Air Force World

Aug. 1, 2009

F-16 Pilot Killed in Crash

Capt. George B. Houghton, 28, of the 421st Fighter Squadron at Hill AFB, Utah, died June 22 when the F-16 that he was flying crashed at the Utah Test and Training Range during a routine training mission.

The aircraft was destroyed on impact, according to Hill’s 388th Fighter Wing, the squadron’s parent unit. The crash site was reported as being about 35 miles south of Wendover near the Utah-Nevada state line.

As of late June, the Air Force had not determined the cause of the crash, but had convened an investigation board.

US Renews Access to Manas

The Parliament of Kyrgyzstan on June 25 ratified a new agreement that will enable US and coalition forces to continue using Manas Air Base—which is a central mobility hub for operations in Afghanistan—despite an earlier decision in February to oust the US Air Force.

According to a Pentagon report, the new agreement raised the rent from $17.4 million annually to $60 million per year for use of the facility, which is transited by about 15,000 troops and some 500 tons of cargo every month.

“There is give and take in any negotiation, and I think we arrived at a place where we both felt comfortable,” said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell during a press briefing on June 24, when asked to comment on the new arrangement.

USAF Leaders Shift

Gen. Carrol H. Chandler received Senate confirmation June 19 to become vice chief of staff of the Air Force. In July, Lt. Gen. Gary L. North was nominated to succeed Chandler at Pacific Air Forces, the command that Chandler headed since 2007.

On June 25, Gen. Douglas M. Fraser took charge of US Southern Command. The Senate confirmed his nomination on June 10. He had been deputy commander at US Pacific Command.

Lt. Gen. Raymond E. Johns Jr., deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs since October 2006, was nominated June 4 for promotion to the rank of general and in July was nominated to head Air Mobility Command. The current commander of AMC, Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, is retiring.

Congress Supports Bomber Work

The House Armed Services Committee in June added $215 million to the Pentagon’s Fiscal 2010 budget proposal for technology studies in support of a future bomber.

Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 25 approved an amendment introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) that makes it “the policy of the United States to support a development program for next-generation bomber technologies.”

While the Pentagon’s request did not contain any dollars for the now deferred bomber program, the Air Force’s list of unfunded priorities in Fiscal 2010 did include a $140 million request for a “classified” program that later was revealed to entail work on bomber concepts.

The House committee, in its markup of the defense authorization bill on June 17, provided $75 million above the Air Force’s request, said a spokesman for Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), who chairs the air and land forces panel.

Corona Brings Changes

The Air Force announced June 8 that it would make manpower changes in some of its air and space operations centers to better balance resources with requirements. This was one of the decisions resulting from the Corona Top leadership summit held June 4-6 at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

The leadership decided to recategorize about 835 rated staff officer billets to nonrated positions and fill some personnel shortfalls with military-to-civilian conversions. To support the standup of 24th Air Force, the service’s new cyber organization, the leadership adopted network configuration standards and doctrine updates and instructions.

A final decision on the Heritage Coat was deferred until 2010, and the leadership approved the plan to introduce physical fitness testing twice a year, starting next January.

Worker Strike Ends at Vance

Unionized civilian employees at Vance AFB, Okla., agreed June 22 to a new labor proposal enabling them to return to work immediately, thus ending a two-week strike that had suspended Vance’s flying operations and caused some student pilots to be sent to Laughlin and Randolph Air Force Bases in Texas to continue their training.

The strike began June 8 after the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement between the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local Lodge 898 and CSC Applied Technologies. The contractor provides support services and aircraft maintenance to the 71st Flying Training Wing, which conducts joint specialized undergraduate pilot training.

USAF Moves To Fill Urgent Need

The Air Force awarded a $276 million contract to Northrop Grumman on June 24 to incorporate the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node on two BD-700 business jet aircraft and two Global Hawk Block 20 unmanned aerial vehicles to fill a joint urgent operational need.

BACN relays voice communication over long distances and bridges frequencies such that ground forces on a frequency-limited radio can talk with close air support aircraft.

The service fielded BACN on a first BD-700 last December to support US Central Command operations. Having three BD-700s equipped with BACN is regarded as a short-term solution until BACN is integrated on the Global Hawks, which the Air Force expects to happen in time for deployment in Fiscal 2011.

UAV Training Reaches Milestone

For the first time, the Air Force will train more pilots this year to fly MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles than it does to fly its manned fighters and bombers, USA Today reported June 16.

Citing interviews with senior service officials as well as UAV-related documents, the newspaper stated that 240 unmanned aircraft operators will be trained this fiscal year, compared to 214 new fighter and bomber pilots.

Already the service is training junior nonpilot officers to fly UAVs and moving new graduates of undergraduate pilot training directly on the unmanned track in order to churn out qualified operators as quickly as possible to meet the ever-growing demand for more UAVs to support operations in Southwest Asia.

Barksdale Gets Strike Command

The Air Force announced June 18 that it had chosen Barksdale AFB, La., as the permanent headquarters site for Air Force Global Strike Command, the new major command that will oversee the service’s ICBM force and nuclear-capable bombers.

Barksdale was identified in April as the preferred location, pending the outcome of the environmental assessment required by US law. Service plans called for activating Global Strike Command on Aug. 7, with the assumption of initial operations at the end of September. The Senate confirmed Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz in May to lead the command.

The Minuteman III ICBM fleet under 20th Air Force is expected to move from Air Force Space Command in December, while 8th Air Force, with its B-2A and B-52H bombers, is slated to transfer over from Air Combat Command in February 2010.

New Nuclear Doctrine Issued

The Air Force on June 1 published Air Force Doctrine Document 2-12, the new version of its nuclear operations doctrine that supersedes the previous iteration from July 1998. One of its most significant changes is the alignment of nuclear operations with the current global environment and away from a Cold War stance, service officials said.

The document includes a new chapter that aggregates existing material on nuclear safety and security and expands the discussion and emphasis on nuclear surety. The new doctrine is one of the numerous activities that the Air Force has undertaken to reinvigorate its nuclear mission.

Pentagon Sets Cyber Command

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates signed a memo June 23 to establish a subcommand under US Strategic Command in October to oversee the US military’s cyber security activities. It will be called US Cyber Command.

Gates directed STRATCOM to develop the implementation plan for the new organization by Sept. 1, in anticipation of it commencing initial operations on Oct. 1 and being fully operational one year later. While, as a subunified command, it would not require Congressional approval, its commander would be subject to Senate confirmation.

Gates said he intended to recommend Army Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, National Security Agency director, for promotion to the grade of general to take on the additional responsibility of leading CYBERCOM. Gates’ preferred location to host the new organization is Ft. Meade, Md., already home to NSA, pending the results of an environmental impact study.

USAF Adjusts to TSAT Kill

The Air Force announced on June 8 that it was “terminating for convenience” its $2 billion contract with Lockheed Martin for the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) Mission Operations System, or TMOS, for short. The contract had been awarded in January 2006.

Halting this work was the result of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’ April decision to cancel the TSAT satellite program. TMOS was the TSAT ground segment meant to coordinate the flow of information from TSAT satellites into the US military’s warfighting networks.

Tweet Flies Final Sortie

The Air Force flew the last training sortie with the T-37 Tweet trainer aircraft on June 17 at Sheppard AFB, Tex., ending the aircraft’s in-service run after some 50 years.

“It’s been a great trainer for 50 years; right up to the end, it’s been a good aircraft,” said Col. David E. Petersen, commander of the 80th Flying Training Wing, of the T-37. The wing is now using T-6s.

AOC for Africa Opens

Seventeenth Air Force (Air Forces Africa) activated its dedicated air and space operations center on May 29. The new center, the 617th AOC, gives 17th Air Force an increased command and control capability integral to its function as the air component of US Africa Command.

It is collocated with 17th Air Force headquarters at Ramstein AB, Germany. Initially staffed with about 60 personnel, the new AOC should have about 130 on hand by the time 17th Air Force is declared fully operationally capable around October.

CSAR-X Officially Goes Down

The Air Force on June 2 terminated “for convenience” its $712 million contract with Boeing for the system development and demonstration phase of the HH-47 rescue helicopter.

The Air Force had chosen the HH-47 platform to be its combat search and rescue replacement vehicle, or CSAR-X, to succeed its aging HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue helicopters. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates in April announced termination of the CSAR-X program while requirements are re-examined.

CV-22s Operate in Honduras

Air Force Special Operations Command announced June 11 that it had recently deployed several of its CV-22 Ospreys to Honduras and, while there, had them support a humanitarian mission. It was the second overseas deployment acknowledged by AFSOC for the new tilt-rotor aircraft; CV-22s participated in a training exercise in Mali last year.

The command said three CV-22s from the 8th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., delivered about 43,000 pounds of long-overdue supplies to remote Honduran mountain villages that couldn’t be reached via roads.

USAF Finds GPS Anomaly

The Air Force said in mid-June it discovered a signal distortion anomaly with GPS IIR-20(M), the newest Global Positioning Satellite that was launched into orbit on March 24. Discovery of the issue came to light during routine early orbit checkout of the satellite.

The Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles AFB, Calif., said in a release June 16 that an Air Force and contractor investigation team had identified a fix that would be tested likely through October, after which, if successful, the service expected to introduce IIR-20(M) into the operational GPS constellation.

Experimental Airlifter Flies

The Air Force Research Laboratory and Lockheed Martin flew the experimental Advanced Composite Cargo Aircraft for the first time on June 2 at the service’s Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif. The initial demonstration flight lasted about 87 minutes.

“The aircraft was a real pleasure to fly, and we experienced no issues,” said Rob Rowe, Lockheed’s lead ACCA test pilot, said in the company’s June 3 release.

The ACCA is a modified Dornier 328J aircraft on which Lockheed has replaced the mid/aft fuselage and empennage with a structure of advanced composite materials fabricated using novel manufacturing techniques.

Light Gunship Still Wanted

Adm. Eric T. Olson, commander of US Special Operations Command, told a Senate panel on emerging threats June 18 that special operations forces still need a gunship version of the C-27J transport aircraft, which has been dubbed the AC-27J Stinger, and would be smaller than the Air Force’s current AC-130 gunships.

It’s “very important” to have an airplane that has “the capability to operate more remotely, with a smaller footprint, at a lower operating cost, on less improved runways,” he said.

Olson said SOCOM’s analysis of alternatives “identified the C-27J as the preferred alternative.” However, the Office of the Secretary of Defense shelved plans to acquire the AC-27J as part of the Pentagon’s Fiscal 2010 budget proposal to Congress when it trimmed the C-27J buy from 78 to 38 aircraft.

Missouri Unit Flies Last F-15 Sortie

The Missouri Air National Guard’s 131st Fighter Wing at Lambert-St. Louis Airport conducted its final sortie with its F-15C fighters June 13. On that day, the last of the unit’s F-15s departed for good for their new home in Hawaii.

BRAC 2005 forced the unit to relinquish its F-15s to units in Hawaii and Montana and transition to a classic associate operation with the active duty B-2A bomber force at Whiteman AFB, Mo., the 509th Bomb Wing.

Production Contract Received

Lockheed Martin received a $1.5 billion contract for the third Space Based Infrared System satellite, GEO-3, and the third SBIRS sensor payload, HEO-3, which is destined for a separate spacecraft. Lockheed announced the deal June 2.

The SBIRS constellation will augment and eventually replace Defense Support Program early warning satellites, one of which, DSP-14, has already been operating more than 20 years, 15 years longer than its design intended.

There are two SBIRS HEO payloads already on orbit; the first is already certified for operations. GEO-1 and GEO-2, planned for geosynchronous orbit, are undergoing ground testing. GEO-1 is slated for launch in 2010. The Air Force requested funds in Fiscal 2010 to procure HEO-4 and buy the long-lead-time parts for GEO-4.

Uniform Changes Announced

The Air Force on June 10 announced uniform changes based on its 98th Virtual Uniform Board, but did not introduce any new uniforms, per se. Instead, service officials said the focus remained on fixing, improving, and upgrading uniforms in the current inventory.

Among the changes: trousers on utility uniforms will be tucked into boots (effective October 2010); the green fleece formerly worn only as the all-purpose environmental clothing system liner is authorized servicewide as an outer-wear garment; and enlisted airmen must switch from pin-on, collar rank insignia to chevrons stitched onto the sleeves of the lightweight blue jacket (effective January 2010).

Critical Retention Year Ahead

Fiscal 2010 could present retention problems as the Air Force builds to an active duty end strength of 331,700, Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton III, deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel, told lawmakers May 21.

Appearing before House defense overseers, Newton cited the reasons as: the need to retain specific skill sets in shortage specialties; the previous personnel drawdown mode, with its attendant decreases in accessions; and a growing list of operational demands in new and emerging missions such as intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance, aircraft maintenance, acquisition, cyber operations, and the nuclear enterprise.

He said the service plans to continue seeking special pay and allowances to target critical skills, such as combat search and rescue, explosive ordnance disposal, and health care.

USAF Wants Huge Bunker Busters

The Air Force announced June 8 that it intends to award Boeing a contract before the end of the year for the purchase of up to 20 Massive Ordnance Penetrators, the 30,000-pound-class munitions that the company has been developing since 2004 under Pentagon sponsorship to give the US the conventional means to smash hardened bunkers and tunnel complexes.

The Air Force said it wants five MOPs to carry out a flight-test program with the B-2A stealth bomber starting in June 2011. The remaining 10 to 15 units would be residual assets available for operational use on the B-2 by June 2012. The B-2 can carry up to two MOPs.

Airmen Receive Bronze Star Medals

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz presented SSgt. David Flowers, an explosive ordnance disposal specialist from Barksdale AFB, La., with a Bronze Star Medal June 23 during Schwartz’s visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Flowers was there undergoing care for severe leg wounds he received in May while deployed to Afghanistan. Flowers also received the Purple Heart and the Air Force Combat Action Medal from Schwartz.

Also receiving Bronze Star Medals for service in Afghanistan were: Capt. Blair Byrem of Tyndall AFB, Fla., during a June 12 ceremony, and Capt. Raymond Kerr and TSgt. Ronald White, both assigned to Andersen AFB, Guam, on May 29.

Receiving Bronze Star Medals for meritorious actions in Iraq were: SMSgt. William Eaton of Incirlik AB, Turkey, June 2; MSgt. Duane Frey assigned to Lajes Field, Azores, May 22; TSgt. Michael Brady of Kunsan AB, South Korea, May 29; TSgt. Neil Newman of Incirlik, May 29; and Special Agent Richard Cox, assigned to Hill AFB, Utah, June 9.

Air Strike Rules Tightened in Afghanistan

Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and commander of US Forces-Afghanistan on June 15, formulated a new tactical directive, shortly upon assuming his new posts, to restrict the use of air strikes in Afghanistan in cases where civilians might be at risk of harm.

The Los Angeles Times reported June 23 that McChrystal’s action was intended to reduce the number of Afghan civilian casualties, a large portion of which have been attributed to US and coalition air strikes over the past several years, sowing some anti-Afghan government and anti-NATO sentiments.

According to the newspaper, the new operational standards place the emphasis on protecting civilians rather than killing Taliban insurgents, but they do not go as far as to prohibit close air support. Rather they call for refraining from firing from the air upon structures in which insurgents may have taken refuge among civilians, unless friendly ground troops are in imminent danger.

McChrystal’s action came in the aftermath of the controversial air strike May 4 in the village of Gerani in Farah province during a firefight between the Taliban and an Afghan-coalition ground force. While US Central Command’s initial findings into the incident concluded that at least 26 and possibly more civilians died, along with 60 to 65 Taliban, the Afghan government put the civilian toll at around 140 and called on the US to halt all air strikes.

CENTCOM’s executive summary of the report on its investigation into the bombing, issued on June 19, concluded that the US aircraft strikes were lawful. However, “absent a direct or imminent threat,” it advocated “a tactical approach that prioritizes avoidance of civilian casualties as a fundamental aspect of mission success.”

Army Col. John Spiszer, commander of the 1st Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, told reporters June 23 that McChrystal’s directive is “entirely in line” with that approach.

Congress Challenges Pentagon Fighter Decisions

For the fourth consecutive year, Congress acted in June against the Pentagon’s plan to stop development of the General Electric-Rolls Royce F136 engine for the F-35 Lightning II.

In another high-profile move against the Obama Administration’s plan, House and Senate defense authorizers added funds to build more F-22s beyond 187, though the full Senate on July 21 reversed itself. (See “Washington Watch,” p. 7.)

The House Armed Services Committee earmarked $603 million to continue development of the F136, the alternate power plant to Pratt & Whitney’s F135, in its markup of the Department of Defense’s Fiscal 2010 budget request on June 17. The Senate Armed Services Committee added $438.9 million for the F136 in its markup June 25.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense says the risk is acceptable going forward with just the F135. But Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), chairman of the House committee’s air and land forces panel, said June 12 that it represents “too high an operational risk to take” to have thousands of future F-35s dependent on just one engine type.

In another conflict area, the Air Force proposed in its Fiscal 2010 budget phasing out a combination of 254 A-10s, F-15s, and F-16s next year, but the House committee added language that prohibits retirement of the fighters until the Pentagon provides a report explaining how it plans to fill the capability gaps left by their removal.

Further, concerned about impact of these cuts on the Air National Guard and the impact on the air sovereignty alert mission, House defense authorizers approved an amendment requiring OSD to report on the feasibility of purchasing new 4.5 generation fighters such as the F-15 or F-16 to sustain the Air Guard during the transition to new fifth gen fighters such as the F-35.

The House passed its version of the defense authorization bill on June 25 by a vote of 389 to 22.

The House and Senate also approved $2.2 billion to buy eight C-17 Globemaster III transports not requested by the Pentagon in the Fiscal 2009 war supplemental that both chambers approved in June. They also added $504 million for three MC-130J special mission transports and four HC-130J combat rescue aircraft.

Robert S. McNamara 1916-2009

Robert S. McNamara, who served as Secretary of Defense during a pivotal seven years of the Cold War, was the principal architect of the Vietnam War, and reorganized the Pentagon’s bureaucracy, died July 6 in Washington, D.C. He was 93.

McNamara was chiefly identified with Vietnam, and was condemned both by opponents of the war—for escalating it—and by proponents who believed he had tied the military’s hands in that conflict.

McNamara was appointed Defense Secretary by President John F. Kennedy, a fellow Harvard alumnus who charged McNamara with running the Pentagon in a more businesslike and cost-effective way. McNamara plunged in, creating the five-year defense plan budgeting process and working to eliminate redundancies among the military services.

Some of those efforts worked out. Other efforts, such as the multiservice TFX fighter-bomber, did not succeed as a joint program.

However, McNamara also made the job much more of a policy position than his predecessors had. He took it upon himself to build up conventional forces so that the US would have more options to conduct “limited” war than it had possessed in the nuclear-centric decade before his tenure. He termed this policy “flexible response.” Nevertheless, he oversaw the rapid buildup of US nuclear forces and fitted US intercontinental ballistic missiles with multiple warheads. He embraced the deterrence concept of “mutual assured destruction.”

McNamara believed in the “domino theory” that the loss of Vietnam to communist insurgents would quickly lead to neighboring countries also falling to communism. He directed a greater effort to combat insurgents with special forces and also believed that the US could win a war of attrition against a limited number of enemy combatants. McNamara’s policies led to the “body count” strategy of winning the conflict, which was popularly referred to as “McNamara’s War.” However, he advised against invasion of North Vietnam.

Although he supported President Lyndon B. Johnson’s escalation of the war effort, including increased bombing of North Vietnam, McNamara eventually concluded that brute force was not winning the day and he privately advised Johnson to seek a negotiated end to the conflict. In 1968, Johnson offered McNamara—already in the job longer than any Defense Secretary before or since—the opportunity to run the World Bank. McNamara later said he was never quite sure if he’d resigned or been fired.

Born in San Francisco in 1916 to a middle-class family, McNamara was a stellar student and Eagle Scout who earned an MBA from Harvard by the age of 23. Specializing in statistical analysis, he worked for Price Waterhouse but soon returned to Harvard as an instructor.

In World War II, McNamara sought to enlist but was barred from service due to poor eyesight. Instead, he served as a War Department consultant, teaching officers methods of making their logistics more efficient. He was eventually commissioned as a captain, and he served in the Army Air Forces throughout Southeast Asia.

Upon leaving the World Bank in 1981, he became an outspoken opponent of nuclear weapons and urged the superpowers to drastically reduce their stockpiles. In 1995, he broke a long silence about the Southeast Asia war with his book, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. In it, he apologized for miscalculating how to fight the war, and for backing Johnson’s escalation when McNamara felt it could no longer be won. Critics of the book found it less of a mea culpa and more of an attempt by McNamara to spread blame for the outcome of the war and justify his early policies.

—John A. Tirpak

Air Weapon the “Foundation” of Hybrid Warfare

A top military analyst warns that US forces are headed for a deadly new era of “hybrid war,” combining the worst features of conventional combat, low-level insurgency, and high-tech weapons.

In a June 25 presentation for the Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies, Michael W. Isherwood said that the military can no longer simply prepare for one type of conflict. The lines between various types will blur.

Any war with North Korea, he said, would feature high- and low-end attacks, as would a conflict with Iran.

Adversaries of the future, he said, could employ individuals with AK-47s all the way up to units armed with high-tech air defense missiles and even unmanned aircraft.

Isherwood, a retired USAF colonel and combat pilot, presented a paper titled, “Airpower for Hybrid Warfare.” He said that wide-area surveillance, rapid air mobility, precision strike, and integrated command systems—hallmarks of US airpower—will serve as the “foundation” of US response to such challenges.

The threat of hybrid warfare, he said, will not only combine different weapons and tactics, but also state and nonstate actors.

US forces now must prepare for computer network attack, destruction or “blinding” of satellites, precision missile strikes, or roadside bombs, along with propaganda campaigns.

Isherwood cited numerous historical examples of hybrid warfare ranging from the Vietnam War to present-day conflicts in which enemy combatants have employed surprisingly conventional tactics and weaponry.

Multiple foreign sources are fielding advanced weaponry, such as near-stealth aircraft, armored vehicles with explosive-reactive armor, and diesel attack submarines equipped with supercavitating torpedoes capable of 230 mph, but can still be expected to embrace insurgent-style tactics.

The analyst claimed airpower would allow commanders to achieve better command and control, strike, mobility, and intelligence capabilities.

Isherwood’s comments come at a time when US airpower has come under heightened scrutiny as a result of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The newly appointed US commander there, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has imposed sharp new restraints on US air attacks, in hopes of alleviating the problem. However, Isherwood expressed concern about placing such constraints on airpower.

“The consequences are that you will see more soldiers and marines getting killed,” he said.

—Mark W. Moser

Operation Iraqi Freedom—Iraq

Casualties

By July 13, a total of 4,326 Americans had died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The total includes 4,313 troops and 13 Department of Defense civilians. Of these deaths, 3,460 were killed in action with the enemy while 866 died in noncombat incidents.

There have been 31,430 troops wounded in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom. This number includes 17,588 who were wounded and returned to duty within 72 hours and 13,842 who were unable to return to duty quickly.

MC-12W Joins the Fight in Southwest Asia

The MC-12W, the Air Force’s newest intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance platform, flew its inaugural combat sortie on June 10, a four-hour mission over Iraq that started and ended at Joint Base Balad.

“It feels good being out here and doing something good for the warfighter,” said Capt. Jason Goodale, the pilot of the historic first mission, which occurred within 48 hours of the arrival of the first MC-12W at Balad.

Manned by a four-person crew, the MC-12W is a turboprop aircraft specially equipped to collect signals intelligence and provide live-streaming overhead video in support of ground troops at the tactical level.

The Air Force is acquiring 37 of these Liberty Project Aircraft, under an accelerated acquisition initiative launched in July 2008 to bolster ISR capability in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The MC-12W is based on the Beechcraft King Air 350 commercial aircraft.

While the Air Force’s goal was to field the first MC-12W in Southwest Asia in April, complications with integrating the sensor payloads on the initial eight platforms delayed its arrival until June.

Nonetheless, Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, commander of 9th Air Force and commander of Air Forces Central, said June 11 that the efforts across the Air Force to go from the initial contract award to the first combat sortie inside of eight months were “nothing short of miraculous.”

Operation Enduring Freedom—Afghanistan

Casualties

By July 13, a total of 729 Americans had died in Operation Enduring Freedom. The total includes 728 troops and one Department of Defense civilian. Of these deaths, 496 were killed in action with the enemy while 233 died in noncombat incidents.

There have been 3,162 troops wounded in action during OEF. This number includes 1,134 who were wounded and returned to duty within 72 hours and 2,028 who were unable to return to duty quickly.

US Airpower Aids British Assault on Taliban Stronghold

More than 350 British troops, backed up by massive US and coalition airpower, launched an assault on a Taliban stronghold in Helmand province on June 19, according to news reports and US and coalition statements.

The initial assault marked the beginning of Operation Panchai Palang (Panther’s Claw), the first stage of a large International Security Assistance Force effort to dismantle Taliban strongholds near the town of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, and establish a permanent presence by British and NATO forces in the area.

According to the British Ministry of Defense, the operation began with a large air assault into Babaji, north of Lashkar Gah, that involved 12 Chinook helicopters delivering British troops, supported by an air package including British Harrier fighters, unmanned aerial vehicles, Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, and a US Air Force AC-130 Spectre gunship.

Initial reports stated that these troops secured three main crossing points over canals and discovered 1.3 tons of poppy seeds and a large number of improvised explosive devices and anti-personnel mines. Afghan forces also moved in to set up checkpoints.

In the days following, air support activity increased in the area north of Lashkar Gah. On June 22, for example, an Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber dropped a 2,000-pound GBU-31 satellite-guidance-aided bomb, destroying an enemy building being used as a firing position.

Air Force Hints at Smaller F-35 Buy

The Air Force’s long-held plans to buy 1,763 F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter aircraft could change depending on the findings of the Quadrennial Defense Review, says Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz.

Testifying before House appropriators June 3, Schwartz said USAF likely would have “well over 1,500 F-35s” in a future fighter force, together with 187 F-22 Raptors and some number of legacy fighters, based on current thinking. However, the total inventory, of which the F-35 will be the predominant component, is “highly dependent on the scenarios” used in QDR analysis, he said.

In the past, the Air Force posited the 1,763 number on the assumptions that there would also be 381 F-22s in a fighter force of around 2,250 to meet requirements in coming decades. But Schwartz said the new fighter topline is not clear yet and “could end up being less.”

Schwartz’s comments came on the same day that Lockheed Martin announced receipt of a $2.1 billion contract from the Pentagon for the third low-rate lot of F-35 production, a buy of 17 aircraft, including foreign orders for the first time.

This lot comprises seven Air Force F-35As, seven short-takeoff F-35Bs for the US Marine Corps, one F-35A for the Netherlands, and two F-35Bs for Britain.

The order built upon the first two low-rate initial production lots for a total of 14 F-35s, including eight in the Air Force’s configuration.

US Should Prep To Intervene in Pakistan, Says Murtha

Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) warned June 24 that a political upheaval in nuclear-armed Pakistan could—and probably should—bring direct US military intervention.

Murtha, the chairman of the House defense appropriations panel, told defense reporters he would urge such military action, if that’s what it takes to prevent the Taliban or other violent Islamic groups from seizing control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

The issue “is absolutely what I look at and worry about the most,” he said. He added that, should Islamabad lose control over its nuclear arsenal, “I would advise that it’s absolutely essential that we intervene.”

Murtha echoed concerns about Pakistan repeatedly voiced by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.

“Gates and I both agree that Pakistan is the biggest single threat to the United States,” said Murtha, noting his view that dangers posed by Pakistan supersede those generated by Iran or North Korea.

A recent Pentagon study estimated that Pakistan has enough fissile material for approximately 60 nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s military has dispersed the weapons to secure sites around the country, according to Global Security Newswire. “We think we know where the weapons are,” said Murtha. “I don’t know what [we] know, but they think we know.”

Murtha, responding to questions from reporters, referred to existence of US contingency plans—one of DOD’s closely guarded subjects.

The Pentagon has on the shelf a set of war plans that could be used, if necessary. “We’ve got to be prepared if it goes the wrong way, to [seize] those sites,” Murtha said. “And we have contingency plans, obviously, to do that.”

Murtha also noted the changing strategic situation in South Asia. “Until recently, … we always worried about India and Pakistan having a nuclear exchange.” Now, he said, the worry was about loose nukes in the Islamic nation.

Murtha acknowledged that his might be an overly pessimistic view, noting that the top US military officer thinks differently.

“[Adm. Michael] Mullen [the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] has great confidence in the Pakistani military. He feels that they really are stable,” said Murtha. “But I don’t know. The military is always optimistic.”

Pakistani authorities claim that their nuclear weapons are kept disassembled. The fissile cores are stored separately from the non-nuclear explosives packages, and that the warheads are stored separately from the delivery systems.

No one has ascertained the validity of these assurances, though the nuclear program, in the works since the 1950s, has remained stable through several regime changes and a military coup d’etat.

—Mark W. Moser

News Notes

  • The remains of retired CMSAF Paul W. Airey, the first Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, were laid to rest May 28 at Arlington National Cemetery, along with those of his wife, Shirley, who had died in 2001. Airey died on March 11.

    • Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on June 12 appointed retired Air Force Gen. Bruce Carlson as the next head of the National Reconnaissance Office. Carlson stepped down as commander of Air Force Materiel Command last November and officially retired on Jan. 1.

        The Senate on June 19 confirmed the nomination of Maj. Gen. Gilmary M. Hostage III for promotion to lieutenant general to be commander of Air Forces Central. Hostage, vice commander of Pacific Air Forces, will replace Lt. Gen. Gary L. North.

          The Air Force on June 12 named SSgt. Jon Ouchi, an airborne cryptologic operator at Kadena AB, Japan, as its top enlisted aviator for 2008, recognizing him with the annual Henry “Red” Erwin Award.

            Air Force Special Operations Command on June 19 formally transferred the flag of the 16th Special Operations Squadron, an AC-130H Spectre gunship unit, from Hurlburt Field, Fla., to the unit’s new home at Cannon AFB, N.M.

              The House of Representatives passed legislation on June 16 to provide a single Congressional Gold Medal of recognition to the women who served in World War II as the Women Airforce Service Pilots. The Senate approved its version of the bill in May.

                The 63rd Fighter Squadron at Luke AFB, Ariz., officially stood down on May 22 after 68 years of service. Per changes outlined by BRAC 2005, it realigned with Luke’s 310th FS.

                  Boeing announced June 16 that it had completed satellite communications and air traffic management upgrades to the Air Force’s fleet of 32 E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System command and control aircraft.

                    Officials at Dover AFB, Del., one of the Air Force’s major airlift hubs, on June 5 accepted the base’s new $54.8 million, 13,800-foot runway. Its construction took 17 months.