Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff, told House defense appropriators last week that the service’s first MC-12W Project Liberty aircraft had deployed to Southwest Asia and should arrive in Iraq on June 5. Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) had asked the project’s status since it “seemed to be held up right now,” reportedly much to the consternation of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Schwartz characterized the program, which aims to quickly field manned intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance aircraft, as “slightly behind schedule,” since USAF initially anticipated it would begin deploying them in April, but he asserted, “It was a very aggressive schedule to begin with.” An initial buy of eight commercial airframes provided “seven or eight different” configurations that required seven different engineering integration approaches. The next aircraft are new buys, but the Air Force has worked with US Central Command to ensure the platforms receive the “ISR capabilities that the commander wants and needs in theater,” explained Schwartz. He added, “The contractor is on it, and they are working 24/7 to meet the contract schedule.” At the same June 3 hearing, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley noted that the Air Force received the first aircraft seven months after contract award, “so this was not business as usual on anybody’s part.” To which, Tiahrt replied, “Yes, that was pretty short stroke.”
A majority of panelists convened by the Atlantic Council to assess the situation in Ukraine believe that Russia will have enough forces—and recent practice in Belarus—to invade Ukraine within a month. A senior Air Force official concurred, saying the service expects the conflict soon.