Mattis: Lack of Funding Stability, Adversaries’ Advancements Question America’s Future

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, speaking on the final day of ASC17, emphasized the need for stable funding in the future, coupled with strong alliances with other nations, to ensure the safety of the country and the strength of the military. Adversaries of the US, including North Korea, need to push for diplomacy with the understanding that military options are credible and overwhelming, Mattis said. Read the full story by Brian Everstine.

KC-46 Delays

There is a “variance in our assessment of the schedule” for deliveries of the KC-46 tanker with Boeing, Air Force uniformed acquisition chief Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch said Tuesday. At a press conference at ASC17, Bunch said that while Boeing maintains it can start deliveries in December, the Air Force assess that’s more likely to happen “by spring of next year.” To help Boeing make it, USAF will look to see “if we can eliminate some testing” in conjunction with the FAA, which also has to issue a type certification. But “before I do that, I want to see if the performance lines up with predictions” on other aspects of testing, he said. There are actually three problems with the KC-46 in the process of being resolved, Bunch said, having to do with “uncommanded extensions” of the boom after disengagement from the receiver aircraft, undetected contact of the boom with the receiver aircraft surfaces, and something called a “high frequency transient inhibitor.” —John A. Tirpak

The Air Force’s Manning Shortfall Impacting Reserve

Air Force Reserve Command is not immune to the pilot shortage that is threatening the Active Duty, even though its part time aircrew ranks are almost full. It’s just hitting the Reserve component in a different way, AFRC Chief Lt. Gen. Maryanne Miller said at ASC17. The command is 96.5 percent manned on its part-time pilot force, but the full-time force is only manned at 65 percent because it faces many of the same issues as the Active Duty. Pilots are available to serve part-time, but prefer to be employed full time in companies such as private airlines, Miller said. “That is my stress,” she said. The same is occurring in the maintenance field, where the command is 100 percent manned in part-time but less in full time as maintainers look for jobs in industry. To address these shortfalls, the command is pulling in new airmen off the street—38 percent of Reservists coming into the force have no prior service. These airmen require time for training, and many of them are not at the experience level needed to begin with. The only way to reverse all this is to be able to build up the Active Duty, as senior Air Force leadership is trying to do. “I don’t want to have to raise airmen off the street,” Miller said. “I have to do it, it just takes time.” —Brian Everstine

The Slow Road to Lightning

Despite its urgent need to field as many fifth-generation aircraft as quickly as possible, USAF officials seem resigned to only buying 60 F-35s annually for the foreseeable future. The plan had been to get the ramp up to 80 a year by the end of the future years defense plan (2022), but next year’s budget will have a ceiling of 60, even though Air Combat Command boss Gen. James Holmes sees a need for at least 80—if not 100—so his fighter fleet doesn’t obsolesce even faster. Read the full story from John Tirpak.

USAF Evaluating When Joint Experience Should Equal Command Experience

The Air Force has put together a joint experience working group to evaluate joint assignments and make sure the service is recording them and weighing these assignments with the importance they deserve. This is being done to overcome a problem—both real and perceived—that USAF does not give airmen adequate credit for many joint assignments and does not take full advantage of the skills airmen learn in these positions. In fact, Maj. Gen. Brian Killough, director of Strategic Plans on the Air Staff, told Air Force Magazine in an interview the working group is evaluating which joint force positions should be considered equivalent to command positions when it comes time to determine promotions and follow-on assignments. Read the full story by Adam J. Hebert.

AFRL to Tour Globe In Search of S&T Innovation

Over the next year, the Air Force Research Laboratory is going to travel to almost a dozen research centers as part of the Air Force’s newly announced science and technology (S&T) strategy review. Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson announced the S&T strategy review Monday. While AFRL is going to lead the effort, USAF’s Science Advisory Board will lead a parallel effort and input will come from the National Academy of Sciences. The visits are part of an attempt to open up communication and potential collaboration with academia and industrial partners that “historically do not” cooperate or work with DOD, AFRL Commander Maj. Gen. William Cooley told reporters at ASC17. Read the full story by Gideon Grudo.

AETC Stands Up Battlefield Airmen Recruiting Squadron

Air Education and Training Command will stand up a new battlefield airman recruiting squadron on Oct. 1 in an effort to bring in the right kind of recruits, capable of making it through the grueling training pipeline, Air Education and Training Command boss Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson told reporters at ASC17 on Wednesday. Battlefield airmen—including pararescue jumpers (PJ), combat controllers, tactical air control party, and special operations weather team members—“have the highest attrition rate of any specialty in the US Air Force,” said Roberson, who noted roughly 80 percent of airmen attempting to become PJs wash out. “We’re having challenges with the production, from recruiting all the way through graduation,” said Air Force Special Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. Brad Webb. Although those “are small numbers,” Webb said, it’s not “something a small force can sustain when batting below 50 percent in the field. It won’t manifest itself today, but five years from now, it will be a real challenge.” Read the full story by Amy McCullough.

100,000 Clinically Obese Members Cost DOD $2 Billion Per Year

The Department of Defense is addressing a lack of readiness to deploy among US military members, Army Command Sergeant Major John Troxell, the senior enlisted advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday at ASC17. Across all US forces, there are “200,000 men and women that are medically not ready to deploy,” Troxell said, and “clinical obesity” is a major reason why. The US military has “100,000 troops that are diagnosed as clinically obese,” a problem that costs DOD “$2 billion per year,” Troxell said. The Department needs to look at “the nutrition that we’re providing men and women,” for starters. “We’re providing too many opportunities for our young troops to eat at Burger King,” he said. “We’re closing dining facilities all around the Department of Defense, and that provides another opportunity for troops to eat bad.” One solution would be to provide “nutritious meals or meals that are attractive to young troops,” said Troxell. —Wilson Brissett

Cyber Command Should Get More Acquisition Authority

Cyber Command boss and NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers and Michael Hayden, a retired USAF general and former NSA director, shared insights at ASC17 about Cyber Command’s future in defending the US against cyber attacks. The takeaway is: The command should get more leeway in procurement and information gathering, leeway that is currently limited by policy. Read the full story by Gideon Grudo.

GBSD Fits in Current ICBM Facilities, New Installations Not Needed

The Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program will make use of existing ICBM launch facilities, program director Col. Heath Collins told Air Force Magazine at ASC17. An Air Force analysis of alternatives concluded “the effort, the cost, the schedule impacts”—including the necessity of gaining land-use rights and navigating “the environmental protection rules and laws of today”—made building 450 new launch facilities “very cost prohibitive,” Collins said. While the Minuteman III launch facilities will need to be refurbished to house modernized ICBMs, Collins said his team has conducted “analysis on the concrete” at the facilities and found them “very strong. Those are still solid launch facilities.” He also said using the existing silos would present no significant technical limitations on the GBSD design. “We’ve gone through hundreds and thousands of different iterations of what the launch vehicle could look like and what size it needs to be to meet our requirements,” Collins said. “The existing launch facilities are plenty big enough.” —Wilson Brissett

Commercial Partners are Helping Space Get Faster

Air Force space launch is getting faster thanks to commercial partnerships with companies like SpaceX, Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, commander of the 45th Space Wing said at ASC17 Tuesday. Last year, the service required 72 hours between launches, but now has the ability to launch twice within 24 hours. In the near future, Monteith said, SpaceX could help the service achieve as many as 48 launches within a single year. Read the full report by Wilson Brissett.

Counterdrug Bombers

Air Force bombers—B-1s and B-52s—have a wide portfolio of missions they support. But IS counter-drug runs in the Caribbean one of those? Yep, says Global Strike Command chief Gen. Robin Rand. Describing the long list of missions his bombers are involved in at an ASC17 press conference, Rand said his aircraft often help out SOUTHCOM by flying over known drug smuggling routes and observing them with their Sniper or LITENING targeting pods. When they spot the typical smuggler speedboats, they cue helicopters, low-flying aircraft or boats from Coast Guard or Customs, who zero in on the traffickers. Usually, that means the cargo “gets thrown overboard” while a pursuit ensues, Rand said. It’s not a typical or primary mission, he said, but “it’s not additive.” The bombers “are going to fly anyway” on a training mission “and this is something they can do at the same time.” When the cargo gets thrown in the sea, “the sharks love it,” Rand said. —John A. Tirpak

More on Bomber Vector

When will we get to see the new bomber “vector,” which lays out the 30-year-plus plan for bringing on new bombers and phasing out old ones? It’s up to Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein and Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, according to Global Strike Command chief Gen. Robin Rand. “We’ve done a great job,” Rand said at an ASC17 press conference Tuesday. “We’ve provided (Goldfein) our inputs, we have socialized this with our teammates in Congress, so I’ve gone over and had multiple engagements with staffers and chairmen and ranking members of our key defense committees, I’ve spoken to Senators and (representatives) from … states that have bombers. We want to make sure we give the Secretary of Defense the headspace that he needs to review the plan. And I won’t speak for him about when that will happen.” Rand also reported a “lessons learned” study is underway—internal to AFGSC but with Northrop Grumman—that is a “deep dive” into what went right and wrong with the B-2 program, in order to make the B-21 a more seamless and cost-effective project. “A lot of the expertise that was on the B-2 is still going to be part of the B-21, so we want to capture the people who worked that program … these folks will transition into the B-21.” —John A. Tirpak

B-52 Re-Engining At Last

The Air Force has decided in principle that it will go ahead with re-engining the B-52 bomber force, but is still trying to figure out when, and with what money. “This is one of those things where, we’re trying to fit it all in,” Secretary Heather Wilson said at an ASC17 press conference. “We’re in the midst of bomber tradeoffs,” she said in reference to building the next five-year plan. The Air Force has already invested heavily in modernizing the B-52 and “we know we’re going to have to re-engine it for the longer term,” Wilson said. Read the full story by John A. Tirpak.

Bomber Flooring and LRSO

Global Strike Command chief Gen. Robin Rand emphasized while the “floor” of the requirement for the B-21 bomber is 100 aircraft, the eventual number is likely to be higher, but there’s no need to set that level now. In a press conference at ASC17 Tuesday, Rand said the Air Force is “too small for the amount of mission we have.” The figure of 100 is “what we’ve agreed to,” but that number “will be reassessed as we start procuring and delivering these airplanes.” Well before there’s any winding-down of production, “we will have an opportunity to reassess” whether the USAF should “continue to go beyond that,” but he declined to be more specific. Read the full story by John A. Tirpak.

Turkey Touts S-400 Missile System by Claiming It Can Destroy US Aircraft

Turkish state media is touting the capabilities of the S-400 missile defense system, which Turkey agreed to purchase from Russia last week, by claiming it is capable of shooting down most of the US combat fleet. Anadolu Agency, the official state run media outlet of the Turkish government, on Wednesday released an infographic on the “Versatility of S-400 Missile Defense” that claims the system “can eliminate” US aircraft including B-52s, B-1s, B-2s, and F-22s. The list also includes the F-16, which is flown by many NATO allies in addition to Turkey itself. The graphic only listed aircraft flown by the US. Turkey, a NATO ally that hosts US aircraft at multiple bases including Incirlik Air Base, made a $2.5 billion deposit on the S-400 missile defense system, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sept. 12, the BBC reported. NATO was not initially supportive of the decision, saying the S-400 system is not compatible with equipment used by the alliance. When asked about the Russian air defense system, US Air Forces in Europe command Gen. Tod Wolters declined to comment, saying only that “Turkey is a strong NATO ally” and the “air chief-to-air chief” and “mil-to-mil” relationship between the United States and Turkey “has been very, very comfortable.” —Brian Everstine and Amy McCullough