bring 60 full-time and 80 part-time ANG positions to Minot.
- The 820th REDHORSE Squadron, Nellis AFB, Nev., on Feb. 15 helped open New Horizons Nicaragua, a US Southern Command readiness and training exercise held in the village of Santa Teresa. Fifty-eight members of the 820th built a new school and clinic. Construction projects, performed across the region, provide realistic joint and combined training for USAF, Army, Marine Corps, and reserve engineers, medical personnel, and support troops.
- The Air Force, completing its inquiry into the Oct. 26 F-16 accident at Luke AFB, Ariz., determined that a malfunction of a third stage fan disk caused the mishap, which happened on the runway. The disk fractured the airframe and pierced the fuel tank, igniting a fire that caused the engine to explode. The fighter was assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing. The pilot was not injured.
- BAE Systems on Jan. 23 announced the first flight of its Joint Strike Fighter Cooperative Avionics Test Bed. The flight capped a three-year effort to turn a regular 737 aircraft into a flying lab for development of the fighter’s advanced avionics. Known as the “CAT-bird,” the aircraft will develop and verify the F-35’s abilities to collect data from multiple sensors and fuse it into a working situational awareness display.
- The North American Aerospace Defense Command in January conducted Exercise Falcon Virgo 07-04 in the Washington, D.C., area. The exercise featured a series of training flights coordinated with the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Capital Region command center, and the Joint Air Defense Operations Center. The exercise tested NORAD’s intercept and identification capabilities, with Civil Air Patrol aircraft and US Coast Guard helicopters participating in the event.
- Pilot error on the part of a civilian contractor caused the crash of an MQ-1B Predator during an Aug. 3 training mission at Creech AFB, Nev., claims an accident investigation report released Jan. 25. There were no injuries because of the accident, but the aircraft suffered $1.5 million in damage. The pilot depressed an incorrect switch while attempting to retract the aircraft’s landing gear, causing the engine to shut off. The Predator crashed just off the runway.
- Lockheed Martin and Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace of Norway announced Feb. 1 that the companies have entered into an agreement to market an air-launched version of the Naval Strike Missile—to be called the Joint Strike Missile. The new weapon is designed to be carried internally and launched externally from the F-35 Lightning II fighter. The stealthy 1,000-pound missile has a range of more than 150 miles.
- The 36th Airlift Squadron at Yokota AB, Japan, is trading its old C-130Es for newer C-130Hs, with final deliveries expected by May. The conversion will bring 50 airmen and their families to Yokota by the end of March, Stars and Stripes reports. The 36th is the Air Force’s only forward-based tactical airlift squadron in the Pacific region.
- A quick reaction team from Eglin AFB, Fla., helped to install new solid state recorders in a pair of 494th Fighter Squadron F-15Es based in Southwest Asia. The December action permitted the fighters to carry out combat missions and collect intelligence data without interruption while the SSR instrumentation systems helped troubleshoot a problem. The 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Group had requested help from Team Eglin to assist in finding the cause of discrepancies with the Strike Eagles’ flight displays.
- Workers at the Arnold Engineering Development Center at Arnold AFB, Tenn., in late January completed the first of eight planned Minuteman motor tests. The heavy test schedule is needed to acquire data on the reliability of the motors. The testing took place at the Large Rocket Motor Test Facility, where an estimated $2.1 million in testing will be carried out in 2007.
- More than a dozen Canadian Air Force officials, aircrew members, and maintainers went to Little Rock AFB, Ark., recently for an up close look at C-130J training. The Canadian delegation teamed up with members of the 48th Airlift Squadron for the instruction. Canada is purchasing 17 of the new J models and must begin training programs now. Canada currently flies 32 C-130s—all E and H models.
- Airmen of the 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron at Balad AB, Iraq, set a new single-month record in January when they pumped 3.8 million gallons of aviation fuel. The squadron delivered 3.6 million gallons of fuel to all aircraft that touched down at Balad and more than 220,000 gallons of diesel fuel for support equipment and vehicles at the base. The 332nd’s petroleum, oil, and lubricant flight is made up of six Guardsmen and 30 active duty airmen at the base.
- Reservists of the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick AFB, Fla., on Feb. 13 took part in an exercise at Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla. Helicopter crews from the wing’s 310th Rescue Squadron provided security for a space shuttle launch, while the 308th Rescue Squadron stood by to rescue and provide medical care to astronauts if a shuttle veered off a runway during landings. In the exercise, Pave Hawk helicopters airlifted NASA firefighters and USAF pararescuers to a remote training site to practice egress attempts and medical skills. Airmen with the 45th Space Wing at Patrick also participated in the exercise.