Airman Dies in Pakistan Blast
Maj. Rodolfo I. Rodriguez, 34, of El Paso, Tex., died Sept. 20 in Islamabad, Pakistan, of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device detonated during a suicide attack on a hotel. Rodriguez was assigned to the 86th Construction and Training Squadron at Ramstein AB, Germany.
The blast reportedly killed more than 50 people, including another US service member, Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew J. O’Bryant, 22, of Duluth, Ga.
New Leadership Speaks Out
Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley and Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, Chief of Staff, announced several changes in late August and September as they began to place their mark on the service.
They canceled plans to realign maintenance units for bomber, fighter, and combat search and rescue aircraft with their flying units, believing that maintenance personnel would best sustain and hone their competencies if led by maintenance professionals. They also axed plans to establish a new center for Common Battlefield Airmen Training and focus instead on optimizing existing training venues.
The leadership also scrubbed plans to field new service dress uniforms, deferring a decision on the Heritage Coat until mid-2009. Instead the focus will be on correcting issues with the present uniforms. And, they directed that, effective Sept. 8, airmen wear a combination of the Air Force’s blue uniform on Mondays.
Airmen Receive Bronze Star Medals
SMSgt. David Smith, a contracting specialist at Tyndall AFB, Fla., received a Bronze Star Medal on Sept. 18 for his actions while deployed to Iraq. During his tour, he often faced hostile fire as he traveled throughout Iraq to support 12 different forward operating bases.
MSgt. David Larriva, an explosive ordnance division superintendent with the 95th Civil Engineering and Transportation Directorate at Edwards AFB, Calif., received a Bronze Star Medal—his second overall—Aug. 27 for his activities in Iraq. As chief of operations with the 447th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight, he led five EOD teams at Sather Air Base and Camp Taji. He earned his first Bronze Star Medal in October 2007 for an earlier Iraq deployment.
McCaffrey Warns About Space
Retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey said Sept. 2 the “current $10 billion Air Force space strategy is under-resourced and severely constrained” and laid the blame on the “executive and Congressional national security establishment.”
Based on his independent assessment of Air Force Space Command, the “next Administration will have at most a year to analyze a series of difficult strategic and investment space decisions before US global superiority will start rapidly eroding,” said McCaffrey, a former national drug czar and currently a recognized pundit on national security issues.
C-17, F-22 Units Reach IOC
The first of two active duty F-22 fighter squadrons at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, and the base’s active duty C-17 unit were formally declared ready for combat, if called upon, during a ceremony Sept. 5 at the base to celebrate this initial operational capability milestone.
The 90th Fighter Squadron operates F-22s (with 19 of its 20 aircraft in place as of mid-September), while the 517th Airlift Squadron flies eight C-17s. Both are part of the 3rd Wing.
Supporting them, respectively, under the Air Force’s Total Force associations are Air Force Reserve Command’s 477th Fighter Group and the Air National Guard’s 176th Wing.
Pacific Air Forces expects Elmendorf’s second F-22 unit to reach IOC next summer.
Elmendorf received its first C-17 in June 2007 and its first F-22 in August 2007.
Airmen in Storm Relief Effort
Thousands of active duty, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve Command airmen took part in relief missions in late August and September to help residents of the Gulf Coast prepare for the onslaughts of Hurricanes Gustav on Sept. 1 and Ike on Sept. 13 and then deal with their aftermaths.
Among the myriad activities, airmen from numerous states helped evacuate elderly and special-needs residents in the paths of these storms on C-130 and C-17 transports. Airmen also brought in relief equipment and supplies, analyzed overhead imagery to help assess damage, and provided communications and command and control capability.
WC-130J weather-monitoring aircraft tracked both tempests as well as Tropical Storm Hanna on the southeastern US coast. HH-60 rescue helicopters brought stranded Texas residents to safety after Ike, while modified C-130s sprayed areas of Louisiana to prevent fly and mosquito outbreaks.
Tennessee ANG Facility Opens
The Tennessee Air National Guard’s 164th Airlift Wing opened its new $245 million facility at the southeast corner of Memphis Airport Sept. 6. The 118-acre, state-of-the-art complex is one of the largest ANG building projects ever. It will serve as home to the nine C-5A transports that the wing has been operating since 2004. Previously, the wing flew smaller C-141 transports.
Among the complex’s features are 28 acres of 14-inch-thick pavement to park the C-5As and three massive hangars that encompass 320,000 square feet, the wing said. Construction of the facility began in June 2006.
ABL Achieves First Light
The high-energy laser installed earlier this year on the Airborne Laser aircraft was fired for the first time aboard the platform in a ground test Sept. 7 at Edwards AFB, Calif., according to prime contractor Boeing.
The “first light” event was a significant milestone on the path to ABL’s airborne attempt next year to shoot down a boosting ballistic missile, the company said. The ABL is a modified Boeing 747-400F with a megawatt-class laser fired out of its nose turret.
New Space Radar Plan Sought
The Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics in August issued a request to industry for information on commercial and international space radar systems that may be leveraged by the US military to meet its surveillance needs.
The ATL office said it was interested in learning more about currently operating satellites as well as low-cost, low-risk systems that could be developed readily. “Funding has been requested for providing space radar data and/or a new acquisition which could begin in [Fiscal Year] 2009, with initial government operation of the first vehicle expected in FY12,” stated the office’s notice.
The Air Force has led DOD’s pursuit of various space radar projects over the years to provide capability such as synthetic aperture radar imagery, surface moving target indication, and open-ocean surveillance. But for various reasons, these efforts have floundered. Most recently, the Air Force-Intelligence Community Space Radar program was terminated in March over its hefty projected cost.
Pilot Error Blamed
The midair collision of two F-15Cs Feb. 20 over the Gulf of Mexico was the result of pilot error and not mechanical failure, stated the accident investigation board report released Aug. 25. Both pilots failed to clear their flight paths and anticipate their impending high-aspect, midair impact, according to Brig. Gen. Joseph Reynes Jr., Air Combat Command’s inspector general, who led the investigation.
Capt. Tucker Hamilton ejected on impact and survived, while 1st Lt. Ali Jivanjee was fatally injured in the collision. Both pilots were assigned to the 58th Fighter Squadron at Eglin AFB, Fla., and were flying a one vs. one high-aspect basic fighter maneuver south of Tyndall AFB, Fla.
Lawmakers Question NORAD Move
Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) on Sept. 18 called on Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates “to retain redundant operations” of NORAD functions at Cheyenne Mountain, Colo., until completion of a thorough review of the risks involved with the movement of these functions to the new combined NORAD-US Northern Command control center at Peterson AFB, Colo. The center opened May 29.
A Government Accountability Office report on the move issued Sept. 18 stoked the lawmakers’ concern by reporting that the Pentagon had still not objectively—at least to GAO’s satisfaction—weighed the costs and benefits and factored the potential vulnerabilities.
But, in a response also released Sept. 18, Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., commander both of NORAD and NORTHCOM, countered that the commands have multiple redundant and distributed nodes of command and control to guarantee that there is “no single point of failure.” Further, “we in the military are good stewards of taxpayer dollars and … our decisions, ultimately, make this nation safer,” he said.
ANG, Reserve Meet Strength Goals
For the first time in five years, the Air National Guard met its end strength goal, reaching the desired Fiscal 2008 level of 106,700 enlisted and officers, the National Guard Bureau announced Sept. 10.
Meanwhile, Air Force Reserve Command announced Sept. 2 that it met and eclipsed its recruiting goal in Fiscal 2008, marking the eighth consecutive year of doing so.
The Air Guard recruited 1,194 in August, which was 107 percent of its goal of 1,116. Through August, it had retained 16,518 personnel, 107.3 percent of its goal of 15,390. Numerous factors made reaching the goal possible, including “the constant leadership focus on recruiting” by the ANG leadership, adjutants general, and wing commanders, said Lt. Col. Randy Johnson, chief of ANG recruiting and retention.
Vietnam MIAs Found
The remains of Capt. James E. Cross, of Warren, Ohio, and Capt. Gomer D. Reese III, of Scarsdale, N.Y., have been identified, DOD announced Sept. 25. Cross and Reese were flying a U-17B light aircraft on an orientation flight on April 24, 1970, over Xiangkhoang Province, Laos, when their aircraft was struck by enemy ground fire, crashed, and burned, with no signs of survivors.
Based on surveys and excavations of the crash site between 1994 and 1998, in 2004, and in 2007, US and Laotian officials recovered human remains and crew-related items that led to the identification of both airmen, DOD said.
TSAT Selection Set for December
The Air Force’s choice either of Boeing or Lockheed Martin to build the Transformational Satellite Communications System spacecraft will come “no earlier than the middle of December,” Gary E. Payton, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space programs, told reporters Sept. 25.
Part of the reason is that the Air Force is being “as thorough as possible” in its evaluation of the bids so that it has a rock-solid case for why it picked the winner in the event that the losing bidder opts to challenge the decision. Admittedly, this approach “has taken more time,” Payton said. The Air Force expects to launch the first TSAT satellite in 2018.
Meanwhile, the service informed Congress in early September that the Advanced Extremely High Frequency Satellite Communications System (AEHF) program had breached Nunn-McCurdy cost-monitoring thresholds. This means that the Air Force and Office of the Secretary of Defense must certify to Congress that the program warrants continuation, despite the cost increases. Payton said the goal was to finish this process by mid-October.
C-130 AMP Gears Up
Boeing announced in September completion of the developmental stage of the Air Force’s C-130 Avionics Modernization Program and the company’s readiness to move the project into low-rate initial production early in 2009. John J. Young Jr., undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, was expected to decide in mid-November whether to allow the AMP to move into production.
Under AMP, the Air Force is upgrading the cockpits of 221 combat-delivery C-130H2, H2.5, and H3 aircraft. During LRIP, the Air Force intends to procure 26 AMP kits over four production lots. Boeing will install 11 of the kits, the Air Force 11, while two competitively selected contractors each install two. In early 2012, the Air Force will then pick one company to build and install the upgrades during full-rate production.
Battlefield Airman Gear on Tap
The Air Force said in September it expects to issue the Airman Battle System-Ground ensemble—a new set of protective clothes and equipment optimized for airmen serving in ground roles in combat—around February for a testing phase of about 18 to 24 months. However, several airmen are already wear-testing it in Southwest Asia.
The ABS-G is designed to enable airmen to function effectively in ground combat operations. It is basically a tactical, fire-resistant adaptation of the current Airman Battle Uniform, with coat, pants, and battle shirt that integrate with body armor. The new ensemble provides “the highest level of utility, comfort, and protection,” said Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, Air Forces Central commander.
C-5 Upgrade Testing Advances
Developmental flight testing wrapped up in August on the one C-5A and two C-5B Galaxy transports fitted with new cockpits under the Avionics Modernization Program and new propulsion under the Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program. The Air Force expects to commence operational testing of them in mid-2009.
These three aircraft, now designated C-5M Super Galaxys, showed roughly a 20 percent improvement in fuel efficiency and a takeoff reliability of 82 percent to 85 percent during the flight trials, according to lead contractor Lockheed Martin. The latter point is important since the C-5s with RERP upgrades must demonstrate at least 75 percent takeoff reliability for that program to enter full-rate production.
USAF intends to convert 52 of its 111 C-5s to the M configuration by around 2016. The remaining 59 C-5s—all A models—will receive only new avionics. In September, the first of these C-5As was inducted into the AMP.
Hypersonic Centers Eyed
The Air Force and NASA in September announced plans to establish three National Hypersonic Science Centers that support industry and university-level research to advance understanding of hypersonic flight. The Air Force Office of Science Research and NASA’s Fundamental Aeronautics Program plan to set aside as much as $30 million to fund the centers over five years, NASA said Sept. 22.
The centers will have three focus areas: hypersonic air-breathing propulsion, hypersonic materials and structures, and hypersonic laminar-turbulent transition. These are “the biggest hurdles to successful hypersonic flight,” said NASA’s lead hypersonic investigator, James Pittman. The first contract awards are anticipated next February.
Robert M. DeHaven, 86, a World War II fighter ace who shot down 14 Japanese aircraft in the Pacific and went on to become a Hughes Aircraft executive, died July 10. The Los Angeles Times said he died at a hospital near his Encino, Calif., home after a long illness. DeHaven joined the Army Air Forces in 1942, serving with the 7th Fighter Squadron, “The Screamin’ Demons” of the 49th Fighter Group stationed in New Guinea. He achieved 10 of his aerial victories in the cockpit of a P-40 and four in the seat of a P-38 after the unit converted to the Lightning in mid-1944. After the war, he became personal pilot to Howard Hughes and joined Hughes Aircraft as a test pilot. He rose to director of flight-test division before retiring in the 1980s.
Retired Col. Donald J. M. Blakeslee, a high-scoring ace of World War II, died Sept. 3 at age 90 in Miami, according to a notice in the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel. According to the official Air Force record, Blakeslee scored 11.5 victories as a member of the Army Air Forces. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940, arrived in Britain in May 1941, and, according to various accounts, scored three kills by 1942, at which time he transferred to an American Eagle Squadron with the Royal Air Force. He shot down two more enemy aircraft before the AAF incorporated his unit in September 1942. He flew Spitfire, P-47, and P-51 fighters. He took command of the 4th Fighter Group in January 1944. Blakeslee saw action in the F-84 during the Korean War, leading, for a time, the 27th Fighter-Escort Group.
Air Force Tanker Recompete Put On Hold
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates terminated the reopened KC-X tanker competition on Sept. 10 and announced his intent to leave it in the hands of the next Administration to decide how to replace the Air Force’s fleet of Eisenhower-era KC-135s.
Based on talks with senior defense and Air Force officials and with Boeing and Northrop Grumman representatives, Gates said he no longer thought it possible to complete the solicitation process that the Office of the Secretary of Defense had launched in August and meet the goal of awarding a contract by January, especially given the “highly charged environment” surrounding the multibillion-dollar tanker contest.
“I didn’t like the smell of approving a potentially hundred-billion-dollar contract or opportunity in the last day or two of being on the job,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee Sept. 23. Gates said Sept. 10 that budget adjustments would be made in Fiscal 2009 and beyond “to maintain the KC-135 at high mission capable rates.”
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz said Sept. 15 a restarted KC-X tanker program could take as little as eight months and as long as 48 to produce a new winner under the new Administration, depending on the path chosen.
Meanwhile, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, told reporters Sept. 24 that the only realistic way of getting new tankers on the ramp anytime soon is to award dual contracts and not just pick one winner.
“We’re not going to have tankers if we don’t do that, I’m convinced,” he said.
Generals Disciplined Over Taiwan Incident
The Air Force’s leadership took administrative action against six general officers and nine colonels in September for being “deficient” in overseeing the service’s ICBM force, leading to the errant shipment of four Minuteman III nosecone assemblies to Taiwan in 2006.
“These officers are good people with otherwise distinguished careers spent in faithful service to the nation,” Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, Chief of Staff, said Sept. 25 during a Pentagon press briefing held with then-Acting Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley. Schwartz continued: “But they did not do enough to carry out their leadership responsibilities for nuclear oversight. For that, they must be held accountable.”
Of the six generals, Lt. Gen. Kevin J. Sullivan, deputy chief of staff for logistics, installations, and mission support, received the harshest sentence with a letter of reprimand; he requested retirement. The remaining five got letters of admonishment. They are: Lt. Gen. Michael A. Hamel, former commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, who retired Oct. 1 under plans announced before the Taiwan incident came to light in March; Maj. Gen. Roger W. Burg, commander, 20th Air Force, who remained in this post; Maj. Gen. Kathleen D. Close, commander of the Ogden Air Logistics Center, who stayed in her position; now-retired Brig. Gen. Francis M. Bruno, former director of logistics for Air Force Materiel Command, who, like Hamel, retired Oct. 1 under previously announced plans; and Brig Gen. Arthur B. Cameron III, director of resource integration on the Air Staff, who had finished a tour in July as commander of Ogden’s 309th Maintenance Wing and moved on to his current assignment prior to this discipline.
Of the nine unnamed colonels, five received reprimands (with two removed from command), three admonishments, and one a letter of counseling.
New UAV Pilot Training Launched
The Air Force envisions building a force of 1,100 unmanned aircraft operators—up from today’s pool of about 450—by Fiscal 2012 under two new initiatives announced in September. This force of unmanned pilots, which will be second in size only to the service’s F-16 pilot community, will support 50 continuous combat air patrols of MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles, Air Force officials said.
Under the first initiative, begun in October, the Air Force planned to select about 10 percent of its graduates from undergraduate pilot training—about 100 airmen—for training in UAV operations at Creech AFB, Nev., Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, Chief of Staff, announced Sept. 16 in his address at the Air Force Association’s Air & Space Conference in Washington, D.C.
The second, more radical concept entails creating a new career field for UAV operators who are taught only to fly UAVs. The service plans to fill this field with active duty officers from various technical and nontechnical backgrounds.
These initiatives will develop a new cadre of UAV operators that do not have experience as rated pilots operating manned combat aircraft—as has been the Air Force’s policy to date. (See “The Way It’s Going to Be,” p. 30.)
Operation Iraqi Freedom—Iraq
By Oct. 16, a total of 4,185 Americans had died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The total includes 4,174 troops and 11 Department of Defense civilians. Of these deaths, 3,385 were killed in action with the enemy while 800 died in noncombat incidents.
There have been 30,723 troops wounded in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom. This number includes 17,179 who were wounded and returned to duty within 72 hours and 13,544 who were unable to return to duty quickly.
C-130 Unit Marks 25,000th Combat Sortie
Joint Base Balad’s 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron completed its 25,000th combat sortie on Sept. 3. The C-130 squadron has been operating from the base since February 2006 and has carried approximately 210,000 passengers and more than 98 million pounds of cargo since then.
According to wing officials, this has taken more than 11,000 convoy vehicles off roads that would expose supply lines to improvised explosive devices.
As of Aug. 26, Air Forces Central reported that more than 8.5 million pounds of goods had been airdropped, reaching an all-time high for tactical airdrops. This equated to more than six times the amount dropped in 2005 and three times the amount dropped in 2006, according to AFCENT officials.
Operation Enduring Freedom—Afghanistan
By Oct. 16, a total of 609 Americans had died in Operation Enduring Freedom. The total includes 608 troops and one Department of Defense civilian. Of these deaths, 394 were killed in action with the enemy while 215 died in noncombat incidents.
There have been 2,522 troops wounded in action during OEF. This number includes 900 who were wounded and returned to duty within 72 hours and 1,622 who were unable to return to duty quickly.
Willow Grove A-10s Complete Final Deployment to Bagram
Members of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s 111th Fighter Wing wrapped up what they anticipate to be their last overseas deployment with A-10 Thunderbolt IIs when they returned in September from a 45-day rotation to Bagram AB, Afghanistan.
The unit, which hails from NAS JRB Willow Grove, will be transitioning to a joint interagency installation as a result of BRAC 2005 and is scheduled to lose its A-10s beginning in spring 2009.
According to officials with the 103rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Bagram, the Willow Grove A-10s dropped more than 30,000 pounds of ordnance and fired more than 25,000 30 mm cannon rounds during the unit’s deployment.
Gen. Duncan J. McNabb assumed command of US Transportation Command Sept. 5 at Scott AFB, Ill. McNabb served at Scott as head of Air Mobility Command for two years before becoming vice chief of staff in September 2007.
The last flying Douglas C-133A Cargomaster transport aircraft touched down Aug. 30 at Travis AFB, Calif., where it will reside on static display as part of the future Jimmy Doolittle Air Museum. It had been flying for several years in Alaska as a commercial freighter.
Three members of a Minuteman III ICBM launch crew assigned to the 91st Missile Wing at Minot AFB, N.D., were decertified from missile operations for falling asleep July 12 in a crew rest area while in possession of classified launch code devices, the Air Force announced Aug. 29.
Failure of a brake metering valve caused a B-1B bomber to roll forward into two rescue vehicles after engine shutdown March 7 at Andersen AFB, Guam, Air Combat Command said Sept. 3. Damage to the B-1B and the two vehicles totaled $5.8 million.
Edmund Zelnio, a sensor researcher in the Air Force Research Laboratory, won the 53rd annual DOD Distinguished Civilian Service award, the Air Force said Sept. 9.
The Air Force on Aug. 27 released a revised mission statement, reading: “The mission of the United States Air Force is to fly, fight, and win … in air, space, and cyberspace.”
The last F-16 assigned to the Illinois ANG’s 183rd Fighter Wing departed Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport on Sept. 23, ending the unit’s 19-year history with the fighter.
The US in early September concluded its humanitarian relief mission to the Republic of Georgia after the flight of 62 air sorties by Air Force C-17s and C-130s and Navy C-9, C-130, and C-40 aircraft, plus sealift.
Mississippi officials on Sept. 16 announced USAF plans to bring to Key Field in Meridian a temporary mission qualification training detachment for up to seven RC-12 intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance aircraft.
A federal jury on Sept. 3 convicted J. Reece Roth, a retired professor, of violating the Arms Export Control Act by transferring abroad sensitive data on plasma guidance for UAVs while working on two projects for the Air Force.