Sustaining, Modernizing Nuclear Forces Vital to US Survival

Maintaining current US nuclear forces and replacing aging systems with modern weapons is “indispensable for national survival,” Lt. Gen. Jack Weinstein, deputy chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, said Thursday. The current global “strategic environment” is “more dangerous” and “more polarized than ever before,” he told the audience at a Task Force 21-Minot event in Washington, D.C. While the US reduced nuclear forces in the decades after the Cold War, when hopes for lasting peace with Russia and other adversaries ran high, “history tells us that today’s behavior is normal,” Weinstein said, noting that history gives us no example of a nation that “voluntarily got weaker and survived.” Given the complexities of strategic threats today, “we’ve had some really great news,” Weinstein said, in the announcements of new contracts for the ICBM system, cruise missile, and the B-21 nuclear-capable bomber program. But those programs are all in early stages of development, Weinstein said, and “we have to maintain our current capabilities until the new capabilities are ready.” Key to speeding the arrival of new nuclear systems will be clear requirements, stability of natural resources and supply chains, and the identification and empowerment of “thought leaders” within program management, Weinstein said.

ISIS Leader Reportedly Releases Message

ISIS on Thursday released an audio tape purportedly from its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, claiming he is still alive and well as US-backed fighters and coalition airstrikes have pushed ISIS into increasingly smaller strongholds inside Syria. The 46-minute speech focuses on battles in cities such as Mosul, Iraq, and the group’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, Syria. The US-led coalition said Thursday it was just hearing about the tape, and could not confirm its legitimacy. The coalition, however, could confirm the deaths of two senior ISIS leaders earlier this month near Mayadin, Syria. Abu Mawad Al-Tunisi and Sajid Farooq Babr were responsible for manufacturing drones used by the group, said US Army Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. The coalition estimates between 400 and 800 ISIS fighters remain in the city of Raqqa, where they hold a stadium and the national hospital compound. More than 75 percent of the city has been cleared by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, with 50 city blocks retaken this week. “ISIS is trying to control the remaining civilians in the city, holding them hostage as terrorists cling to the final square kilometers they hold,” Dillon said. —Brian Everstine

US Aircraft Strike ISIS Fighters in Libya

US aircraft on Sept. 26 struck an ISIS training camp in Libya for the second time in a week, officials announced on Thursday. At about 2:50 p.m. local time, US aircraft conducted two strikes about 100 miles southwest of Sirte, killing “several” militants. The strike occurred about 50 miles away from a separate airstrike on Sept. 22 that killed 17 militants at an ISIS training camp. US Africa Command did not disclose what type of aircraft conducted the strike, but said the mission was conducted in conjunction with Libya’s Government of National Accord, according to a release. The two strikes mark a return to operations in a country ISIS previously had a heavy presence in, before US aircraft helped Libyan GNA forces retake the city of Sirte. In January, two B-2s flew a mission to Libya straight from Whiteman AFB, Mo., dropping 85 weapons on an ISIS camp. —Brian Everstine

Managing the CENTCOM Air Battle

Airmen at Al Dhafra AB, UAE, are watching and managing the air war in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan from the ground and the air. The 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron, or Kingpin, and several E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control Systems, or AWACS, provide unique tactical command and control capabilities, keeping eyes on the air space in US Central Command and providing deconfliction for US and coalition aircraft. Read Jennifer Hlad’s report from Al Dhafra.

Nuclear Posture Review Provides Opportunity to Reset US Policy

The Trump administration’s ongoing Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) offers an opportunity to fundamentally reshape US nuclear policy, experts in deterrence and arms control said at a Task Force 21-Minot event in Washington, D.C., Thursday. In response to a newly complex strategic threat environment, the US needs to shift away from a primary goal of nonproliferation toward a top priority of cultivating nuclear power for strategic deterrence, said Frank Miller, principal at the Scowcroft Group, and Robert Joseph, senior scholar at the National Institute for Public Policy. Read the full story by Wilson Brissett.

On GBSD, No Miracles Required

In developing the requirements for its Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program, the Air Force has surveyed existing technologies and likes what it sees. The Air Force is not looking for “technology miracles” for the Minuteman III replacement, program manager Col. Heath Collins said at a Task Force 21-Minot event in Washington, D.C., Thursday. He said his team looked long and hard at “the state of industry today,” and it has identified a lot of technology that already “meets our requirements.” Moving the GBSD program forward, he said, will be a matter of “integrating existing technologies” rather than achieving new technical breakthroughs. The program is taking this approach to stay ahead of the timeline and keep costs down, a strategy developed after studying the “acquisition woes” of recent Air Force development programs, Collins added. His program office is also looking into cost savings from commonality with similar programs. The GBSD shop has investigated links with the Navy’s Trident missile, and has also looked for parallels “from the space community” and the Missile Defense Agency. “We will beg, steal, and borrow anything we can,” Collins admitted, in order to complete the mission with reliability, speed, and affordability.

The 821st Contingency Response Group equipment is offloaded from a C-5 at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. A 70-member contingency response element from the 821st CRG from Travis AFB, Calif., deployed to Puerto Rico in support of Hurricane Maria relief efforts. USAF photo by SSgt. Robert Hicks.

Airlift Mission for Maria Relief Expected to Last Weeks

USAF airlifters are operating at nearly a full capacity in support of Hurricane Maria relief operations in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, with that tempo expected to continue for weeks. Forty-six USAF airlift missions flew to Puerto Rico on Thursday, with 66 missions flown on Wednesday, and Air National Guard flights are approaching the maximum capacity, and expected to stay steady for at least two weeks, said Brig. Gen. Keith Wark, the director of operations for the Air National Guard. The initial hurricane response in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands was heavy on air, because of the inability for ships to come in. However, the lack of radar and the state of airfields across the islands limited the pace of initial operations. To date, Air Mobility Command aircraft have flown 200 sorties, carrying 1,500 short tons of cargo to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, Air Force spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder said during a Thursday briefing. The Air National Guard has flown 213 sorties, with 1,000 short tons of cargo and 1,200 personnel on aircraft such as C-130s, C-17s, RC-26s, and KC-135s, Ryder said. For more on the Air Force’s response, see also USAF Answers the Call in Hurricane Maria Relief Efforts and check out Air Force Magazine’s Flickr photo gallery of relief efforts. —Brian Everstine

USAF Looking at Next Step in Light Attack Experiment

The Air Force is determining how to fund a possible combat demonstration following this summer’s light attack experiment, and gauging the willingness of companies to send their aircraft to war before the service possibly purchases a new close air support fleet. The Air Force recently finished its “quick look” summary of the light attack experiment at Holloman AFB, N.M., where four commercial aircraft participated in an evaluation to see their light attack capability. The next step in the program is a possible combat demonstration, where selected aircraft would be deployed to the Middle East and participate in combat sorties with USAF aircrews. Air Force spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder said though the experiment was “fruitful” and produced insightful data, there have been no decisions on going forward on the combat demonstration. There is a possible decision by the end of the year, though the Air Force needs to determine how to fund the evaluation and determine the willingness of the companies to participate. There is a “current discussion” in terms of finding out where the funding could come from. The Air Force is involved in planning efforts, including identifying possible squadrons and personnel involved in a future deployment for the combat evaluation, but that is all in planning and “no one has been assigned,” Ryder said. —Brian Everstine

Mattis: New Strategy Connects Afghan Forces to Air Support for Battlefield Advantages

The new US strategy for Afghanistan is designed to ensure Afghan forces, alongside the US and NATO, have a “compelling battlefield advantage” to push to a lasting victory against the Taliban, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said during a visit to Kabul this week. Speaking Wednesday alongside Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Mattis said the new US strategy will bring in “reinforcements,” who will provide more advisers to Afghan units in the field and in military schools. The goal is to give Afghan forces an advantage and access to NATO forces in the air “to make sure that at no time does the Taliban own the high ground,” Mattis said. “We will always own the high ground, and we’re going to make certain those aircraft have a connection to the troops on the ground who are fighting to protect their people.” Stoltenberg said NATO welcomes the strategy, and its regional approach to include Pakistan and India in the Afghan-led peace process. After Mattis and Stoltenberg left Kabul on Wednesday, the Taliban launched a rocket attack on Hamid Karzai International Airport. US aircraft in response conducted airstrikes, and a weapon malfunctioned causing civilian casualties, US Forces-Afghanistan said in a statement. —Brian Everstine


—US Central Command boss Army Gen. Joseph Votel recently flew aboard a B-52 Stratofortress during a combat mission. The bomber was assigned to the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron at Al Udeid AB, Qatar: AFCENT release.

—US Northern Command has assigned the head of its Joint Force Land Component Command to serve as the Defense Department’s primary liaison to FEMA for its hurricane response efforts: DOD release.

—The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at JBSA, Texas, has come up with a “Mini Crypto chip” that can be used to encrypt communications between systems, such as unmanned aerial vehicles and explosive ordnance disposal robots. The chip, which is roughly the size of a cracker, is designed to be “losable:” USAF release.

—The Air Force Research Laboratory has partnered with Georgia-based Compass Technology Group to test and improve “critical aircraft coatings:” Wright-Patterson release.

—The Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Det. 2 at Eglin AFB, Fla., recently evaluated “new, fully digitized navigation charts,” marking the “first major upgrade to the charts in approximately 30 years:” AFMC release.

—Northrop Grumman on Sept. 26 announced a series of leadership changes. Chief Operating Officer Gloria Flach and Corporate Vice President Sid Ashworth will retire at the end of the year. Kathy Warden has been elected president and COO; Mark Caylor was named Corporate Vice President and president of mission systems; Shawn Purvis was named Corporate VP and President of enterprise services; and Lesley Kalan was elected Corporate Vice President, government relations: Northrop release.

—DARPA recently completed flight tests on its Video Synthetic Aperture Radar, which is designed to “capture real-time video through clouds.” The targeting sensor can be mounted on a variety of platforms “to provide high-resolution, full-motion video for engaging moving ground targets in all weather conditions—cloudy or clear: DARPA release.