No Bombers Deployed to CENTCOM After B-1s Return Home

There are currently no USAF bombers deployed to the Middle East after B-1s recently returned home, a rare occasion for US Central Command in 18 years of war. The most recent deployment wrapped as Lancers returned home to Dyess AFB, Texas, on March 11. The Air Force has rotated bombers through Al Udeid AB, Qatar, as combat operations continued in both Iraq and Syria and in Afghanistan. The reduction in bombers follows the recent move to pull F-22s from combat operations in the Middle East. Read the full story by Brian Everstine.

F-22 Fleet Holds Record-Breaking Elephant Walk in Alaska

Twenty-four F-22 Raptors recently plodded down the runway at JB Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, in the fleet’s largest-ever elephant walk, which was accompanied by an E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System and a C-17 cargo plane. The launch en masse occurred March 26 during the joint base’s biannual Polar Force Exercise, the Air Force said. “This two-week exercise gives squadrons an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities to forward deploy and deliver overwhelming combat power,” the base said March 27. Polar Force will run through April 5. Elephant walks show off the Defense Department’s ability to quickly deploy large numbers of aircraft at once, in the hope that displaying military might will dissuade others from challenging the US. Fighter jets based at JBER are tasked with intercepting foreign aircraft that fly too close to American assets, and are one piece of the Air Force’s attempt to assert dominance over Russia and China. As the base practices its combat skills, the Air Force’s F-22s are trying to reach an 80 percent mission-capability rate by the end of September. —Rachel S. Cohen

HASC Chairman Pushes Air Force to Delay Final Launch Services Solicitation

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) recently asked the Air Force to delay the release of its final request for proposals for Phase Two of the National Security Space Launch program. The RFP is expected out this month, with two awards on tap in spring 2020. In a March 28 letter to service Secretary Heather Wilson and Pentagon acquisition chief Ellen Lord, Smith said he’s concerned the effort will limit competition and doesn’t have clear selection criteria in place. Read the full story by Rachel S. Cohen.

Clarke Takes Over SOCOM

Army Gen. Richard Clarke Jr. took over command of US Special Operations Command during a ceremony in Florida on Friday. Clarke, who previously served as the director for strategic plans and policy for the Joint Staff, received his fourth star in the promotion and is taking over for Army Gen. Raymond Thomas. Thomas has been commander of SOCOM since 2016 and is retiring. Clarke previously commanded the 82nd Airborne Division, was the commandant at the US Military Academy at West Point, and had previously served as the director of operations for Joint Special Operations Command. —Brian Everstine

DOD Puts Forward Defense of Ethics Agreements Amid Shanahan Probe

The Pentagon on Friday put forward a defense of its internal ethics process, which has received scrutiny as the Defense Department Inspector General has opened an investigation into Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan’s dealings with his former employer, Boeing. On Friday, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Ellen Lord met briefly with reporters, and said she is also under an ethics agreement because of her former position as president and CEO of Textron Systems Corporation. Lord said “adhering to the agreement is my responsibility,” and she works with her staff who has been trained to intervene if a conflict arises. The Pentagon has a “robust process” in place to avoid conflicts of interest, which focuses on blocking former industry executives who are now in public service from working on policies or contracts that could benefit their former employer. A senior defense official told reporters that Shanahan’s ethics agreement goes “above and beyond” what is required, because his agreement, which forces him to recuse himself from dealings with Boeing, does not expire. However, Lord’s ethics agreement expires after a year. The DOD IG announced earlier this month it is investigating Shanahan after receiving complaints that he may have violated his ethics rules, a move Shanahan told lawmakers he welcomes. —Brian Everstine


OPINION: The Pentagon’s cost assessment office needs to reassess its F-15EX findings

The executive director of AFA’s Mitchell Institute writes: For months, many in Washington have been scratching their heads over the Air Force’s fiscal 2020 budget submission requesting fourth-generation F-15s—a design first flown in 1972. … To explain this decision—and perhaps to provide acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan with some top cover—officials at the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, or CAPE, held a press briefing last week. While their arguments were meant to bolster the case for buying 1960s-era designed F-15s, a deeper look reveals that the Air Force should ramp up F-35 procurement and aggressively press forward with the service’s next-generation air dominance program. Defense News

Turkey: Air Defense Purchase From Russia ‘A Done Deal’

Turkey will honor its air defense deal with Russia, Ankara said on Friday after four US senators introduced a bill to ban the planned delivery of F-35 fighter jets if Turkey ignored U.S. opposition and accepted the S-400 system. Reuters

Top Sustainment Official: Housing Privatization ‘Right Thing to Do’

Despite reports of poor conditions in some privatized military family housing across the continental United States — about 200,000 homes in all — the Military Housing Privatization Initiative was a good idea, the assistant secretary of defense for sustainment told lawmakers yesterday. DOD News

One More Thing …

F-117 Sported Mysterious “Dark Knights” Tail Flash During Recent Mojave Desert Flights

The Dark Knights officially don’t exist. We look into what this surprise moniker could mean and where it might have come from. The Drive