GAO Calls on Congress to Block F-35 Funding Until DOD Provides a Review of Cost, Schedule

The Government Accountability Office, in its latest assessment of the F-35 program, is calling on Congress to block all funding on the next developmental increment of the jet until the Pentagon can provide a new cost assessment in an effort to avoid authorizing billions on a program before the real costs are understood. There has been substantial progress on the F-35 program, and the Pentagon is looking to build on that with a request for $9.8 billion in 2019, according to the report, released Tuesday. “However, in its rush to cross the finish line, the program has made some decisions that are likely to affect aircraft performance and reliability and maintainability for years to come,” said the GAO. Sustainability costs and spare parts shortages are already impacting the fleet, and need to be addressed. The GAO calls on Congress to block funding for Block 4 development until the Pentagon produces a report of a complete acquisition program baseline, including an independent cost estimate, technology readiness assessments, a test and evaluation master plan, a system engineering plan, a preliminary design review, and an approved acquisition strategy. The GAO also calls on the Pentagon to resolve critical deficiencies before a full rate production decision and update the F-35’s reliability and maintainability improvement program, suggestions the Defense Department agreed with. F-35 Program Executive Vice Adm. Mat Winter in a statement said there were no surprises in the report, and there are already actions in progress to address the deficiencies the GAO identified. —Brian Everstine

Mattis Reportedly to Call for Large NATO Buildup in Eastern Europe

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis this week will lead an American push for NATO to build up its force structure in Eastern Europe, including calling for dozens more fighter squadrons on alert, Reuters reported Tuesday. Mattis will arrive in Brussels on Thursday to meet with other defense ministers from NATO nations and will outline the new plan, based on the Trump administration’s recently released National Defense Strategy. Reuters, citing US and NATO officials, said the plan calls for 30 fighter squadrons, 30 land battalions, and 30 navy ships ready to deploy within 30 days. The plan is the latest in a series of US buildups in Eastern Europe, including moves under the increasing European Reassurance Initiative. NATO nations have been increasing their share of collective defense spending and are reshaping the agency’s military command to make it more effective in addressing threats such as cyber and hybrid warfare. —Brian Everstine

Coalition: Momentum Against ISIS Leads to Drop in IED Attacks, Increase of Fighters in Detention

The US-led coalition’s push to target the last remnants of ISIS has led to a large decrease in the number of bombings by the group, bolstered by increased support from new capabilities such as airstrikes conducted by the Iraqi Air Force. In the first quarter of 2018, there have been “just over” 800 improvised explosive device explosions in Iraq and Syria, down from 6,700 in the first quarter of 2016, coalition spokesman US Army Col. Thomas Veale said during a Tuesday briefing. Of the 2018 total, 17 percent have been from powerful vehicle-borne bombs, down from 64 percent of the 2016 total. US and coalition training, along with increased patrolling, raids, and advanced intelligence work have contributed to this change, he said. While US and coalition strike and ISR aircraft have actively patrolled and conducted strikes in the area, the Iraqi Air Force in the past two months has begun hitting ISIS targets regularly inside Syria. US and coalition training to “build resilience and sustainment” in the growing air enterprise have made Iraqi aircraft more effective, he said. As a result of this momentum, hundreds of ISIS foreign fighters have been taken into custody by both the Iraqi government and US-backed forces inside Syria. The coalition is calling on other nations to come forward and claim their citizens, because detention centers are a breeding ground of militarism, Veale said. “The foundation of the next ISIS is in detention right now,” he said. —Brian Everstine

Amnesty Report Accuses Coalition of Indiscriminate Bombing, US Immediately Condemns Claims

Human rights group Amnesty International, in a report released Tuesday, claims the US-led coalition killed hundreds of civilians and is possibly guilty of war crimes, an accusation that prompted an immediate and extensive public rebuke from the coalition. Amnesty claims that during the four-month campaign to oust ISIS from Raqqa, airstrikes killed hundreds and destroyed much of the city. The group visited Raqqa in the spring, and interviewed 112 civilians at the site of 42 strikes. “The cases provide prima facie evidence that several coalition attacks in which civilians were killed and injured violated international humanitarian law. … Coalition forces did not take adequate account of civilians present in the city and failed to take the precautions necessary to minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects,” the report states. Coalition spokesman US Army Col. Thomas Veale led a Pentagon briefing on Tuesday by saying Amnesty did not reach out to the coalition for any input or comment in its research, and also did not review public statements or research by the coalition. Amnesty is “judging us guilty until proven innocent,” he said, even after they were only able to visit Raqqa thanks to the coalition’s victory. Coalition staff is reviewing Amnesty’s report, and will reopen investigations if “compelling evidence” is found, Veale said. —Brian Everstine

Air Force Cancels $24 Million Air Force One Refrigerator Contract

The Air Force’s $24 million plan for refrigerators on Air Force One is no longer running. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) said in a statement Monday afternoon that Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told him the sole source contract has been canceled, and the service is reviewing more affordable options. “Even with the understanding that the Air Force One mission brings with it unique requirements and challenges, a $24 million sole-source contract just didn’t pass the smell test,” Courtney said in a statement. Wilson, in her letter, said the Air Force and the White House Military Office decided to terminate the effort, but it could be reviewed if the Presidential Aircraft Replacement program is delayed. —Brian Everstine


—Boeing was awarded a $7.1 million contract to remanufacture 94 Air Launched Cruise Missile warhead arming devices: DOD contract announcement.

—The Air Force Reserve’s 304th Rescue Squadron and the Oregon National Guard joined forces to rescue several climbers who fell on Mount Hood in Oregon over Memorial Day weekend: AFRC release.

—The Air Force has significantly increased promotion opportunities for staff and technical sergeants under the Stripes for Exceptional Performers program:

—An Afghan Air Force C-208 conducted their first emergency combat airdrop on June 1: AFCENT release.