Peacekeeper Era Ends
Sept. 19 was the final day of operations for the last existing LGM-118 Peacekeeper Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, the Pentagon said in an announcement. As the famous multiwarhead Cold War missile headed toward retirement, a whole era also was flickering out.
The last missile was deployed at the only Peacekeeper unit, the 400th Missile Squadron at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo.
Plans always called for operators to remain on full alert until the end.
Peacekeeper, once called “MX” for “missile experimental,” was fielded in the Reagan years. Its demise is the latest stage in a transition from the Cold War’s tense superpower standoff to a new stance. (See “The ICBM Makeover,” p. 34.)
The May 2002 Moscow Treaty requires 10 years of reductions in the US and Russian nuclear arsenals. The Air Force began deactivation of the Peacekeeper inventory in October 2002.
The Peacekeeper was able to carry 10 powerful W87 warheads. The land-based leg of the nuclear triad now will comprise 500 Minuteman III ICBMs, each carrying from one to three warheads.
Carlson Arrives at AFMC
After a year’s delay owing to Senate holdups in confirmation, Gen. Bruce A. Carlson on Aug. 19 assumed command of Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. He succeeded Gen. Gregory S. Martin, who retired.
Carlson had been nominated to the AFMC post in August 2004. He would have succeeded Martin at that time, as Martin had been nominated to be commander of US Pacific Command.
However, Martin withdrew his name from nomination when it became apparent that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) planned to hold up the confirmation process as part of a broader effort to extract from the Air Force thousands of e-mails pertaining to the tanker replacement plan. (See “Aerospace World: Martin Withdraws Nomination for US Pacific Command Post,” November 2004, p. 20.)
When Martin elected to stay at AFMC, it left Carlson in a holding pattern.
Carlson had been commander of 8th Air Force, Barksdale AFB, La. Before that, he was director of force structure, resources, and assessment on the Joint Staff.
The new AFMC commander has served in several key acquisition jobs at the Pentagon and commanded the F-117 stealth fighter wing at Holloman AFB, N.M.
Chilton Moves to 8th AF
Lt. Gen. Kevin P. Chilton on Aug. 10 assumed command of 8th Air Force, Barksdale AFB, La.
He succeeded Gen. Bruce A. Carlson in the commander’s chair. Chilton previously served as acting assistant vice chief of staff. Like Carlson, Chilton’s career progression had been interrupted by the Washington tanker battle (see above item). A year later than expected, Chilton assumed his new duties in a ceremony at Barksdale.
Chilton, a former astronaut and space shuttle commander, was previously director of programs under the USAF deputy chief of staff for plans and programs.
AMC Sends Deep Sea Aid
Air Mobility Command mounted a sizable airlift to offer rescue assistance to seven Russian sailors trapped on the Pacific Ocean floor in August.
The sailors, aboard an AS-28 minisub, were participating in a military exercise off the Kamchatka Peninsula when their sub became ensnared by netting on the ocean floor. The Russian Navy lacked rescue equipment that could reach the sailors before their air ran out.
Taking a lesson from the 2000 sinking of the submarine Kursk, the Russians this time didn’t hesitate to ask for foreign assistance.
Britain sent a C-17 carrying a Scorpio minisub, and the US sent C-17s and C-5s loaded with rescue gear designed for deep-diving operations. Japan sent ships with deep submersibles.
It was the British Scorpio, with assistance of US Navy divers, that freed the Russian craft and its crew as AMC aircraft began arriving with additional gear.
When the call for help came in, a C-5 Galaxy of the 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis AFB, Calif., was diverted to NAS North Island, Calif., where it picked up two Navy Super Scorpio unmanned rescue vehicles, personnel, and related equipment. From there, the C-5 flew a 21-hour nonstop mission to Yelizovo, Russia, with aerial refueling en route.
A C-17 assigned to Charleston AFB, S.C., collected a Deep Drone 8000 remotely operated submersible at Andrews AFB, Md., and flew it to Russia. Two more C-17s flew in personnel and equipment from Louisiana and Yokota AB, Japan.
The sailors were rescued without injury, and the Russian government thanked Britain, the United States, and Japan for their efforts to save the sailors.
USAF MIA Remains Are Returned
Two Air Force officers previously classified as missing in action from the Vietnam War were identified as having died in the Southeast Asia war, the Pentagon announced on July 26. Their remains were returned to their families for burial this summer.
Col. James W. Lewis of Marshall, Tex., and Maj. Arthur D. Baker of San Antonio were in the lead ship of a formation of four B-57B Canberra aircraft over Xiangkhoang Province, Laos, on April 7, 1965. The two attacked a target through heavy cloud cover, after which Lewis radioed that they were flying away from the target. Communication was then lost with the aircraft, and the two airmen were declared MIA.
Subsequent search and rescue missions failed to find evidence of the two airmen until July 1997, when a joint US-Laos government team was led to the crash site after interviewing several witnesses. It is not known why the B-57 went down, but enemy fire and the poor weather may have contributed.
The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) conducted four excavations from 2003 to 2004, unearthing human remains and crew materials. JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Indentification Lab positively identified the remains of Lewis and Baker using the mitochondrial DNA method.
Lewis was buried in Marshall on Aug. 13, and Baker was buried in Longview, Tex., on July 29.
Is JASSM Under New Threat
Despite recent successful tests, the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile faced cancellation in August by opponents in Congress who are pessimistic about the weapon’s long-term reliability.
In July and August, there were four successful tests of the stealthy JASSMs at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.—three from an F-16 fighter and one from a B-1 bomber, the Air Force reported.
The tests came on the heels of a series of test failures in April and May, mostly because of mechanical flaws in the missile, rather than in its design.
These failures prompted the House Appropriations Committee in June to include language in the Fiscal 2006 defense budget that would terminate the JASSM. The committee was unimpressed with the JASSM’s 53.5 percent success rate in developmental and operational tests. “The missile has repeatedly failed reliability and performance tests,” according to committee language.
The issue was headed for resolution in the House-Senate budget conference. Lockheed Martin builds the JASSM.
Predator Drones Headed To Texas
A squadron of 12 RQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft will be sent to Ellington Field, Tex., Gov. Rick Perry announced Aug. 17.
Ellington is one of many sites that will receive Predators under the Air Force’s Future Total Force initiative. The site was chosen because of its proximity to the Mexican border. The aircraft will patrol the border as part of an effort to reduce illegal border crossings and to help guard the Gulf Coast region’s vast petrochemical industry, Perry said.
The 147th Fighter Wing at Ellington was slated to lose its F-16s as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process.
Predators have been used since 1995 in combat operations, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Crews at Ellington are expected to be ready to operate the Predators by June 2006.
AFRC Gets First C-17
The first C-17 Globemaster III to belong to Air Force Reserve Command was handed over Aug. 9. The 452nd Air Mobility Wing at March ARB, Calif., received the airplane. The C-17 was flown by unit personnel to March directly from the Boeing factory at Long Beach, Calif.
March is undergoing $50 million worth of facilities renovation in anticipation of eight more C-17s slated to be delivered by January. They will replace C-141 Starlifters, the last of which are to be retired by next year.
The move underscores the Air Force’s policy of providing to its Reserve and Guard components state-of-the-art systems, rather than active duty hand-me-downs. The C-17s delivered to March will be more advanced than many now serving with active forces, featuring greater range and more sophisticated navigation gear.
X-45As Complete Test Program
The X-45A Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) flight-test program wrapped up Aug. 10, having successfully demonstrated many of the capabilities needed to perform the suppression of enemy air defenses mission.
The three-year test program built up to a “graduation” exercise this summer, in which the two X-45A test vehicles flew their most complex mission. The aircraft autonomously detected and avoided simulated threats, replanned their mission en route after operators changed battlefield conditions, performed multiship attacks on multiple targets, and detected off-limits items—i.e., those that should not be attacked.
The two vehicles returned safely to base after completing 64 error-free flights. Throughout the program, no vehicles were lost in accidents, which program officials said was unusual in an experimental unmanned aircraft program.
The first of the two X-45As flew in May 2002. Since then, missions have demonstrated autonomous weapons release in April 2004, multivehicle operations in August 2004, multivehicle reactive suppression of enemy air defenses in February 2005, and multivehicle distributed control in July 2005.
The J-UCAS X-45C will replace the experimental X-45A. It is the first unmanned system designed for armed combat operations.
Active Force Meets August Goals …
All the military services met or exceeded their goals for active duty recruiting and retention in August, and all expected to meet or exceed their retention goals for the whole of Fiscal 2005, the Pentagon announced in September.
The fiscal year ended on Sept. 30. Announcement of the final results lag by several weeks.
The news was a relief to defense leaders who worried that declining public support for the war in Iraq would translate to a shortage of volunteers for uniformed service or an exodus from the service.
… But Guard and Reserve Slip
Numbers were not as good for Guard and Reserve forces, the Pentagon disclosed. In August, the Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, and Marine Corps Reserve hit their recruiting targets, but the Army Guard recruiting was short 18 percent, and the Army Reserve was off nine percent. The Navy Reserve number was unavailable.
By way of explanation, Pentagon officials offered that recruiting tends to vary according to the time of year and that no one month is an indicator of long-term trends.
“We continue to monitor the effects of the increased use of our reserve components on retention rates,” stated the Pentagon press release accompanying the figures.
Retention in the Army Guard was 103 percent and, in the ANG, 108 percent. The other services reported their reserve retention was “within acceptable limits” in August.
US To Ship F-16s to Pakistan
The Bush Administration has agreed to ship two refurbished F-16s to Pakistan and has forwarded to Congress Pakistan’s request to buy as many as 75 more.
The deal marks the first transfer since the 1990 US embargo on arms shipments to Pakistan in protest of that country’s efforts to develop and deploy nuclear weapons.
Pakistan has ordered 55 F-16s, with an option for 20 more. Islamabad currently fields 32 F-16s that were purchased and delivered before the embargo. The new aircraft could be funded by a five-year military aid package from the US.
President Bush decided to reverse the embargo in recognition of Pakistan’s assistance with anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Bush named Pakistan a major non-NATO ally last year.
Lockheed Martin builds the F-16. Delivery of the new aircraft could begin in late 2008.
C-130J Is Reviewed and Reviewed
The Pentagon’s inspector general is looking into the C-130J program to see if the government got a fair price on it.
The review is one of several within the Defense Department aimed at answering questions about the C-130J raised by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
McCain has been scrutinizing the C-130J—newest of the Hercules family of transports—since February. He has concerns that the commercial, off-the-shelf manner of the procurement led to higher prices than a traditional procurement. McCain also has flagged operational issues regarding performance of the aircraft.
The cost of the C-130J was initially pegged at $66.4 million apiece in 1996. By 2003, that figure had ballooned to $81 million per copy.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld planned to terminate the C-130J last December, but reversed his position when accountants determined that it would cost less to simply buy out the planned 60 or so aircraft under contract with Lockheed Martin than to terminate for the convenience of the government.
Lockheed Martin has said that it spent more than $1 billion developing the C-130J, but the IG says the company has not disclosed enough information about cost and pricing.
SBIRS Has Another Cost Breach
The Space Based Infrared System High will for a fourth time greatly exceed its budget, requiring the Defense Department to again certify to Congress that the system is needed and that no substitute is available.
SBIRS High, the missile warning satellite system built by a Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman team, is estimated to cost $9.9 billion when complete, versus the initial contract price of $2.16 billion, the Air Force said. This latest estimate incurs a Nunn-McCurdy breach, so-called because of the legislation requiring certification of need when costs escalate by more than 25 percent.
The program has been recertified each time it has overrun its budget because SBIRS High provides ballistic missile attack warning, a capability considered indispensable. It has been restructured several times, a management tactic made possible by the fact that the Defense Support Program satellite system, which SBIRS replaces, has lasted longer than expected.
SBIRS satellites will be positioned in geosynchronous orbit and use infrared sensors to detect the rocket plumes of missile launches.
Giambastiani Is Sworn In
Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr. was sworn in as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Aug. 12. The post is the second-highest position in the uniformed military.
Giambastiani replaces Marine Gen. Peter Pace, who assumed duties of the Chairman on Sept. 30. Pace succeeds Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, who was set to retire on Oct. 1.
Giambastiani, who had been head of US Joint Forces Command and NATO’s Allied Command Transformation, was responsible for developing new fighting concepts for both US forces and the NATO alliance.
Another Acquisition Panel Formed
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish, who headed the US strategic missile defense effort, has been appointed chairman of a new committee charged with suggesting improvements to the Pentagon’s acquisition system.
Kadish chairs the Defense Acquisition Performance Assessment Committee, which met for the first time on July 15. Creation of the committee was ordered by acting Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England, in response to growing criticism about increasing costs and delays in Pentagon programs. Its aim is to develop ideas to streamline the procurement system and present them to England in November.
There have been many such panels over the past 20 years, but “the perception is that no reforms have addressed systemic weaknesses in structure, process, and governance of acquisitions,” Kadish told the Washington Post. He said the Pentagon can only afford 60 of its 80 biggest programs currently in development. He also noted that the cost of these programs has increased $300 billion over their lifetimes.
The panel’s assessment will feed the ongoing Quadrennial Defense Review and could fundamentally affect its decisions.
Iraq Rebuilds Air Force
Coalition forces have begun to rebuild the Iraqi Air Force, which aims to be able to conduct nationwide counterinsurgency operations from the air. The effort is about a year behind schedule because of increased focus on ground troops, said an Air Force official quoted in Inside the Air Force.
Most of the once-sizable Iraqi Air Force under the regime of Saddam Hussein was destroyed by coalition forces during Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom.
The new air force is being built around donated equipment, including three C-130E tactical transports, 16 UH-1H utility helicopters, five Jet Ranger helicopters, two Seabird Seeker observation aircraft, eight SAMA CH2000 single-engine airplanes, and six Comp Air SL7 surveillance aircraft.
The Coalition Military Assistance Training Team Air Cell is training Iraqi Air Force personnel. There are about 400 trainees now, but CMATT hopes to have 1,500 by next year, according to Lt. Col. Charles Westgate, a USAF planning officer in the CMATT Air Cell, in an e-mail to ITAF.
Three USAF officers and one Royal Air Force officer make up the air cell, and they manage support teams that provide training to the Iraqi airmen. The teams are a combination of Italian Air Force trainers and US military personnel.
|GE-Rolls Royce Engine Team Secures F-35 Contract
A team comprising General Electric and Rolls Royce won a $2.47 billion contract to develop an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon announced Aug. 22.
The team will jointly develop GE’s F136 engine as a competitor to the Pratt & Whitney F135, which will power initial versions of the JSF. The GE-Rolls team will begin competing for an annual share of engines for the JSF beginning in 2013.
The contract will pay for the system development and demonstration phase of the F136 engine program. Initial ground testing will begin in 2006 using a pre-SDD development engine. Flight tests of a JSF with an F136 engine are projected to begin in 2010, and production engines will be available in 2012.
The F136 and F135 are to be interchangeable as used on the JSF, requiring no unique tools or apparatus, even though the technology will be different.
The contract is the first step in launching a new version of the 1980s “great engine war,” in which GE and Pratt competed to supply engines for the F-15 and F-16. The competition is believed to have driven prices down and quality and performance up.
The Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps expect to buy 2,400 JSFs, with the UK planning to buy another 150. Worldwide, the market is thought to be as high as 6,000 aircraft over 30 years, making a large investment in a second source worthwhile.
|China, Russia Stage Large Exercise
China and Russia held their first large-scale joint military exercise in August. It was a week-long affair closely watched by the US, which was not invited to observe the wargames directly. The maneuvers took place in the region of China’s Shandong Peninsula, which juts into the Yellow Sea west of the Korean Peninsula.
Russia employed four long-range bombers in the exercise that involved more than 8,000 Chinese troops and nearly 2,000 Russian troops. Amphibious landings and airborne assaults were practiced, as well as submarine warfare and dogfights by fighter aircraft.
The two countries billed the event, called Peace Mission 2005, as preparation to jointly “fight terrorism.” However, the wargames happened to exercise precisely the forces and techniques useful in an invasion of Taiwan. In fact, China wanted to conduct the exercises closer to Taiwan, but Russia vetoed the idea.
The maneuvers mark a strengthened relationship between the two Cold War rivals. “In recent years, Chinese-Russian relations have had their best-ever period,” Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said at a news conference in March.
US officials say Moscow saw a chance to showcase military technologies as a signal that China and Russia are unhappy with the US military presence in central Asia.
Contrary to Media Reports, There Is No SOF Exodus
Special operations personnel left the services in greater numbers last year than at any time since Sept. 11, but officials aren’t worried that there will be a mass exodus. For Fiscal 2005, Air Force special operations forces retention is running seven percent higher than for Fiscal 2004, a US Special Operations Command spokesman said. Navy SEAL retention for this year is expected to be six percent higher than last year, and Army Special Forces expect a retention rate of seven percent better.
The higher-than-average departures last year were due in large part to personnel finally being allowed to leave the service after being involuntarily extended for the war. Under Stop-Loss provisions put in place in key specialties, many special operators who had already put in their papers before 9/11 were kept on duty. Those Stop-Loss orders were lifted last year, creating an abnormal number of departures.
“Special operators who had planned to retire or leave the armed forces while Stop-Loss was in effect acted on their plans, which contributed to the higher than normal attrition,” the SOCOM spokesman said.
Press speculation held that special operations types were being lured from the service by private security companies paying top dollar for experienced personnel. The SOCOM spokesman said, “Special operators are not leaving the services en masse.”
|Gen. William C. Westmoreland, 1914-2005
Gen. William C. Westmoreland, the Army general who commanded US forces in Vietnam, died July 18 in Charleston, S.C., at the age of 91.
Westmoreland led the war effort in Indochina from 1964 to 1968. During that time, the US commitment in Vietnam grew from 20,000 troops to more than 500,000. He wanted to expand the war effort with 200,000 more, but the request drew national criticism and was refused by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
In a 1967 news conference, Westmoreland gave an upbeat assessment of the war’s progress. It was derided by protesters and news media as overly optimistic. Ten weeks later, the Tet Offensive, which saw fighting throughout South Vietnam, including attacks on the US embassy in Saigon, seemed to confirm the public perception that the US was losing the war and that commanders were not being truthful in their assessments of progress. Even though Tet turned out to be a military defeat for the communist forces, the public had lost faith in Westmoreland, and Johnson recalled him to Washington. He served as Army Chief of Staff from 1968 until his retirement in 1972.
Two years later, Westmoreland made a failed bid to win nomination as the Republican candidate for governor of South Carolina.
He was in the news again in 1982, when he sued CBS News for slander, demanding $120 million in damages. In a documentary that year, CBS implied that Westmoreland had deceived Johnson and the American public about the true strength of communist forces in Vietnam. After an 18-week trial, the case was settled before a jury verdict was given.
Westmoreland was buried at West Point, where he had served as superintendent before taking command of forces in Vietnam.
|Japan To Revise No-War Clause
Japan has taken steps to revise its postwar “peace” constitution, relaxing the “no-war” clause that has limited that nation’s ability to send military forces abroad since World War II. The move is in response to China’s growing military and economic power.
A draft proposal calling for the amendment was released Aug. 1. It would remove the pacifist Article 9 strictures on the nation’s military and ease the process of war mobilization.
Although there seems to be domestic support for the change, the move has not been greeted with enthusiasm by other Far East nations, which still have vivid memories of Japanese barbarism in its World War II regional conquests. (See “Dragon, Eagle, and Rising Sun,” June, p. 62.)
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has tested the waters by sending approximately 1,000 Japan Self-Defense Forces to Iraq to provide humanitarian relief in noncombat zones and more to Southeast Asia for tsunami relief.
“Japan’s new policy is to be able to have the SDF ready to respond militarily if there is an attack from [China],” said military analyst Toshiyuki Shikata, according to Asia Times Online. Tokyo has also expressed interest in fostering a closer military partnership with the US in light of growing Chinese military capabilities.
|Dragon Lady Turns 50
The U-2 Dragon Lady, stalwart of Air Force high-altitude reconnaissance operations since before the Cuban Missile Crisis, celebrated its 50th anniversary in August.
A ceremony marking the anniversary was held at Robins AFB, Ga., which provides system management and overall support for the U-2 fleet. A large scale model of the aircraft was dedicated, and the base’s Museum of Aviation unveiled a U-2 exhibit.
Lockheed completed its first official flight test of the then-secret aircraft on Aug. 4, 1955. Intended to document Soviet activities in the Cold War, it has gone on to play a role in every armed conflict fought by the US since. A U-2 flew the first combat mission over Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks.
The U-2 first came to prominence when a CIA U-2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. The Air Force soon took over all U-2 operations and has kept the aircraft in service ever since. Over the years, the U-2 has been redesigned and new ones built to take advantage of advances in both aeronautical technology and sensors. The latest version, the U-2S, features new engines and a “glass” digital cockpit.
|OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM
By Sep. 6, a total of 1,886 Americans had died supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. This total includes 1,881 troops and five Defense Department civilians. Of those fatalities, 1,467 were killed in action by enemy attack, and 419 died in noncombat incidents.
There have been 14,265 troops wounded in action during OIF. This includes 7,457 who returned to duty within 72 hours and 6,808 who were unable to quickly return to action.
Bomb Kills 14 Marines
A large roadside bomb killed 14 Marine Reservists, injured another, and destroyed a Marine amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) during a dawn patrol in the western Iraqi town of Haditha on Aug. 3. The event marked the worst roadside bombing loss since the 2003 invasion.
Nine of the marines were from the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, based in Brook Park, Ohio. The incident followed the death of six Marine snipers outside Haditha on Aug. 1, most of whom were from the same battalion.
The American forces were mounting simultaneous assaults on a string of towns along the Euphrates River to root out insurgents and curtail their freedom of movement. Since May, the battalion had launched combat operations in the area against insurgents to allow the Iraqi military to assume control.
The AAV in which the marines were patrolling is the primary means of transportation for marines and cargo in western Iraq, but it is only lightly armored. The AAV has been criticized for not having heavy armor plating like the Army’s Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM
By Sep. 6, a total of 232 Americans had died supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, primarily in and around Afghanistan. The total includes 113 troops killed in action, one DOD civilian death, and 118 who died in nonhostile incidents such as accidents.
A total of 582 troops have been wounded in Enduring Freedom. They include 210 who were able to return to duty in three days and 372 who were not.
C-17 Rolls Off Bagram Runway
A C-17 transport rolled off the runway during landing at Bagram AB, Afghanistan, on Aug. 6. No one was injured, but the airfield had to be closed for 30 hours to clear the runway.
The C-17 damaged its nose and right main landing gear. The aircraft is assigned to Charleston AFB, S.C.
Diverted aircraft continued combat missions, and airpower was maintained in the theater during repair operations. Bagram is the main USAF operating base in Afghanistan.
Technicians had to unload 105,000 pounds of fuel and 55,000 pounds of cargo from the aircraft in order to move it. Cargo pallets had to be broken down and moved by hand because of the way the C-17 was leaning.
The aircraft then was lifted with a crane. It was placed on a flatbed trailer and dragged to a parking ramp using two bulldozers.
The incident is under investigation.
|Hurricane Katrina: Devastation and Recovery
From the Air Force, a Swift and Overwhelming Response
The Air Force mobilized helicopters, cargo aircraft, and rescue and medical personnel to help with the evacuation of New Orleans and to provide assistance to the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast.
Every type of cargo aircraft in the inventory—including C-17s, C-5s, C-130s, and the soon-to-retire C-141s—was engaged in the relief airlift, flying everything from earthmoving equipment to bottled water to a range of airfields throughout the region. All USAF rescue, utility, and special operations helicopters that could be spared from their usual activities were flown to the region, where they participated in picking up stranded persons or delivering equipment or supplies to areas cut off from ground transportation by debris or standing water. In many cases, routine training missions were canceled and the assets shifted to the rescue and recovery.
USAF medical personnel were flown in to assist with triage, first aid, and other emergency medicine from across the continental US and Puerto Rico. They also assisted and accompanied medical evacuations from the region. Air Force mental health specialists were deployed to the region to help residents profoundly affected by the catastrophe.
In addition, E-3 AWACS aircraft were deployed to help coordinate the mass of helicopters and aircraft buzzing over the storm zone. Aeromedical evacuation missions were flown by C-9 Nightingale aircraft, and even OC-135 and U-2 aircraft were employed to collect imagery of the devastated area to identify ground routes, survey damage, and prioritize rescue actions in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. KC-135 aerial tankers helped keep things moving by refueling all these aircraft into and out of the affected region. The Civil Air Patrol assisted with scouting flights.
Transportable hospitals and kitchens alike were moved into position, and bases outside the storm were just as active, receiving patients at base hospitals, loading relief supplies, and planning follow-up actions.
Air Force officials said they expected the high tempo of rescue and relief operations to continue for weeks.
Air Force active, Guard, and Reserve components worldwide were promptly mobilized to assist in the massive Gulf Region rescue and relief operation after the Aug. 29 storm.
Hurricane Effort Poses First Test for Northern Command
The US military “pushed” capabilities and offers of assistance at civilian leaders organizing the rescue and relief response to Hurricane Katrina, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers told reporters in mid-September.
After the initial assessment of the storm damage, Myers said he told the services to be proactive in suggesting ways they could assist FEMA, going through US Northern Command chief Adm. Timothy J. Keating.
“As you, a service, think of a capability that might be needed, you work with Northern Command … and you push it forward,” Myers reported telling the service Chiefs. Myers was responding to charges that response to the hurricane by the federal government was slow. He pointed out that the Defense Department’s role was to “assist” the Department of Homeland Security but that the military didn’t wait to be asked for help. Myers said he authorized “vocal approval of orders” to streamline the process.
The relief effort was the first major operation to be headed by Northern Command, which was created in 2002, as a direct result of the 9/11 attacks.
As of Sept. 7, Myers reported, the military had deployed more than 58,000 troops to the storm zone, of which 41,000 were National Guard. Of the 17,000 active duty forces, 7,000 were Navy or Marine personnel afloat on 21 ships off the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi.
“More than 350…helicopters and more than 75 DOD and National Guard fixed-wing aircraft are assisting in the effort,” Myers reported, adding that more than 1,800 search and rescue, evacuation, and supply missions had been flown to that date. He said that US military personnel had rescued more than 13,000 people, transported more than 10,000 hospital patients and treated about 5,000 of those. The military delivered more than nine million Meals, Ready to Eat to FEMA, Myers said. In addition, more than 4,000 Coast Guard personnel were involved.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld asserted that, despite the deployment of US National Guard troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were more than enough troops available to both deal with the humanitarian crisis and any contingencies that might arise overseas.
Hard-hit Keesler Inundated by Hurricane’s Waters
Hurricane Katrina inflicted heavy damage on Keesler AFB, Miss., among the most badly hurt of the nation’s many Gulf of Mexico military bases and facilities.
Located in hard-hit Biloxi, Miss., Keesler suffered sustained winds of more than 50 mph and gusts of more than 90 mph, and most of the base was covered by water, up to six feet deep in places. Some 6,000 people rode out the storm in one of seven shelters on base, and no personnel were reported missing or killed. Much of base housing was assessed afterward as “unlivable,” and the industrial areas were severely damaged or destroyed, according to a base spokeswoman. However, the runway was operational soon after the storm passed, and 25 injured, sick, or pregnant persons were flown almost immediately to the hospital at Lackland AFB, Tex., for treatment.
From Hurlburt Field, Fla., the 823rd Red Horse squadron, which specializes in rapidly setting up austere air bases, deployed to Keesler within a day of the hurricane. The runway was able to handle C-17 aircraft bringing in relief supplies and rescue crews and taking out evacuees.
The Air Force issued a “stop movement” order, halting personnel on their way to a permanent change of station assignment at Keesler until further notice.
Maj. Gen. (sel.) William T. Lord, commander of the 81st Training Wing, ordered that Keesler’s main mission of communications and electronics training be shut down until the base could be brought back up to speed. He also warned personnel that full power was not expected to be restored for at least three weeks, although generators were keeping mission-critical equipment powered.
“Treat this like a deployed environment,” Lord said in a message to base personnel. No estimate has been offered on how long it will take to reconstruct the damaged facilities at Keesler.
Keesler happens to be the home base of the 53rd Weather Squadron, which flew 16 missions into Katrina with WC-130 “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft, plotting the track and characteristics of the storm until nearly the moment of impact. The last two of these missions were flown with brand-new WC-130J aircraft.
All the base’s WC-130s were sent to inland facilities at Dyess AFB and Ellington Field, Tex., to ride out the hurricane before relocating to Dobbins ARB, Ga. The unit will operate from there until it can return to Keesler or another base is chosen.
Air Force bases located elsewhere in the zone of destruction inflicted by Katrina fared far better than Keesler. By Sept. 1, Eglin Air Force Base, Hurlburt Field, and Tyndall Air Force Base, all in Florida, reported minimal or no damage or injuries and were back to normal operations. Barksdale AFB, La., and Columbus AFB, Miss., were also spared substantial destruction, as was Maxwell AFB, Ala. Maxwell was selected to be one of the headquarters for the regional relief effort.
Troops home-based at Keesler who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were housed at nearby facilities and given assistance in tracking down their families.
By Tamar A. Mehuron, Associate Editor
- Space operators at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., launched an unarmed Minuteman III ICBM on July 21. The purpose was to demonstrate new monitoring, telemetry, and command destruct systems installed on the missile for data collection and safety requirements. The missile hit a predetermined target in the Kwajalein Missile Range in the western Pacific Ocean.
- Pratt & Whitney recently finished manufacturing a hypersonic ground demonstration engine. The engine is currently being prepared for testing at Mach 5 conditions at NASA-Langley Research Center, Va.
- C-5 aircrews no longer have to dim their onboard lights to use night vision goggles, thanks to a new lighting system. The C-5 Aviator Night Vision Lighting kit features two parts that clip on to the flight deck and the cargo compartment. It was developed at the Air Mobility Battlelab and approved for use in late July.
- Gen. John W. Handy, commander of Air Mobility Command, received the Order of the Sword, the highest honor of the enlisted force, in a ceremony July 29 at Scott AFB, Ill. He is the seventh person in AMC to be so honored. Handy was slated to retire Oct. 1.
- General Atomics Aeronautical Systems received an Army contract to deliver and test 17 Warrior unmanned aerial system vehicles. The aircraft has long-range, surveillance, and attack capabilities, with twice the Predator’s weapons carriage load. The contract, announced Aug. 10, is valued at $1 billion.
- USAF awarded L-3 Communications Corp., Arlington, Tex., a $240 million contract to develop and prepare advanced technologies to improve warfighter readiness. Work is scheduled to be completed by July 2010.
- USAF has tapped 14,614 senior airmen for promotion to staff sergeant, from a pool of 36,405 eligible airmen. That represents a 40 percent selection rate.
F-16 pilots and engineers from Eglin AFB, Fla., and Edwards AFB, Calif., teamed up in late July to test an advanced avionics suite, the M4.2-plus. It combines two crucial capabilities, air-to-surface attack and destruction and suppression of enemy air defenses.
- An Air Force accident investigation report released Aug. 4 cited a failed pilot bearing in the propeller shaft as the cause of an MQ-1 Predator crash March 30 in Southwest Asia. The unmanned aerial vehicle, assigned to the 57th Wing at Nellis AFB, Nev., was conducting an intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance mission when it crashed in a remote area.
- Without notifying India, Pakistan for the first time test fired a cruise missile Aug. 11, from an undisclosed location. The cruise missile, named Babur, has a range of 310 miles.
- Civil engineers at Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., demolished a service tower Aug. 6 that had helped send Atlas-Agena launchers on Lunar Orbiter missions in 1966 and 1967. Those missions mapped nearly all of the moon’s surface. The tower’s last launch occurred in April 1978.
- A group of Chinese firms in July concluded deals with European Union officials to develop commercial applications for Europe’s Galileo system, reported the Washington Post July 29. Galileo is the European version of the US’s Global Positioning System.
- An Air Combat Command accident investigation report Aug. 9 concluded that the March 25 crash of an F-15 was caused by a horizontal stabilator failure. During a training mission north of Nellis AFB, Nev., the pilot was executing a left rudder roll, and the aircraft went out of control and entered a spin. The pilot ejected safely, with no injuries.
- Russia on Aug. 5 demonstrated its newest version of the MiG-29 fighter, featuring an engine with maneuvering nozzles at the rear of the aircraft. The nozzles can move in any direction and enable the aircraft to attack an enemy from all angles. The MiG-29 OVT will be on the market in two or three years.
- DOD and NASA will rely on the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets to launch intermediate and larger spacecraft for national security missions, cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station, and civil and science missions, according to a letter signed by USAF Undersecretary Ronald M. Sega and NASA Administrator Mike Griffin. The letter was sent to the White House on Aug. 5.
- USAF fighters and aircrews from the 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem AB, Germany, held their first training mission in Constanta, Romania, in a two-week-long exercise ending July 31. The USAF mission was held alongside Romanian-American Training Exercise 2005, which combined USAF, US Army, and Romanian troops.