Washington Debates Role of Satellites in Open Skies Treaty
By Rachel S. Cohen
Almost 20 years after countries began enforcing the Open Skies Treaty, the idea of using satellites to replace the Air Force’s decades-old OC-135B surveillance airplanes is gaining new life in Washington. But is it feasible?
The treaty allows about three dozen signatory nations to fly over other countries to monitor their domestic military operations and, occasionally, local developments like natural disasters. America’s two OC-135B jets were equipped with wet-film cameras to take photos of foreign land, but are now switching to digital cameras and are in the early stages of being replaced by newer planes. Both are housed at Offutt AFB, Neb.
The challenges of maintaining nearly 60-year-old aircraft, a standoff with Moscow over Russian sensor upgrades and behavior during flights, and improved satellite imagery capabilities are driving the treaty’s critics to call for a new way forward. Critics say new electro-optical sensors give Russia an unfair advantage, which the US should use satellites to offset. Others note that the resolution of Moscow’s cameras fall within the treaty’s parameters, are commercially available, and could be matched by American camera upgrades in the works.
“The president should withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty and redeploy the hundreds of millions of dollars the Pentagon wastes on the flights and equipment to increase US combat power,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said on Twitter in October.
Can satellites handle the job instead? Some experts say yes but relying on space-based assets may not be the smartest approach.
Satellites have long been part of the Open Skies conversation. In written testimony submitted in November for a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the treaty, Amy Woolf, a nuclear weapons expert at the Congressional Research Service, noted that at the Senate’s hearings on treaty ratification in 1992, officials agreed US and Russia’s reconnaissance satellites already offered information on foreign military forces and infrastructure.
Flying overhead wouldn’t provide much more detail for those advanced countries, they said, but the treaty would still offer a new level of transparency and stability.
“The president should withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty and redeploy the hundreds of millions of dollars the Pentagon wastes on the flights and equipment to increase US combat power.”Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)
“While nations that lacked satellite capabilities would benefit most from the information collected during Open Skies flights, the United States would benefit from the improved security environment in Europe,” Woolf wrote.
Security concerns have changed in Europe, another factor that is driving the push toward satellites. Some analysts say that despite Russia’s continued aggressions, “there is little risk of war among most nations in Europe,” Woolf wrote. “They argue that US satellite capabilities, along with other sources of data and intelligence can monitor military deployments that threaten the rest of Europe.”
Those analysts now argue that commercial satellite and open-source intelligence could collect data that is similar to what comes out of observation flights, she added.
The treaty allows countries to collect images with a resolution up to 30 cm, a clarity that commercial remote sensing satellites now provide, according to Todd Harrison, an aerospace expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Commercial synthetic aperture radar satellites also offer better resolutions than what Open Skies allows.
Melissa Hanham, a nuclear and open-source intelligence expert at the One Earth Future Foundation, said that while satellites are more capable than ever before, all space sensors could instead fly closer to land on aerial platforms, so planes offer higher-quality images. Other countries can also reap the benefits of overflights, letting them keep an eye on geopolitical neighbors and rivals themselves instead of relying on other countries for information.
“Satellites do have a great use when planes aren’t flying and offer a consistent view over time of potential changes,” she said.
Analysts who support the treaty disagree that satellite and open-source data would offer the full scope of coverage that is useful to the US, especially if the satellites don’t send back images focused on areas that interest treaty participants. Countries may also doubt whether commercial satellites are giving them accurate information, Woolf wrote.
“There is a risk that these images might be altered in ways that could exacerbate, rather than mitigate, misperceptions,” she said.
Supporters also point out that the Open Skies Treaty offers opportunities for people from around the world to interact with each other, building trust and strengthening military partnerships. That helps US participants get a better sense of what’s going on overseas on a human level.
“We [the 32 countries that aren’t Russia or Belarus] get to hang out with Russian officers almost weekly and feel out how things are going over there,” said Steffan Watkins, a Canadian expert on the treaty. “Are they unusually tense? Are they mellow? This provides invaluable information.”
Harrison argues that the US could retire its Open Skies aircraft—an idea some lawmakers have resisted—but remain in the treaty. That way, other countries would still reap the benefits of transparency and international cooperation, and the US could use foreign aircraft to perform Open Skies flights.
Operating and maintaining the OC-135B is relatively expensive, he said, while the cost of pulling photos from military and Intelligence Community space systems that are already in the inventory is “essentially zero because we are presumably collecting this imagery already.”
“In many ways, I think the Open Skies Treaty has been overtaken by technology,” he said. “It mainly serves to benefit countries that don’t have the same space-based capabilities as the United States and Russia, but advances in commercial satellite systems are further leveling the playing field.”
Watkins said buying and launching additional satellites to perform the Open Skies mission would exceed the cost of flying, maintaining, and replacing the OC-135B. He added that the idea of using satellite imaging is a distraction while the treaty’s opponents try to convince the Trump administration to leave the pact, despite opposition from international allies.
“It’s not about catching [another country] doing something at that moment,” Watkins said. “It’s about capturing imagery to confirm a suspicion and have incontrovertible proof by using a camera/sensor and handling procedures that everyone has agreed [are] tamper-proof.”
US-Iran: A History of Rising Tensions
The faceoff between the US and Iran dates back decades before the two teetered on the brink of war in January. The nations have had a rollercoaster relationship since at least 1953, when the US backed a coup that overthrew the democratically elected government in favor of a monarchy under the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. In 1979, after years of protest, the Shah was ousted and a new Islamist revolutionary government was established. In the midst of the upheaval, the US embassy was stormed and 52 American hostages were seized and held captive at the embassy for 15 months.
Iran has supported terrorist and insurgent forces across the Middle East, periodically threatened to shut down shipping in the Persian Gulf and to attack Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other regional US allies. Iran has also persisted in seeking to develop nuclear capabilities. In 2015, the Obama administration agreed to a multiparty international deal constraining Iran’s nuclear program, but President Donald J. Trump withdrew from the agreement in May 2018, reinstated economic sanctions, and implemented a “maximum pressure” campaign intended to compel Iran to abandon support for terrorism and insurgents in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere, and to foreswear nuclear weapons. How tensions escalated from April 2019-January 2020.
AFGSC Eyes Second Decade Changes
By Rachel S. Cohen
Air Force Global Strike Command’s second decade in business will be a busy one.
Created in 2009 as Strategic Air Command’s post-Cold War replacement, AFGSC oversees the bulk of the Pentagon’s nuclear weapons and provides bomber aircraft for combat operations and deterrence flights around the world.
More than 70 years since a nuclear weapon was last used, and three decades after the Cold War ended, Global Strike is making changes to take on a new era of deterrence—one that spans not just nuclear assets but faster weapons and growing space, cyber, and electromagnetic spectrum concerns, as well.
In a recent interview with Air Force Magazine, Global Strike Commander USAF Gen. Timothy M. Ray discussed what the command is trying as it heads into the 2020s, facing a world in which Russia is not the stand-alone strategic concern for the US.
“I want to have the operational concepts and how we present the forces redone in the next six to nine months.”Global Strike Commander Gen. Timothy Ray
The command on Oct. 18 announced it had created a new, classified strategic plan to position itself for the coming decades, calling it the “largest redirection in the command’s 10-year history.”
“The need for a clear way ahead is more prevalent now than ever with the rising tensions between Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and transnational violent extremism, and the increase in our adversaries’ nuclear capabilities and innovations,” AFGSC said in a release. “This plan directly aligns command forces more closely with the 2018 National Defense Strategy.”
Among the roadmap’s nine overall goals is an effort to grow the services Global Strike can offer US Strategic Command, which oversees daily operations of nuclear forces, as its air component.
“I want to have the operational concepts and how we present the forces redone in the next six to nine months,” Ray said.
Global Strike and STRATCOM practiced what that might look like during Exercise Global Thunder earlier last fall, trying approaches that “have not been done since the Cold War ended” and—in some cases—offer more capability than the military had at that time, Ray said.
Global Thunder is an annual exercise where the US and allied nations such as Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom train for conflict scenarios involving nuclear forces.
“We don’t have sanctuary in the United States based on lots of different threats,” Ray said. “We start thinking about hypersonics, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, submarines, space, and cyber—all those things will be a dimension of this. How do we operate with those particular challenges working against us? That’s probably been more relevant than … in a very long time.”
He added that the exercise incorporated newer aspects like space, cyber, and electronic warfare “probably more correctly,” but said the details are classified.
Global Strike is considering changes to how it supports STRATCOM as it prepares to bring on the B-21 bomber, Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent missiles, the Long-Range Standoff Weapon, refurbished B61 bombs, the MH-139 helicopter, and modern command and control technologies and aircraft in the next few decades. The command wants all those new assets to come together seamlessly so it can properly partner with STRATCOM.
Holistically thinking about that portfolio now “drives how we operate on a day-to-day basis, our command and control on a daily basis, and how the wings report and how they manage their alert force,” Ray said. “A few small changes for how we’re managing the schedule has given tremendous stability to the maintenance and security and operations teams.”
He acknowledged that the service can’t grow its bomber squadrons to the extent envisioned in “The Air Force We Need” plan. Even though the command is working through implementing its bomber roadmap now—with plans to retire the B-1 and B-2 so the B-52 can fly for 100 years alongside the new B-21—Ray said it’s imperative to think about the fleet in new ways, not just in numbers.
A recent report by the nonprofit research organization RAND Corp. argued that to successfully modernize its enterprise while facing financial and technological challenges, Global Strike needs to craft master plans for the transition between old and new missiles and bombers and to draw on the experience of older USAF groups such as Air Combat Command.
“Nuclear-specific tasks related to testing and certification have not been performed at scale for many decades and will need to be relearned and revised for the current conditions,” the report said. “The sheer scale of the programs is daunting. And this ambitious set of programs will be fielded by [AFGSC], a relatively young command with a relatively small staff that has limited experience in fielding new systems.”
A workforce of about 34,000 people manages the nuclear enterprise, though that number will never be as big as the Air Force wants, Ray said. For a more productive and efficient staff, Global Strike is creating cross-functional teams that will focus on broad issues such as modernization, sustainment, and human capital.
“Instead of it being a platform-by-platform discussion, talk about how we drive through this with enterprise partners and … be able to help ourselves across the board,” Ray said. Building combat readiness isn’t about making the flight line work harder, he said: “This is about moving the big levers of the enterprise.”
For example, Global Strike said a team of people from across the command, Defense Department, and federal government were able to drive down the cost of new weapons generation facilities (WGF) that support bomber maintenance, training, and storage. The price of a B-52 facility dropped from $750 million to $229 million, and a B-21 facility fell from $580 million to $199 million, according to command spokeswoman Linda Frost.
“These facilities will be the backbone for the generation of Air Force combat lethality,” Frost said. “Modernized designs improve safety, security, and capability and meet the requirements for current and future weapons. Our goal is to have five bomber WGFs and with the reduction of costs, it allows for the right weapons generation footprint.”
Global Strike also hopes for a better future for its missileers and bomber crews. Its first decade was marred by a major operations test cheating scandal, periodic reports of drug use, and even several lost weapons.
Now, the Air Force is beefing up its nuclear education and leadership development, charting missileer career paths for Reservists, and trying to be mindful of operations stress, the need for a sense of purpose, and other health concerns. As the service tries to cut its suicide rate, Ray noted his command can draw on the knowledge of a nearby Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Louisiana.
“This plan encourages Strikers to know their part of the mission and execute it with the knowledge that their leaders, through the four-star level, have their back,” CMSgt. Charles Hoffman, Global Strike’s command chief, said in the release.
Congress Wants to Grow Organic USAF Aggressor Capability
By Amy McCullough
T he 2020 defense policy bill prohibits the Air Force from transferring any low-rate initial production F-35s to the adversary air role until the Chief of Staff submits a report to Congress detailing the service’s plan for modernizing its organic aggressor fleet.
The Air Force has two aggressor squadrons, one at Nellis AFB, Nev., and one at Eielson AFB, Alaska. Both fly F-16s, but the Air Force announced plans last year to reactivate the 65th Aggressor Squadron at Nellis and transfer nine non-combat capable F-35As from Eglin AFB, Fla., to Nellis in an effort to improve training for fifth-generation fighters. The 65th, which previously flew F-15s as aggressors, was inactivated in 2014 due to budget cuts. The service also wants to move two more F-35s from Edwards AFB, Calif, to the 24th Tactical Air Support Squadron at Nellis for additional close air support training.
Specifically, Congress wants the report from Gen. David L. Goldfein to outline:
- “Potential locations for F-35 aggressors, including an analysis of installations that have the size and availability of airspace necessary to meet flying operations requirements; have sufficient capacity and availability of range space; are capable of hosting advanced-threat training exercises; and meet or require minimal addition to the environmental requirements associated with the basing action.”
- An analysis of the costs and timelines associated with expanding and modernizing existing USAF aggressor squadrons, to include “upgrading aircraft radar, infrared search-and-track systems, radar warning receiver, tactical data link, threat representation jamming pods, and other upgrades necessary to provide a realistic advanced adversary threat.”
“It is critical that the Air Force has the capability to train against an advanced air adversary in order to be prepared for conflicts against a modern enemy force, and that in order to have this capability, the Air Force must have access to an advanced adversary force prior to United States adversaries fielding a fifth-generation operational capability; and the Air Force’s plan to use low-rate initial production F-35As as aggressor aircraft reflects a recognition of the need to field a modernized aggressor fleet,” according to the policy conference report released on Dec. 9.
“Aggressor squadrons have been honing the skills of Air Force pilots since the early 1970s.”USAF Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein
Congressional emphasis on improving organic USAF aggressors comes as the Air Force also looks to bolster the role of contracted Red Air under a potential $6.4 billion multi-award contract. In October 2019, USAF awarded seven companies an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract, allowing them to vie for task orders at up to 22 locations, including as many as 12 for adversary air and 10 for contract CAS.
The service announced it planned to expand contractor-run adversary air from one to three locations in 2020. In addition to support from Draken International at Nellis, the first task orders offered could be to set up a permanent presence of private adversary air at Klamath Falls Arpt./Kingsley Field, Ore., and Holloman AFB, N.M., service officials have said.
Kingsley is home to the 173rd Fighter Wing, the sole formal training schoolhouse for the F-15 Eagle, while Holloman’s 54th Fighter Group—a detachment of the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke AFB, Ariz.—hosts F-16 pilot training.
Draken, which has been flying Red Air at Nellis since 2015, is on contract to fly about 5,600 hours of adversary air there a year, but that could be increased to 7,500 hours. The first of 24 Draken Mirage F1 supersonic aircraft, purchased from the Spanish Air Force, took flight in November at the company’s facility in Lakeland, Fla. The F1s eventually will complement the company’s 11 A-4 Skyhawks and 18 L-159 Honey Badgers already flying Red Air at Nellis.
For Top Aces, one of the seven companies awarded a contract in October, the IDIQ was a “very important milestone” because it allowed them to bring their fleet of F-16s purchased from an unidentified country into the United States, Top Aces President Russ Quinn told Air Force Magazine.
“Our aircraft have been in preparation for quite some time in anticipation of this, so now the next move for us is really with the US government in the formal third party transfer we’re involved in right now,” Quinn said. He acknowledged the transfer is a “complex process,” but said he hopes to move through it as “expeditiously as we can,” noting that Top Aces has been working with the US State Department for two years already.
“We have invested millions of dollars to make sure that as soon as the F-16s arrive in the US they are ready to service the contract that we have,” he added.
Mick Guthals, the senior manager of business development at Tactical Air Support, another company included in the October award, told Air Force Magazine that eight of its 21 F-5E/F supersonic aircraft purchased from the Royal Jordanian Air Force have gone through FAA certification and five have undergone required modifications and are awaiting military flight clearance. Those five aircraft are likely to service the Navy; Guthals said the company is still building jets for Air Combat Command.
Airborne Tactical Advantage Company also has made progress with its F1 fleet. Its parent company, Textron Airborne Solutions, procured 63 Mirage aircraft from the French air force in 2017, and the company plans to allocate the majority of those aircraft for Red Air. Since August, ATAC has qualified its first F1 pilots for duties, conducted its first F1flight for the US Navy, and held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its ATAC ACE facility at Fort Worth Alliance Airport, where they will conduct maintenance and training for the F1s, an ATAC spokesman told Air Force Magazine.
Other companies who received the October contract award include: Air USA, Blue Air Training, and Coastal Defense.
“Aggressor squadrons have been honing the skills of Air Force pilots since the early 1970s,” Goldfein said in May when the F-35 decision was announced. “They provide a dose of realism in air exercises and their training value is crucial. These F-35 aggressor aircraft will keep us ahead of adversaries for years to come.”
President Donald Trump signed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act into law in December.
USAF Changes Promotion System
By Tobias Naegele
The Air Force is moving forward with changes to the way officers compete for promotions, beginning with the next lieutenant colonels board in March 2020. That board will see eligible majors compete not against the vast pool of officers who could be promoted, but instead within six new categories.
The change means officers in smaller, specialized communities, such as cyber, space, or intelligence, will no longer compete against combat-experienced pilots and other airmen in the Line of the Air Force category, but instead compete against peers whose skills, career progression, and experience more closely align with their own.
More, smaller categories means promotion opportunities for each can be tied to the number of openings in that category, minimizing the potential for officers to be placed in positions where they must oversee work they haven’t ever done themselves.
The service first floated the idea of a new promotion system in May, then put it on hold in order to gather feedback from the field over the summer. Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein endorsed the plan in September and Under Secretary Matt Donovan, who was acting secretary at the time, approved the plan Oct. 7.
Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services, spent the summer seeking feedback on the planned changes.
The categories and the Air Force specialties they encompass are:
- Air operations and special warfare: Includes all conventional (11X) and remotely piloted aircraft pilots (18X), along with combat systems (12X), air battle manager (13B), special tactics (13C), combat rescue (13D), and tactical air control party (13L) officers
- Nuclear and missile operations: Includes only nuclear and missile operations (13N) officers
- Space: Includes both space operations (13S) and astronaut (13A) officers
- Information warfare: Includes cyber operations (17X), intelligence (14N), operations research analyst (61A), weather (15W), special investigations (71S), information operations (14F), and public affairs (35X) officers
Combat support: Includes airfield operations (13M), aircraft maintenance (21A), munitions and missile maintenance (21M), logistics readiness (21R), security forces (31P), civil engineering (32E), force support (38F), contracting (64P), and financial management (65X)
- Force modernization: Includes chemists (61C), physicist/nuclear engineers (61D), developmental engineers (62E), and acquisition management (63A) officers
“This will be the largest change in the way officer personnel management is working in our history,” said Shon Manasco, assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs. “There have been a number of people looking at this for quite some time.”
Kelly said the makeup of the categories could still change over time.
“The only thing I’m 100 percent sure of is we didn’t get it 100 percent right,” he said. “But until we flush this out and actually go through it a couple of times, we won’t know exactly.”
Manasco said there will be little apparent impact for the majors reviewed by the next lieutenant colonel promotion board. For future majors, though, “they will have benefited from more tailored developmental experiences, such that it actually should make them more competitive,” he said.
This, he and Kelly argue, is the key: Under the old system, every officer specialty had to adapt its career path to look like the others, so that officers would portray the right kind of leadership development to get promoted. But engineers and logisticians require different experiences in their career paths than do pilots and air battle managers.
Officials argue that officers should instead follow developmental paths that provide unique skills and experiences needed for a particular career field.
“Changing the promotion system was the key to unlock our ability to create these unique development paths,” Manasco said. “We are convinced that, with this, over time, an even more talented group of officers will populate our ranks.”
Officers in each category will compete with all other officers in that group, even when there may be significant differences between their development paths.
That means public affairs officers will have to compete against cyber warriors and intelligence officers in the information warfare category. That won’t be easy, acknowledged one career public affairs officer: “But it’s still better than having to compete against everybody, including pilots.”
Each competitive category will effectively need a separate board, as is the case with medical specialties, lawyers, and a few others today. Boards will include specialists from that field and others who represent the broader interests of the Air Force. All of the checks and balances designed to guard against individual biases or other challenges to the board’s fairness will remain in place.
To help make the process more transparent for all airmen, the Air Force will publish the secretary’s annual guidance to promotion boards, called the Memorandum of Instruction. That document defines “what we expect of an officer in terms of competence and character, regardless of AFSC,” Kelly said.
The secretary will also approve and publish “Career Field Briefs,” which will be briefed at the promotion boards. For the first time, those will provide specifics for “the education, training, and experiences that we value and need to look for,” Kelly said.
Both types of guidance will be published by December or January and will remain in effect throughout the year for all promotion boards meeting in 2020.
Sharing that information is one shift that grew out of the summer briefings, Kelly said.
“We’re still a military hierarchical organization, but this idea of being more collaborative and having the field involved is really powerful and I think it’s served us well,” he said. “We changed some processes to make sure we could meet those expectations of transparency.”
JSTARS Heads Home After 18 Years in CENTCOM
By Rachel S. Cohen
Air Combat Command has pulled its E-8C Joint STARS fleet out of the Middle East after 18 years, another change for the platform that recently saw its long-running replacement effort canceled and is ramping up in-house maintenance.
“Joint STARS has been continually deployed to the [US Central Command] area of responsibility every day since November 2001,” according to a press release from Robins AFB, Ga., where the fleet is based. “Since then, they have flown 10,938 sorties, equaling 114,426.6 combat flying hours in support of nearly every CENTCOM operation including Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Freedom’s Sentinel, and Inherent Resolve.”
Joint STARS collects and sends information that helps direct ground forces and can track moving targets on land, a mission crucial to Army operations. Joint STARS crews flew every other day in CENTCOM, totaling more than 100 combat missions since June.
The last E-8C jet left Al Udeid AB, Qatar, on Oct. 1 amid a broader reshuffling of troops in the region as combat operations against the Islamic State group wind down and as the US largely leaves Syria.
“The priorities for the National Defense Strategy have higher demand signal for JSTARS support to other [combatant commands], but JSTARS stand ready to provide support if their capabilities are needed,” ACC told Air Force Magazine. “We prioritize geographic combatant command requests by weighing current demand against National Defense Strategy priorities.”
The Pentagon declined to discuss where the 16 E-8Cs could focus the bulk of their time going forward, but the NDS centers on potential conflict with Russia and China in Europe and the Indo-Pacific. Joint STARS can still deploy to CENTCOM in the future if needed, a command spokesman said.
In the meantime, CENTCOM says it still has “a number of manned and unmanned [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] platforms in theater to provide situational awareness to US forces and to deliver valuable battlefield intelligence” in the absence of Joint STARS. While the Air Force had started work to add ground moving target indication capability to the MQ-9 Reaper, Joint STARS is the only platform dedicated to the GMTI mission.
Leaving CENTCOM will allow the platform to fly missions in other parts of the world while keeping up with training, maintenance, and other readiness needs.
Col. Konata Crumbly, commander of the 116th Air Control Wing at Robins, said in an email that all training is the same, so pivoting to other theaters won’t change the E-8C’s training and maintenance needs. The 116th is an Air National Guard wing that operates Joint STARS alongside the Active Duty 461st ACW.
Ending the CENTCOM deployment isn’t expected to change the maintenance workload for the jets, which are based on Boeing 707 airframes that had already accumulated up to 60,000 flight hours by the time they were repurposed as USAF battle management planes.
The Air Force has begun tackling more heavy maintenance at Robins rather than relying on Northrop Grumman, which traditionally handles in-depth sustainment but has been criticized for keeping the E-8C in depot for too long.
The service now expects that Joint STARS can continue flying into the 2030s, instead of running out of service life early that decade. The platform will support the initial stages of the Advanced Battle Management System, which will ultimately take over the E-8C mission.
The Joint STARS recapitalization program was canceled in part because the jets would be vulnerable against surface-to-air missiles and other threats wielded by more advanced adversaries than those in the Middle East. Instead of purchasing a newly designed fleet with an upgraded radar, the Air Force is exploring how to spread battle management duties to a network of other aircraft, satellites, and ground systems. The idea is that if one node of the network is taken out, it wouldn’t affect the service’s ability to disseminate information on missions such as force protection, defensive operations, overwatch, and combat search and rescue.
Crumbly said leaving CENTCOM won’t affect development of ABMS, which is also expected to be run out of Robins.
“Our departure from CENTCOM is not related to future missions including ABMS,” Crumbly said. “Whatever future missions, to include ABMS, we are asked to fulfill, we will approach it with the same level of commitment and professionalism we have shown with our JSTARS mission in CENTCOM and other areas of the world since this program was established.”
USAF Housing Contractor Rocked By Fraud Allegations
By Rachel S. Cohen
A Balfour Beatty Communities official promised to refund performance bonus money the company received from the Air Force if an investigation finds that the landlord’s employees committed fraud.
BBC fired 17 employees in 2019 for failing to comply with its company code of conduct, as the Air Force housing provider investigates reports that it falsified maintenance documents to earn extra money for its management of USAF homes, Rick Taylor, Balfour Beatty’s president of facility operations, renovations, and construction, told the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee Dec. 5.
Taylor called the allegations “quite shocking.” It is unclear whether the employees, including project site managers, were let go as a result of the fraud investigation or for other reasons in 2019.
“We are all accountable,” he said. “If we don’t have staff members that are willing to follow those policies and procedures, that’s an obvious weakness in any organization.”
Following a Reuters and CBS News report in June that showed how the contractor earned millions of extra dollars after faking home improvement records at Tinker AFB, Okla., for years, Taylor said Balfour Beatty is cooperating with a Justice Department investigation into the same issues. Similar problems have popped up at Travis AFB, Calif., and Fairchild AFB, Wash., according to Reuters.
Balfour Beatty earns about $4.3 million in performance bonuses each year, according to Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Okla.). Mold, asbestos, vermin, fire hazards, and other construction issues remain at Air Force bases across the country.
“In the event that we are found to have falsified records, then we are absolutely committed to refunding any incentive fees received back to those projects,” Taylor said.
John Henderson, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for installations, environment, and energy, called out the company in a Sept. 30 letter that requires Balfour Beatty to submit an action plan by the end of the year.
“Unless the Air Force sees prompt and substantial improvement in BBC’s performance at all 21 housing privatization project sites, and specifically Tinker Air Force Base, we intend to initiate formal action under the dispute provisions of the project documents for certain BBC projects where serious performance failures have not been resolved or continue to arise,” Henderson wrote.
Taylor said at the hearing that Balfour Beatty has made “significant changes” to the way it does business and manages technical issues, ensuring that top officials have insight into what’s happening. He said he is accountable for the changes the company needs to make.
Balfour Beatty is improving at forming resident groups at each installation so tenants can voice their concerns, and town halls run with the military are happening more often, he added. The company also offers a toll-free phone number to report problems that haven’t been addressed.
“We certainly recognize that we could do better in many locations and so we’ve addressed that through a number of staffing level increases, looking at the policies and procedures that we do have in place, and where we saw that they were deficient, we’re addressing those,” he said. “It’s not as simple as addressing one area … but we’re taking on a number of different areas to improve.”
The Pentagon is preparing to roll out a tri-service “bill of rights” for military housing tenants that offer them greater protections when dealing with their landlords and more avenues to raise issues.
All-Domain C2 Gets a Workout
By Brian W. Everstine
The Air Force recently kicked off its exercise and development of joint, all-domain command and control and is expecting the initiative to start in earnest with $185 million in funding.
From Dec. 16 to 18, the service for the first time trained with its new Advanced Battle Management System at Eglin AFB, Fla. The system, which began as the service’s planned replacement for the E-8C Joint STARS aircraft and has progressed into an operating concept, focuses on cloud-based technology to fuse sensors, combat aircraft, ships, and personnel on the ground.
For the first exercise, the scenario was a cruise missile threat to the homeland. Optionally manned QF-16 targeting drones simulated the missile and were detected by space and ground sensors. This information was relayed to the USS Thomas Hudner, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in the Gulf of Mexico, along with two USAF F-35s, two Navy F-35s, two F-22s, an Army High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, and special operations forces on the ground. In a command cell, senior leaders watched the real-time data.
In addition to ABMS, the exercise also tested new methods for F-22s and F-35s to communicate via a networking node. Currently, the jets can only communicate via radio.
US Northern Command developed the scenario for the first event to test how ABMS can help protect the homeland.
“Peer competitors are rapidly advancing their capabilities, seeking to hold our homeland at risk,” NORTHCOM boss USAF Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy said in a release. “Working across all of the services and with industry toward solutions to complex problems ensures we meet defense challenges as well as maintain our strategic advantage in an increasingly competitive global environment.”
USAF expects the initial $185 million in funding to grow in future years and is planning more of the exercises at an expected schedule of one every four months.
Preston Dunlap, the service’s architect overseeing ABMS, told Air Force Magazine recently that a different combatant command will oversee each exercise with a scenario representing different threats they face. The next is scheduled for March, and the hosting COCOM has not been announced.
“Our four-month ‘connect-a-thon’ cycle unlocks industry’s ability to iterate with testers, acquirer, and warfighters,” Will Roper, the service’s assistant secretary for acquisition, said in the release. “For example, the insights from connecting the F-22 and F-35 for the first time will help our industry partners take the next leap.”
USAF Pitch Bowl Planned for March
By Rachel S. Cohen
The Air Force is gearing up to host its inaugural “Pitch Bowl” in March 2020, an event that will bring together the best ideas from the growing pool of Pitch Days where companies try to snag a military contract without the years-long wait of traditional procurement.
Will Roper, the service’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics, floated the idea of a “big Super Bowl of Pitch Days” at the Air Force’s first quick-investment event in March 2019. The events work with companies through the federal Small Business Innovation Research program, via a series of written submissions, minutes-long live presentations, and the swipe of a credit card. Contracts are worth up to $1 million and can last up to two years.
Whereas Pitch Days focus on a particular technology portfolio and offer early-stage development contracts, the bowl offers the next step: a path to greater research and development funding, the commercial market, and the Air Force’s inventory. The Pentagon is increasingly interested in “dual-use” technologies that can be sold to both the military and the general public.
The Air Force has hosted a slew of pitch events since its first in New York last year, and it expected to hold about a dozen overall in 2019. Those have looked at new ideas for unmanned aerial systems; the Kessel Run coding center; space; simulators; the F-35; science and technology, broadly; the fighter and bomber portfolio; rapid sustainment; mobility and training aircraft; the intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and special forces portfolio; airborne communications; hypersonic technologies; and base modernization.
The Air Force hasn’t finalized its participants for the Pitch Bowl in Washington, D.C., which appeared in announcements about the hypersonics Pitch Day but is still under wraps.
According to the Doolittle Institute, an organization that helps bring Air Force Research Laboratory technologies to the private sector, the seven companies that received contracts in the hypersonics competition were invited to the Pitch Bowl: Advanced Silicon Group; Fourth State Communications; GoHypersonics; Powdermet; Spectral Energies; UES; and Ursa Major Technologies.
Roper told reporters at a space-focused competition in November that as the service increasingly focuses on software, it should also boost its investment in hardware so the software has somewhere to go. He has also suggested the Air Force should use the Pitch Day concept in its major acquisitions.
“Why should we let someone build an airplane or satellite, unless they bring in their design team and production team?” Roper said earlier this year.
Service spokeswoman Capt. Cara Bousie said that while Pitch Days have made it easier for small companies to access and partner with the Air Force, and that contractors are “paid faster than ever,” the service can do more to help companies through the process.
“There are a lot of avenues to reach out to AF [and for different phases], but sometimes it’s not totally clear which avenue is the best/most appropriate for small businesses,” Bousie said. “In response, AF is working quickly to streamline and clarify access points and share concise guidance to partnering.”
Donovan Tapped to be Acting USD for Personnel and Readiness
By Amy McCullough
Matthew P. Donovan will assume a new role as acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness following the resignation of James N. Stewart on Dec. 13, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced.
Esper said Donovan will bring a “wealth of experience and knowledge” to the job.
Donovan has served as undersecretary of the Air Force since August 2017, though he was named Acting Secretary of the Air Force from June to October 2019 after Heather Wilson stepped down to become president of the University of Texas-El Paso. He served as an enlisted airmen for five years, before getting his commission, and was a command pilot with more than 2,900 flight hours in the F-15C and F-5E. Donovan held various command positions before retiring as a colonel in 2008. His last assignment in uniform was as commander of Officer Training School at Maxwell AFB, Ala., but Donovan also has held a variety of positions as an Air Force civilian, including as deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs. He worked for the Senate Armed Services Committee from January 2015 to August 2017 before coming back to the Air Force as undersecretary.
Stewart also is an Air Force veteran who served nearly four decades, both on Active Duty and in the Air Force Reserve, before retiring as a major general in October 2014. He was sworn in as assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs on Oct. 22, 2018, but has been performing the duties of undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness since then—“a role that is critical to the National Defense Strategy, in support of our families and readiness,” said Esper in a statement. Stewart also is a command pilot, with more than 4,700 flight hours in five different air frames.
“I note that Jimmy came out of retirement, after having served 37 years in the Air Force, to serve his country again. It’s people like Jimmy, the selfless individuals who put service before self, who are the backbone of this country. I thank Jimmy and his family for their service to the department and the nation, and wish him the best in his retirement,” Esper said.
The announcement was among a series of senior-level Defense Department resignations in December. Randall Schriver, the Pentagon’s top policy expert on Asia, resigned in mid-December, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Director Steven Walker announced he is stepping down effective Jan. 10 to return to industry.
Walter J. Boyne, 1929-2020
By John A. Tirpak
Walter Boyne, retired Air Force pilot, author of more than 50 books about aviation, former director of the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum, and former chairman of the National Aeronautic Association, died Jan. 9, 2020, aged 90.
Raised in East St. Louis, Mo., Boyne attended Washington University in St. Louis for two years, then left to join the Air Force’s aviation cadet program, earning his wings and commission in 1952. He flew B-50 bombers before transitioning to the B-47 and then the B-52. He was selected for the 4925th Nuclear Test Group and was a “nuclear ace,” dropping five nuclear weapons in tests. Returning to school, he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley and an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh. As commander of the 635th services squadron, Boyne flew 120 combat hours in Vietnam as an instructor in the C-47. He retired from USAF as a colonel in 1974, having logged more than 5,000 flight hours during his 22 years in uniform.
Boyne launched his writing career in 1962, ultimately building a catalog of 47 nonfiction aviation books, seven novels, and more than 1,000 magazine articles, including frequent contributions to Air Force Magazine. Some of his books made it onto The New York Times bestseller list. In a 2007 interview, Boyne said he was “intoxicated” by having his first magazine article accepted for publication and strove to write about new aviation topics and present freshly-researched histories. Among his own books, he counted as his favorites the nonfiction “The Influence of Air Power Upon History” and the fictional “Dawn Over Kitty Hawk: the Novel of the Wright Brothers.”
After the Air Force, Boyne joined the staff of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum as curator of air transport, and organized the placement of aircraft in the then-new museum in downtown Washington, D.C. He also modernized the Smithsonian’s Silver Hill, Md., aircraft restoration facility and oversaw the digitization of NASM’s massive photographic collection. Boyne was named Acting Director of the museum in 1982, and Director in 1983. During his tenure, he founded the Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine, helped secure land for the museum’s annex at Dulles Airport, Va.—now home to its Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center—and arranged for the space shuttle flying test article, Enterprise, to be stored and later displayed there. He resigned as Director in 1986, to devote more time to writing and producing aviation histories for television.
In later years Boyne chaired the National Aeronautic Association and created the aviation-themed cable television channel Wingspan. His book, “Beyond the Wild Blue: A History of the US Air Force” was serialized in a 13-part series.
Boyne received numerous awards and decorations. Among them, the NAA recognized Boyne in 1987 with a lifetime achievement award, and in 1998 named him a Distinguished Statesman of Aviation. In 1997, the Air Force Association presented him with its Gill Robb Wilson Award for Achievement in Arts and Letters. The Aerospace Industries Association recognized Boyne with its Lauren Lyman Award for communications in 2005, and in 2007 he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
DOD’s New Top Enlisted is First Airman in That Role
By Brian W. Everstine
CMSgt. Ramon Colon-Lopez on Dec. 13, 2019, took over as the newest senior enlisted adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top enlisted position in the military.
Colon-Lopez, who previously served as the top enlisted leader in US Africa Command, is the first airman in the job. The position of SEAC was created in 2005, and Colon-Lopez is the fourth to hold the title.
Colon-Lopez is a pararescueman who served extensively in special operations, and he received the Bronze Star with Valor and Combat Action Medal for a 2004 mission in Afghanistan. In the mission, his helicopter was damaged by small arms-fire, and he moved through enemy fire to overrun enemy positions and suppress additional fire aimed at friendly helicopters. His team killed two and captured 10. Artifacts from that deployment are on display at the National Museum of the Air Force.
He previously served as the command chief for Air Forces Central Command; command chief for the 18th Wing at Kadena AB, Japan; and command chief of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
He takes over for retiring US Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell. Before leaving the position, Troxell created a new rank insignia for the position, which was recently unveiled and worn by Colon-Lopez at the ceremony. The insignia is similar to that of Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, though it has four stars instead of two and a star instead of the wreath.
Pararescuemen Awarded Silver Stars for Afghanistan Battles
By Brian W. Everstine
Two pararescuemen on Dec. 13 received Silver Stars for their actions during separate battles in Afghanistan in 2018 and 2019. TSgt. Gavin Fisher, a PJ with the 350th Special Warfare Training Squadron at JBSA-Lackland, Texas,received the medal for a two-day fight in Ghazni Province in 2018. SSgt. Daniel Swensen, a PJ with the 58th Rescue Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nev., received the award for a two-day fight in September 2019 in Farah Province. Combined, the two PJs are credited with saving nearly 40 lives and eliminating more than 100 enemy fighters, according to an Air Force release.
Fisher was part of a Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force that was on a 10-day crisis response mission to defend Ghazni City from more than 500 Taliban. He was the rear gunner of a lead vehicle in a convoy that came under attack on Aug. 11, 2018, when he was hit by grenade shrapnel. He continued to fire back and directed the vehicle out of danger, according to the release. While treating two critically injured soldiers, he was ambushed again, and 12 more partner soldiers were wounded. Fisher called for an evacuation and drove 75 meters through heavy fire to treat more injured troops. He then jumped back into the rear gunner seat to continue clearing the city until a rocket-propelled grenade hit the vehicle, severely wounding him. He continued to fire and direct the team to safety before relenting to medical care, the release states.
“Getting this medal is important because it lets people know the war is still going on, and valiant efforts by men and women are still going forth,” Fisher said in the release. “People are still out there dying and fighting for each other, and it needs to be recognized.”
On Sept. 13, Swensen was attached to Army Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha 1215. His team was conducting a helicopter assault with the goal of reclaiming a district center and police headquarters controlled by the Taliban in Farah Province, according to the Air Force.
During a ground assault through a compound, the Taliban ambushed with heavy machine guns and RPGs. A grenade hit a wall near Swensen, injuring him and five teammates. The group was trapped and separated, and Swensen fired back while directing the rest of the team to safety, the release states. He then ran through enemy fire to rescue a fallen soldier who was incapacitated, treating wounds that were life threatening. Ignoring his own injuries, Swensen loaded a soldier onto his shoulders and directed the team to a helicopter landing zone that was about 800 meters away, according to the Air Force.
He guided the casualties to cover and continued treatment. When the helicopter arrived, Swensen led the rest of the team back through the city to retrieve four additional casualties before allowing his own wounds to be treated, according to the Air Force.
Honorary Promotions for Raider Cole, Tuskegee Airman McGee
Two US Air Force legends will be promoted, one posthumously, as a result of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
Lt. Col. Dick Cole, the last living Doolittle Raider, died April 9, 2019, at the age of 103, and was promoted to colonel. Retired Col. Charles McGee, a famed Tuskegee Airman who flew 409 combat missions through three wars, and celebrated his 100th birthday in December is promoted to brigadier general.
On April 18, 1942, Cole co-piloted the lead B-25 Mitchell on a raid into Japan in response to the Pearl Harbor attacks. While the raid did not inflict heavy damage, it was a large boost to national morale following the surprise attacks in Hawaii. Cole and his crew bailed out of their aircraft in China after it ran out of fuel. The airmen evaded Japanese soldiers, aided by locals and missionaries, and eventually returned to the US. Later in his career, Cole flew “over the Hump”of the Himalayan mountains and was part of the founding cadre of Air Commandos.
McGee served in the famous “Red Tails” of Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. Through his service in that war, along with Korea and Vietnam, his 409 combat missions remain a record. He has received many awards including the Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The War on Terrorism
As of Jan. 6, 2020, 85 Americans had died in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, and 89 Americans had died in Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, Syria, and other locations.
The total includes 170 troops and four Defense Department civilians. Of these deaths, 79 were killed in action with the enemy, while 95 died in noncombat incidents.
There have been 559 troops wounded in action during OFS and 81 troops in OIR.