Space Force to Lay Long-Term Groundwork in Second Year
By Rachel S. Cohen
Charting a long-term vision will be a main focus of the newest service in its second year, Pentagon space policy boss Justin T. Johnson said during an Oct. 7 Heritage Foundation event.
Congress approved the creation of an armed force dedicated to space in December 2019. The Space Force is now breaking out from the Air Force to oversee personnel, equipment, and training for missions such as rocket launches, GPS satellite operations, cybersecurity of space assets, ballistic missile tracking, and more. U.S. Space Command and the other global command organizations use these capabilities daily.
“They have a lot of work across all their lanes, organizing, training, and equipping,” said Johnson, who recently became acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy. “Probably the biggest single thing that I know [Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond] is working on … [is] really fleshing out that long-term vision for the Space Force. What’s the force design, force development elements of the Space Force? What does that future vision in 10, 20, 30 years need to look like?”
What does that [USSF] future vision in 10, 20, 30, years need to look like?Justin Johnson, Pentagon space policy boss
Broadly, the Space Force is considering how to fend off other spacefaring nations that may try to harm U.S. satellites and other assets, while accompanying American companies and NASA into orbit, to the moon, and beyond. Service officials are making the argument that the Space Force must defend U.S. economic, as well as military, interests in the modern Space Age.
It must also make progress in its second year toward streamlining and deconflicting the multiple organizations that handle space acquisition and maturing its various offices and commands.
Heading into the coming year, Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David D. Thompson is focused on building out Space Force headquarters at the Pentagon and its staffs that will handle operations, analysis, and future planning.
A Space Force press release said the service is ready to transition its headquarters work from the former Air Force Space Command hub at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., to the Pentagon.
Thompson will also oversee the creation of the Space Warfighting Integration Center (SWIC), the Space Force equivalent of the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability group that explores what resources the service might need in the coming decades. The SWIC may directly report to the Chief of Space Operations, pending congressional approval in fiscal 2022.
“We have conceived of SWIC as a key feature of force design and integration, not just internally, but with the rest of the force,” Thompson said in the release. “What we now need to do is the hard work of defining exactly what it’s going to do, exactly what its resources need to be, and exactly what its interfaces are going to be within the Space Force and the Joint Force.”
Raymond and Thompson’s decisions will shape how the rest of the Pentagon builds the Space Force into future strategy and adapts high-level policy to match the service’s needs.
“How we talk about things, what we’re deciding to defend, there’s a lot of work to do in the space posture around that, but it really goes back to General Raymond and his team … laying out the really compelling vision for the future of the Space Force,” Johnson said.
In the coming year, the Space Force will also take an important step forward in starting to bring in personnel from the Departments of the Army and Navy for the first time. Top Pentagon officials are still hashing out who will move over, though it’s unclear when exactly DOD will finalize that decision. All told, the service plans to encompass about 15,000 employees—the smallest military branch by far.
“I think the vision is clear and consistent that we do want the Space Force to be the absolute center of gravity for space. There’s some work to do, and that takes time,” Johnson said.
Leaders worry that a misstep in the reorganization of military space could interfere with the systems and capabilities service members need to do their jobs each day, like navigation and communications.
“We don’t want to drop any balls,” Johnson said. “There’ll be missteps and small mistakes along the way, but I think we’re moving at speed, and General Raymond is the right guy to get it done.”
Thompson expects a decision on which Army and Navy functions will join the Space Force by the end of December, so USSF can plan into the next year for transfers to join in fiscal 2022, he said in a conversation hosted by Defense One.
It’s taken several months to first identify 23 parts of the Air Force, and now additional organizations elsewhere in the Defense Department, that will relocate. A few more units—such as healthcare workers—that weren’t in the initial pool marked for transfer will now join the Space Force. The Space Force will continue to share much of the services offered by the Air Force, such as base security personnel.
“There is a tremendous amount that the Space Force, and the Air Force, and the Army, and the Navy, … working together with [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] have already agreed on,” Thompson said, including which space-related personnel and resources will stay where they are, and which are ready to transfer.
“There’s a few units and functions left that we haven’t reached full agreement on, and we’re in the process of finalizing the data and the information that will allow the decision-makers to decide,” he added.
USAF Seeks Air-Breathing Hypersonic Cruise Missile
By Rachel S. Cohen
The Air Force is moving forward with a new Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM) as one of its top two hypersonic weapons programs, said Weapons Program Executive Officer Brig. Gen. Heath A. Collins.
The service has discussed similar efforts underway in its hypersonic portfolio but has not yet named HACM as a central project. In July 2019, Aviation Week reported on the existence of two classified hypersonic programs that use the acronyms HACM and HCCW, but said the Air Force would not divulge information about either.
Speaking to Air Force Magazine in September, Collins said HACM and the Air-launched Rapid-Response Weapon (ARRW) prototype are “really the two big tickets that we’re looking at from a warfighter focus.”
“We are the lead development office for the Air Force when it comes to hypersonic weapons,” Collins said Sept. 22. “The ARRW program is down here as well. We’re also in the midst of starting the new HACM hypersonic cruise missile.”
Air Force spokesperson Ilka Cole told Air Force Magazine in an Oct. 13 email that HACM differs from other hypersonic prototypes because it will use air-breathing engine technology for propulsion. An “air-breathing” cruise missile flies lower and over shorter distances than others because it needs to use air currents to keep moving.
In contrast, the AGM-183A ARRW is a developmental boost-glide weapon that would be fired into the atmosphere and then use the energy from its rocket to fly toward its target.
Cruise missiles that can move five times the speed of sound or faster would make military attacks more unpredictable and offer a quicker long-range strike option. The U.S. already owns weapons that fly that quickly, but future hypersonic weapons are expected to maneuver more easily and stealthily in flight.
The HACM is envisioned for use in conventional strike weapons on fighter and bomber aircraft, according to the Air Force Research Laboratory. It appears to be similar to, or the same as, a “solid rocket-boosted, air-breathing, hypersonic, conventional cruise missile” the Air Force solicited ideas for earlier this year.
The service has since started discussing a multimission, air-breathing missile dubbed “Mayhem” that would be larger than the ARRW and could carry multiple types of payloads for airstrikes, as well as missions such as surveillance.
Air Force Research Laboratory did not indicate whether HACM, the cruise missile described only as “Future Hypersonics Program” on a federal contracting website earlier this year, and Mayhem—officially called the “Expendable Hypersonic Air-Breathing Multi-Mission Demonstrator Program”—are the same effort.
The Air Force plans to hire Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon to design a hypersonic cruise missile this fiscal year. Both the “Future Hypersonics Program” and the Mayhem program would reach their preliminary design reviews around the end of fiscal 2021.
When asked about upcoming short-term prototyping goals for a HACM, Collins indicated it is too early in the acquisition process to start setting those dates: “There’s no real near-term milestone,” he said.
Cole said no other information is available on HACM, including when it could be ready for combat. She did not answer which companies AFRL is partnering with to build it.
“The AFRL science and technology investment in air-breathing propulsion has provided the foundation for hypersonic cruise missile technology,” she said. “This strategic investment is allowing the Department of the Air Force to evaluate the potential of air-breathing hypersonic cruise missile concepts such as HACM.”
Collins noted that ARRW is on track for a booster flight-test before the end of 2020 and a full flight-test next spring. That weapon has already flown in tests on the B-52.
“We’re in the planning phases to go from that prototyping demo into a production program and start putting capability out in the field,” Collins said.
The Air Force’s biggest hypersonics challenges are ensuring the defense industrial base has the resources to ramp up production when the military is ready and figuring out how to adequately test weapons that move faster over longer distances than regular munitions, he added.
“This is a new market, a new industry, and right now, there’s a lot of fledgling [science and technology-type] companies that we’re working with very closely to transition into” production readiness, he said. “This is a unique skill set of people that you require for a hypersonics program that we continue to build and grow.”
Multiple Factors Blamed for Eglin F-35 Crash
By John A. Tirpak
Excessive landing speed was the primary cause when an F-35A crashed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., on May 19, but faulty flight control logic, problems with the helmet-mounted display and the jet’s oxygen system, and ineffective simulator training all contributed to the accident, according to an Air Force investigation.
The Accident Investigation Board (AIB) found the pilot set a “speed hold” of 202 knots indicated airspeed for the landing—50 knots too fast—and also set the jet’s approach angle too shallow. After the jet bounced on the runway, the report found, a “previously undiscovered anomaly in the aircraft’s flight control logic” conflicted with the pilot’s apparent corrective efforts to recover, and the plane and pilot “quickly fell out of sync.” The flight computer commanded nose down while the pilot, attempting to abort the landing, commanded nose up.
Sensing that he was being “ignored” by the airplane, the pilot ejected, sustaining significant but non-life-threatening injuries, and destroying the $176 million aircraft.
There were other problems, too. The board’s report, released Sept. 30, concluded:
A misaligned helmet-mounted display “distracted the pilot during a critical phase of flight;”
The aircraft’s breathing system contributed to excessive fatigue leading to “cognitive degradation;” and
Ineffective simulator instruction left the pilot without sufficient knowledge of the aircraft’s flight control system to recover.
Following his ejection, the aircraft rolled and struck the runway. The jet, valued at almost $176 million, was declared a total loss. The pilot had shards of the canopy and other foreign objects lodged in his eye and arm, and a spinal compression injury.
The report did not discuss corrective actions or flight safety restrictions as a result of the accident and neither the Air Force, Lockheed Martin, nor the F-35 Joint Program Office responded to repeated queries for this information.
The crash occurred at the end of a night mission in which the pilot, an instructor, was leading a student in a second aircraft. Upon returning to base, the instructor set the excessive speed hold at 202 knots, which the investigation said is “not an authorized maneuver,” and a shallow angle of attack of 5.2 degrees, instead of the desired 13 degrees. The pilot failed to disengage the speed hold at the appropriate time, and no “audible warnings” sounded, despite the dangerous configuration, the report said. The jet touched down nearly simultaneously on all landing gear with such force that the nose gear pushed back up, causing the jet to become airborne again. As the pilot tried to recover, the jet and pilot got out of sync due to “multiple conflicting flight control inputs.”
The control software “became saturated and unresponsive, and ultimately biased the flight control surfaces toward nose down” at the same moment the pilot was going to afterburner and trying to raise the nose and gain altitude.
“Feeling confused, helpless, and ignored,” the pilot ejected.
The investigation determined that three seconds of pilot input “was not enough time to overcome that saturation” and the flight control system failed to reorient the aircraft for a go-around. The entire mishap unfolded within five seconds of the initial touchdown.
The F-35 senses when its weight is on the wheels, and this biases the flight controls to keep the nose down. But this aspect of the flight controls is not in the flight manual or syllabus. “The flight control system is complex; there are too many sub-modes of the [control laws] to describe” in courseware, the report states. “Nevertheless, there exists a deficiency in the depths of the logic and flight control systems knowledge in F-35A baseline manuals and academics.”
During the attempted landing, the pilot found the helmet-mounted display (HMD) “misaligned low as opposed to high,” which caused the jet to come in too high for landing, conflicting with inertial landing system data and visual cues.
The pilot “fought his own instincts to push further into the darkness short of the runway to correct his trajectory,” the report stated. While crews train for HMD-out situations, they don’t train for misalignments, so rather than easing the pilot’s workload, the helmet seems to have complicated it in this instance.
“The focus required to mentally filter the degraded symbology, green glow of the HMD projector, visually acquire nighttime runway cues, correct and then set an aimpoint, fight the … darkness short of the runway, and monitor glide path trends, distracted the [pilot] from engaging the [approach power compensator] or slowing to final approach speed,” the AIB states. The “green glow” worsens due to feedback as the aircraft descends, and the pilot reported having to “squint through” it to pick up “on environmental cues.”
The jet was from Low-Rate Initial Production Lot 6—the only one from that batch at Eglin. There were some corrective technical orders for the helmet system, but they were not deemed urgent and required depot assistance to make, the report said.
The pilot reported that flying the jet was more “draining” than his previous aircraft, the F-15E. The report said the F-35’s unique air system, which requires a “work of breathing,” has that effect on many pilots. The pilot’s experience is “supported by emerging research” on the F-35A’s systems that “there appears to be a physiological toll taken on a pilot’s cognitive capacities as a result of breathing through the on-demand oxygen system,” the report said. The pilot reported that on a scale of one to 10, his cognitive degradation was “four out of 10 on a routine basis,” according to the report.
Flying the F-35A in instrument landing system mode is “not a mundane task,” which “could have been made more challenging” in the May mishap “by the reported level of cognitive degradation” from distractions, stress, lack of sleep, and the work it took the pilot to breathe. These factors could have contributed to the pilot’s “vulnerability to distractions” during the mishap landing, according to investigators.
On the issue of simulators, the report states that the systems “do not accurately represent the aircraft flight dynamics seen in this scenario.” In the simulator, the aircraft can be recovered after a hard bounce, and “two members of the AIB team were also able to land” in the simulator under the same conditions.
Lockheed Martin’s own report on the incident “verified the disjoint between actual [mishap aircraft] performance and the simulator model,” adding that “the pitch rate sensitivity evident in flight was not observed in piloted simulation or initial attempts to match the maneuver with offline simulation.”
Indeed, had the mishap pilot not experienced“the negative learning from the simulator, he might have been able to recover the aircraft despite the high-speed landing,” the report stated, explaining why the simulator was listed as a contributing factor.
USAF Settles Wrongful Death Suit for Contractor Killed at Holloman
By Amy McCullough
The Air Force settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of the widow of a contractor killed in a 2017 friendly fire training incident at the White Sands Missile Range near Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.
The widow filed the suit in the United States District Court of New Mexico earlier this year, seeking $24.6 million in damages. The family’s lawyer told Military.com in October the settlement was less than what was originally requested, but would not disclose the final amount, saying only it was “enough to take care of them for the rest of their lives.”
Retired Master Sgt. Charles Holbrook, a former tactical air control party Airman, was killed on Jan. 31, 2017, when an inexperienced F-16 student pilot strafed the wrong target during a live-fire nighttime training mission. Holbrook was struck in the head with a 20 mm round from the jet’s Vulcan cannon, according to court documents. A military member also was injured, according to the Accident Investigation Board (AIB) report.
Holbrook was a business development manager at Sensors Unlimited, a division of United Technologies Aerospace Division, and was on the range to demonstrate a laser imaging device to members of the Dutch Air Force who also were participating in the exercise, according to the court documents, first reported on by Task & Purpose on Oct 16. The court records claim the Air Force did not provide the proper protective gear to Holbrook before allowing him on the range. However, the AIB notes that he brought Level 3 body armor and a Kevlar helmet with him, but “displayed a level of complacency” by not putting it on.
At night, in the dark, these two targets would look the same.Lawsuit brought by the family of Master Sgt. Charles Holbrook, USAF (Ret.), against the Air Force
“The fact that the MC [mishap contractor] has personal protective equipment with him, including a level 3A helmet and level 3 body armor without plates, supports a finding that the MC was aware of the inherent dangers of CAS (close air support) live-fire training … ,” the AIB report states. Although the report acknowledged the possibility that personal protective gear could have reduced the severity of the injury, it “could not determine the probability of whether the MC’s injury was preventable … .”
The AIB board president, Maj. Gen. Patrick M. Wade, on Sept. 26, 2017, found pilot error to be the cause of the incident, though the instructor pilot’s failure to properly supervise the mission and vague, yet “overaggressive,” directions were significant contributors.
“The MP [mishap pilot] misperceived that the ground element’s location was the intended simulated SA-8 training target. Additionally, the MP misinterpreted his instruments as he failed to follow his on-board systems that were directing him to the proper target … ,” wrote Wade.
“I also find, by the preponderance of evidence, the MIP’s [mishap instructor pilot] failure to provide adequate supervision and instruction significantly contributed to the mishap. The MIP failed to cross-monitor the MP’s performance prior to and during the MP’s fatal strafing attack. The MIP exhibited task misprioritization as he focused his attention on Forward Air Controller (Airborne) (FAC(A)) duties while his student, the MP, was performing his strafing attacks. The MIP displayed overconfidence, complacency, and over-aggressiveness during the mishap sortie.”
The training scenario involved four F-16 fighters—two flown by instructor pilots and two by student pilots. They were tasked with taking out an enemy position with “friendlies” nearby. There were 10 people on the ground at the time, including four joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) from the Idaho Air National Guard’s 124th Air Support Operations Squadron and the 7th ASOS at Fort Bliss, Texas; two Army ground control liaison officers; and three Dutch JTACs there to observe Holbrook’s laser-imaging device.
“The observers and civilian, Charles Holbrook, were placed less than a half mile away from the target in an almost identical configuration as the target—a line of rental vehicles on a dirt circle with a road going north of the circle,” the suit charges. “At night, in the dark, these two targets would look the same.”
The student pilot was a first lieutenant assigned to the F-16 Formal Training Unit at Holloman, with 86 primary flying hours and 60.9 hours in the F-16, according to the AIB. The training event was the student pilot’s first, night close air support mission, first use of night vision goggles while flying, and the first time performing a nighttime high-angle strafe of unlit targets, according to the lawsuit. His instructor pilot—who was operating an F-16D configured the same as the student pilot’s aircraft—was a captain stationed at Holloman, with 887 primary flight hours, including 857 in the F-16, and 107 instructor hours, according to the AIB.
The suit said it was “unclear” whether the 10 people on the ground knew they were being used as potential “friendly targets,” and they did not participate in the pilots’ mission briefing, which outlined the training scenario. However, the AIB said Holbrook did attend a ground mission briefing conducted by the JTACs.
According to the lawsuit, the plan was for the first JTAC—a member of the Idaho ANG’s 124th ASOS—to control the first two target runs, then pass control to another Airman, who was still qualifying to be a joint terminal attack controller, but would be supervised by a JTAC instructor. They were not told the instructor pilot might take control and instruct the student pilot to fire on a target, according to court documents.
The mission pilot conducted several bombing runs with both simulated and real inert bombs, the documents claim, and practiced evasive maneuvers, while one of the JTACS set up a red strobing infrared beacon at the observation point so the pilots could locate the friendlies on the ground. The suit alleges that while the instructor pilot confirmed he saw the strobe, the student pilot did not, and he was not asked to verify the target by the instructor.
On the first run, the suit alleges, the mission pilot “mistakenly moved the targeting pod sensor in his jet and was ‘tracking’ (i.e. targeting) the 10 people on the ground” when he called out “capture target.” The student pilot was not asked to describe what he was targeting, according to court documents, alleging that the instructor did not verify he was tracking the right target.
“After pointing his aircraft at the people on the ground at the OP [observation point], he squeezed the trigger to fire his 20 mm cannon on the OP. No rounds were released during this mis-targeting because the MP had inadvertently left his master armament switch in simulation mode, so nothing happened, and he flew over the top of the OP,” the documents allege.
Even though the student pilot’s instruments showed he was not on the correct target, and the red warning strobe was visible instead of the instructor pilot’s laser, the suit alleges, neither the student nor the instructor “realized his mistake.”
The suit also alleges that “The MP should have checked in with his student and verified that he had identified and was firing on the correct target, and whether he could safely continue training such a complicated scenario.” Instead, the court documents say, “the MIP chewed out the MP for having his master armament switch in simulation mode and, even though [the JTAC trainee] was supposed to be tracking and giving the order to re-attack or fire, the [instructor pilot] immediately ordered the [student pilot] to reengage [the] target.”
The student pilot switched from simulation mode to arm mode and reengaged, the documents state, but still didn’t squeeze the trigger because he wasn’t sure he had the right target.
According to the suit, when the instructor asked him why he aborted, the student pilot said, “‘The sparkle just looked different so I did not want to shoot, I wasn’t uhh, it wasn’t as circular as I thought I saw, it looked like a light maybe on top of a building, I was wrong.’”
What he described, the suit alleges, was “spot on” for the observation point, where the 10 people remained on the ground, because the real target did not have any lights. But because the exchange happened over the private radio, the suit says, the JTACs did not know why the pilot aborted. When they asked why, the instructor pilot informed them the student pilot “was going to setup for a re-attack,” according to court documents.
On the third run, the student pilot’s aircraft detected the correct target, the documents allege, but the pilot maneuvered the F-16 in the opposite direction back toward the observation point, which he had mistakenly targeted twice before. The instructor pilot, the suit says, took over mission control from the JTAC on the ground and instructed the student to shoot.
“The MP squeezed the trigger while the nose of the aircraft was pointed at the OP and sent 155 rounds of Vulcan cannon ammunition toward the ground crew, blowing up a rental car and striking Chuck Holbrook in the head with a 20 mm round,” according to documents.
The 54th Fighter Wing has since implemented several changes to its F-16 Basic Course to ensure a similar incident never happens again, including updating governing procedures when live, inert, or training ordnances are employed during night close air support training. The wing also modified its syllabus and improved course training material, Air Education and Training Command spokeswoman Capt. Lauren M. Woods told Air Force Magazine.
The new policy highlights “the requirement for very diligent preplanning and execution of tactical scenarios with both students and ground parties in the range space,” she said. “This is a special interest item briefed before every student sortie during the CAS phase.”
In addition, students now are required to fly with an instructor in the rear of an F-16D model for their first night CAS sortie. If there are “resource constraints” and the student must fly solo, they will “perform their first strafe attack without ordinances while observed from close proximity by the instructor,” she said.
The Air Force also is working with personnel at the A-10 schoolhouse at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., to review A-10 targeting pod courseware to improve F-16 ground training. “This allowed us to capitalize on existing video, content, and instructional techniques for courseware to improve training for students on CAS,” she added.
DOD, SpaceX Explore Shipping Cargo Through Space
By Rachel S. Cohen
A military team is working with SpaceX to flesh out the prospect of shipping routes that pass through space, the head of U.S. Transportation Command said Oct. 7.
That group could demonstrate as early as 2021 whether quickly sending cargo around the globe via space is feasible, Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons said.
“Think about moving the equivalent of a C-17 payload anywhere on the globe in less than an hour,” Lyons said at a National Defense Transportation Association event. “Think about that speed associated with the movement of transportation of cargo and people. There is a lot of potential here.”
Pentagon officials have publicly discussed the intersection of logistics and space for at least three years, but partnerships between TRANSCOM, SpaceX, and Exploration Architecture Corp. are a formal step toward resolving technical and cost issues, as well as “legal, diplomatic, statutory, and regulatory” hurdles to commercial space transportation, the command said in a release.
“I had no sense for how fast SpaceX was moving, but I’ve received their update and I can tell you they are moving very rapidly in this area,” Lyons said.
Industry is “examining the use cases, technical and business feasibility, and concepts of employing space as a mode of transportation supporting USTRANSCOM’s role as the Defense Department’s global logistics provider,” according to a news release.
If the concept succeeds and is cost-effective, private companies could work with TRANSCOM to ferry cargo to the moon and Mars in support of NASA, the Space Force, and the business sector. The Defense Department is eyeing long-term space transportation agreements that would let the military turn to private companies to rapidly respond to emergencies.
“Commercial space transportation would allow point-to-point rapid movement of vital resources while eliminating en route stops or air refueling,” TRANSCOM said. “This capability has the potential to be one of the greatest revolutions in transportation since the airplane.”
Congress Approves Extra Funds for Some Aerospace Programs
By Rachel S. Cohen
Lawmakers in October approved a slew of funding shifts the Pentagon requested in June to pay officers, avoid hiring freezes in the Department of the Air Force, and set up U.S. Space Command, among other priorities.
The Defense Department routinely asks the House and Senate Appropriations and Armed Services committees to let the military move money between accounts in a process known as reprogramming. This omnibus reprogramming request looked to shuffle more than $2 billion in fiscal 2019 and 2020 dollars.
For the Air Force, much of the money will go toward congressionally approved pay raises and retirement contributions. “Without additional funds, Air Force will have to institute a hiring freeze and/or furlough civilian employees,” the reprogramming document said.
DOD also secured an $80 million plus-up for U.S. Space Command, which is barely a year old.
“These funds support the Combined Force Space Component Command, missile warning/missile defense, Joint Operations Center contractor support, and information technology support across the command,” the document states. “In addition, the resources fund other headquarters contractor support, travel, and training necessary to fulfill the [combatant command’s] roles and responsibilities within the Joint Force.”
USSPACECOM needs additional money so it can keep its growth on track and continue daily operations according to plan, DOD added.
The satellite communications upgrade program known as WGS-11+ secured an extra $5 million to stay on track as well. The Space Force wants to deliver new Wideband Global SATCOM systems, which are twice as capable as the earlier version, starting in 2024.
“Without funds, the program office will be unable to perform the mission analysis, engineering support, anomaly resolution, and systems engineering and integration functions required to support the required WGS-11+ production and launch in 2024, ultimately preventing the program from closing the warfighter operational mission gap that currently exists,” DOD argued. “Warfighter demand for the capability provided by the WGS constellation exceeds the current constellation capacity.”
Funding stability for some programs comes at the expense of progress for others.
At the same time, the Senate Armed Services Committee postponed a decision to transfer more than $77.5 million into the aircraft procurement account. Those projects would add commercial Wi-Fi to four C-32A and four C-40B planes that ferry around senior leaders, as well as other communications improvements.
The Senate Armed Services Committee also wants to wait on installing Enhanced On-Board Oxygen Generation Systems (OBOGS) into 443 T-6 aircraft. “These funds are required in order to lessen the risk of unexplained physiological events stemming from primary OBOGS system failure while student pilots and instructor pilots are flying the T-6 training aircraft,” the document said.
Joint Direct Attack Munition tail kit upgrades are deferred, as well as a project to integrate systems that protect against threatening small drones into the Air Force enterprise.
An effort to design new maternity flight suits for women who are now allowed to fly longer into their pregnancies is also pushed off. The Air Force had asked for $6 million to develop safer flight suits with harnesses that account for the shape and size of women’s bodies. Another $5.1 million project to create in-flight bladder relief devices for women was deferred as well.
Lawmakers are letting the Air Force pull funding from several aircraft and ammunition upgrade programs that have saved money or that are not spending as much because they are delayed. They blocked the transfer of funds from certain programs, like the MQ-9 Reaper office, which had wanted to start shutting down production in 2021.
USAF, Army Move Forward Under New C2 Agreement
By Rachel S. Cohen
Air Force and Army leaders recently reached an agreement to partner more closely on joint all-domain command and control over the next two years, hoping that collaboration will help achieve their combat goals faster.
Each military department has its own venture to create a battle network that connects assets such as tanks and aircraft with sensors to track, target, and attack more efficiently. The Air Force runs the Advanced Battle Management System plan, while the Army calls its own work “Project Convergence” and the Navy has a parallel effort dubbed “Project Overmatch.”
“We’re trying to build the interconnected digital infrastructure needed to allow individual services to bring their own capabilities and connect to one another, much like we do in our daily lives at home with personal devices,” said a Department of the Air Force spokesperson.
Under the agreement, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville will pursue mutual data-sharing and software interface standards through the end of September 2022. Officials are hailing the Sept. 29 pact as a pivotal move toward breaking down the institutional hurdles that keep the armed forces from working together more efficiently.
The services are still scoping out how to pursue a common data standard, which the Air Force has started requesting for its own programs, and haven’t chosen specific systems or platforms to collaborate on.
“With the data-sharing, we intend to start with sharing the most critical mission areas within each particular service as well as sharing the data engineering plans for each mission area,” the spokesperson told Air Force Magazine.
The Army will play a bigger role in the Air Force’s periodic ABMS demonstrations (known as “on-ramps”) as a result of the agreement, and likewise for Air Force participation in Project Convergence events. The Air Force did not indicate it is working on a similar agreement with the Navy and Marine Corps.
The pact hasn’t yet launched any new development projects, the Air Force spokesperson said, though they are looking into combined “JADC2 capabilities, data system and automation development, and intelligence collection and technology protection.”
By the time the agreement ends, the services hope to have significantly improved the command and control doctrine, organization, concepts, and technologies needed to make combat decisions faster than other advanced militaries such as Russia and China.
“If we’re at the end of 2022 and we can witness the Army and Air Force’s JADC2 capabilities integrated, and experimenting, and testing globally integrated operations, we would consider that a success,” the spokesperson said. “The CJADC2 [combined joint all-domain command and control] partnership agreement is meant to solidify our commitment to connecting the joint force and build [the Internet of Military Things].”
National Strategy: Promote, Protect Critical Technologies
By John A. Tirpak
The Trump administration released a national strategy for high technology on Oct. 15, emphasizing the need to both develop new capabilities and protect them from world competitors seeking to steal them.
The document outlines a common set of 20 technology priorities for government agencies to nurture and protect, while acknowledging the list will evolve over time. They include: advanced computing, artificial intelligence, autonomy, quantum computing, communications and networks, distributed ledger technologies, microelectronics and man-machine interfaces, data science and storage; advanced materials, manufacturing technologies, aerospace engines, advanced conventional weapon technologies; advanced sensing and space technologies; agricultural and bio-technologies; chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) mitigation technologies; medical and public health technologies.
The strategy comes in response to peer adversaries’ ability “to mobilize vast resources in these fields,” and steal a march on the U.S., according to a White House press statement.
“The United States will not turn a blind eye to the tactics of countries like China and Russia, which steal technology, coerce companies into handing over intellectual property, undercut free and fair markets, and surreptitiously divert emerging civilian technologies to build up their militaries,” the press office said.
Incorporating cybersecurity “early in the technology development stages,” is a high priority, as is working “with partners to take similar action,” according to the document.
The Pentagon is already implementing many of the approaches laid out in the strategy. It has codified a tiered cybersecurity compliance model, which must be included in proposals for new work. The Pentagon has also embarked on a series of programs to defeat adversary tactics in tech transfer. These include pairing small businesses developing useful new technologies with “safe” investors who won’t try to export intellectual property once having acquired a financial stake in the business.
The new policy seeks to “secure our national security innovation base” by “strengthening rules where gaps exist, insisting that agreements be enforced, and working with like-minded allies and partners to promote, advance, and defend our industry, address unfair practices, and level the playing field for American workers,” a White House spokesman said.
To promote U.S. dominance in technology, the strategy calls for development of a high-performing technology workforce, increasing government research, development funding, and coaching allies and partners who don’t yet have systems in place to guard against technological pillage by adversary investment.
The document details 12 broad initiatives aimed at encouraging and retaining investment and innovation, saying the U.S. should lead the world in setting technology “norms, standards, and governance models that reflect democratic values and interests.”
The policy specifically called out Russia for seeking to gain U.S. technology through “dual-use” private partnerships, particularly in the area of artificial intelligence, which Russia “believes will bring it both economic and military advantages.”
Meanwhile, China, in addition to “stealing technology” and “coercion” of companies in which it has a financial stake, fails to “provide reciprocal access in research and development projects,” uses tactics such as dumping to corner markets, and promotes “authoritarian practices that run counter to democratic values.”
First Airmen Get the Nod in New Promotion Process
By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory
About 1,200 majors earned a promotion under the Department of the Air Force’s new process for advancement that judges Airmen based on performance in their career field rather than comparing the force as a whole.
The 2020 lieutenant colonel promotion board is also the first to ditch so-called “below-the-zone” promotions, which offers people a chance to fast-track up the ranks and puts Airmen up for promotion in an order based on merit rather than seniority.
The selection board, which convened in May, considered more than 2,600 Air Force and Space Force members for promotion who work in about 40 specialties that fall into six new categories, Air Force Personnel Center spokesperson Michael T. Dickerson told Air Force Magazine.
A total of 554 majors in air operations and special warfare, 33 majors in nuclear and missile operations, 58 majors in space operations, 197 majors each in information warfare and combat support, and 170 majors in force modernization were tapped to become lieutenant colonels as of Oct. 7, Dickerson said.
The Air Force decided last year to scrap below-the-zone promotions to give officers more time to accrue “insight and experience” they might not get by rushing through the ranks, according to Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly. About 2 percent of Airmen seeking promotion were typically chosen ahead of schedule.
The change resulted in record-breaking promotion rates for those looking to advance according to schedule or later than usual.
At about 76 percent, nearly 5 percent more Airmen were promoted to lieutenant colonel on schedule—or “in the zone”—than in 2018. At 13 percent, the number of majors promoted “above the zone,” or later than usual, was 6.3 percent higher than in 2018, the Air Force said.
Promotion zones are defined by the minimum amount of time an Airman should serve at a certain rank before seeking advancement.
As part of the overhaul, the Department of the Air Force also changed how it assembles the panels who evaluate troops in each category.
Most panelists are part of the career fields they’re vetting, while some come from other backgrounds to balance the board’s perspective, the service said. All panelists receive backgrounders on the major “milestones and challenges” of each profession.
“This tailored approach ensures panel members consider officers in each category against similar career milestones and expectations,” Air Force Personnel Center Commander Maj. Gen. Christopher E. Craige said in a release.
This time around, Airmen were also considered for promotion in order of their merit instead of seniority.
“Performance will be the driving factor in determining when officers pin on new rank,” the release stated. “Those whose record of performance place them near the top of a promotion board’s order of merit, regardless of zone, will promote ahead of some of their peers.”
Pararescuemen Earn Bronze Stars for Bravery in Afghanistan
By Brian W. Everstine
Master Sgt. Adam Fagan and Staff Sgt. Benjamin Brudnicki, both assigned to the 48th Rescue Squadron, received the nation’s fourth-highest military honor during a ceremony at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. They credited training before their deployment for saving the lives of special operations forces overseas.
“The experience and brotherhood created with my team overseas is the most valuable piece for me,” Brudnicki said in a release. “The Air Force best utilizes its special warfare assets when putting them to work in the joint environment, and I am proud to be a part of that.”
Fagan, then assigned to the 64th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, was attached to a team of Army Special Operations Detachment Force Alpha and Afghan Special Forces that was raiding Taliban-controlled Sangin on March 24, 2019. As the team approached an enemy compound, they were attacked by small-arms fire from a fortified position as well as an improvised explosive device, according to the award citation.
An Afghan commando was wounded by the gunfire, and Fagan responded despite the onslaught.
“The heavy, small-arms fire, coupled with rocket-propelled grenade blasts and multiple [IED] detonations pinned down the Afghan Special Forces team and hindered access to the critically wounded casualty,” the citation stated. “Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own safety, Sgt. Fagan took immediate control of the dire situation and engaged the fortified enemy position, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy fire.”
Fagan shot back to allow the rest of his team to reach the Afghan commando. He then treated the casualty, called for a medical evacuation, and moved the commando to the helicopter landing zone as gunshots and grenade fire continued. He also provided cover for the helicopters to land, according to the citation.
“The culmination of Sgt. Fagan’s exceptionally brave actions and speed of patient delivery led to the destruction of an enemy weapons cache, the elimination of five enemy insurgents, and ultimately saved the life of a coalition partner,” the citation states.
Brudnicki, the other honoree, was also assigned to the 64th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron at Kandahar when he was attached to a Special Forces ODA and Afghan commando team on May 3, 2019.
During a counterinsurgency mission in Helmand Province, they approached a village that was a known Taliban stronghold. When they breached the first “compound of interest,” the assault team heard an enemy group nearby was preparing for an engagement.
“[Brudnicki] and his team utilized the Taliban’s own kill holes against them with decisive small-arms fire,” the citation stated. “At distances of less than 5 feet, he engaged relentlessly with personal weapons and hand grenades, despite their cover being damaged with a rocket that failed to detonate.”
A civilian was hurt in the fight, and Brudnicki braved “effective enemy fire from an adjacent compound” while running through an open courtyard to rescue and stabilize the wounded person. Another call for aid came when an Afghan commando was severely wounded and pinned down.
“He rushed to join the fight and engaged the enemy’s fortified position by again crossing the open courtyard and exposing himself to grave danger,” according to the citation. “He successfully suppressed the enemy, allowing partner force commandos to remove the casualty from the courtyard.”
Brudnicki then set up a place where they could gather wounded troops and created a plan to transport blood and evacuate people.
“His actions resulted in the seven enemies killed in action, including a Taliban commander, and saved the lives of two coalition partners,” the citation states.
F-15Es Can Carry SDB II Bombs
By Amy McCullough
The F-15E Strike Eagle can now carry the Small Diameter Bomb II in combat, after software faults and other problems repeatedly delayed the program for years.
Air Combat Command approved Raytheon Technologies’ air-launched, precision-guided munition, also known as StormBreaker, for use on Sept. 23. The F-15E is the first aircraft cleared to fly with SDB II, with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet next in line.
“The SDB II StormBreaker is ready for operational use after undergoing extensive development and flight testing,” Col. Jason Rusco, SDB II program manager and Miniature Munitions Division senior materiel leader, said in an Oct. 13 release. “This capability is unmatched and is a game-changer for national defense.”
The Defense Department plans to buy 17,000 StormBreakers, split between 12,000 for the Air Force and 5,000 for the Navy. All current Air Force fighter and bomber aircraft eventually will carry the bombs, as well as the A-10, AC-130J, and MQ-9.
StormBreaker, which can fly more than 40 miles to strike mobile targets, uses an imaging infrared, millimeter wave radar to guide the system along with semi-active laser, GPS, and inertial navigation system guidance, according to Raytheon. Its small size means USAF can deploy fewer aircraft with more weapons and still take out a large number of targets.
“The weapon has proven itself in many complex test scenarios, against a variety of targets in extreme environmental conditions, and is now ready to fly,” said Cristy Stagg, StormBreaker program director at Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a Raytheon Technologies business. “With its multimode seeker and data link, StormBreaker will make adverse weather irrelevant.”
SDB II has encountered several issues with its software and parts that delayed development for at least three years and grew the price tag.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated that development costs increased 9.3 percent, from $1.9 billion to $2.1 billion, between 2010 and 2020. However, estimated procurement costs are expected to slightly decrease, from $3.5 billion to $3.2 billion.
Eleven failures were identified in operational testing, which concluded in May 2019. Eight of those issues were related to software, two were hardware-related, and one involved an anomaly with the guidance component, according to the GAO report.
Work halted in 2019 after the military found several safety deficiencies, including concerns that the bomb’s fins could inadvertently deploy before launch and damage the aircraft carrying it. That could disproportionately affect the F-35, which will internally carry the weapon.
The decision to greenlight SDB II for combat was delayed for about a year while Raytheon retrofitted the nearly 600 bombs that were already delivered. ACC’s decision now opens the door to initial fielding on the Super Hornet later this year and for integration onto the F-35, according to the company.