Offutt Cleanup After Tornado Could Cost $10 million
The June 16 tornado that hit Offutt AFB, Neb., damaged 10 aircraft and caused up to $10 million in damage, the base announced. Two E-4B National Airborne Operations Center aircraft were damaged, along with eight RC-135 Rivet Joints, in the storm. Six of the RC-135s have returned to mission-capable status, according to Offutt, which noted the base did not lose its combat capability. The damaged E-4Bs amount to half of the Air Force’s four-aircraft fleet. The primary aircraft was off station during the tornado, and there is no impact to the aircraft’s primary mission, the Air Force said in a statement. The service always keeps one E-4 on 24-hour alert, seven days a week “with a global watch team at one of many selected bases throughout the world,” according to an Air Force fact sheet. The aircraft serves as a key component of the national military command system for the President, Defense Secretary, and Joint Chiefs of Staff by serving as an airborne command, control, and communications center in the event of a national emergency or destruction of ground command centers. In addition, 18 buildings were damaged, including the Offutt Field House, the Aero Club, and other buildings near parade grounds, Offutt said in a Monday release. The base’s 55th Civil Engineer Squadron responded, with 25 personnel providing about 1,200 man hours.
Thunderbirds Return to Flight
The Air Force Thunderbirds returned to flight to head back to their home base on Monday after a mishap flipped an F-16 and sent the pilot and a maintainer to the hospital. The Thunderbirds left Dayton, Ohio, to return to Nellis AFB, Nev., and will fly routine practices on Tuesday, the team said in a post on its Facebook page. Thunderbird No. 8 Capt. Erik Gonsalves remains in a Dayton hospital after his F-16 flipped over after landing on Friday. TSgt. Kenneth Cordova, a tactical aircraft maintainer who was riding in the back seat, was also evaluated at the hospital before being released the same day. “Capt. Gonsalves remains in the hospital and is surrounded by loved ones,” Thunderbirds Commander Lt. Col. Jason Heard said in the update. “I have full faith and confidence in our team to conduct the mission safely, we look forward to returning to flying operations.” This is the second F-16 to crash in three days. On June 21, an Oklahoma Air National Guard F-16, assigned to a detachment of the 138th Fighter Wing stationed at Ellington Field JRB, Texas, caught fire and crashed during take off. The pilot safely ejected from the single-seat aircraft. — Brian Everstine
Dunford Lands in Afghanistan to Assess US, NATO Progress
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford landed in Afghanistan on Monday to begin his assessment on whether the US should build up its force levels in the country. Dunford touched down in Kabul on Monday, as fighting season across the country moves into full swing, first visiting the Resolute Support train, advise, and assist mission, Resolute Support said in a statement on Twitter. President Trump earlier this month gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to decide on the total number of US troops on the ground. A decision is expected next month, and will be based on US Forces-Afghanistan commander Gen. John Nicholson’s call for up to 5,000 more troops. The surge in forces will come as part of a broader US government strategy on the Middle East, and an increase in overall NATO forces, Mattis has said. — Brian Everstine
Key Lawmaker To Oppose Arms Sales to GCC Countries
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday said he is opposing all arms sales to Gulf Cooperation Council countries, adding more pressure to the Middle Eastern nations to resolve its dispute with Qatar. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said in a Monday letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that disputes among the GCC countries “only serve to hurt efforts to fight ISIS and counter Iran.” The GCC countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait, “did not take advantage” of momentum from the summit in Saudi Arabia in late May, “and instead chose to devolve into conflict,” wrote Corker. His announcement comes shortly after Qatar signed off on purchasing 52 F-15s, and the Trump administration, following the late May summit, announced plans for a $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. — Brian Everstine
Second GPS III Satellite Finishes Assembly
The Air Force’s second GPS III satellite recently finished assembly and is now entering environmental testing as Lockheed Martin’s cleanroom for satellite production hits full production. The second satellite, GPS III SV02, will undergo environmental testing this summer to make sure it is “ready for the rigors of space,” said Mark Stewart, Lockheed’s vice president of Navigation Systems, in a release. Lockheed is contracted to build eight more GPS III satellites at its new processing facility near Denver, the release states. The third satellite completed initial power on its bus, which contains the electronics that operate the satellite. The fourth vehicle’s major electronics are being populated and the payload is expected to arrive and be integrated this year. The first GPS III satellite finished its qualification testing and was placed into storage in February, in anticipation of its launch next year.
—Vice President Mike Pence and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson toured the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station and received a briefing from NORAD and US Northern Command boss USAF Gen. Lori Robinson during a recent stop in Colorado: DVIDS
—The month-long Saber Strike 17 exercise, which included 11,000 US and NATO troops from 20 countries, concluded on June 24: Air Force release (Air Force Magazine Editor in Chief Adam J. Hebert reported on the exercise from Poland. Read his story.)
—A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying 10 communications satellites for Iridium Communications launched from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., on Sunday. The rockets first-stage booster landed on a floating platform in the Pacific Ocean while the second-stage booster carried the satellites to orbit. The company also launched a communications satellite for Bulgaria into orbit on Friday from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla.: Military.com