Raptors on the line at Amberley RAFB, Australia, during bilateral exercise Talisman Sabre 19. Delivering incremental Link 16 capabilities will enable F-22s to work collectively with coalition partners. Photo: SSgt. Kyle Johnson
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F-22 development; Global Lightning project; USAF’s spending aims; and more …

F-22’s Agile Developers to Deliver First Link 16 Capability Next Year

An F-22 performs a high-speed pass. USAF is using agile software development methods to speed up delivery of new capabilities to the nation’s premier fighter to keep up with advances in China and Russia. Photo: 2nd Lt. Sam Eckholm

By Shaun Waterman

The F-22 Raptor is among the planet’s most advanced combat aircraft, but to ensure it stays ahead of new Russian and Chinese fifth-generation fighters, the service has had to rip up the rulebook—and get Lockheed Martin to rip up its own, too.

Two years ago, faced with mounting delays in F-22 modernization efforts that threatened the fighter’s dominance over its competitors, the Air Force decided to reform the way it rolls out updates to the Raptor. Instead of a conventional approach, in which requirements are documented in detail and the update is not delivered until every element is complete, USAF wanted to introduce new capabilities on a rolling basis using an approach known as “agile” development.

“Looking at our competitors … they have very rapid development cycles,” said Lt. Col. Christina Rusnock, materiel leader for the F-22 modernization program office at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. “In order for us to maintain our competitive advantage, our air superiority, we knew that we needed to do business differently … to move more quickly.”

Instead of fielding one big bang many years away, we can start to field them much earlier.Lt. Col. Christina Rusnock, materiel lead for the F-22 modernization program

The 2001 Agile Manifesto proposed a new methodology for software development, one that is now mainstream in the consumer world, where software updates are issued frequently and often without fanfare. Think of mobile phones and cloud-based apps, for example, which introduce new features and change interfaces without warning. Agile practitioners compare their methodology to a cultural revolution, leading organizations to embrace flatter, more flexible management structures and driving changes that extend far beyond coding and development.

Adopting such a methodology in highly structured government programs is more ambitious still, given the rigidity of government contracts and traditional defense acquisition processes. Yet the Air Force felt it was necessary. Rusnock said it would take 10 to 12 years to deliver new capabilities for the F-22 using conventional waterfall development—too long given the pace at which adversaries were updating.

Although the Air Force has used agile development before, the F-22 modernization is the first time it has been employed while developing both hardware and software, according to a DOD inspector general report last year, multiplying the challenges involved.

The Air Force told Lockheed Martin, “change or be changed,” Michael Cawood, the company’s vice president for F-16 and F-22 product development, recalled at a technology conference earlier this year.
Lockheed Martin’s embrace of agile development—for the F-35 as well as the F-22—has made the defense giant one laboratory in which the newly dominant paradigm for commercial software development will be tested in the defense environment. It will help answer the question: Can it work in defense?

The iterative nature of agile development means requirements can be “sliced and diced” according to how critical they are and how easy to deliver, Rusnock said.

“It was clear that we could get some of those capabilities much earlier than if we were to wait until every single one was complete,” Rusnock said. “Instead of fielding one big bang many years away, we can start to field them much earlier”—in two or three years instead of a decade or longer.

Agile development also means program managers can be responsive to changing threats and emerging capabilities and restructure the pipeline accordingly. “Some capabilities may never be delivered,” she said, eclipsed by more urgent requirements until they become irrelevant.

In 2017, Rusnock said, the program office restructured four of its ongoing modernization efforts into “an agile capability delivery pipeline.” The four lines of effort were:

  • Tactical link: Providing the F-22 with the capability to transmit data using NATO-standard Link 16 technology.
  • Tactical mandates: Providing enhanced “friend-or-foe” identification capabilities.
  • Sensor enhancements: Providing improvements to the F-22’s advanced sensor technology and the software fusion engine that give the pilot a comprehensive overhead view.
  • GPS with military code: Providing new jamming- and interference-proof navigation capabilities.

Link 16 transmit capability could enable the stealthy F-22 to operate in concert with coalition air operations as a quarterback, enabling the plane to share its “God’s eye view” of the battlespace with other aircraft, according to Orlando Sanchez Jr., Lockheed’s vice president of F-22 programs. “The F-22 is the quarterback, … that’s what it feels like, you have all this information and you can call plays,” he said.

In February 2018, the F-22 program office used new acquisition authorities under section 804 of the Fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act to issue a task order to Lockheed Martin—the Raptor Agile Capability Release, or RACR, contract.

In fiscal 2019, RACR was funded for $140 million out of the office’s $563 million research and development budget—part of the $2.7 billion total direct cost of modernization and sustainment for the F-22 that year, according to Rusnock.

She said RACR was structured as a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract with an award fee, “an incentive based on the contractor’s transformation … into an agile software development pipeline.”

Lockheed Martin has embraced the need to revolutionize the way it develops software, said Sanchez. A retired Air Force colonel and F-22 pilot, Sanchez said the company’s goal was to “deliver these new capabilities ahead of the threat and at the speed of relevance.”

To do that, Sanchez said the company didn’t just change delivery schedules. “We totally redesigned our seating arrangements and our floor spaces,” he said. “We have folks sitting in small, agile teams with no walls or low walls. … Software engineers sitting with mechanical engineers … based on the product they’re delivering.”

Cross-functional teams can tackle and solve problems more quickly and that means they can deliver software updates “much faster today than we have in the past,” he said.

RACR also enables program reviews to be divided into smaller, more frequent demonstrations with a wider range of participants. Holding these every six weeks helps developers quickly realize if they have to rework something. “They get much faster feedback that way,” Sanchez said of the development team. “You save time and you allow for this check and adjust.”

Still, RACR isn’t exactly rolling out updates like Apple does on your iPhone. The first RACR release will take place next year, and Lockheed and the Air Force plan annual releases thereafter, Sanchez said.

With Link 16, the new approach means F-22 pilots will be able to get some capability while waiting for more, rather than all or nothing. Link 16 capabilities consist of hundreds of potential data messages accompanying location information, from, “Here I am,” to “Here’s a bad guy.”

Users will get to decide which are the most important messages, then look to incorporate them in an early release—the first minimum viable product.

That first release, supporting only a handful of messages and including new hardware to start transmitting them, will be in RACR Release 1.0. Sanchez expects it will begin flight testing at the beginning of next year.

James Chow, a senior engineer and director of the Force Modernization and Employment Program at RAND Corp.’s Project Air Force and chairman of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, argued that, if successful, the effort could serve as a model for future programs.

“These are important upgrades and the sooner we can get them out the better,” he said. “If it proves successful, it will be very helpful for future modernization efforts, not just the F-22.”

An AC-130U Spooky gunship at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Air Force Research Laboratory plans to test Global Lightning data-sharing, a system based on commercial satellite systems, on AC-130s first, then on the KC-135 in spring 2020. The program aims to improve Internet connection and data-transfer rates for faster access to video, weather, and other data in flight. Photo: TSgt. Gregory Brook

‘Global Lightning’ SatCom Project Expanding to AC-130, KC-135

By Rachel S. Cohen

An Air Force investigation into how the service could piggyback on the commercial industry’s broadband Internet satellites for cheaper, better communication is moving forward to include two key combat platforms.

The experimentation and prototyping effort, known as Defense Experimentation Using the Commercial Space Internet, or “Global Lightning,” is run by the Air Force Research Laboratory, which has partnered with companies such as SpaceX, Iridium, OneWeb, L3Harris, and others to put communications terminals on aircraft and see how well they share data with satellites and their associated ground terminals. USAF is also looking into the possibility of leasing commercial space Internet as a service, rather than buying large amounts of equipment itself.

“We’re not focused just on any one company,” Greg Spanjers, chief scientist at AFRL’s Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation office, told reporters. “Our intent is to characterize the performance and understand the pros and cons of all of the commercial systems when used on military platforms.”

So far, researchers have used a C-12 to vet data transfer rates with experimental SpaceX satellites. Soon, the program plans to test out data-sharing with the AC-130, followed by the KC-135 in spring or summer 2020, according to Global Lightning Program Manager Brian Beal. Those are large, popular platforms that comprise sizable fleets and are used in areas where commanders wish they had more ability to share information, according to AFRL.

It’s the difference between getting low data-rate text messages and high-[definition], full-motion video.Greg Spanjers, chief scientist at AFRL’s Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation office

Their work also explores the authorities and other steps the Air Force needs to take to transition the idea to operational use.

Program officials said the tests have proven out much higher Internet connection and data-transfer rates than Air Force aircraft can currently receive. That means faster access to video, weather, and other data in flight, though the service hasn’t tied the capability to a particular type of mission.

“It’s the difference between getting low data-rate text messages and high-[definition], full-motion video,” Spanjers said. “Your high-def TV at home is probably about 5 megabits per second data rate. That’s a data rate well above most of the Air Force platforms that we’re dealing with.”

The military is waiting for commercial industry to build its satellite communications constellations on orbit, such as SpaceX’s Starlink array, so it can tap into the capability on a large scale.

Going forward, the service will also run tests with Lockheed Martin’s open radio architecture that allows comms to switch between satellite constellations. The Air Force wants to be able to move between the systems of various companies with as few hardware or other changes as possible.

Another prong of the effort will work with Ball Aerospace and Army Futures Command on a phased-array radar mounted atop a moving ground vehicle to test communications with spacecrafts in three different orbits.

Several additional contracts are due out in the coming years for further testing, according to AFRL.

Here’s how USAF Aims to Spend $30 Billion in Legacy Savings

By Tobias Naegele

The Air Force plans to redirect $30 billion from the early retirement of legacy programs to fund new initiatives in connectivity, space, combat power projection, and logistics.

Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein spelled out his plans in further detail Nov. 6 at an Air Force Association event in Washington, D.C., defining the four investment “bins” and assigning amounts to each, over the future years defense plan (FYDP), beginning in 2021:

Graphic: Dash Parham/staff

“If you want to achieve [Defense] Secretary [Mark] Esper’s objective of gaining irreversible momentum for the National Defense Strategy, we have one good year to do it,” Goldfein said, echoing common sentiments that increased defense budgets are highly unlikely after the coming budget cycle.

“The most important work is to set the digital foundation—it’s a step you can’t skip,” he said. “If you want to get artificial intelligence, if you want to get hypersonics to work, if you want to go into defendable space, if you want to get directed energy where it needs to go, if you want to go into quantum [computing], you actually can’t skip the steps of building the digital architecture and getting the common data cloud architecture to go forward.”

Goldfein said the Air Staff “took a look at every legacy program we have and asked the question: Does this contribute significantly to the 2030 to 2038 time frame?” If the answer was no, then work began on trying to accelerate its retirement.

Connecting the force—“not just the Air Force, but the joint force,” he emphasized—is the most critical step. War games bear this out. Citing a recent war game at the National Aerospace Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, he said, a future Air Force prevailed “in one of the most challenging scenarios we could put on the table.”

That exercise—featuring “some of the best red teamers on the planet, who understood the threat and where the threat is going,”—projected a future contest in the 2030 to 2038 time frame. “For one of the first times we’ve seen in a while, we won,” Goldfein said.

The key was joint force command and control, he explained. “The first thing you need to do to win is you’ve got to connect the joint force,” he said. “We truly have to operate as a team: Connecting command and control, connecting sensors and shooters, taking humans from in the loop to on the loop, operating at machine speeds so you can close thousands of kill chains in hundreds of hours.”

Repeatedly he emphasized the need to connect platforms across every domain. “While connecting an F-22 and an F-35 and an X-37 is interesting, let me tell you what’s more important—connecting an F-35, a B-52, an Aegis cruiser, a Special Purpose MAGTF [Marine Air-Ground Task Force], a Brigade Combat Team, and new satellites,” he said.

Systems that can’t connect, or that operate in their own separate worlds, will not be considered in the future, he continued, describing a plant visit at which he viewed an aircraft offering. “I said, ‘So you’re also the same company that builds a space capability, so I assume this connects to that, right?’ And what I got was, ‘no, that’s a separate part of the company,’ ” Goldfein recalled.

That’s not an acceptable answer, he went on. “If you understand one thing from me, I’ll make this loud and clear: I’m walking away from that offering because I can’t afford to buy a capability that doesn’t connect, doesn’t share,” he told a mostly industry audience. If it doesn’t connect in all domains, if it doesn’t share information, … if we haven’t built artificial intelligence into the tactical edge so it’s learning, and I can take humans out of the loop and put them on the loop, then it’s no longer of interest to me as Chief.”

Goldfein said the Air Force is working with the other services to run connectivity experiments alongside large-scale exercises every four months. In the most recent experiment, as part of a Navy fleet exercise over the summer, the Air Force “took a space asset, connected it to an ISR asset, connected to a C2 asset, and connected it to a ship.”

Using common data formats, a common information architecture, and pregenerated algorithms, the space asset identified an enemy vessel, then passed the target to an ISR asset, which used its own sensors to raise the confidence level of what was being seen. Assured the target was what the satellite spotted, the ISR asset passed the target and coordinates to a C2 platform, which selected the optimum weapon for attacking the target and handed that assignment to a ship.

“The first human in that kill chain was on the Aegis cruiser,” Goldfein said.

Getting Tough in Space

Goldfein said it’s hard to talk about space because of classification levels, but the $9 billion he intends to invest there is essential to ensure future victory and to deter aggressors from taking a chance against the United States and its allies.

“We have got to be the first mover in space,” the Chief said. Acknowledging the challenges of asking for $9 billion for unnamed defensive and offensive space capabilities, he said he will press the edges of classification to make his case. “If you don’t see the pluses, all you’ll focus on is the minuses,” he said, of lawmakers concerned about program cuts. “Much of the mitigation—the reason for taking legacy [systems] down—is that we’re building up in classified.

Generating combat power is the third area of investment, with funding aimed to emphasize the “five P’s” of combat airpower: “You’ve got to be able to penetrate,” Goldfein said. “Once you penetrate, you’ve got to be able to persist. Once you persist, you’ve got to be able to protect those who are inside, in all domains, then you have to be able to proliferate, so one becomes many, and then you have to be able to punish by holding targets at risk. Because no country on the planet should be able to put a block of wood over themselves. The best they can do is to put a block of Swiss cheese overhead. Our job is to know where the holes are and get in. And I will tell you we know where the holes are, and we know how to get in.”

The fourth and smallest investment area is logistics. Goldfein said future enemies will seek to deny logistics chains and battlespace access. “We have had the luxury for the past 18 years of moving in personnel and supplies at the time and place of our choosing in an uncontested way, and we do not think that is a good assumption for the future,” he said.

That means the Air Force must be more expeditionary, more mobile, more flexible. “This is about preserving our ability to move,” he said, promising an investment of some $3 billion over five years to support that capability.

Problems with the KC-46 Tanker’s remote vision system will keep it in its initial operational test and evaluation phase longer than expected. Photo: TSgt. John Winn

KC-46 Won’t Finish Initial Testing Without Working RVS

By Brian W. Everstine

The first major test phase for the Air Force’s next-generation tanker will likely last years, holding the KC-46 back from its initial operational capability milestone until after the aircraft’s biggest problem—the remote vision system—is fixed.

As the aircraft enters initial operational test and evaluation, KC-46 builder Boeing is finalizing a solution to a problem that has kept the KC-46 from carrying passengers and cargo. The company aims to have the fix in place within weeks.

Air Mobility Command boss Gen. Maryanne Miller told Air Force Magazine that moving the KC-46 into IOT&E is a positive step, that the tanker will “not come out of IOT&E until RVS is fixed.” Issues with the integral series of cameras and sensors that a boom operator uses to refuel aircraft have posed a complex problem for the Air Force and Boeing.

The service has outlined nine critical parameters the company must meet, and two have proven difficult. First is an issue with the display’s acuity, or definition—currently akin to 20/50 vision. There’s also a problem with depth perception, making it hard for an operator to know how far the boom is from the receiving aircraft. Meeting the parameters is seen as a pass/fail matter, and the Air Force recently said it remains “concerned about the slow progress” toward resolving those problems.

Miller said last month RVS shortfalls mean the KC-46 won’t be able to deploy for three to four years. RVS may also force the tanker to remain in IOT&E for years.

The Air Force and Boeing are also still working to address the most recent “category one” deficiencies, an issue with the locks that hold cargo and seats in the plane’s cargo bay. During pre-IOT&E flights, the locks signaled that they were not fully closed, Boeing said. Nothing came loose during the flights, but KC-46s are still not allowed to fly with cargo or passengers in the cargo bay.

Boeing said Oct. 28 that it successfully tested a new, retrofitted cargo lock that stops it from starting to disengage.

“The retrofit has already flown on the tanker during testing and meets all requirements,” the company said. “Boeing and the Air Force are planning to install the new locks on all KC-46 aircraft in the coming weeks. The safety of the KC-46 aircraft and crew is our top priority.”

AMC and Boeing are meeting again to discuss all the issues within weeks. Both the service and the company have laid out the milestones ahead, and Boeing set up labs to test system fixes, Miller said.

The IOT&E process is expected to raise more issues as testers vet the aircraft. Miller has met with the crews flying tanker test missions and working through the objectives. They must “not shortcut anything in this,” she said.

“We’ll add to the list of things to get after—that’s what IOT&E is really all about,” Miller said. “It really is wringing the airplane out.”

Barbara Barrett takes the oath of office in a ceremonial swearing-in at the US Air Force Academy, administered by Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist and accompanied by her husband Craig Barrett on Nov. 2. Photo: Wayne Clark/USAF

Barrett Takes Over as USAF Secretary

By Jennifer Hlad

Newly arrived Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett reaffirmed her commitment to the service, its core values, and its airmen Nov. 2, 2019, at a ceremonial swearing-in at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“The airmen who wear our nation’s uniform are our greatest asset and treasure, and we have no greater charge than to develop and care for them and their families,” Barrett said.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said Barrett “may be the kindest and most thoughtful person I’ve ever met,” noting that she walked alone to Arlington National Cemetery after her official oath of office ceremony on Oct. 18. She spent time in Section 60, where many of the troops killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Syria are buried, to “allow the gravity of her role” to sink in, Goldfein said.

In future conflicts, “we will be called first,” Barrett said.

“Air Force C-17s may carry special forces to the far reaches of the globe, with KC-10s refueling them along the way,” she said. “When these troops reach their destination, combat controllers will be embedded with them, providing technical expertise and directing the B-52s and F-35s overhead, protecting American forces on the ground. At the same time, Air Force [unmanned aerial vehicles] will be in the air, providing vital, real-time intelligence, and all of this will be enabled by space assets.”

Deputy Secretary of Defense David L. Norquist swore in Barrett inside the academy’s Polaris Hall. Barrett called the building “a monument to character and leadership,” noting that the building’s oculus points directly at the North Star, or true north.

“Pilots distinguish between magnetic north, which changes, and true north, which is constant, enduring, unchanging, solid,” she said. “The United States Air Force is enduringly guided by its core values, its Polaris.”

“As we share the light from the oculus in this room, I look to Polaris. I pledge to do my best, guided by the core values, as I do my part to organize, train, and equip our United States Air Force,” Barrett said.

An MC-130 on the ramp at Kadena AB, Japan. Photo: A1C Greg Erwin

Does MC-130 Part Failure Signal Broader Issue?

By Rachel S. Cohen and Jennifer Hlad

The Air Force’s C-130 program office is looking into what caused a torque tube and spring to recently fall off a special operations plane in Japan, a service spokesman said Oct. 25.

“It is not an issue we have seen before,” Air Force Life Cycle Management Center spokesman Brian Brackens said in an email. “Therefore, we will be sending the part to the lab for failure analysis. The findings of this analysis will help us to determine whether this was an isolated incident or if it will impact the C-130 fleet.”

Airmen discovered the torque tube and spring missing from the MC-130J during a post-flight inspection Oct. 18 at Kadena AB, Japan, officials told Air Force Magazine. The assembly weighs 1.2 pounds and is 4.4 feet long by 1.25 inches in diameter and is believed to have fallen off during take off or landing.

The aircraft—assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Group—had been doing touch-and-go training at Kadena and Ie Shima training range. Ie Shima is a US Marine Corps-controlled airfield on a small island just off the coast of Okinawa.

The assembly was found later Oct. 18 at Ie Shima; the 353rd SOG is still investigating what caused the incident.

When asked about the possible fleetwide impact the incident could have for all C-130s, an Air Mobility Command spokeswoman referred the question to AFLCMC. Earlier this year, Air Mobility Command launched inspections of all operational C-130s that were at risk for unusual wing joint cracks after one of the Lockheed Martin-built planes prompted a broader investigation into about one-fourth of USAF C-130s.

The Air Force also grounded 60 C-130Hs in February to address propeller problems.​

An unarmed Minuteman III launches during an operational test at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. Photo: Michael Peterson

RAND Calls for More Focus on Nuclear Modernization

By Rachel S. Cohen

Air Force Global Strike Command needs to beef up its planning and advocacy for its future intercontinental ballistic missile and long-range bomber if it wants to successfully modernize its enterprise in an era of financial and technological challenges, the nonprofit research organization RAND Corp. said in a new report.

Over the next few decades, the Air Force plans to bring on the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, Long-Range Standoff Weapon, and B-21 bomber “after decades of near neglect” of older nuclear assets, RAND researchers wrote. Global Strike is also receiving new helicopters and moving forward with an overhaul of nuclear command, control, and communications systems.

“Nuclear-specific tasks related to testing and certification have not been performed at scale for many decades and will need to be relearned and revised for the current conditions,” the report said. “The sheer scale of the programs is daunting. And this ambitious set of programs will be fielded by [AFGSC], a relatively young command with a relatively small staff that has limited experience in fielding new systems.”

Others like the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board also have warned of cybersecurity, electromagnetic resilience, and other testing and certification challenges ahead. RAND suggests that nuclear certification reviews should be part of acquisition milestone decisions to ensure nothing gets overlooked.

Analysts recommend the Air Force create master plans for its land-based missiles and bombers that help define the steps needed to work through modernization from start to finish. The issues at hand are not new, RAND noted, but the nuclear workforce has become smaller and less experienced in the decades following the Cold War.

“These master plans would adopt a strategies-to-tasks framework to show a detailed decomposition of the means by which each of these missions will be sustained over time and how these systems contribute to national-level objectives,” according to the report. “The Air Force should use this strategies-to-tasks framework for its nuclear roles to strengthen the coordination of advocacy across the Air Force.”

RAND recommended that Global Strike, which turned 10 years old in August, should reach out to other major commands like Air Combat Command to learn from their experiences in buying and fielding new systems. The report also advises the command to establish a larger presence in the Washington, D.C., area to grow its influence over decisions that affect nuclear priorities.

At the same time as it prepares to bring on new systems, Global Strike is juggling sustainment of its current missiles, grappling with maintenance challenges for the worn-down B-1 and the B-52, which is expected to fly for 100 years, and eyeing retirement for the B-1 and B-2.

“The nuclear modernization effort is happening in a tight fiscal period with some opposition to various nuclear systems in favor of other national priorities,” the organization said of the multibillion-dollar programs. “AFGSC will need to sustain legacy systems, field new systems, and manage the sometimes complicated transition between them. It is vital not only that strategic nuclear systems operate, but that the exact specified number be available or on alert at all times.”

USAF calls the X-37 Orbital Test Vehicle a “workhorse,” and discussions about the need for a replacement are ongoing. Photo: USAF

X-37B Ends 718-Day Mission

By Rachel S. Cohen, Jennifer Hlad, and John A. Tirpak

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, a reusable and unmanned spacecraft, landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 27. “Each successive mission advances our nation’s space capabilities,” Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett said in an Oct. 27 press release.

Mission four lasted 718 days in space, though the spacecraft was designed to last only 270 days in orbit. A sixth mission will launch in 2020.

The X-37B performed experiments to lower the risk for potentially very expensive space technologies, helping the Air Force prepare for possible costly next steps or how it should operate in space in the future, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office Director Randall Walden said Oct. 24.

While he would not provide details of those experiments, Air Force officials have said they relate to spacecraft materials, power generation techniques, and sensors.

In a press release after the landing, Walden said the space- plane completed all its mission objectives, successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, and provided a ride for small satellites.

The X-37 also is informing whether the Air Force will need a new vehicle to replace it, Walden said.

“The data are still out” on whether USAF needs more X-37s to replace its two aircraft as they age, or whether the service is planning a follow-on program, he said.

The two vehicles in hand are “workhorses” that are faring well with their experimentation and prototyping missions, he said. He hinted that the X-37 is also helping answer the question of how the US could venture into reusable space assets, as it is exploring in the National Security Space Launch program for reusable rockets that can take military and civilian space assets to orbit.

In July, then-Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson revealed more details about the OTV, saying it “can do an orbit that looks like an egg and, when it’s close to the Earth, it’s close enough to the atmosphere to turn where it is.” Military.com first reported on her remarks.

“Our adversaries don’t know—and that happens on the far side of the Earth from our adversaries—where it’s going to come up next. And we know that drives them nuts. And I’m really glad about that,” Wilson said.

JASSMs Level Compound in Syria

By Brian W. Everstine

US aircraft fired a heavy onslaught of ordnance from the air, including multiple AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles, to destroy the Islamic State group leader’s hideout in Syria following the raid that resulted in his death, the Pentagon said Oct. 28.

The airstrikes at the “tail end” of the raid on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s hideout just 4 miles away from Turkey leveled the structure, after US forces retrieved large amounts of intelligence and took two fighters into custody, Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at an Oct. 28 press briefing.

In addition to JASSMs, US forces used guided bombs, Hellfire missiles, miniguns, and other small-arms fire on the compound. News agencies published photographs of the site taken after the raid that show piles of rubble, with no free-standing buildings left.

Milley did not specify which aircraft were used to conduct the strikes.

The incident marked the second time JASSMs have been used in Syria. In April 2018, B-1 bombers launched 19 of the missiles at the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons production facilities as part of a large strike, which also included 57 Tomahawk missiles.

US special forces flew more than an hour to reach the location of the Oct. 26 raid, passing over areas controlled by Russian, Turkish, and Syrian forces. US forces used “deconfliction channels” to notify Russia about the overflight to avoid miscalculations, a step that is consistent with past operations, Milley said. Following the raid, Baghdadi’s remains were disposed of in a manner consistent with international law, he said.

The Pentagon is going through the process of declassifying videos and photographs from the raid, and future briefings are likely to provide more detail on the operation, he said.

No US forces were seriously injured in the operation. A military dog that chased Baghdadi into a tunnel before he detonated his suicide vest was slightly injured and has returned to service,according to Milley. The Pentagon is not identifying the dog for security reasons.

Fewer Aviation Mishaps in 2019

By Rachel S. Cohen

Fiscal 2019 proved to be safer for the Air Force than the year before, with nine fewer of the most destructive mishaps compared to fiscal 2018, according to Air Force Safety Center data.

The service logged 14 Class A mishaps between Oct. 1, 2018, and Sept. 30, 2019, the AFSC reported. It recorded 23 Class A incidents from Oct. 1, 2017, and Sept. 30, 2018.

Class A mishaps occur when aircraft are destroyed or suffer more than $2 million in damage, or when the pilot or crew is killed or permanently, fully disabled. Incidents in which remotely piloted aircraft are destroyed don’t count toward that tally unless one of the other two criteria are met, according to AFSC.

Of those 14 Class A events, the majority involved fighter jets: six F-22s, two F-15s, and two F-16s. Ten fighter platforms were involved in Class A mishaps in fiscal 2018.

A C-17, T-38, T-6, and V-22 were also involved in Class A mishaps in fiscal 2019. Pacific Air Forces saw the most severe incidents of any Air Force major command that year.

The AFSC noted one fatality, far below the 19 fatalities in the previous year, during which nine members of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard were killed in a May 2018 WC-130H crash.

The Air Force also saw 27 Class B accidents in fiscal 2019, down from 34 in the previous year. Class B mishaps are defined by aircraft damage costing between $500,000 to $2 million, personnel becoming permanently, partially disabled, or three or more people being hospitalized.

The improvements are at least partially attributable to new technologies and procedures in place. Air Force Magazine reported Nov. 7 that for the F-16, a new Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System had saved eight aircraft and nine lives so far.

The National Commission on Military Aviation Safety, a group created by Congress in the Fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act to investigate trends across aircraft mishaps that occurred between 2013 and 2018, recently briefed reporters on its progress.

While it’s too early to draw any conclusions from what the commissioners have learned so far, Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for the group, told Air Force Magazine that its members had visited 16 Air Force installations, plus the US Air Force Academy as of Oct. 31. Another 13 USAF sites are still on its list.

“The commission is still in the data-collection phase, meeting with a wide range of personnel in the aviation community to hear firsthand the challenges they deal with every day,” Whitman said in a Nov. 6 email. “Simultaneously, the staff is compiling all of the safety mishap [Class A-C] data from the services. Then we will take the reflections from the site visits and match it up with the mishap data to start identifying trends.”

Commissioners are focusing on issues ranging from policy, to budget, to the pace of operations to training, sustainment, and more.

“One of the specific tasks the commission is appointed with is to make an assessment of the underlying causes contributing to the unexplained physiological events some military pilots have experienced in the past few years,” the Air Force said in an Oct. 8 release.

NCMAS plans to release its findings in 2020, after which the Defense Department must tell Congress how it plans to implement the recommendations.

“The commissioners are confident that their recommendations will be well-informed, constructive, and actionable,” Whitman said.

​SSgt. Cole Condiff. Photo: SrA. Rachel Yates

Lost USAF Combat Controller

By Rachel S. Cohen

Air Force Special Operations Command has changed its search for a missing special tactics airman into a mission to recover his body.

SSgt. Cole Condiff, 29, was a special tactics combat controller with AFSOC’s 24th Special Operations Wing, the wing said Nov. 9. He served in the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron.

Military personnel have been searching for Condiff since he fell from a C-130 over the Gulf of Mexico during a Nov. 5 static line training jump. The Air Force and Navy are still conducting recovery efforts, and USAF is investigating the incident. The Coast Guard had suspended its search effort as of Nov. 8.

“Cole was a man with deep-rooted beliefs who dedicated himself to God, our freedoms, peace, and his family. He was a devoted family man within our squadron, focused on teaching his girls to be adventurous like he was,” Lt. Col. Steven Cooper, 23rd STS commander, said in a Nov. 9 release.

Condiff, a Texas native, enlisted in 2012 and was assigned to Hurlburt Field, Fla., after completing the two-year combat control training program. He was a “static line jumpmaster, military free-fall jumper, combat scuba diver, air traffic controller, and a joint terminal attack controller” who deployed to Africa and Afghanistan and received two Air Force medals, according to the Air Force.

He is survived by his wife, two daughters, parents, sister, and two brothers.

USAF Expands Plan for Light-Attack Aircraft

By Brian W. Everstine

The Air Force plans to buy a small number of AT-6 and A-29 aircraft, to be split between Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operations Command, as its light attack experiment shifts into an acquisition program.

The service on Oct. 24 released its final request for proposals, which states it plans to purchase two to three light-attack aircraft each from Textron Aviation, which produces the AT-6, and the Sierra Nevada Corp.-Embraer team that offers the A-29. The Air Force expects to issue a contract for the A-29 by end of the year, and for the AT-6 in early 2020.

The AT-6 will go to Nellis AFB, Nev., where ACC will use it for testing and development of “operational tactics and standards for exportable, tactical networks that improve interoperability with international partners,” the Air Force said in an Oct. 24 release.

Meanwhile, the A-29 will go to Hurlburt Field, Fla., where AFSOC will use it to create an instructor pilot program for those who advise foreign nations on air warfare. The program will help meet “increased partner nation requests for light attack assistance,” according to the Air Force.

The light attack experiment began in August 2017, when USAF and Navy pilots flew a range of aircraft at Holloman AFB, N.M., to evaluate their ability to perform close air support and related missions in permissive areas. The Air Tractor, L3 Technology’s AT-802 Longsword, and Textron’s Scorpion also participated in the experiment, but were not selected to move forward in the process. Air Tractor later filed a protest related to the light-attack program with the Government Accountability Office, which was quickly dismissed.

“Our focus is on how a light attack aircraft can help our allies and partners as they confront violent extremism and conduct operations within their borders,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in the release. “Continuing this experiment, using the authorities Congress has provided, gives us the opportunity to put a small number of aircraft through the paces and work with partner nations on ways in which smaller, affordable aircraft like these can support their air forces.”

The turboprop planes will also be used to “examine a common architecture and intelligence-sharing network” that bridges them with sensors and other platforms, according to the release.

“If I hear one thing from my international air chiefs, it’s, ‘We need to figure out how to share information both ways,” Goldfein said.

DOD Launching 5G Experiments

By Rachel S. Cohen

The Pentagon is rolling out an experimentation and prototyping campaign that will look at using 5G networks to provide augmented and virtual reality tools for mission planning and training, to manage warehouses and military logistics, and to learn more about sharing parts of the wireless spectrum with other users.

A draft request for proposals that uses new commercial technologies to further military network objectives was due out in November, with the final version expected this month—though that could be derailed if Congress does not pass a 2020 defense spending bill. Officials plan to publish new opportunities for industry about every three months if funds are available, and will hold an industry day before putting out the final RFP.

Lisa Porter, the deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said on a call with reporters the Defense Department wants to explore each of the use cases before turning to the matter of leasing 5G infrastructure at still-undisclosed bases.

Those installations will “provide streamlined access to site spectrum bands, mature fiber and wireless infrastructure, access to key facilities, support for new or improved infrastructure requirements, and the ability to conduct controlled experimentation with dynamic spectrum sharing,” DOD said in a release.

The first round of opportunities includes: “establishing a dynamic spectrum-sharing testbed to demonstrate the capability to use 5G in congested environments with high-power, mid-band radars, integrating augmented reality and virtual reality into mission planning and training in both virtual and live environments on training ranges,” and pursuing “smart warehouses to leverage 5G’s ability to enhance logistics operations and maximize throughput,” according to the release.

Officials are choosing projects that will also benefit commercial industry, which is leading the push toward 5G networks that are expected to be faster and more secure. The initiative comes as USAF is taking its own steps to spread 5G to bases one region at a time.

Whether the B-52 Stratofortress would make a good arsenal plane or whether something else is needed remains under discussion. Photo: SSgt. Trevor McBride

USAF Arsenal Plane Options

By Rachel S. Cohen

The Air Force is planning experiments and briefing senior leaders on progress toward its “arsenal plane” idea, looking at multiple aircraft options to fly with a large weapons load to back up strike assets.

An arsenal plane would be a multi-engine platform that could augment remotely piloted aircraft and fighter jets in combat and totes “network-enabled, semi-autonomous weapons,” according to a 2016 Air Force video. The concept has been around for years under the Defense Department’s Strategic Capabilities Office.

The idea “takes one of our oldest aircraft platform[s] and turns it into a flying launchpad for all sorts of different conventional payloads,” then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in 2016. “In practice, the arsenal plane will function as a very large airborne magazine, [and] network to fifth-generation aircraft that act as forward sensor and targeting nodes.”

Senior leaders are still discussing the prospect of fielding such a plane, service spokeswoman Capt. Cara Bousie said Nov. 3.

At AFA’s 2019 Air, Space & Cyber Conference in September, Air Force Global Strike Command boss Gen. Timothy Ray told reporters the service was planning more experiments to flesh out the idea. More reports were due to senior leaders as well.

While people have speculated that the B-52 bomber would make an ideal arsenal plane, Ray indicated mobility platforms could be in the mix.
“You have to go look at those options, if you believe you’ll have access to airlift assets to go do that in a time of crisis,” he said. “I’m not mentally there, I don’t see how that comes together.”

He added that Air Force acquisition boss Will Roper—a former SCO director—would be briefed on the program at the end of September. Bousie said she couldn’t provide any insight on those discussions.

“At the end of the day, there’s a little bit of learning going on,” Ray said. “It’s an easy thing to draw, a tougher thing to do.”

Could a mobility platform play the role of arsenal plane well? Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, believes it depends on what munitions the platform would carry

“If it’s used for air-to-air munitions, then externally mounted weapons would be ideal. But many mobility platforms were not designed to handle external payloads, so it could require extensive modifications,” Harrison said in an email. “If the arsenal plane is intended to carry air-to-ground weapons, then they could deploy from the rear ramp of mobility platforms, which would not require extensive modifications.”

He argues a B-52 is a better platform because it offers space for munitions inside and on its wings, and can carry many at a time.

“An arsenal plane does not necessarily need to be stealthy or fast, but it needs to have a large payload capacity,” Harrison said.

Mark Gunzinger, director of future aerospace concepts and capabilities assessments at AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, agrees that turning to mobility or a commercial-derivative aircraft wouldn’t be practical when the Air Force could use B-52s or B-1s instead.

“C-17s will likely be in very high demand during the opening stages of a major conflict accomplishing their primary missions,” Gunzinger said. “It wouldn’t make sense to allocate them for strikes instead of using them to deploy forces into a theatre of operations. It would be even more difficult, and far more costly, to attempt to modify a commercial-derivative aircraft to carry a large number of weapons internally, depressurize for weapons releases, safely eject weapons, etc.”

Taking time out to talk to fellow airmen can be a vital tactic in the battle against suicide. Photo: SMSgt. Vincent de Groot/ANG

‘Open Up and Show Your Brokenness,’ AMC Command Chief Says

By Brian W. Everstine

The Air Force is encouraging senior leaders to be forthcoming with their own personal stories to connect with airmen and ensure the discussion continues, following the recent stand-down implemented to focus on mental health amid a dramatic increase in suicides.

“[We], as leaders, need to open up and show our brokenness,” said CMSgt. Terrence Greene, the command chief master sergeant for Air Mobility Command, in a recent interview. “We’re not perfect, we’re going through challenges in our lives.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein in late July ordered a one-day “resilience tactical pause” to address the issue of suicide across the Air Force, which he said was an “adversary that is killing more of our airmen than any enemy on the planet.”

As wings across the service paused operations for a day to discuss suicide, Goldfein said some were more effective than others. In a recent interview with Air Force Magazine, he said the most effective discussions stemmed from commanders being proactive and opening up about their personal stories.

“There’s a power of senior leaders actually telling their story,” Goldfein said, adding it humanizes the commanders, and it dispels the myth that leaders “don’t deal with this issue at all.”

“I hear a lot of stories of commanders, command chiefs, senior NCOs, senior leaders who actually showed some vulnerability and shared things they are dealing with. It opened up dialogue.”

Greene is using his story to try to connect with his airmen. At the 2019 Airlift/Tanker Conference in late October in Orlando, he said in a speech that airmen need to “lead from the neck up,” and they should “inspire, and motivate, and encourage, and excite people. The only way to do that is to have a personal conversation, create an environment where people feel comfortable.”

When Greene was young, his mother committed suicide, and he and his siblings faced abuse. When he joined the Air Force, he thought, “Holy crap, I found a family. I found this thing that I wanted.” But, he said he focused so much on work, he neglected his own family.

Greene, like a lot of young airmen today, came “in with scars” that can lead to thoughts of suicide. While he’s “really excited some airmen are strong enough to fight against it, there were times when my own brain would take me down that road.”

The Air Force needs to work together to ensure all airmen can be strong and resilient in the face of these challenges. “We’ve got to get to know the person behind the uniform,” Greene said.

An MRAP is loaded onto a C-17 in Syria on Oct. 23. Photo: SSgt. Joshua Hammock/USA Reserve

Turkey Sanctions Lifted

By Brian W. Everstine

The White House is lifting sanctions it imposed on Turkey after Turkey agreed to a “permanent” ceasefire in Syria but can now reach deeper into areas previously held by Syrian Kurdish fighters, President Donald Trump announced Oct. 23.

The limited sanctions, which Trump enacted in an Oct. 14 executive order, targeted Turkish steel and assets held by some of the country’s leaders. Trump said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan informed him that Turkey was stopping its military incursion into northeast Syria, the day after Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached a decision to jointly patrol the area along the Turkish-Syrian border—which, until recently, the US and Turkey did together.

“The sanctions will be lifted unless something happens that we’re not happy with,” Trump said. “This was an outcome created by us, the United States, and nobody else. No other nation; very simple. And we’re willing to take blame, and we’re also willing to take credit. This is something they’ve been trying to do for many, many decades.”

US forces have largely left Syria, with a small number staying behind to secure oil fields and prevent them from being taken over by Islamic State group fighters. “We’re going to be protecting it, and we’ll be deciding what we’re going to do with it in the future,” Trump said of the oil.

Most US forces in Syria are moving to Iraq, where Iraqi leaders have said they are not authorized to stay. Defense Secretary Mark Esper met with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abd-al-Mahdi in Baghdad on Oct. 23, where he thanked Iraq for supporting the security of US personnel.

In an Oct. 22 interview with CNN, Esper said the forces that left Syria are being repositioned “temporarily” in Iraq as part of a “continuing phase” that will lead them home. Esper said the forces that will stay in Syria will be in the southern part of the country, likely the fortified Al-Tanf facility, “but that needs to be worked out in time.”

Esper said that US airpower would stay active in the area if American forces are on the ground.

Turkey’s invasion of Syria, targeting formerly US-backed Kurdish fighters, began after Trump on Oct. 6 announced he was ordering American forces to leave the area along the Syrian-Kurdish border. The Oct. 23 announcement came at the end of a temporary ceasefire that local reports said fighters largely disobeyed.

Trump said he spoke with Syrian Democratic Forces leader Mazloum Abdi, who “could not be more thankful” and said IS detainees are “under very, very strict lock and key.”

That statement contradicts others from inside the administration. Esper, speaking with CNN, said there are reports of a “bit more than 100” IS fighters who have escaped captivity. James Jeffrey, the special representative for Syria engagement and the special envoy to the global coalition to defeat ISIS, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 22 that some IS detainees have escaped, and that about 10,000 detainees are in “jeopardy if things go south in northeast Syria.”

Reagan Library to Display F-117

By Brian W. Everstine

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif., will display an F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter starting in December.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute on Nov. 4 announced the F-117—Tail No. 803, nicknamed “Unexpected Guest”—will be unveiled Dec. 7 at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum. The jet is on loan from the National Museum of the US Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, and will be on permanent display at the library.

“Unexpected Guest” entered service in May 1984 and flew 78 combat sorties, more than all other F-117s combined, according to the foundation. Nighthawks, the world’s first operational stealth aircraft, became public in 1988.

“I’m glad the airplane can come out of the dark to take its rightful place in the light, somewhere it can be seen and appreciated by the people it helped to protect,” retired Lt. Col. Scott Stimpert, a pilot who flew the aircraft when it was classified, said in a foundation release.

Lockheed Martin restored the airframe for display. The USAF museum in Ohio also has an F-117.

The Reagan Library and Museum complex was evacuated in October because of a raging brush fire in Simi Valley that came dangerously close to the building. It reopened to the public on Nov. 1.

USAF F-15s once participated in large-scale exercises such as Vigilant Ace-18 above—not any more. Photo: SrA. Jessica Smith

Vigilant Ace Replacement Exercise

By Brian W. Everstine

The US and South Korea will once again hold a reduced-size flying training event instead of the large-scale Vigilant Ace exercise, Korean officials told Yonhap news agency.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn told the agency there will be an upcoming “Combined Flying Training Event.”

The decision marks the second consecutive year that Vigilant Ace has been suspended. The exercise, which first launched in 2015, regularly included hundreds of aircraft from both the USAF and Republic of Korea Air Force, along with the US Navy and Marine Corps. It exercised the pre-positioned air tasking order that simulates the first few days of conflict on the Korean peninsula and included 24/7 flying operations. Last year’s iteration was suspended following President Donald Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un.

US officials have insisted that the suspension of large-scale exercises, such as Vigilant Ace, Foal Eagle, and Ulchi Freedom Guardian, among others, have not affected readiness on the peninsula.

In March, US Forces-Korea Commander Army Gen. Robert Abrams told lawmakers the US changed the “size, scope, volume, and timing” of training, noting the US is “a trained and capable force.” Pacific Air Forces boss Gen. C.Q. Brown said after Vigilant Ace was canceled there were no “immediate” concerns about the degradation of readiness, but canceled exercises could create “difficulties” down the road.

USAF Scientist Moves to DOD

Former Air Force Chief Scientist Mark J. Lewis has been appointed Director of Defense Research and Engineering for Modernization, the Pentagon confirmed. Lewis will oversee the directors of 12 technologies the Defense Department deems its highest priorities, and their implementation roadmaps, ranging from hypersonics to biotech. In particular, he will focus on rationalizing the various hypersonics efforts of the military services and defense agencies. Lewis started Nov. 4, and will serve as deputy to Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin, who has made hypersonics his top priority.

SMC Wins Packard Award

The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s launch enterprise has won the Defense Department’s highest award for acquisition, the 2019 David Packard Excellence in Acquisition Award, the service said Nov. 1. “SMC’s launch enterprise team crafted an acquisition strategy of innovative public-private investments in launch vehicle development, resulting in the continuous delivery of acquisition performance with both affordability and speed,” the center said in a release. The award is named for David Packard, a former deputy defense secretary from 1968-1971 and a co-founder of technology giant Hewlett-Packard. It was instituted in 1997 and went to another SMC team in 2018.

USAF Capts. Spencer Weide, left, and Justin Newman with an F-35B aboard the USS America. Photo: LCpl. Juan Anaya/USMC

USAF Pilots Fly F-35Bs at Sea

Two Air Force pilots on Sep. 27 flew F-35Bs from the amphibious assault ship USS America in the Eastern Pacific, marking the first time airmen flew the Marine Corps variant of the Joint Strike Fighter at sea. Capts. Spencer Weide and Justin Newman, both assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 at MCAS Yuma, Ariz., flew the aircraft as part of an integrated training exercise, according to a Nov. 1 Air Force release. “Integrated training like this is important because we operate off of a ship, and we get to learn the naval and Marine warfare functions,” Newman said in the release. “This will allow us to return the knowledge back to the Air Force for better future integration.”

The War on Terrorism


As of Nov. 11, 82 Americans had died in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, and 87 Americans had died in Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, Syria, and other locations.

The total includes 165 troops and four Defense Department civilians. Of these deaths, 79 were killed in action with the enemy, while 92 died in noncombat incidents.

There have been 494 troops wounded in action during OFS and 81 troops in OIR.