Pilots train on a virtual reality flight simulator as part of the Pilot Training Next program at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. Technology and lessons from that program contribute to efforts to streamline pilot training. Sarayuth Pinthong/USAF
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ACC Aims to Train Pilots in Half the Time

By John A. Tirpak

The Air Force plans to launch a new fighter pilot training program that could cut the time it takes to transform a new student pilot into a fighter flight lead roughly in half.

The new concept of operations exploits the in-jet simulation capability of the new T-7 Red Hawk, paired with ground-based virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI), to accelerate student progress.

Air Combat Command boss Gen. James M. Holmes signed the new CONOPs, called “Rebuilding the Forge,” or “Reforge” for short, on June 2. If tests are successful, it will lead to the most radical transformation of USAF fighter pilot training since the 1950s, according to its authors. The switch to dual-track, Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training in the 1980s was a far less dramatic restructure, they said.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is see if we could create more capacity without spending more money,” Holmes said during an AFA Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies virtual event. If Reforge works, fewer F-22s, for example, will be needed for basic skills training in the jet. “We can take some of that training-coded iron and turn it into combat-coded iron. We already paid for it, we already paid for the people that fly it.”

“Part of what we’re trying to do is see if we could create more capacity
without spending more money.”Gen. James Holmes, ACC commander

Holmes said Reforge combines the fighter fundamentals course with the Fighter Training Unit (FTU) process, eliminating at least one change of station move for fighter pilots and using new technology to accelerate their proficiency. That would translate to fewer F-22s being needed for basic skills training and more tails available either for combat exercises or, in the case of older jets, as opponents for more upgraded versions of the Raptor.
The new system potentially could reduce the time it takes for a student to go from starting SUPT to as little as 18 months. Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training now takes about 12 months. After that, fighter-bound pilots go to the Fighter Fundamentals course, flying the T-38, and then on to a Formal Training Unit in their particular fighter. The whole journey now takes about 40 months before the pilot reaches fighter qualification, including change-of-station moves and refreshers.

The new CONOPs implements an Initial Tactical Training (ITT) Course that merges the latter two phases and slices about a year off the program.

ITT graduates will arrive at their Formal Training Unit “with a higher level of tactical skills,” sharply reducing what the FTU must teach in expensive, high-end fighters. The new process also will give pilots more stability by reducing the number of change of station moves they have to make during their pilot training period. They would move after winning their wings and do ITT at the same base where they join their first fighter squadron.
Cost savings of the new plan have not yet been vetted, but savings are not the goal, said David Timm, a contractor on the ACC staff and a co-author of the CONOPs.

An image from the Boeing T-7 Red Hawk cockpit-reveal promotional video shows the advanced glass instrument panel in the front seat of USAF’s newest trainer. Boeing

“According to the F-22 community, they’re spending 60 to 70 percent of their sorties” teaching their new pilots basic skills and upgrades, Timm said in an interview. “Teaching those skills sooner, with an advanced trainer, you’re able to save 50 percent of the training days; or 60 percent of the F-22 sorties that we allocate for training in an FTU, and squadrons can use that money to focus on combat training.”
The reduced FTU training timeline allows USAF to double the pilot production in the same time and increase throughput. That should help USAF work off the fighter pilot shortage, Timm said.

“We’re not looking to cut hours. We’re looking to repurpose them,” said Lt. Col. Luke Schneider, another of the CONOPs’ authors. “If I cut hours, I don’t increase readiness beyond … what it is right now.” The aim is to use the hours better, teaching pilots how to employ the fighter, instead of “how to take off, land, and do patterns,” as well as operate sensors like radars and targeting pods, he said.

The CONOPs—the first step in overhauling fighter pilot training—acknowledges that the existing program “is not working for us today and will not work in the future,” Timm asserted. The fighter fleet is being “burned out” by using it for training basic skills instead of for near-peer engagement, he added.

The ITT course will include augmented or virtual reality and artificial intelligence-enhanced instruction, permitting pilots more opportunity to learn and advance in a way that best suits their learning styles. Schneider said AI will adapt instruction to the individual, reducing sorties and simulator events in skills where a student is already proficient, and adding them in areas where more work is needed. The high fidelity of simulation will also allow far more repetitions of needed maneuvers at far less expense than in the real airplane, so fewer real-world events are needed to progress.

Moreover, technology has made advanced fighters better able to synthesize multiple sensor inputs into simple tactical displays, making them “easier to fly,” according to the CONOPs. Schneider noted the T-7 itself, which “mimics” those jets, is easier to fly. Students raised on electronic devices are also more comfortable and experienced with high technology, further reducing training times. In the T-38, by comparison, “we spend a lot of time teaching guys not to die,” Schneider said.

The Air Force is planning a Reforge Proof of Concept (RFX) program to put the CONOPs to the test. In March, the service began a move to lease Lockheed/Korea Aerospace Industries T-50 advanced trainers or Leonardo M346 trainers for a five-year program to test and prove the CONOPs. That source selection is underway, but no decisions have been made about where the first Reforge test base will be. Those who go through the program first will be the instructor cadre and refine the model through subsequent iterations.

Holmes “wants to prove this, and not wait until the T-7 gets produced,” Schneider said. “Renting eight airplanes … is a cost that was not planned for in the POM,” or Program Objective Memorandum budget document, but it has support “at the four-star level.” Getting on contract and conducting the RFX is the “next step” in Reforge, he said.

USAF also may have to purchase additional T-7s from Boeing. The existing contract provides options for up to 100 more than the 341 called for in the deal. The T-7s needed for Reforge could be different than those built for undergraduate pilot training, and might warrant a different designation, such as TF-7, which could demand a separate engineering and manufacturing development program.

The authors note that the shift is not simply taking advantage of new technology, but addressing an urgent operational shortfall. “We are not making new fighter pilots fast enough, and we are not retaining enough of those we do make in the force,” the Reforge authors wrote.

“There are three aspects” to the pilot shortage, Schneider explained: production, absorption, and retention. Reforge addresses those by increasing the throughput of new pilots, getting them experienced more quickly, reducing their change of station moves, improving their quality of life and, thus, retention.

The new system will give the Air Force more bang for its pilot buck. The new CONOPs gets as much as 10 percent more combat-qualified time from each pilot’s first 10-year commitment, since each will be a trained combat pilot sooner, Schneider asserted. Also, there could be 300 hours of basic skills savings per front-line fighter per airplane per year. Multiplied across all fighter fleets, the hours redirected to true readiness would be “huge,” Schneider said.

“Current tactical training development is not keeping pace” with new technology, according to the document. Reforge is meant to change this.

The new CONOPs has been in the works a long time. Holmes penned an op-ed 17 months ago saying Reforge will exploit the opportunities presented by the T-7 and new technology “to reshape the entire fighter training enterprise and rebuild the forge in which we temper the world’s greatest combat aviators.” Timm said Holmes has been briefed on five iterations of the CONOPs since then.

Bass is Air Force’s First Female Enlisted Leader

Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne Bass, then-2nd Air Force command chief, speaks to Airmen at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas. Airman 1st Class Robyn Hunsinger

By Rachel S. Cohen

Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne S. Bass will become the 19th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, and the first woman to serve as the highest-ranking noncommissioned officer of any U.S. military service.

Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., who will take over as Chief of Staff in August, picked Bass to follow outgoing CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright. Bass’ selection sets up a historic leadership slate for the Air Force: It will become the first military branch run by a Black flag officer and a female enlisted Chief.
Bass is also the first Asian American to serve as the highest-ranking noncommissioned member of a U.S. military service.

“I’m honored and humbled to be selected as the 19th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, and follow in the footsteps of some of the best leaders our Air Force has ever known,” Bass said in a June 19 press release. “The history of the moment isn’t lost on me; I’m just ready to get after it. And I’m extremely grateful for and proud of my family and friends who helped me along the way.”

Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne Bass, then-2nd Air Force command chief, speaks to Airmen at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., in 2019. Kemberly Groue/USAF

Brown said Bass brings the right skills, temperament, and experience to the job, plus “an outlook on leadership that meshes with his own,” according to a release.

“She has unique skills that will help us both lead the Total Force and live up to the high expectations of our Airmen,” he said. “She is a proven leader who has performed with distinction at every step of her accomplished career. I have no doubt that Chief Bass will provide wise counsel as we pursue and implement initiatives to develop and empower Airmen at all levels.”

Bass, who will take over the CMSAF post in an Aug. 14 ceremony, beat out more than a dozen other candidates based on her experience, recommendations, and career performance. As CMSAF, she will oversee more than 410,000 enlisted Airmen.

“General Brown knocked it out of the park with this selection,” CMSAF Wright posted on Twitter. “Proud moment in history, great to be an Airman!”

Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne Bass, then-2nd Air Force command chief, speaks to Airmen at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., in 2019. Kemberly Groue/USAF

Bass currently serves as command chief master sergeant for Second Air Force at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. She is the top non-commissioned adviser for Air Force-run training courses that graduate 150,000 military personnel each year. Second AF encompasses four training wings and 18 groups across 76 locations worldwide, and manages 13,000 enlisted, officers, civilians, contractors, and 36,000 basic military trainees annually.

“Throughout her career, she has held a variety of leadership positions serving at the squadron, group, wing, and major command levels,” according to her 2nd AF biography. “She has significant joint service and special operations experience and has participated in several operations and exercises, as well as deployments in direct support of Operations Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom.”

The decorated leader most recently served as chief of Air Force enlisted developmental education at the Pentagon.

With Bass and Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett in two of the service’s top three leadership positions, women will occupy seven of the 49 highest posts across the Air Staff, Secretariat, and major commands.

Brown, Bass, and Barrett—who became Secretary in November—are taking the helm as the Department of the Air Force pivots toward potential conflict with Russia and China while continuing to suppress extremist groups in the Middle East and Africa. The service must also navigate the challenges posed by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic while balancing an expensive slate of modernization programs, building a more equitable and diverse workforce, and standing up the new Space Force.

Goodbye Wings, Hello Deltas

The Space Force finalizes organizational changes.

By Rachel S. Cohen

The Space Force announced June 30 it will organize its personnel into three levels: field commands, deltas, and squadrons.

The decision eliminates groups and Numbered Air Forces. Space Force officials argue a flatter organization will make it more flexible than its predecessor, Air Force Space Command.

“This is the most significant restructuring of space units undertaken by the United States since the establishment of Air Force Space Command in 1982,” said Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett in a release.

Squadrons will focus on missions, such as satellite operations or intelligence, and will report up to new deltas, named for the triangular symbol often used in space logos.

A colonel will lead each delta, built to handle functions like operations, installation support, and training. People who previously worked in groups or numbered Air Forces will move to jobs elsewhere, and some of their daily tasks will be repurposed.

The Space Force will have three field commands: Space Training and Readiness Command (STARCOM), Space Operations Command (SpOC), and Space Systems Command (SSC).

STARCOM supplants Air Education and Training Command as the organization in charge of the training pipeline, starting in 2021. In the meantime, a colonel-run delta at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., will oversee training and readiness.

“This unit will serve as the parent organization for a number of education, training, and operational test and evaluation units transferring to the Space Force in summer 2020,” the service said.

Space Force Pyramid
Space Force organizational chart. Dash Parham/staff

SpOC will be headed by a three-star general and will supply Space Forces’ personnel and combat resources to commanders across the globe. It will replace today’s Space Operations Command at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and include the Space Force’s staff and operations already located at Peterson.

SSC will oversee research, development, and acquisition and encompass the Space and Missile Systems Center, the Commercial Satellite Communications Office, and other space system program offices from across the Defense Department. The three-star command will oversee military rockets, satellites, radars, and other space-related assets from creation to retirement.

Space Force field commands will begin life as deltas later this summer. It’s not clear when its operations and materiel organizations will be fully open for business. The Space Force has not announced what it plans to call Space Force personnel.

The Space Force, which falls under the Department of the Air Force, is the U.S. military’s response to the growth of commercial and military technology in space, as well as the proliferation of weapons that could threaten American space assets. It is expected to grow to around 15,000 personnel from across the Defense Department, and may eventually become a military department on par with the Air Force, Army, and Navy.

In the Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill, lawmakers backed the creation of a new training and readiness command to handle doctrine and education. But senators also urged the Space Force to use as many Air Force resources as possible to cut costs and red tape.

“The committee commends the Space Force on the combined organizational model planned for the Air Force Research [Laboratory],” lawmakers added. Some AFRL employees will continue to pursue projects that benefit air combat, while others, like sensors and space vehicles researchers, will report to Space Force officials.

“By combining efforts and managing priorities of both the Air Force and Space Force, the Department of Defense achieves synchronized effects with a very limited bureaucracy. The committee recommends the use of this combined model to the maximum extent possible in places such as the Air Warfare Center and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center.”

A Spike in US, Russian Intercepts Heats a New Cold War

An F-22 Raptor intercepts a Russian Tu-95 bomber in the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone on June 10. Russian military aircraft approached U.S. airspace at least six times in June and 10 times over the first half of the year. NORAD via Twitter

By Amy McCullough

North American Aerospace Defense Command fighters intercepted Russian bombers, fighters, and maritime patrol aircraft at least 10 times this year off the coast of Alaska, with the majority of those encounters taking place in June, NORAD and U.S. Northern Command boss Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy said. U.S. aircraft, also in June, encountered Russian aircraft several times while operating in international airspace in the U.S. European Command theater of operations.

NORAD F-22s, supported by KC-135 tankers and an E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System, intercepted four Russian Tu-142 reconnaissance planes as they encroached on the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on June 27, marking the second intercept in a week and at least the sixth off the Alaskan coast in June.

The Russian aircraft loitered in the ADIZ south of Alaskan Aleutian island chain “for nearly eight hours,” however, they did not cross into U.S. or Canadian airspace, according to a NORAD release.

The June 27 intercept following by a day Russian fighters intercepting a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon, a U.S. Air Force RC-135, and a USAF KC-135 tanker over the Black Sea. It was the second such intercept in the Black Sea region in about a month. On May 29, Russian Su-27 and Su-30SM fighters intercepted USAF B-1s that were flying with Ukrainian Su-27s and MiG-29s in the area.

NORAD F-22s, supported by a U.S. Transportation Command KC-135, again intercepted a pair of Russian IL-38 aircraft as they crossed into the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone late on June 24.

The maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare planes got within 50 miles of Alaska’s Unimak Island—the largest of the Aleutians—and spent about four hours in the zone, the command announced on June 25.

As the intercepts increased, the U.S. on June 14 sent three B-52Hs from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., to Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, for a Bomber Task Force deployment. The U.S. also sent two B-52s from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Europe to participate in the NATO-led BALTOPs exercise.
Russian fighters also intercepted a B-52 flying over the Sea of Okhotsk on June 19, and on June 15, Russian Su-27s intercepted two B-52s that were flying in international airspace in Eastern Europe.

The bomber deployment came after U.S. F-22s—with help from KC-135 Stratotankers and an E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System—intercepted two separate Russian bomber formations off the Alaskan coast on June 10.

The first included two Tupolev Tu-95 bombers, two Sukhoi Su-35 fighters, and a Beriev A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft, which flew “within 20 nautical miles of Alaskan shores,” according to a NORAD release. The second formation was made up of a pair of Tu-95s and an A-50, and came within 32 nautical miles of the coast, it added.

O’Shaughnessy recently told reporters that Russia is testing the U.S. military to see if the new coronavirus has created any weaknesses. But the U.S. remains ready, he said, “24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”

The June 10 intercepts were the command’s first interaction with Russian aircraft since April, a NORAD spokesperson said. However, Russian military aircraft activity prompted a string of U.S. intercepts earlier this year, Air Force Magazine previously reported.

In February, O’Shaughnessy told the Senate Armed Services Committee that adversaries, such as Russia and China, want to avoid direct military conflict, but he cautioned “their growing assertiveness increases the risk of miscalculation and gives rise to a threat environment more complex and dynamic than we have seen since the end of the Cold War.”

Senators Resist Trump’s Plan to Retrench from Germany

Defense Secretary Mark Esper addresses Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies’ Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 6. David Vergun

By Brian W. Everstine

President Donald J. Trump on June 30 approved a Defense Department plan to withdraw 9,500 troops from Germany, as a group of bipartisan senators introduced a measure to block the move.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley presented the plan to Trump on June 29. Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said the plan not only meets Trump’s directive to remove the troops, “it will also enhance Russian deterrence, strengthen NATO, reassure allies, improve U.S. strategic flexibility, and U.S. European Command’s operational flexibility, and take care of our service members and their families.”

Hoffman did not explain how it would accomplish these goals. He said the Pentagon will brief congressional defense committees soon. U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian told reporters June 29 he has not been given any orders to make or plan any changes.

A bipartisan group of senators on June 29 introduced an amendment to the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill to block the move, saying such a step would be a “gift” to Russia. The measure is supported by Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). The House Armed Services Committee adopted a similar provision in its own version of the authorization bill.

Before funds can be freed up for a troop reduction, the amendment calls on Esper to consult with allies and then submit a report to Congress certifying the reduction:

  • Is in the national security interest of the U.S.
  • Would not undermine the security of the U.S. and its allies.
  • Would not undermine NATO’s defense posture.
  • Would not pose “unacceptable risk” to executing contingency plans.
  • Would not adversely effect operations in the Middle East and Africa.
  • It would not negatively effect military families.
  • Would not result in new costs for the redeployment and relocation of troops.

“In addition to undermining our NATO alliance, a withdrawal would present serious logistical challenges and prevent our military from performing routine military readiness exercises,” Romney said in a statement.

After learning of Trump’s desire to withdraw troops, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized that the U.S. presence on the continent not only protects Europe, but also enables the U.S. to project power beyond Europe.

“We have seen that bases like the Ramstein base, the Landstuhl medical facility, and many other U.S. bases in Germany, they are essential for what the U.S. has done over decades in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, and in Africa,” Stoltenberg said on June 16 prior to the latest defense ministerial meeting in Brussels.

Trump, in a White House appearance alongside Polish President Andrzej Duda, said Germany does not meet the NATO goal of spending 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, and in turn “we’re going to be reducing Germany very substantially.” Poland does meet that mark, and that country would welcome additional U.S. forces. However, Duda urged the U.S. not to completely pull the troops out of Europe.

Stoltenberg, speaking during the June Brussels Forum, said Trump remains committed to the alliance, and noted that eight of the 30 member countries currently spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. He also noted that European allies have invested $130 billion more than originally planned since 2016, according to a DOD release.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters June 30 the announcement was “unilateral” from Trump, with the Pentagon then coming in to “backfill the plan.” While the White House has said there would be a reposition to Poland, there is not yet a specific plan.

“It is possible that there is a scenario where repositioning troops out of Germany is in our national security interests,” Smith said. “The President has not made that case to date. The DOD has not made that case, and … the President is doing it in a very haphazard manner.”

There are about 9,377 Active-duty Air Force troops at Ramstein Air Base, with another 4,000 at Spangdahlem Air Base. The Pentagon announcement did not provide specific departure timelines or destinations for the 9,500 troops, nor specify how many might come from the Air Force or Army, but said it “will be providing timely updates to potentially affected personnel, their families, and communities as planning progresses.”

Two Pilots Killed in June Crashes

By Amy McCullough

Two fighter pilots were killed in separate crashes roughly two weeks apart in June—the latest in a series of USAF accidents over the past few months.

First Lt. David Schmitz, an F-16CM pilot assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., was killed on June 30 when his aircraft crash-landed around 11:30 p.m. during a routine training mission at the base. Videos posted online showed emergency crews attempting to put out a large fire on the flight line.

Members of Team Charleston on July 4 honor 1st Lt. David Schmitz, an F-16CM pilot who died in a crash at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., June 30. Senior Airman William Brugge

On June 15, 1st Lt. Kenneth Allen, assistant chief of weapons and tactics at the 493rd Fighter Squadron at RAF Lakenheath, U.K., was killed when his F-15C crashed into the North Sea during a routine training mission, the 48th Fighter Wing announced.

The remains of 1st Lt. Kenneth Allen, of Perry, Utah, during a dignified transfer June 18 at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Roland Balik/USAF

Both incidents were still under investigation as of early July, with the causes of the crashes unknown. The Air Force did not immediately say whether it is considering a safety standdown.

On May 19, an F-35 from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., crash-landed at the base. Days earlier, an F-22, also from Eglin, crashed north of the base. Both the F-35 and F-22 pilots successfully ejected.

The last time a Shaw aircraft crashed was in July 2015, when an F-16CM from the 55th Fighter Squadron collided with a civilian Cessna 150M, killing two aboard that plane, though the F-16 pilot was able to eject. The June 30 mishap is the first F-16 crash since a Viper assigned to the 49th Wing at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., crashed on Oct. 29, 2019, southeast of the base. That pilot was able to eject.

The June 15 F-15 crash marked the first time since 2014 a 48th Fighter Wing aircraft crashed, and the first time since June 2018 an F-15 crashed. An investigation found that in 2018 the F-15C pilot from the 44th Fighter Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Japan, made improper maneuvers causing the aircraft to enter an uncontrollable spin and crash into the Pacific Ocean near the base. The pilot ejected and was seriously injured; the aircraft was destroyed at a loss of $42.36 million.

RPA Training Next Overhaul

An RQ-4 Global Hawk at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., in 2018. Beale will host Global Hawk pilot and sensor operator training for high-altitude ISR and transoceanic crossings. Staff Sgt. Ramon Adelan

By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory

Air Education and Training Command’s RPA Training Next (RTN) effort aims to overhaul how the Air Force builds future RPA pilots and sensor operators, giving Airmen more personalized journeys through the RPA training pipeline instead of making them adhere to a one-size-fits-all path to their careers.

“What we determined we needed to do was take a holistic approach to training, take a look at the entirety of the pipeline from what we’re calling ‘cradle to combat,’ and to find better ways of learning [and] better technology to increase the realism of the training in order to produce a higher-caliber pilot and sensor operator for remotely piloted aircraft platforms,” said Maj. Adam Smith, the initiative’s former director, in a recent AETC podcast episode about the endeavor.

This new class—deemed the RPA Course, or RPAC—will frame training objectives in the context of mission goals, and is expected to reduce the length of the course by 22 days, he said.

“Students are not just flying a teardrop hold as the FAA might ask them to do, but there is a reason why they are holding—it’s to talk to a joint terminal attack controller on the ground, or to avoid a threat, or wait to get clearance,” Smith said in the release.

Teaching these future pilots about Joint Terminal Attack Controller’s roles and how to interact with them earlier on should enable formal training unit instructors to teach Airmen more advanced skills.

Future sensor operators usually take their own introductory class, called the Basic Sensor Operator Course, Smith said in a recent interview with Air Force Magazine. The RTN team is examining how it can combine that course with the RPA Course, which will eventually be an umbrella introductory course for both types of trainees.

Once pilot and sensor operator trainees graduate from RPAC, the plan is to send them to formal training units.

MQ-9 Reaper pilots will ship out to Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., March Air Reserve Base, Calif., or Syracuse, N.Y., where Smith said their training will center around Combat Air Force-relevant skill sets, such as using munitions and working with JATCs. Sensor operators will be sent to Holloman, AETC spokesperson Daniel E. Hawkins told Air Force Magazine.

Pilots destined for the RQ-4 Global Hawk will head to Beale Air Force Base, Calif., where Smith said their training will revolve around “high-altitude intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance,” as well as “transoceanic crossings.” Future Global Hawk sensor operators also will finish their training at Beale, Hawkins said.

The plan should let USAF train new RPA pilots or sensor operators in approximately one year and give pilots and sensor operators about a month of side-by-side training during the undergraduate phase of the pipeline, Smith noted on the podcast.

“The sensor operator is an integral component to how we operate and fly RPAs in the Air Force today and well into the future, so we need to ensure that they are getting the training that they need to be that combat-ready aircrew coming out of training,” he said.

RPA Training Next also aims to change how USAF uses technology by exposing Airmen to the tools they’ll use in the field starting in early stages of training, Smith said. This includes additions to T-6 simulators currently used for RPA training, such as targeting pods, chat functions, and more screens that’ll provide Airmen with a “moving map display” from which to navigate. The initiative also wants to give Airmen early exposure to artificial intelligence.

The RPA Training Next team and 19th Air Force are on track to start small-group training experiments this summer, Hawkins said. However, the timeline and methodology for rolling out the proposed changes to the USAF’s overall pipeline have yet to be determined, since the results of the test runs and COVID-19 pandemic impacts must be taken into account, Hawkins added.

USAF plans to establish a new RPA wing by 2024 to allow another squadron to take a hiatus from combat and focus on training. However, the Government Accountability Office released a report in June questioning whether the service will have enough RPA pilots and sensor operators to pull that off.

COVID-19 Patient Transportation System Ready for Service

By Alyk Russell Kenlan

The first Negatively Pressurized Conex (NPC) ready for service landed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on June 24.

The NPC is a steel shipping container adapted so air can flow into the capsule. It can be loaded onto C-17 Globemaster IIIs and C-5M Super Galaxies, and it can transport up to 23 COVID-19 patients without risk of contaminating the crew, according to a USAF release.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Air Force increased training on the Transport Isolation System (TIS)—a chamber developed during the 2014 Ebola outbreak. However, the TIS can only carry two to four patients at a time.

A smaller variation, the Negatively Pressurized Conex-Lite, can be used on C-130 Hercules aircraft.

In early April, Air Mobility Command and Air Force Materiel Command leaders started looking for ways to move large numbers of COVID-19 patients, should the need arise.

“In less than 30 days, the NPC went from an idea on a napkin to a proven concept, … and only 88 days from that idea to the delivery of an operational system,” said Lt. Col. Paul Hendrickson, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense material leader.

KC-46 Full-Rate Production Pushed Back to 2024

Master Sgt. Arenda Jackson, 931st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, marshals a KC-46A Pegasus at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. Airman 1 st Class Alexi Myrick

By Brian W. Everstine

A full-rate production decision for the KC-46 tanker is delayed until 2024, while Boeing works through problems plaguing the jet’s Remote Vision System (RVS), the service announced June 8.

The Air Force and the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation decided the KC-46’s initial operational test and evaluation will only conclude after the RVS deficiencies are resolved, and the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center has tested the aircraft in its final production configuration, the service said in a statement.

KC-46 full-rate production was originally slated for June 2017, and has been pushed back multiple times. The latest delay will not add any “contractual cost or delivery impacts,” the service said.

The expected announcement comes after Air Mobility Command boss Gen. Maryanne Miller said last fall that while the tanker had entered the beginning of initial operational test and evaluation, the aircraft would “not come out of IOT&E until RVS is fixed.” Service leaders have said the new tanker is not deployable for another four years because of the issues.

In April, the Air Force and Boeing agreed on an overhaul of the RVS—a collection of cameras, sensors, and screens the operator uses to remotely control the aircraft’s refueling boom. The current system is problematic in multiple ways, including issues with lighting, low-quality imagery, and warped views of aircraft. The new system includes 4K color cameras with proper viewing geometry, larger and higher definition screens, a laser ranger for refueling aircraft distance measurement, and augmented reality. Boeing expects to spend $551 million of its own money on the design and implementation of the new system, with fielding planned in 2023.

Lengyel: Military Should Stay Out of Civil-Unrest Missions

Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, thanked Soldiers and Airmen assisting civil authorities in June. Sgt. John Stephens

By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory

Civil-unrest response efforts should be undertaken by law-enforcement authorities, not U.S. troops, National Guard Bureau Chief Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel said July 2 during an event hosted by the Brookings Institution think tank.

“In my opinion, uniforms, I don’t care what flavor they are—Title 10, Active-duty, National Guard, Reserve—uniforms being out there in law-enforcement situations is not optimal,” Lengyel told Brookings Senior Fellow Michael E. O’Hanlon during a livestreamed conversation about the state of the Guard. “We should do as little of it as we can, and it should be predominantly a law-enforcement, police operation. And when they need us, we can—and we will—come. But we should do what we can to avoid that.”

According to Lengyel, Guard operations in response to civil disturbances that broke out across the nation after George Floyd died in police custody in Minnesota on Memorial Day are “beginning to recede.” But the Guard is prepared to ramp up its support of state governors and law enforcement authorities “should events turn sideways and our system need it.”

About 570 Guard personnel—including about 60 Air Guardsmen—were still activated in six states and the nation’s capital July 2, backing up law enforcement in case unrest broke out, NGB spokesperson Army Master Sgt. W. Michael Houk told Air Force Magazine via email.

“This is a significant drop from a peak of roughly 41,500 Air and Army Guard on duty at the beginning of June,” Houk wrote.

Lengyel also noted that investigations into the potential misuse of Guard air assets—including a District of Columbia Army National Guard helicopter and Air National Guard RC-26 aircraft—during the Guard’s unrest response are ongoing.

“Those ongoing investigations are still happening, and when they’re done, we’ll make sure everybody knows what they said,” Lengyel said.

Civil-unrest missions are the most challenging in NGB’s domestic portfolio, he said.

“Frequently, there are members of one family on one side of the line and other members dressed in civil riot gear on the other side, and it is a difficult, difficult situation for our men and women to be in,” he said.
Going forward, he said, the Guard will “train better” for these kinds of situations and equip its personnel with de-escalation techniques so they can feel more prepared for these kinds of operations.

Gen. Thomas S. Moorman Jr., 1940-2020

Then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz presents retired Gen. Thomas Moorman Jr. (center) with the Gen. James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award in 2012. With them is Martin Faga, then-chairman of the board for the Space Foundation. National Archives

By John A. Tirpak

Retired Gen. Thomas S. Moorman Jr., a key leader in the formation of Air Force space organizations and a former Air Force vice chief of staff, died June 17 at age 79.

Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations and head of U.S. Space Command, described Moorman as “a friend and long-time mentor” whose legacy will be “forever … etched in the establishment of U.S. Air Force Space Command.” Raymond said Moorman “played a pivotal role in establishing both national and Defense Department space programs, while laying the foundation for today’s U.S. Space Force.”

Moorman was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Lt. Gen. Thomas Moorman Sr., who served as superintendent of the Air Force Academy.

Moorman Jr. earned his bachelor’s degree at Dartmouth and entered the Air Force through the Reserve Officer Training Corps in 1962. He held a number of intelligence-related positions as a junior officer, serving in Thailand during the Vietnam War as a reconnaissance mission planner.

He earned two master’s degrees: one in business administration from Western New England College and another in political science from Auburn University.

Gen. Thomas S. Moorman Jr. USAF

As a major, he embarked on a space specialty. He was director of space operations for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, deputy director for space defense in the Pentagon, and he held a number of positions managing development of space systems for surveillance, communication, navigation, and weather, including as staff director for the National Reconnaissance Office. While at the NRO, he led a series of analyses that eventually led to the creation of Air Force Space Command.

In 1987, Moorman became director of space systems for the joint-service Strategic Defense Initiative, and returned to USAF to continue working on SDI for Air Force Systems Command.

In March 1990, Moorman was named commander of Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., where he was responsible for organizing or reorganizing and equipping all aspects of the Air Force’s space enterprise, early warning systems, and military space launch, as well as the intercontinental ballistic missile force.

In 1994, he was chosen to be vice chief of staff. Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman said at the time that Moorman was selected because he was “the right man” for the job, but also to highlight the rapidly growing importance of space capabilities and organizations in the Air Force and defense-wide.

As vice chief, Moorman was USAF’s representative on the Joint Requirements Oversight Council and the Air Force’s point man for the Quadrennial Defense Review of service missions and capabilities.

Moorman retired from the service in 1997. In retirement, he served on a number of industrial boards, as well as the board of the Space Foundation, and was its vice chairman. He was also a partner with Booz Allen Hamilton, working for that organization from 1998-2008, developing the company’s Air Force and NASA business. He served on the congressionally chartered Space Commission, which in 2001 presented recommendations for an overhaul of the Defense, Intelligence Community, and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration space enterprise.

Moorman received numerous awards, including the Gen. Thomas D. White Space Trophy; the Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy; the American Astronautical Society’s Astronautics Award; the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Director’s Award; the Space Foundation’s Space Achievement Award and Lifetime Achievement Awards; and two awards of the NRO’s Gold Medal. The Moorman Space Education and Training Center at Peterson is named for him, as is Air Force Space Command’s award for Best Operational Wing.

The War on Terrorism


As of July 6, 2020, 94 Americans had died in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, and 98 Americans had died in Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, Syria, and other locations.

The total includes 188 troops and four Defense Department civilians. Of these deaths, 87 were killed in action with the enemy, while 105 died in noncombat incidents.

There have been 571 troops wounded in action during OFS and 230 troops in OIR.