ACC: Improperly Assembled Engine Control Caused F-16 Crash

An improperly installed main engine control resulted in a fire and “catastrophic” engine failure, causing an F-16 to crash in April shortly after takeoff from JB Andrews, Md., Air Combat Command announced Thursday. The pilot was able to safely eject after steering the jet toward an open area, but the aircraft was a total loss. Read the full story by Brian Everstine.

US Reportedly Planning to Arm Reapers as part of Niger Operations

The US military is reportedly planning armed remotely piloted aircraft missions to target terrorists in Niger following the fatal ambush of Special Forces earlier this month. The Pentagon is moving to arm USAF MQ-9 Reapers in the area, and France has already decided to arm its RPAs operating in the area, NBC News reported. Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White would not comment on the plans Thursday, saying she would “not talk about anything predecisional.” The plan was reportedly in the works before the team of Green Berets were ambushed Oct. 4, killing four and wounding two. US forces had completed 26 to 27 missions in that immediate area within the past six months, said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, during the Thursday briefing. The Oct. 4 mission was part of an “ongoing series of operations,” and intelligence had assessed that contact with the enemy was unlikely. The Senate on Thursday received additional information on the attack in a close hearing featuring both Pentagon and State Department officials. —Brian Everstine

McCain Happy with Niger Briefing, Pledges to Lift Hold on Nominations

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he is pleased with a new level of communication from the Pentagon after a closed briefing Thursday on the Niger ambush. Senior Department of Defense officials held the briefing for the Senate Armed Services Committee, which McCain chairs. “It was an excellent briefing,” McCain told reporters afterwards, according to The Hill. “We got a lot of good information” on the operation in Niger, McCain said, and added that he is “pleased at the cooperation we are getting now” from the Pentagon. McCain recently revealed that his committee has been delaying the confirmation process for some DOD nominees because of a lack of coordination between the Pentagon and Capitol Hill on matters of war. On Thursday McCain said, “there’s a hundred questions that need to be answered” on the Niger operation still—questions like, “What was the strategy? Why were we surprised?” But he also acknowledged that “we’re making progress” in understanding the ambush. As such, he promised to “lift some of the holds” on Pentagon nominees. —Wilson Brissett

House Passes Senate Budget Resolution

The House on Thursday voted 216-212 to approve the Senate budget resolution that outlines $2.5 trillion in fiscal year 2018 spending for the federal government. The nonbinding resolution includes $557 billion in base budget defense spending and $77 billion in overseas contingency operations spending on current war efforts. The resolution will not be signed by the President, but is intended to provide a blueprint for the congressional appropriations committees to complete their work of assigning spending levels for various departments of the government. The resolution’s $634 billion in total defense funding comes in just under the $639 billion proposed by the Trump administration in May. The resolution levels also fall well short of the $700 billion in base-plus-OCO spending approved in the Senate version of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act and the $696 billion approved in the House version of the NDAA. The resolution’s base budget number of $557 billion, however, is much closer to the $549 billion cap placed on defense spending by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Final defense spending levels for FY18 will not be set until Congress passes an appropriations bill. —Wilson Brissett

DOD: No Change in Posture on Korean Peninsula as Mattis and Dunford Visit

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford are leading a meeting with their South Korean counterparts in Seoul on Friday, as three US aircraft carriers steam together in the region. Even with the increased military presence and focus on the Korean Peninsula, the effort is still “firmly in the diplomatic lane for resolution,” Mattis said while traveling in Thailand on Wednesday in advance of his visit to South Korea. Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Thursday that the three aircraft carriers—the USS Nimitz and its strike group, the USS Theodore Roosevelt strike group, and the USS Ronald Reagan—in the Western Pacific is a display that the US is the “only power in the world” with the capability to have three carriers operating closely together. The deployment was a “unique opportunity for them to be together,” but it is “not directed toward any particular threat,” she said. The US has not changed its status or posture in the area, even though there have been more public shows of strength, such as the carrier deployments, B-1 and USMC F-35B flyovers, and an F-35A public display earlier this month. Mattis and South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo will reportedly visit the demilitarized zone to issue a warning to North Korea, and Song reportedly proposed that Mattis wear a US Marine Corps combat uniform, according to the Korea Herald. White said Thursday, however, that Mattis will be in a suit and tie. —Brian Everstine

Largest Ever Pacific Thunder Search and Rescue Exercise Underway

US Air Force and South Korean air force personnel launched the largest Pacific Thunder search and rescue exercise ever on Monday. More than 20 USAF squadrons and nine South Korean wings are involved in Pacific Thunder 18-1, which is led by the 25th Fighter Squadron at Osan AB, South Korea, and the 33rd and 31st Rescue Squadrons at Kadena AB, Japan. “Combat search and rescue is one of the most important mission sets we have in the A-10 community because we are really the only fixed wing asset in the Air Force who trains to the CSAR mission,” said Capt. Travis Vayda, exercise coordinator for the 25th FS, in a press release. “We are the close muscle, so essentially we are the bodyguards of the person on the ground and the helicopters that are rescuing them.” Pacific Thunder was first held in 2009 as a discrete exercise between the 25th FS and the 33rd RQS, but it has since grown into a Pacific Air Forces-level event.

Air Force Academy Punishes Lacrosse Players and Coaches

The Air Force Academy announced Wednesday that an unspecified number of players and coaches from the school’s lacrosse team have been suspended from all lacrosse activities in relation to an ongoing investigation into allegations of misconduct on the team. Effective Oct. 25, “some members of the team and coaches have been put into an inactive status,” the Academy said in a press release, and will not be allowed to participate in practices or games. The school said it “cannot disclose any further information” because the investigation is still underway, but said it “holds its cadets, staff, and faculty to the highest standards of conduct because our nation demands it of us and it’s the right thing to do.” —Wilson Brissett


—Conference negotiations between the Senate and the House over the Fiscal 2018 defense authorization bill officially kicked off on Wednesday: McCain release.

—A USAF KC-135 Stratotanker from the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, UK, will conduct dry air-to-air refueling with Hellenic air force F-16 C/D Fighting Falcons: USAFE release.

—A Twitter battle between Minot AFB, N.D., and Whiteman AFB, Mo., over who is the better base took an interesting twist when the official Air Force Twitter account threatened to take away the feuding bases’ TV privileges and then stunned everyone by claiming Santa Claus is not real. The Air Force later backed off that statement and cited NORAD’s annual Santa tracker as proof the jolly old man does exist: