Guardians of Space
By Rachel S. Cohen
Space Force members will be known as “Guardians” from now on, Vice President Michael R. Pence announced Dec. 18.
“Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Guardians will be defending our nation for generations to come,” he said at a Dec. 18 White House ceremony celebrating the Space Force’s Dec. 20 birthday.
As the Space Force turns 1 year old, abandoning the moniker of “Airman” is one of the most prominent moves made so far to distinguish space personnel from the Air Force they mostly came from. An effort to crowdsource options brought in more than 500 responses earlier this year, including “sentinel” and “vanguard.”
The name Guardians connects our proud heritage and culture to the important mission we execute 24/7.U.S. Space Force
The decision will shape the ranks issued to members as well, ditching terms like “senior Airman” that use the old name. Officials have also stressed the importance of picking a gender-neutral name as they shape the Space Force’s unique culture to be more inclusive.
Former Navy SEAL Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) earlier this year floated the idea of using naval ranks to identify Space Force personnel. His provision landed in the House’s version of the fiscal 2021 defense policy, but the Senate did not have a similar provision, and ultimately won out in stripping Crenshaw’s language from the bipartisan compromise between the two chambers.
The Space Force had been ready to announce its rank plans when Crenshaw’s amendment intervened, so the service waited on Congress to decide whether to keep the provision before making any major announcements about its future.
“The opportunity to name a force is a momentous responsibility,” the Space Force said on Facebook. “Guardians is a name with a long history in space operations, tracing back to the original command motto of Air Force Space Command in 1983, ‘Guardians of the High Frontier.’”
“The name Guardians connects our proud heritage and culture to the important mission we execute 24/7, protecting the people and interest of the U.S. and its allies,” the service added.
The Space Force has rolled out multiple other features of its budding identity in the past several months, including a flag, a logo, a seal, and a motto: “Semper Supra,” or “Always Above.”
The Space Force, which was created on Dec. 20, 2019, to focus on operating military satellites and radars and to defend those assets from attack, spent its first year transforming how the military is organized, trained, and equipped. It will spend its second year proving whether those changes can work.
The new service is preparing to welcome in thousands more recently selected Airmen in fields such as intelligence and acquisition this year, with plans to grow to 6,400 Active-duty members by the end of September, growing to a total of about 16,000 employees including civilians and members assigned from other branches. About 2,400 Active-duty personnel already are part of USSF.
“Now we have to develop those folks to fill those positions and do that organically from the United States Space Force, … focused on the domain … and being able to move at speed,” Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond said on a Dec. 15 call with reporters.
“As new missions come about, we will add squadrons as those missions materialize,” he added.
Chief Master Sergeant Roger A. Towberman, the Space Force’s Senior Enlisted Adviser, said the service is figuring out when it makes sense to bring those new members in “one by one.” People in career fields shared by both the Air Force and Space Force—cyber, intel, acquisition, and others—who were tapped for transfer can start joining Feb. 1, 2021.
Space operators who work with satellites and related technologies began transferring in September. In another birthday week event, Raymond welcomed Col. Michael S. Hopkins, a NASA astronaut—while he was aboard the International Space Station—as the service’s newest transfer from the Air Force.
The service has also begun picking people for promotion through selection boards, including three chief master sergeants who will pin on the new rank at the beginning of 2021.
The new boss of the Space Force’s operations branch on Dec. 14 offered a peek into how the organization is working with other parts of the service as they mature.
Space Operations Command (SpOC) formally stood up at a ceremony in October, making it the first Space Force command to do so. Space Systems Command (SSC), which will oversee hardware and software development, sustainment, and retirement, is slated to be up and running this summer. Space Training and Readiness Command (STARCOM), which will manage the pipeline from new recruits through graduate space education, should launch this year as well.
Space Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. Stephen N. Whiting said each organization is trying to stay linked so each piece of the service understands what the others need as they move forward.
“Even though SSC has not yet stood up, we have a number of touchpoints with them,” Whiting said during an event hosted by the Space Force Association. “[Space and Missile Systems Center boss Lt. Gen. John D. Thompson] leads a group of program executive officers from his organization and other development organizations who support our mission areas in their meetings.”
Over the past several months, SpOC has offered its perspective to SSC through Whiting, as well as through an operations working group with members from the Space Force and U.S. Space Command, the joint combatant command that uses assets such as satellites and radars for daily military missions.
Their relationship will particularly evolve as the space enterprise looks to cut the time it takes to put new satellites on orbit, test cutting-edge technologies, and hand more tools to service members who want to code new software on their own rather than relying on defense companies and contracts for upgrades.
“This morning, I took a brief from a young Airman in our enterprise … who taught himself to code. He’s a space operator who went in and wrote a new piece of software that has completely improved part of our mission area, and has freed up 15 percent of the manpower of that squadron to be repurposed from rote tasks into higher-priority tasks that are more warfighting-focused,” Whiting noted. “That’s the kind of innovation that we’re looking to unlock with the digital Space Force effort.”
Space Training and Readiness Delta Provisional, the predecessor to STARCOM, sits under SpOC as it prepares to work on its own, Whiting said. Delta Commander Col. Peter J. Flores participates in SpOC meetings, and the organizational proximity helps officials in the operations and training fields collaborate more smoothly.
Building new training processes and collaboration with the operations realm will be a key aspect of the training organization’s growth over the next several months, Whiting said.
“We really are trying to use more modern technology to provide that three-dimensional visualization of the battlespace,” he added. “Our squadron that’s in the Space Training and Readiness Delta, the 533rd Training Squadron … out at Vandenberg [Air Force Base, Calif.,] is doing some really interesting things in that space, to include some virtual reality.”
Also in December, Pence presided over a ceremony to rename two historic Air Force installations as part of the Space Force: Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Patrick Space Force Base, Fla. Those are the first two military facilities to receive the Space Force moniker.
Cape Canaveral has served as America’s premiere space launch facility since the 1950s and is now transforming to meet the needs of a modern space age defined by companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. The Air Force for years has managed launch operations at the Cape via the 45th Space Wing at Patrick, which itself is taking on more responsibilities as military space begins a new chapter.
“Today, we start a new era at both Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Patrick Space Force Base, aligning the installations’ names with their critical missions,” Raymond said at a Dec. 9 ceremony.
IG Finds Racial Disparities in Career and Disciplinary Review
By Rachel S. Cohen
The national reckoning with racial tensions that shook up the Air Force last spring and summer brought on a departmentwide self-examination in the fall and the release of an Air Force Inspector General report in December that encompassed more than 123,000 survey responses from Air Force and Space Force members, 138 in-person sessions at bases across the department, and 27,000 pages of written responses.
The report’s conclusion: Significant racial disparities persist in both the Air Force’s disciplinary and career development systems.
“Varying degrees of [racial] disparity were identified in apprehensions, criminal investigations, military justice, administrative separations, placement into occupational career fields, certain promotion rates, officer and civilian professional military educational development, and some leadership opportunities,” the Department of the Air Force said Dec. 21. “The data does not address why racial disparities exist in these areas, and that while the data shows race is a correlating factor, it does not necessarily indicate causality.”
Just because I’m here, doesn’t mean that’s the end of the story.Gen. Charles Brown Jr., USAF Chief of Staff
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. said the service must seize the moment to respond to an urgent and long-time need for reforms.
“Shame on us if we miss this opportunity to make a change that’s required across our Air Force to make it better, whether it’s the Air Force or the Space Force,” he said Dec. 22.
The survey responses reported that:
A third of Black service members believe the military discipline system is biased against them.
Three-fifths of Black service members do not believe they will receive the same benefit of the doubt given their White peers should they get in trouble.
One-third of Black officers do not believe the Air Force and Space Force provide them the same opportunities to advance as their White peers.
Two of five Blacks—whether enlisted members, civilians, or officers—do not trust their chains of command to address racism, bias, and unequal opportunities.
Half of all respondents said they had experienced or witnessed racial discrimination from another Airman.
The IG report examined records from Article 15 evidentiary hearings, courts-martial, and nonjudicial punishments and found Black Airmen are 72 percent more likely to face Article 15 hearings and 57 percent more likely to face courts-martial. Young Black Airmen are twice as likely to be involuntarily discharged based on misconduct; twice as likely to be stopped by Security Forces; and 1.64 times more likely to be suspects investigated by the Office of Special Investigations.
Brown, the first Black officer to serve as a U.S. military service Chief, said he read the 150-page report cover-to-cover “five or six” times, and noted that it reflects his own experience as a Black man who rose through the ranks. These are “things I’ve actually felt,” he said.
The IG team reviewed 23 prior studies and reports on race and demographics, finding that the issues have persisted for years, despite efforts to raise consciousness through training and policy. So what might be different now? “George Floyd,” Brown said. “Think about what happened. … Look at all the protests over the course of the summer,” following Floyd’s death at the hands of a White police officer last May.
“When those other studies were done, there probably weren’t as many protests,” Brown said. “Think about it: It was 1973 and beyond. So you didn’t have a major national event that focused us on this particular topic—until this summer.”
In the wake of the incident and the protests that followed, former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright sparked a servicewide discussion on race and discrimination, and Brown, who was nominated but not yet confirmed as Chief, issued a video that went viral for its blunt acknowledgment of his experience growing up in an Army family and later as an officer and combat pilot in the Air Force.
“When I was a captain, I did an interview for Air Force Times, and it talked about the percentage of African Americans that were pilots,” Brown said. “It was 2 percent. That was 30 years ago. You know what it is right now? It’s still 2 percent.”
In a service that values pilots above all else, Brown’s ascendance is all the more remarkable because there are so few minorities who fly. The solution, Brown said, should be holistic, including empowering Airmen in other fields to have the same kinds of command opportunities usually reserved for pilots.
“Will the shape of the Air Force change in the future as we look at cyber, information operations, and other areas? I think it will,” he said. “But it won’t make a dramatic shift.”
To spur lasting change, Brown and Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond are eying the Officer Qualifying Test and Weighted Airman Promotion System tests for change. The Space Force has indicated it may be small enough to forgo testing as a measure for selecting Guardians for promotion.
For the civilian workforce, Air Force Materiel Command’s Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr. has started a “status of discipline” review, like that used by service members, to track and discuss performance issues. The aim is to raise red flags over barriers to progress or biases in specific units or career fields.
Brown and Raymond encouraged troops to continue productive dialogue when they can, and to call in backup when needed. There should be a balance between mission readiness and ensuring people’s voices are heard on the issues that affect their quality of life, they said. Brown added that the department is establishing a diversity and inclusion office with the goal of reducing the number of incidents that warrant attention from the Inspector General or equal-opportunity program.
Inclusion from the Start
For the Space Force, the investigation is a chance to rectify racist practices and attitudes from its inception. The newest military service’s human capital plan aims for a diverse workforce with an ingrained culture of acceptance.
“Our forces are more ready when everybody that comes to work—regardless of race, color, sex, creed, or religion—feels welcome and has an environment [in] which they can flourish across all of our ranks,” Raymond said. “This is not affirmative action; this is equal opportunity and inclusion.”
Brown said his own ascendance to Chief marks progress, but not necessarily a victory over discrimination. “Just because I’m here, doesn’t mean that’s the end of the story,” he said. “Is it a woman that comes behind me? Is it someone of a different sexual orientation? Is it another diverse group? It can’t be a one-and-done. We can’t slap the table and pat ourselves on the back now that I’m sitting here as the Chief of Staff.”
The two service Chiefs, along with Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett, will assign stakeholders to review the IG report, conduct a root-cause analysis, and develop recommendations to address the disparities. The IG will conduct a “vector check” every six months to evaluate progress.
Next steps include direction to commanders to review every visual symbol, turn of phrase, and other form “of unit recognition and identity” to ensure alignment with service values.
“Commanders, at the squadron level and above, will remove any visual representation, symbols, or language [that is] derogatory to any race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, age, or disability status to ensure an inclusive and professional environment,” the Air Force said in a Jan. 5 release.
Everything from unit nicknames and mottos to sanctioned and unofficial challenge coins and morale patches must be reviewed by Feb. 21. The use of derogatory symbols and language “ostracizes our teammates, undermining unit cohesion and impeding our mission readiness and success,” the memo said. “Our diversity of experience, culture, demographics, and perspectives is a force multiplier and essential to our success in this dynamic global environment. … We must ensure all our Airmen and Guardians are valued and respected.”
Air Force Magazine Pentagon Editor Brian W. Everstine and Digital Editor Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory contributed to this report.
LGBTQ Airmen Say Their Fight Is Not Yet Over
By Rachel S. Cohen
The repeal in 2010 of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) erased a law that had allowed gay military members to serve in uniform, as long as they didn’t tell their colleagues about their sexuality. Enacted as a compromise in the 1990s, the policy formally ended in September 2011 after months of preparation at the Pentagon.
For Jennifer Dane, an Air Force veteran who is now interim executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy organization Modern Military Association of America, it erased a barrier to her interactions with others.
“I became a better supervisor because I was able to live up to the core values of the Air Force at that time,” she said. “It made me a better Airman because I was able to be open and transparent about my life.”
“When you’re doing a mission together, you share a lot of yourself with your troops,” she said. “I wanted to show them I was a person just like they were.”
But while gay Airmen and Guardians are optimistic about a military where the LGBTQ community is better represented and accepted, some still see room for improvement, especially in terms of health care.
For example, the Air Force offers an annual multiday seminar for HIV-infected Airmen to get specialized advice for living with HIV, including information on topics from diet to safe sex. But one HIV-positive Airman said that, while helpful, other requirements and restrictions for people with the virus need review.
“Every time I change a unit, I am required by [Air Force instructions] to sit down with my commander, and we have to sign a letter together about my sexual activity,” the Airman said. “Very invasive. … No one wants to have that conversation.”
Airmen have fought HIV-related issues in the courts. In early 2020, a federal appeals court sided with two Airmen who faced military discharge after testing positive for the virus in 2017. The Pentagon bars personnel with HIV from deploying to the Middle East, making them a target for discharge under the Defense Department’s “deploy or get out” policy. The Airmen argued they could deploy with medication or a policy exception, or take different jobs in the service.
Another federal judge recently ruled that DOD has “no rational basis” for blocking HIV-positive service members from accepting an officer’s commission, another hurdle. And while the Air Force does cover the cost of Truvada, the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment that protects individuals from contracting the virus that causes HIV, one Airmen complained that health workers aren’t necessarily familiar with the tests that must be performed each time a prescription is refilled.
“When I had to go do the bloodwork, it was hard for the lady to understand what I was asking for,” said Tech. Sgt. Donald G. Goins Jr., assigned to the 30th Space Communications Squadron’s cyber mission defense team at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
Others worry about uncertainty given that laws and policies remain in flux in today’s contentious political climate. Master Sgt. Kate Huguenin, the additional duty first sergeant for U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade, Md., wonders if the Air Force would continue to recognize same-sex marriage if the law enabling that policy was overturned.
“The reason I can [permanently relocate] with my spouse is because legally, the federal government says you cannot separate legally married couples,” said Huguenin, whose wife is in the Coast Guard.
Under DADT, Airmen shied away from connecting with their colleagues for fear that any action considered “telling” could lead to discharge. Now they can comfortably display a photo or invite a spouse to a command event without risk.
“It’s exciting that I’m going to retire from the Air Force and I am going to have a husband that gets to be there—literally there, in person,” said Master Sgt. Michael Burd, who works with the Rapid Capabilities Office at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. “When I was an Airman [under DADT] and I was winning awards, my partner couldn’t go to the award ceremonies.”
Amid those shifts, advocates say it will take time to rebuild the number of LGBTQ employees in the leadership pipeline. “You couldn’t get a clearance if you were gay until 1998,” said Luke Schleusener, president of the advocacy group, Out In National Security, and a former speechwriter in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “There are people who could come over one way or the other, Hill staff, that sort of thing. But it’s hard, in part because the culture has to change.”
Diversity-minded changes underway across the Defense Department could also bolster the LGBTQ community. Hiding the names and photos of candidates up for promotion, for example, might not only reduce racial discrimination, but could also protect against sex or gender-identity discrimination.
The Pentagon cleared the way in 2016 for service by transgender members, only to block members from newly coming out as transgender in 2019. Troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria after April 2019 must continue serving according to their birth sex and cannot receive transition-related health care available to those who came out under the old policy. Americans with gender dysphoria or who are transitioning cannot join the military under present rules.
In 2016 a RAND Corp. study estimated that more than 6,600 transgender troops were part of the Active-duty force, noting that not all of them would seek gender transition-related treatment. RAND predicted that allowing transgender personnel to access transition-related health care would increase Active-duty health costs by up to $8.4 million a year, an increase less than 1 percent, based on private health insurance claims data.
“Even upper-bound estimates indicate that less than 0.1 percent of the Total Force would seek transition-related care that could disrupt their ability to deploy,” RAND said.
Dane said there should be no limit on those capable and qualified to serve. “I think the biggest fear from ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was that we were going to be able to come out, and then have to go back in the closet because of a different policy,” she said. “The trans folks were able to come out one day, and the next day, they had to either go back in, or come really out and say, ‘Yes, I suffer from gender dysphoria.’”
The incoming Biden administration is expected to repeal restrictions on transgender service soon after taking office. Dane would like to see Congress go a step further and enshrine protections for transgender personnel in law. Generation Z—anyone born after 1997—has grown up in a different world and will need policies that recognize differences in how individuals self-identify.
“What do you do whenever you have recruits that don’t really fit into the standards that you have?” Dane asked. “We’ve got to be ready for that.”
Mishaps Rise Due to Lack of Training, Shortage of Maintainers, Report Says
By Brian W. Everstine
A lack of flying hours and overworked maintainers are contributing to high rates of crashes and other aviation mishaps, according to a Congressionally mandated report, which called on the services to quickly overhaul how they manage maintainers and pilot training.
The National Commission on Military Aviation Safety looked at more than 6,000 aviation mishaps, including 198 deaths, 157 aircraft destroyed, and about $9.41 billion in losses, from 2013 to 2018—none of the losses were due to combat operations. The information was compiled in a report released Dec. 3, and the Defense Department has 120 days to formally respond to the report.
Although the Air Force saw a decrease in “Class A” mishaps, there was an increase in “Class C” mishaps, largely because of maintenance or other on-the-ground issues. Class A mishaps are any mishaps that results in the destruction of an aircraft, or permanent total disability of a person, or causes damage in excess of $2.5 million (from 2010-2019 it was $2 million.) A Class C mishap is one that results in an injury causing loss of more than a day of time off from work or damage between $60,000 to $600,000. (From 2019-2020, it was $50,000 to $500,000).
The commission visited 80 different bases and other sites, talking to about 200 different units who outlined myriad issues impacting the military’s aircraft fleets. The recurring themes were: not enough flying hours for pilots, maintainers that were distracted by excessive duties, inadequate prioritization of safety, insufficient data collection, a lack of consistent funding, and a “relentless” operations tempo, according to the report.
“These are great, patriotic, young American people. Many of them have stayed with us, and reenlisted, and stayed on after 16 to 17 years of war. They know what right looks like. Tv nhey know what the difference is between being a current pilot and a proficient pilot for the mission tasks that they’re being asked,” said retired Army Gen. Richard A. Cody, the chairman of the commission. “But they’re frustrated with the ops tempo. They’re frustrated with the unpredictable funding. And they’re also frustrated a bit, being away from home as much as they are.”
Pilots complained of a lack of real flying hours and an overreliance on simulators. While simulators are effective at practicing emergency routines and other tasks, they do not effectively replicate intense, real-world flying and can contribute to a lack of proficiency, they said.
“We think simulator time is great for emergency procedure training and for other things,” Cody said. “But when we went to the units, they were complaining that they had pilots coming out of the training base during this time period, with less flying hours and not really up to speed on all the types of flying that was required. And then the units were having to expand their flying hour dollars in the units to bring them up to speed at a time when their ops tempo was high.”
This starts in original flight training, where pilots graduate without enough seat time and move on to squadrons without enough experience in required aspects of flying, forcing operational squadrons to spend their own flying hours getting new pilots up to speed. Additionally, pilots are spending an extended period of time not flying after graduation because of other requirements, such as survival, evasion, resistance, and escape training. One pilot told the commission, “When I get to my unit, it will be six months since I’ve flown.”
In the training units, flying hours and the number of instructors has been cut, with one training unit for example only having 82 instructor pilots despite being authorized 114. This issue is highlighted as the Air Force is increasing its use of simulators in initial pilot training, through its Pilot Training Next initiative, which seeks to further cut the amount of time a student needs to fly before completing undergraduate pilot training.
Commanders in operational squadrons are issuing more waivers to keep pilots operational even though they haven’t met all the requirements, indicating “problems” that should be reported and tracked. While getting enough funding to increase flight hours is a systemic issue that will require a national approach and take a long time to address, the services should take smaller steps, such as tracking waivers to address trends in the short-term so they can identify and fix some of the issues, Cody said.
Morale on the ground with maintainers is a large problem across all services. Specifically, for the Air Force, a lack of experienced 5- to 7-level supervisors, in addition to a shortfall of maintainers overall, has proven to be problematic. While the Air Force’s usual trainer to trainee ratio should be 1:5 or 1:6, it is closer to 1:8 or 1:9, according to the report. These maintainers are finishing training without enough understanding of their duties—one maintainer told the commission that new Airmen could not tell the difference between a ratchet and a socket—and are going into squadrons that are understaffed, the report states.
“Knowing that with task saturation and sleep deprivation, work performance suffers. We see human factors and an increase in mishaps,” a USAF maintainer told the commission. “They don’t have experience and are tired. They are tired and are crying for help. The response is shut up and color.”
To address some of these issues, the commission recommends the military “fence” maintainers from additional duties so they can focus on their main role. The report, for example, suggested maintainers should not be tasked with doing other jobs, such as providing security. The recommendation comes at time, however, when the Air Force is pushing forward with the idea of creating “multi-capable Airmen” under the Agile Combat Employment model.
The military needs to keep recruiting maintainers and treat the ones they have better through incentive packages and a career track that incentivizes promotions, instead of having personnel change jobs to get promoted. Additionally, the services should incentivize maintainers who graduate from advanced schools, for example, providing an airframe and power plant license “so they feel they are aviation professionals,” Cody said.
Other Systemic Issues
The commission also outlined other systemic maintenance issues, specifically with a lack of parts and depot maintenance, that does not support the needs of operational flying units. An Air Force major command representative told the commission that depots have been so deficient that “jets are coming out of the depot in worse shape than when they started.” This in turn leads to “greater workloads, increasing risk, lowering morale, and exacerbating already acute readiness problems,” the commission said in a briefing.
“For example, as the commission heard during a visit at one Air Force base, when an actuator failed on a deployed aircraft in the Pacific, the only replacement parts were in two locations on the other side of the world. The maintenance group commander was forced to have an actuator taken off of a working plane at his home base in the United States and flown to the aircraft so it could be fixed,” the report states in an example of the problem.
The military has regularly operated under continuing resolutions from Congress since sequestration, which has led to unpredictable funding and impacted how squadrons plan to fly. One Air Force squadron commander told the commission, “We don’t plan exercises and [mission-related travel] because you don’t know if you will have funding. … I can’t plan my budget and make the purchases [needed] and can’t get them the [equipment] they need to do safe flight operations.” An Air Force Reserve unit commander added, “I redo the annual budget twice a quarter,” with Reservists preparing for months for a deployment that suddenly gets canceled.
The commission, which briefed lawmakers in a closed hearing on Dec. 3, called on lawmakers and the Pentagon to:
Adopt an “aggressive and coordinated” approach to understand the physiological needs of aviators.
Better reward and incentivize professional achievements of maintainers.
“Firmly establish” safety responsibility in the Defense Department by creating a Joint Safety Council.
Update and modify Force Protection Key Performance Parameters to incorporate Aviation Human Systems Safety.
Link simulator sustainment to aircraft production, upgrades, and modifications.
Stop using continuing resolutions to fund national security, military readiness, and aviation safety.
A Look at Historic USAF Rates
The same day the commission released its report, the government-funded RAND Corp. released its own study, “Trends in U.S. Air Force Aircraft Mishap Rates (1950-2018).” In the report, researchers analyzed mishap data for 55 different aircraft types, specifically looking at Class A mishaps, destroyed aircraft, and pilot fatalities. The report found that, broadly, flight safety has improved, with the greatest improvement early on through the 1960s. Researchers found there are more mishaps early in an aircraft’s service life, with fewer crashes and other incidents as an airplane ages. Newer aircraft have also experienced fewer mishaps.
According to the RAND data, multi-engine aircraft experience fewer serious Class A mishaps compared to single-engine airplanes. Mobility and trainer aircraft experienced the lowest mishap rates, when compared to fighter and bomber aircraft.
RAND recommends that future research should consider trends in the causes of mishaps, such as operator error, equipment failure, and environmental factors, to better understand the importance of different drivers. There is not readily available data to support that sort of research, however, so detailed case studies are required, according to researchers.
Chuck Yeager, 1923-2020
Legendary Test Pilot and WWII Ace
By John A. Tirpak
Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager, iconic test pilot, World War II ace, head of the Air Force’s test pilot school, and the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound in level flight, died Dec. 7, 2020, at the age of 97.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. called Yeager “a leader whose innovative spirit had global impact in aviation and air power. His legend will continue to inspire generations to push and break barriers.”
Born and raised in West Virginia, Yeager enlisted in the Army in 1941, serving first as an aircraft mechanic. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he applied to become a “flying sergeant,” and he flew the P-39 Airacobra after winning his wings. Deployed to Europe in 1943, he was assigned to P-51 Mustangs, and shot down one German fighter before being shot down himself over France on his eighth mission.
Yeager evaded capture with the help of the French resistance, and during his time with them, helped assemble bombs. With the help of the Maquis, he made his way to Spain, making a harrowing passage over the Pyrenees and saving the life of a fellow evader, a B-17 bombardier, for which he later received the Bronze Star. From Spain he returned to England.
Pilots helped by the resistance were barred from flying combat again, out of fear that they would, if shot down and captured, reveal information about the underground network. Yeager appealed personally to Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, only a week after the Normandy landings, to let him return to flying combat, arguing that the Maquis was openly fighting the Germans and the no-fly policy was obsolete. Eisenhower relented, and Yeager went back to combat flying in August 1944.
It proved a good decision. Over the next five months, Yeager racked up an additional 10.5 aerial victories, including five ME-109s in one day and four FW-190s on another. He was also one of the first to shoot down a German Me-262; the first operational jet fighter. He received a commission and was promoted to captain by the end of his tour in Europe. When he left the theater in January 1945, he had racked up 64 combat missions. He attributed much of his success to exceptional vision—better than 20/20, which he said gave him an edge in spotting the enemy first.
His combination of flying skills, maintenance experience, and evader status gave Yeager a choice of assignments, and he picked being a test pilot of repaired aircraft at Wright Field, Ohio. He impressed Col. Albert Boyd, head of the Aeronautical Systems Flight Test Division, who urged Yeager to study mathematics so he could advance as a test pilot. Yeager got tutoring help from other pilots. After graduating from test pilot school, Yeager was assigned to Muroc Army Air Field—now Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.—and over the next two years flew a wide variety of aircraft and tested modifications.
Partly at Boyd’s urging, Yeager was chosen for the Bell X-1 research aircraft program, meant to explore transonic flight. Supersonic flight was an unknown, and an attempt at it had killed British pilot Geoffrey de Havilland in 1946, creating the mystique of a “sound barrier.”
On Oct. 14, 1947—despite having broken two ribs two nights before, in a riding accident—Yeager flew the X-1 to Mach 1.05 at 45,000 feet. He later described the sensation as “poking through Jell-O.” He told National Public Radio in 2011 that the X-1 experience was more a matter of “being in the right place at the right time” than of being an especially gifted pilot.
The feat was kept secret until Aviation Week revealed the event in late 1947, and it was acknowledged by the Air Force in 1948. In that year, Yeager was awarded the Collier and Mackay Trophies for the X-1 flight, and he became famous enough to be featured on magazine covers.
Yeager became the Air Force’s “go-to” test pilot. In 1953, he was picked to secretly fly and evaluate a captured North Korean MiG-15 and compare it with the Air Force’s F-86, revealing its strengths and weaknesses in the air battles then taking place. Later that year, Yeager became the first man to exceed Mach 2, flying the Bell X-1A to Mach 2.44 on Dec. 12, besting the record of Scott Crossfield in the Douglas D-558 Skyrocket. Due to inertial roll coupling—a problem never encountered before—the X-1A went out of control at about 80,000 feet, spinning violently in all three axes and causing Yeager’s helmeted head to crack the canopy. After losing 50,000 feet in altitude in under one minute, he regained control at 29,000 feet. The following year, he received the Distinguished Service Medal for the record and the airmanship demonstrated in recovering the aircraft.
Yeager returned to the operational Air Force from 1955 to 1960, commanding at the squadron and wing levels, flying F-86Hs in Germany and France and the new F-100 Super Sabre at March Air Force Base, Calif. He lost command of a squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy, after members of his unit trashed a local bar.
After attending the Air War College, he was assigned in 1962 as commander of the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School. Although only 39, and having flown nearly every high-performance research aircraft the Air Force produced over the previous 15 years, Yeager was deemed ineligible to be an astronaut because he lacked a college degree. During his time commanding the school, he trained astronaut-bound flyers and he, himself, flew the M2-F1 lifting body, a research forerunner of the Space Shuttle, for NASA.
In December 1963, Yeager attempted to take the NF-104—an F-104 fitted with a rocket booster engine—to 100,000 feet. But the reaction control system, which steered the aircraft in the absence of enough air for control surfaces to be effective, failed around 80,000 feet. The aircraft entered an unrecoverable spin, and he had to eject. Struck in the head by the falling ejection seat’s smoldering rocket booster, Yeager’s face and hands were burned. He avoided permanent damage to his eyes. but lost portions of two fingers. It was his final record-setting attempt.
In 1966, Yeager commanded the 405th Tactical Fighter Wing at Clark Air Base, in the Philippines, frequently doing temporary duty in Vietnam. Flying mostly the B-57 Canberra as a bomber, he accumulated 127 combat missions in that conflict. By 1968, he was the 4th Fighter Wing commander at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., flying the F-4. While there, he took his unit to South Korea during the USS Pueblo seizure.
Yeager was promoted to brigadier general in 1969. He served in a diplomatic assignment in Pakistan, was vice commander of 17th Air Force in Germany, and headed the Air Force Inspection and Safety Center from 1973, until his retirement in 1975.
Yeager returned to prominence with the publication of Tom Wolfe’s book, “The Right Stuff,” about the heyday of test flying at Edwards and the Mercury astronaut program, which featured Yeager’s exploits. Wolfe wrote that every pilot imitated Yeager’s West Virginia drawl and unflustered response to a crisis in the cockpit.
The 1983 movie version of “The Right Stuff”—in which he had a cameo role, as a bartender—made Yeager a household name, which he capitalized on with a two-part autobiography, titled “Yeager” and “Press On,” respectively, as well as TV commercial appearances promoting AC Delco car batteries.
He did not rest on his aviation laurels, however. He worked as an aviation consultant and did test flight work for Northrop and Piper into the 1990s. Across his career, he flew more than 350 types of aircraft, amassing more than 18,000 flying hours. In 1986, he served as a member of the Rogers Commission, exploring the factors that led to the Challenger Space Shuttle accident.
To recognize the 50th Anniversary of the Mach 1 flight in 1997, the Air Force flew Yeager in an F-15, going supersonic at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. There were several more similar anniversary flights, the last in 2012.
Yeager’s military decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, two awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, 10 Air Medals, and the Air Force Commendation medal.
Among his many other awards and honors, he received a special noncombat Congressional Medal of Honor in 1976 for his contributions to aerospace science and was presented the Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan in 1985. In 1966, he was inducted into the International Air and Space Hall of Fame, and in 1973, he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. He also is honored by both the California and West Virginia Halls of Fame. Yeager Airport in Charleston, W.Va., is named for him, as well as a bridge in the area on Interstate 64. Senior members of the Civil Air Patrol receive the Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager Award as part of the Aerospace Education Program.
Yeager’s second wife, of 17 years, Victoria Yeager, announced his death over Twitter, citing “an incredible life well-lived” and calling him “America’s greatest pilot, and a legacy of strength, adventure, and patriotism.”
“Chuck Yeager was a true American hero whose bravery as a test pilot inspired generations who followed in his footsteps,” Air Force Association President retired Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright said.
Fatal Crash of Wisconsin ANG F-16 Pilot
By Brian W. Everstine
Capt. Durwood “Hawk” Jones, 37, an F-16 pilot assigned to the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Wing, was killed when his jet crashed in Michigan on Dec. 8.
Jones, from Albuquerque, N.M., was flying a routine training mission when the F-16 crashed in the Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
He joined the Air National Guard in 2011, graduating from F-16 basic qualification training in 2015, the wing said in a release. He deployed as part of a theater support package to Japan in 2015, to South Korea in 2017, and to Afghanistan in 2019, where he received two Air Medals with “C” devices for operating while exposed to hostile action or under significant risk of hostile action.
Before joining the military, he graduated from Northwestern University in 2005. He is survived by his wife and two children.
The crash remains under investigation, and wing leadership did not provide details on the circumstances surrounding the mishap.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time,” 115th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Bart Van Roo said in a Dec. 10 release. “Today is a day for mourning. The 115th Fighter Wing and the entire Wisconsin National Guard stands with the pilot’s family as we grieve the loss of a great Airman and patriot.”
USAF Awards Air Force Cross to Combat Controller
By Brian W. Everstine
Staff Sgt. Alaxey Germanovich, from the 26th Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Air Force Cross during a Dec. 10 ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., for his actions in a 2017 battle in Afghanistan, where he is credited with protecting more than 150 friendly forces and destroying 11 fighting positions over the course of an eight-hour fight.
On April 8, 2017, Germanovich was attached to a team of U.S. Army Special Forces Soldiers and Afghan National Army commandos on a mission to clear a valley in Nangarhar Province. When the team was ambushed, he repeatedly exposed himself to sniper and machine gun fire, directing multiple danger-close airstrikes from a nearby AC-130 gunship.
The team used all their rifle ammunition and grenades, then drew pistols to try to suppress the approaching enemy force, according to an Air Force Special Operations Command release. Germanovich directed the team to withdraw and carried a casualty 700 meters to a helicopter landing zone while directing close air support.
Since 2001, 11 Airmen have received the Air Force Cross for valor in combat, second only to the Medal of Honor, including 10 awards for actions in Afghanistan and one for actions as part of Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria, according to a Pentagon tally. The Air Force Special Tactics community has received more than 50 Silver Stars, the third-highest award for valor, since 2001.
The Air Force in recent years has been reviewing its valor awards for possible upgrade, with Master Sgt. John Chapman in 2018 receiving the Medal of Honor posthumously. Air Force Special Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. James C. Slife said in September that review is winding down.
Air Force Retention Soars Amid COVID-19 Uncertainty
By Rachel S. Cohen
More people are opting to stay in the Air Force than at nearly any other time in the past 20 years, choosing to stay put amid pandemic-era economic uncertainty.
The Air Force wanted to grow by 900 Active-duty members to 333,700 Airmen in fiscal 2021. But by October 2020, the service had already hit the workforce goal it set for September 2021. The Active-duty force now sits at around 334,600 people, according to Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services.
Retention levels in nearly all career fields are “extraordinary” right now, he said. In the past two decades, the only time retention outpaced the current rate was after the 9/11 terror attacks, according to the Air Force.
Conversely, the Air National Guard has seen retention sag this year as members saw their activation orders continually extended throughout the summer. ANG expected to miss its manpower goal of 107,500 at the end of September.
Active-duty operations jobs continue to lag behind in staffing, though each career field will need a different number of people at various ranks. Some professions will need more master sergeants to come in as the service balances the force, while others might require more staff sergeants.
Kelly said those opportunities will be voluntary, not mandatory.
USAF Postpones PT Tests, Says It Will Cease Waist Measurements
By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory
Airmen and Guardians don’t have to take their fitness assessments until April 2021 as a result of COVID-19, and the Department of the Air Force has empowered commanders to push those tests even further if necessary, according to a Dec. 7 release.
When testing finally resumes, however, it will look a little different. After years of debate, the Department of the Air Force is cutting waist measurements from the annual fitness assessments.
Previously, the Air Force considered three components when assessing the overall health of an Airman: body composition, which is primarily evaluated through waist measurements, and aerobic and muscular fitness. Troops will still do the 1.5 mile run, one minute of pushups, and one minute of situps, but participants will get full points for the waist measurement section until the department can make “system changes,” the release added.
Beginning in October, the Department will still take troops’ heights and weights as part of the assessment, the release noted.
“Along with removing the waist measurement, we are also exploring alternative strength and cardio components to our current Air Force fitness assessment,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. said in the release. “We believe these potential test structure changes will impact Airmen in a positive way and help with a holistic approach to health and fitness standards.”
Scrappy Johnson, 1920-2020
Howard C. “Scrappy” Johnson, who received the Collier Trophy for setting an altitude record in the F-104 Starfighter and helped found the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, died Dec. 9, 2020, at 100 years of age.
A veteran of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, Johnson was the first to pilot a jet aircraft over the North Pole (in an F-94 Starfire) and in May 1958, after only 30 hours in the F-104A Starfighter, took it to 91,243 feet, besting previous altitude records by more than 10,000 feet. His record-settting “Operation Sky High” earned him a Distinguished Flying Cross and the Robert J. Collier Trophy.
Johnson was deputy commander of operations for the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, from September 1966 to the following August, racking up 117 combat missions over North Vietnam and Laos in the F-105 Thunderchief. It was there that he organized the May 1967 “Red River Valley Fighter Pilot’s Tactics Conference,” which drew fighter, bomber, escort, electronic warfare, and tanker pilots to focus on operations near and beyond the North Vietnamese border. The legendary party that followed prompted 8th Tactical Fighter Wing Commander Col. Robin Olds to suggest they form a permanent, unofficial Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association. Johnson was elected its first president.
Known affectionately as the “River Rats,” the group held reunions and raised money for the survivors of lost, captured, and missing Airmen. Johnson retired as a colonel in 1972 and published his story, “Scrappy: Memoir of a U.S. Fighter Pilot in Korea and Vietnam,” co-written with Ian A. O’Connor.
AGM-183 Hypersonic Weapon Still Awaiting First Flight
By John A. Tirpak
The Air Force’s AGM-183 hypersonic missile didn’t fly by the end of December, as predicted by service acquisition executive Will Roper last month. Instead, an instrumented round was again captive-carried on a B-52 and the procedures for launching it were “practiced,” USAF said, without disclosing why the missile wasn’t launched.
In a Dec. 19 test, an “Instrumented Measurement Vehicle” (IMV) version of the Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW, “was successfully captive-carried” on a B-52 over the Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., test complex, the Air Force reported in response to a query. Instead of flying as expected, the test merely confirmed integration with the B-52 and “transmission of telemetry and GPS data” from the missile, designated “IMV-2,” to ground stations.
The program will “now move ahead toward its first “Booster Test Flight … later this year,” the Air Force said. The service could not immediately be more specific as to whether that means the first flight is expected to happen closer to next month or the end of 2021.
At the inaugural event of AFA’s Doolittle Leadership Center on Dec. 14, Roper forecast that ARRW would fly before the end of 2020.
“We’re hoping that our flight demonstrator for a hypersonic weapon will be successful this month, and that we’ll get into production next year,” Roper said.
The Air Force plans to test ARRW on both the B-52 and the B-1, and long-standing plans call for an initial operational capability before the end of 2022. Both bombers will carry the missile externally; the B-1 will carry ARRW on six external hardpoints that have not been used for munitions since the START Treaty was signed and the B-1 was withdrawn from the nuclear role. Roper has previously said the ARRW could be employed by the F-15, as well.
Lockheed is developing the ARRW under contracts valued at more than $1.3 billion, which will cover the program through critical design review, test, and production readiness circa December 2022.
A complementary program, the air-breathing Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept, being developed by USAF and DARPA, also failed to fly in December, as planned.
U-2 Flies with Artificial Intelligence as Its Copilot
By Brian W. Everstine
One of the Air Force’s oldest planes became the first military aircraft to fly with artificial intelligence as its copilot on Dec. 15.
A U-2 from Beale Air Force Base, Calif., flew with an AI algorithm that controlled the Dragon Lady’s sensors and tactical navigation during a local training sortie. The algorithm, developed by Air Combat Command’s U-2 Federal Laboratory and named ARTUµ in a reference to the droid that serves as a copilot in the “Star Wars” film franchise, took over tasks normally handled by the pilot, in turn letting the flier focus on the flying.
“ARTUµ’s groundbreaking flight culminates our three-year journey to becoming a digital force,” said Will Roper, the Air Force’s assistant secretary of acquisition, in a release. “Putting AI safely in command of a U.S. military system for the first time ushers in a new age of human-machine teaming and algorithmic competition. Failing to realize AI’s full potential will mean ceding decision advantage to our adversaries.”
The laboratory used more than a half-million simulated training missions to build the algorithm, which took over sensors after takeoff. The training scenario focused on a simulated missile strike, with ARTU finding enemy missile launchers and the pilot looking for adversary aircraft—both using the U-2’s radar, according to the release.
“We know that in order to fight and win in a future conflict with a peer adversary, we must have a decisive digital advantage,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr said in the release. “AI will play a critical role in achieving that edge, so I’m incredibly proud of what the team accomplished. We must accelerate change and that only happens when our Airmen push the limits of what we thought was possible.”