The fiscal 2021 budget request only funds 48 new F-35As. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brandon Cribelar
Photo Caption & Credits


The Defense Budget Drops; F-35 Fixes; Planners Work on Space Force; and more …

What’s in the FY21 Budget Request

By Brian W. Everstine and John A. Tirpak

The Department of the Air Force’s fiscal 2021 budget request includes $153.62 billion for the Air Force and $15.38 billion for the Space Force, all within an overall budget topline identical to what Congress passed for 2020.

That topline includes $38.2 billion in pass-through funds neither controlled nor used by either service, but used by other defense agencies for secret, mostly space-related work. The pass-through is down slightly from $39 billion in 2020. Air Force leaders have said in recent months that eliminating the pass-through has been the topic of high-level discussions, but is ultimately a matter for Congress to address.

The spending plan:

  • Cuts USAF procurement by 5 percent to $25.39 billion
  • Cuts military construction funding by 74 percent to $1.38 billion
  • Increases operations and maintenance funding by $3.26 billion (6.2 percent)
  • And raises research and development investment by $2.01 billion (5.9 percent)

The Air Force and Space Force budgets fit within an overall Defense Department funding request totaling $705.4 billion (down from $712.6 billion approved by Congress for 2020). It includes $636.4 billion in base funding and $53 billion to fund overseas contingency operations. Another $35.1 billion for nuclear programs at the Department of Energy expands the total planned investment in national defense to $740.5 billion.

Graphic: Dash Parham/staff


Air Force Department officials cited four priorities derived from the National Defense Strategy as driving their decisions:

  • Connect the joint force
  • Dominate space
  • Generate combat power—defined as “blunt any attack against the U.S. or our allies”
  • Sustain logistics while under attack

The budget request funds just 60 new fighters, including 48 F-35As and 12 F-15EXs. That’s a dozen short of the 72 fighters needed per year to staunch the aging of its fighter force. The Air Force had planned to add 60 F-35As per year by now.

In space, the budget buys two Global Positioning System III follow-on satellites and three National Security Space Launch vehicles.

Other planned purchases include 15 KC-46A tankers, 16 HH-60W combat search and rescue helicopters, the first MH-139 Grey Wolf VIP/ICBM support helicopters, and a variety of aircraft upgrades.

“The bottom line is: To ensure we have the capabilities we’re going to need in the future, we’re going to have to take some risk,” Maj. Gen. John Pletcher, the Air Force deputy assistant secretary for budget, said in a Feb. 10 briefing. “We can’t continue to fund everything … we have in our force today without eventually having to make some tough choices, so this budget does that.”

The increase in operations and maintenance comes from a substantial increase in operational contingency funds, with the total rising from $14.3 billion enacted by Congress for ’20 to $21.5 billion in ’21. OCO funds will help replenish JASSM-ER stealth standoff missiles, JDAM bombs, Hellfire missiles, Small Diameter Bomb 1, and Combat Rescue Helicopters used or lost in combat operations and support “six enduring locations” where USAF operates overseas, hand-launched RQ-20B Puma drones, general purpose bombs, and six European Defense Initiative military construction projects.

Air Force leaders had touted a planned $30 billion realignment, which was projected to include wholesale retirements of major systems, but no such mass retirements materialized. Still, the plan seeks to retire the 17 least-capable B-1B bombers and 44 of the “least ready” National Guard A-10s, as well as 24 Block 20/30 Global Hawk ISR drones, 16 KC-10s, and 13 KC-135 tankers. Losing the tankers is likely to raise questions since the new KC-46s are still years from being fully operationally capable.

Meanwhile, 24 C-130Hs would retire, but they would be replaced by 19 new C-130Js, which are more capable. Because no aircraft will be retired outright, the biggest potential savings did not materialize; as long as any aircraft remains in the inventory, so does its associated logistics chain.

Maj. Gen. John Pletcher said the ’21 budget is not a blueprint for the “Air Force We Need” of 386 combat squadrons. That 386 goal “is not dead,” he said, but this budget merely begins the journey to that total.

Official seal of United States Space Force. Graphic: USSF

Space Force Launches with a $15.4 Billion Budget Request

By Rachel S. Cohen

The Space Force is seeking $15.4 billion in fiscal 2021 for its first full year of operations, up from $40 million in seed money allotted by Congress in 2020.

The fledgling service was created under the Department of the Air Force in December by the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, and will initially encompass most of the Air Force’s space enterprise. For the year, overall space funding would grow by $900 million, said Maj. Gen. John Pletcher, the Air Force’s deputy assistant budget secretary.

Pletcher said Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond has pressed hard to keep costs down. “Every time they’ve talked about how big a headquarters, how big of additional centers, anything that might look like added cost … [he] pushed down on it,” Pletcher said. The future growth of the department, he added, “depends on how much we as a nation—and we as a department—invest in the capacity and the capabilities that are really the gain of standing up a separate Space Force.”

The bulk of the Space Force’s 2021 request is in research and development. At $10.3 billion, it’s roughly two-thirds of the total planned spend. Among the major purchases: an improved control system for GPS satellites.

About one-third of that is for unspecified classified programs, according to budget watcher Todd Harrison, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “This is funding that was not previously identified as being for space,” he said via Twitter.

The service also wants $2.5 billion to fund regular operations and maintenance of assets like satellites and launch ranges, and to build out its headquarters.

Another $2.4 billion would go toward buying those systems, like two GPS III follow-on satellites from Lockheed Martin and three launches under the National Security Space Launch program. The Air Force requested the same amount of money for space procurement in 2020.

Two funding lines still resting within the Air Force are personnel and military construction. Pletcher said the Space Force will take control of its own military personnel money only once it’s certain those service members will be paid without hiccups. The Space Force’s workforce will still be small in 2021, growing from just 38 Active-Duty operators in 2020 to about 6,400 in 2021, according to Defense Department budget documents. That is expected to grow to about 8,100 Space Force members by 2025. In 2021, they would be joined by 3,500 full-time civilians, up from more than 120 this year.

Other details in the Space Force budget:

  • $77 million for overseas contingency operations to fund “counter-space operations, satellite communications in support of overseas efforts, and the sustainment of the Space-Based Infrared System,” Air Force budget documents said.
  • $111 million to grow the number of Space Force employees, “including staff for centers for development of doctrine, testing, and training for the new service.”
  • An unspecified sum for renaming some bases as Space Force installations. These name changes will not affect the base operating support and financial management relationships between the U.S. Space Force and the U.S. Air Force,” DOD said.

“The USSF is realigning existing space forces and materiel from the Air Force in the near-term and scaling up with other components over the next several years in order to address increasing threats and maintain strategic advantage,” the Office of Management and Budget wrote. “The budget also grows the Space Development Agency, which was established in 2019 to foster innovation by leveraging the thriving domestic commercial space sector, and the U.S. Space Command, which would employ the forces and capabilities of the USSF.”

DOD added that it still plans to bring the “preponderance” of space missions, units, resources, and personnel under the Space Force.

“Transfers are critical to unifying today’s disparate space-related research, development, acquisition, fielding, and operations into a single organization led by a single leader,” according to Pentagon comptroller documents. “Failing to consolidate the preponderance of military space activities and capabilities from across the DOD will fail to leverage the historic opportunity the establishment of the U.S. Space Force as a separate military service provides.”

The Pentagon says that, if allowed by Congress, it will take on the hefty task of determining which Army, Navy, and other space missions and resources will move into the Space Force in fiscal 2022.

“The department’s goal is to transfer the necessary space-related missions, units, resources, and personnel into the U.S. Space Force no later than FY22, consistent with law,” DOD wrote. “Missions, units, resources, and personnel will be transferred in a manner that minimizes disruption to current missions and acquisition programs and avoids adverse impact to military and civilian personnel.”

An F-35A Lightning II with the F-35 Demo Team soars over Hill Air Force Base, Utah, during a demonstration practice Jan. 8, 2020, at Hill AFB, Utah. Photo: Senior Airman Alexander Cook

Lockheed Mixed Up Structural Fasteners in F-35s

By John A. Tirpak

Hundreds of F-35s could have the wrong fasteners in “critical areas,” according to the Defense Contract Management Agency [DCMA]. But F-35 builder Lockheed Martin says the problem may not need to be fixed.

“All aircraft produced prior to discovery of this [problem] have titanium fasteners incorrectly installed in locations where the design calls for Inconel,” the F-35 Joint Program Office [JPO] said in an email in response to a query from Air Force Magazine. “Because of this, the engineering safety analysis of the issue has assumed that each critical F-35 joint was assembled with the incorrect fasteners.”

Deliveries of the F-35 were halted briefly in November when the issue was discovered, but the JPO said analysis in January concluded “that no aircraft operating restrictions or inspections are necessary at this time.”
Inconel is an alloy of nickel and chromium. Inconel bolts are specified for uses where greater strength and corrosion resistance are required, while titanium bolts are used in areas where its lightness helps reduce weight. Titanium has a xlower shear strength than Inconel.

The two parts are “very difficult to distinguish, visually.”Lockheed Martin spokeswoman

The fasteners in this case are “eddie bolts” and are similar in appearance except for the numbers stamped on them. They are not the same, however: The titanium bolts cost about $5 apiece, while the Inconel parts cost about $20 each. A Lockheed spokeswoman said the two parts are “very difficult to distinguish visually.”

The Lockheed spokeswoman said an initial analysis concluded that “titanium has sufficient strength in locations that called for Inconel eddie bolts.” Another Lockheed official said components are built with “twice the strength specified,” but he did not specify whether this was the case with the titanium eddie bolts.

Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said she had seen samples of the mixed-up fasteners and said, “right now we have assessed that there is no structural compromise of the aircraft.”

A Root Cause and Corrective Action [RCCA] analysis is now underway and the JPO said it will release a fleet guidance report when it is complete. Lockheed is doing the analysis under the supervision of both the DCMA and the JPO.

Noting that the JPO and Lockheed are working closely together, Lord said: “We will continue to assess if there are any issues, but we have confidence in the integrity of the aircraft at this point.”

Lord said she’s looking for “continuous improvement” in F-35 production, and reported seeing “incredible strides” in quality over the past 2 1/5 years. “I think this is a journey that we will be on for the entire life of the F-35,” she said, predicting that Lockheed will continue to improve, “month over month, quarter over quarter, and year over year.”

In addition to the F-35 production line at Fort Worth, Texas, the commingling of the two types of bolts was also discovered at the Italian F-35 Final Assembly and Checkout (FACO) facility, but not the one in Japan, the DCMA reported. Deliveries of the F-35 were halted briefly in November when the issue was discovered.

Lockheed plans to submit its report to the DCMA and JPO in February, and the company expects it “to be approved,” its spokeswoman said. As to how the issue occurred, she explained that “several fastener bins were found on the factory floor with commingled fasteners at Lockheed Martin locations and several supplier locations.”

Inspections of some aircraft—Lockheed did not specify how many, or who had conducted the inspections—“indicated high levels of compliant fastener installations,” and an engineering review “has been completed and is in review with the customer,” the spokeswoman said.

The company believes that once its analysis is approved, “no rework will be required for aircraft in the fleet,” she said, but did not identify other corrective actions.

Similar quality issues occurred with the F-16, where workers threw leftover fasteners into the wrong bin at the end of a shift. Such problems can often take months to be discovered.

According to the DCMA, there are more than 48,000 fasteners of the two types on an F-35 fighter. The Air Force’s F-35As have 848 Inconel bolts out of 48,919 total fasteners, or about 1.7 percent of the total. The Marine Corps’ F-35B model has 877 Inconel fasteners out of 50,603, also 1.7 percent. The Navy’s F-35C carrier-capable model, though, which has to endure the shock of repeated hard landings on an aircraft carrier, and is larger and heavier than the other two variants, has 51,353 fasteners, of which 1,813, or 3.5 percent, are made of Inconel.

The DCMA acknowledged that Lockheed had begun implementing a corrective plan in November and had “completed most action items in December 2019,” although it did not specify those actions.

It was not disclosed on which F-35 tail numbers the changes were implemented. Lockheed delivered 134 F-35s last year, so it’s likely that the last deliveries of 2019, or about 11 to 14 airplanes, as well as those delivered in January, are not suspected of having misapplied bolts.

The DCMA said it hasn’t calculated what it would take, in terms of man-hours, to check all the fasteners on all previous F-35s, or what that would cost, because this was “not part of the corrective action.”

The JPO will work with Lockheed to “examine the structural impacts of having titanium fasteners installed in locations where the design calls for Inconel.” It left open the possibility that there could still be “inspections or replacements … required.”

The company and its suppliers “are validating correct fastener installations and have taken actions to improve fastener segregation and control,” the Lockheed spokeswoman asserted.

The RCCA was to examine “all aspects of handling this part, including, but not limited to, the manufacture, shipping, receiving, production, line distribution, and production line work instruction,” the JPO said in an email. “The F-35 Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin will use the findings to update these procedures as appropriate to prevent a similar escape from occurring in the future.”

It will be up to the JPO to decide what expense, if any, the bolt mix-up will entail, and who will bear ithat cost, the DCMA said.

Less than a year earlier, it was holes, rather than fasteners that found Lockheed under scrutiny, after USAF maintainers at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, discovered corroded fastener holes on some aircraft. The holes had either been improperly drilled or improperly treated to prevent corrosion.

Corrosion could become an issue in this case, as well. A Pentagon official familiar with aerospace structures said it’s possible the titanium or Inconel bolts could be incompatible with the materials they’re attached to. Left uncorrected, corrosion is one potential result.

Maintainers work on an F-35 at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. Lightning II aircraft are getting a new, more user-friendly logistics and sustainment system. Photo: Senior Airman Caroline Burnett

For F-35, ALIS Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

By John A. Tirpak

The F-35’s problematic Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS, will be replaced by a new system starting later this year. The new system, dubbed ODIN, for Operational Data Integrated Network, is designed to be more user-friendly, more secure, and less prone to error.

ODIN “incorporates a new integrated data environment” and will be “a significant step forward to improve the F-35 fleet’s sustainment and readiness performance,” according to the F-35 Joint Program Office. The new system will also “allow software designers to rapidly develop and deploy updates in response” to operator needs.

The first “ODIN-enabled” hardware will be delivered in 2020, and the system is supposed to be fully capable by December 2022, “pending coordination with user deployment schedules,” the JPO said. Some deployed ALIS systems may not get ODIN until they return.

ALIS was developed to gather vast quantities of F-35 flight data, relaying performance to maintainers on the ground in near-real time. It’s meant to predict part failures and keep maintainers abreast of the health of each individual F-35. By amassing that data centrally for the worldwide F-35 fleet, prime contractor Lockheed Martin expected to better manage spare parts production, detect trends and performance glitches, and reduce operating costs. The system was plagued by troubles, from false alarms leading to unnecessary maintenance actions to laborious data entry requirements and clumsy interfaces. The system also was slow to boot up, updates were difficult, and the tablets used by maintainers were clunky.

ODIN development was led by the JPO, and leveraged USAF’s Kessel Run software development unit, the 309th Software Engineering Group at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the Naval Information Warfare Center, Lockheed Martin, and Pratt & Whitney, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, F-35 program executive officer. ODIN will “leverage the agile software development and delivery practices piloted by Kessel Run and investments by Lockheed Martin” to help improve mission readiness and meet operational requirements, he said.

The Air Force software shop charged with improving ALIS system software was nicknamed “Mad Hatter,” a reference to a character by that name in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

“Poor data quality is the top risk to the performance of the new and next-generation system,” the JPO said. “That is why the F-35 JPO has prioritized building a new integrated-data environment first, using commercial best practice for data management, well-defined and simplified systems of record, and reliable data quality metrics and tracking.”

ODIN will be a “cloud-native system that incorporates a new integrated-data environment and a new suite of user-centered applications.”

Switching the enterprise to the new system will enable “real-time monitoring of system performance and automated collection of performance information, and seamless management of parts, technical orders, and program performance data.”

The Government Accountability Office published a number of reports faulting ALIS for adding unnecessary man-hours and complexity to the F-35 enterprise, saying in a November 2019 report that USAF maintainers in just one unit reported “more than 45,000 hours per year performing additional tasks and manual workarounds because ALIS was not functioning” the way it was supposed to.

In early versions, ALIS also proved vulnerable to hacking and data theft, making security another reason to overhaul the system.

Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, has said driving down F-35 hourly operating costs is among her highest priorities. The Pentagon wants to reduce F-35 operating costs for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps to $25,000 per flight hour by 2025. Today’s cost is about $35,000 per flight hour.

Lockheed Martin has pitched a performance-based logistics program, which it says is the only way the $25,000 goal can be met. The unofficial proposal would require Lockheed to invest more than $1 billion in more efficient practices and hardware, a sum that would be paid back by the government at a later date. Lord said the Pentagon is reviewing the proposal.

The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic air vehicle, competed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019, at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona. Photo: Senior Airman Joshua Hoskins

Experiments Take Root Across the Air Force

By Rachel S. Cohen

When the Air Force Research Laboratory’s experimentation office was chartered in 2016, the idea of “try before you buy” hadn’t picked up much speed. Nearly four years later, the office is using momentum and top cover from leadership to institutionalize experiments as regular practice in the Air Force.

The Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office, or SDPE, was established to bring to life the ideas explored in the Air Force’s enterprise studies of big topics such as multi-domain command and control and electronic warfare.

SDPE has been a key piece of the Air Force’s push to shrink the time it takes to move from developing a technology to getting it out into the field, aiding efforts including the light attack experiment, and overseeing new pushes into directed energy and the “Skyborg” drone.

“Experimentation can help us learn and frame the sort of ‘realm of the possible’ before we start turning them into specific requirements.“SDPE Director Chris Ristich

Now it’s looking for new ways to collaborate across the service, getting involved in the Pentagon’s joint all-domain command and control vision, funding side projects such as prototype landing strips, and launching inquiries into electronic warfare and bulk munitions.

The office is evolving into more of a partner to the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability—a headquarters-level group tasked with finding cross-functional solutions to the Air Force’s most widespread combat issues.

“The initial responsibility we had was to sort of provide the infrastructure and to execute these annual [Enterprise Capability Collaboration Teams] for the Chief of Staff of the Air Force,” SDPE Director Chris Ristich said in an interview. “Those have gone away now, and they’ve really been replaced by AFWIC. … As they’re starting to reach critical mass, we’re working with AFWIC to establish where the priority focus is going to be in the future.”

That relationship is shaping where SDPE’s ongoing experimentation campaigns could go next. For example, Ristich said, an effort to protect bases from incoming threats such as cruise missiles is expanding from considering only directed energy to include kinetic defenses such as munitions as well.

AFWIC isn’t the only group that wants to tap into experiments, which proponents argue are a cost-effective way of narrowing down what industry has to offer and quickly seeing if they meet real-world needs. Major commands and combatant commands are advising SDPE more often now on how the office could help their large organizations, and some are launching their own experimentation groups.

“You see experimentation activities, in general, starting to pop up in more and more places,” Ristich said. “I think all aspects of the Air Force are understanding that experimentation can help us learn and frame the sort of ‘realm of the possible’ before we start turning them into specific requirements for programs of record.”

The office’s flagship efforts haven’t yet delivered any major weapons or networks that Airmen can use in everyday life, but officials are optimistic that those wins could be coming in the next year or so.

One area that could soon bear fruit is SDPE’s program to find laser and microwave weapons that can protect bases from threatening drones. Three systems are heading to an undisclosed location overseas to spend a year downing unmanned aircraft that could be spying on U.S. troops or carrying explosives.

The demonstration “very much has the ability not just to be a 12-month operational overseas assessment, and [instead turn] into something that could be routine operations,” Ristich said.

“Global Lightning,” an experimentation campaign to hook up military aircraft to commercial Internet, is another good bet. Ristich said the office is eyeing a satellite communications lease contract within the next two years. SDPE believes that would take longer using a more traditional approach.

“We’re not putting out contracts to buy satellites and launch satellites and design architectures. … Instead we’ve been able to focus our resources on very quickly putting terminals in the field and testing with these different Internet services that are going up,” said Global Lightning Program Manager Brian Beal. “We’re working very closely with the … Space Force commercial SATCOM office, who will put the business mechanisms in place to use that capability operationally.”

SDPE’s ideas can reach warfighters through other avenues as well. The office is partnering with similar experimentation campaigns—notably, the Advanced Battle Management System project championed by Air Force acquisition boss Will Roper.

The Global Lightning team lent one of its test sorties to the first ABMS experiment in December 2019, where it connected an AC-130 to the Internet using SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. That enabled the plane to share data with other assets in the experiment in ways it couldn’t before, and it gave researchers feedback on using government encryption on commercial systems.

“They have ongoing plans and we’ll be testing different aspects quite frequently,” Beal said of ABMS. “Where there’s a good linkage between what we’re doing on Global Lightning and what ABMS needs, I expect that we’ll continue to test together.”

SDPE researchers are also jumping into ABMS to figure out how to protect the U.S. from enemy cruise missiles. The December test worked with U.S. Northern Command on a scenario involving a cruise missile threat to the homeland, and SDPE will bring kinetic weapons, such as munitions, to an ABMS experiment this spring to address that problem.

The ABMS experiment could look at different ways of sending intelligence data to that counter-cruise missile system so a human operator knows when to fire.

Michael Jirjis, who runs SDPE’s directed energy projects, said the Air Force is considering at least 10 kinetic and nonkinetic weapons to defend against cruise missiles. Some of those will be vetted as part of ABMS experimentation this year, while the office will test others in a separate event in 2021.

“For the ’21 experiment, … we have both laser and high-power microwave [HPM] systems that we’re looking at,” Jirjis said. “They get at different mechanisms for addressing that threat that’s actually coming in. … The HPM system disrupts electronics that are in some of the cruise missiles, and then the laser system is very much a thermal burn, providing a kinetic-type kill, but it’s a different mechanism than you would have with a kinetic munition blowing it up.”

Ristich added that ABMS, envisioned as a faster, more connected way of doing command and control across the armed forces, is providing an opportunity for various military experimenters to help and learn from each other.

“ABMS is an example of where others that were doing this experimentation—including our office—kind of converged together to bring the different elements that we’re experimenting on to provide broader capabilities to actually see … more of an end-to-end kind of capability,” he said.

Those kinds of partnerships are also popping up between SDPE and other Air Force groups, like bringing in Global Lightning to assist with Air Education and Training Command’s “Squadron Next” plan to bring better connectivity to bases. Ristich indicated that’s a good model for future collaboration, but that experimentation won’t necessarily take root within program offices themselves.

Looking forward, SDPE is planning new campaigns and figuring out how to make the most of other efforts in AFRL.

Two pathfinders are helping hone their focus: one on rapid development of electronic warfare tools, and another on palletized munitions, or “the idea of exploring the ability to deliver a large volume of weapons at any given time,” Ristich said. The office is sketching out possible experiments that could get underway in fiscal 2021.

He added that AFRL’s “Vanguard” programs—major development efforts that will pull resources from across the lab—are a natural candidate for operational experiments so the Air Force makes sure the technology meets Airmens’ needs.

The office can also learn from its struggles.

Transitioning technologies to full-fledged programs continues to be difficult, Ristich acknowledged, but bringing in program executive officers early can help smooth that path.

He also noted one effort, dubbed “opportunity capture,” that ended up being too small for the vast task of identifying and reeling in emerging ideas for use in the Air Force—a mission now handled by AFWIC and AFWERX.

“The question was, how do you institutionalize something like that, where you’re doing horizon scans, and understanding those evolving marketplaces and able to distill them into essentially operational concepts?” Ristich said. “That was an example of a small office really not able to absorb that fully.”

Others have criticized experimentation for not following through on certain ideas. Though Air Force officials insisted their effort to vet light attack aircraft was just an experiment that wouldn’t necessarily result in procurement, lawmakers and some in industry have criticized the service for what they saw as resistance to going all-in on a needed platform.

SDPE has to prove it can come through on its big promises while keeping a 30-person staff and a yearly budget of around $120 million.

“It’s very tempting, actually, to grow,” Ristich said. “We try and execute as a flat organization where essentially everyone knows everyone and we work directly together. I think as we start to get too large, we’ll start to stratify into a hierarchy. … We don’t want to do that.”

Gen. John Raymond signs the US Space Command sign at Cavalier AFS, North Dakota. Raymond toured the facility and spoke to Airmen stationed there. Photo: Senior Airman Melody Howley

Planners Aim to Build Slim, Agile Space Force

By Brian W. Everstine

The U.S. Space Force will maintain a small and low-priced footprint, relying heavily on the existing USAF force structure, according to a 26-page document sent to Congress Feb. 3 that outlined the planned structure of the new service. That document will continue to evolve, however, with a finalized version expected in early May.

“DOD is focused on creating a structure that removes traditional layers of bureaucracy while maintaining clear lines of authority, responsibility, and accountability,” Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett wrote. “The successful establishment of the Space Force is vital to the continued ability of the United States to compete, deter, and win in an era of great power competition.”

U.S. Space Force Vice Commander Lt. Gen. David Thompson, still a uniformed member of USAF, said there are about 6,000 Air Force personnel, previously assigned to Air Force Space Command, who are now assigned to the Space Force. The goal is to start transferring personnel in key career fields—space operations, intelligence, engineering, acquisition, science, and cyber—this year, with complete transfer of USAF personnel slated for 2021. After that, the Space Force will begin transferring Army and Navy personnel.

By keeping the personnel and infrastructure small, the Air Force expects the “additive cost” of the new service to be less than $500 million per year, and less than $2 billion total from fiscal 2020 to 2024, according to the planning document.

The Air Force does not yet have a name for Space Force personnel, but planners have reached out to the Air Force Academy’s language department, the Defense Language Institute, and other language centers for help in what to call those assigned to the new service, Thompson said.

One possibility can be ruled out: They will not be “spacemen,” he said.

Officially bringing Airmen into the new service will take time. Changing the commissioning and enlistment process requires Congressional authorization, and the Pentagon wants to ensure bureaucratic processes such as pay and benefits are established before personnel join.

This means that for now, Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond remains the only member of the new service, Thompson said.

Eventually, all of DOD’s space-specific career fields will make up the approximately 16,000 members of the Space Force. Non-space-specific jobs related to the service, such as medical, civil engineering, and finance, for example, will remain in the Air Force. This will reduce the overall size of the service by about 7,500 members, the Air Force told lawmakers in the document.

“There will be more people assigned to U.S. Space Force critical support than we’ll have in the U.S. Space Force because people in U.S. Space Force are a limited number of skill sets,” Maj. Gen. Clint Crosier, the director of the U.S. Space Force Planning Office, said.

The Air Force has not yet proposed how the National Guard and Reserve will fit into the Space Force. That will be outlined in a future report due to Congress in March.

Eventually, the Space Force will access officers in the same way as the Air Force, through Officer Training School, Reserve Officer Training Corps, or through the U.S. Air Force Academy, in a similar way to how Marines go through the U.S. Naval Academy. There will be a Space Force detachment at the Air Force Academy in 2020, according to the document.

Enlisted personnel will still go through the Air Force Basic Military Training structure, with curriculum and programs to be modified in the future for some space-specific training.

A headquarters base has not yet been identified for the new service, but Air Force bases will potentially be renamed as Space Force installations, “To further cement the culture and identity of the Space Force,” according to the document.

There will eventually be a vice chief of space operations who will report directly to the CSO. That position will need Senate confirmation and Presidential appointment.

The Space Force will have subordinate commands, in the same way the Air Force has nine major commands. So far, only a few have been announced. Space Training and Readiness Command will be “devoted to growing a cadre of space war­fighting professionals necessary to meet new mission demands,” while Space Operations Command provides Space Force and others with space resources, such as satellite communications or missile warning.

Another report, due to Congress by the end of March, will address space acquisition, including merging the acquisition functions of the Space and Missile Systems Center, the Space Development Agency, and the Space Rapid Capabilities Office into a single authority.

“We have plenty to do in the United States Space Force,” Thompson said. “In fact, we’ve been doing it for a long time.”

An artist’s rendering of a B-21 Raider concept at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota. Graphic: Northrop Grumman/courtesy

B-21 Illustrations Show New Details of Secret Bomber

By John A. Tirpak

The Air Force released new artist’s concept images of the classified B-21 Raider bomber Jan. 31, showing new details of the air intakes, landing gear, and mid-body shape.

The new Raider images, the first since the bomber’s name was announced in September 2016, show the aircraft from ground level in the front right quarter, are actually three versions of the same picture, superimposed on a view out hangar doors at Whiteman, Ellsworth, and Dyess Air Force Bases in Missouri, South Dakota, and Texas, the planned future homes off the B-21, and the current homes of the B-2 Spirit and B-1 Lancer bombers, respectively.

The B-21 strongly resembles the B-2, but the new B-21 images show the cockpit windscreen further back from the nose, with a notable flat space in that location. The air intakes on either side of the cockpit are rendered as straight-edge triangular openings, unlike the B-2’s scalloped air scoops, and the depth of the intake tunnel is clearly shallower and more blended into the upper surface.

The underside depth of the center body—the “keel” of the flying wing—is similar to that of the B-2, but the upper surface shows a shorter fairing into the rear of the aircraft behind the cockpit, perhaps indicating no accommodations for a third crew member. The B-2 featured an ejection seat opening for a third crew member, but a third station was never included, and the space is used instead by the pilot or mission commander for catnaps during 40-plus hour missions.

The landing gear in the images is akin to that on the B-2, with similar positioning and nose gear doors. The image suggests the aircraft crew compartment is accessed through the nose gear area, as on the B-2, though the nose gear is positioned further back from the nose than on the B-2. The picture also suggests that each of the main landing gear rests on two large wheels, instead of four on the B-2, perhaps owing to the B-21’s smaller size and weight. The landing gear doors have more angles than on the B-2, and may fold like those on the F-22. No new information can be gleaned by the aircraft’s “shadow” on the hangar floor, which confirms the kite-like shape of the aircraft as seen in the original artist’s concept.

USAFA’s Class of 2023 at a March Back event in July 2019. A DOD report found that the Air Force Academy’s Sexual Assault and Response office was deficient in 14 areas. Photo: Joshua Armstrong/USAF

Sexual Assault Prevention Problems Linger at Military Academies

By Amy McCullough

Reports of sexual assault at the Defense Department’s three military academies rose 27 percent in the 2018-2019 academic year, despite a high-level call to action to eradicate the problem.

There were 149 reports of sexual assault involving a cadet or midshipman in 2018-2019, up from 117 the year before, according to a new Pentagon study. Some122 of those reports were made by academy students for sexual assaults that occurred during military service; eight cases were reported by Active troops or civilians and involved a cadet or midshipmen currently enrolled at an academy or who was enrolled within the last four years. The Defense Department did not release details on the additional 19 cases.

“The Department recognizes the challenge of combating sexual assault in the Military Service Academies and the high cost of not succeeding,” said Elizabeth Van Winkle, executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency, in a press release. “Our academies produce our future leaders. At every turn, we must drive out misconduct in place of good order and discipline.”

The Defense Department assesses the prevalence of sexual assaults and misconduct at the academies as well as the number of reports made in two ways.

  • Assessment reports for academic years beginning with even-numbered years—such as this report—look at academy actions and sexual assault reporting.
  • Assessments conducted in odd-numbered years include an anonymous survey of cadets and midshipmen that covers both the prevalence of sexual assault and reports of assault.

The report released Jan. 30, outlines whether the academies are in compliance with Defense Department policies and includes feedback from focus groups conducted with cadets, midshipmen, faculty, and staff.

“Focus group participants favorably acknowledged senior academy leader efforts to address sexual harassment and sexual assault. However, there was little evidence that such efforts translated into greater interest to challenge disrespectful elements of academy culture,” the report states. “Students often cannot, or will not, identify disrespectful experiences as unacceptable behavior. Participants also noted the perception that sexual harassing behaviors either lack severity or are considered ‘normal’ at the academies.”

An inspection of the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program, conducted by the USAFA inspector general from Dec. 10, 2018 to Jan. 25, 2019, found the program “does not comply with key elements of governing directives.” It cited 14 significant deficiencies and one minor deficiency, of which two were repeat deficiencies, according to the report.

Deficiencies fall into three categories:

  • Minor—Requires corrective action.
  • Significant—Could negatively impact the mission.
  • Critical—Could result in widespread negative mission impact or mission failure.

The Air Force Academy replaced all staff in its SAPR office in the spring of 2018, including the sexual assault response coordinator and all full-time victim advocates, following the release of a scathing 2017 report that deemed the school’s SAPR office “derelict” in its duties.

The Academy’s SAPR office “is still suffering” from that changeover, the new report says, noting that new personnel do not understand USAFA operations and operating procedures and that inconsistent guidance has resulted in “frequent contradiction of each other’s orders.”

When the new staff came on board, they were essentially “starting from nothing because they found the office files to be missing, inaccurate, or inadequate,” USAFA Inspector General Col. Gerald Szybist wrote in the report.

Continuing care of victims was the new team’s “highest priority,” according to Szybist, who acknowledges they were able to quickly make the office operational, but the team was “oversaturated and under-resourced” and too quickly diverted its attention to improving public perception. That left little time to codify processes or develop standard operating procedures, he said. A “lack of comprehensive onboarding/training … further complicated” the problems.

Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, superintendent of the Air Force Academy, said in a statement that it’s clear the academy still has work to do. “The bottom line is that one sexual assault is too many, and a culture and climate that allows any prevalence of these harassing and assaultive behaviors is corrosive to our aqcademy and our military’s ability to accomplish its mission,” he wrote. “Each and every person here deserves to live, work, learn, and serve in a safe environment free from sexual harassment, sexual assault, violence, and reprisal. I will accept nothing less.”

The IG recommended that:

  • Headquarter-level SAPR personnel be co-located at the academy “to ensure unity of effort and clear communication to SAPR offices.”
  • The academy’s SAPR program manager develop a process to annually review program intent and develop curriculum.
  • Roles be more clearly defined for the SAPR program manager/lead sexual assault response coordinator, deputy program manager, program analyst, and deputy coordinator.

KC-46 Delays Impact Readiness

By Brian W. Everstine

Boeing has incurred another $148 million in losses for its KC-46 program due to higher than expected manufacturing costs, as the company works with the Air Force to address continued deficiencies in the tanker’s capabilities.

The “reach-forward losses” of $148 million follows $736 million last year, and $445 million the year before, according to a Jan. 31 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Boeing has already absorbed more than $3 billion in losses on the fixed-price KC-46 contract.

In the filing, the company says it expects the full contract value, for all 179 aircraft and options exercised, will be about $30 billion. To date, 30 aircraft have been delivered.

The same day as the SEC filing, the Pentagon’s Department of Operational Test and Evaluation released its 2019 annual report on the program, detailing the deficiencies still impacting the fleet.

The KC-46 still has problems with the lack of visual acuity in the remote vision system, there is no indication of a high boom radial load presented at the boom operator’s station, boom stiffness in refueling lightweight aircraft, as well as issues with cargo locks. Air Mobility Command recently announced it has approved a fix for the cargo lock issue, but the other three deficiencies will linger. The service has said it does not expect the remote viewing system (RVS) issue to be fixed or the aircraft to be deployable for three-to-four years.

“Boeing and the Air Force offices are identifying solutions to remediate the deficiencies,” the report states. “Until these deficiencies are resolved, the KC-46A will not be fully mission capable.”

Aerial refueling tanker availability remains a major roadblock to readiness for U.S. Transportation Command, prompting the military to look at retaining even more aging tankers as well as the possibility of relying on private contractors to fill the gaps, U.S. Transportation Command boss Army Gen. Stephen Lyons said Jan. 28.

Problems with the KC-46 are causing ripple effects that could ultimately shrink the number of aircraft that are available for operations.

“We’ve got to figure out a way to mitigate the delayed fielding of the KC-46,” Lyons said at an Atlantic Council event in Washington, D.C.

Lyons said TRANSCOM is working with the Air Force to keep older tankers around longer to “have continuous coverage for the joint force as we work through the issues” with the Pegasus. The command has previously said it wants to retain 28 additional KC-135s, and Air Mobility Command boss Gen. Maryanne Miller has said the command is looking at keeping even more of the tails in service.

Lyons also said he is open to the possibility of leasing tankers from private companies. He agreed with Miller’s past comments that private tankers could help “take the pressure off the force” by flying certain missions within the continental United States. While those tankers wouldn’t be allowed to fly in combat, they could be available for training sorties and test and evaluation missions.

AMC recently held an Industry Day with more than a dozen companies to explore the possibility of privatization, though no official program or plan has been developed.

The Air Force has said, in its “The Air Force We Need” plan that aerial refueling is its biggest shortfall in future plans, and Lyons said that tankers are within his command the most stressed and exceeding “deploy-to-dwell” red lines.

USAF leaders have continued to express frustration with Boeing’s pace of addressing flaws with the RVS. Bloomberg reported recently that Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein wrote to new Boeing CEO David Calhoun to demand the company focus more on the KC-46 because the service “continues to accept deliveries of a tanker incapable of performing its primary operational mission.”

USAF Signals Intent to Buy F-15-EX

By John A. Tirpak

The Air Force has launched the process of buying new F-15EX fighters with dual presolicitation notices from the Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

The notices, dated Jan. 28, announce USAF’s intention to purchase F-15EX jets from Boeing and F110-129 engines from General Electric Aviation, with both companies as sole source suppliers.

The indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contracts are labeled as a “refresh to the F-15C/D fleet” as well as to “augment” the F-15C/D fleet with new airplanes. A contract is anticipated in May.

Although Pratt & Whitney also makes an engine that could power the F-15EX, its power plant is not certified for the airframes the EX model is based on, which Boeing is building for Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The Air Force’s desire to obtain speedy delivery of the jets rules out a test program for the Pratt & Whitney engine, which has not been evaluated with the digital, fly-by-wire F-15EX, an Air Force acquisition official explained. Each F-15EX requires two engines, and USAF will also buy spares, for a package of up to 480 of the power plants. Some of those may power older F-15s.

The GE F110-129 powers more than half of Air Force F-16s and more than 80 percent of USAF’s F-15E strike aircraft.

This first year of the program, the Air Force plans to buy eight F-15EX fighters, although future plans call for as many as 144 aircraft. Congress approved only two F-15EXs in the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, with the proviso that USAF can buy the other six after submitting a report on its acquisition strategy for the program. The eight aircraft, including initial engineering, hardware and software design, integration of subsytems, and parts production, would run about $1.1 billion the first year.

The Air Force also plans to buy modernization kits for some of its existing F-15C/D airplanes, which would give them capability comparable to the F-15EX.

The new airplanes would have a substantially more powerful mission computer, new cockpit displays, a digital backbone, and the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS)—an electronic warfare and threat-identification system.

The F-15EX purchase was an initiative of the Pentagon’s Cost Analysis and Program Evaluation shop, which said the Air Force could more rapidly refresh its fighter fleet by purchasing new examples of the F-15, even as it buys the stealthy F-35 fighter. Service leaders have said the F-35 remains their top priority, and they will only buy the F-15EX if additional funds are provided that don’t require reducing the F-35 buy.

The War on Terrorism


As of Feb. 10, 2020, 91 Americans had died in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, and 90 Americans had died in Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, Syria, and other locations.

The total includes 177 troops and four Defense Department civilians. Of these deaths, 83 were killed in action with the enemy, while 98 died in noncombat incidents.

There have been 570 troops wounded in action during OFS and 175 troops in OIR.