Iraq is still a “contested environment” between Iraqi government forces and militants belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), said Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby on Friday. Despite some violent attacks, Baghdad is largely “static,” while Iraqi forces and ISIL militants continue fighting in other areas, such as Tikrit, he added. As of Friday, there were around 700 US troops working in some capacity in the country, either protecting US interests at diplomatic facilities or manning operations centers where intelligence is being processed and disseminated. Kirby said ISR flights have picked up since June, some of which are being flown by Air Force fighters equipped with targeting pods. Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Cdr. Elissa Smith also told Air Force Magazine that the slow down of the F-16 training program has “delayed delivery of the first F-16s to Iraq,” originally slated for this fall. Contract personnel were evacuated from Balad Air Base in June, which has complicated planning for bed down activities, she added. “It’s too soon to say what impact the security situation will have on the timeline we had announced earlier,” Smith said.
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.