Airman 1st Class Matthew Jasper, 2nd Munitions Squadron missile maintenance team member, conducts maintenance on an Air-launched Cruise Missile at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, Oct. 18, 2021. The ALCM was developed to increase the effectiveness and survivability of the B-52H Stratofortress strategic bomber. Airman 1st Class Jonathan Ramos
Photo Caption & Credits

Pentagon Solicits Allies’ Input In Drafting Nuclear Posture Review

Dec. 3, 2021

By Greg Hadley

The U.S. has consulted with allies regarding its ongoing Nuclear Posture Review and will continue to do so, the Pentagon said Nov. 8 after a media report indicated other nations have been pressing President Joe Biden not to change American policy on the use of nuclear weapons.

“Without getting into specific details, I mean, for understandable purposes, what I can tell you is that we are, as appropriate, consulting with allies and partners in the course of this review and certainly remain open to listening to and hearing out their perspectives,” Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby told reporters during a briefing 

The Nuclear Posture Review, scheduled to be released in 2022, will likely set U.S. policy for its nuclear weapons arsenal and comes at a key moment. China has dramatically built up its array of intercontinental ballistic missile silos in recent months, while U.S. lawmakers continue to debate whether to modernize several aging legs of the nuclear triad or extend them. 

Biden has said in the past that the U.S. should move to a policy of “sole purpose” whereby the sole purpose of American nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear use against the U.S. or its allies. Others, meanwhile, have pushed for a “no-first-use” policy, whereby the U.S. would pledge to never use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. 

The Financial Times reported Oct. 29 that U.S. allies, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, and Australia, were all lobbying Biden not to commit to a “no-first- use” policy, arguing that doing so would weaken deterrence against China and Russia.

 Citing two anonymous sources, the Financial Times also indicated that the U.S. sent a “questionnaire” to allies “who provided an overwhelmingly negative response to any changes in nuclear policy.” 

On Nov. 8, Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas), ranking members of the House Armed Services Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee, respectively, announced they had sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, requesting a copy of that questionnaire, as well as “copies of each response received from U.S. allies, and any other cables or memos conveying ally views regarding a potential change in U.S. nuclear declaratory policy.”

That same day, Kirby declined to comment on the letter sent by Rogers and McCaul, saying he had not seen it. Yet while he did not directly confirm the Financial Times report, he did indicate that partner nations were welcome to provide their input on the Nuclear Posture Review. 

“I think across the review itself, the views and perspectives of our allies and partners are important and consultations with them and hearing them out and their perspectives has been and will continue to remain important as the review continues down the path,” said Kirby. 

“I’m certainly not going to speculate one way or the other about policies inside that review and what that’s going to look like,” Kirby added. “But I would tell you just two things. It has been and remains an inclusive, comprehensive process that’s looking at the broad swath of our strategic deterrent capabilities here in the United States. And No. 2, any policy decision of that nature is going to ultimately be made by the President of the United States.”    

One of DARPA’s autonomous swarming Gremlins crashed, but the October test confirmed many of the program’s key objectives. DARPA/Courtesy

C-130 Catches an X-61 Gremlins Vehicle in Airborne Recovery Test

By Amanda Miller

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) crashed one of its four remaining Gremlins air-launched drones during a flight test in October but not without demonstrating some of the autonomous swarming program’s key objectives.

In tests, the X-61 Gremlins Air Vehicles, or GAVs, launch from the wing of a C-130. October’s test at the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, both “successfully validated all autonomous formation flying positions and safety features” and “ultimately demonstrated airborne recovery to a C-130,” according to a Nov. 5 DARPA news release. Dynetics is the prime contractor on the program, and Kratos Defense builds the X-61s.

A video posted to YouTube shows the recovery. It begins with an X-61 in flight. A mechanical arm and a tether with a node on the end, described by the program as a bullet, extend from the back of a C-130. The X-61 connects with the bullet then the vehicle’s wings swivel 90 degrees until they’re stowed parallel with the main body. Next the X-61 is reeled in by the tether until it’s secured in the grip of the mechanical arm, which hauls it the rest of the way inside the C-130. 

Lt. Col. Paul J. Calhoun, the Gremlins program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said in the release that the recovery operation “demonstrates the feasibility of safe, reliable airborne recovery,” and “was the culmination of years of hard work.” 

In addition to the autonomous formations and the recovery performed during the course of four flights of single X-61s, DARPA demonstrated that it could refurbish an X-61 after a flight and have it flying again within 24 hours. Plus, “many hours of data were collected over four flights including air vehicle performance, aerodynamic interactions between the recovery bullet and the GAV, and contact dynamics for airborne retrieval,” according to the release. 

Intended to collaborate as a swarm, recoverable air-launched autonomous vehicles promise to “dramatically expand” the distances at which drones can be deployed and their potential uses, DARPA says. 

The first airborne Gremlins test in January 2021 demonstrated some fundamental aspects such as data links and the vehicles’ ability to transition to powered flight. An X-61 also crashed in that test after a parachute didn’t deploy, but the parachute was only meant for the test.

A DARPA spokesperson confirmed that after the second crash in October, from an electrical system failure, the agency now has three working X-61s and those will be enough to prove, mathematically, the ultimate goal of flying and recovering four X-61s in under 30 minutes.                                                                 

‘Confirmation Bias’ Cited in Afghanistan Strike That Killed 10

By Abraham Mahshie

Three days after 13 Americans were killed at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, a U.S. Central Command strike cell in Qatar made a series of assumptions over the course of eight hours based on the intelligence available at the time, leading to the death of 10 innocent civilians, including seven children, according to the final report by the Air Force inspector general.

Lt. Gen. Sami D. Said interviewed 29 individuals, including 22 directly involved in the operation, as part of a 45-day investigation directed by Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and ordered by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall before briefing senior defense officials. 

“Individuals involved in this strike that were interviewed during this investigation truly believed at the time that they were targeting an imminent threat to U.S. forces on HKIA,” Said relayed. 

He said the strike cell made a “reasonable” conclusion that the white Toyota Corolla driven by aid worker Zemari Ahmadi was a vehicle of interest, based on “intelligence available that correlated the Corolla to particular locations.” 

Said stated the strike was made in self-defense during a vulnerable time when 13 service members had just been killed. Ground intelligence was not available and there were many known terrorist threats as the evacuation deadline neared. 

The inspector general, however, said confirmation bias then crept in, making analysts believe Ahmadi was acting suspiciously. A stop at a suspected ISIS location and handover of a computer bag was one example, since a computer bag was used in the Aug. 26 HKIA attack. 

Despite the execution errors, he said the investigation “found no violation of law.” 

“What likely broke down was not the intelligence, but the correlation of that intelligence to a specific house, the inference that what the intelligence is talking about is that house and that car,” he added. “There’s an art to that, and that’s where the disconnect and correlation broke down.” 

Assignment of accountability may still come through the chain of command. Possible repercussions may include de-credentialing, firing, or retraining individuals involved, according to the Pentagon.                                                                                                      

Adm. Christopher W. Grady. USN

Navy’s Grady Tapped to Succeed Hyten as Vice Chairman of JCS

By Greg Hadley

President Joe Biden nominated Adm. Christopher W. Grady, head of the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command, to take over as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Senate received the nomination on Nov. 1, and Grady’s confirmation hearing is expected to begin on Dec. 2, according to reports. 

USAF Gen. John E. Hyten, who took on the role of vice chairman in November 2019, announced last year that he would not seek another term as the military’s No. 2 officer behind the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Throughout his tenure, he has criticized the overclassification, bureaucracy, and risk aversion in the Pentagon, warning that China could soon overtake the U.S. in military power if action is not taken. 

With Hyten scheduled to depart in late November, Grady’s nomination would have to be rushed through in near-record time to avoid a vacancy. Hyten’s nomination process stretched on for more than five months, and every Chairman and Vice Chairman in the last decade has taken at least a month to be confirmed by the full Senate. 

Grady has led the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command/U.S. Naval Forces Northern Command since May 2018. He has also held the duties of commander for U.S. Naval Forces Strategic Command and U.S. Strategic Command Joint Force Maritime Component since February 2019. 

Grady also served as commander of the 6th Fleet and the Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, as well as deputy commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and U.S. Naval Forces Africa, and on the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as an aide to the Chief of Naval Operations. 

Army Gen. Mark A. Milley ascended to the role of Chairman in October 2019, and his term is set to last until 2023.                

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. John Hyten. Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos Vazquez II/DOD

Guard Chief: ‘Entire Fighter Fleet’ And More Needs To Be Modernized

By Greg Hadley

The Air National Guard badly needs to modernize its fleet, not only for operations in the homeland but also for its war­fighting mission, the head of the National Guard said Nov. 10. 

Army Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said the ANG’s “entire fighter fleet” needs to be modernized, with aging F-15C/Ds and F-16s swapped out for newer F-15EXs and fifth-generation F-35s.

“We want to … make sure that we have a pathway to modernization for each of our fighter squadrons because it’s an incredible capability,” Hokanson told reporters during a Defense Writers Group event in Washington, D.C. “But it’s also a capacity issue for our nation, to make sure that whatever we get asked to do, … we can do.” 

As of fiscal 2021, the Air National Guard had some 470 F-15C/Ds and F-16s, with an average age of over 30 years, and just 19 F-35s. Lt. Gen. Michael A. Loh, Air National Guard director, said in September that roughly 20 F-15Cs in the fleet were grounded because the backbones of the aircraft were cracked. A number of Air National Guard units are slated to receive either the F-35 or F-15EX in the coming years. 

But it’s not just fighters that need to be upgraded. 

Increasingly, the Guard has been called upon to combat wildfires in the West, and to do so, several of its C-130s have been outfitted with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS). 

With MAFFS, C-130s are able to drop 3,000 pounds of retardant on a wildfire in less than five seconds, fly back, refill, and be in the air again in under 20 minutes. But the system needs improvements to keep up with the increasingly high tempo required. 

“We’ve got to make sure that we’re completely modernized so that they can perform the missions that they’re being asked to do,” said Hokanson.