Pilot Shortage Worsens
The Air Force’s pilot shortage is getting worse, and service efforts to stem the exodus have not yet paid off, USAF Secretary Heather Wilson said. In a “State of the Air Force” briefing for the press, Wilson, seated alongside Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein at the Pentagon, said that at the end of fiscal year 2017, the Air Force was 1,926 pilots short, across all categories. That, she said, represents nearly 10 percent of a pilot requirement of 20,000. For the previous year, the shortage was 1,500, of which some 1,300 were fighter pilots. She was not immediately able to offer a breakout as to how many of the 1,926 empty slots are in the fighter community. Read the full story by John A. Tirpak.
Sequester Will “Break” The Air Force
Another sequester will “break” the Air Force, service Secretary Heather Wilson said on Nov. 9. Congress lifting the threat of sequester by repealing the Budget Control Act is the “most important thing for the Air Force,” which can’t bear to repeat the 2013 experience of squadrons idled for lack of money and depot maintenance grinding to a halt. “We have not recovered from the last sequester,” she said. When service leaders say they can barely pull off their mission with a high level of risk, she said, “risk accumulates” in the form of deferred maintenance and training, and has led to the severe readiness issues the Air Force is now facing. “We are stretching our forces to the limit,” she said, and the worsening pilot shortage is a symptom. “We need a high and stable budget, she asserted. When asked if she believes the climate is finally right for repealing the BCA, Wilson thought silently for a moment and then replied that she’d learned, from her days in Congress, “not to speculate” and that the Air Force leadership must simply—and forcefully—explain to Congress why sequester must be abolished and make the case that the service can’t go on the way it has during the BCA years. —John A. Tirpak
Air Force Family Took Heavy Losses in Texas Shooting
Twelve of the 26 victims who died in the Sutherland Springs, Texas, shooting on Nov. 5 were “directly connected to the Air Force, either members or through family ties,” Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told reporters at a Pentagon briefing on Nov. 9. “We’re ensuring that all our resources are being made available to families, to include use of San Antonio Military Medical Center,” which has “already treated eight victims of the shooting,” he said. The shooter, Devin Kelley, also served in the Air Force and was given a bad conduct discharge after being convicted of assault against his wife and stepson by a general court-martial. The conviction should have kept Kelley from being able to purchase a gun, but the Air Force failed to enter his conviction into the National Criminal Information Center database. The conviction “should have been reported,” Wilson told reporters at the same briefing. She said the service’s ongoing investigation of its reporting policies and practices has led the Air Force Inspector General to interview about 100 people. The service is also reviewing discharge records as far back as 1996, Wilson said, and “if we have problems that we find, we will fix them.” She expects to have a “draft report” from the initial investigation by Nov. 17. —Wilson Brissett
USAF Tells Congress it is at an Inflection Point in Readiness Crisis
The Air Force is investing more funds in flying hours and recruiting additional airmen to try to build itself back up from a decline in readiness. However, more funding, personnel, and time are needed until the Air Force is able to do all the missions it needs to do, Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland, the deputy chief of staff for operations, told a House panel on Nov. 9. Read the full story by Brian Everstine.
To Give Trump ‘Options,’ USAF Speeds Up Nuke Modernization
USAF’s Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson said rapidly developing and innovating nuclear capabilities is a high priority for the Air Force in facing potential global conflicts. The human component of this modernization effort also can be challenging, said Wilson, explaining the culture within the service needs to shift to accommodate requirements. Read the full story from Gideon Grudo.
No BRAC While Growing the Force
Another round of base realignment and closure is a bad idea as long as the Department of Defense is “in the middle of growing and rebuilding” its forces, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told reporters in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 9. The problem is “you don’t know what you’re going to need” until the expansion is complete, and a BRAC round now would risk closing excess facilities that might be needed again soon. Inhofe also worries about the cost of BRAC. While the DOD emphasizes the eventual savings that BRAC produces, Inhofe said “it’s going to cost money the first four years. It always has.” A DOD report released in October found the Department currently has 19 percent excess capacity, while the Air Force alone has 28 percent. In July, the House rejected an amendment to its version of the defense policy bill that would have authorized another round of BRAC, and the Senate version of the bill expressly prohibits another round. —Wilson Brissett
Inhofe Says US Needs to Reorder Fiscal Priorities Around Defense
Congress needs to reorganize federal spending around the “top priority” of providing for the national defense, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told reporters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. While the $700 billion defense policy bill Congress finished this week is designed to achieve that goal, Inhofe said, enacting the bill would require getting around the spending caps of the Budget Control Act. Inhofe said he is ready to support “whatever mechanism is takes to do that.” Read the full report by Wilson Brissett.
Lightning After Tornados
Germany is taking more concrete steps toward buying Lockheed Martin F-35 strike fighters, issuing more requests for information on the multinational fighter. Luftwaffe and German government officials say their preference is for a “fifth generation” fighter, after taking classified briefings on the F-35 last summer, but other contenders include F-15 and F-18 fighters from Boeing, and additional Eurofighter Typhoons. Germany and France are also collaborating on an indigenous European fifth-gen fighter, but it likely won’t be ready in time to replace Germany’s rapidly aging Tornado force, fewer than half of which are deemed mission capable. Read the full story by John A. Tirpak.
—About 200 airmen and seven F-16s from the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano AB, Italy, are participating in Blue Flag 2017, which began at Uvda AFB, Israel, on Nov. 6. The live-fly exercise is focused on increasing interoperability between the US and Israeli air force, along with six other partner nations: press release.
—The Chief of Staff of US Africa Command, Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, will lead the Defense Department’s investigation into the death of four US Special Forces members during an ambush in Niger on Oct. 4. The DOD expects the investigation to be completed by January 2018: DOD release.
—Lockheed Martin has received a $386 million contract for reentry system/reentry vehicle subsystem support work for the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, which is based at Hill AFB, Utah: DOD release.
—Steven Walker has been appointed as DARPA’s 21st director. Walker is a former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for science, technology, and engineering, and he has also worked as an engineer in the Air Force Research Laboratory and in a number of other roles, including program manager at DARPA: DARPA release.
—Shon Manasco, the nominee for assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs, provided advanced policy questions to the Senate Armed Services Committee on a range of topics, including 100 percent promotion to major and the voluntary recall of officers.