Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost received her fourth star and took over leadership of Air Mobility Command during an Aug. 20 ceremony at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. With the change of command and the retirement of her predecessor, Gen. Maryanne Miller, Van Ovost takes over as the Defense Department’s only female four-star general at a time when the service is looking inward at issues of diversity and inclusion. A former test pilot with more than 4,200 hours in 30 aircraft, Van Ovost now leads a command working to bring on a new tanker while still keeping its legacy tanker fleet healthy to meet an unending need for refueling and airlift. “Standing in the stadium, in 1988 at the Air Force Academy, about to throw my hat in the air, I never would have thought I [would become] a four-star,” Van Ovost said in an interview. “I was very focused on being a pilot, and being the best pilot I could be, and to make a difference in that way. And here we are, standing at the precipice of what might be called a pinnacle of military leadership. But frankly, it’s not so much a pinnacle. For me, it’s a new beginning. It’s a new opportunity to ask key questions, to shape the force in a way to make sense, and provide clarity to the strategic environment that we live in.”
An artificial intelligence algorithm developed by Heron Systems easily beat an experienced Air Force F-16 pilot in a series of simulated dogfights, as part of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-led effort to prove the feasibility of AI flying aircraft. The AI gunned down the pilot five times in a row, a clean sweep, in the simulated, guns-only dogfight. The company beat out seven other entrants in a tournament before advancing to the finals. The AI system, which operated within the maneuvering and speed limits of a real F-16, was not limited by Air Force doctrine and methods that are embedded in training, the pilot said. The trial is part of DARPA’s overall Air Combat Evolution Program aimed at proving that AI can operate an aircraft and possibly become part of the Air Force’s fleet in the near future.
The Air Force on Aug. 20 revived 15th Air Force as its largest organization overseeing conventional weaponry, giving the World War II-era group new purpose for 21st-century warfare. Air Combat Command is shifting the fighter jets, battle management aircraft, strike drones, and search-and-rescue helicopters from Ninth and 12th Air Forces under the new 15th Air Force. That umbrella organization will manage daily wing operations so the lower-level officials at 9AF and 12AF can focus on supporting U.S. Central Command and U.S. Southern Command, respectively.
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper oversaw leadership changes for two combatant commands—U.S. Space Command and U.S. Northern Command—during back-to-back ceremonies at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., on Aug. 20. Army Gen. James H. Dickinson assumed command of SPACECOM from USAF Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, who will remain the head of the U.S. Space Force, the Defense Department’s newest military service. USAF Gen. Glen D. VanHerck succeeded Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy as commander of NORTHCOM and the North American Aerospace Defense Command. O’Shaughnessy, who has led the combatant command since May 2018, retired after 34 years in uniform.
The Space Force is nearing an agreement with the Army and Navy about which of their technologies and organizations will transfer into the new space service, a top Space Force official said Aug. 20. It’s a critical decision that could make or break how well the Space Force can manage the military’s space-based communication, missile warning, surveillance, and more. The service was created as part of a Pentagon-wide push to streamline and better wield space policies and capabilities. “Expectation is that we will come to agreement in the next few weeks and then begin to work on the details to transfer those in the next fiscal year,” Space Force Vice Commander Lt. Gen. David D. Thompson said.
The end of F-35 operational testing and declaration of full-rate production will likely come in March 2021, three months later than expected, Pentagon acquisition and logistics czar Ellen M. Lord told reporters at a Pentagon press conference on Aug. 20. She said the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the process down, but she is visiting the Joint Simulation Environment facility next week to assess its progress and offer resources to bring operational testing to a close by March. Lord also said Pentagon budget deliberations now underway are assessing the right mix of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-generation fighters—the first time the Pentagon referred to development fighters beyond the F-22 and F-35 as “sixth-generation” aircraft.
Non-essential personnel won’t be allowed to return to Travis Air Force Base, Calif., for at least one more day, and most base services remain shuttered after the LNU Lightning Complex Fire forced personnel and aircraft to preventatively evacuate from the installation on Aug. 19, according to a Facebook update from the base. The blaze is still “a local threat to areas outside the base perimeter,” but hasn’t damaged the installation or any Defense Department assets, and the 60th Air Mobility Wing evacuated or secured all of its aircraft, the post noted.