The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command conducted the first flight of the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW) concept in November 2011. A hypersonic, long-range missile could make the Army more relevant in the Pacific theater, where long-range Air Force and Navy weapons are more long-standing options. U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command
Photo Caption & Credits


Claiming Itself an ‘All-Domain’ Force, Army Targets Long-Range Strike

Army Chief McConville stakes claim for mission in the Pacific theater.

By John A. Tirpak

The Army calls itself an “all-domain” force in a new vision paper that envisions “expanding … into the maritime, air, space, and cyber domains” and a new role in long-range strike and suppressing enemy air defenses.  

While acknowledging the need for joint operations, “Army Multi-Domain Transformation: Ready to Win in Competition and Conflict,” claims a preeminent role for the Army that subordinates all of the other services. Released March 16, it argues that the Army, while part of the joint force, holds a preeminent role in combat by virtue of its size, suggesting the rest of the joint force adopt its methodologies and line up in support. 

Calling for a “bold transformation” of Army organizations, weapons, and strategy, the new white paper charges the Army to “provide the joint force with the range, speed, and convergence of cutting-edge technologies that will be needed to provide future decision dominance and overmatch required to win the next fight.” The Army’s role, it adds, is to “set the conditions for the joint force to fight and win integrated campaigns necessary to defeat state actors.” 

Following the paper’s release, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville embarked on a sales mission, sharing his vision in a series of engagements, including one virtual event in which he appeared alongside Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. McConville argued that the Army has a “need to penetrate” enemy airspace, and must therefore have its own long-range precision fires, such as hypersonic missiles, to deter enemy attack and respond when needed. In his vision, such missiles would enable the Army to counter “what some of our competitors have done with anti-access/area denial (A2/AD)” strategies, by holding rival air and missile defenses at risk. 

Change Of Course  

The new Army concept turns on its head the conventional air-land arrangement, where air power clears the way for ground maneuver; as McConville sees it, land-based hypersonic missiles could enable the Army to “certainly suppress air defense, which could open up a gap if we needed to put aerial maneuver into place.” 

McConville has been moving in this direction for months, claiming more than once that Army Apache helicopters opened corridors for fixed-wing aircraft to attack Iraq at the outset of the 1991 Gulf War—an exaggeration that ignored the Air Force’s stealth aircraft, which had already penetrated Iraqi airspace and were destroying its command and control apparatus when the Apaches flew.  

“Long-range precision fires is very important,” he said. “We feel we need to have that.” He added the capability would give the Army “anti-ship capability, the capability to suppress air defense systems at very, very long range …[and] the ability to do strategic counter-fire, the ability to do anti-access/area denial.” 

McConville declined to address questions about the roles-and-missions implications of such a change, instead promising a fuller doctrine document next year. “We need speed in the future,” McConville said. “We know we need range. … But it’s really about convergence and how we bring all these systems together to get decision dominance.” 

Air Force Speed 

CSAF Brown, meanwhile, is also making a case for speed. In addition to seeking to accelerate changes that have already been underway, he continues to make the case for the Air Force as a lynchpin in enabling joint all-domain command and control (JADC2). This new “revolution in military affairs” is the recognition that whoever controls the speed of information and decision-making will have the advantage in a future conflict. 

“It’s all about … decision advantage,” Brown said during a virtual summit presented by The Hill, where he appeared together with McConville. “It is a revolution in military affairs, and not just from a technical standpoint, but it’s a mindset, as well.” 

Reliable information must be the top priority in future fights, Brown said, a point frequently echoed by current and former defense officials. In future conflicts, the “fog of warfare” will become more acute, Brown said. “We’ll either have information overload or information that is not necessarily clear … or we could be disconnected.” There is also a risk that information flows can be compromised via cyber attack and that data may not be fully trusted. The services, he said, must work now to make information and networks more resilient and reliable, and to function without connectivity if necessary. 

“We’re really thinking differently about how we approach things,” he said, noting a renewed emphasis on empowering Airmen by delegating decision-making authority “down to the lowest capable and competent level.” The Air Force’s calling card will remain “range, speed, and agility” to strike “any target on the face of the globe.” It must be responsive to quickly evolving conditions.   

The critical need for a speed advantage in decision-making is behind the Air Force’s embrace of JADC2 and its vision for the future Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), which would incorporate a variety of network and processing technologies to enable rapid handoffs from one platform to gain the upper hand on adversaries. It’s the driving factor in the ABMS on-ramp exercises it’s been conducting for more than a year.  

“We need speed,” says Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville. “We need range.” Washington, D.C., March 26, 2020. Lisa Ferdinando/DOD

But McConville asserts that the Army, not the Air Force, should develop these technologies, which he calls a Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control system (CJADC2). “Combined” adds the element of coalition partners to the joint-warfighting concept. The Army should lead because the Army is bigger, he said. 

“We’ve had this discussion with the Air Force,” McConville said. “Bringing together thousands of airplanes that can talk to each other is a different task from what the Army has to do, with over a million systems on the ground that have to pass information.”  

What “works fine” for thousands of airplanes “may not work fine” for the Army, McConville pointed out, although he acknowledged that his forces “may not need as much information.” 

McConville’s goal is to transform the Army by 2035, focusing on a six modernization priorities: 

  • Long-Range Precision Fires to “penetrate and neutralize” enemy A2/AD capabilities and “ensuring overmatch at every echelon.” 
  • Next-Generation Combat Vehicles to increase firepower speed and survivability while allowing them to team with robotic vehicles. 
  • Future Vertical Lift programs to enhance speed, range, and lethality. 
  • Army Network Modernization to command and control forces “across vast terrain” and converge effects from multiple domains .
  • Air and Missile Defenses to defend the joint force, allies, and partners against manned and unmanned air and missile threats. 
  • Soldier Lethality systems to help individual soldiers quickly understand and react to emerging situations while making them more precise, survivable, and lethal. 

Events such as Russia’s seizing of Crimea influence the Army’s thinking. “Winning the first battle [to] prevent a fait accompli in crisis will be necessary to prevent prolonged conflict and escalation,” the paper states. “Ground forces [must] decisively shape the first battle by leveraging positional and capability advantage,” operating inside enemy air defense zones to create “corridors for air, maritime and all-domain forces to exploit.” The Army would also establish “robust, resilient webs of communication, protection, and sustainment that enable the joint force to prosecute conflict.” 

Army long-range fires from the ground, the paper says, will “protect strategic deployments,” provide rapid availability of the joint force, facilitate deployments “from the contested homeland to the point of employment,” establish lines of communication, and maximize inter- and intra-theater transition capabilities. 

Mission Encroachment?  

But that vision is duplicative, said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, dean of the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. The Army, Deptula said, is “putting on a full-court press to duplicate long-range strike, air- and space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and command and control capabilities that already exist in the other services.” 

Rather than embrace jointness, which requires “each of the services to dominate in their respective domains,” Deptula said, the Army is “encroaching on the domains of the other services.”  

There is nothing wrong, he argues, with the Army depending on the other services for their core competencies—long-range strike, space situational awareness, or maritime domination. There is not enough money available, Deptula said, to support a “rush to replicate what already exists.” 

If the Army believes more long-range strike capacity is needed, “then the additional investment should be made in the service with the most competency in that function,” Deptula said. That would be the Air Force. If surface-to-surface missiles “are deemed appropriate to enhance air-delivered strikes,” he went on, then why not assign that requirement to the Air Force? “It would be much more cost-effective, since the Air Force already has the command and control and ISR architecture to operate weapon systems across an entire theater of operations, as well as globally,” he said. 

The new Army hypersonic missiles are, “unfortunately …. prohibitively expensive, non-reusable, and require extensive deployment logistics support,” he asserted. “The bottom line is that our nation can ill afford to proceed with programs that replicate effective, proven weapon systems and C2ISR architectures, merely to bolster a single service’s ‘footprint’ in the battlespace.” 

The new Army hypersonic missiles will cost millions of dollars per shot, versus thousands of dollars per shot for weapons released from stealth aircraft, which can be reused, Deptula said. 

“The next few years will see hard choices in the defense budget,” Deptula said. “Finite dollars must be directed toward programs that optimize combat options and capability across all the services. Not just one.” 

Bigger Picture 

During the same event sponsored by The Hill, where Brown and McConville spoke, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy took up Brown’s press to accelerate change by pressing for more rapid modernization.  

China’s leaders, she said, “have convinced themselves that we are a nation in decline.” That conclusion can only encourage China to become bolder; to deter China and “avoid miscalculation” on its part, the U.S. must deliver robust investments in defense, particularly in connectivity, while also demonstrating stronger ties with allies. 

“We need to show them that we’re recovering from COVID, that we’re back on our feet, addressing key domestic challenges,” she said. “The sooner they see us investing in key technology areas and really modernizing and transforming our military, optimized for deterrence in the Pacific, the more we’re going to counter that narrative” that the U.S. is ceding world leadership. 

Flournoy said “all of the wargames that have been done recently, if accurately reported,” lead to the conclusion that “the currently programmed force is not going to keep our edge over the next decade. We will gradually lose our confidence in our ability to deter.” 

The U.S. military is “overinvested in legacy systems and underinvested … in technologies” that ensure that Army units, fighter squadrons, and ships “are survivable and resilient and able to move, communicate, [and] strike … in a much more contested environment, under constant attack, and disruption, she said. 

Chinese doctrine calls for ending a fight “before we even engage, by taking down our command and control system, and our ability to move, and target, and communicate,” Flournoy said. That demands the U.S. “build a resilient network of networks, which is what joint all-domain command and control is about. That needs to be one of the bets that the Pentagon places in the next four years if it’s going to have what it needs to deter in the next 40.”                              

US to Leave Afghanistan by 20th Anniversary of 9/11

By Brian W. Everstine

U.S. forces will leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11—the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Biden administration officials said.

President Joe Biden is expected to formally announce the plan, which is not “conditions based, unlike previous decisions on troop levels, on April 14. A senior administration official, who spoke with reporters on background, said sticking with the conditions-based approach is a “recipe” for U.S. forces to stay in the country forever.

However, Biden’s hard deadline, is still more than four months after the May 1 deadline for American troops to leave the country, under the February 2020 deal with the Taliban. U.S. officials have long said the Taliban’s level of violence remains too high to completely withdraw forces, although the U.S. already has drawn down to about 2,500 in Afghanistan, from a peak of more than 100,000 in 2011.

“We went to Afghanistan to deliver justice to those who attacked us on Sept. 11 and to disrupt terrorists seeking to use Afghanistan as a safe haven to attack the United States,” a senior administration official said in a call with reporters, which was obtained by Air Force Magazine. “We believe we achieved that objective some years ago. We judge the threat against the homeland now emanating from Afghanistan to be at a level that we can address it without a persistent military footprint in the country and without remaining at war with the Taliban.”

Extending the deadline will give commanders the “time and space” needed to safely withdraw from the country, the official said. The timeline is “what is required” in the judgement of military leaders, the official said.

“We have communicated with the Taliban in no uncertain terms that if they do conduct attacks against us or allied forces, as we carry out this drawdown, … we will hit back hard and that we will hold them accountable for that,” the official said.

There is no “military solution” to the problems in Afghanistan, and ongoing peace talks need to play out to end the war, the official said.

The administration has notified NATO of the plan, and “we remain in lockstep with them as we undergo this operation,” the official said. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III is set to meet with NATO officials.

Withdrawing from Afghanistan will allow the U.S. military to focus more on global threats, and “we have to focus on those aspects of a dispersed and distributed terrorist threat even as we keep our eye on the ball to prevent the re-emergence of a significant terrorist threat from Afghanistan.”

After Sept. 11, the remaining military presence will be focused on protecting the diplomatic presence in the country. The official did not say what size force would be needed for that mission.

Some on Capitol Hill quickly criticized the Biden administration for the plan. Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in a statement the hard deadline is a “reckless and dangerous decision,” maintaining that withdrawal needs to be conditions based.

USSF Unveils Structure of Space Systems Command

Space and Missile Systems Center will be SSC headquarters.

By Brian W. Everstine

The Space Force’s new Space Systems Command (SSC) will oversee the new service’s acquisition and launch services under one command, with the soon-to-be-former Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) serving as its headquarters.

Space Systems Command, one of three commands within the Space Force, will officially stand up this summer after a commander is nominated and confirmed. SMC’s current offices at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., will be the headquarters, and launch operations at Patrick Space Force Base, Fla., and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., will be realigned under the SSC.

The overall goal of the organization is to acquire and launch space systems more quickly. The SSC will work directly with the Air Force Research Laboratory and other groups like the Rapid Capabilities Office.

“We have to go fast,” Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond said during an April 8 press conference. “It is a national imperative that we go fast.”

Under the new design, SSC will be commanded by a three-star general with a two-star deputy who will serve as the “assured access to space leader” overseeing the launch enterprise. Once officially stood up, more units from the Air Force and personnel from other services will re-designate to part of the SSC. There will not be any geographic moves of units as part of the establishment, and current SMC boss Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson said the change is intended to be resource neutral.

The announcement comes about a year and a half after SMC redesigned itself into SMC 2.0 with the goal of acquiring space systems faster. There are about 6,000 personnel in SMC now, and once the launch bases are realigned under SSC, the command will grow to between 10,000 to 11,000, Thompson said.

Additional changes include:

  • The 61st Air Base Group at Los Angeles Air Force Base will be redesignated the Los Angeles Garrison.
  • The 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg will become Space Launch Delta (SLD) 30, and the 45th Space Wing at Patrick will become Space Launch Delta 45.
  • SLD 45’s commander will be a one-star USSF general, director of the eastern range, SSC operations director, and acquisition lead for the “range of the future.”
  • Group-level organizations at the 30th and 45th Space Wing will inactivate, with subordinate units aligning under the Deltas.
  • The 45th Range Squadron at Patrick will be redesignated the 1st Range Operations Squadron, and the airfield management and maintenance responsibilities will be transferred to the 45th Logistics Readiness Squadron.
  • AFRL unit manpower and funding that perform space science and technology functions will be administratively controlled by SSC, but will stay aligned to AFRL.
  • The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Strategic Warning and Surveillance Systems Division will move to SSC.
  • SSC will provide select support to the Space Rapid Capabilities Office at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
  • SSC will provide administrative and integration support to the Space Development Agency when it transfers from the Defense Department to the Space Force in October 2022.   
Space Force

Counterspace Capabilities

A new report tracks world military space capabilities.

By Amanda Miller

Russia’s new rocket, the Angara-A5 heavy-lift vehicle, has performed well in tests and delivered a dummy payload into an orbit that’s used by other military and commercial communications satellites. Russian Ministry of Defense

More of the world’s militaries are reorganizing their command structures to prepare for future wars in space while coming up with ways to counter satellites directly or to interfere with satellite communications, according to a report out April 1.

In the 2021 edition of “Global Counterspace Capabilities: An Open Source Assessment,” the nonprofit Secure World Foundation rounds up the publicly known or suspected activities, plans, and likely technological capabilities of eight spacefaring militaries in categories from weapons that target satellites in orbit, to jamming of satellite communications, to cyber attacks on satellite ground stations.

As satellite technologies such as GPS have become integral to military activities, more militaries have started figuring out ways to protect their equipment in orbit and on the ground. To elude outside interference, while also being able to disrupt others, is to achieve “space superiority,” according to the report.

The U.S. military established its 11th unified combatant command, the U.S. Space Command, as well as the U.S. Space Force in 2019. More militaries had already reorganized their space entities in recent years, or have done so since.

Countries outlined in the report along with their counterspace capabilities:

The challenge is that the access to space and freedom to maneuver in space can no longer be treated as a given.

—Gen. John Raymond, U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations


China reorganized its space and counterspace forces in 2015 and placed them, along with electronic warfare (a.k.a. jamming) and cyber units, under the new Strategic Support Force.

Counterspace capabilities: China has tested rendezvous and proximity operations between satellites in low-Earth and geosynchronous orbits but apparently without “an actual destructive co-orbital intercept of a target,” according to the report. Up to three development programs could lead to, or already have led to, a direct-ascent anti-satellite weapon to physically target satellites. China can likely interfere with some satellite communications but doesn’t appear to actively do so.

Details of China’s likely development of directed-energy weapons such as lasers are “scarce.” It is building more ground-based radar stations and telescopes to track and characterize space objects for space situational awareness.


Russia reorganized its “space forces” in 2015 under the Aerospace Forces responsible for space launches, ballistic missile warning, satellite control and space surveillance networks, and anti-air and anti-missile defense, the report states.

Counterspace capabilities: Russia has tested rendezvous-and-proximity operations including maneuvers, suggesting that a Russian satellite is observing a U.S. reconnaissance satellite. Russia is “almost certainly capable of some limited [direct-ascent, anti-satellite] operations” but isn’t yet likely to pose a “critical threat” in this regard. It has upgraded its electronic warfare systems that jam GPS receivers in local areas. Russia likely can jam uplinks to communications satellites.

With likely international help, Russia tracks a catalog of space objects rivaling the U.S. It’s system is “slightly more robust” in listing objects in high-Earth and geostationary orbits, according to the report. Russia’s ground-based laser ranging system for tracking satellites could serve as a directed-energy weapon to dazzle satellite optics, while Russia is also developing such a weapon carried by airplane.


Iran announced its Aerospace Force’s new Space Command in April 2020 after the launch of an apparent cubesat.

Counterspace capabilities: Iran has demonstrated interference with commercial satellite signals. Its launch vehicle or ballistic missiles could form part of a direct-ascent anti-satellite weapon, but Iran isn’t thought to be trying that. It may be able to track satellites in low-Earth orbit.


France reassigned control of its military satellites from its space agency to its military in 2019 while elevating a command within the country’s air force and renaming that service the French Air and Space Force.

Counterspace capabilities: France wants to fill gaps in its space situational awareness by partnering with other countries in the European Union. Government officials have mentioned the idea of equipping French satellites with lasers to dazzle or blind unfriendly satellites that get too close.


India created the Defence Space Agency and Defence Space Research Organisation in 2019 to respectively coordinate among the three branches of the armed forces and perform research and technical support.

Counterspace capabilities: India demonstrated in 2019 that its missile defense system could intercept a low-orbiting satellite. It is expanding its network of facilities for tracking space objects. It may be developing directed-energy weapons, but evidently not for counterspace purposes.


Japan established its military’s Space Domain Mission Unit in 2020 to gather space situational awareness in the interest of tracking and protecting Japanese satellites. Expected to grow to 100 people by 2023, the unit will coordinate with U.S. Space Command.

Counterspace capabilities: Japan’s ballistic missile defense system may be able to reach low-orbiting satellites but hasn’t been tested in this capacity. The government is discussing whether to build a satellite to “intercept foreign threat satellites.”

United States

The United States gave U.S. Space Command responsibility for “space warfighting” and the Space Force responsibility for “operating, training, and equipping” forces in 2019.

Counterspace capabilities: The U.S. has demonstrated technologies that could form a co-orbital, anti-satellite weapon and has demonstrated its ship-based anti-ballistic missile interceptor against a satellite. Meanwhile, the U.S.’s ground-based interceptors “have the most potential capability” in the role, putting all satellites in low-Earth orbit within reach, according to the report.

The Space Force’s Counter Communications System Block 10.2 for jamming geostationary satellite connections came online in 2020, the service’s first offensive weapon system. While continuing to lead the world in space situational awareness, the U.S. is upgrading its network of ground-based radar stations and telescopes and adding new ones, while also agreeing to share data with other countries and “looking to leverage commercial capabilities.” Like Russia’s, the U.S.’ laser ranging equipment for tracking satellites could dazzle or blind the optical sensors of Earth-imaging satellites.

The report cites North Korea’s ability to jam civilian GPS “within a limited geographical area” and acknowledges that its ballistic missiles could conceivably be developed into a direct-ascent anti-satellite weapon.

Not mentioned is the United Kingdom Space Command announced in 2020.

“The United States has long known, long recognized that access to and freedom to maneuver in space is a vital national interest, as you said. It underpins our national security, it underpins our intelligence efforts, it underpins our treaty verification, it underpins our economy. … It underpins every instrument of national power,” said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond at the Air Force Association’s virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium in February.

“The challenge is that the access to space and freedom to maneuver in space can no longer be treated as a given. We have to be able to protect, because there are threats that exist today,” he added.     

Boeing’s unmanned MQ-25 Stingray is envisioned as a carrier-based aerial refueler, which could also perform intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance work. Carrier operations are still conceptual, however, at this stage in its development. Photo illustration by Mike Tsukamoto/staff; photo MC3 Siobhana McEwen/USN; Eric Shindelbower/Boeing

Navy, Air Force Team on Next-Gen Fighter

The Navy wants half its NGAD jets to be unmanned.                                                                                

By John A. Tirpak

The Air Force and Navy are working together on the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, and the Navy version has a good chance of being unmanned, said Rear Adm. Gregory N. Harris, the Navy’s director of air warfare, during a Navy League virtual event March 30.

NGAD will be a family of systems for both the Air Force and Navy, and the centerpiece of the Navy variant will be the F/A-XX, an aircraft that will succeed the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Harris said.

“We truly see NGAD as more than just a single aircraft,” Harris said. “We believe that as manned-unmanned teaming comes online, we will integrate those aspects” into the air wing, which will see “adjunct,” unmanned aircraft performing the roles of aerial tanking, electronic warfare, and possibly airborne early warning, succeeding the E-2D Hawkeye.

The Navy has just begun the “concept refinement phase” of NGAD, Harris said, and “we’re working closely with our Air Force counterparts” on their version of the system.

“The two will likely be different as far as outer mold line, just based on different services’ needs, but a lot of the internal mission systems will be similar,” and will have open mission architecture, Harris said. This will enable competition in industry and “enable us to use best of breed.” Open missions means that if a subsystem isn’t performing as the Navy needs it to, or is too costly to maintain, “you have an ability to replace it without ‘vendor lock,’” he noted, adding that’s an issue that has “created problems for us before.”

The Navy “firmly believes” that competition will “give us better reliability, better sustainment costs, lower overall costs,” Harris said. He encourages industry to look beyond its usual teaming partners, “broaden their view,” and maybe bring on smaller companies that could “work into the niche markets” of subsystems. Studies are underway about how to replace the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare platform, and that mission will likely be “half manned/ half unmanned,” Harris said.

The decision on whether the Navy’s NGAD will be manned or unmanned will be informed by whether “autonomy and artificial intelligence [have] matured enough to put a system inside an unmanned platform that [can] … go execute air-to-air warfare.”

Harris’ guess is that the F/A-XX will be manned. He said last year’s experiment in which an AI defeated a living pilot in an F-16 was not a pure test of skill, as the AI had full knowledge of the F-16’s energy state. Air combat maneuvering is “the most complex” mission being contemplated for an AI, he said.

“In the real world,” a pilot would be making judgments “as he watches the other aircraft maneuver; … did he go high or low, how many times did he go high or low, the rate at which the nose is turning, am I seeing differences in the nozzles. … All those things … [an] AI will have to learn to sense and react to.”

Harris said it’s not hard to imagine, in the near future, “an adjunct missile carrier … with missiles, flying defensive combat spread” missions. Such an application of an unmanned system is not a “stretch” by any means, he said.

Where it becomes a policy issue is when the AI is given the authority to shoot targets on its own, he said, suggesting that limits and rules such as Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics may come into play.

The two will likely be different as far as outer mold line … but a lot of the internal mission systems will be similar.

—Adm. Gregory Harris, Navy director of air warfare

“In the next two to three years, we’ll have a pretty good idea if the replacement for the F/A-18 E/F will be manned or unmanned,” he predicted. “I would believe it most likely will be manned, but I’m open to the other aspects of it.” Among the trades, he said, will be whether it’s worth it to put the life support and escape systems into a jet, because that space and weight could be used for fuel, which translates to range or persistence.

Industry is also supplying the “art of the possible,” Harris said. Ideally, the Navy likes an aircraft to be able to “call the ball” or declare itself on the right flight path from three-fourths of a mile away from the carrier, but if it can be done safely only a half a mile away, “that could change the angle of attack … and that difference … could change the outer mold line and could affect stealth capabilities, or range, or speed, or G.” The current discussion “lets you find out what trade is worth what,” he added.

The carrier air wing continues to shrink, even though the new Gerald R. Ford class is the largest yet, Harris said.

“In the ’80s, … we typically had 90 aircraft up on the deck, now we’re more like 66,” Harris noted.

“Right now, notionally, we are driving toward an air wing that has a 40-to-60 unmanned/manned [aircraft] split, and over time, shift that to a 60-to-40 unmanned/manned split,” Harris said. The aim is to “drive to an air wing that is at least 50 percent or more unmanned, over time.”

The speed with which that will happen depends on how easily the Navy absorbs the Boeing MQ-25 Stingray, Harris said. The unmanned aircraft will principally be used for aerial tanking—both on recovering aircraft coming back to the carrier, and to extend the range of jets at the edge of the carrier’s operating zone. While all tests so far have shown the Stingray to work well, much is yet to be learned about operating it in and around the carrier environment, and in getting crews used to it. Sometimes, Harris noted, it will be the humans that make mistakes, and not the unmanned aircraft. The Stingray will also do some intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and possibly some light strike, he said.

“I’m very confident in the unmanned plan,” Harris said. “The challenge for all of us will be very similar, and it will come down to the networks: the reliability, sustainability, and resiliency of those networks” to support the new systems.

The Navy doesn’t think that a larger number of smaller carriers—like the Marine Corps amphibious ships—will fit the bill in the future, despite the reduction of tails on a flattop. But it is considering the idea of a “light carrier,” and has looked at 70 iterations so far, Harris reported, with a decision due in 2022.

“Over the long run, we don’t find a compelling return on investment” for a small carrier, he said, due to the need to carry a lot of jet fuel and the ability to remain on station a long time. He touted the big ships as highly survivable and flexible.

The big carriers are seeing longer cruises, according to Harris, with some at sea for 10 months at a time. Though sailors want predictability, the changes have to do with global tasking and the flexibility demanded of by great power competition.

Harris said the F-35C will make its first operational cruise this summer, with 10 aircraft embarked aboard the Carl Vinson. The F-35C’s longest time at sea so far was five weeks aboard the Vinson during the work-up phase. The jet has performed well, and “the performance of the most junior pilots … is really very encouraging,” he said.                                                                  

A High-Tech Fix for the Air Force’s Training Crisis?

By Shaun Waterman

The Air Force has long faced a silent crisis: It can’t train and retain enough pilots. And now, challenged to confront peer adversaries, rather than the insurgents it’s been engaging for the last 20 years, even the pilots the service can train aren’t getting the quantity or quality of hours in mock combat they need to hone their skills, according to former USAF leaders.

A transformative new technology, which combines live training with virtual simulation, can help address that problem, its proponents say. Augmented reality (AR) training is “a game-changer,” promised Will Roper, who previously served as the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics.

Daniel Robinson, founder and CEO of Red 6, demonstrates the Airborne Tactical Augmented Reality Systems (ATARS) integrated into a Berkut 540 home-assembled propeller-driven aircraft, which he built himself. Courtesy Red 6

The pilot shortfall has been a persistent problem for the Air Force, despite a $1.7 billion annual training budget. But it’s been highlighted anew as the U.S. military has pivoted from the “endless wars” of counterinsurgency to confront peer adversaries, especially China, which has its own fifth-generation fighters to match the U.S. F-22 and F-35.

“The gap between how we train our combat aviators and how they’ll need to fight against modern adversaries has continued to grow wider,” said retired Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, dean of AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. “We’re essentially still training our pilots the same way we did 60 years ago.”

Combat training for fighter pilots, with a red team playing the role of adversaries like China’s fifth-generation J-20, is expensive and time-consuming. Above all, it’s “limited by the availability of air and ground training assets that accurately replicate those peer threat systems,” explained retired Gen. James M. Holmes, former head of Air Combat Command who now serves as Chairman of the Red 6 board. He added that the red teams at major Air Force exercises like Red Flag “resemble 1980s Warsaw Pact threats more than they resemble the capabilities of 2020’s China and Russia.”

Forty years ago, Holmes said, as a young lieutenant, he flew more than 225 training sorties a year, or about 350 hours a year. Now, his son Capt. Wade Holmes, who flies F-16s in the Air National Guard, is “lucky to fly 120 of those [training sorties] a year and almost half of those are flown as Red Air, providing training support for someone else.”

The Air Force has used simulation technology to try to close that gap, and is investing heavily in its new approach to training: Live, virtual, and constructive. “LVC is widely recognized as the only way, the only cost-effective way, for us to train against fifth-generation adversaries,” said long-time Senate Armed Services Committee staffer and USAF veteran Robert “Otis” Winkler. “We spent a ton of money and a ton of time developing the virtual and constructive portion of it.”

He spoke alongside Holmes and Deptula at a Mitchell Institute virtual seminar March 16.

Simulators and other virtual training tools allow geographically dispersed forces—including foreign allies—to train together, Winkler noted. Simulators also let pilots push the envelope in ways that would be too risky in real-life training, noted Holmes. “You can practice things in a sim that aren’t safe to practice in an aircraft.”

But, Holmes added, “There’s no substitute for live training.”

That’s because simulators can’t accurately reproduce the physical and intellectual stress of actual flight, noted Dan Robinson, a retired Royal Air Force pilot who became a USAF flight training instructor and was the first foreigner to fly an F-22. “It’s one thing to perform a maneuver in a sim, it’s another thing to perform it when you’re pulling 9Gs,” Robinson told Air Force Magazine. “The physics matters. … The cognitive load is completely different when the pilot is actually in flight.”

Robinson is the founder and CEO of Red 6, a tech start-up offering augmented and virtual reality solutions as a way to allow pilots to train live against virtual adversaries.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” Robinson said. Pilots can train in real flight—flying with a special helmet and heads-up display that allows them to see their virtual enemies. The enemies, being online creations, can be modeled to mimic the capabilities and profile of any adversary weapons platform—and can be powered by artificial intelligence. “You can create the adversary, define his capabilities, and train against weapons systems that would be too expensive for live training, such as hypersonic missiles,” Robinson said.

But the technology is challenging, he explained. Virtual reality (VR) creates an entirely synthetic environment, which is a relatively straightforward challenge. “In augmented reality we are introducing virtual entities, virtual objects into the real world, and making them interact dynamically with us, with our surroundings, as if they were really there and that’s a much more complex set of technical problems to solve.”

The key breakthrough technologies that enable Red 6’s Airborne Tactical Augmented Reality System (ATARS), Robinson said, were in vision tracking—ascertaining where the pilot is looking and shifting the perspective of the virtual objects accordingly—and in the display. “Most VR doesn’t work outside. … The environment is too dynamic and the display isn’t visible enough. It’s like trying to look at your cellphone screen in bright sunlight.” VR technology is generally limited to a 60-degree field of vision, about a third of the 180-degree field of vision humans have in the real world. “We are at about 120 degrees right now, and we are working on expanding that,” Robinson said.

AR is a transformational technology, with applications way beyond pilot training, Roper said. “This will disrupt not just Air Force training, but all-domain training. … Augmented reality provides a paradigm-shifting opportunity for the military to train at much lower costs and against threats and in environments that cannot be recreated in the real world,” added Roper, who was appointed last month to the Red 6 Advisory Board. “AR technology has major commercial applications as well.”

Red 6 has completed a SBIR II contract from AFWERX and is expecting a SBIR III soon. The Red 6 team is working to integrate its ATARS technology into a T-38 training aircraft at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

“That is the next step for us,” Robinson said, “to demonstrate how this will work in an Air Force trainer jet.”                           

To Fly, Fight, and Win … Air Power Any Time, Anywhere: USAF Unveils New Mission Statement

The Air Force’s new mission statement is familiar, all-encompassing, and joins two parallel aspects of the service’s 74-year history: “To fly, fight, and win … Air power anytime, anywhere.”

The new mission statement focuses on air alone, now that the Space Force is independent, and emerged from consultations with a spectrum of Airmen representing Active, Guard, and Reserve members in both the enlisted and officer ranks, said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. in a release.

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass said the mission statement will help join the entire force of more than 689,000 Airmen, regardless of whether their core mission is air superiority; global strike; rapid global mobility; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; or command and control.

“Every Airman, from every career field, is directly responsible for delivering, supporting, launching, and driving air power,” Bass said in the release.

Air Force Association President and retired Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright said the mission statement joins two central concepts and themes that have carried the Air Force forward throughout its history. “Flying, fighting and winning is the combat goal, it’s what Airmen do,” he said. “But that is underscored by the imperative of what our Air Force contributes to our nation’s security: Delivering unparalleled air power, any place, any time, no matter the risk or obstacles before us. This is possible because of the commitment, readiness, and professionalism of our Airmen and the unwavering support of their families.”                                                                                       

Under Biden, Pentagon Again Allows Transgender Troops to Serve Openly

By Brian W. Everstine

The Pentagon on March 31 reversed its policy on transgender troops, formally opening the door to service for those who meet military standards.

The move effectively turns the clock back to 2016 when the Pentagon first reversed its policy barring transgender individuals from openly serving in the military or from being involuntarily separated, discharged, or denied reenlistment because of their gender identity. In 2017, President Donald J. Trump announced via Twitter a new ban on transgender service, catching military leaders by surprise. The Pentagon took the matter under advisement and offered a compromise ban in March 2018, sparking multiple lawsuits. Initial lower court rulings blocked the ban, until the Supreme Court cleared the way for the ban to take effect in April 2019. Under the policy, currently serving transgender service members were permitted to stay. President Joe Biden issued an executive order in January that removed all limits less than two years later.

“The Secretary of Defense strongly believes that the all-volunteer force thrives when it is composed of diverse Americans who can meet the high standards for military service, an inclusive force that strengthens our national security posture,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a March 31 briefing.

Kirby said the policies are designed to prohibit discrimination, provide a means to accession into the military in one’s self-identified gender as long as the standards are met, provide a path for those in service to seek medical care, and protect the privacy of those already in service.

Stephanie Miller, the Defense Department’s director of accession policy, said during the March 31 briefing that there are about 2,200 troops in the military who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Under the new policies, the Pentagon will provide the “medically necessary care” to include either cross-sex hormone treatment or surgery.

Military officials expect the costs of those treatments to be in the “handful of millions” and will be covered by the “several billions” assigned to the military’s defense health budget.

“We don’t expect a significant impact. The cost was a main reason behind the ban, with Trump in his tweet announcing the change, saying allowing transgender individuals to serve caused “tremendous costs and disruption.”

The new policies will go into effect in 30 days, giving the military services time to adjust their policies and protocols, Kirby said.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, in a March 31 memorandum commemorating International Transgender Day of Visibility, said “we will remain the best and most capable team because we avail ourselves of the best possible talent that America has to offer, regardless of gender identity.”

The RAND Corp., in a 2016 study, estimates that there are between 1,320-6,630 transgender service members in Active duty, with the figure varying because of a lack of data and current policies. RAND also estimates that Active health costs would increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million if the military covered transition care.                    

Mobility Bombardiers: AMC Aims to Arm Transports

By Brian W. Everstine

Air Mobility Command  (AMC) has big plans to overhaul its gray-tailed heavies for the high-end fight, turning airlifters into command and control assets and possibly putting air-to-air missiles on tankers.

The long-term planning is a shift away from the idea of keeping mobility assets away from a fight, using them instead just as delivery platforms for other combat forces.

AMC boss Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost addressed concerns about the future of mobility and the idea of doing “something out of the box,” during a March 31 Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event, saying, “Why wouldn’t we?”

“Why wouldn’t we change the calculus by doing different things, moving away from the antiquated view that AMC just brings stuff when they’re called … to be a maneuver force inside the threat ring,” Van Ovost asked.

Several exercises and training events have shown that aircraft such as C-17s, KC-135s, and KC-46s have these capabilities. During an advanced battle management demonstration last year, a C-17 dropped Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles using a roll-on pallet. The idea is that instead of dropping weapons at a forward base to then be loaded on a bomber, the C-17 itself can drop the weapon in the air and Air Force Global Strike Command crews would then be in charge of command and control (C2) once it leaves the aircraft, Van Ovost said.

A high-altitude airdrop of simulated Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles on a pallet demonstrates how a C-17 Globemaster III airlifter could in the future be used to launch weapons using airdrop procedures. Courtesy

AMC will test having the C2 control on the airplane itself in an upcoming Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) demonstration, she said.

“Instead of dropping them on a ramp somewhere at some island, we’re just dropping them in the sky, and after they drop out of the sky, someone else lights them off and takes them to the target,” she said.

AMC is looking forward to attritable systems, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Gremlins small unmanned aircraft, to show how C-5s and C-17s could launch these types of systems for both offensive and defensive counter air. The Gremlins can “actually be recaptured and rearmed on board,” she added.

As part of the ABMS experiment last year, an AMC C-17 used its on-board antennas and other systems to direct a Marine Corps High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. In that scenario, the artillery system rolled off the C-17, received its target information from the aircraft’s system, fired, and rolled back to “move before getting killed,” she said.

The command’s newest aircraft, the KC-46 tanker, has been selected to carry the first released system as part of the ABMS effort—a pod that can be strapped on to provide resilient command and control. The aircraft was picked because it “has the pipes, it’s got antennas” that are ready for the system, she said, though the KC-135 could likely get a system like it in the future.

In a fight, the tankers will need to be flying near the action anyway, supporting fighters, so using them as a command and control system, either as the primary or a resilient backup, just makes sense, Van Ovost said.

“When I think about where our airplanes are, they are forward in the fight. So, why wouldn’t we put a capability that’s a pod that fits on the airplane, or that rolls on the airplane, because we have the size, weight, and power to do it and we’re out there anyway,” Van Ovost said.

In a high-end fight, mobility aircraft will be targets and will need improved defensive systems beyond the existing countermeasures. Aircraft such as the C-17 and KC-46 already have hardpoints on their wings, so it is “not a stretch to think that we could put one or two missiles on there for self defense for ourselves.”

AMC is preparing for its largest exercise, Mobility Guardian 21, on May 15 to 26, which will further demonstrate some of the new capabilities and tactics. This year’s version is scheduled to take place in multiple locations in the northern United States, with the focal point on the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center in Michigan, where the main scenario will focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in a contested environment. The 2021 event will be smaller than previous iterations, with about 1,500 personnel from five major commands and representatives from other services.

The exercise will include field artillery, defensive counter-air, cyber threats, and other scenarios. AMC crews will need to enter a contested area, provide humanitarian assistance, get out, and then transmit data forward, Van Ovost said.

“We’re doing the pieces, we’re not going to solve everything at once,” she said. “But what we want to know is, in these experiments and in these future games where these are playing, do they make a difference? And so, we’re going after that analytically, and some of the key problems we have to solve to get there, and from that we’ll learn whether or not we want to proceed.”                                                                                      

Airman Killed While “Joyriding” in an ATV, Investigators Find

By Amy McCullough

Two Airmen were “messing” around on a single all-terrain vehicle in the cargo yard at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, last September when the driver lost control and the ATV rolled over, pinning the passenger to the ground and killing him instantly.

Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Ouellette, 23, of Merrimack, N.H., died in the Sept. 14, 2020, crash. An autopsy cited blunt force trauma to the head as the cause of death. The driver, also a staff sergeant, was treated for minor injuries and released. Neither Ouellette nor the driver—both assigned to the 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron—were wearing seatbelts or helmets.

Accident investigators said the Airmen were driving the Polaris Ranger all-terrain utility vehicle at about 15 mph, 10 mph over the posted speed limit in the cargo yard. The driver told security forces the two were “just out joy-riding” and “hit the turn too hard.” He said he took his foot off the gas before turning the corner, but he did not remember hitting the breaks.

An Airman lost control of this Polaris Ranger all-terrain utility vehicle when driving in the cargo yard at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait. The passenger was killed in the accident. Air Force Ground Accident Investigation report

When the vehicle rose onto two wheels in the midst of the turn around 5 p.m. local time, the driver attempted to right the vehicle, but failed. He exited the passenger compartment through the protective roll cage, according to the ground accident investigation report, released April 13. Investigators believe Ouellette also attempted to jump from the ATV, but didn’t make it.

The driver found Ouellette pinned under the protective roll cage, but was unable to lift it off of him. He called his supervisor for emergency support and security forces and first responders arrived on the scene at 5:02 p.m. Ouellette was declared dead on arrival.

Ouellette was an aerial porter in the Air Force Reserve. He joined the Air Force on Oct. 10, 2014, and was a member of the 42nd Aerial Port Squadron at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass.

“Ronald was a valued member of the Patriot Wing and there are no words that can heal the pain his loss brings,” said Air Force Col. Craig C. Peters, commander of the 439th Airlift Wing at the time, which includes Ouellette’s unit, according to Stars and Stripes. “The loss of our own, or any service member, is never easy. During this difficult time, our priority is to do all we can to lift and support his family, friends, fellow Airmen in his squadron, and loved ones who are struggling.”

The fatal accident occurred just two days after another deadly accident. Senior Airman Jason Khai Phan was killed while patrolling Ali Al Salem. Accident investigators concluded Airmen were not wearing seatbelts at the time of that crash and were inexperienced with the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle they were driving. Phan was assigned to the 66th Security Forces Squadron at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., and was deployed to the 386th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron at the time.

DAF Begins Work on Second Diversity Review

By Brian W. Everstine

The Department of the Air Force’s kicked off the second Inspector General Independent Disparity Review on April 9, sending surveys to Airmen and Guardians, and conducting interviews that are focused on barriers to service that some faced based on gender and ethnicity.

This second review is focused on disparities Hispanics, Latinos, Asians, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders face, along with gender issues. It follows the first review, which focused on barriers to service and military justice inequalities that Black Airmen face.

“The review we conducted last year and the follow up efforts we’ve taken since have really opened the door to meaningful, enduring, and sustainable change in the areas of racial disparity,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. said in a release. “But we have a lot more work to do, and the overwhelming responses we had from our first review indicate that our Airmen and Guardians want to have a voice in the solution. I am 100 percent focused on ensuring we follow through with lasting results.”

Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., sat down with Faye Banks-Anderson, 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs chief, to talk about diversity and Black history in February. Paul Wenzel/USAF

The review, which was announced in February, began with anonymous online surveys starting April 9. Additionally, USAF will use targeted interviews, targeted small-group surveys, and a review of data, according to the release. The review focuses on both USAF and U.S. Space Force personnel. The Department of the Air Force Inspector General will release its findings this summer.

“Diversity and inclusion underpins the readiness of our Air and Space Forces,” said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond in the release. “This disparity review across gender, race, and ethnicity opens the aperture, allowing us to dig deeper into an issue that affects all of our Guardians and Airmen. We will continue to solicit and hear the experiences, perspectives, and concerns of those who serve. Together, we will create an environment where Guardians and Airmen can thrive, and where they are only defined by their excellence.”

The first review produced a 150-page IG report, with 123,000 survey responses and 138 in-person sessions. Black Airmen reported a distrust of their chain of command, military justice inequalities, along with other administrative issues.          

USAF Retiring its Two OC-135 Open Skies Aircraft

By Brian W. Everstine

The Air Force is sending its two OC-135B Open Skies aircraft to the boneyard after the U.S. withdrew from the treaty late last year, even though it’s not clear whether the new Biden administration will rejoin the monitoring agreement with Russia.

Because there is no longer “a mission requirement for the OC-135B, the Department of the Air Force has moved to initiate standard equipment disposition actions in accordance with regulations,” an Air Force spokesperson said in a statement. This includes sending the two aircraft from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group—also known as the boneyard—at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., “in the next couple of months.”

The announcement comes the week after the Air Force sent Congress a report on the viability of the aircraft, as required by the 2021 defense policy bill. Neither the Air Force nor Capitol Hill officials would release the report on April 6.

The Air Force is considering what to do with the legacy wet-film cameras and the Digital Visual Imaging System off the aircraft. “This could include making the items available to allies and partners through the Foreign Military Sales program as appropriate,” an Air Force spokesperson said in a statement.

Aircraft maintainers recover an OC-135B Open Skies airplane at the Lincoln, Neb., Airport on Feb. 1. Both OC-135Bs will be sent to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. Tech Sgt. William O’Brien

The two aircraft, modified WC-135Bs, began flying in 1993 and include specialized mission equipment such as side-looking synthetic aperture radar, infrared line scanning devices, video camera, and framing and panoramic optical cameras. The Air Force in recent years worked to update the aircraft’s cameras, and in 2020 canceled plans to recapitalize the fleet.

In 2018, the State Department declared Russia was in violation of the treaty for preventing access to Kaliningrad and the border with Georgia. The Air Force did not fly any sorties at the time, but resumed flights in 2019 and now continues to fly at a low pace.

Before the Trump administration formally withdrew from the treaty in November 2020, U.S. officials repeatedly complained that Moscow violated the agreement, claiming also that satellite systems could provide better surveillance than the aging aircraft.            

Hypersonic Setback: ARRW  Booster  Fails in Missile’s First Test Flight

By Brian W. Everstine

The first booster flight-test of the Air Force’s AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) failed April 5. In a release issued April 6, the service acknowledged the failure is a “setback” for hypersonic progress, but said the test still provided “valuable information” for the program’s development.

The test, which was conducted at Point Mugu Sea Range, Calif., was supposed to be the first time the ARRW fired its booster vehicle and flew on its own, but the missile did not “complete its launch sequence” and remained on the B-52H Stratofortress. The bomber then returned to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

“The ARRW program has been pushing boundaries since its inception and taking calculated risks to move this important capability forward,” said Brig. Gen. Heath A. Collins, Armament Directorate Program executive officer, in a release. “While not launching was disappointing, the recent test provided invaluable information to learn from and continue ahead. This is why we test.”

The long-anticipated test would have been the eighth flight-test for the ARRW program, following seven captive-carry flights. During the mission, the Air Force intended to demonstrate a safe release from the bomber, assess booster performance, booster-shroud separation, and simulated glider separation, according to the release.

Because the vehicle was able to safely land, the 419th Flight Test Squadron at Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force at Edwards will “explore the defect and return the vehicle back to test,” according to the Air Force. However, no timeline for this process was provided.

The ARRW arrived to Edwards via truck on March 1 and immediately went into ground test and checks. USAF officials originally said the booster flight-test would happen in December 2020, a date that was pushed to March 1 and then to early April.

The Air Force wants to deploy the ARRW as its first hypersonic weapon in early 2021.    

                   John T. Correll, 1939-2021

By John A. Tirpak

John T. Correll, editor in chief of Air Force Magazine from 1986 to 2002, a principal contributor for years afterward, and a recipient of the Air Force Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, died April 5 at age 81.

Correll used the bully pulpit of the Air Force Magazine to argue forcefully for Air Force issues and fair treatment of the service in modern and historical context. He was senior staff adviser to AFA’s executive committee and board of directors on national defense issues, and wrote many of AFA’s white papers, special reports, and the annual Statement of Policy. He was also an unofficial adviser to several Chiefs of Staff and senior USAF leaders.

Correll and his wife Gina are congratulated on his Lifetime Achievement Award by Marc and Lana Schanz at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference in 2017. Courtesy

His reporting in 1994-1995 about the Smithsonian’s plans to display the newly restored B-29 “Enola Gay”—in a way that would paint the U.S. as a vengeful aggressor in WWII—rallied veteran’s groups and Congress to oppose the exhibition. As a result, the Smithsonian dropped its plan and ultimately presented the aircraft without an editorial message. For this work and his other advocacy, AFA recognized Correll with its 1995 Gill Robb Wilson Award for arts and letters.

Correll served 20 years in the Air Force, retiring in 1982 as a lieutenant colonel. He served in Vietnam and Thailand, and was a distinguished graduate of Air Command and Staff College. Correll was the editor of Airman, the official magazine of the Air Force, and in his last assignment, was chief of editorial services for the American Forces Information Service in Washington.

During his Air Force career, he undertook a one-year “Education with Industry” tour with Air Force Magazine, during which he proposed overhauling the annual Almanac issue, implementing a plan very close to the format that has been used ever since.

The USAF Almanac, Air Force Magazine’s most popular annual issue, was re-imagined by John Correll while he was still on Active duty.

He officially joined Air Force Magazine in 1984, rising in just two years from senior editor to editor in chief. He launched a popular department—“Valor”—which ran for nearly 20 years, highlighting the stories of heroic Airmen. In 2021, he helped launch a new series, Leaders and Heroes, modeled on the Valor articles from years before.

After his retirement from the Air Force Association in 2002, Correll continued to contribute historical features to Air Force Magazine, frequently debunking myths about the Air Force, its notable personalities, and milestone events. His byline appeared in the magazine for more than 35 years.

Correll also played a central role in the creation of AFA’s Eaker Institute, forerunner of today’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, which he conceived as an intellectual advocacy arm of the Air Force Association.

He received AFA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, for his contributions to “the advancement of aerospace power.”

“John Correll was a terrific wingman, in more ways than he may have known,” said retired Lt. Gen. Bruce  Wright, president of the Air Force Association. He maintained “the highest standards of professional writing and mission-focused content,” and “his words about airpower flew with me throughout my career.” Correll’s articles, and his advocacy on behalf of airpower “provide a lasting legacy to our Airmen and Guardians of their rich heritage.”

Retired Gen. Michael Dugan, the 13th Chief of Staff of the Air Force, said, “The nation has lost a patriot today. John Correll was a writer, scholar, and historian. He was all things air and space; a meticulous researcher and a precise practitioner of English communications. He started and ended his long writing career as an Airman and was, at the close, still telling the remarkable story of American men and women serving and protecting their country at home and abroad in the air and space. He was my friend.”

Born Dec. 14, 1939, in Conover, N.C., Correll was a reporter for the Hickory, N.C., Daily Record before entering the Air Force in 1962. He earned an M.A. in communications from Michigan State University and an A.B. in history from Lenoir Rhyne College.                                                                                                                                                                              

He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Gina; a daughter, Donna, and a granddaughter, Rae.