Guardsmen Pull Disaster Duty
Thousands of Air and Army National Guardsmen assisted local communities in June to deal with severe flooding that devastated large areas of the Midwest. On June 19 alone, more than 5,700 National Guard members were engaged in relief efforts in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Wisconsin.
Further, Air National Guard RC-26 surveillance aircraft provided real-time overhead video and high-quality still photos to help local and state officials assess the flood damage.
Two North Carolina Air National Guard C-130 transport aircraft equipped with modular airborne firefighting systems also flew to California on June 23 to assist other National Guard forces from within and outside the state fight raging wildfires.
Updated CSAR-X Bids In
Boeing, Lockheed Martin-led Team US101, and Sikorsky turned in their updated bids for the combat search and rescue replacement vehicle, or CSAR-X, helicopter competition in late May.
USAF is now in the midst of evaluating the revised proposals and will determine, for the second time, whether Boeing’s HH-47, Lockheed’s US101, or Sikorsky’s HH-92 is the best-suited rescue platform to replace aging HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters. Boeing is the reigning champ, winning the original competition in November 2006. But two subsequent successful protests with the Government Accountability Office by Lockheed and Sikorsky prompted the Air Force to accept the revised bids and pick again.
USAF didn’t say specifically by when it expects to announce the winner, but outside observers predict it will be around October. The Air Force wants to field the first CSAR-X squadron between early Fiscal 2013 and late Fiscal 2014, a potential slip over the original schedule.
Missile Wings, Badges Return
Effective July 1, the Air Force’s three Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile wings reverted from space wings back to their pre-1997 designation as missile wings.
Then-Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley announced the decision on June 6, along with a second change to re-emphasize the “absolute importance” of the strategic nuclear mission within USAF: the return of the missile badge with operations designator for ICBM crews.
Air Force Space Command, which oversees the ICBM units, curtailed use of the “Pocket Rocket” missile badge in 2005, replacing it with a single all-encompassing Space Badge for all space operators, similar to the wings worn by pilots, whether they fly fighters, bombers, or mobility aircraft.
More T-Bird Contracts Slammed
Air Force officials violated federal acquisition regulations in seven of eight contracts worth $57.2 million awarded between October 2003 and October 2005 to support the Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team, the Pentagon’s inspector general reported May 20.
The eight contracts included the now-defunct $49.9 million Thunderbirds Air Show Production Services deal. The transgressions ranged from awarding contracts without seeking competition to not establishing a fair and reasonable price, the IG said. Underlying the issues was the perception that senior Air Force military officers “had used the powers of their positions to impose their preferences” on contracting officers, the IG wrote.
In response, a USAF spokesman said the service has acted on every IG recommendation and was committed to “contracting processes that are fair, lawful, and provide the American people the best value for their tax dollar.”
USAF Orders Special C-130Js
The Air Force on June 13 ordered the first six of what could be more than 100 new modified C-130J aircraft to recapitalize aging HC-130 and MC-130 fleets in roles as tankers for the service’s combat search and rescue and special operations forces.
Lockheed Martin will provide the aircraft based on a modified version of the KC-130J tanker used by the Marine Corps. Toward that end, USAF awarded $470 million to procure the six airframes in Fiscal 2009 and long-lead materiel.
F-35 STOVL Flies in Test
BF-1, the first F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing test aircraft, took to the skies for the first time June 11, logging a historic inaugural flight of 44 minutes from Lockheed’s F-35 assembly facility in Fort Worth, Tex.
The aircraft’s propulsion system operated only in conventional mode, as flights including transitions to short takeoffs, hovers, and vertical landings will not begin until early 2009. BF-1 joins AA-1, the first F-35A conventional takeoff and landing test aircraft that already had more than 40 flights under its belt as of mid-June.
The Department of Defense awarded Lockheed Martin $2.2 billion in May for the purchase of the six F-35As and six F-35Bs that will be built during the program’s second production lot. Authorization for construction of the six F-35Bs was contingent upon a successful flight of BF-1.
Pave Low Pilot Wins Safety Award
Lt. Col. Eugene V. Becker, an MH-53M Pave Low helicopter pilot with the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., in June received the 2008 Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy, the Air Force’s top safety award.
Becker received the award for saving the lives of his seven crew members by successfully bringing his Pave Low down under extremely difficult circumstances after it experienced a catastrophic mechanical failure during a nighttime tactical training mission on Sept. 7, 2007. The helicopter was heavily damaged in the crash.
Orbital SBIRS Payload Checks Out
The second highly elliptical orbit payload in the Space Based Infrared System early warning satellite constellation passed its on-orbit checkout successfully, the Air Force and prime contractor Lockheed Martin announced in June.
HEO-2, as it is known, “meets or exceeds specifications,” the company said June 20. Officials at the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles AFB, Calif., said HEO-2 is delivering about 10 times better sensitivity and up to five times faster revisit capability as legacy Defense Support Program early warning satellites.
HEO-2 was scheduled to undergo months of additional testing. Meanwhile, missile warning alerts from the first SBIRS payload on orbit, HEO-1, were expected to join the DSP messaging system provided to warfighters by September, USAF said.
Missouri Guard Begins B-2 Flights
Airmen of the Missouri Air National Guard’s 131st Bomb Wing (formerly the 131st Fighter Wing) performed their first solo B-2A stealth bomber sortie on June 18. Air Guard crew chiefs launched the aircraft flown by Air Guard pilots in the first all-ANG mission under a new classic associate arrangement between the 131st BW and the active duty 509th BW at Whiteman AFB, Mo.
In 2006, USAF decided to pair the Air Guardsmen with the Whiteman B-2 bomber force after BRAC 2005 directed the demise of the 131st’s fighter mission. The Air Guard hadn’t flown bombers since 2001 when the Air Force reorganized its B-1B force, eliminating two ANG bomb wings.
Currently, the 131st has seven pilots qualified for the B-2A and expects to have 25 pilots and nearly 500 maintenance, operations, and support staff at Whiteman.
Judge Rejects Illinois BRAC Suit
A federal judge in June once again rejected Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich’s lawsuit to prevent the Illinois Air National Guard’s 183rd Fighter Wing from losing its F-16s under BRAC 2005.
US District Judge Richard Mills on June 13 dismissed the state’s last-ditch attempt to thwart the transfer of the wing’s 15 F-16s from Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield to the Indiana ANG’s 122nd FW at Fort Wayne Airport. Blagojevich has argued that, as governor, only he and not the Department of Defense has the authority to order such a move.
Twice before, a federal judge dismissed Blagojevich’s suit on procedural grounds. But in March, the governor won an appeal that moved the case back to court to be measured on its merit. Without a turn of events, all of the wing’s F-16s aircraft are expected to be gone in September.
2018 Bomber Plan Progresses
The Air Force has concluded that “more money and possibly a little more time is required” to field its next bomber aircraft, John J. Young Jr., undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, told the Senate Armed Services Committee June 3.
This doesn’t mean that the 2018 fielding goal is unobtainable, but it does mean that some changes in programming are necessary to keep the program on track, Young said, adding that he is committed to presenting Congress with an achievable program that is properly resourced.
Speaking with reporters on June 6, Young said he found the service’s initial cost estimates for the bomber to be too low. But since then, USAF has made good progress and developed “more reasonable cost estimates,” he said.
Vietnam War Airmen Identified
The Department of Defense announced in May that it identified the remains of four airmen who were part of a 14-man AC-130 gunship crew that went missing when their aircraft was shot down in March 1972 over southern Laos.
Two of the airmen are Maj. Barclay B. Young of Hartford, Conn., and SMSgt. James K. Caniford of Brunswick, Md. DOD withheld the names of the two others at the request of their families.
In addition, remains of the other AC-130 crewmen that could not be individually identified were included in a group for burial together at Arlington National Cemetery. Among the group remains is Lt. Col. Henry P. Brauner of Franklin Park, N.J., whose identification tag was recovered at the crash site in Savannakhet Province, Laos.
Bronze Stars Awarded
Lt. Col. Peter Ridilla, who commanded the 36th Civil Engineer Squadron at Andersen AFB, Guam, until July, has received the Bronze Star for his actions in Iraq in 2004, overseeing a construction detachment working with the Army, the Air Force announced in June.
CMSgt. David Nelson, superintendent of the 47th Mission Support Group at Laughlin AFB, Tex., was awarded a Bronze Star in May for “meritorious achievement” as an expeditionary group superintendent during deployment to Iraq in 2007.
SSgt. Dennis Davis of the 67th Network Warfare Wing at Brooks City-Base, Tex., also received a Bronze Star in May for his work with explosive ordnance disposal personnel in Iraq.
Hill Gains F-35 Depot Work
The Air Force has formally designated Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill AFB, Utah, as the site of depot-level maintenance work for the F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter aircraft, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) announced June 20, citing the service’s notification to him.
Ogden currently handles depot maintenance for the F-16, which the F-35 is destined to replace. Bishop speculated, too, that it’s “pretty likely that Ogden will provide worldwide support and expertise” for F-35 partner nations.
He also said USAF has named Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker AFB, Okla., as the depot for F-35 engine work.
Next-Gen UAS Sought
The Air Force announced in May its interest in learning more about industry concepts for a next-generation unmanned aerial system that would be more capable than current MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers for finding and attacking fleeting ground targets.
The service said its interest lies with proven and emerging technologies that could be at a level of maturity in 2010 to make the fielding of the new UAS possible in 2015. Among the desired attributes are: enhanced survivability and maneuverability, high subsonic dash speeds, twice the payload capacity compared to the Reaper, and greater automation for reduced manpower demands.
African Airlift Emphasized
Army Gen. William E. Ward, head of the fledgling US Africa Command, said June 19 that one of his highest priorities is establishing “adequate and predictable” inter- and intratheater airlift support for the organization, which is set to become a full-up unified command in October.
Ward, speaking to a Capitol Hill audience, said he was still determining his lift requirements, but that the Air Force’s reach would be “a vital enabler” for AFRICOM. “When a C-17 lands with a load of peacekeepers, humanitarian supplies, and critical equipment, … the impact is visible, positive, and immediate,” he said.
AFRICOM is exploring the potential use of an Africa-centric Air and Space Expeditionary Force to support the command’s work on the continent. Ward’s chief of staff, Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael A. Snodgrass, told reporters after the same event that the AEF could include a wide range of capabilities, from RED HORSE engineers to contingency response groups to doctors and even finance personnel.
Lawmakers Back B-1B Funds
Members of the Texas and South Dakota Congressional delegations called on the Air Force in May to ensure that the B-1B bomber fleet is properly supported and maintained by providing the necessary funding for it in Fiscal 2010.
“We understand that the B-1s are not receiving sufficient spare parts and are suffering from a shortage of qualified maintenance technicians,” wrote Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.), and Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) in a missive to then-Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne.
The lawmakers, in whose states reside USAF’s two B-1 bases, said they didn’t want the service to entertain the notion of reducing the size of the B-1B fleet again, as it did in 2002, to free up resources to sustain the remaining aircraft. Instead, they want USAF to commit to providing “the necessary maintenance support” for the remaining 66 B-1s in the fleet.
|Gates Halts Planned Drawdown of USAF Personnel
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announced on June 9 an immediate stop to further reductions in Air Force personnel, thereby reversing a drawdown to 316,000 active duty personnel and enabling the service to increase to a desired end strength level of 330,000 in Fiscal 2010.
Gates announced the change while speaking to hundreds of assembled airmen at Langley AFB, Va., in the wake of USAF’s leadership shakeup. “While most public attention” has been focused on the strain on the Army, “the reality is that our airmen” are “under strain as well,” and Air Force families have also “borne this burden,” he said. “We know this and we are working to ease the burden.”
The following day, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England sent a memo to USAF’s leadership authorizing the new end strength level and pledging that the Office of the Secretary of Defense would work with the Air Force to develop the funding profile to support it in the Pentagon’s Fiscal 2010 budget proposal.
The Air Force was on track to reach the 316,000 plateau by the end of Fiscal 2009 based on a plan crafted years ago to cut end strength to free up much-needed funds for modernization initiatives, such as a new tanker aircraft. But since the time of the original plan, the Air Force leadership began to realize that a force of 316,000 would be too small, due to growing demands on airmen with new missions such as US Africa Command and support for a burgeoning Army and Marine Corps. However, the service didn’t have the funds to pay for the buy-back of airmen to a more reasonable level, leaving an increase in end strength on the service’s list of unfunded requirements for Fiscal 2009. As of April 30, USAF had 323,889 active duty airmen.
|Donley Assumes Role of Acting Air Force Secretary
Michael B. Donley took over as Acting Secretary of the Air Force on June 21, filling the void left by Michael W. Wynne’s departure. Four days later, the White House sent Donley’s formal nomination to the Senate to become the Secretary.
Donley, who came from a senior Department of Defense position, is no stranger to the Air Force, having served as Acting Secretary for six months in 1993. Prior to that, he was USAF’s assistant secretary for financial management-comptroller from 1989 to 1993.
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates recommended Donley to the White House as Wynne’s successor on June 9, four days after he ousted Wynne and then-Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley from their posts to reinforce the need for accountability for a perceived “lack of effective oversight” in the service’s stewardship of nuclear weapons.
Gates said his decision was prompted by the receipt of a purportedly scathing classified report by Navy Adm. Kirkland H. Donald on the investigation into the errant shipment of Minuteman III ICBM components to Taiwan in 2006. This case only came to light in March, following the mistaken transfer of cruise missile nuclear warheads on a B-52 bomber last August.
While Gates emphasized that only the nuclear issue prompted his decision, Wynne acknowledged June 20 during a final meeting with reporters that he and Gates disagreed on a variety of issues, including buying more F-22s and actions for maintaining the nation’s technological edge, that contributed to prompting the firings.
Wynne said during his farewell ceremony that same day that during his two-and-a-half-year tenure, “I believe we’ve laid a convincing argument” for recapitalizing the Air Force’s aging fleet of aircraft.
Moseley’s last work day was July 2. On July 11, he began terminal leave until Aug. 1, the date on which his retirement takes effect. Gates on June 9 identified Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, head of US Transportation Command, as his choice to succeed Moseley.
|Minot Unit Struggling To Meet Nuclear Standards
The 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB, N.D., which has been under increased scrutiny since its role in the unauthorized transfer of six nuclear cruise missile warheads from the base last August, received an overall unsatisfactory rating in an inspection of its nuclear readiness in May.
“Although the wing excelled in numerous areas, deficiencies were observed in the areas of security and logistics movement,” Air Combat Command wrote of the inspection’s findings May 31. Defense Threat Reduction Agency and USAF inspectors visited the base for 10 days, starting May 16, for the defense nuclear surety inspection, the unit’s first since June 2006.
The disappointing performance left the nuclear-capable B-52 bomber unit short of restoring its tainted reputation, but the wing was scheduled to be retested within 90 days of the ruling, giving it the chance to redeem itself. ACC headquarters said it was providing expertise to assist the unit in preparing.
“It is important to note that these inspections are extremely detailed and demand the highest standards of performance,” said Brig. Gen. Joseph Reynes Jr., ACC’s inspector general. Indeed even something as seemingly minute as improper tire pressure on a transport vehicle could result in an overall unsatisfactory grade, the command said. Regardless, Reynes said, “There is no room for error” and “anything less than full compliance is unacceptable.”
The IG did recognize 86 individuals and 30 teams for their superior performance during the inspection, ACC noted.
In the interim, the wing continues to have “the full confidence, trust, and support of Air Force leadership” and “remains capable and certified to continue operations and training for its strategic mission,” said Gen. John D. W. Corley, ACC commander. After the cruise missile incident last year, the wing lost its nuclear certification for about seven months.
Operation Iraqi Freedom—Iraq
By July 11, a total of 4,119 Americans had died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The total includes 4,108 troops and 11 Department of Defense civilians. Of these deaths, 3,355 were killed in action with the enemy while 764 died in noncombat incidents.
There have been 30,349 troops wounded in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom. This number includes 16,866 who were wounded and returned to duty within 72 hours and 13,483 who were unable to return to duty quickly.
Air Strike Targets Enemy Bunkers in Tal Afar
Air Force F-16Cs targeted an enemy building in Tal Afar, Iraq, on June 9, dropping GBU-12s and 500-pound bombs, according to coalition officials. The building was linked to al Qaeda elements and had an underground bunker complex attached. A joint terminal attack controller said the strike was successful.
The air strike came on the same day that two Sunni Arab tribal leaders linked to anti-al Qaeda efforts were killed in nearby Mosul by gunmen. Both Mosul and Tal Afar are in Nineveh Province, which had been the site of a large coalition-backed offensive by Iraqi security forces against al Qaeda and extremist elements since early May.
Operation Enduring Freedom—Afghanistan
By July 5, a total of 539 Americans had died in Operation Enduring Freedom. The total includes 538 troops and one Department of Defense civilian. Of these deaths, 335 were killed in action with the enemy while 204 died in noncombat incidents.
There have been 2,190 troops wounded in action during OEF. This number includes 822 who were wounded and returned to duty within 72 hours and 1,368 who were unable to return to duty quickly.
Air Strikes Pummel Taliban Near Pakistan Border
US and coalition forces pounded Taliban elements with air attacks for two days in mid-June, following a skirmish in the east of Afghanistan near the country’s border with Pakistan. According to coalition officials, fighting in Paktika Province began on June 20 and wrapped up June 22. Approximately 55 militants were killed, 25 wounded, and three were detained, according to US officials.
The battle in Paktika started when Taliban militants attacked coalition troops patrolling the Ziruk District with rockets and indirect fire, spurring troops to engage and call in air strikes. An Air Force B-1B and A-10 responded by unleashing a variety of bombs on the ambush and rocket team positions. June 20 saw 50 close air support missions flown to aid activities of the International Security Assistance Force and Afghan security forces.
On June 21, F-15Es dropped GBU-31s onto a militant rocket team in the vicinity of Lwara and conducted a show of force to deter activities against coalition ground forces in the area. Also in the vicinity of Qaryan Ba, a B-1B and F-15Es dropped a GBU-38 and GBU-31s onto enemy forces and an enemy vehicle. An on-scene joint terminal attack controller reported both strikes as being successful.
No coalition troops were killed in the operation.
TSgt. Davide Keaton, a pararescue jumper with the 24th Special Tactics Squadron at Pope AFB, N.C., has won the Air Force Sergeants Association’s 2008 Pitsenbarger Award for risking his life to save three Afghan children and two Afghan women being used as human shields during a firefight in 2007.
The leadership of 9th Air Force and US Air Forces Central broke ground May 30 at Shaw AFB, S.C., for a planned fallen airman’s memorial to honor members of the numbered air force who have served and sacrificed since its inception in June 1942.
The 493rd Fighter Squadron at RAF Lakenheath, Britain, an F-15 unit, in June was recognized as USAF’s best air superiority squadron with the receipt of the 2007 Raytheon Hughes Achievement Award (formerly the Hughes Trophy).
For the first time ever, the Air Force in June picked pilots from the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve to join the Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team for the 2009 flying season. They are Maj. Derek Routt, a Nevada ANG F-15C pilot, and Maj. Sean Gustafson, a Reserve F-16 flier from Florida.
The Air Force awarded Boeing and Lockheed Martin each $75 million contracts in early June to conduct additional risk-reduction work on their Transformational Communications Satellite concepts.
KC-135 tankers of the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron at Manas AB, Kyrgyzstan, set a single-day, fuel-offload record for the base on May 24 by passing 804,800 pounds of fuel. The figure bested the previous mark of 722,000 pounds set in August 2007.
Accident investigators concluded that an error by a student pilot led to the crash of an F-16 on April 2 at Gila Bend Auxiliary Airfield in Arizona that caused “substantial damage” to the aircraft, USAF said in June. Neither the student pilot nor the instructor pilot was injured.