Air Force Plans New Campaign, Social Media Partnerships to Combat Recruiting Shortfall

Air Force Plans New Campaign, Social Media Partnerships to Combat Recruiting Shortfall

Amid a high-profile recruiting crisis, Air Force leaders and experts increasingly note the challenging long-term trends the service faces in convincing young Americans to join: Declining numbers of eligible candidates, lower interest and propensity to serve, and reduced exposure to military people and service. 

But while leaders see no “silver bullet” to solve those issues, the Air Force Recruiting Service is pressing ahead with a push to attract more women to serve. Acting Undersecretary of the Air Force Kristyn E. Jones described in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week the Women in Sports Campaign, which she said “aligns DAF recruitment with female athletes through direct marketing as well as enduring partnerships that encourage female participation in sports.”

The target of the campaign, she said: “Approximately 7.6 million 18- to 24-year-old women [who] watch women’s sports on YouTube.” Taken as a group, “these viewers constitute a key demographic for DAF recruitment efforts,” Jones added. 

The Air Force Recruiting Service plans to expand outreach to young women via social media, officials told Air & Space Forces Magazine. 

The Women in Sports campaign is set to launch this summer, hoping to inspire more young women to stay fit and consider service.  

“Less than 25 percent of females ages 18 to 24 are actually eligible to serve in the military,” said Lara Stott, senior strategic advisor for marketing at AFRS. “And one of the big reasons is due to obesity and being out of shape and other health issues that kind of go along with that.

“So we’ve been working on how to build an enduring brand initiative that would really be focused on putting the Air Force front and center as a champion of women in sports and girls in sports,” Stott continued. “And we want to use this as an opportunity to kind of be a catalyst for the next generation of young women to pursue sports at whatever level they want to pursue.” 

By encouraging more girls and women to participate in sports, USAF hopes to increase the percentage of young women fit enough to serve.

“By the time they hit that 18- to 24-year-old range when we’re actually trying to recruit, if they don’t already have those healthy habits, it is much harder to teach them at that point,” Stott said. “ It’s really about instilling this sense of making that an important part of your self-care as a woman.” 

To get that across, Stott said, the Air Force will:

  • Expand presence at prominent women’s sporting events 
  • Build new partnerships with brands and influencers with greate rfocus “on the next generation of female athletes” 
  • Highlight Air Force and Space Force athletes from the U.S. Air Force Academy, ROTC, or the Air Force World Class Athlete Program

But the Air Force isn’t about to blow it’s budget all at once. “We could go drop a lot of money on the Women’s World Cup coming up and that would be great for a moment in time,” Stott said. “But we want this to be something that is really enduring.”  

Expanding its Reach  

Air Force Recruiting had about 1 million followers on Facebook, 349,000 on Instagram, and 153,000 subscribers on YouTube as of March 31. But Jones told Congress department leaders believe they can increase reach considerably through partnerships with appropriate social media influencers. 

“We’re looking at how to better utilize YouTube influencers,” Jones said.

Stott said that it’s a matter of outreach. “If you go on YouTube right now, there are—in addition to the Air Force Recruiting Service and official Air Force YouTube channels—all kinds of channels that are very Air Force-focused. I think all of those are potential partners at this point.”

Influencers can come in many forms, Stott added. “At the end of the day, what we’re trying to do is to tell that authentic Airman story. And if that comes from someone at Nellis Air Force Base who just made us a cool piece of content about a day in the life, those are the real types of stories that we want to tell.” 

It’s all about engaging with young people in a more personal, genuine way. 

“Obviously Gen Z is one of the smartest generations as a young cohort,” Stott said. “They know when you’re not being genuine, they can see right through you. So we are looking very carefully at where we can take Air Force and Guard and Reserve—all of our components—where we can match those attributes and Gen Z attributes and where those intersect.” 

Some Airmen and former Airmen with established social media presences have expressed reservations about mixing the official Air Force brand with their personal ones, but recruiting officials insist they don’t want to stifle Airmen’s voices, and they will give partners wide latitude to express their creativity. 

Stott acknowledged “there is certainly risk involved with that.” But she added, “I think we’re willing to take a little bit of that risk because the reward is going to outweigh that risk.” 

Outside the Air Force

The Air Force also sees potential to partner with influencers and brands that connect with audiences the services need to reach.  

Super Girl Surf Pro, an annual surfing competition; Athletes Unlimited, a growing basketball league; and Amanda Sorenson, a driver in the Formula Drift motorsport competition all have appeal to women the Air Force doesn’t think it reaches now. With tens of thousands of followers on social media, they represent growth. Other partnerships are still to come. 

But AFRS is not aiming for simply the broadest reach, Stott said. 

“What we don’t want to have happen is for us to just be construed as not being genuine,” she said. “Again, I really think that Gen Z would see through that immediately. And I think we can all think of examples of brands in the past where they’ve made that mistake of pursuing partnerships that didn’t really have a natural tie to their brand’s message, to their brand values, if you will. And when that happens, they face a lot of backlash.” 

US Should Consider Expanding Nuclear Arsenal to Cope with China and Russia, Study Says

US Should Consider Expanding Nuclear Arsenal to Cope with China and Russia, Study Says

A new report from a study group organized by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory hopes to shape a crucial emerging debate in Washington: how to manage two nuclear near-peers for the first time in U.S. history.

“This new problem compels a broad rethinking of the assumptions of U.S. nuclear policy and of the deterrence practices of the United States,” write the authors of the report, which include former senior defense and nuclear policy officials. 

Some of the group’s proposals have bipartisan support and are already underway. It argues the U.S. should invest in the modernization of the nation’s nuclear triad by certifying the F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter as a dual-capable aircraft—capable of carrying conventional and nuclear weapons—by 2024, fielding a significant number of new B-21 Raider stealth bombers, and ensuring the Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile is fielded to replace the aging Minuteman III. 

The study, however, argues for additional steps, including consideration of increasing the number of U.S. nuclear forces to boost their chances of surviving an enemy attack. 

It also says policymakers should consider some hotly-debated ideas the Biden administration has shot down, such as fielding attack submarines with the nuclear Sea-Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM-N), which the Pentagon does not plan to develop despite Congressional pushback by Republican lawmakers, and exploring a mobile variant of the Air Force’s Sentinel ICBM.

“The United States should also seriously explore making a portion of the ICBM force road-mobile (but garrison-based), and take steps to ensure that the Sentinel ICBM can be made mobile in the future if necessary,” the report states. “This enhances the survivability of the ICBM force without increasing the need to consider launch under attack and hedges against a breakthrough in anti-submarine warfare.”

The 18-member study group was chaired by Brad Roberts, a former senior Pentagon official who now serves as director of the Center for Global Security Research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Other members include retired Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, the former commander of U.S. Strategic Command; Robert Soofer, a Defense Department official during the Trump administration; and Elbridge Colby, who played a key role in drafting the 2018 National Defense Strategy which placed an increasing emphasis on China.

U.S. nuclear posture has long focused on Russia, with smaller threats of rogue states or actors using nuclear weapons looming in the background. Amid tensions over Ukraine, Russia has “suspended” its participation in the New START treaty, which limits the U.S. and Russia to 1,550 deployed nuclear weapons, though it has pledged to remain under the cap for now.

The biggest change in the security situation, though, is China. It has expanded its nuclear arsenal at a rapid pace to around 400 warheads, and the Pentagon projects that China’s nuclear force could reach 1,500 warheads by 2035. The Chinese have also shown no interest so far in engaging in arms control talks.


However, some former officials say the study authors did a better job at diagnosing the challenges of coping with two peer nuclear competitors than in mapping out a solution. Instead of prioritizing ways to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal, they argued, the U.S. should put more emphasis on diplomacy and renewed efforts at arms control. 

“If China’s arsenal grows as predicted, the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile will never equal that of Russia plus China combined,” Lynn Rusten, a former senior director for arms control and nonproliferation on the National Security Council during the Obama administration, told Air & Space Forces Magazine.

“The more we build up, Russia will certainly maintain parity, and our decisions will influence what China does,” Rusten, now a vice president at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, added. “So why not try to influence it all in the other direction, which is to maintain mutual constraints on U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, maybe exercise some self-restraint, and keep pushing to get China into a strategic stability and risk reduction dialogue, and eventually arms control.”

Some of the group’s recommendations also face substantial political challenges. The U.S. developed plans for mobile ICBMs during the Cold War, including rail-mobile Peacekeeper IBCMs and road-mobile “Midgetman” ICBMs, which would have complicated adversaries’ targeting. But deploying mobile missiles on U.S. territory was not politically sustainable. 

“The emergence of a second nuclear peer is certain to drive renewed debate about the continued necessity, values, and risks of maintaining a requirement to be able to strike an enemy’s nuclear forces,” the report says. “We cannot now know the future choices leaders in Moscow, Beijing, and elsewhere might make about what additional or different strategic capabilities to seek.”

GAO Tells Congress: Pentagon Still Needs a Portfolio Plan for Tactical Aviation

GAO Tells Congress: Pentagon Still Needs a Portfolio Plan for Tactical Aviation

With a flood of new aircraft programs taking shape, the Pentagon still doesn’t have a portfolio plan that rationalizes its all-service tactical aviation activities, the Government Accountability Office told the House Armed Services Committee this week.

Creating such a plan would help the Defense Department and Congress alike size up the true priorities in TacAir and put funds against the most pressing needs, the GAO reported. It also said the joint-service F-35 continues to lag behind planned schedules, and that its engine issues are being addressed without a business case analysis in place.  

In March 29 testimony before the House Armed Services Committee panel on tactical aviation, GAO’s Jon Ludwigson, director of contracting and national security acquisition, said the DOD is in the midst of updating almost all of its TacAir programs, roughly half of which “were first produced before 2000 and are more than 25 years old.”

While the Pentagon is pushing this raft of new airplanes, it still “lacks key portfolio-level analysis to better inform its decisions,” despite no fewer than eight TacAir reviews conducted by the DOD between 2020 and 2022. Ludwigson said the GAO thinks a rationalized portfolio could save money by reducing unnecessary duplication of effort.

The Pentagon has not “conducted an integrated analysis that provides insights into the interdependencies and risks across all tactical air platforms and all services,” Ludwigson said, referring to an audit GAO did in December 2022.

“We believe that conducting an integrated portfolio review would benefit DOD and the Congress, as they balance these decisions,” he said. In fiscal 2023, TacAir modernization programs totaled more than $20 billion across the services, he noted, and that bill balloons to over $100 billion across the future years defense plan.

Responding to the GAO in December, the Pentagon said it expects to do a portfolio-wide analysis of its TacAir plans in the next year or two.

The Air Force and Navy both are pursuing Next-Generation Air Dominance fighters—which despite the identical names are different programs with different requirements and timelines. They are likewise separately pursuing uncrewed combat aircraft programs and new examples of fourth generation fighters, while jointly building different variants of the F-35 as their main crewed tactical aviation asset.

Offering insights from a not-yet-published report on the F-35, Ludwigson said “challenges continue to delay completion of the baseline development” and put F-35 modernization at risk.

“The program has struggled to complete and validate the simulator needed for final testing. In addition, aircraft and engines have been delivered late and have not met reliability/maintainability metrics set for them,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Block 4 upgrade of the F-35 needed to face modern threats” has “continued to lag schedule estimates, exceed cost estimates” and grown in scope, Ludwigson noted.

The original engine specifications of the F-35 didn’t take into account “the eventual full cooling and power needs of the aircraft, which contributed to accelerated wear and tear on the existing engine. Further, the existing cooling system and engine faces limits in supporting new planned capabilities,” Ludwigson said, a reference to additional cooling needed for the new hotter-running electronics that will be incorporated in the Block 4 version of the fighter.  

The Pentagon is moving toward an Engine Core Upgrade of the F135 powerplant, particularly to the F135’s thermal management system, but “based on our preliminary analysis, these engine-related efforts lack key elements of a full business case to support decisions and are proceeding without requirements,” Ludwigson said, setting the stage for the program to come up short if there are no firm targets against wish to measure it.

At the very least, the F-35’s “engine is underperforming, resulting in … increased wear and tear” on the powerplant, Ludwigson asserted.

“We’re … concerned that the program may seek to develop and acquire this complex, costly and important upgrade” of the F135 “within the F-35 program, without its own baseline cost and schedule,” he said.

The Block 4 upgrade alone is expected to cost $16.5 billion, Ludwigson said, and GAO’s observations of the effort “point to increases in scope, costs, and delays,” he said.

Meanwhile, until DOD verifies that the “simulator can conduct complex test scenarios that accurately replicate real-world conditions, the F-35 will be unable to complete initial operational testing,” Ludwigson said.

USAFA to Double Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Staff After Rise in Incidents

USAFA to Double Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Staff After Rise in Incidents

Three weeks after a new study revealed rising reports of unwanted sexual contact at the military service academies, an Air Force official said the U.S. Air Force Academy is doubling its sexual assault prevention and response (SAPR) workforce from 12 to 24 employees.

“This increase will improve data-driven prevention, evaluation, and outcomes,” Lt. Gen. Caroline M. Miller, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services wrote in a statement delivered to the House Armed Services Committee at a personnel posture hearing March 29.

On March 10, the Department of Defense released its annual report on sexual harassment and violence at the military service academies, showing a steady increase in the total number of incidents of sexual harassment and violence across the academies. In the 2021-22 academic year, there were 206 reports of sexual assault across the academies, a near-sixfold increase over the 35 reported in the 2007-08 academic year.

At the Air Force Academy, the DOD study found that 22.3 percent of women indicated experiencing unwanted sexual contact in the 2021-2022 academic year, compared to 15.4 percent in 2018. Meanwhile, 4.3 percent of Air Force Academy men said they experienced unwanted sexual contact in the 2021-2022 academic year, compared to 1.8 percent in 2018.

The study found a similar trend for sexual harassment. The number of female Air Force Academy cadets who experienced sexual harassment rose from 46 percent in 2018 to 60 percent in 2022, and the percentage for male cadets rose from 13 to 19 percent.

An infographic summarizes the key results of the Department of Defense’s most recent Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies. (Department of Defense infographic).

Sexual harassment and assault is also a problem at civilian colleges and universities. A 2019 study by the Association of American Universities of more than 108,000 undergraduate students across 33 schools found that the estimated prevalence rate of nonconsensual sexual contact for female undergraduates was 25.9 percent and 6.8 percent for male undergraduates.

The problem persists at the Air Force Academy despite programs to prevent sexual assault and harassment, which has prompted a comprehensive review of the issue, Miller said.

“Although individual program metrics indicate positive outcomes, holistically our current programs are not driving prevalence down,” Miller wrote in her statement. “An Academy Superintendent-directed review of current programs, leveraging input from cadets, subject-matter experts, alumni, permanent party, and leadership is ongoing.“

Key themes

The Pentagon report on sexual assault and harassment at the service academies identified five main themes:

  • Though the number of incidents increased, the characteristics of unwanted sexual contact incidents were consistent: Alleged offenders were usually fellow Cadets and Midshipmen in the same class year as the alleged victim, and offenses usually occurred after duty hours on a weekend or holiday both on and off academy grounds.
  • 60 percent of unwanted sexual contact events across the academies involved alcohol use by the victim and/or the alleged offender. Reducing excessive alcohol use should be combined with education in skills such as building healthy relationships for a more effective approach, the report authors recommended.
  • Rates of unwanted sexual contact were highest for Cadets and Midshipmen in the second and third years of study, and women who indicated experiencing unwanted sexual contact prior to entering an academy were nearly twice as likely to indicate victimization during the 2021-2022 school year. Men in the same situation were four times more likely to be victimized.
  • In 2021, 66 to 74 percent of Cadets and Midshipmen experienced unwanted sexual contact, a higher rate than 95 percent of military units that took climate surveys. Service academy men and women also experienced unwanted sexual contact at slightly higher rates than Active-Duty men and women in the same age group.
  • Lesbian, gay, and bisexual Cadets and Midshipmen were “significantly more likely” to experience unwanted sexual contact than their heterosexual counterparts. This tracks with prior studies of the general public and of the Active-Duty military, the report noted. Hispanic women and non-White men were also more at risk for unwanted sexual contact.

The report also found that most Cadets and Midshipmen who indicated unwanted sexual contact never officially reported it. Of the approximately 1,136 who experienced unwanted sexual contact from 2021 to 2022, only 155 reported it to a DOD authority, a reporting rate of about 14 percent at each academy. 

The reasons for not reporting allegations included the victim not wanting people to talk or gossip about them; feeling shame or embarrassment; thinking it would take too much time or effort; or because they dealt with it by avoiding the alleged perpetrator and tried to move on, the report said.

Swearing In Class of 2024
Basic Cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Class of 2024 follow social-distancing precautions during a swearing-in ceremony held on the school’s Stillman Field on July 11, 2020. Air Force photo by Trevor Cokley.

Fixing it

Despite the report’s troubling findings, it found the services had taken foundational steps towards preventing future incidents. These included providing onboarding training to staff and student leaders, better coordinating prevention efforts, and developing comprehensive plans to prevent sexual assault and harassment. 

For the 2022-23 academic year, the academies must develop an implementation plan for stronger prevention, along with a plan for providing officers and noncommissioned officers the skills “to act on climate factors impacting Cadet/Midshipman units,” the report wrote.

“We’re in an unacceptable place and we need a culture reset,” Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark said in a statement earlier this month. “I look at this as a campaign where there is no silver bullet and it will take a variety of approaches to reach our goal. But the most important thing is a commitment from every one of us to change our culture.”

Beyond better prevention, the Department of Defense also wants service academies to encourage greater reporting of sexual assault so that the academies can help victims recover from the incident and/or pursue accountability. Both the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy are due to implement a “Return to Health” policy modeled off of the one issued by West Point, which sets down a process to help students recover from a sexual assault and balance their academic goals with that process.

One initiative specific to the Air Force is the Teal Rope program, where Cadets who have been trained in sexual violence prevention and response support survivors and help drive culture change at the academy.

“People like to go to their equals,” Air Force Academy SAPR office manager Sonja Strickland said in a 2019 Air Force article. “It’s that Cadet-to-Cadet piece.”

21 Tankers Line Up for Record-Breaking Launch as McConnell Practices ACE

21 Tankers Line Up for Record-Breaking Launch as McConnell Practices ACE

More than 20 tankers lined the runway at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., on March 27 for the base’s largest mass launch of aircraft ever.

“The premise was essentially a threat was inbound,” Col. George N. “Nate” Vogel, commander of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing, told Air & Space Forces Magazine. “That was the scenario we gave ourselves, and we had limited amount of time to get folks off the ground. So the team generated those jets over the course of about 48 hours, the maintainers did, simulating that we had indicators and warnings that situations in the world were kind of ramping up from a crisis standpoint. And so then we did a crew brief at 7 a.m. for all the crews, they stepped out to the aircraft and then the first thing we did was we just wanted to get a picture of of all the aircraft generated, and then we did the formation launch immediately after that.”

Sixteen KC-46s and five KC-135s participated in the flush, with aircraft and Airmen from the 22nd Air Refueling Wing and the 931st Air Refueling Wing participating. The launch was part of the base’s Exercise Lethal Pride, a weeklong effort to simulate the Air Force’s plan for dispersing aircraft and crews to operate from smaller bases.

As part of that effort, roughly 100 Airmen from McConnell have spent the last week living in a tent city on base with limited contact with the outside world—simulating what life would be like at the kind of austere forward operating base the Air Force envisions as critical to its concept of Agile Combat Employment, wherein small teams of cross-trained Airmen disperse from central “hubs” and operate from smaller “spokes” to complicate an adversary’s targeting. 

The Airmen in the tent city are part of command and control and force generation elements, Vogel said, and have spent the past week doing just that, but with somewhat degraded communications and limited contact with the outside world to simulate what might unfold during a conflict.

In the exercise, McConnell is also treating other bases as the “spokes” in that hub-and-spoke arrangement, including Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. 

“We’ve been to nine different spoke locations from our deployed tent city environment that has sent them out to these places,” Vogel said.

To force Airmen to make their own decisions based on commander’s intent, Vogel said his team has taken away communication options over time and forced the command-and-control element in the tent city to rely on solar power rather than existing infrastructure. They’re not always able to stay in touch with tankers depending on where they fly, but the aircrews ”know what authorities they have, and we expect them to make decisions and execute,” he said.

Lethal Pride is McConnell’s first large-scale base exercise. Beyond the mass launch of aircraft and the tent city, Airmen have also conducted an aeromedical evacuation mission, several air refueling missions over land and sea, and night missions. 

On top of that, the exercise has included two endurance missions. One involved a KC-46 flying for 24 hours straight, while the other had another KC-46 fly for roughly 20 hours before landing and taking off again without turning off the engines.

“We’ve been doing these things for while,” Vogel said. “We’ve studied to get the best Circadian rhythms and to see how the jet performs and nutrition and all that kind of stuff. We just see that as a part of how conflict could likely go in the future, as far as what would be required of us.”

Boundary-pushing flights have become increasingly common for the Air Force’s tanker fleet. In May 2022, a 22nd Air Refueling Wing crew flew for 24.2 hours in a KC-46, setting an Air Mobility Command record and covering more than 9,000 miles. In October, another McConnell KC-46 flew without a co-pilot as part of a study of limited aircrew operations. And in November, a KC-46 from Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H., flew more than 16,000 miles over 36 nonstop hours.

On the other hand, gathering 21 tankers for an elephant walk is incredibly rare. In September 2021, Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., set a base record by launching 20 KC-135s in a row. McConnell lined up 14 Stratotankers as part of a simulated alert call in 2016, and more recently, conducted an elephant walk with one KC-135 and seven KC-46s in 2020. Seven KC-46s lined up at Pease in September 2021.

F-35s Arrive at Kadena as F-15 Withdrawl Continues

F-35s Arrive at Kadena as F-15 Withdrawl Continues

F-35 Lightning II fighters arrived on Okinawa this month as the Air Force continues to swap out its permanently deployed F-15 Eagles at Kadena Air Base, Japan.

The 18th Wing at Kadena said the 355th Fighter Squadron from Eielson Air Base, Alaska began the deployment on March 28. It is unclear how many F-35s are now operating there. Air Force officials declined to provide the exact number of F-35s at Kadena or say when more F-15s would depart, citing operational security. However, officials said the F-35 deployment was temporary as part of the DOD’s plan to place more advanced fighters at Kadena on a rotational basis as the old F-15s head out.

“The next batch of F-15s will depart Kadena in phased movements over the coming months,” a spokesperson for Pacific Air Forces told Air & Space Forces Magazine. “Departures will occur once sufficient deployed forces are in place and operational to ensure no gap in steady-state fighter presence.”

Kadena is a strategic location for the Air Force, around 450 miles from Taiwan. The base bills itself as the “Keystone of the Pacific.”

After more than 40 years of Eagle operations, Kadena has had nearly every aircraft type in the Air Force’s fighter fleet cycle through the island in recent months: F-35s, F-22s, F-16s, and the original F-15s.

The Air Force promised to replace the old Eagles with newer and more capable aircraft, starting with F-22 Raptors from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska and F-16CMs from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. The F-35s of the 355th FS mark the third squadron to head to Kadena as part of the F-15 replacement plan. The F-22s and F-16s remain deployed at Kadena.

F-15s leaving Kadena are destined for the Boneyard or Air National Guard service. Air National Guard director Lt. Gen. Michael A. Loh told reporters at the AFA Warfare Symposium March 8 the ANG had some F-15s from Kadena undergoing extensive depot tear-downs.

F-35s from the 355th Fighter Squadron deployed to Kadena as early as March 4, according to photo captions of F-35 operations in the Pacific released by the Air Force. It is unclear if the aircraft in those photos returned to Alaska or stayed at Kadena. The spokesperson for Pacific Air Forces said all of Kadena’s F-35s “scheduled to arrive have done so.” A spokesperson for the 354th Fighter Wing, the parent unit of the 355th, noted the arrival of the aircraft March 28 but added, “to protect operational security, exact details on flight and arrival times cannot be provided.”

U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning IIs taxi on the flightline after arriving at Kadena Air Base, Japan, March 28, 2023. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tylir Meyer

Despite the island’s strategic importance and proximity to the possible flashpoint of Taiwan, the Air Force must remove the permanently deployed F-15s from Kadena because they are simply too old, service officials say.

“F-15Cs: last year when we were here, there were two aircraft at Kadena that were grounded and would never fly again, and two more that could only fly a one-time flight to the Boneyard,” Lt. Gen. Richard G. Moore, Jr., deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, told a House Armed Service subcommittee March 29. “Now it’s three that are grounded forever and four that can only that are only capable of one-time flight to the Boneyard. Of every 10 aircraft in the F-15C fleet that we put into depot, only two of them come out.”

The Air Force has used its newer fighter aircraft at Kadena to hop around the Pacific for various Agile Combat Employment exercises, including deployments of F-22s to Tinian and the Philippines—the first time fifth-generation fighters deployed to those locations. The Pentagon wants to invest $88 million in upgrades to Kadena as part of its fiscal 2024 budget request.

The F-35s look set to continue the trend of Kadena’s fifth-generation aircraft being used as a flexible force. The 18th Wing said in a news release that “the F-35 squadron plans to rotate personnel and equipment to multiple operating locations in order to support the Theater Joint Force Air Component Commander and the 18th Wing while maintaining readiness for the high-end fight.”

It’s Official: ARRW Is Done When All-Up Tests Conclude. What’s Next?

It’s Official: ARRW Is Done When All-Up Tests Conclude. What’s Next?

The AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) program will end after test flights of the last two developmental missiles, Air Force acquisition executive Andrew Hunter told the House Armed Services Committee on March 29.

Hunter’s declaration came just a day after Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said the service has shifted its hypersonic weapon focus from ARRW to the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile.

The Air Force “does not currently intend to pursue follow-on procurement” of ARRW, Hunter wrote in testimony prepared for his appearance before the HASC tactical aviation panel. The missile, built by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, was not discussed during the actual hearing.

Even so, “there is inherent benefit to completing All-Up Round (AUR) test flights … to garner the learning and test data that will help inform future hypersonic programs and potential leave-behind capability,” Hunter wrote.

The fiscal year 2024 Air Force budget request includes $150.3 million in research, development, test, and evaluation funding to “complete” the ARRW program, Hunter noted.

Mark Lewis, head of the National Defense Industrial Association’s Emerging Technologies Institute and a national expert in hypersonics, told Air & Space Forces Magazine the service shouldn’t abandon the ARRW’s boost-glide hypersonic technology but perhaps should shift these efforts back to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in hopes of developing a future capability.

“We are going to finish ARRW testing, then we are going to make a procurement decision, but right now we do not have any money planned in the five0year budget for ARRW,” an Air Force spokesperson said.

Neither Hunter nor the spokesperson offered a specific reason as to why the ARRW will not be pursued.

Asked for comment, a Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control spokesperson said the company “remains committed to developing hypersonic technology on an accelerated timeline to meet this critical national security need. Through flight test discoveries, and with our applied learning, we will continue to further hypersonic capabilities.”

In its budget justification documents, the Air Force said 2024 activities on the ARRW program include “contract closeout,” finalization of documentation and analysis, “and activities to support the leave-behind capability.”

Appearing before the House Appropriations Committee on March 28, Kendall said “we’re more committed to the HACM at this point in time than we are to ARRW.”

Kendall’s remarks were framed by a discussion of the latest ARRW test—the second of the operationally configured system—which he characterized as “not a success” because data from the event was lost or not collected. Kendall said program engineers are “trying to understand what happened.” There are two more missiles available for testing, and “there may be some leave-behind capability,” Kendall said.

The ARRW managed a successful all-up test Dec. 9, which Kendall called “a very successful flight, which was a big step forward,” but the missile has struggled with spotty performance in testing. There were three failed tests in 2021 before a success in 2022.

ARRW was launched as a quick-and-dirty response to hypersonic missiles already fielded by China and Russia, under “mid-tier acquisition” authorizations from Congress by which some of the normal bureaucratic prototyping steps can be skipped or streamlined. The missile is a boost-glide weapon which is accelerated to hypersonic speed by a rocket, at which point the hypersonic vehicle separates and glides to its target.

The HACM, meanwhile, is an air-breathing cruise missile. Raytheon won the contest to build the HACM last year, using an engine built by Northrop Grumman, based on technology explored under the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) program led by the Air Force and theDefense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Kendall said the Air Force has money in its five-year plan “to move HACM forward,” as the technology underwriting it “has been reasonably successful.” Because the HACM is smaller than ARRW, it can be carried on more kinds of aircraft “and give us more combat capability, overall,” Kendall said. The ARRW would only have been employable from bombers due to its size.

The Air Force is requesting $382 million for HACM in 2024, Hunter wrote in his prepared testimony. That money would fund “critical design” and maturing of the “digital ecosystem” needed to verify the design, as well as flight test hardware in preparation for a flight test in fiscal 2025, he wrote. All this would enable procurement by fiscal 2027, he added.

Kendall left the door slightly open to further work on ARRW, telling lawmakers that if the final test flights are successful, “then we’ll revisit it … as we build the [2025] budget and see what will be done in the future.”

Lewis, former head of defense research and engineering and former Chief Scientist of the Air Force, said he was disappointed by the Air Force’s decision to terminate ARRW.

While the Air Force’s “strong focus” on HACM is “absolutely correct” because of its applicability across a wider portion of the force, the ARRW would have given the Air Force a longer-range and heavier striking option, Lewis said, adding that a boost-glide weapon is harder for enemy air defenses to stop.

“I’ve always likened it to the F-15/F-16 high-low mix,” he said, with a great number of HACM-like “air breathers” playing the F-16 role—“they’re less expensive, you can launch a lot of them”—but still having some of the heavier, more expensive ARRW-like boost-glide weapons for particularly hard targets.

“I’d like to have both, but if you put a gun to my head and told me to choose, I’d choose the HACM,” he said. “Depth of magazine really matters.”

Lewis added that he wasn’t surprised ARRW has had test problems because “I think people underestimate how hard it is to actually build a tactical-scale rocket/boost-glide system.” A boost-glide system is extremely difficult to sort out and something DARPA should potentially re-engage with, Lewis said.

“It’s exactly the sort of problem DARPA was designed to solve,” he added.  

While Lewis said he is not privy to the reasons why the most recent ARRW test failed, he noted that in development programs, there are “noble failures, when things don’t work because you genuinely didn’t understand the physics; you made a mistake in the engineering, but it’s all good because you needed to learn more,” and then there are “stupid failures, where the fin falls off or the booster doesn’t light or whatever.”

“I hope we wouldn’t cancel something because of a stupid failure,” he said.

The demise of ARRW also worries Lewis because it may send an awkward message to industry and development programs generally.

“One of the things I worry about are the overall signals that we give to the community,” he said. “On the one hand, we say, ‘You’ve got to be allowed to fail. You’ve got to fail early and fail often.’  But as soon as someone fails, we cancel their program.”

‘The Arctic is Trying To Kill You’: What It Looks Like When Airmen Train Far North

‘The Arctic is Trying To Kill You’: What It Looks Like When Airmen Train Far North

How’s this for an early-February getaway: Spend five days and four nights on a frozen island in the Arctic Ocean, where the temperature ranges from a balmy negative 25 degrees Fahrenheit to a windchill of negative 65 degrees.

Two Minnesota Air National Guardsmen had the pleasure of such a trip recently, thanks to the Canadian military. The Air Operations Survival course is hosted twice a year at Resolute Bay, Nunavut, during the daylong darkness of the winter, in an attempt to simulate “as close as possible the conditions associated with an Arctic bailout,” according to the Canadian government.

Chief Master Sgt. Jeremiah Wickenhauser and Master Sgt. Cody Hallas, both members of the 133rd Contingency Response Team, trained at Resolute Bay with instructors from the British and Canadian militaries, alongside other service members from France, Germany, and New Zealand, Wickenhauser confirmed to Air & Space Forces Magazine.

“The Arctic environment is constantly trying to kill you; every task is harder in the cold,” Hallas said in a recent release written by Wickenhauser. “Every task takes longer, and the risk of serious injury is always present. Moisture management and the inability to dry gear is a huge issue. Cold, wet gear is miserable to wear and work in and extremely dangerous in the Arctic.”

Students learned to cut snow blocks, build shelters, cook food, melt water, and stay warm, the release noted. Some of the instructors were Canadian Rangers, a sub-component of the Canadian Army Reserve whose members “live and work in remote, isolated, and coastal regions of Canada,” according to the Canadian government.

The Canadian Rangers shared a freshly-killed seal with the students and showed them how to build an igloo, which the students “spent one cold night trying to sleep in,” Wickenhauser wrote.

Though difficult, Wickenhauser and Hallas’ training at Resolute Bay could prove vital at a time when interest—and tensions—in the Arctice are growing. Though the U.S. military has plenty of mountain, sub-Arctic, and extreme cold weather training, those environments are not the same as the Arctic, which is generally frozen and dark in the winter and impassable and light in the summer.

“Even the most qualified mountain team in the Special Forces Regiment would not be considered Arctic-capable,” three Green Berets in October wrote in an October 2022 paper on Arctic security for the Air Force’s Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs. “Becoming Arctic-capable requires immersion in the actual conditions throughout the entire training and validation pathway, as our Scandinavian partners do.”

Some units in the Minnesota Air National Guard and the New York Air National Guard frequently undergo Arctic training. For example, Wickenhauser, Hallas and fellow guardsmen from Minnesota and New York spent most of May 2022 on an ice cap in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, learning how to set up a base camp, conduct Arctic first aid and groom a ‘ski-way’ for ski-equipped aircraft like the New York ANG’s LC-130 to land on.

Arctic powers such as Russia, the U.S. and, increasingly, China, are flexing their military might in the region as melting sea ice opens up new trade routes and natural resources—but national security experts worry that the U.S. is still underprepared for such a fight.

“While the military services’ respective Arctic strategies acknowledge the importance of the Arctic and the need to develop the capabilities needed to operate and compete in the region, direct investment in Arctic-capable platforms, training, and infrastructure continues to lag,” Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, head of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), wrote in a March 23 statement for the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

“It is necessary that the joint force has the ability to compete, fight, and win in the Arctic in the coming years,” VanHerck added, “and the time for the services to invest in the required equipment, infrastructure, and training is now.”

Airmen from the New York Air National Guard’s 105th Airlift Wing experienced that lack of infrastructure when they flew six C-17 transport jets carrying hundreds of Canadian Army reservists and more than 90 tons of cargo out of Quebec and landed at the Resolute Bay Airport earlier this winter. The airport does not have radar, and the runway is made up of frozen gravel and ice, according to an Air Force press release.

“We flew 2,000 miles … unloaded and loaded cargo and people and flew another 2,000 miles back, basically all on our own,” one of the C-17 pilots, Lt. Col. Andrew Townsend, said in the press release.

The austere conditions also challenged the loadmasters taking cargo on and off the C-17s. They had to do weight and balance calculations using pencil and paper, since the cold caused computer malfunctions, according to the press release. They also had to knock chunks of ice and snow off of cargo pallets.

The journey did not end at Resolute Bay for 37 Canadian and American Soldiers, who were flown another 60 miles north via LC-130. The ‘Skibird’ landed on a ‘ski-way’ that had just been groomed onto the sea ice by Airmen from the 109th and members of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 440th Transport Squadron. 

The Canadian Rangers and other indigenous Arctic people could play a vital role in supporting U.S. and allied military operations in the far north. The October 2022 paper on Arctic security noted that during World War II, the U.S. relied on more than 6,000 Native Alaskans who volunteered to conduct surveillance activities along remote coastlines. Though that unit shut down after the war, the Canadian Rangers play a similar role in Canada today.

However, relationships are a two-way street, and many Alaskan communities lack access to running water, broadband internet, and affordable household goods. Living standards deteriorate further when supply chains become stressed and food, sanitation, and medical equipment stop arriving, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski wrote in 2022.

If the U.S. does not devote more resources to these communities, other countries like Russia or China may do so in an attempt to win influence there, the authors of the Arctic security paper argued.

“Investing in Indigenous Alaskan communities is a chance to deny competitor influence, rebuild trust with Native Alaskan communities while establishing multi-use infrastructure with multi-domain effects, and increase our military’s Arctic readiness,” they wrote.

Collaborative Combat Aircraft Will Join the Air Force Before NGAD

Collaborative Combat Aircraft Will Join the Air Force Before NGAD

The first iterations of Collaborative Combat Aircraft, the drones that will pair with manned platforms, will join the Air Force’s fighter fleet in “the later 2020s,” several years before the Next-Generation Air Dominance fighter, service acquisition chief Andrew Hunter told the House Armed Services tactical aviation panel on March 29.

Hunter also emphasized that CCAs will augment all types of tactical aircraft, not just the NGAD system.

Lt. Gen. Richard G. Moore Jr., deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, also set the top three missions of the CCAs, in order, as:

  • shooters
  • electronic warfare platforms
  • sensor-carrying aircraft

The NGAD and CCAs are “on different timelines,” Hunter said, although they are “obviously closely related to one another as part of a family of systems.”

NGAD, he said, is a “very high-end capability” geared to the threat environment of the 2030s, and “we are working very hard to deliver [it] …in the early 2030s.” CCAs, meanwhile, are slated to join the force later this decade. Hunter also said the notional number of CCAs will be between 1,000 and 1,500 aircraft.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told the House Appropriations defense panel on March 28 that CCAs could cost between one-half and one-quarter as much as an F-35. Lt. Gen. Michael J. Schmidt, F-35 program executive officer, quoted the price of an F-35A as $82.5 million in the March 29 hearing, which would put CCAs between $41.3 million and $20.6 million.

For the CCA program, “we are very much focused on speed-to-ramp, so we are looking to field that capability as rapidly as possible,” Hunter said. The Air Force’s approach in seeking proposals from industry for the autonomous, uncrewed aircraft will put a priority on contractors’ ability to “perform as quickly as possible,” Hunter said.

Moore, echoing previous Air Force officials, emphasized that CCAs are intended to build up the Air Force’s fleet of combat aircraft at an affordable price, providing the “amount of iron that needs to be in the air to confront an adversary like China.”

“The way that we can do that affordably is by buying CCAs, and by creating mass with CCAs,” he said.

The task now will be to define the tactics, techniques, and procedures needed to employ this new kind of weapon, and answer questions like whether CCAs will be part of manned fighter squadrons or “a separate entity,” and whether they will fly alongside crewed aircraft or “come together on the battlefield” from different places.

“Ordinarily we provide a requirement to industry, they come back with what we’ve asked for, and we know that it does exactly what we asked. In this case, we’ve asked a question to industry to see what’s possible rather than tell them exactly what we want,” Moore said.

The 2024 budget includes a request to create an experimental operations squadron which will explore and answer these questions, Moore said.

Asked what the CCAs will be counted on most to do, Moore laid out three basic mission sets.

First and foremost, he said, is “the ability to augment the combat force as shooters.” Second is “the ability to conduct electronic warfare” and the third is “the ability to be sensors in the battlespace.”

Pressed by lawmakers as to whether the Air Force needs seven additional fighter squadrons, as the service stated in the 2018 white paper, “The Force We Need,” Moore said it will depend on the success of the CCA concept.

“But certainly, capacity is an issue and the mass that it takes to confront an adversary like China is intense,” Moore said.

Both Hunter and Moore emphasized that CCAs are being procured in addition to all the crewed fighters the Air Force plans to acquire, not in lieu of any of them. They will “augment” the manned fighter force, not replace it, Hunter said.