National Security Leadership Named
President Obama announced in April his intent to nominate Leon E. Panetta to replace Robert M. Gates as Defense Secretary and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus to take over for Panetta as CIA director.
“I cannot think of a group of individuals better suited to lead our national security team during this difficult time,” said Obama during remarks at the White House.
He added, “I urge our friends in the Senate to confirm these individuals as swiftly as possible so they can assume their duties and help meet the urgent challenges we confront as a nation. We are a nation still at war.”
Gates intends to serve through June, with Panetta starting in July. Petraeus would retire from the Army and take over at the CIA as a civilian in September.
The President also announced that he wants Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John R. Allen to succeed Petraeus as the top US general in Afghanistan and Ryan C. Crocker to take over for Karl W. Eikenberry as US ambassador to that nation.
Still in the Libya Fight
After NATO took charge of air operations over Libya, US military aircraft continued to play a critical role in the mission of protecting Libyans and enforcing the no-fly zone. Between NATO’s April 1 takeover of command responsibility for the Libyan mission—renamed Operation Unified Protector—and April 18, US military platforms flew more than 800 of the nearly 2,900 total air sorties, including daily aerial refueling; intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance; command and control; and limited strike sorties against Libyan anti-aircraft targets.
Of those 800, more than 150 have been to suppress Qaddafi’s air defenses. In eight of those, US aircraft dropped ordnance, according to officials.
Though nearly 89 USAF aircraft initially engaged in Operation Odyssey Dawn, now that the US is “out” of the main combat role, that number has declined to about 39, Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley told reporters on April 5.
Most of the roughly 50 aircraft no longer enforcing the NFZ or flying strike missions returned to US Air Forces in Europe bases, Donley said, noting that they “may be in reserve” for future operations if called upon.
Revised Plan Issued
US Northern Command now shares responsibility with US European Command for overseeing US military operations in the Arctic under the new unified command plan approved by President Obama. UCP 2011 stresses the growing importance of the Arctic.
Further, “NORTHCOM was given advocacy responsibility for Arctic capabilities primarily due to having the only US Arctic territory within its area of operations,” according to a Pentagon spokesman. Arctic responsibility had been shared between US European Command, US Pacific Command, and NORTHCOM under the previous map approved by President Bush in 2008.
The new plan also assigns NORTHCOM responsibility for Alaska and adjacent waters which were previously divided between both NORTHCOM and PACOM.
Additionally, the plan strengthens the role of US Strategic Command in combating weapons of mass destruction.
Little Rock, Big Damage
A tornado tore through Little Rock AFB, Ark., on April 25, injuring three people, battering three C-130s, and damaging more than 40 homes.
Though injuries were minor, several homes were torn in half or stripped completely of their roofs. The base exchange and the commissary were closed due to “extensive damage,” according to a base spokesman.
Displaced families were placed in temporary lodging until new homes could be found.
Despite the devastation, airmen and C-130s from the 50th Airlift Squadron at Little Rock deployed to Southwest Asia three days after the tornado. “My hat’s off to our whole community for the extraordinary work they have done to take care of our deployers and their families,” said Col. Michael A. Minihan, 19th Airlift Wing commander.
The squadron was the first of nearly 20 C-130s and 1,000 airmen that deployed after the disaster.
Fiscal Train Wreck Averted
Congress on April 14 approved a spending bill for Fiscal 2011, and President Obama signed it the next day. The $513 billion base operating bill is $5 billion over 2010 levels, but shy of the $540 billion Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned is needed to avoid serious operational disruptions.
The Defense Department had been operating on a continuing resolution since last fall, which constrained spending at Fiscal 2010 levels and prevented spending money on any new-start projects in the Pentagon budget. Gates had described the situation as a potential fiscal train wreck if it continued, and Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said the Air Force would not be able to meet the final fiscal year payroll if a full spending measure was not approved.
The services will still have to reprogram substantial amounts of funding to cope with the reductions the bill contained.
New Cyber Commander
Maj. Gen. Suzanne M. Vautrinot assumed command of 24th Air Force from Maj. Gen. Richard E. Webber, its first chief, during a ceremony at Lackland AFB, Tex.
Under Webber, 24th Air Force went from activation to full operational capability in just 14 months. It also became the Air Force’s operational component of US Cyber Command.
Gen. William L. Shelton, Air Force Space Command boss, presided over the change-of-command ceremony April 29.
Vautrinot most recently served as the special assistant to the Air Force vice chief.
Webber is retiring, effective July 1, after 36 years of service.
F136 Terminated, on Life Support
General Electric and Rolls Royce announced in May they would fund continued development of the F136 alternative engine for the F-35 strike fighter from their own coffers. The two companies said they will bankroll development through Fiscal 2012, when they hope to regain DOD funding.
“We believe so strongly in our engine and the need for competition in defense procurement that we have committed to self-fund F136 development costs for this fiscal year and next,” said GE CEO Jeff Immelt in the companies’ joint statement May 5.
The Defense Department notified the GE-Rolls consortium that DOD had terminated the development contract April 25, asserting that a competing engine for the F-35 was superfluous, “unneeded, and wasteful.”
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has long wanted to rely solely on the Pratt & Whitney F135, but has faced congressional resistance to killing the F136 over the past several years.
In late March, the F-35 program office issued a stop-work order on the F136, pending completion of a defense appropriations bill for the rest of Fiscal 2011.
The subsequent bill, HR 1473, contained no funding for F136, paving the way for contract termination.
The GE-Rolls team said in an April 25 statement it would comply with orders to preserve and return all government property, but that the companies would “work closely” with congressional supporters to restore funding in Fiscal 2012.
Now, Two USAF Chopper Plans
The Air Force will now pursue two separate helicopter competitions: one to acquire a new personnel recovery aircraft, and one for a new utility aircraft.
The new recovery chopper—taking the place of the canceled CSAR-X aircraft—will replace the service’s aging and combat-weary HH-60G Pave Hawks, while the new utility platform will supplant Vietnam War-era UH-1N Hueys, USAF said April 25.
USAF anticipates “that a derivative of helicopters already in production” will be able to meet requirements, said Maj. Gen. Randal D. Fullhart, USAF’s acquisition director for global reach programs. Fullhart said USAF is looking for a “best value” solution that meets requirements.
The service aims to replace 112 Pave Hawks, with a request for proposal anticipated in 2012, while a draft solicitation to replace the Hueys is scheduled for release this summer.
The Air Force wants to procure 93 Common Vertical Lift Support Platforms to succeed the Hueys in roles such as ICBM field protection, and have them operationally ready by 2015.
NRO Satellite Launched
The Air Force launched a classified National Reconnaissance Office payload into space aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., April 14. The mission was the last of six launches during NRO’s 50th anniversary year 2010-2011.
The launch “culminates one of the most aggressive launch schedules in our history. I am immensely proud of the contractor and government team who came together to support these missions. Their hard work and dedication ensures our nation’s critical edge in space well into the next decade,” said Col. Alan Davis, head of NRO’s space launch office.
The preceding NRO rocket lifted off from Florida, March 11.
MC-130J Takes First Flight
USAF’s first MC-130J Combat Shadow II aircraft completed its maiden flight, taking to the skies from Lockheed Martin’s aircraft plant in Marietta, Ga., April 20.
The flight came less than a month after the aircraft rolled off the assembly line at Marietta. The aircraft must now complete a series of test flights prior to scheduled delivery to Cannon AFB, N.M., in September.
It is the first of a fleet of new MC-130Js Lockheed Martin is building to replace Air Force Special Operations Command’s legacy MC-130Ps. The aircraft will support covert insertion and resupply of special operations forces.
AFSOC plans to field the first operational unit of MC-130Js by 2012. Lockheed is under contract to build 15 MC-130Js.
Guam’s Island Fortress
The Air Force is planning to harden facilities at its strategic western Pacific hub on Andersen AFB, Guam, Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, told lawmakers April 7.
In Fiscal 2012, USAF plans to reinforce infrastructure “that includes both facilities and, importantly, utilities,” such as “making sure that we have some redundancy and resilience in the fuel supplies,” Schwartz told the House Appropriations Committee’s military construction panel. Plans exist to disperse assets “at outlying locations around Guam” in time of conflict as well, noted Schwartz.
USAF has earmarked funds “to the tune of $25 million” for these efforts in 2012, matched by similar amounts this year.
Additionally, there’s “about $147 million” programmed in Fiscal 2012 for a munitions facility, an aircraft rinse and wash facility, and a fuel maintenance facility at Andersen, Schwartz said, adding that such infrastructure is needed “to operate a major airdrome like Andersen … in a tropical area.”
Warthog’s Seaside Splash
An A-10 may have chalked up a first-ever attack against a maritime target, attacking two Libyan ships engaged in indiscriminate firing on merchant vessels in the Libyan port of Misratah in March.
“While we know of no other recorded instance in which the A-10 was used to attack a maritime target, this is not something that could be officially verified,” an Air Force spokesman said.
“A-10s have never [before] attacked surface ships or other maritime targets,” another spokesman confirmed in April.
Hawker Beechcraft’s AT-6 is undergoing weapons certification testing at the Air Force’s Barry Goldwater Range in Arizona.
Flown by members of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command Test Center staging from the nearby Gila Bend Auxiliary Field, the AT-6 began the trials with inert bomblets, 2.75 mm aerial rockets, and a .50-caliber machine gun in April.
“[We had] a few hung rockets, and with the 50-cal., the biggest thing we’ve learned is that this airplane is bounced around a bit more. But at the end of the day, things are going well,” said test pilot Lt. Col. Keith Colmer, the project’s engineering director.
The AT-6 will progress to laser guided bombs in June, followed by Hellfire missile and laser guided rocket testing in October at Eglin AFB, Fla., and China Lake, Calif.
The trials are the second phase of a congressionally funded evaluation.
Raptor Vs. Talon
The 1st Fighter Wing at JB Langley-Eustis, Va., welcomed its first of seven planned T-38 Talon trainer aircraft on April 1.
Transferred from Holloman AFB, N.M., the first T-38 forms the basis of Langley’s new Talon Adversary Air Program, providing lower cost aggressors to square off against the wing’s F-22s in training.
“This T-38 program is a very economical solution to a difficult problem,” said Lt. Col. Derek Wyler, adversary program leader.
With fewer fourth generation fighters available in USAF’s inventory, the impetus to find a suitable aggressor increased, making the Talon’s arrival a relief.
“The T-38 is small, nimble, and difficult to find in the air,” said 1st Fighter Wing Commander Col. Matthew H. Molloy, adding that the T-38 “will punish a Raptor pilot’s mistakes.”
The remaining six T-38s are due in the coming months.
Escape From Hidden Mountain
A UH-1N Huey helicopter assigned to the 58th Special Operations Wing crashed on a routine training flight from its base at Kirtland AFB, N.M.
The aircrew escaped the wreckage unscathed before flames consumed the helicopter just before noon local time, April 27, according to KRQE News in Albuquerque.
Two instructor pilots, a flight engineer instructor, and a student were conducting combat search and rescue training when the helicopter crashed and burned on a slope of Hidden Mountain, roughly 25 miles southwest of Kirtland, according to KRQE.
The Air Force is convening a board of inquiry to investigate the cause of the mishap.
Global Hawk Trips Nunn-McCurdy
DOD informed Congress that the costs of USAF’s RQ-4 Global Hawk program mushroomed through the end of 2010, triggering a “critical” breach of the Nunn-McCurdy cost-monitoring thresholds.
The aircraft’s program acquisition unit cost increased 14 percent compared to its current cost baseline, and its average procurement unit cost rose 22.8 percent, according to DOD selected acquisition reports published April 15.
As a result, the Pentagon must review the program and has to certify to Congress by June 14 that its continuation is vital to national security.
The decision to reduce the planned buy of Block 40 Global Hawks and to replace them with more expensive Block 30 airframes was the primary culprit for the cost spike, according to DOD.
Pentagon officials anticipated the breach last year and have already begun making some changes, DOD said.
Bones Can Hurt More
A B-1B Multiple Ejector Rack now in testing could enable the bomber to deliver four times as many precision guided munitions as the B-52.
Today’s B-1s carry twice as many PGMs as the B-52, but the new bomb rack would increase the Lancer’s loadout 220 percent, from 15 to 48 500-pound weapons.
The rack can host an array of different weapons simultaneously, making it possible for B-1 crews to answer calls for variety of munitions on a single mission.
“B-1 operators have the ability to conduct numerous individual attacks and massive air strikes as needed, without needing to stop to reload,” explained TSgt. David Koscienski, weapons suitability noncommissioned officer in charge with the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Dyess AFB, Tex.
Aircrews tested the rack successfully on a B-1 in late March at California’s China Lake Missile Range.
Final Minuteman Complete
Airmen from the 341st Missile Maintenance Squadron at Malmstrom AFB, Mont., installed the final upgraded Minuteman III ICBM, complete with new propellant and internal components, in its silo.
“We’re relieved it’s done,” said SSgt. Matthew Truitt, 341st MMXS missile handling team chief, who was responsible for lowering the 68,000-pound missile into launch facility Juliet-09 on April 6.
The Air Force added new propellant to the boosters on its fleet of 450 Minuteman III missiles under the Propulsion Replacement Program. The changes were part of the modifications to keep these missiles viable out to at least 2020.
Known as “2012 boosters,” the initial 100 originally received new propellant, but no internal refit. Now that the Air Force has fit those missiles with the extra internal components, the missiles become “2020 boosters,” bringing them in line with Minuteman missiles upgraded later in the series.
Nuclear Units Realign
Air Force Materiel Command munitions squadrons responsible for nuclear support will transfer to Air Force Global Strike Command over the next year, announced USAF officials April 27.
Placed under AFMC at the outset of the service’s efforts to reinvigorate its nuclear enterprise, AFGSC is now mature and “capable of integrating the munitions function into the larger nuclear mission,” explained Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz. To minimize disruptions to operations and personnel, the squadrons will remain in place.
Affected units are: the 798th Munitions Maintenance Group at Minot AFB, N.D.; 498th MUMG at Whiteman AFB, Mo.; 15th Munitions Squadron at F. E. Warren AFB, Wyo.; 16th MUNS at Malmstrom AFB, Mont.; 17th MUNS at Minot; 19th MUNS at Whiteman; 498th Nuclear Systems Wing at Kirtland AFB, N.M.; and 798th MUMG, Det. 1, at Vandenberg AFB, Calif.
Liberty for Beale
Beale AFB, Calif., will be the Stateside home of USAF’s MC-12W Liberty fleet, Air Force officials announced April 8.
“We have a long history of operating intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance weapon systems, and we are ready to add MC-12W to our Beale fleet,” said Brig. Gen. Paul H. McGillicuddy, Beale’s 9th Reconnaissance Wing commander.
Initially, airmen will use seven aircraft there for mission-qualification training, while the bulk of the fleet remains deployed overseas.
The Air Force identified Beale last July as the preferred beddown location, pending the completion of environmental impact studies.
USAF operates 37 MC-12s for overhead ISR support to ground forces. Previously, MC-12 training was conducted at Key Field, Miss.
Beale already hosts U-2s and RQ-4 Global Hawk operations, and MC-12s will begin arriving early this summer.
Combat Shadows to Cannon
Officials with the 27th Special Operations Wing activated the 522nd Special Operations Squadron in a ceremony at Cannon AFB, N.M.
The 522nd SOS will be USAF’s first unit assigned to fly the MC-130J Combat Shadow II, due to begin operations in 2012.
The unit’s role will be covert infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of special operations forces in hostile and denied regions.
“We will commit ourselves to excellence, be dedicated and courageous, and we will always lead the way,” said Lt. Col. Paul Pendleton, who took command of the re-formed unit, whose history dates to World War II. Pendleton received the unit’s laurelled guidon from 27th Special Operations Group acting commander Col. Charles Myers at the stand-up April 7.
Known as the “Fireballs,” the 522nd SOS was one of the most decorated air units in World War II.
Droning on at Ellsworth
Officials at Ellsworth AFB, S.D., have activated Det. 1 of the 28th Operations Group. It will manage the lead-up to activating an MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft squadron at the base next year.
“The base itself will undergo changes to facilitate a smooth transition as the new detachment paves the way for the incoming RPA squadron,” said Col. Jeffrey B. Taliaferro, 28th Bomb Wing commander. He added, “We are on track with the critical events and activities that need to be completed before the squadron flies its first combat air patrol next year.”
The Air Force announced its decision to bring an MQ-9 unit to Ellsworth last June.
The base expects to add 280 civilian and military personnel to operate Reapers supporting contingency operations overseas. The squadron is slated to begin operations in May 2012.
Fightin’ Eagles Win Raytheon Trophy
The 27th Fighter Squadron at JB Langley-Eustis, Va., won the 2010 Raytheon Trophy as the Air Force’s most outstanding air superiority squadron.
The F-22 unit known as the “Fightin’ Eagles” deployed more than 200 days last year to the west Pacific in a US Pacific Command Theater security package and for exercises at the United Arab Emirates’ Air Warfare Center.
The 27th FS is the first F-22 unit to win the coveted air superiority trophy.
Milestone for Resupply
The State Department announced completion of the 1,000th US aerial supply mission to Afghanistan transiting Russian airspace.
The flights have brought “over 150,000 personnel” to Afghanistan in support of international efforts there, according to the State Department’s release April 20.
A bilateral agreement beginning July 2009 has made these flights possible, adding much-needed additional capacity and flexibility to US Transportation Command’s flow of troops and materiel into the land-locked nation to sustain US and NATO forces.
Access to Russian airspace allows modern commercial freighters and military transports to fly directly from bases in the United States over the North Pole en route to airfields in Afghanistan.
The US has no plans to discontinue flights anytime soon, according to the State Department.
Lear Back at Scott
Scott AFB, Ill., is reclaiming the Air Force’s sole C-21A schoolhouse from Keesler AFB, Miss.
This move centralizes the bulk of C-21 functions at Scott, which had hosted the training mission for the militarized Learjet transports until the early 1990s.
The Air Force aims to cut the fleet from 56 aircraft to 28 by Fiscal 2013. As part of these changes, Scott’s 458th Airlift Squadron assumes responsibility for training in addition to conducting operational airlift.
The squadron will designate two of its existing airframes for training. The first initial qualification class began at Scott in early April. Instructor pilot training is set to begin in July.
Residing under Scott’s 375th Operations Group, which manages the C-21 fleet, the 458th AS realignment designates the base as the “focal point for all things C-21,” said Col. Terry Ward, 375th OG commander.
Air Guard Unit Activated
The Mississippi Air National Guard activated the 286th Air Operations Group at Key Field in Meridian to support the homeland defense and domestic disaster-response missions of the Continental US NORAD Region and 1st Air Force (Air Forces Northern) at Tyndall AFB, Fla.
The new group belongs to Key Field’s 186th Air Refueling Wing, which is losing its KC-135 tankers under BRAC 2005.
“The 286th will be able to rapidly augment our organization in the event of an emerging natural disaster or air threat to homeland security, and having this manpower pool and technical expertise will greatly enhance our ability to respond at a moment’s notice,” said Maj. Gen Garry C. Dean, CONR-1st Air Force commander.
The group activated at Key Field April 8. Key is also slated to host C-27J transports filling in behind the KC-135 mission.
Pararescueman Awarded DFC
SSgt. John Hatzidakis, a pararescue instructor with the 342nd Training Squadron at Lackland AFB, Tex., received the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device for combat actions near Lashkar Gah, in southern Afghanistan, on March 19, 2009.
During the evacuation of a critically wounded British soldier to Camp Bastion, a rocket-propelled grenade struck Hatzidakis’ HH-60G rescue helicopter, severely damaging the tail.
Initially blown back by the explosion as he was attending to the soldier’s wounds, Hatzidakis quickly recovered, using his body to shield the Brit from flying debris.
He then checked to see if any of the five crewmen needed medical attention before assisting with the damage assessment. “I was just doing my job and what I thought was right,” said Hatzidakis.
Hatzidakis was awarded the DFC in a ceremony at Lackland, April 18.
Bronze Star Medals Awarded
MSgt. Benjamin Horton, an explosive ordnance disposal airman, was awarded three Bronze Star Medals for his actions in Afghanistan.
Assigned to the 775th Civil Engineer Squadron at Hill AFB, Utah, Horton was credited for saving lives as an EOD team leader, clearing improvised explosive devices for coalition forces in theater.
In one incident, a nearby blast rendered Horton temporarily blind. Despite the trauma, he remained calm, holding his position until assistance reached him.
After his sight returned, he saved a unit from entering an IED-laden alleyway and performed post-blast analysis before leaving the scene due to injury.
In the same ceremony April 18, SSgt. Keith V. Green, another EOD specialist with the 775th CES, was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for his service as an EOD team leader in Afghanistan.
Adm. Michael G. Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented the Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device to three pararescuemen in a ceremony at Nellis AFB, Nev.
Mullen individually recognized TSgt. Jeffrey Hedglin, TSgt. Ryan Manjuck, and SSgt. Asher Woodhouse for their courage under fire, rescuing three wounded US soldiers in Afghanistan June 3, 2010.
Assigned to Nellis’ 58th Rescue Squadron, Hedglin carried a wounded soldier more than 80 feet across open terrain, Manjuk hoisted the casualties into the hovering helicopter, and Woodhouse spotted surface-to-air fire for the aircrew.
“I’m accepting this award on behalf of the rescue community as a whole,” said Hedglin, Guardian Angel team leader, during the April 14 ceremony.
Airman’s Remains Identified
The Defense Department identified the remains of 2nd Lt. Martin P. Murray, a 21-year-old World War II airman from Lowell, Mass. He had been missing in action for 68 years. Murray’s remains were returned to his family for burial with full military honors in Marshfield, Mass., in April.
Murray was one of 11 airmen lost Oct. 27, 1943, when their B-24D bomber disappeared over Papua New Guinea during a reconnaissance mission.
DOD investigators excavated the Papua New Guinea crash site in 2007, after a local citizen alerted a team about the wreck several years earlier.
Two of Murray’s crewmates, SSgt. Claude A. Ray and SSgt. Claude G. Tyler, had also been recovered in 2007 and were buried last October.
Remains of WWII Airman Identified
The Defense Department identified the remains of TSgt. James G. Maynard, an airman missing in action since World War II. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, April 22.
Maynard was part of a six-man crew aboard a C-47A Skytrain that departed from Tanauan Airfield in the Philippines, March 12, 1945.
As soon as the aircraft was cleared for takeoff, all communication was severed, and after a failed search, the men were presumed killed.
Though US officials received word in 1989 of the crash site near Leyte, where Tanauan was located, regional unrest had prevented investigation and recovery operations.
US Forces Kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told hundreds of airmen at Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., May 6, that Osama bin Laden’s death “could be a game changer” in Afghanistan. However, it could take six months to determine the full impact his death will have for the US combat forces operating in theater.
US special operations forces killed the terrorist leader May 1 following a firefight inside his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, roughly 35 miles north of the capital city Islamabad.
“Bin Laden and [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar had a very close personal relationship, [but] there are others in the Taliban who have felt betrayed by al Qaeda. [They feel] it was because of al Qaeda’s attack on the United States that the Taliban got thrown out of Afghanistan,” Gates said in his first public comments on the raid.
The world’s most wanted man, who had eluded US capture for nearly a decade and was widely believed to be hiding underground in a remote region near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, had been living in a heavily fortified compound near Pakistan’s military academy.
The three-story compound was roughly eight times the size of other houses in the neighborhood. Barbed-wire-topped walls reaching up to 18 feet high surrounded it. Seven-foot privacy walls shielded its balconies and all the windows were blacked out.
Its occupants were known to burn their trash rather than placing it out for collection like other residents in the area. Bin Laden and his family were believed to be living on the second and third floors, while several other families resided on the first floor.
The compound was “unlike most other residences in the Abbottabad area” and was “designed to obscure lines of sight from multiple directions,” Pentagon officials said.
In an address to the nation late May 1, Obama said he was first briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden’s whereabouts in August 2010. After months of US personnel running down leads, Obama said he determined there was “enough intelligence to take action,” and therefore “authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.”
“Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound,” Obama said. “A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”
ABC News reported after the raid that Obama initially authorized a plan for two B-2 stealth bombers to drop several 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions on the compound, but he nixed the plan when he realized the compound would be reduced to rubble, leaving no evidence bin Laden actually was killed. Recovering the body was key.
Senior intelligence officials said US personnel verified bin Laden’s identity after he was shot by the team of US Navy SEALs during the raid. Bin Laden was unarmed but attempting to evade capture when he was killed. Also killed were his son, two couriers, and a woman who was caught in the crossfire on the compound’s first floor. A bin Laden wife rushed a special operator and was shot in the leg, but was not killed. None of the children living in the compound sustained injuries.
Obama said he decided not to release photos of the body, but the Administration plans to do everything in its power to ensure the American people and the world can be confident that bin Laden is indeed dead.
Special operators were able to visibly identify bin Laden and CIA agents compared photos of the body to known photos of the terrorist leader. One of his wives called him by his name during the operation, and there was a “virtually 100 percent” DNA match of the body against DNA of several bin Laden family members, officials said.
The SEALs took the body with them when they left the Abbottabad compound, and officials said within 24 hours, US forces prepared Osama bin Laden’s body according to Islamic tradition. They wrapped his body in a white sheet and weighted bag, and delivered it to the sea from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during the early morning hours of May 2.
The United States buried bin Laden at sea because officials were wary of creating a shrine to the al Qaeda terrorist leader, whose minions on 9/11 carried out the worst terrorist attack on US soil. “There was no available alternative in terms of a country that was willing to accept the body, and we took pains to ensure that we were compliant with Muslim tradition and law,” officials said at a Pentagon briefing.
Although Pakistan provided information that was included in the intelligence assessment, Pakistani officials were not informed of the operation until all US personnel and assets were safe, according to the intelligence officials. “It’s inconceivable that bin Laden did not have a support system in the country that allowed him to remain there,” said John Brennan, assistant to the President for homeland security and counterterrorism, during a briefing at the White House May 2. However, Brennan declined to speculate on Pakistani officials’ knowledge or complicity in the situation.
Brennan called President Obama’s decision to authorize the mission against bin Laden “one of the most gutsiest calls of any President in recent memory.” The Intelligence Community had built a solid case of “circumstantial evidence” based on information gathered from multiple detainees over a number of years and various other efforts to run the information to the ground, said Brennan. However, officials did not have proof bin Laden was actually in the compound.
Brennan said the “minutes passed like days” inside the Situation Room as the President and his team watched the 40-minute operation unfold. “It was probably one of the most anxiety-filled periods of time,” he said.
Pentagon officials said the CIA is in the process of setting up a task force to review “quite a bit of materials” collected at the scene, which they hope will lead to other high-ranking al Qaeda members. Computers, CDs, flash drives, and videos were collected, constituting an enormously valuable intelligence cache.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the terrorist network’s reign of violence will not end with bin Laden’s death, although it marks a significant milestone in the war on terror. She, and other senior leaders, said the United States remains committed to its partnership with Pakistan.
“Our message to the Taliban remains the same, but today it may have even greater resonance: You cannot wait us out. You cannot defeat us. But you can make the choice to abandon al Qaeda and participate in a peaceful political process,” she said during a televised press conference.
Nine Americans Die After Attack in Kabul
A disgruntled Afghan Air Force officer, reportedly upset over his finances, began an argument with one of his US air advisors in a building at Kabul Airport in Afghanistan on April 27. What happened next was a tragedy that left nine Americans dead.
The veteran Afghan pilot pulled out a weapon and attacked the group of assembled US air advisors. Killed were eight USAF airmen and one US contractor.
All eight airmen were deployed to the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing at the Kabul airport, helping to train, advise, and assist the nascent Afghan Air Force.
The 438th AEW’s advisors help instruct AAF personnel to operate the Mi-17 transport helicopter, the Mi-35 attack helicopter, and the C-27 Spartan light transport. The wing is part of the NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan (NATC-A).
The airmen killed were:
Lt. Col. Frank D. Bryant Jr., 37, of Knoxville, Tenn., who was assigned to the 56th Operations Group at Luke AFB, Ariz.
Maj. Philip D. Ambard, 44, of Edmonds, Wash., an assistant professor of foreign languages at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Maj. Jeffrey O. Ausborn, 41, of Gadsden, Ala., a C-27 instructor pilot assigned to the 99th Flying Training Squadron at Randolph AFB, Tex.
Maj. David L. Brodeur, 34, of Auburn, Mass., an 11th Air Force executive officer at JB Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
Maj. Raymond G. Estelle II, 40, of New Haven, Conn., who was assigned to Air Combat Command headquarters at JB Langley-Eustis, Va.
Maj. Charles A. Ransom, 31, of Midlothian, Va., a member of the 83rd Network Operations Squadron at Langley-Eustis (posthumously promoted to the rank of major on May 3).
Capt. Nathan J. Nylander, 35, of Hockley, Tex., who was assigned to the 25th Operational Weather Squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.
MSgt. Tara R. Brown, 33, of Deltona, Fla., who was assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations at JB Andrews, Md.
Ambard, Brown, Estelle, and Ransom all worked in communications with the advisors and Afghan personnel at the airport, 438th AEW spokesman Capt. Jamie Humphries told Air Force Magazine.
Brodeur, an F-16 pilot by background, was training and advising the Afghans on how to develop their command and control center.
Ausborn, also a pilot, advised on the C2 center in addition to helping with C-27 instruction.
Nylander, a weather control officer, helped manage the wing’s interpreter program.
The US civilian who died was James McLaughlin Jr., 55, of Santa Rosa, Calif. He was a contractor and retired Army lieutenant colonel who worked for MPRI, a division of L3 Communications, helping with helicopter flight instruction.
ISAF identified the shooter as Ahmad Gul, 50, a veteran Afghan pilot from Tarakhail district in Kabul province. During the incident, Gul was “severely wounded” before he left the room where the initial attack took place, said ISAF officials based on initial findings of their investigation. Gul appeared to be carrying two weapons, they said.
He was later found dead at a different location within the building.
The USAF airmen were armed and their weapons were “loaded with magazines,” as per the NATO training mission guidance, said Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, head of the NATO training mission April 30.
Humphries said the incident remains under investigation. He said he could not address any specific policy or security changes at the Kabul airport or across the NATC-A in response to the shooting, due to operational security concerns.
“The entire Air Force family is saddened by this loss, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of these brave airmen,” said Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley, Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, and CMSAF James A. Roy in a joint statement on the day following the tragedy.
“We will continue to advise and work towards our goal of helping the Afghan Air Force set conditions for a professional, fully independent, and operationally capable Afghan Air Force,” stated spokesman Humphries.
—Marc V. Schanz
The War on Terrorism
Operation Enduring Freedom—Afghanistan
By May 18, a total of 1,569 Americans had died in Operation Enduring Freedom. The total includes 1,567 troops and two Department of Defense civilians. Of these deaths, 1,227 were killed in action with the enemy while 342 died in noncombat incidents.
Airmen responded to a landslide in Afghanistan’s Balkh province in April, airlifting 17,000 pounds of relief supplies to victims.
Members of the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron worked with Army quartermasters at Bagram Air Base, packing 16 pallets of food, water, and essentials onto C-130s for delivery to the northern province, bordering Uzbekistan, April 7.
“It’s been a long day, but this morning we got the opportunity to help … after a natural disaster, which is what we do back home,” said Capt. Chris Armstrong, a navigator with the expeditionary unit deployed from the Texas Air National Guard’s 181st Airlift Squadron in Fort Worth.
The landslide inundated nearly 100 homes in the region, destroying crops and farmland. “At the end of the day, it isn’t just a war we are fighting here, but we are also here to help,” said Army Pfc. Kenneth Bosch.
Medevacs With Afghan Choppers
A combined team of Afghan airmen from the Kandahar Air Wing and USAF advisors conducted the first dedicated Mi-17 medical evacuation mission in the nascent wing’s history.
Flying from Afghan Air Force’s Kandahar Air Base in the southwest Afghanistan, two Mi-17s dispatched to bring an Afghan National Army officer with compound leg fractures from nearby Camp Bastion to Kandahar, April 11.
“This mission demonstrated key teamwork, cooperation, and the communication we’ve been training for, and the results were flawless,” said Maj. Charla Quayle of the 738th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron, an advisor aboard the evacuation helicopter carrying the patient.
The transfer was the first test of the AAF medics’ new communications system and also provided them an opportunity to demonstrate their clinical capabilities.
|Predators Over Libya
Two days after the Defense Department revealed that armed MQ-1 Predators began operations over Libya, NATO announced the first series of attacks by the remotely piloted aircraft against Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s forces April 23.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates divulged President Obama’s approval of using armed drones in Libya on April 21, stating in a Pentagon briefing that Predators have “a very limited additional role” consistent with Obama’s aim to supply unique US capabilities to the NATO mission.
In the first strike, a Predator carrying two Hellfire air-to-surface missiles destroyed a multiple rocket launcher near the city of Misratah. Qaddafi forces had used it against civilians. In the second incident, a Predator took out an SA-8 surface-to-air missile in Tripoli. In the latter case, officials noted that Predator operators detected civilians near the missile, and delayed their attack until the bystanders dispersed.
Unarmed Predators previously flew surveillance missions over Libya, but “the character of the fight has changed,” necessitating the addition of armed orbits, Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, Joint Chiefs vice chairman said at the Pentagon briefing.
With Libyan dictator Qaddafi’s forces “digging in or nestling up against crowded areas” to avoid air attack, Predators enable urban strikes with less fear of collateral damage.
|Firefight in the Old Southwest
Under the direction of US Northern Command, six specially equipped Air Force C-130s tackled some 32 uncontrolled wildfires in Texas alone and more in Mexico’s Coahuila state.
Two Air Force Reserve Command Hercules from the 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson AFB, Colo., entered the fray first, deploying to Laughin AFB, Tex., reinforced days later by four Air National Guard C-130s.
As of April 27, C-130s had flown 64 missions, releasing thousands of gallons of fire retardant and suppressant on fires in Texas and Mexico using the self-contained Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS).
Since arriving April 17, four of the aircraft had dropped a total of 90,000 gallons of retardant in an attempt to control fires across 993,000 acres in Texas alone.
Air Guard units from North Carolina’s 145th Airlift Wing, California’s 146th AW, and Wyoming’s 153rd AW staged from Dyess AFB, Tex., to battle blazes across that state.
Reserve assets focused primarily on supporting fires in the state of Coahuila, across the border, at the request of Mexico’s government.
MAFFS discharges roughly 3,000 gallons of suppressant in five seconds, drenching a 60-foot swath a quarter-mile long, from standard operating altitudes, refilling in less than 12 minutes.
|Working the B-52 Details
“We are still working through exactly how” a portion of the B-52 bomber fleet will be converted to conventional-only roles, James N. Miller, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces panel in May.
The conversion would allow the United States to exclude some 30 B-52s from counting as nuclear delivery platforms under the New START agreement with Russia. The move would also help the US meet its overall nuclear force structure targets.
Officials will propose the conversion plan at some point to US treaty-compliance experts for approval, said Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of US Strategic Command, testifying with Miller.
The proposal will make clear that the B-52s are “not capable of carrying or delivering nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that “we believe we have a good way to do that, that still allows them to be capable for conventional missions.”
After approval, US officials will exhibit a B-52, per the treaty’s terms, for Russian inspectors to physically view the conversion.
Senior Staff Changes
RETIREMENTS: Maj. Gen. John M. Howlett, Brig. Gen. David H. Cyr.
NOMINATIONS: TO BE LIEUTENANT GENERAL: Brooks L. Bash, Stephen L. Hoog, Jan Marc Jouas. TO BE MAJOR GENERAL: Mark A. Atkinson, William J. Bender, Brian T. Bishop, Christopher C. Bogdan, Michael J. Carey, John B. Cooper, Samuel D. Cox, Barbara J. Faulkenberry, Russell J. Handy, Michael A. Keltz, Steven L. Kwast, Frederick H. Martin, Thomas J. Masiello, Earl D. Matthews, Robert P. Otto, John W. Raymond, Darryl L. Roberson, Anthony J. Rock, Jay G. Santee, Rowayne A. Schatz Jr., John F. Thompson, Thomas J. Trask, Joseph S. Ward Jr., Jack Weinstein, Robert E. Wheeler, Martin Whelan, Stephen W. Wilson, Tod D. Wolters, Timothy M. Zadalis.
CHANGES: Brig. Gen. Robert J. Beletic, from Dep. Cmdr., Canadian NORAD, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, to Vice Cmdr., 1st Air Force, ACC, Tyndall AFB, Fla. … Maj. Gen. (sel.) Brian T. Bishop, from Dep. Dir., Politico-Mil. Affairs (Western Hemisphere), Jt. Staff, Washington, D.C., to C/S, UN Command, US Forces-Korea, Yongsan Army Garrison, South Korea … Brig. Gen. Randy A. Kee, from Cmdr., 379th AEW, ACC, Southwest Asia, to Dep. Dir., Politico-Mil. Affairs (Western Hemisphere), Jt. Staff, Washington, D.C. … Brig. Gen. Jeffrey G. Lofgren, from Dep. Dir., Ops., NORTHCOM, Peterson AFB, Colo., to Cmdr., 380th AEW, ACC, Southwest Asia … Brig. Gen. Edward M. Minahan, from Cmdr., 380th AEW, ACC, Southwest Asia, to Principal Dir., Middle East Policy, Office of the USD, Policy, OSD, Pentagon … Brig. Gen. Kenneth E. Todorov, from Dir., Standing Jt. Force, NORTHCOM, Peterson AFB, Colo., to Dep. Dir., Protection, NORTHCOM, Peterson AFB, Colo. … Maj. Gen. Lawrence L. Wells, from DCS, UN Command, US Forces-Korea, Yongsan Army Garrison, South Korea, to Cmdr., 9th AF, ACC, Shaw AFB, S.C.
SENIOR EXECUTIVE SERVICE CHANGES: Andrew D. Cox, to Dir., Space Protection Prgm., AFSPC, Peterson AFB, Colo. … Darrell F. Zimbelman, to Prgm. Dir., Electro-Optical Imagery Satellite Sys., NRO, Chantilly, Va.
Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, and Turkey—the seven launch customers for Airbus Military’s A400M transport—signed final contract amendments in Seville, Spain, April 7, paving the way for production to begin. The first aircraft should be delivered in 2013, to France.
A Lockheed Martin F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing test aircraft autonomously settled down to a vertical landing from hover for the first time in early April, according to Pratt & Whitney. The auto-landing was the F-35’s 74th vertical landing test overall.
Australia signed an agreement with the US government to acquire a fifth C-17 transport via foreign military sales, announced Boeing, April 18. The airframe will bolster Australia’s humanitarian and disaster-relief capabilities, operating from RAAF Amberley, near Brisbane.
Lockheed Martin delivered the second production C-5M to the Air Force from its production line at Marietta, Ga., April 11. The aircraft, which is the fifth to join the fleet overall, was ferried to Stewart ANGB, N.Y., for final interior touches before traveling to its home base at Dover, Del.
Col. Lenny Dick and Robert McCutchen Jr. attained 5,000 flying hours in the F-16, a feat only two other Viper pilots have attained. Dick is vice commander of the ANG Reserve Command Test Center, and McCutchen is assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke AFB, Ariz., where he serves as special assistant to the wing commander.
A Russian Air Force delegation led by its Chief, Col.-Gen. Alexander Nikolayevich Zelin, visited Barksdale AFB, La., meeting with Global Strike Command officials April 4. The Counterpart Visit Program aims to strengthen bilateral relations, providing leaders a view into programs of mutual interest.
NASA’s ER-2 research aircraft began temporary operations from Offutt AFB, Neb., in late April. Part of a NASA project to improve predictions by weather satellites, the aircraft will fly sorties gathering data on weather patterns over Oklahoma through early June.
The in-flight depressurization of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 over Arizona, April 1, prompted USAF to inspect its fleet of 737-based C-40Bs. The executive transports, assigned to the 89th Airlift Wing at JB Andrews, Md., were determined to be in excellent condition.
The Air Force Phased Array Warning System known as Pave PAWS averted evacuation of the International Space Station, April 5. The radar network detected and tracked a six-inch chunk of debris, determining it would pass by the ISS harmlessly.
US Southern Command opened a command center on April 19 at NAS Key West, Fla., to combat illicit narcotics and other trafficking in Central and South America. The unit will coordinate all US air and sea assets, cooperating with international partners.
About 60 airmen joined 150 Congolese military personnel in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for a two-week aeromedical evacuation exercise sponsored by US 17th Air Force, Air Forces Africa.