Empowering Squadron Commanders
Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said the Air Force is “getting out of the business of legislating common sense.” During his Air Force update at ASC17 on Tuesday, Goldfein said, “some of the most important work” the Air Force is doing involves pushing the decision making authority “back down where it belongs.” He announced the service would be issuing a memo in the coming weeks delegating crew rest to wing commanders, though he encouraged those wing commanders to further delegate it to squadron commanders. Later, he told reporters the service doesn’t actually have a problem with crew rest “at all,” but said decision authority is a “warfighting imperative” and it is critical that squadron commanders feel empowered to make decisions so they know how to react if communication is ever cut off from the chain of command. Goldfein also has directed the Air Force Inspector General not to “ding” a commander that makes a “prudent, reasonable decision to change course” if that decision “increased lethality and readiness to accomplish the mission.” Instead, he said, the service is “going to celebrate them.” —Amy McCullough
Air Commando to Receive Air Force Cross
The Air Force will award SSgt. Richard Hunter the Air Force Cross—the service’s highest award for valor in combat, second only to the Medal of Honor, Air Force Special Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. Brad Webb announced at ASC17 on Tuesday. On Nov. 2, 2016, Hunter, a joint terminal attack controller, was assigned to an Army Special Forces team tasked with recovering a Taliban safe haven when his team was ambushed. Over the course of an eight hour firefight, Hunter called in 31 danger close strikes by AC-130 gunships and AH-64 helicopters, while intermittently “firing his own weapon, protecting others, [and] providing first aid to others … it’s an extremely heroic mission. I’m very proud of him,” said Webb. Read the full story by Amy McCullough.
Tankers Return to Afghanistan
For the first time in approximately five years, the Air Force has based tankers inside Afghanistan. The move is part of a build up of USAF aircraft in the country, which also includes additional F-16s sent to bolster a deployment at Bagram Airfield. The moves come as the US military is implementing the White House’s strategy for a “lasting victory” against the Taliban and ISIS in Afghanistan. Read the full story by Brian Everstine.
B-2’s Libyan Strike a Sign of Things to Come
The January 33-hour-long B-2 mission, which culminated in 85 bombs dropped on an ISIS training camp in Libya was the first time a Spirit mission was entirely dynamic—meaning the jets took off without an exact target. The mission, which included multiple refuelings for two B-2s from Whiteman AFB, Mo., was planned and executed in 96 hours. However, the bombers took off without “fidelity” on their exact target location, said Maj. Christopher Conant, a B-2 pilot with the 394th Combat Training Squadron who flew the mission. That aspect of the mission—taking off without a set target determined yet—is possibly a sign of things to come as the B-2 could be used for more global, conventional strike missions, Conant said. The mission went off successfully, with 85 500-pound bombs dropped on an ISIS training camp in the desert. The mission, which also included MQ-9 Reaper support, resulted in almost 80 fighters killed. It was the first B-2 combat mission since 2011, and took place during “insatiable” demand for bombers, said Brig. Gen. John Nichols, commander of the 509th Bomb Wing, at ASC17. At the time, B-2s were deployed as part of the continuous bomber presence at Andersen AFB, Guam; B-52s were deployed to US Central Command; and bombers are supporting US Southern Command’s deterrence of the illicit drug trade. That demand has not abated, and bombers are continuously on standby. Since the January mission, bomber crews have worked to refine their tactics for long-range conventional strike missions based on lessons learned, Nichols said. —Brian Everstine
Airmen Soon to Deploy in Three-Person Teams
Beginning Oct. 1, the Air Force will no longer deploy airmen in teams of less than three unless the deployment obtains a major-command waiver. Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein “sees this as an obligation to our airmen, to take better care of them,” said Maj. Gen. Brian Killough, in an interview with Air Force Magazine. Killough is director of Air Force Strategy, Concepts, and Assessments on the Air Staff, and task force lead for USAF’s “Strengthening Joint Leaders and Teams” focus area. “They’ll be better airmen, they’ll be better teams, they’ll be better functionally and more capable if they go in teams of three or greater,” he said. Three airmen is “the minimum number where you can have a team leader plus at least two other individuals,” Killough explained. “Two is not enough, and above three you begin to tie hands,” which requires additional coordination. Consequently, he said, this initiative will be worked by all of USAF’s major commands and the Air Force Personnel Center to ensure airmen are deploying in the most efficient teams possible. “There’s a lot of talk right now about deploying [functional capabilities] and not just a person or a number of people,” he added, “so I think you’ll see some movement on that in the future as well.” The three-man-team decision was codified at a recent Corona gathering of the top Air Force leadership. —Adam J. Hebert
AMC Considering “Flying Only” Career Track
Air Mobility Command is working with Air Force leadership to let pilots decide to fly their entire career in the service, instead of eventually having to move on to staff and leadership positions, as a way to keep more airmen in cockpits. The service is facing a massive pilot shortage, which is only expected to continue to grow, and has so far approved new bonuses and more flying hours to stop the loss of pilots. AMC Commander Gen. Carlton Everhart said Tuesday his command now is pushing to let pilots decide their career progression, and keep them flying until they retire, instead of moving to desk positions. Read the full report by Brian Everstine.
ACC Developing New Career Paths for RPA Pilots
Air Combat Command is changing the makeup of its staff and leadership positions to reflect a growing requirement for remotely piloted aircraft, and is aiming to provide long-term career prospects for enlisted airmen as they shift to RPA cockpits. ACC head Gen. Mike Holmes, speaking at ASC17, said his command is moving staff assignments away from just the 11F fighter pilot and 12F combat systems officer career fields, to include 18X RPA pilot career fields. “We want your combat experience,” Holmes said. The shift opens up to RPA pilots the ability to develop into larger leadership roles in the Air Force. USAF recently graduated its first class of enlisted pilots, who have moved on to do “fantastic” in mission qualification training at their operational units, said Col. Larry Broadwell, commander of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, Calif. When given adequate training, the enlisted pilots will perform at “very high levels.” These airmen should then get a chance to progress into leadership as well, Holmes said, so ACC is working with senior enlisted leadership to lay out career development tracks so the airmen can become superintendents and flight chiefs. “As we build this enlisted pilot career force, we need to build the right path for success,” Holmes said. —Brian Everstine
CR and T-X
The Air Force is planning to award the T-X advanced trainer contract by the end of the year, but the Continuing Resolution only lasts until Dec. 10. What if there’s no budget by the time T-X is ready to award? “We’ll look at our options,” USAF’s top acquisition chief, Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, told reporters on Tuesday. Bunch said if the CR doesn’t last much beyond Dec. 8, “We’ll work around it,” and the T-X can get going on time. However, if the CR is replaced with another CR—thus barring new starts—it could really play havoc with the T-X, especially if a new sequester goes into effect. Read the full story by John A. Tirpak.
What’s Going on With JSTARS? Back to Tacit Blue
Senior Air Force leaders assured attendees at ASC17 that the JSTARS Recapitalization program is–for now–going head, but they acknowledged that they’re looking at alternatives. “We are going ahead with source selection, so nothing has changed with respect to that,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told reporters at a press conference. However, “we are not meeting combatant commander requirements,” she said, not elaborating on how, and so the service is asking “can we think about this in a new way?” Read the full story by John A. Tirpak.
AFSOC Plans to Declare IOC on New Gunship This Month
Air Force Special Operations Command plans to declare initial operational capability for its AC-130J Ghostwriter this month, but the new gunships likely won’t be battle-ready for another two years, AFSOC commander Lt. Gen. Brad Webb told reporters at ASC17 Tuesday. The command currently has 10 fully configured J-models of the planned 37-aircraft fleet. According to the annual Director of Operational, Test, and Evaluation report, an Operational Utility Evaluation revealed a handful of problems, mostly with the aircraft’s Precision Strike Package, that “required aircrews to use burdensome workarounds.” However, Webb said the problem isn’t technological, it’s operational. “We’re going to have gunships in the fight because ground SOF [Special Operations Forces] needs and wants them in the fight,” said Webb. “So, how do I navigate having some capability in the fight, transition those same guys in the same squadrons to a new weapon system, and build them up at the same time? That draws out the timeline.” —Amy McCullough
The Predator’s Final Months of Service
The Air Force’s MQ-1 Predator fleet has about seven months left in flight as the service moves toward strictly flying the MQ-9 Reaper, and is pushing to have the same cockpit and software across all of its remotely piloted aircraft operating locations. MQ-1s will be fully retired by the Air Force in March, but the way forward for the aircraft has not yet been determined, said Col. Julian Cheater, commander of the 432d Wing at Creech AFB, Nev., and the 432d Air Expeditionary Wing. While there is a push to have the Predators “on sticks,” or public displays, remaining Predators could be bought by the Navy or allied countries, Cheater said at ASC17. Meanwhile, the Air Force is looking to recycle much of the sensitive equipment from the aircraft that can be used on Reapers, he said. USAF has multiple software suites and cockpits for Reapers, which are all expected to be molded into one variant by next summer. Beyond that, the Air Force is looking at possibly automating takeoff and landing for Reapers in about two years. That capability is operational on the Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle, but there’s still work to be done to make sure the Reapers can take off and land in sandstorms and other difficult situations, Cheater said. —Brian Everstine
AMC Modernizing Legacy Aircraft as it Pushes for KC-46 Deliveries in 2018
The KC-46 program is still facing heavy delays, most recently because of a serious issue with the aircraft’s boom scraping receiving aircraft. Gen. Carlton Everhart, head of Air Mobility Command, said at ASC17 the issue could mean a delay in KC-46 deliveries. In the meantime, the command is updating its aging KC-135s, while also bringing C-5s from the boneyard and C-17s from backup inventory to build up its airlift fleet. Read the full report by Brian Everstine.
USAF Academy Producing More Graduates in Space, Cyber, RPA
The Air Force Academy expects its number of graduates entering the space operations career field will nearly double this year. In 2017, the Academy had 14 graduates assigned to space operations, according to spokesman Lt. Col. Allen Herritage. It expects to graduate 25 space operators in 2018, and 24 more in 2019. Cyber operations are also growing, with 27 graduates assigned to the career field in 2017, expected to almost double to 49 in 2018 and slightly increase to 51 in 2019. The Academy is also producing more graduates slated for RPA pilot training. Seventy-four graduates entered RPA training in 2017 and 89 are expected to receive that assignment in each of the next four years. The Academy also expects to produce more pilots in general in the coming years, superintendent Maj. Gen. Jay Silveria told Air Force Magazine Monday at ASC17, “because that’s what the Air Force needs right now.” —Wilson Brissett
Lengyel: Pay-Recoupment Issue Resolved the Right Way
The decision earlier this year to end recoupment of bonus money overpaid to California National Guard members was the right thing to do, Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said Tuesday at a Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington, D.C. “The vast majority of the people [involved] were found not to have willfully and knowingly taken that money,” Lengyel said. The overpayments took place nearly a decade ago, affecting roughly 17,000 Guard members. When Pentagon paymasters discovered the error earlier this year, they began seeking recoupment, which by then had been spent. The story garnered considerable attention in the national media, triggering the internal review that led to the decision to forgive the debts for those persons who accepted it after fulfilling their service contracts under the assumption that they had earned it. Roughly another 400 persons, however, were not so fortunate. “[Investigators] determined these people knew, or should have known, they shouldn’t have taken these monies,” Lengyel said. They had to repay the bonuses. A new management plan, called the Guard Incentive Management System (GIMS), was put into place afterward to hopefully prevent future such incidents. “It’s set up so that you can’t get into the system until you show you’re eligible for it,” Lengyel said. —Nick Adde
Building Capability from the Ground Up
Several of the Air Force’s top uniformed officials on Tuesday at ASC17 called for a change in mindset for planning and acquiring next-generation USAF systems. Calling current realities too slow and cumbersome, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Seve Wilson, Air Force Materiel Command’s Gen. Ellen M. Pawlikowski, and Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the service’s military acquisition deputy traded, opinions on what should and can be done to streamline and modernize these processes. Read the full story from Adam J. Hebert.
Guard Chief Satisfied with Hurricane Responses
As bad as the aftermaths of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are, the coordination among emergency responders kept both situations from becoming much worse, National Guard Bureau chief Gen. Joseph Lengyel said Tuesday. “I’ve not seen it work better where there’s an integrated, collaborative response from the Defense Department, National Guard, Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, and [local] first responders,” said Lengyel. More than 20,000 Army and Air National Guard members worked in direct response to the catastrophe in Texas, with another 10,000 doing the same in Florida earlier this month. The troops conducted search-and-rescue and other related missions, as part of a complex matrix of teams that worked together to help those in the stricken areas. Irma posed a significantly more arduous challenge for the Virgin Islands, Lengyel said. The Virgin Islands Guard contingent is considerably smaller than that of Texas and Florida. As such, Lengyel said, the Guard took steps to preposition personnel and assets from there and other states out of harm’s way as the storm approached, poised to move in as quickly as possible once they could do so. The Guard’s military presence in each case was, and still is, being augmented by Active Duty personnel as well, Lengyel said. Additionally, Lengyel said Guard units are making preparations for Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm now threatening the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. “It shows well the three things we do. We fight wars, defend the homeland, and build partnerships,” he said. —Nick Adde
Textron Procures World’s Largest Privately Owned Supersonic Fleet
The Air Force is preparing to contract out nearly 40,000 hours of Red Air in the next few years and industry is working hard to fill the massive requirement. Textron Airborne Solutions recently acquired 63 F1 Mirage aircraft, formerly owned by the French Air Force, 151 spare engines, and six million spare parts and equipment, making it the “world’s largest private supersonic air force,” said Jeffrey Parker, chief executive officer of the Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC), which was bought by Textron last year in anticipation of a rapidly growing contracted Aggressor market. The company plans to overhaul the aircraft’s avionics, and conduct other modifications specifically catered to USAF requirements, which are still being finalized. Air Combat Command boss Gen. Mike Holmes said he expects that to happen this fall. Read the full story by Amy McCullough.
Editor’s Note: This story originally ran in the Sept. 18 Daily Report, but the link was broken.
—Air Force representatives speaking at ASC17 repeatedly stressed the need to quickly get airmen suffering from invisible wounds the help they need, but acknowledged it’s still a struggle to get airmen to admit they need help: USAF release.
—AFA and Air Force senior leaders presented MSgt. Andrew Kehl, from the 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron at Spangdahlem AB, Germany, with the Gen. Larry O. Spencer Award at ASC17 on Monday: USAF release.
—The Air Force has updated the dress and appearance guidelines for airmen deployed to Air Forces Central Command. The newer, condensed guidance includes more illustrations and clarified how to wear the Airman Combat Uniform: AFCENT release.