U.S. Air Force Basic Military Training graduation at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, on April 9. The ceremony was closed to the public, and the graduates observed social distancing rather than mustering in tight, close-in ranks. Johnny Saldivar/USAF
Photo Caption & Credits


May 1, 2020

BMT Overhauls Training in Face of Coronavirus Pandemic

By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory and Brian W. Everstine

Not even stop-movement orders, social distancing, COVID-19, nor the notoriously germ-friendly environs of open-bay dorms and stressed and sleep-deprived young people could bring Basic Military Training (BMT) to a halt, but continuity did not mean business as usual.

Schedules were redesigned to enable newcomers to spend their initial 14 days in restricted movement, socially distanced from each other to ensure recruits were virus-free before they began training more closely together. Masks joined ABUs as standard issue.

Training was cut from eight-and-a-half to seven weeks; dorms built for 60 were limited to half that number or less. Screening helped limit to five—of some 6,000—the number of recruits who tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival. And for the first time in half a century, the Air Force opened up a second BMT location to enable training to continue as the number of recruits ramps up for the busy summer training season.

In addition to training recruits at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, the Air Force opened a BMT operation at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., sending 60 recruits in an initial proof-of-concept to provide a surge capacity in extenuating circumstances and make USAF’s training pipeline more agile. Not since 1966 had portions of BMT been located elsewhere. Back then, it was to Amarillo Air Force Base, Texas, in the winter of 1966 following a meningitis outbreak at Lackland.

At that time, Lackland also instituted its own form of social distancing when the illness broke out at the installation, AETC said, which included:

  • Separating BMT flights as much as possible.
  • Keeping dining-hall tables further apart.
  • Shuttering “chapels, theaters, bowling alleys, and similar places of indoor congregation.”
  • Permitting “outdoor congregation” as long as there was a “vacant row between flights.”
  • Forbidding recruits from coming into “any kind” of contact with civilians.

Air Education and Training Command Commander Lt. Gen. Brad Webb said as of April 7 that the size of BMT classes would be cut. “I wouldn’t to leave you with an impression that this doesn’t affect our ability in any of our pipelines because it does,” he said. “But we are, as elegantly as we can, navigating the risk-to-force and the risk-to-mission kind of aspects of keeping after readiness, to the extent that we can.”

Keesler was chosen because it already hosts tech school training; by shipping recruits there directly and having them do their BMT and tech school in one location, travel can be minimized, and, along with it, potential exposure to COVID-19.

“We don’t have to expose them and expose the community in a transportation hub, like a commercial airport,” said 2nd Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Andrea Tullos in a conference call with reporters. Keesler’s medical and expeditionary training capabilities added to its advantages over other alternatives.

Training will be different, Tullos said, but not less. The quality of training must remain.

“At the end of the day,” Tullos said, “the Airman that comes out and marches across the parade field is going to be the same quality Airman.”

Space Force Finalizing Slew of Reports as New Service Stands Up

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket carrying a GPS payload for the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Center (SMC) lifts off from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., in 2019. The SMC and other space agencies met in February to discuss architecture for the new U.S. Space Force. United Launch Alliance

Policies, suggestions, and recommendations hit Congress.

By Rachel S. Cohen

The Space Force’s plans for a new acquisition enterprise for military space are outlined in 10 recommendations to Congress delivered in a required report to lawmakers at the end of March.

The report stops short of recommending legal language, but instead highlights policies and approaches that need to change to streamline how the Space Force develops, buys, and upgrades its systems.

Six of the 10 recommendations would require legislative changes, according to Shawn Barnes, acting assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration. The other four do not require Congress’s approval. These include changing how the Joint Staff develops requirements for space capabilities—viewing space assets as a unified “basket of capabilities” rather than disparate spending accounts that make it harder to achieve objectives because money is stuck in one account or another.

What Barnes really wants is a freer hand. “If I were to have a single program element for all [research, development, test, and evaluation] for missile warning, missile tracking, that would allow greater flexibility,” Barnes said in an April interview. “When we see a program either outperforming what we thought it was going to do, or under-performing what we thought it was going to do, then we could adjust resources.”

The portfolio approach has gained attention in the Air Force in recent years as a means to move faster and spend money more wisely, especially on software, where it’s harder to predict how long it might take to achieve a given capability, and where incremental improvements sometimes can be achieved rapidly. The Space Force wants to convince Congress that R&D would remain transparent at the same time that it looks to streamline acquisition, which often means cutting down on reporting requirements and reducing the number of people involved in a decision.

When we see a program either outperforming what we thought it was going to do, or underperforming what we thought it was going to do, then we could adjust resources.Shawn Barnes, acting assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration

Another issue to be resolved is the whether the newly created Air Force space acquisition chief has jurisdiction beyond the Department of the Air Force. “The way the law is written, it talks about it with respect to the Department of the Air Force,” Barnes told Politico. “When you take a look at the joint explanatory language, it indicates the assistant secretary serves as the senior architect for space systems and programs across the Department of Defense.”

The disparity has yet to be resolved.

The Space Force acquisition report is informed by discussions held during an architecture summit in February, which brought together the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and Space Development Agency (SDA), among others, to discuss how to distribute the acquisition workload. Barnes said the Space Force needs a formal document to define terms such as space enterprise and portfolio architect, guidance that will eventually cover the Department of the Air Force, SDA, the Missile Defense Agency, and the Intelligence Community.

Setting up the future space acquisition enterprise means untangling a web of offices now responsible for planning, experimenting, buying, integrating, and launching space systems. DOD foresees a structure that would split acquisition into short-term and long-term programs, traditional and out-of-the-box ideas, and tactical, operational, and strategic planning.

If successful, multiple offices could operate efficiently yet without stepping on each other’s toes, wasting investment, or siloing programs.

The idea would be that “the sorts of work that happens in the National Capital Region remains strategic, and the work that happens at SMC is focused primarily on the sort of technical aspects of our architecture,” Barnes said. Between those two levels, the Space Security and Defense Program would focus on operational-level concerns such as space-related threats.

One of the biggest challenges has been setting a baseline for what terms mean and what DOD is looking for, Barnes noted. More modeling and simulation is needed to understand what operational concerns might pop up for space assets, such as threats against satellites and ground stations, hindering intelligence-gathering, or blocking service members’ ability to do their jobs on Earth.

Space Development Agency Director Derek Tournear told reporters April 2 the summit helped each group understand more about what roles the other players in the acquisition ecosystem should hold. While SDA plans to move from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to the Space Force in the next few years, Tournear said it serves as a voice for the other services’ space requirements in the interim. That sets the department up for a better flow of information between the services as the Space Force matures, he said.
He argues that funneling architecture decisions through the same office will drive short-term thinking, as near-term needs will always win out over long-term vision. His organization would focus on what the military should want in the long run, which may not resemble near-term plans.
SDA is in charge of figuring out how to tie together all military sensors and communications assets in space to create an overarching network that connects to personnel in the various services. Tournear wants to keep that planning separate from considerations of what needs to reach orbit now.

The fledgling Space Force Acquisition Council, created to oversee space procurement requirements and policy, has to lead this enterprise as it evolves over the coming decades, while being realistic about the people and resources it has.

Barnes imagines workforce requirements could shrink as oversight demands are peeled away. Training could focus on showing acquisition staff how to handle issues at the lowest level and to encourage bold decision-making. By inculcating a culture of creative, rapid development, the new space buyers would keep U.S. satellites, sensors, and systems ahead of rapidly advancing competition from rivals.

A report on the National Reconnaissance Office and Air Force acquisition authority integration was due to Congress April 18, and a plan for Space Force military and civilian personnel is due in June, along with a plan for medical and physical requirements for Space Force members.

Early Graduation Launches 1st Space Force Lts.

U.S. Air Force Academy Cadets with the Class of 2020 wear masks against the Covid-19 virus and observe social distancing as they graduate at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., April 18. Nearly 1,000 cadets commissioned into both the U.S. Air and Space Forces. Photo: Tech. Sgt. Michelle Alvarez

By Rachel S. Cohen

Some 86 newly minted second lieutenants are heading to the U.S. Space Force as its first company-grade officers, following their April 18 graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

They are among nearly 1,000 new graduates, with the balance commissioning into the Air Force, capping a tumultuous month for the Cadet Wing, during which seniors rallied to organize the travel home of roughly 3,000 underclassmen to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, two seniors died in apparent suicides, and Academy and service leaders moved up graduation by six weeks to help the Class of 2020 move on from the tragedy and begin their professional careers.

In the wake of the suicides, rumors and unsubstantiated comments on social media fueled anguish among cadets, at least two first-class cadets tested positive for COVID-19 and were moved to isolation, and at least three other people living and working at the Academy had tested positive.

“In nearly four decades in uniform, I can tell you that this week has been one of my most difficult,” Silveria wrote to the Academy community after the second death was confirmed. “It is in times like these that feeling the full strength of the USAFA bonds—between our cadets, graduates, faculty, staff, and our entire community—can make all the difference.”

Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, USAF Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, and Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond all flew to the Academy on March 30 to talk to cadets, leaders, and staff, and returned 19 days later for the graduation, in which the graduates marched and assembled six feet apart, as their leaders watched, socially distant from each other on the reviewing stand.

No friends or family were permitted to attend in person, and only cadets first class were present. The rest of the Cadet Wing was sent home in March to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the enforced social distancing, when the ceremony was complete, the Thunderbirds flew overhead and hats flew skyward in the traditional celebratory salute.

“In this time of trial and testing for you and for our nation, you have demonstrated courage,” Vice President Mike Pence told the graduates. “You’re an inspiration to every American.”

Their journey had not been easy. Cadet First Class Haeley Deeney, the Cadet Wing Commander, wrote to the broader Academy community in April, addressing both families and alumni and taking critics to task for “negative … harmful posts and comments” in social media.

“Not only is this spread of false information in direct conflict with the dissemination of real-time, accurate updates, but [it’s] detrimental to the mental and emotional health of the Cadet Wing,” Deeney wrote. “As the cadet and permanent party leadership team exhausts all efforts to take care of the wing, our jobs have been made more difficult combating rumors.”

USAFA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria called the day a “defining moment” in the Academy’s history. Seniors spent their final weeks at the Academy under strict rules restricting movement, gatherings, and trips off campus while grieving the tragic suspected suicides of two classmates in March.

Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond addressed the entire class, and not just his newest 86 Space Force members, as he told them, “You are our future.”

Among the roughly 960 seniors earning their bachelor’s degrees and commissioning into the Department of the Air Force as second lieutenants:

  • 71 percent are men and 29 percent women.
  • 30 percent identify as minorities.
  • 13 were international cadets representing Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova, Pakistan, Panama, the Philippines, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Tunisia.
  • 485 were selected for pilot training.
  • 11 were selected for combat systems officer training.
  • 10 were selected for air battle manager training.
  • 30 were selected for remotely piloted aircraft training.
  • 536 will become rated officers in other careers.

They bring the total number of USAFA graduates to more than 52,000 over the past 61 years.

Once the Thunderbirds had roared overhead and the new graduates’ covers flew skyward in a burst of joy, reality set in again. The new second lieutenants would be screened once more for COVID-19 and then depart the Academy for further training and the launch of the Air Force and Space Force careers.

Silveria said the Class of 2020 would always be unique. “When the Class of 2020 entered USAFA we were a nation at war,” he wrote. “You have all signed up to serve in a time of war—to make a difference. We still battle terrorism and extremism around the world, but today we are at war with another enemy, a global pandemic, and that fight is unconventional. … We must make unconventional decisions and take what some would consider extreme measures.”

Inspector General Blasts USAF, AFRICOM

U.S. Air Force RED HORSE take advantage of the cooler temperatures at night to pave an access ramp to the flight line at Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger, in 2019. An Inspector General report on USAF in the region has proved controversial. Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston

The new operating base in Niger draws heat.

By Brian W. Everstine

The Air Force and U.S. Africa Command skirted congressional oversight, didn’t adequately complete a site survey, and didn’t meet safety requirements in building a new operating base in Niger, leading to extended delays, cost overruns, and possibly unsafe conditions for personnel at Air Base 201, according to a report from the Defense Department’s Inspector General.

Niger Air Base 201 is the largest Air Force-led construction project in the service’s history, expected to be a hub of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations in the Sahel region of Africa and capable of C-17 operations. The IG report, released April 2, outlines a list of issues with the construction process, though both AFRICOM and U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa dispute the conclusions drawn.

The base was originally tasked in 2013 with a targeted completion date of October 2017. However, the Air Force completed the airfield and base camp in May 2019, and work on infrastructure to support sustained ISR operations began earlier this year.

Throughout this timespan, the Inspector General report states:

  • The Air Force built runway shoulders at the base without congressional authorization. The original plans excluded these runways, with AFAFRICA “significantly” underestimating its project cost, which created a risk the service would not complete it.
  • The service bypassed congressional notification by splitting ISR construction requirements into six projects, funded with operations and maintenance dollars. With each portion under $2 million, the service was able to use O&M as opposed to military construction funding, which would have required notifying lawmakers. AFAFRICA disputed this claim, stating each ISR project is an individual, “complete, and usable facility.”
  • The Air Force may have violated the Antideficiency Act, which prevents the service from making obligations in excess of appropriated funds. The Air Force bought 12 permanent guard towers at a cost of $3.7 million, using procurement funds instead of MILCON. Additionally, these guard towers were built on foundations originally laid for temporary towers, potentially creating a safety issue. AFAFRICA disputed this, saying the towers count as equipment.
  • Both AFRICOM and AFAFRICA did not perform adequate site surveys, specifically no soil sampling or topographic analysis. This caused pavement compaction and drainage problems.
  • The base was not constructed to meet safety, security, and other technical requirements. For example, the base’s perimeter fence was not up to standards, requiring a waiver, and the runway’s solar airfield lighting did not conform to requirements that it provide continuous lighting.

“These problems occurred because USAFRICOM and the Air Force did not adequately oversee and coordinate with stakeholders on the delivery of Air Base 201,” the IG wrote. “As a result, the airfield and base camp needed to support the USAFRICOM ISR mission was delayed by almost three years from the original planned date of completion.”

The way the base came together “could lead to increased risk in safety and security,” the IG alleges. The delay required the Air Force to issue temporary waivers to begin ISR operations in June 2019, and the shortfall “increases the safety risk for personnel operating at Air Base 201,” states the report.

Going forward, the IG recommends the Air Force and AFRICOM establish a coordination and decision-making process with stakeholders, along with submitting congressional notification as needed and reviewing its records management. At the base, the Air Force should review its solar lighting and develop a plan to address issues with aircraft rescue and firefighting services, the report states.

Both AFRICOM and AFAFRICA disagreed with most of the IG report’s findings, “stating that USAFRICOM and the Air Force accomplished the construction of an ISR and C-17-capable airfield in an operationally challenging environment with changing requirements during the construction period.”

AFAFRICA said that throughout this process, there were “key stakeholder meetings” to discuss planning, design, and construction.

The base is very remote, which causes problems in sourcing material to build the base. Supplies had to be trucked in long distances from ports in west Africa, and eventually C-130s flew basic supplies in about once per week, the command told Air Force Magazine.

Logistics issues like these caused large cost overruns. For example, the initial 2013 assessment for the base estimated a cost of about $203,000 for base utilities. By 2017, that estimated cost exploded to $3.1 million—a 1,426 percent increase.

AFAFRICA and Airmen were able to build the base “in a little over three years in the middle of the Sahara Desert, despite the necessity to meet emerging requirements and overcome environmental factors. … Such [an] undertaking would not be possible without senior level oversight and effective planning and design,” the command said in response to the report.

Russia Flexes Space Muscle with Anti-Satellite Weapon Test

Official seal of United States Space Command.

By Rachel S. Cohen

Russia again flexed its muscle in space by testing a ground-based, direct-ascent anti-satellite weapon on April 15, drawing criticism from U.S. Space Command.

“Russia’s DA-ASAT test provides yet another example that the threats to U.S. and allied space systems are real, serious, and growing,” SPACECOM boss Gen. Jay Raymond said in a release. “The United States is ready and committed to deterring aggression and defending the nation, our allies, and U.S. interests from hostile acts in space.”

The command, which manages daily offensive and defensive military space operations, did not reveal where the ASAT weapon was aimed, but it is not tracking any space debris as a result of the test, according to spokeswoman Lt. Col. Christina Hoggatt. She referred questions on whether SPACECOM had spoken with its Russian counterparts about the test to the State Department, and did not say if the Pentagon was responding in a way that could deter Moscow from testing such weapons in the future.

“This test is further proof of Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control proposals designed to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting their counterspace weapons programs,” Raymond said.

SPACECOM said Russia’s missile can destroy satellites in low Earth orbit, which stretches up to 1,200 miles above the Earth. Direct-ascent weapons try “to strike a satellite using a trajectory that intersects the target satellite without placing the interceptor into orbit,” according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Ballistic missiles and missile defense interceptors can be used as direct-ascent ASAT weapons.

Russia’s demonstration that it can damage assets in low Earth orbit comes as the U.S. plans major investments in that area of space. LEO is already home to remote sensing and scientific satellites, according to the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, and is where the government and commercial sectors want to loft a vast constellation of low-cost communications and other satellites over the coming decades.

A CSIS report published in March noted that Russia is developing an air-launched, direct-ascent ASAT missile and has already tested a ground-based version. The country is ramping up its ability to interfere with other nations’ space assets using kinetic means as well as electromagnetic and cyber tools.

“Evidence suggests that Russia has invested in a sweeping range of kinetic physical counterspace capabilities over the past decade, including ground- and air-launched direct-ascent ASAT missiles capable of targeting satellites in LEO and co-orbital ASAT weapons that could operate in any orbital regime,” the March 31 report said. “Russia’s kinetic physical counterspace activities often closely resemble previously operational Soviet-era ASAT programs, suggesting that the country has benefited from decades of ASAT weapons research conducted by the Soviet Ministry of Defense.”

The U.S. military has reported other instances of suspicious Russian activity on orbit this year. Most notably, Time magazine first reported in February that two Russian satellites were following a National Reconnaissance Office satellite, which the Pentagon decried as an act of aggression even as Moscow said the systems were part of a domestic experiment to see if a “nesting doll” satellite could separate into two on orbit.

SPACECOM says Russia’s action in space “would be interpreted as irresponsible and potentially threatening in any other domain.”

The announcement of the DA-ASAT test comes the same day a Russian Su-35 intercepted a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea.

“The interaction was determined to be unsafe due to the Su-35 conducting a high-speed, inverted maneuver, 25 [feet] directly in front of the mission aircraft, which put our pilots and crew at risk,” according to a statement from U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa. “The crew of the P-8A reported wake turbulence following the interaction.”

The Navy said the U.S. was operating in international airspace and did nothing to provoke the 42-minute intercept.

“While the Russian aircraft was operating in international airspace, this interaction was irresponsible. We expect them to behave within international standards set to ensure safety and to prevent incidents, including the 1972 Agreement for the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA),” reads the statement. “Unsafe actions increase the risk of miscalculation and potential for midair collisions.”

The U.S. aircraft was operating consistent with international law and did not provoke this Russian activity.

Directed-Energy Demo Underway

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Tactical High-Power Operational Responder (THOR) employs microwave energy to defeat multiple, concurrent targets, such as drone swarms. AFRL Directed Energy Directorate/Courtesy

By Rachel S. Cohen

The Air Force Research Laboratory announced April 6 it has kicked off its overseas demonstration of directed-energy (DE) weapons dispatched to take down threatening unmanned aircraft.

While the demo has long been in the works, AFRL revealed that its Tactical High-Power Operational Responder (THOR) system will join four Raytheon-built laser and microwave weapons in the assessment. Microwaves interfere with a small drone’s electronics to stop or redirect them, while lasers burn a hole in the fuselage.

“THOR is a directed-energy game-changer,” Kelly Hammett, AFRL’s directed-energy director, said in a release. “Drones are becoming more and more pervasive and can be used as weapons intended to cause harm to our military bases at long standoff ranges. … THOR, with its counter-electronic technology, can take down swarms of drones in rapid fire. This capability will be an amazing asset to our warfighters and the nation’s defense.”

The THOR microwave is built to tackle multiple, short-range targets at once. Though the service is often hesitant to say exactly how many drones could be downed as a swarm, it has tried attacking more than a dozen at a time. BAE Systems created THOR with the Air Force Research Laboratory. Leidos and New Mexico-based Verus Research contributed to its design as well, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

Raytheon’s joystick-driven Phaser microwave will take part in the yearlong field test, as well as three laser systems.

“The differences with the three [laser] systems are minimal,” said Michael Jirjis, who oversees base defense experimentation in the Air Force’s Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office. “We have made slight changes based on input from lessons learned through our acceptance and overseas analysis, but at this point those have been minor and they are the same system.”

He did not immediately answer how the capability of each microwave weapon differs.

Military officials worry that commercially produced, cheap drones can spy on base operations and carry explosives. They also could prove catastrophic if sucked into a jet engine. Protecting bases from those unmanned aircraft is a top Air Force priority that has become the focus of the service’s directed-energy experiments over the past few years.

USAF has vetted a range of systems at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico as well as at the Army’s Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment in Oklahoma, judging how easy each weapon is to use, how effectively they confuse and destroy unmanned aircraft, and how well they integrate with other DE systems and command-and-control software.

The service is not disclosing where the tests will take place, though the systems could become a permanent fixture there if they succeed.

USAF to Launch Search for Flying Cars This Month

By Rachel S. Cohen

The Air Force will kick off its effort to encourage the development of flying cars with a virtual launch event featuring product presentations and government briefings from April 27 to May 1.

Known as “Agility Prime,” the initiative aims to support private companies that are pursuing the next great creation in air transportation. The Air Force is offering funds and testing resources to vendors with designs for “advanced air mobility vehicles” that can be used for missions from medical evacuation to installation security to disaster relief.

The service hopes to mature that market to the point that flying cars become cheap and accessible enough for the broader public, not just for military use. Its first solicitation calls for vehicles that can carry three to eight people at speeds faster than 100 mph, with a range of more than 100 miles and endurance of more than an hour. Those prototypes must make their first full-scale flight by Dec. 17 to prove they are on the path to certified airworthiness and move on in the program.

If successful, the service plans to buy a small number of usable flying cars—or “ORBs”—by 2023. ORB can stand for “organic resupply bus, for disaster relief teams, an operational readiness bus for improved aircraft availability, and an open requirements bus for a growing diversity of missions,” according to an Air Force solicitation document.

“Agility Prime also aims to bring together industry, investor, and government communities to establish safety and security standards while accelerating commercialization of this revolutionary technology,” the service said. “Over 200 companies around the world are developing transformative vertical flight aircraft. … These aircraft may incorporate nontraditional electric or hybrid propulsion for manned or unmanned missions, with an onboard pilot, remote pilot, or autonomous control.”

Defense One previously reported the concept could eventually augment or replace the V-22 Osprey as a quiet, affordable, more flexible air vehicle that doesn’t need a runway.

To bring the idea to fruition, the Air Force Research Laboratory will work with the mobility program office and the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability group on transitioning prototype technology to a real-world program for Airmen. AFVentures, a service-run group that works with venture capitalists and small businesses, will help bridge the gap between the Defense Department, funding sources, and industry as well.

“Now is the perfect time to make ‘Jetsons’ cars real,” Air Force acquisition boss Will Roper said in an April 13 release.

T-7 Sims Pass Design Review

The T-7A Red Hawk’s Ground-Based Training System passed a critical milestone, paving the way for the fabrications of simulators and virtual training. USAF

By John A. Tirpak

The Ground-Based Training System that goes with the T-7A Red Hawk advanced jet trainer has passed its Critical Design Review (CDR), concluding 18 months of development work and paving the way for fabrication of simulators and other devices, Boeing announced April 3.

The Air Force reviewed the T-7A’s “ability to conduct live, virtual, and constructive training exercises, through dynamic motion-enabled trainer cockpits; high-resolution projection systems; digital debrief stations and simulated avionics; as well as egress training that will better prepare pilots for escaping an aircraft during an emergency,” Boeing said. The CDR, which was conducted virtually between the System Program Office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and the Boeing T-7A Red Hawk program office in St. Louis, took five days to complete. Air Education and Training Command’s office at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Air Force and Defense Department acquisition officials at the Pentagon, and the Defense Contracting Management Agency also participated.

The CDR for the aircraft itself was conducted Sept. 10-19, 2019. Initial capability is planned for Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, in 2024.

Boeing, along with its partner Saab of Sweden, received a $9.2 billion contract in September 2018 to develop the T-7A—since nicknamed the “Red Hawk”—and to build 351 of the aircraft and 46 simulators.

A company spokesman said Boeing considers the T-7A a “franchise program,” with potential global sales of trainer aircraft, companion trainers, light attack versions, and “Aggressor” versions, as well as simulators and ground-based training gear to be $40 billion. Company officials have previously predicted the world trainer market alone to be 2,600 airplanes, including 475 for the Air Force.

Boeing invested nearly $100 million of its own money in developing the jet and bid nearly $10 billion below the Air Force’s own estimates for further development, building a production capability and the initial jets.

Global Strike Commander Seeks ‘Clean Sheet’ Arsenal Plane

The B-1 fleet was so heavily used for close air support in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years that mission capable rates plunged. A recovery overhaul program is now well underway. Master Sgt. Russ Scalf

By John A. Tirpak

Gen. Timothy Ray wants a new, “clean-sheet” aircraft design and not a reconfigured B-52 bomber to be the basis of a future arsenal airplane.

Ray, the commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, also reported that B-1 repairs are advancing toward improved readiness for the supersonic bomber, touted the hypersonic Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), and hinted that demand for close air support from his command may be waning.

“The arsenal plane concept is probably better described as more of a clean-sheet approach to a platform that can affordably and rapidly fill the gap for long-range strike capabilities and to go down more innovative paths,” Ray told participants in a Defense Writers Group telephone conference. Ray and Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Holmes have previously suggested the B-52 could fill the role of an arsenal plane loaded with standoff weapons to augment a stealthy conventional strike force.

The National Defense Strategy demands that AFGSC develop more capability in long-range strike. The “gap” Ray referred to would be the Air Force’s requested reduction in the B-1 fleet, assuming Congress allows it.

The B-1 is to be fitted with the hypersonic ARRW (pronounced “arrow”), Ray noted. AFGSC plans to add external pylons that would allow the B-1 to carry six such missiles, in addition to other standoff missiles mounted internally on rotary launchers, he said.

Air Combat Command and AFGSC agree that ARRW is the preferred hypersonic weapon, at least in the near-term, beating out the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC)being developed by USAF and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Ray said.

Asked about debate between Air Combat Command and Global Strike Command over ARRW versus HAWC, Ray replied that the two commands are “in a similar place in terms of ARRW being the thing we need to go move out with. We think we’ve got a good game plan going forward. We’ll continue to work with them. “ He added that “obviously the action officers will debate,” but “we’re stepping out” on ARRW.

As for the air-breathing system—which presumably would be smaller and allow a greater loadout per platform—Ray said, “We think an air-breathing missile in the long run would also be something to consider, but we’re very comfortable with where the Air Force is going in their selection on hypersonics.”

Fitting the B-1 with ARRW allows Global Strike “to take on that hypersonic mission faster,” Ray explained.

The B-1 has been turning in dismal mission readiness rates for several years because it was used as a high-altitude loitering munitions platform in Afghanistan and Iraq for a decade, rather than in its design role, to fly very fast and low. However, the fleet is recovering well, Ray said.

“I have a very positive recovery for the B-1 community,” he said. “I have more flyable airplanes and ready crews than we’ve seen in many years.” While he would not discuss mission capable rates for the B-1, crews are generating “at least 25 flyable airplanes a day,” he said. That’s “more sorties in a month than we’ve seen in the last three or four years.” Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., flew 100 B-1 sorties last month—something the base had not done in a single month for several years, he noted.

“I’m sitting on a significantly larger number of mission-ready crews,” Ray added, saying there has been “good progress, good momentum. I couldn’t ask for better.”

Ray suggested that to align with the National Defense Strategy, AFGSC is getting out of the close-air support business.

The NDS “by necessity … focuses us to increase our long-range strike regardless of the platform. So we see an opportunity as we turn our hand from the close-air support mission (CAS)” to put more emphasis on long-range strike. “We have many platforms in the Air Force that can conduct the CAS mission so, there’s no shortage of CAS capability,” Ray observed. But having aircraft with “long legs” is “particularly beneficial” to AFGSC’s primary mission, he said.

A-10 Makes Wheels-Up Landing

An A-10 at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., landed wheels-up after an in-flight emergency. No one was injured. Andrea Jenkins

By Brian W. Everstine

An A-10 pilot was uninjured when a Warthog made an emergency belly landing April 7 at Moody Air Force Base, Ga.

The A-10 from the 75th Fighter Squadron was flying a routine training mission when the pilot declared an in-flight emergency. The pilot returned to base and the aircraft’s landing gear retracted, but did not extend, forcing it to land and skid to a stop on Moody’s primary runway, according to a base release.

The pilot was evaluated by flight surgeons after the incident and released. A photograph of the incident shows the A-10, tail No. 81-0995, parked on the runway next to emergency vehicles.

An Air Force board will investigate the incident.

AIB: Inert Bomb Dropped Near Misawa Due to Pilot Error

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon taxis down the runway at Misawa Air Base, Japan, March 30. Airman 1st Class China Shock

By Brian W. Everstine

An F-16 pilot mistakenly dropped an inert bomb on private property near Misawa Air Base, Japan, in November due to a communication failure, according to a recently released Pacific Air Forces investigation into the incident.

On Nov. 6, 2019, an F-16 with the 14th Fighter Squadron was flying a suppression of enemy air defense upgrade training sortie at the Draughon Range north of the base. As part of the mission, the F-16 was loaded with an inert GBU-12 bomb that was to be dropped if the mission and weather allowed.

During the sortie, the F-16 twice attempted to drop the weapon on a target at the range, but scattered clouds obscured the target. After primary training was completed, the pilot made one more attempt to drop the bomb, using the “buddy lase” method, where two other aircraft participating in the sortie provided final guidance for the bomb after it was dropped, according to the investigation.

While on the attack run, the F-16 pilot asked for and received the targeting coordinates. He then selected “symbology” on the targeting system, which he believed corresponded with the correct coordinates, but it was actually about 3.4 miles from the intended target, the report states.

The pilot dropped the bomb, without confirming the coordinates were correct, and it landed on private property outside the range near Lake Ogawara. There were no injuries or significant damage to private property.

The Accident Investigation Board report states the incident was caused by pilot error and a failure to properly communicate with the other aircraft targeting the bomb. Additionally, changing weather, targeting technical error, and “channelized attention” contributed to the incident.

The 35th Fighter Wing temporarily stopped employing munitions at the range, impounded the aircraft, and grounded the pilot. The pilot was disqualified, but has since been retrained. Other pilots also have been briefed on the mishap, so they will not also make the same mistakes. The wing’s training program was investigated as part of the AIB process, and found to be sufficient.

VOX Space Nabs First Mission of Quick-Launch Program

VOX Space, a Virgin Orbit subsidiary, plans to launch 44 satellites into low-Earath orbit beginning in October. VOX will use launch the rockets from a Boeing 747-400 dubbed “Cosmic Girl,” shown here in a photo illustration. Galactic Unite illustration

By Rachel S. Cohen

Virgin Orbit subsidiary VOX Space will launch dozens of small satellites into space for the Space Force’s Orbital Services Program-4 (OSP-4), under a $35 million contract.

For OSP-4’s first round of launches, dubbed Space Test Program-S28 (STP-S28), VOX Space will deliver 44 satellites to low Earth orbit across three launches starting in October 2021. Onboard will be a range of experimental technologies that will further the military’s progress in areas such as space domain awareness and communications.

“One such payload is QUEYSSAT, the No. 10 ranked [DOD Space Experiments Review Board] experiment and a cooperative effort between the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and the Canadian Department of National Defence,” the Space and Missile Systems Center said in an April 10 release. “This experiment will demonstrate and quantify the potential to improve Earth-satellite quantum channel uplinks via adaptive optics, expand quantum network concepts, and exploit this capability for defense applications.”

VOX Space says it has demonstrated all of its major LauncherOne components and is preparing for an orbital launch demonstration soon. VOX Space and Virgin Orbit launch a Boeing 747-400 plane named “Cosmic Girl,” which carries the LauncherOne rocket up to around 35,000 feet before shooting the payload into low Earth orbit.

“With the space domain more contested than ever, it’s crucial that we find ways to enable those responsible for space security to act quickly and effectively. Ultimately, we believe that affordable and responsive launch helps keep everyone safer—in part by creating a major disincentive for adversaries to work against existing satellites and space systems,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.

OSP-4 aims to launch 20 missions over nine years, with payloads heavier than 400 pounds, starting with STP-S28. It is one way the Space Force is trying to shorten the time it takes to put payloads on orbit, by launching systems no later than two years after a task order is issued instead of waiting several years. OSP-4 will also carry missions for the Space Development Agency.

The Space and Missiles Systems Center plans to award a contract for the next batch of launches, including STP-29, by the end of 2020. The pool of OSP-4 launch providers that could handle that mission includes Aevum, Firefly Black, Northrop Grumman, Rocket Lab, SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, VOX Space, and X-Bow Launch Systems.

Col. Alfred M. Worden, 1932-2020

Col. Alfred Worden. NASA

By John A. Tirpak

Alfred M. “Al” Worden, retired USAF Colonel and Apollo astronaut, died March 18 at the age of 88. Worden was the Command Module Pilot for the Apollo 15 mission in 1971, the only Apollo mission on which all of the crew were Air Force pilots.

Worden performed the first “deep space” extravehicular activity (EVA), performing a spacewalk far from the Earth or moon to retrieve samples and film cartridges from the ship’s service module. He made 74 solo orbits of the moon.

He grew up in Michigan, graduated from West Point in 1955, and was commissioned in the Air Force, receiving his wings in 1956. After service as a fighter pilot, he earned masters’ degrees in astronautical and instrumentation engineering from the University of Michigan in 1963. In 1965, he graduated from both the Aerospace Research Pilots School and the British Empire Test Pilot’s School. In 1966, Worden was one of 19 new astronauts selected by NASA. He was assigned as the backup command module pilot for the Apollo 12 mission and to the prime crew of Apollo 15.

The first of the “J” Missions—how NASA referred to more elaborate scientific missions—Apollo 15 was the first to employ the lunar rover, the first to launch a microsat during the mission, and it achieved the longest stay on the moon at that point. Worden stayed in lunar orbit in the Endeavor command module, conducting microgravity experiments and photographing the moon’s surface, while crewmates David Scott and James Irwin descended to the moon’s surface in the lunar module Falcon. There they collected some 171 pounds of lunar samples during nearly 67 hours on the lunar surface. Worden’s record-setting EVA in deep space lasted 38 minutes. He received the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in 1971.

The Apollo 15 crew drew public ire when it was learned they had agreed to carry stamped envelopes to the moon for later sale, franking them on launch day and upon their return. Though they declined the agreed payment, all three were reprimanded by NASA for seeking to profit from their mission. None of the crew flew in space again.

After his Apollo mission, Worden was Senior Aerospace Scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center, later becoming Chief of Systems Study. He retired from NASA and the Air Force in 1975. In later years he was president of Maris Worden Aerospace, Inc., and staff vice president of Goodrich Aerospace. He chaired the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation until 2011, at which point he published a memoir, “Falling to Earth: An Apollo 15 Astronaut’s Journey to the Moon,” which was an LA Times bestseller.

Worden ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Florida’s 12th congressional district in 1982. He was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1983 and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1997.

The War on Terrorism


As of April 13 , 2020, 92 Americans had died in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, and 96 Americans had died in Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, Syria, and other locations.

The total includes 184 troops and four Defense Department civilians. Of these deaths, 87 were killed in action with the enemy, while 101 died in noncombat incidents.

There have been 570 troops wounded in action during OFS and 224 troops in OIR.