The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) released the text of its annual defense policy bill, boosting the department’s procurement and research funds by billions over its budget request. The SASC version of the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act would authorize a $45 billion increase in defense spending over the budget request, to a total of $847 billion, at a time when high inflation is eating into the Pentagon’s coffers, the U.S. is contending with an increasingly aggressive China, and the Pentagon is shipping weapons to Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion of the country.
The Air Force has yet to pick a winner among the companies still vying to build the service’s sixth-generation jet, but a final downselect is “not all that far away,” the service’s top leader said. While Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall declined to say when the service will choose a manufacturer for the fighter jet that will be the cornerstone of the Next Generation Air Dominance family of systems, he offered a small clue about the trajectory of the highly classified program. “It’s not imminent, but it’s not all that far away,” Kendall said in an exclusive interview at the Royal International Air Tattoo.
The Air Force’s massive project to replace its 50-year-old Minuteman III nuclear missile system has triggered a review of how hundreds of prehistoric archaeological sites on the Utah Test and Training Range will be protected during the work. The Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, other tribes, and Hill Air Force Base will work together during the Air Force’s planned decommissioning of the Minuteman and the deployment of the Sentinel, the U.S. military’s ground-based nuclear force of the future. The solid rocket motors of 400 Minuteman missiles, arrayed in silos in Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana, and North Dakota, will be transported to Hill and UTTR, many of them to be destroyed on the test range.
Officials in the Air Force’s mobility enterprise are considering amending rules to allow just two crew members onboard the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus tankers during dangerous missions, raising eyebrows among Airmen. Air Mobility Command is discussing the option as part of how it may handle war in the Indo-Pacific, where it believes large, slow jets including tankers would be more vulnerable to attack from Chinese anti-aircraft missiles. Shrinking the number of Airmen onboard a tanker could help minimize potential troop casualties while still getting combat jets the fuel they need.
As the Space Force eyes a new mission to track ground targets from space, the Air Force needs to make sure the foundational battle management infrastructure is in place, according to the Air Force’s top acquisition official. The two services have been conducting reviews and meeting with members of the defense industry to define their roles in providing tactical intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and to develop a plan for space-based ground moving target indication, or GMTI. Those studies have concluded, and Air Force acquisition executive Andrew Hunter told reporters they confirmed the important role space will play in the GMTI mission.
The National Guard program that pairs states with partner countries for training needs to improve its record-keeping, according to recommendations from the Government Accountability Office. The State Partnership Program implemented a new tracking database in 2021, according to the report, but partner countries haven’t been thorough in reporting of all of the training events they’ve completed with their National Guard counterparts. During fiscal 2021, for example, 37 of 780 activities were marked as completed, just 5 percent.
The U.K. plans to fly a prototype of its next-generation combat fighter within five years, government and industry officials announced. On the first day of the Farnborough Air Show outside London, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Parliament that the demonstrator aircraft will prove out technology for the future combat plane, dubbed Tempest. "The design and development of the demonstrator aircraft represents an important milestone, showcasing the success and talent of our engineers, programmers, and software developers,” Wallace said. “This program will go on to attract opportunities for many more great minds and talent from across the U.K."
Air Force Materiel Command was born of the merger of Air Force Logistics Command and Air Force Systems Command in July 1992, uniting an organization that today controls more than a third of the Air Force budget, shepherding planes, weapons, and a host of other tangible goods from cradle to grave. The command emerged after the end of the Cold War and Desert Storm, as the Air Force was shrinking, reinventing itself, and searching for new efficiencies. “The Air Force really cannot exist without AFMC,” AFMC Historian Yancy Mailes said.
The Air Force is encouraged by successful back-to-back tests of a key hypersonic weapons program but hasn’t yet decided how to proceed once it moves beyond the middle-tier acquisition phase, its top acquisition official said. At a roundtable with reporters at the Royal International Air Tattoo, Andrew Hunter said the Air Force is still trying to answer a key question as it develops hypersonic capabilities: What is the mix of weapons it needs for the threats the U.S. faces, particularly China, and how might a hypersonic weapon such as the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW, fit in?
The Air Force is trying to find ways to speed delivery of the E-7 Wedgetail, but the service’s top acquisition official said there may not be much that can be done. The Air Force in April chose the Boeing-made Wedgetail to be its next battle management and command and control aircraft, replacing part of its aging E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System fleet. But the service said in the announcement the first rapid prototype E-7 would be delivered in fiscal 2027, following a contract award to Boeing in fiscal 2023.
When I grow up, I want to be as good at asking fighter pilots questions as the comedian Caroline Kennedy, who peppered an Air Force F-35 pilot with questions about military life that bounced between absurd, insulting, and awkward in an amazing 15-minute video she posted to YouTube earlier this summer. “Do you think that you have to be a narcissist to be a fighter pilot, or is that unique to you?” Kennedy asked her fiancé, the F-35 pilot, in the satirical video.