US Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond displays the service’s uniform nametapes in the Pentagon on Jan. 17, 2020, in Arlington, Va. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert Barnett.
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Air Force World

Feb. 19, 2021

New Space Force ranks; USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. discusses the electromagnetic spectrum; KC-46 fixes; and much more

Space Force Adopts USAF-like Ranks

Four grades of ‘specialist’—plus no staff sergeants.

By Rachel S. Cohen

The Space Force will drop the rank system it inherited from the Air Force for a new set that combines Air Force and Army names, as the new service also looks to start transitioning new members in from other services.

The decision to adopt its own rank system is the latest move to forge the new service’s path forward as it tries to establish a culture separate from the Air Force it came from in December 2019.

Changes to the rank structure only affect enlisted troops, while officers will retain the same career ladder from second lieutenant to general.

Enlisted Guardians from E-1 to E-5 will be known as specialist 1, specialist 2, specialist 3, specialist 4, and sergeant. That’s a switch from airman basic, airman, airman 1st class, senior airman, and staff sergeant.

The Space Force said people should address troops in the first four ranks as “specialist,” though abbreviations or the full title are also acceptable.

The enlisted system continues on to technical sergeant and then chief master sergeant. There is no command chief master sergeant on the list of new ranks. The top enlisted member will be known as Chief Master Sergeant of the Space Force (CMSSF).

While ranks will stay the same on the officer side, the Space Force has decided to call its top brass “Chief of Space Operations” and “Vice Chief of Space Operations” rather than Chief and Vice Chief of Staff as in the Air Force.

Guardians will continue wearing the same Air Force rank insignias, like the chevron patches, while the Space Force finalizes new designs “sometime in the coming months,” according to a Jan. 29 release. Troops will get to weigh in on their future insignias.

Official military documentation like forms and websites will reflect the updates beginning Feb. 1, the Space Force said in the release, cautioning that “it may take time for all systems to reflect the change.”

“There are no changes to military benefits or entitlements,” according to the service’s memo, signed by Patricia Mulcahy, the Space Force’s deputy chief of space operations for personnel.

The decision comes shortly after the Space Force’s first birthday, as well as a previous announcement that the service’s members will be known as “Guardians.” As it did when picking that name, the Space Force considered crowdsourced input from the field while mulling its options for new ranks.

Congress created the Space Force during the Trump administration after years of discussion about the best way to handle new forms of aggression on orbit, such as anti-satellite missiles and signal jamming. The new service is a separate branch under the Department of the Air Force that is now in charge of training troops, buying hardware and software, and providing those resources to military commanders around the world.

Space Force missions span ballistic missile warning, GPS guidance for personnel and weapons, satellite communications, and more that have been around for years under the Air Force. Proponents say those jobs will become increasingly important and difficult as countries jockey for free rein in space.

Active-duty Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines will soon be able to apply for jobs in the Space Force, as the new service begins to include people outside of the Department of the Air Force for the first time.

The Space Force is looking for about 30 members of the Army and Navy departments to come on board this year, before ramping up to several hundred next year, Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond told reporters Feb. 3.

Military employees recently outlined the plan for transferring those troops, the majority of whom will come from land- and sea-focused backgrounds in ballistic missile defense, space surveillance, navigation, and satellite communications—missions that now largely fall under the Space Force.

“We’re going to need that joint expertise,” Brig. Gen. David N. Miller Jr., the Space Force’s deputy chief operations officer, said in an online town hall Jan. 28. “You have an advantage, coming from another service, that we need to latch onto. We value that warfighting experience that you may bring from the Army, from the Navy or the Marine Corps. We need you to stay focused on building that warfighting mentality into the space cadre.”

The application period opens in early spring, followed by a review of applicants’ performance records late that season. Those chosen to transfer will hear back early this summer, and the Space Force hopes to start welcoming troops from the Army and Navy in late summer or early fall.

Officials did not provide specific dates for each part of the process.

Troops who volunteer to join the Space Force under the limited interservice program are separate from the organizations within the Army and Navy departments that the Pentagon is planning to move into the Space Force starting in fiscal 2022, as dictated by Congress. Military officials have said for months that they are nearing a decision on those groups that will fall under the Space Force, but have not announced a final plan.

“We’re looking to bring individuals … that are not necessarily in those units or missions that are planning to join Space Force in FY22,” said Matt Jobe, a senior policy analyst in the service’s personnel branch. “Those individuals that are in those signal battalions or satellite operations centers, those will have opportunities in ’22.”

Service members who are part of units that are moving under the Space Force won’t automatically transfer—they must volunteer to join on their own.

Air Force members, largely from Air Force Space Command, started formally becoming Guardians last year. As of this spring, the Space Force plans to have around 6,400 Active-duty uniformed members across the globe and will total around 16,000 military and civilian employees.

Space Force career experts outlined potential job paths for Guardians during the Jan. 28 presentation, pitching positions that can take service members around the world and job stability as people stay in one line of work for years at a time. Many transfers will need to go through at least some mission training once they join the service, they said.

When newcomers from the Army and Navy arrive to the space operations field, they’ll likely start in two areas: orbital warfare and space electronic warfare (EW), said Col. Chris Putman, a career field manager in that area.

Orbital warfare entails commanding satellites and “moving the spacecraft on orbit, both to protect the missions that they perform … or to prevent the adversary from taking actions on orbit,” he said. Space EW personnel jam electronic signals to stop others from using the electromagnetic spectrum in space, and protect those same wavelengths that U.S. assets need to communicate.

The Space Force also wants to train experts in space battle management—the people who direct on-orbit operations more broadly—and space access and sustainment, or the people who handle rocket launch ranges, testing, network management, and more. Troops can pursue careers in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, cyber operations, and acquisition as well.

“You will see two primary career fields that we need and that is network operations and defensive cyber operations,” said Col. Jon Smail, the Space Force’s senior cyber officer. “We won’t be doing expeditionary [communications operations], and we won’t start with offensive cyber operations, but we are planning in the future to have that capacity.”

The Space Force isn’t necessarily off-limits for troops in jobs that don’t fall in the space lane—say, an Army infantryman or a Navy drone pilot. USSF in fiscal 2022 will start considering how to bring those people in, and hopes to have a firmer plan in 2023 to open the Space Force to anyone who wants to join, according to Jobe.

Officers and enlisted members who sign up for the Space Force start the clock on a three-year service commitment, Jobe added. That’s long enough to complete fresh training, make sure people have adjusted to their new work, and set them up for future promotions.

“We want to do very deliberate development with each individual that joins Space Force,” Jobe said. “We are not looking for box-checking.”

Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines who transfer in will keep their same grade, said Rob Romer, the Space Force’s deputy for strategic human capital planning. A pending promotion that is finalized “should travel with you,” he said, though it may delay the transfer process. Retirement plans would remain the same as well.

Officials are still ironing out the details of how to move people across the Defense Department, as top Space Force leaders reiterate they don’t want to “break” the other armed forces to build their own.

“We’re trying to do what we can to smooth this process out,” Romer said. “I know that one service goes a lot faster than the other service, but we’re going to work with all of the services to be sure that we understand the timelines, and if there’s a way to … speed things up, we’re all for that.”


Brown Presses for More Aggressive EMS Strategy

Senior Airman Rose Li, left, and Airman 1st Class Eric Gardella, cyber readiness technicians, monitor malicious network activity during exercise Tacet Venari at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, July 2, 2020. Staff Sgt. Devin Boyer

As the U.S. slept, China and Russia ‘invaded’ U.S. infosphere.

By John A. Tirpak

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. is pressing the Air Staff to complete a new electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) warfare strategy this spring, saying the U.S. has been “asleep at the wheel” while rivals have only become more aggressive. 

The strategy will lay out “where we’re headed and where we’re taking the Air Force” in EMS warfare, Brown told a virtual gathering of the Association of Old Crows on Jan. 27.  It will include “the operations we need to do in that area, and how we fund it.” 

The strategy, which will interlock with a defense-wide EMS strategy that is also due out in the spring, will break with decades of “neglect” in the electromagnetic spectrum, Brown said. The service will shift from being entirely defensive in EMS operations to offensive as well, and plans to make major shifts instead of incremental improvements.

“Bottom line, we are not deterring our adversaries like we need to,” Brown asserted. Chinese and Russian cyber forces “have invaded the U.S. without a declaration of war,” and the U.S. posture “hasn’t deterred them from using influence operations and misinformation to change the narrative,” he added. 

We are not deterring our adversaries like we need to.

Gen. Charles Brown Jr., USAF Chief of Staff

“We cannot continue to let this happen. We must make significant changes,” he said. If the Air Force continues to just incrementally change, “it will not be ‘accelerate change or lose,’ it will simply be ‘lose.’ ” 

The threat is far more “dynamic” and rapidly evolving, and the Air Force has not kept up, according to Brown. 

Providing EMS capabilities to the joint force is an “absolute prerequisite” for any deterrence or combat victory, Brown said. If the Air Force fails to do so, “it will be on me,” for not having provided the equipment and training necessary, he added. 

The fight is a never-ending one, Brown said, noting that EMS superiority isn’t really possible anymore. He compared it to trying to achieve air superiority in the Pacific theater—Brown previously commanded Pacific Air Forces—which, Brown said, can only be achieved in a “localized” fashion given the size of the theater.

“We must provide EMS capabilities at the right time, and the right place,” he said. “There is no end state. It is an endless game” with “many waypoints,” but “no finish line.” Rather, the goal will be to maintain “our advantage” and not seek vainly for EMS superiority.

“We can no longer solely depend on defensive capabilities” like stealth and jamming, merely to ensure that forces get home, and expect to be successful, Brown asserted. “We’re using the same systems that … we’ve been using over the course of the past 25 years.” That’s “not going to work in the future,” he said. 

The Air Force will begin to take an offensive posture “to maneuver and fire in the EMS.”

Brown is “not a real believer” in the mantra of connecting every sensor with every shooter. “I think you have to connect the right sensor to the right shooter to the right decision-maker to be able to execute.” 

The biggest investment shift will be away from hardware and platforms to software, Brown said, acknowledging that software and things like “open mission systems” architecture are hard sells with Congress because there’s no physical thing to look at, and no perceived effect “until it impacts you.”

But “an electron is much cheaper than a very expensive missile,” and USAF will exploit the EMS to achieve nonkinetic effects as one way to reduce “the cost of destruction.” 

Software will be the denominator of success, Brown said, asserting that “whoever can write code fastest is going to win.” He added, “We are outnumbered, particularly looking at the Chinese,” who have so many people and look to attack the EMS on so many fronts. He’s looking for EMS capabilities that are “platform agnostic.” 

The Air Force will also include allies and partners in its EMS strategy because it will be necessary to have them involved from the beginning, to avoid creating incompatible systems. Allies are “what we have that [adversaries] don’t, … that’s why we have to work together,” Brown said. 

“We’re looking at future force designs [that will] integrate all these capabilities.” He also expects that Air Force and Joint Force Air Component Commanders will have the duty to “be the integrator for all the kinetic and nonkinetic” approaches to EMS operations. 

The Air Force will be embarking on a series of experimental war games and prototyping to flesh out its EMS concepts and how they will integrate with kinetic forces, Brown said.

Congress included language in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to make EMS warfare a priority, Brown said.

“We’re not where we need to be. Every so often Congress needs to light a fire under us to get us to move a little bit faster,” he acknowledged. This was one of the reasons he’s pursuing “accelerated change across the Air Force.” The service should “be embarrassed sometimes that Congress has to tell us to do some of these things and move faster,” but the NDAA is a good “forcing function” to achieve that.                    


Boeing, USAF Report Progress on Troubled KC-46 Tanker

The boom of a KC-46 Pegasus is tucked under the fuselage at Sioux City Iowa’s airport. The tanker operated as a transport to move Airmen and cargo for a mobility exercise in September. Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot

But boom and Remote Vision System fixes are still years away. 

By Brian W. Everstine

The Air Force recently resolved two Category 1 deficiencies on the troubled KC-46 tanker, both problems with the aircraft’s auxiliary power unit (apu) that could impact the safety of flight. However, the four remaining issues are still years away from being solved. 

The KC-46’s APU, located in its tail, developed two serious problems, one with a duct clamp that was moving excessively and another with a drain mast on the outside of the tail that could potentially break loose. As of the end of January, both problems have been addressed, with one closed and the other downgraded to a Category 2, or less serious, deficiency, AMC boss Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost told reporters Feb. 1.

Boeing engineers developed a fix for the duct clamp problem, tested it, and now about 70 percent of the fielded KC-46s have been retrofitted, with the rest to be fixed “very shortly,” she said. The correction is similar to an approach Boeing used to address comparable issues on other aircraft. 

“We’re confident that the clamp fix is the final fix based on their experience with the commercial aircraft and how they did the redesign on that,” she said. 

For the second problem, there were quality issues with a spot weld on the part, meaning it could potentially break loose. Boeing redesigned it and is working through a retrofit option. A final fix for the deficiency is in the works and it will remain a Category 2 problem for now, the company said in a statement. 

“All of the airplanes that are flying right now and doing our testing, they all have that modification and everything seems to be going well,” Van Ovost said. 

Of the four remaining deficiencies, three have to do with the aircraft’s remote vision system (RVS) and one with the refueling boom itself. Boeing and the Air Force announced in April 2020 they had reached a deal on the redesigned remote vision system, known as RVS 2.0, with final selection of the fix in the works. The Air Force expects the updated RVS to begin to be delivered in 2023, with the fix added to the production line the following year. Boeing will address the “stiff boom” deficiency by installing a redesigned actuator to the boom itself beginning in fiscal 2024.

The company is responsible for all cost overruns, which have already outpaced the initial contract award for the new tanker.

Boeing on Jan. 27 reported another $275 million charge to its KC-46 program, pushing the total cost overruns it is responsible for to more than $5 billion over the past six years. 

The fourth-quarter total means 2020 saw more than $1.3 billion in overruns for the program, a cost the company said in its earnings report was “primarily due to production inefficiencies, including impacts of COVID-19 disruption.” The 2020 total is more than any previous year, according to a review of the company’s prior year earnings reports. 

Because of the nature of the contract, Boeing is responsible for all costs above the $4.9 billion award. 

The year wasn’t all bad news for the KC-46, however. The company delivered 14 of the new tankers in 2020 and received $3.8 billion for production lots five and six in January.

On Jan. 20 the Air Force awarded Boeing a $2.1 billion contract for the seventh KC-46 production lot, covering 15 aircraft, meaning there are now 94 KC-46s on contract. It comes just eight days after Boeing received $1.7 billion for production Lot 6. The two lots were negotiated at the same time, according to Boeing. 

The Air Force plans to buy 179 of the aircraft, and after several delays, the KC-46 now will likely become fully mission capable in 2024, Van Ovost said. 

The Air Force has received 42 KC-46s at four operating bases, and the Total Force aircrews are integrating the aircraft as much as possible. In early February, multiple KC-46s were deployed to Pacific Air Forces to take part in the Cope North exercise at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, during which they were expected to refuel F/A-18s with the drogue system and C-17s, while also providing advanced communications capabilities. 

“So as we keep our eye on a fully operational and capable KC-46, we’re taking the time now with our crews who are transitioning into this airplane to learn more about the airplane and to learn about the new concepts that we’re going to be executing in that airplane so that we can become more capable to the joint force,” she said. “We’re going to take every effort to wring out this airplane so that it becomes fully capable.” 

Because of the number of fielded KC-46s and delays to operational capability, the Air Force is slowing the transfer of aircrews, maintainers, and logistics Airmen from operational legacy tankers such as the KC-135 and KC-10 so AMC can meet the current tanker need. 

Additionally, the Air Force is working with the Guard and Reserve, which makes up about 55 percent of the tanker capacity, to fund more crews and more volunteers to meet the need. 

For the foreseeable future, the Air Force will only take delivery of about two planes per month even though there are more waiting at Boeing’s facilities, because of the smaller number of crews and the fact that the new tanker is not yet flying operationally, Van Ovost said. 

“As we bring them on, we’re going to do our due diligence at the different bases, but for right now, I don’t need to be in a hurry to take them at a faster rate than about two a month,” she said.     


Germany Drawdown on Hold

Four F-16s return to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, after participating in “NATO Days 2020,” Sept. 19, 2020. Fighting Falcons will, for the time being, remain at Spangdahlem. Senior Airman Chanceler Nardone

Plans to significantly reduce the U.S. footprint in Germany are now on hold as the new administration reviews the decision and its impacts, the head of U.S. European Command said Feb. 3.

In July, then-Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and EUCOM boss Gen. Tod D. Wolters announced that DOD would remove nearly 12,000 troops from Germany, shift F-16s from Spangdahlem Air Base (the base’s only flying mission), and halt plans to move tankers and special operations forces from England to Germany, among other changes. The announcement came after former President Donald J. Trump repeatedly stated his desire to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Germany. 

Wolters told reporters in a teleconference that planning for the moves immediately stopped once new Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III took charge. Wolters would not say how far along the changes were in planning.

“There were so many pieces and parts to the plan, we could probably sit here for weeks and guess on the depth and how far along we were,” Wolters said. “But in all those cases, there were branches and sequels with multiple options. So, I will just tell you that the new administration has comfortably stated to us that we need to conduct a thorough review, cradle to grave, in all areas. And then after they’re allowed to conduct that review, we’ll go back to the drawing board.” 

Austin has hinted at making changes to the plan. According to a Pentagon summary of a Jan. 28 call with German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Austin said Germany is a “great host for U.S. forces” and “expressed his desire for a continued dialogue on U.S. force posture in Germany.”

Wolters said the DOD review will provide a “comprehensive look at all of the options, from A to Z, and [then DOD will] take a strategic and operational examination of each and every one of those impacts.” 

When the move was announced, it drew immediate criticism from lawmakers, and the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act aimed to block funding for the change until the Defense Department provided details on the timeline and justification.    


USAF to Let Women Wear Longer Ponytails, Braids in Uniform              

Upon publication of the new standards in Air Force Instruction 36-2903, Feb. 10, 2021, female Airmen will be able to wear their hair in up to two braids or a single ponytail with bulk and length restrictions. 37th Training Wing Public Affairs

Female Airmen and Guardians will soon be able to let their hair down—at least a little.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. recently approved a recommendation by the Air Force uniform board to allow women to wear a single ponytail, or single or double braids, as long as the hairdo reaches no farther than their upper back and doesn’t exceed the width of their head. Eyebrow-length bangs are now fair game as well, according to a Jan. 21 release. 

The decision comes after the uniform board—a diverse panel of 19 Airmen—met online in November to consider crowdsourced ideas for changes to the Department of the Air Force’s dress and appearance standards. Current rules allow ponytails, braids, locks, and other hairstyles no longer than the bottom of a person’s collar. 

Female service members often lament having to wear their long hair in tight buns, pointing to migraines and sometimes even hair loss. Broadening the range of possible hairstyles also acknowledges that different hair types and textures can make it difficult to meet a one-size-fits-all standard. 

“In addition to the health concerns we have for our Airmen, not all women have the same hair type, and our hair standards should reflect our diverse force,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass said in the release. 

The new grooming standards will take effect in February after the Air Force officially updates its regulation. 

“This decision is a commitment to supporting the Airmen we need and sustaining the culture and environment of excellence that will continue to make the Air Force an attractive career choice for Airmen and families,” Brown said. “I’m thankful for the feedback and research conducted from a number of women leaders, the Women’s Initiative Team, the Air Force uniform board, and our joint teammates.” 

Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services, said the move removes a barrier to service and can make the Air Force more welcoming to women. 

“In an all-volunteer force, we want fully qualified volunteers who are representative of the nation to see us as a great opportunity to maximize their talent and service,” he said. 

Depending on their job, women should make sure that a longer ponytail or braids would not pose a risk when working around “machinery, equipment, power transmission apparatus, or moving parts,” the Air Force said. 

Women in the Space Force can follow the updated guidelines for now, but the new service is expected to eventually adopt its own uniform and grooming standards. 

The Air Force isn’t extending the same coiffure options to men, however. 

“Unlike with women’s hair standards, there are no known health or hair loss issues associated with current male grooming standard compliance,” the release said.


Aircrew Mistakes Caused Fatal E-11A Crash in Afghanistan  

The E-11A is a modified Bombardier 6000 business jet that provides digital connectivity on the battlefield. Investigators concluded that pilot error led to a January 2020 crash that killed two. Capt. Anna-Marie Wyant

By Brian W. Everstine

E-11A aircrew shut down the wrong engine during an in-flight emergency and were unable to restart the aircraft’s power plants, causing the Jan. 27, 2020, crash that killed both pilots in Afghanistan, an Air Force investigation found.

The crash killed Lt. Col. Paul K. Voss and Capt. Ryan S. Phaneuf, both assigned to the 430th Expeditionary Combat Squadron at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, a modified Bombardier Global Express business jet, serves as a “Wi-Fi in the sky,” connecting troops using multiple communications platforms.

“This tragic accident and the loss of these two Airmen will not be forgotten,” Gen. Mark D. Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command, said in a release. “These Airmen [made] the ultimate sacrifice in service to the nation while deployed supporting an overseas combat mission. They should be recognized and remembered for their dedication and bravery.” 

Around 11 a.m. local time, the pilots took off in the E-11A, tail number 11-9358, from Kandahar for a combat sortie that also served as a mission qualification flight for the co-pilot. About 1 hour and 45 minutes into the flight, the left engine catastrophically failed as a single fan blade separated and was ingested by the engine, according to an Air Force Accident Investigation Board (AIB) report released Jan. 21.

The pilots heard a violent bang and the plane started to shake. The aircraft’s Full Authority Digital Electronic Control system sensed the engine’s problem and initiated a shutdown. This notified the aircrew through both an indication system in the cockpit and a caution light on the pilots’ glare shield. 

The flight crew then improperly assessed that the aircraft’s right engine had failed or been damaged, not the left, and shut down that power plant. This caused a dual engine out emergency, when the aircraft was about 38 nautical miles from Bagram Airfield or 17 nautical miles from Kabul International Airport, 28 nautical miles from Forward Operating Base (FOB) Shank, and 230 nautical miles from Kandahar, according to the investigation. Because both engines shut down, the aircraft’s Digital Flight Data Recorder stopped recording.

The aircraft, flying at about 41,000 feet, could have made it to any of the closer locations, but Voss attempted to fly back to Kandahar and radioed air traffic control. “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, … it looks like we have an engine failure on both motors, we are proceeding direct to Kandahar at this time,” he said, according to the AIB. 

The aircrew tried to airstart the engines, but they could not provide any usable thrust, meaning the plane could not make it back to Kandahar and was then out of glide distance to the other bases.

This meant the crew had few options, and they attempted to then glide to FOB Sharana in Ghazni Province. The plane did not have enough altitude and airspeed to make it, and the crew tried to land on rough terrain about 21 nautical miles short of the FOB. The E-11 was damaged significantly when it touched down, skidding about 340 meters. The aircraft was destroyed, and the pilots were fatally injured.

After the crash, the aircraft’s emergency locator transmitter activated and nearby A-10s diverted to try to locate the downed plane. They found it, but weather obscured the area and prevented a search and rescue team from recovering remains the day of the crash. The next day, crews were able to recover the pilots’ remains, the cockpit voice recorder, and the digital flight data recorder. U.S. assets destroyed the plane in place. 

The Air Force AIB states the main cause of the crash was the aircrew mistakenly determining the right engine had failed, shutting it down, and causing the dual engine out emergency. Investigators also found the decision to try to make it back to Kandahar contributed to the mishap. 

The E-11A is a small, unique aircraft in the Air Force’s fleet. Before the mishap, the service had four based at Kandahar to help troops communicate on the ground using what previously were incompatible systems. The Air Force developed the aircraft as an urgent operational need after communication problems were identified in Operation Red Wings in 2005.          


Widespread Cheating at USAFA

The Air Force Academy expelled one student and another resigned after 249 cadets were implicated in an online cheating scandal. Trevor Cokley/USAF

By Rachel S. Cohen

The U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA)  has kicked out students and reprimanded others after nearly 250 cadets were suspected of using online learning to cheat on tests and plagiarize assignments last spring. 

USAFA sent freshmen, sophomores, and juniors home from the Colorado Springs, Colo., campus in March 2020 as the new coronavirus spread across the U.S. For the first time, the school of more than 4,000 students pivoted to distance learning to finish out the semester. 

But that presented opportunities for students to game the system, away from the watchful eyes of professors, other cadets, and a wall bearing the school’s honor code: “We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.” 

“Infractions ranged from failing to properly cite sources, to using unauthorized online tutoring websites to receive solutions to exam questions in real time, to completing final exams in small groups,” the school said Jan. 29. 

They were caught through “existing Dean of Faculty academic safeguards,” and most of the 249 students admitted to cheating, USAFA said. 

One student was expelled and one resigned from the service academy because of their misconduct, spokesman Mike Slater said. Others must complete six months of probation and remediation, while some cases are still under review. The school hopes remedial measures will dissuade students from violating the rules again.

“Remediation is a consequence and not an act of leniency,” USAFA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark said. “If earned, remediation provides an opportunity to reset the moral compass.” 

The school waited for students—who run the process of holding fellow cadets accountable for honor code violations—to return to campus for the fall semester before taking punitive measures.

“The process is currently progressing slower than normal, primarily due to COVID restrictions, but the academy is dedicated to ensuring cadet accountability throughout the entire honor process,” the school said. “Cadets in violation of the honor code are not allowed to represent the academy until they complete the required remediation.” 

The incident highlights the challenges of increasingly digital education, particularly as the pandemic has forced schools across the globe to go virtual. Though all USAFA cadets are back on campus for the 2020-2021 school year, classes are still a mix of in-person and online instruction. 

USAFA isn’t the only service academy to run into misconduct issues during remote learning. Last year, 73 cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point were accused of cheating during an online calculus final—the largest cheating scandal in the school’s recent history. 

The Air Force Academy has dealt with its own spates of cheating in the past, including a 2019 incident when 10 cadets were suspected of cheating on final exams, and in 2014 when 40 freshmen were investigated for copying lab work for a chemistry class. 

The 2014 investigation was the “fourth probe of cheating involving a group of cadets at the Air Force Academy since 2004,” according to the Associated Press. 

USAFA is taking the latest cheating as an opportunity to overhaul its honor code for the first time in several years. 

“The purpose of the review is to provide findings and recommendations for improvement to the Honor Program, ensuring the Cadet Honor Code and Honor Program relevantly and effectively achieve cadet character development,” the school said. 

A review committee will discuss ways to better encourage “living honorably” with senior leaders, school alumni, cadets, and other stakeholders. There is no set timeline for finishing the review or implementing its findings. 

Clark acknowledged the probe during a Jan. 21 AFA Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event, but did not say what happened last spring to prompt a new look at the entire honor system.

 “We recognize that we need to take a look at the honor code, and make sure that we’re serving these cadets well, so that they are internalizing it and understanding what it means to live honorably,” Clark said. 

The point is not to threaten a cadet’s career, he said, but to put them back on the right track if they do violate the school’s trust. Still, students need to take misconduct seriously: “It could have a pretty significant impact on your career, if your career gets to continue,” he said. 

The U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA)  has kicked out students and reprimanded others after nearly 250 cadets were suspected of using online learning to cheat on tests and plagiarize assignments last spring. 

USAFA sent freshmen, sophomores, and juniors home from the Colorado Springs, Colo., campus in March 2020 as the new coronavirus spread across the U.S. For the first time, the school of more than 4,000 students pivoted to distance learning to finish out the semester. 

But that presented opportunities for students to game the system, away from the watchful eyes of professors, other cadets, and a wall bearing the school’s honor code: “We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.” 

“Infractions ranged from failing to properly cite sources, to using unauthorized online tutoring websites to receive solutions to exam questions in real time, to completing final exams in small groups,” the school said Jan. 29. 

They were caught through “existing Dean of Faculty academic safeguards,” and most of the 249 students admitted to cheating, USAFA said. 

One student was expelled and one resigned from the service academy because of their misconduct, spokesman Mike Slater said. Others must complete six months of probation and remediation, while some cases are still under review. The school hopes remedial measures will dissuade students from violating the rules again.

“Remediation is a consequence and not an act of leniency,” USAFA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark said. “If earned, remediation provides an opportunity to reset the moral compass.” 

The school waited for students—who run the process of holding fellow cadets accountable for honor code violations—to return to campus for the fall semester before taking punitive measures.

“The process is currently progressing slower than normal, primarily due to COVID restrictions, but the academy is dedicated to ensuring cadet accountability throughout the entire honor process,” the school said. “Cadets in violation of the honor code are not allowed to represent the academy until they complete the required remediation.” 

The incident highlights the challenges of increasingly digital education, particularly as the pandemic has forced schools across the globe to go virtual. Though all USAFA cadets are back on campus for the 2020-2021 school year, classes are still a mix of in-person and online instruction. 

USAFA isn’t the only service academy to run into misconduct issues during remote learning. Last year, 73 cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point were accused of cheating during an online calculus final—the largest cheating scandal in the school’s recent history. 

The Air Force Academy has dealt with its own spates of cheating in the past, including a 2019 incident when 10 cadets were suspected of cheating on final exams, and in 2014 when 40 freshmen were investigated for copying lab work for a chemistry class. 

The 2014 investigation was the “fourth probe of cheating involving a group of cadets at the Air Force Academy since 2004,” according to the Associated Press. 

USAFA is taking the latest cheating as an opportunity to overhaul its honor code for the first time in several years. 

“The purpose of the review is to provide findings and recommendations for improvement to the Honor Program, ensuring the Cadet Honor Code and Honor Program relevantly and effectively achieve cadet character development,” the school said. 

A review committee will discuss ways to better encourage “living honorably” with senior leaders, school alumni, cadets, and other stakeholders. There is no set timeline for finishing the review or implementing its findings. 

Clark acknowledged the probe during a Jan. 21 AFA Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event, but did not say what happened last spring to prompt a new look at the entire honor system.

 “We recognize that we need to take a look at the honor code, and make sure that we’re serving these cadets well, so that they are internalizing it and understanding what it means to live honorably,” Clark said. 

The point is not to threaten a cadet’s career, he said, but to put them back on the right track if they do violate the school’s trust. Still, students need to take misconduct seriously: “It could have a pretty significant impact on your career, if your career gets to continue,” he said. 

“The honor code is there to develop these folks that we bring in from all different walks of society, from all different places, and develop them so that by the time they graduate, … they are committed to that honorable living, not only as graduates, but for the rest of their lives, that it is something that they actually believe in,” Clark said.          


Boeing F-15EX Makes First Flight

The first F-15EX flew a 90-minute sortie around St. Louis on Feb. 2 to test out the aircraft’s basic handling qualities. Boeing

By John A. Tirpak

Boeing flew the first F-15EX Eagle on a 90-minute hop around the St. Louis, Mo., area Feb. 2, signaling that the jet will soon be ready for flight-testing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. 

Boeing test pilot Matt Giese flew the jet, with Boeing test pilot Michael Quinitini in the back seat. The flight, which began with a max-performance vertical climb from St. Louis Lambert International Airport, abutting Boeing’s combat aircraft plant, was meant to test out basic handling qualities, “avionics, advanced systems, and software,” and all went as expected, a Boeing spokeswoman reported. “A test team monitoring the data collected during the flight in real time confirmed that the aircraft performed as planned,” according to a Boeing press release. The test card for the flight is not being made public. 

The jet, tail number 20-0001, is the first of two that are to be delivered for testing at Eglin by the end of March. A formal “rollout” of the second aircraft or an arrival ceremony at Eglin is slated to occur in March or April, months ahead of schedule. The Air Force awarded the formal F-15EX contract for the first eight airplanes in July of 2020.  

The aircraft is powered by two F110-GE-129 engines, the only ones so far certified to fly with fly-by-wire Eagles. The Air Force has told Pratt & Whitney it can offer engines for the F-15EX program if it certifies its F100 engines on the type at its own expense. GE Aviation is under contract for 19 power plants for the eight planned F-15EX test aircraft. 

The Eagle is expected to reach initial operational capability at Kingsley Field, Ore., in 2024. The F-15EX will have sufficient structural life to serve through 2050. 

The fighter has two seats and is based on the 1970s-vintage F-15C/D Eagle, but upgraded with a modern suite of flight controls, computers, and defensive electronics. It is equipped with conformal fuel tanks and two extra weapon stations, versus the F-15C. The Air Force is buying it to supplement the fleet of legacy Eagles that are rapidly aging out and can’t be economically life-extended. The Air Force plans to buy between 144 and 200 F-15EXs, depending on whether the type will also replace F-15E Strike Eagles, which still have a decade of service life remaining. Despite the second seat, the Air Force intends to fly the F-15EX with only a single pilot. 

The F-15EX is based on the F-15QA being built for Qatar, but embodies other improvements added by export customers over the years. Its fly-by-wire flight controls, for example, first appeared on Saudi Arabian F-15SA aircraft. Boeing estimates the Air Force is leveraging more than $5 billion of improvements in the F-15 funded by export customers. 

Unlike export models, the F-15EX and older USAF F-15C/Ds will be protected by the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS), a suite of electronic warfare gear and countermeasures to extend the type’s combat longevity. 

The jet is seen as meeting Air Force capacity shortfalls in air defense and as a standoff weapons-carrying platform that could operate outside contested airspace. 

The F-15EX has an open mission systems architecture, allowing frequent, competitive upgrades. Boeing’s F-15 Vice President and Program Manager Pratyush Kumar said the EX is “capable of incorporating the latest advanced battle management systems, sensors, and weapons due to the jet’s digital airframe design and open mission systems architecture.”    


COVID-19 Will Dictate When Air Force PT Tests Resume

Air Force First Sergeant Special Duty Manager Chief Master Sgt. Mike Perry, left, and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass say staying fit is still a requirement, but it’s not clear when it will be safe to do PT testing. CMSgt. Mike Perry/Facebook video screenshot

By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory

It’s too soon to tell whether the Air Force will delay mandatory physical fitness testing past April, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass told Airmen during a Feb. 1 Facebook town hall. 

Bass said she expects the service will examine the COVID-19 situation “at least” 30 days ahead of the tentative restart date before deciding whether to postpone the assessments for the fourth time since the pandemic began. 

“Right now, today, every single one of your installation commanders has … the authority to be able to push it out, but we’ll make that determination … at least four weeks out if we’re gonna end up pushing it further,” she said. 

Air Force First Sergeant Special Duty Manager Chief Master Sgt. Mike Perry, who also took questions during the online event, urged Airmen not to use the possibility of another delay as an excuse to neglect their physical fitness 

“You never know when that call’s gonna come in, when you’re gonna be wearing all kinds of gear and have to be out there in the austere environments and things like that, so we gotta always remain ready and fit,” he said, pointing to recent Active-duty and Air National Guard support of the presidential inauguration in Washington to illustrate the importance of around-the-clock readiness. 

The service’s manpower, personnel, and services team is slated to brief her on the findings of their December 2020 Fitness Working Group in the near future, Bass added. 

“They are supposed to come to us with options on different ways to be able to assess cardio and strength and all that goodness,” she said. “We are also taking a hard look at wearables and technology and using that to be able to help get after that.” 

Bass said the service wants to examine “second- and third-order effects” since these kinds of technologies “can be resource-intensive,” but the service is looking “to bridge the gap” between how it currently gauges fitness and how that might evolve over the next decade. 

For example, Bass noted that both she and Perry were wearing rings that measured their sleep levels, joking they both needed to get more rest.


B-1Bs to Deploy to Norway

By Brian W. Everstine  

B-1B bombers will deploy to Norway for the first time, the Pentagon said. In September, this Lancer flew over the North Pole for an exercise with the Norwegians. Master Sgt. Theodore Daigle

U.S. B-1B bombers will deploy to Norway for the first time, in both a message to Russia and a sign of the growing importance of the Arctic. 

B-1Bs from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, will fly out of Ørland Air Base on the coast of the Norwegian Sea. While bombers have repeatedly flown alongside Norwegian aircraft, this will be the first time Lancers will operate out of a base in the country, according to U.S. European Command.

More than 200 Airmen will make up the Bomber Task Force. The Airmen were medically screened before deploying and will quarantine for 10 days once arriving. 

EUCOM did not disclose how long the bombers will be at the base, but they will conduct training with allies, including operating in the “high north” and across Europe. 

“Operational readiness and our ability to support allies and partners and respond with speed is critical to combined success,” Gen. Jeffrey L Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa commander, said in the release. “We value the enduring partnership we have with Norway and look forward to future opportunities to bolster our collective defense.” 

Last year, B-1s and B-52s flew alongside Norwegian F-16s and F-35s multiple times as part of European deployments and in a long-distance direct flight from their home base.   


Arab-Israeli Accords Unify Mid East Under CENTCOM

When Israeli and U.S. F-35s trained together in October 2020, U.S. European Command coordinated the exercise, even though the rest of the region was under U.S. Central Command. Now Israel and its neighbors will all be in the Central Command area of responsibility. Senior Airman Duncan Bevan

By Brian W. Everstine

The Pentagon has changed the combatant command responsible for operations involving Israel, from U.S. European Command to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), following White House-brokered accords between the country and multiple Persian Gulf states. 

The update to the Unified Command Plan came as the Trump administration finished its final week in office. President Donald J. Trump’s White House has touted the Abraham Accords—normalizing relations between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates—as a major shift toward improved relations in the Middle East.

“The easing of tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors subsequent to the Abraham Accords has provided a strategic opportunity for the United States to align key partners against shared threats in the Middle East,” the Pentagon said. “Israel is a leading strategic partner for the United States, and this will open up additional opportunities for cooperation with our U.S. Central Command partners while maintaining strong cooperation between Israel and our European allies.” 

The Pentagon did not say how the move will affect operations and planning, noting it is part of a biennial review of its command plan based on assessments of “all boundaries and relationships against the operational environment.” 

The U.S. Air Force and Israeli Air Force regularly train together, including in the October 2020 exercise Enduring Lightning III—the third time the two nations have trained together with F-35s. Changing the piece of the military that collaborates with Israel won praise from some defense watchers. 

“I think moving Israel to CENTCOM makes sense from a U.S. policy perspective in that many Israeli issues are tied to the other countries in CENTCOM’s [area of responsibility],” retired Army Maj. Gen. Mike Jones, who served as CENTCOM chief of staff in 2011, told Military Times. It’s similar to DOD’s decision to add India to the combatant command overseeing Pacific operations, for example, he said. 

In a statement, the Jewish Institute for the National Security of America (JINSA) said moving Israel to CENTCOM sends a “strong deterrent message of unity and continued U.S. commitment to regional leadership.” 

“More concretely, it could smooth the way for the Pentagon to utilize Israel for more regional operations, most directly by updating the prepositioned U.S. stockpile there,” JINSA said.


Biden Drops Transgender Ban, Reversing his Predecessor

By Brian W. Everstine

The 2018 policy focused on those with a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and the associated comorbidities such as depression, adjustment disorder, and suicide. Tech. Sgt. Evelyn Chavez

President Joe Biden on Jan. 25 reversed the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, opening the door to thousands barred from service and correcting the service record of anyone affected by the ban. 

The executive order, announced before Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III’s swearing-in ceremony at the White House, reverses a 2018 order from former President Donald J. Trump that cited “tremendous medical costs and disruption” from transgender individuals serving in uniform. The order reverts to the Pentagon’s prior position of allowing transgender people into the military, so the DOD can recruit and retain “those who can best accomplish the mission.”

 “President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service, and America’s strength is found in its diversity,” the White House said in a statement. “This question of how to enable all qualified Americans to serve in the military is easily answered by recognizing our core values. America is stronger, at home and around the world, when it is inclusive. The military is no exception. Allowing all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform is better for the military and better for the country, because an inclusive force is a more effective force.” 

In a statement following the executive order, Austin said the Pentagon will immediately take steps to ensure individuals who identify as transgender are able to enlist and serve in their self-identified gender. 

“These changes will ensure no one will be separated or discharged, or denied reenlistment, solely on the basis of gender identity,” Austin said. 

Additionally, all medically necessary transition-related care will be available to service members. 

“We would be rendering ourselves less fit to the task if we excluded from our ranks people who meet our standards and who have the skills and the devotion to serve in uniform,” he said. “This is the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do.”