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Author: Subject: USAF, Part 2

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[*] posted on 30-9-2019 at 09:32 PM

Pentagon orders 15 more KC-46A tankers

Gareth Jennings, London - Jane's Defence Weekly

30 September 2019

Boeing is under contract to deliver 67 of the USAF’s intended 179 KC-X tanker-transport aircraft. Source: Boeing

Boeing has been awarded USD2.6 billion to build a further 15 KC-46A Pegasus tanker-transport aircraft for the US Air Force (USAF).

The contract, announced by the Department of Defense (DoD) on 27 September, brings the number of aircraft that are under contract to 67. As noted by the DoD, the Lot 5 production award includes spares and support and will be complete by March 2023.

With a programme of record of 179 aircraft for the USAF's KC-X requirement, Boeing is contracted to have delivered 36 aircraft to the service by the end of this year, while the first of up to four aircraft for Japan will be delivered in 2021.

The KC-46A is a 767-2C provisioned freighter with a 767-400 flight deck (this flight deck features the Rockwell Collins large format displays of the 787 airliner). The KC-46A has a minimum crew of three comprising pilot, co-pilot, and mission system operator/officer. It can carry 96 tonnes of fuel, although it should be noted that the KC-46A loses much of its underfloor cargo space with auxiliary tanks in doing so.

In terms of its USAF mission, the KC-46A will be deployed 'closer to the fight' to better support the service's expeditionary operations. With this in mind, the KC-46A has been fitted with ballistic armour in the cockpit and passenger cabin, as well as for the fuel tanks; electro-magnetic pulse hardening; and nuclear, biological, and chemical protection.

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[*] posted on 2-10-2019 at 07:59 PM

Faster, Farther Missiles Drive U.S. Air Force To Adopt New Technology

Oct 2, 2019

Steve Trimble | Aviation Week & Space Technology

Flight-test infrastructure within the U.S. Air Force is evolving as a new generation of faster and longer-range air-launched weapons approach a four-year surge of flight-test activity.

By 2023, the U.S. Air Force plans to introduce the AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon and the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon—which boast double-digit Mach numbers and a maximum range measured in the thousands of miles. About 40 hypersonic flight tests, including prototypes of new Army and Navy hypersonic weapons, are scheduled over the next four years.

- RQ-4s selected as hypersonic test monitors
- Wave gliders emerge as option for overwater tracking and scoring

As those weapons are evaluated, the Air Force also plans to introduce the Lockheed Martin AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile by 2022, which features “significantly greater” range than the Raytheon AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile. The Long-Range Standoff missile also will enter development in 2021. And the suffix “extended range” is being added to a host of air- and ground-launched missiles in the U.S. military’s stockpile.

For each such weapon, the Air Force must develop a concept and infrastructure to monitor and relay telemetry data from the missile over the full length of the flightpath, including the ability to terminate the test if a safety issue develops.

As the U.S. Air Force plans to begin flight testing of the AIM-260, which is the replacement for the Raytheon AIM-120 (pictured), operational testers are considering new technologies to monitor and score overwater tests, including using wave glider vehicles. Credit: Christopher Okula/U.S. Air Force

The Defense Department has conducted hypersonic flight tests before, but the volume of planned testing over the next four years adds another challenge. The flight tests for DARPA’s Falcon Hypersonic Test Vehicle-2 program seven years ago was supported by dozens of assets, including ships and patrol aircraft stretching far out into the Pacific Ocean.

But that approach is “incredibly expensive,” says Maj. Gen. Christopher Azzano, commander of the Air Force Test Center (AFTC).

The Air Force has developed a new concept to provide the same telemetry relay capability using a small number of high-altitude unmanned aircraft systems, rather than multiple aircraft at lower altitudes and ships.

“What we’re looking at now is an airborne array of RQ-4s that would enable us to do the same thing with far fewer platforms and fewer people, while still covering the same space,” Azzano says.

The AGM-183A is the first of a battery of hypersonic weapons expected to enter flight testing within months. A U.S. Air Force B-52 (pictured) performed a captive-carry test in June with an AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon. Credit: U.S. Air Force

The new approach relies on antenna technology that can transmit telemetry data amid the sustained heat and pressure of hypersonic flight, where skin temperatures of the glide body or missile escalate up to 3,600F (2,000C).

The Air Force is also considering other applications of unmanned technology for long-range flight tests. The AFTC is an enterprise that includes: a wind tunnel complex at the Arnold Engineering Development Center in California, a flight-test center at Edwards AFB, California, and a weapons and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance test center at Eglin AFB, Florida. The facilities at Eglin include the Gulf Test and Training Range. The 400-nm length of the range is not long enough to support hypersonic weapon testing, but it may serve as a test site for new solid rocket motors and booster rockets developed for hypersonic weapons.

“I need to be able to relay telemetry, I need to have flight termination, I need to do scoring eventually out in the open ocean for where a weapon would impact,” says Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, commander of the 96th Test Wing at Eglin. “There are actually technology development programs going on to do just that."

One technology cited by Cain is an unmanned vehicle called a wave glider, which uses the energy from ocean waves to generate power. It uses that generated power to produce thrust, allowing the vehicle to remain in a specific location for weeks or months.

“If you put the right measurement devices on them, that’s essentially the concept,” Cain says.

The Gulf Test and Training Range is also expanding, with plans to install instrumentation from the Florida Panhandle to the Florida Keys. The Air Force has run fiber-optic cable about halfway down the west coast of Florida so far, Cain says.

“We’ve started an underwater survey to the Keys to look at where the Gulf Range extension goes next,” Cain says. “As the range increases, we’re going to use the whole 400-plus miles of the range more frequently.”
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[*] posted on 3-10-2019 at 10:26 PM

NDIA Perspective: Recapitalizing America’s Air Force


By Hawk Carlisle

Photo: Air Force

Holidays are great. We take time off from our worries and relax. Unfortunately, holidays end, and often a built-up work backlog greets us back in the real world.

The U.S. Air Force’s extended post-Cold War “procurement holiday” has many of these characteristics. During the late 1970s through the 1980s, the service averaged buying more than 200 combat aircraft per year. Post-Cold War, for more than 25 years, it averaged less than 20 leading to the smallest, oldest Air Force in history. When the Air Force deployed for Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, it had 134 fighter squadrons across all components. Today it has 55 with an average aircraft age approaching 30.

Decision-makers had their reasons for this extended procurement holiday. The Cold War ended. Leaders self-assessed our technologies as decades ahead of any competitor, and, coupled with global capacity, multiples greater than any potential adversary nation — providing a cushion to strategically rest on. We had dominated the world’s skies for generations, and our supremacy looked endless.

Many sounded alarms at the Air Force’s shrinking capability and capacity advantages. Funding priorities, though, remained on counterinsurgency after 9/11. While high-end airpower may not be a “must have” to defeat insurgents, some political leaders accused the Air Force of “next-war-itis” for requesting an infusion of modernization and recapitalization.

America’s strategic air and space advantages steadily eroded, highlighted in the 2018 National Defense Strategy which calls for ending the holiday with its recognition of a return to an era of great power competition. It also recognizes we have peer competitors, and during our holiday they invested in countering American strength, to include our long-held asymmetric advantage: airpower.

Unfortunately, the backlog facing our Air Force looks more like a bow wave as nearly all combat aircraft fleets near the end of their service life. And recapitalization becomes more complex when matched with existing missions and demands. The Air Force must equip itself with the capabilities to fight and win a high-end conflict against any peer competitor. Yet, it still must have the capacity to protect national interests around the globe and perform a variety of tasks.

As the constant, immediate global demand for airpower persists, Air Force leaders and their industry partners need to metaphorically fly the plane while building it. To do this, the Air Force must transform acquisition practices, ending a sclerotic system that produces an F-22 or F-35 on a 20-plus-year cycle and enabling capabilities to come online at the speed of relevance. In short, it needs to realize the stated vision of the Defense Department’s undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment that, going forward, weapons system capabilities are hardware enabled and software defined.

Consider a smartphone. That hardware contains apps, software-defined capabilities running on an operating system backbone.

Developers constantly update those apps and that backbone.

Along the way, we may replace a broken screen, upgrade the protective case, or change out the sim card. But at some point, the hardware can no longer support the next upgrade or iteration of the operating system and we must jump to the next model.

To realize the potential of this system and recapitalize, Air Force acquisition leaders must break down their processes into three simultaneous cycles — continuous software development, mid-tier upgrades and platform replacement.

First, they should release software development from a non-applicable hardware development process. Software engineers refine, update, upgrade and adjust their code daily.

Acquisition milestones don’t, and shouldn’t, apply. Congress considered changing how it appropriates dollars for software acquisition and sustainment and will likely take it up again next year, but the bottom line is the dollars must look less like milestone-driven hardware development and procurement dollars and more like the yearly loop of operations and maintenance dollars.

Then there is the mid-tier of acquisitions, the technology refreshes and upgrades occurring on a three- to five-year cycle.

These upgrades may include advanced sensors, displays, data links, or computer processing units enhancing overall capabilities as the platform replacement cycle executes.

As described by Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, the last five- to 10-year cycle features America’s air and spacecraft designers and builders churning out platforms that enable the next set of software-defined capabilities on a compressed, not generational, timeline. This all depends on open architecture systems and a process allowing for risk, failing smartly and moving rapidly.

The Air Force needs a continuously evolving set of high-end capabilities to deter and defeat peer adversaries matched with required capacity to handle the range of ongoing combatant commander requirements. The United States can and must transform acquisitions, but it takes contributions throughout government and industry to make this imperative reality.

The holiday is over, the backlog immense, and the challenge great, but our Air Force’s leaders and our incredible industry rose to equal challenges in the past and must build and leverage a partnership to do so again to ensure America retains its airpower advantage.

Retired Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle is president and CEO of NDIA and the former commander of Air Combat Command.
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[*] posted on 4-10-2019 at 01:42 PM

USAF awards Collins Next Generation Ejection Seat contract

03 October, 2019 SOURCE: BY: Garrett Reim Los Angeles

The US Air Force (USAF) plans to award a sole source contract to Collins Aerospace to deliver 3,018 examples of its ACES 5 ejection seats for installation in the service’s fleet of Boeing F-15, Lockheed Martin F-16, Lockheed Martin F-22, Boeing A-10 and Boeing B-1Bs.

The Next Generation Ejection Seat contract has been valued by Collins as worth hundreds of millions of dollars, though the USAF blacked out the contract ceiling award in a redacted Justification and Approval (J&A) notice it posted online on 2 October. The J&A was signed off by the service’s head of acquisition, Will Roper, assistant secretary of the USAF for acquisitions, technology and logistics, on 26 September.

The leading alternative to Collins Aerospace’s ACES 5 ejection seat was Martin-Baker’s Mk16 ejection seat, which is used on all variants of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightening II.

Collins Aerospace ACES 5 ejection seat test
Collins Aerospace

However, the USAF decided that Collins Aerospace’s ACES 5 was the only ejection seat technologically mature enough to quickly be installed in its thousands of combat aircraft.

“Moreover, award to any other source would result in an unacceptable delay of at least 26 months, putting the lives and safety of aircrew at unnecessary risk of major injury or fatality during a high speed ejection,” the service says in its notice.

The USAF says it is keen to quickly field a new ejection seat as the current seat used on its fleet, the Collins Aerospace ACES II, which was initially fielded in 1978, is dangerously outdated.

In particular, the addition of helmet-mounted heads-up displays and night vision goggles to combat pilots’ gear has made ejecting riskier. During ejection, those devices can catch the windstream and whiplash pilots, causing neck and head injuries, or even death. In response, the air force wants additional head restraints. Leg and arm restraints are wanted also to prevent flailing and possible limb injury during ejection.

The J&A says one other company submitted a bid for the Next Generation Ejection Seat programme, though that firm’s name has been redacted. Presumably, the other source was Martin-Baker. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 26mo fielding delay of the second source’s ejection seat would be caused by additional time needed to develop the ejection seat and qualify its airworthiness through a string of 22 sled tests, says the USAF. Collins Aerospace has been testing its ACES 5 over the past several years, so it only needs eight more sled tests, the notice says.

Sled tests involve using a rocket cluster to push a sawed-off cockpit equipped with an ejection seat down a rail line. During the sled test, which can approach supersonic speeds, a dummy pilot is ejected from the cockpit and an encirclement of high-speed cameras captures the ejection so that engineers can study it later, ensuring that a real-life pilot would not sustain major injuries in the process.

Collins Aerospace supplies a version of the ACES 5 for the Northrop Grumman B-2 stealth bomber. It also will supply the ejection seat for the Boeing T-7A trainer.

Collins Aerospace did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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[*] posted on 4-10-2019 at 02:15 PM

Air Force Stands Up New Advanced Aircraft PEO

(Source: US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center; issued October 02, 2019)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio --- Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, officially stood up the Program Executive Office for Advanced Aircraft during an Oct. 2 ceremony at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The new office was created to transform the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program into the Air Force’s Digital Century Series initiative, using digital engineering, modular opens systems architecture, and agile software development to design advanced airplanes faster and enter production with a significantly lower learning curve.

The Digital Century Series aims to improve the speed and flexibility with which aircraft can be fielded by using all-digital design and manufacturing technologies, but will not alter the warfighting technologies pursued in NGAD.

The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center aligned office will be led by Col. Dale White. Until recently, he served as the PEO for Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Special Operations Forces, and was responsible for the acquisition execution of a $22 billion portfolio, developing, producing, testing, modifying, fielding, and sustaining Air Force ISR and SOF platforms and related sub-systems.

During the event, Roper expressed confidence in White’s ability to lead the new organization, citing his creative and out of the box thinking. He also talked about the urgency of the new organization’s mission to include engaging industry and fielding technologies faster.

“I am turning to this program and to Dale in particular to find a way to bring the best technical expertise that we have to bear, to understand industry’s business case – because if it’s not good for industry it’s not going to happen – to see if there’s a way we can continue innovating, doing things smaller, faster, more agile where you don’t have to necessarily be a company that can build a thousand things to work with us,” said Roper. “I have the utmost confidence that if there’s a yes to be found in this universe you [White] will find it.”

White is a highly experienced acquisition professional with a wide variety of scientific, acquisition, and operational planning assignments involving space, cyber, and aircraft systems, and including assignments at the Space and Missile Systems Center, Air Force Research Laboratory, Headquarters Air Intelligence Agency and the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO).

While at the RCO he was the Senior Materiel Leader and System Program Director for the B-21 Raider Program, where he led the highly classified program through acquisition planning, milestone development, and program execution.

“The mission placed before our team today will be tough, but is a must do to keep this nation on solid footing on a global stage,” said White. “We are no longer assured the super power prominence we once held and we are now forced to reach back to our roots and relearn those attributes that made us the nation we are today. For those that will be part of the new team, thank you for what you’ve done and what you will do.”

White ended by thanking his former team in the ISR & SOF Directorate, and highlighting the organization’s accomplishments of the past year and a half, to include delivering more than 60 aircraft, approximately 60,000 pieces of special warfare gear and over 600 aircraft modifications.

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[*] posted on 5-10-2019 at 08:12 PM

Air Force Launches Office to Plan Future Fighter Jets

The Air Force is looking beyond its 'penetrating counterair' concepts unveiled in 2016, and is now moving toward a "family of systems" approach. (Photo: US Air Force)

4 Oct 2019 | By Oriana Pawlyk

Three years after the U.S. Air Force laid out initial plans for what its future fighter jets might look like, the service has unveiled a new office that aims to turn the vision into reality.

Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, on Wednesday cut the ribbon on the 'Program Executive Office for Advanced Aircraft' during a ceremony at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, the service said in a release.

Roper named Col. Dale R. White as the head of the office. According to his official biography, White was previously the senior materiel leader for the B-21 Raider program at the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office at the Pentagon. The stealth bomber is set to become the Pentagon's largest aircraft acquisition program since the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

"I am turning to this program and to [White] in particular to find a way to bring the best technical expertise that we have to bear, to understand industry's business case -- because if it's not good for industry it's not going to happen -- to see if there's a way we can continue innovating, doing things smaller, faster, more agile where you don't have to necessarily be a company that can build a thousand things to work with us," Roper said, according to the release.

While other special activities offices have existed before now, the 'Advanced Aircraft' center is the first devoted to planning future fighters, service spokeswoman Capt. Cara Bousie said Friday.

During the Paris air show in June, Roper said discussions were ongoing within the Air Force about the need for a proposed sixth-gen fighter concept, which could be the successor to F-22 Raptors and F-35s, or something more elaborate.

"Digital engineering," which sometimes allows the service to bypass the regular manufacturing process for parts, will give developers the ability to design and change blueprints with more flexibility, Roper said at the time.

Digital Century Series would use methods like digital engineering, as well as interconnectable, agile software and competitive technology prototyping to put together a combat-ready fighter jet in an estimated five years' time.

"Based on what industry thinks they can do and what my team will tell me, we will need to set a cadence of how fast we think we build a new airplane from scratch. Right now, my estimate is five years," Roper told Defense News ahead of the annual Air Space and Cyber conference last month. Roper said if the construct is adopted, the Air Force would have to incentivize defense companies to work faster than the current Pentagon acquisition model, which normally takes years to develop new weapons.

But the service in the past has proved it can expedite and manufacture aircraft: The first "Century Series" aircraft initiative debuted in the 1950s and produced fighter-bomber variants such as the F-100 Super Sabre, which took roughly two and a half years to develop.

The radical Digital Century Series plan follows the service's modernization effort, known as Next Generation Air Dominance.

The service in 2016 debuted its Air Superiority 2030 roadmap, which includes the sustainment of old fighters and new jets such as the F-22 and F-35, but also outlines NGAD, which features a combination of advanced fighter aircraft, sensors or weapons in a growing and unpredictable threat environment.

While many envision a futuristic manned fighter as a successor to today's 5th-generation platforms, officials have said the Air Force's next-generation platforms may defy traditional categorization, with a networked approach.

That could include fighters and autonomous drones fighting side-by-side, Roper has said. In the spring, Roper revealed that the Air Force Research Lab had made progress on its Skyborg program, an effort aimed at pairing artificial intelligence with a human in the cockpit so the machine can learn how to fly.

But while the sky's the limit on brainstorming ideas, Congress still needs to be swayed.

In the House version of the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, lawmakers cut the Air Force's $1 billion request for NGAD down to $500 million due to "cost risk associated with development," according to the bill, as reported by Air Force Magazine.

"We know the future and we've got to do a really good job of articulating [this] to Congress," said Maj. Gen. David Krumm, director of Air Force global power programs. In August, Krumm discussed NGAD at a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event in Arlington, Virginia.

"It is not a thing. It is not a platform; it's a multitude of things," he said. "All of that connected is what we want it to be."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.
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[*] posted on 8-10-2019 at 05:43 PM

Air Force Bomber Plan: B-2, B-52 & B-1 to Fly into 2040

Oct 6th, 2019

By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

... Air Force weapons developers are immersed in an intricate plan to bring the service’s bomber fleet into future decades -- by adding weapons, avionics and networking technologies to current aircraft and moving quickly to bring new B-21 bombers to the force. The current thinking is centered upon methods of compensating for what service leaders identify as a “bomber deficit,” and therefore finding ways to maximize the performance of the aircraft it has in the inventory. “There are only 156 allied bombers and they all belong to us. We are working on the growth of a requirement for long-range strike,” Gen. Timothy Ray, Commander of Global Strike Command, told reporters at the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference.

The Air Force has 20 B-2 bombers and plans to add as many as 100 new B-21 Stealth bombers. “You are going to have to move to the B-21, the question is…. how you do it. What is that roadmap? What I am going to do is spend the next couple of months pounding the data to understand what the realm of the possible is. We understand that many of our aircraft will have sustainment challenges in the out years, so we really need to have a cost-benefit analysis conversation,” Ray said. While many details have yet to be determined, depending upon the pace of B-21 arrivals, there is a notional “structure” or plan to operate up to 75 B-52s up through the 2040s, sustain the B-1 for at least a decade or two and of course maintain a massively upgraded B-2.

“Right now the current game plan is a minimum of 100 B-21s and 75 b-52s. I spent a lot of time this past year making sure that plan is a viable one. We also have to have a viable B-1 to pickup the load so we don’t put too much on the B-52. The point to drive home is that we have to be smart about what we have and build a better road map until we get bigger,” Ray added.

The success of the plan naturally hinges almost entirely upon an ability to successfully modernize the current fleet, as Ray indicated, with sensors, avionics, weapons and communications technology designed to bring the decades old bombers into future decades. "I do believe there is a fleet that moves across a particular time period until the B-21 arrives in sufficient numbers. My preference would be that all of them have external hard points open for some carriage and an extended bomb bay,” Ray added.

There are many nuances to sustainment and modernization, including both regular inspections as well as efforts to integrate new innovations as they emerge. Tim Sakulich, Air Force Research Laboratory Executive Lead for Implementing the Air Force Science and Technology Strategy, told Warrior the Air Force S&T community is working to identify, fast-track and integrate promising new technologies on to current aircraft. Examples include lightweight composites, new weapons such as lasers and hypersonics and next-generation networking systems, among other things.

“We work on inspections to ensure performance properties are up to the requirements level. This is important because we are talking about some pretty exotic technologies that go into these platforms,” Sakulich told Warrior in an interview. The concept, as evidenced by B-2 and B-52 modernization, is to effectively turn older airframes into platforms which could be seen as entirely new aircraft. Autonomy and AI, for instance, are quickly being woven into existing weapons platforms in a way that completely changes functionality, improves survivability and multiplies attack options. “Networked weapons as well as systems for manned-unmanned teaming will rely upon AI. We are working to prove those out in application to assess the difference it makes in operational capability. This includes getting networked weapons out in the field and being able to get them to communicate and optimize against targets in real time in the battlespace,” Sakulich said.

B-1 Plan

The Air Force is mapping a two-fold future path for its B-1 bomber which includes plans to upgrade the bomber while simultaneously preparing the aircraft for eventual retirement as the B-21 arrives. These two trajectories, which appear as somewhat of a paradox or contradiction, are actually interwoven efforts designed to both maximize the bomber’s firepower while easing an eventual transition to the emerging B-21 bomber, Air Force officials told Warrior Maven. The B-21 is expected to emerge by the mid-2020s, so while the Air Force has not specified a timetable, the B-1 is not likely to be fully retired until the 2030s. Also, Ray talked about a recent demo wherein he saw the B1-B weapons bay configured to fire hypersonic weapons.

Service officials say the current technical overhaul is the largest in the history of the B-1, giving the aircraft an expanded weapons ability along with new avionics, communications technology and engines. The engines are being refurbished to retain their original performance specs, and the B-1 is getting new targeting and intelligence systems, service officials told Warrior last year.

A new Integrated Battle Station includes new aircrew displays and communication links for in-flight data sharing. Another upgrade called The Fully Integrated Targeting Pod connects the targeting pod control and video feed into B-1 cockpit displays. The B-1 will also be able to increase its carriage capacity of 500-pound class weapons by 60-percent due to Bomb Rack Unit upgrades. ... It fires a wide-range of bombs, to include several JDAMS: GBU-31, GBU-38 and GBU-54. It also fires the small diameter bomb-GBU-39.

B-52 Through 2040

Engineers are now equipping all of the Air Force B-52s with digital data-links, moving-map displays, next-generation avionics, new radios and an ability to both carry more weapons internally and integrate new, high-tech weapons as they emerge, service officials said. Also, Ray expressed confidence in the current effort to re-engine the B-52 with a more modern, efficient engine. The technical structure and durability of the B-52 airframes in the Air Force fleet are described as extremely robust and able to keep flying well into the 2040s and beyond – so the service is taking steps to ensure the platform stays viable by receiving the most current and effective avionics, weapons and technologies, Air Force weapons developers have told Warrior.

The Air Force is also making progress with a technology-inspired effort to increase the weapons payload for the B-52 bomber. The 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade, or IWBU, will allow the B-52 to internally carry up to eight of the newest “J-Series” bombs in addition to carrying six on pylons under each wing. The IWBU uses a digital interface and a rotary launcher to increase the weapons payload.

The B-52 have previously been able to carry JDAM weapons externally, but with the IWBU the aircraft will be able to internally house some of the most cutting edge precision-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles, among others Also having an increased internal weapons bay capability affords an opportunity to increase fuel-efficiency by removing bombs from beneath the wings and reducing drag.

The first increment of IWBU integrates an internal weapons bay ability to fire a laser-guided JDAM. A second increment, to finish in coming years, will integrate more modern or cutting-edge weapons such as the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, or JASSM, JASSM Extended Range (ER) and a technology called Miniature Air Launched Decoy, or MALD. A MALD-J “jammer” variant, which will also be integrated into the B-52, can be used to jam enemy radar technologies as well. ...
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[*] posted on 9-10-2019 at 10:52 AM

How airmen can work together for persistent ISR

By: Brig. Gen. Gregory Gagnon and Lt. Col. Nishawn Smagh  
4 hours ago

Major Dusty, 9th Attack Squadron MQ-9 Reaper pilot, and TSgt Trevis, 49th Operations Group MQ-9 sensor operator (last names omitted due to operational security concerns) fly an MQ-9 Reaper training mission from a ground control station on Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., Oct. 3. The Reaper is a multi-functional aircraft that supports both reconnaissance and combat roles. Holloman trains all Air Force MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper pilots. (Air Force/A1C Michael Shoemaker)

There is always a next war. Great power competition is here. Now is the time, while the United States maintains a position of strength, to ensure we are not outmatched, out-thought, or out-witted. Rapidly and realistically positioning the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance enterprise for first-mover advantage in today’s data-driven environment is beginning with purposeful urgency.

The past paradigm: crew-to-aircraft model

During our careers, the Air Force ISR enterprise grew in both capability and capacity. In the late 1990s, the Air Force operated an ISR enterprise dominated by manned aircraft, each with their own specialized team operating unique systems that turned data into initial intelligence. Only a few organizations could turn raw airborne sensor data into intelligence in near-real time. We were only beginning to move data to the analyst, versus deploying the analyst to the data.

As battlefield demand of ISR grew, we scaled up. We were fortunate to help build and execute airborne intelligence operations on a global scale, connected via a global network — we called them “reachback” operations. Reachback operations were the first step in transmitting ISR sensor collection across the globe in seconds. Even today, few nations can conduct this type of ISR operational design. The enterprise has continued to advance, achieving fully distributed operations around the world. We also made it possible to remove humans from aircraft, allowing missions to fly nearly three times longer and expand the data available to exploit. Correspondingly, the Air Force increased the number of organizations that could accept data and create intelligence.

Following 9/11, our nation’s needs changed; the fight necessitated the Air Force grow its capacity to deliver intelligence for expanded operations in the Middle East. We bought more unmanned vehicles, trained more ISR Airmen, and created more organizations to exploit data. Collection operations were happening 24/7 and most sorties required multiple crews to fly, control sensors and turn collection tasks into intelligence.

As reachback operations grew, they became the Distributed Common Ground System and developed the ability to exploit aircraft sensor data. This growth was significant, but at the tactical level we employed the same crew model and simply grew at scale. This resulted in manpower growth, but also in disparate, distributed crews working similar tactical requirements with little unity of effort or larger purpose. This limited the ability of ISR airpower to have broader operational effects. While suitable for counter-terrorism, history tells us this approach is ill advised for great power conflict.

Observe and orient: the data explosion and sense-making

The traditional crew-to-aircraft model for exploitation must fast forward to today’s information environment. The Pentagon has shifted its guidance to this new reality. The Defense Department recently declared information a seventh core function, and the Air Force’s formal ISR flight plan maps a course for digital-age capabilities to turn information into intelligence. This “sense-making” must be able to handle both the complexity of a diverse information environment and scale to contend with an exploding volume of data. Access to expanded data sets, from diverse collection sources and phenomenology, is near and urgently needed. The Department’s focus on artificial intelligence and machine learning in this realm remains stable and necessary. The next step is to retool how we task, organize, and equip both intelligence collection and analytic crews.

As the Pentagon focuses on open architectures, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and data standards, the field is rapidly moving out. Air Combat Command , the Air Force lead command for ISR, is attacking the crew-to-aircraft model to test a sensor-agnostic approach using multiple data sources to address intelligence requirements. Cross-functional teams of Airmen are now assigned broader operational problems to solve, rather than a specific sensor to exploit. This will change joint and service collection management processes.

ACC is tackling this future. We are supporting Air Force commanders in Europe and the Pacific with a pilot project that allows Airmen to explore these sensor-agnostic approaches. An additional element to our future success is partnering with our joint and allied partners, as well as national agencies, to bring resources, tools, and insights to bear. As we field the open architecture Distributed Common Ground System, we are shifting the focus from airmen operating specific sensors to airmen leveraging aggregate data for broader analysis.

Headquarters Air Force and ACC are installing technologies to ensure readiness for the future ISR enterprise. Cloud technology paired with artificial intelligence and machine learning promises to speed human-machine teaming in generating intelligence across warfighting domains at the speed and scale necessary to inform and guide commanders. Underpinning this effort is a new data strategy and agile capability development for rapid prototyping and fielding. The Defense Department and the Air Force must continue to prioritize this retooling. Our adversaries see the opportunities; this is a race to the future.

Situational awareness in the next war will require the development and fielding of AI/ML to replace the limited and manpower-intensive processes across the Air Force ISR enterprise. Employing AI/ML against repetitive data exploitation tasks will allow the service to refocus many of its ISR Airmen on AI/ML-assisted data analysis and problem solving.

ISR and multi domain command and control … enabling decide and act

A headquarters-led initiative, with eyes toward a joint capability, is the creation of a collaborative sensing grid that operates seamlessly across the threat spectrum. Designs call for a data-centric network of multi domain platforms, sensors, and airmen that work together to provide persistent ISR. Equipped with manned and unmanned platform sensors capable of computing via AI/ML, these capabilities will link commanders to real-time information, plus tip and cue data from sensors-to-sensors, joint commanders, and weapons. This collaborative sensing grid is a foundational element for multi domain command and control . The vision of MDC2 is to outpace, outthink and outmaneuver adversaries.

Creatively and rapidly applying new technology to operational problems is a long-held characteristic of airmen. Our DCGS airmen are no different. Non-material solutions deserve as much attention as hardware. This pilot project is our vanguard initiative to prepare for rapidly changing future systems environments.

Brig. Gen. Gregory Gagnon is the director of intelligence at Air Combat Command. Lt. Col. Nishawn Smagh is a National Defense Fellow.
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[*] posted on 10-10-2019 at 07:39 PM

JSTARS modifications under new contract include new liquid oxygen valve

Pat Host, Washington, DC - Jane's Defence Weekly

09 October 2019

The US Air Force intends to upgrade all 16 of its E-8C JSTARS aircraft with modifications such as a bandwidth-efficient common data link under a September 2019 contract. Source: Northrop Grumman

Key Points

- The US Air Force will perform a variety of upgrades to its E-8C JSTARS fleet under a September contract award
- Modifications will range from a new liquid oxygen valve to the bandwidth-efficient common data link

The US Air Force (USAF) plans to make a variety of modifications, including a new liquid oxygen valve, to its fleet of Northrop Grumman E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft as part of a 27 September contract award.

The sole sourced award to Northrop Grumman, potentially worth USD495 million, covers 16 mission and one trainer aircraft as part of an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (ID/IQ) arrangement. USAF spokesperson Patty Welsh said on 7 October that many modifications are anticipated under the JSTARS System Improvement Program (JSSIP) IV contract, ranging from replacing the liquid oxygen valve to prime mission equipment modification, such as the bandwidth-efficient common data link, which she said is the US Army's primary communications link. Welsh said all modifications are subject to funding availability.

The intent of the contract is to modify all 16 JSTARS aircraft with each modification, Welsh said. The aircraft modification order is dependent upon the timing of the modification and each aircraft's status at the time, such as deployed, in depot, or identified for training sorties. The 27 September contract award was for replacing the liquid oxygen valve.

The contract award will support the current JSTARS programme office and Air Combat Command (ACC) projections of improvement to increase or maintain E-8C performance, capability, reliability, and maintainability. Work is expected to be completed by 26 September 2024.

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[*] posted on 14-10-2019 at 02:49 PM

U.S. Air Force scientists developed liquid metal which autonomously changes structure

Published 08:19 (GMT+0000) October 5, 2019

Photo courtesy of Raytheon

As reported by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, military scientists have developed a “Terminator-like” liquid metal that can autonomously change the structure, just like in a Hollywood movie.

The scientists developed liquid metal systems for stretchable electronics – that can be bent, folded, crumpled and stretched – are major research areas towards next-generation military devices.

Conductive materials change their properties as they are strained or stretched. Typically, electrical conductivity decreases and resistance increases with stretching.

The material recently developed by Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) scientists, called Polymerized Liquid Metal Networks, does just the opposite. These liquid metal networks can be strained up to 700%, autonomously respond to that strain to keep the resistance between those two states virtually the same, and still return to their original state. It is all due to the self-organized nanostructure within the material that performs these responses automatically.

“This response to stretching is the exact opposite of what you would expect,” said Dr. Christopher Tabor, AFRL lead research scientist on the project. “Typically a material will increase in resistance as it is stretched simply because the current has to pass through more material. Experimenting with these liquid metal systems and seeing the opposite response was completely unexpected and frankly unbelievable until we understood what was going on.”

Wires maintaining their properties under these different kinds of mechanical conditions have many applications, such as next-generation wearable electronics. For instance, the material could be integrated into a long-sleeve garment and used for transferring power through the shirt and across the body in a way that bending an elbow or rotating a shoulder won’t change the power transferred.

AFRL researchers also evaluated the material’s heating properties in a form factor resembling a heated glove. They measured thermal response with sustained finger movement and retained a nearly constant temperature with a constant applied voltage, unlike current state-of-the-art stretchable heaters that lose substantial thermal power generation when strained due to the resistance changes.

This project started within the last year and was developed in AFRL with fundamental research dollars from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. It is currently being explored for further development in partnership with both private companies and universities. Working with companies on cooperative research is beneficial because they take early systems that function well in the lab and optimize them for potential scale up.

In this case, they will enable integration of these materials into textiles that can serve to monitor and augment human performance.

The researchers start with individual particles of liquid metal enclosed in a shell, which resemble water balloons. Each particle is then chemically tethered to the next one through a polymerization process, akin to adding links into a chain; in that way all of the particles are connected to each other.

As the connected liquid metal particles are strained, the particles tear open and liquid metal spills out. Connections form to give the system both conductivity and inherent stretchability.

During each stretching cycle after the first, the conductivity increases and returns back to normal. To top it off, there is no detection of fatigue after 10,000 cycles.

“The discovery of Polymerized Liquid Metal Networks is ideal for stretchable power delivery, sensing and circuitry,” said Capt. Carl Thrasher, research chemist within the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate at AFRL and lead author on the Journal Article. “Human interfacing systems will be able to operate continuously, weigh less, and deliver more power with this technology.”

“We think this is really exciting for a multitude of applications,” he added. “This is something that isn’t available on the market today so we are really excited to introduce this to the world and spread the word.”
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[*] posted on 14-10-2019 at 09:31 PM


In a low speed post-merge manoeuvring fight, with a high off-boresight 4th generation missile and Helmet Mounted Display, the Super Hornet will be a very difficult opponent for any current Russian fighter, even the Su-27/30
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[*] posted on 15-10-2019 at 09:15 AM

USAF’s Once-Troubled HH-60W Evolves Into A Model Program

Oct 15, 2019

Lee Hudson | Aviation Week & Space Technology

The U.S. Air Force’s rollout of the Sikorsky HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter represents a 180-deg. turnaround of a troubled acquisition effort and a lesson for how other programs can get back on track: Pay attention to basic program management.

Although the HH-60W is essentially the same platform as the aging HH-60G Pave Hawk it is replacing, it represents a substantial upgrade, with improved communications and increased survivability with radar, laser and missile warning systems, infrared and radar countermeasures, armor and two crew-served weapons.

- Industry partners can learn from Sikorsky’s example
- Armor was a major hurdle for the HH-60W program

In October 2018, the Pentagon’s director, operational test and evaluation (DOT&E) office issued a new report on the Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH) that served as a “wake-up call” for the company and the government.

Both responded. Sikorsky gutted its leadership structure, Greg Hames, CRH program director, tells Aviation Week. Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper decided it was time for the CRH program to pivot to “Plan B.” If the effort continued on the same path, there would not be enough data from developmental testing to enter low-rate initial production.

The term Plan B tends to get a bad rap because it connotes that something has already gone awry. But the strategy worked, and the new helicopter entered low-rate initial production on time, said Roper at the CRH rollout ceremony.

“The team had a moment where we decided we’re all in and we’re going to do whatever it takes,” Roper tells Aviation Week. “We’re going to follow the rules, but we’re going to slim them down to the minimum set necessary to keep us focused on delivering on time.”

After problems were identified with the HH-60W, Lockheed gutted the program’s leadership structure and the government created a Plan B. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The team worked proactively by issuing draft versions of engineering plans and test reports. The company would previously hold those documents close until it reached a final version before sharing the information with the government, Roper says. Instead “our engineers were embedded in the industry team looking at things in draft, having test reports written ahead of the test so that numbers just had to be filled in,” he says. “It was a small miracle what they pulled off. It really felt like the old school 1970s Skunk Works side of Lockheed Martin working at wicked fast speed.”

Hames’ goal for his team was to provide all the necessary data to the Air Force no later than Sept. 16 to inform the low-rate initial production decision. And the “old school” methods employed shaved four months from the developmental test program.

The DOT&E report rang alarm bells about many of the new technologies that must be integrated into the HH-60W. This includes the tactical mission kit, Link 16, digital radar warning receiver, rescue hoist, gun mount systems, fuel cells, armor and primary aircrew seating. The report said all the systems were undergoing design changes and the milestone decision authority would have limited information on the helicopter’s unique components to support an informed low-rate initial production decision.

The all-new tactical mission kit comprises adverse weather targeting sensors, data links and defense systems that interface with both digital and analog crew stations. The new helicopter will allow the Air Force to fly in bad weather and gives the aircraft extended reach because it is equipped with an inflight refueling probe and internal fuel tanks.

One major hurdle for the program was cabin and cockpit armor qualification testing that failed twice and required redesigns and remanufacturing, according to the DOT&E report.

Hames says his team has made progress with the armor and has not only submitted qualification test reports but also has sent the Air Force ballistics samples that the government is testing. Hames brought the Air Force program manager to observe the fuel bag fabrication and submitted the qualification testing to the government in February. The gun mount wrapped up qualification testing, and data was submitted to the government at the end of August, while the rescue hoist qualification testing ended in June. Sikorsky submitted the rescue hoist testing results to the Air Force in July. The primary aircrew seating has completed qualification testing and is entering its production build, Hames says.

Link 16, the digital radar warning receiver and the tactical mission kit are all integrated at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Owego, New York. The engineering test reports show the system has “full functionality.” Data was submitted to the government for review in late April. The system is currently being tested on an HH-60W at Sikorsky.

“The full tactical mission kit testing won’t really happen until May of 2020 because that’s when we get to have it in the hands of the Air Force,” Hames says.

The CRH is built on the basic H-60M product line and developed for the Air Force to face future threats, says John Biscaino, CRH pilot for Sikorsky.

“We wanted to give, with the upgrade, the glass cockpit displays the crew will have readily accessible to them—the tactical displays, the weather radar, the [forward-looking infrared cameras], the ring of fire [that] incorporates the radar warning receiver and all of the different pieces of information the pilot and the crew can get,” he says. “It enhances the crew’s situational awareness so [that] when they are in a threat environment, they have a lot more information that is readily accessible.”

In addressing these integration issues, the government and industry team built trust. It was not just through sharing documents but also by speaking in real time. The integrated team included not only officials from Sikorsky and Air Force program management but personnel from Air Combat Command and the test community as well.

With a successful low-rate initial production decision behind it, the integrated test team is working toward its next milestone—required asset availability (RAA), due Sept. 26, 2020. This major contract event is when the pilot manual, maintenance manual and airframe systems trainers are due to the government.

“Looking at data at the same time, making decisions at the same time, that’s the old school model and it still works today,” says Roper. “If we can keep that old school model in place and avoid anyone trying to turn it back into more of a rigid DOD 5000-type process, I expect we will be doing another event like this when the RAA happens, saying: ‘Look at this, the CRH team did it again.’”
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[*] posted on 17-10-2019 at 01:30 PM

USAF Slashes Helo Training Time With Virtual Reality

by Mark Huber - October 16, 2019, 8:07 AM

By using virtual reality (VR) devices, the U.S. Air Force’s 23rd Flying Training Squadron (FTS) at Fort Rucker, Alabama, has slashed flying time by 35 percent, given students 15 hours of additional practice time with aircraft controls, and cut the time needed to complete undergraduate pilot training by six weeks for the first six students using the experimental program.

The 23d FTS is responsible for all Air Force undergraduate rotary-wing pilot training and is a geographically separated unit under the 58th Special Operations Wing (SOW) at Kirtland (New Mexico) AFB. It is the sole entry point for Air Force careers in the Bell UH-1N, Sikorsky HH-60G, and Bell-Boeing CV-22 tiltrotor.

The experimental training program began in 2017 when the squadron found internal training efficiencies that led to a 25 percent increase in overall student pilot production. They decided to take their innovation efforts further by combining technology and innovation.

The squadron initially stood up the program with six VR systems loaded with software for a Bell 412, paid for with $350,000 in 58th SOW innovation funds. Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training-Helicopter (SUPT-H) class 20-02 was the first class to use the VR training systems starting in May 2019. The students’ introduction to VR took place during the initial 19-day academics portion of the curriculum. “After 23.5 hours of VR instruction, students were able to hover, taxi, and perform various other helicopter maneuvers unassisted by their instructor pilots on their very first flight [in an actual aircraft],” said Capt. Matt Strick, 23rd FTS innovation flight lead. “We assessed the students to be at least seven days ahead of schedule at that point.”

The initial goal of the project, called “Project da Vinci” or "Rotary-Wing Next," was reducing the time needed to teach the syllabus from 28 weeks to 14 weeks and to increase student production from 60 to 120 students a year without needing additional aircraft or flying hours. “We’re seeing the vast potential of this program unfold right in front of us,” said Lt. Col. Jake Brittingham, 23rd FTS commander. “This is just the start,” he said. “We are focused on ensuring we continue to get even more efficient with our training, while at the same time maintaining the quality of our graduates the Air Force needs and expects.”

The program’s VR software is being updated to reflect the unit’s Bell TH-1H primary trainer. “The [VR] acquisition proved challenging because of federal computer purchasing laws and limitations and took some time and effort between us, the 42nd Contracting Squadron at Maxwell AFB, 19th AF, and the 338th Specialized Contracting Squadron at Randolph AFB to make the initial purchase,” Brittingham said. “We really couldn’t have done this in eight months without the help of the contracting team enabling us to make these purchases smarter and faster.”
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[*] posted on 19-10-2019 at 01:59 PM

USAF looks for expeditionary precision landing system for Pacific

18 October, 2019 SOURCE: BY: Garrett Reim Los Angeles

The US Air Force (USAF) is looking for a precision approach landing system to enable its aircraft to land at expeditionary air strips on islands in the Pacific Ocean.

The service is asking military contractors to submit white papers that outline component-level designs and trade-off analyses to determine the right mix of requirements necessary for a Small Footprint Precision Approach and Landing Capability (SF-PALC) system, it says in an online notice on 17 October.

The USAF would use information from the white papers to set requirements for a separate contract to fund development of prototypes from one or more manufacturers. A production contract could follow the prototyping phase, says the service.

The expeditionary precision approach landing system is needed to help the USAF carry out its Agile Combat Employment (ACE) strategy in the Pacific Ocean. The strategy is a response to China’s precision, long-range missiles, which could hit US aircraft parked on the tarmac. To avoid losses on the ground, the USAF plans to fly from a greater number of air bases, of sizes small and large, so as to increase the number of targets an adversary would need to attack.

However, the agile-basing plan requires the service to constantly keep its aircraft on the move, so that the Chinese military doesn’t have time to spot and attack US jets.

“The ACE concept is basically having a jet land [at a remote location], then a team of maintainers re-arms and refuels the jet, and sends it back into the fight as quickly as possible,” says Master Sargent Edmund Nicholson of 67th aircraft maintenance unit, which is based at Kadena air base in Japan. He explained the concept via an USAF media release about an agile combat exercise at Fort Greely, Alaska in August 2019.

In order for a jet to land at a remote island air strip – a runway without the usual navigation and air traffic control infrastructure – the USAF needs portable equipment. The service wants its SF-PALC system to be small enough to fit onto one 463L pallet, which would be airlifted inside one Lockheed Martin C-130H cargo transport. The system must also be able to be setup and operated in a GPS-denied environment, says the USAF.

The SF-PALC system requirement comes after the US Navy awarded Raytheon a $235 million contract for 23 Joint Precision Approach and Landing Systems (JPALS) in May 2019. JPALS is a differential, GPS-based precision landing system that guides aircraft to a landing spot, typically on an aircraft carrier deck, though a land-based expeditionary unit is in development as well.

The navigation equipment is integrated into the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II and will be installed on the in-development Boeing MQ-25A Stingray unmanned in-flight refuelling vehicle. Raytheon has said it plans to demonstrate expeditionary versions of JPALS to the USAF.
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[*] posted on 21-10-2019 at 08:38 PM

USAF awards USD6.4 billion Combat Air Force aggressor-training contract

Gareth Jennings, London - Jane's Defence Weekly

20 October 2019

A Top Aces Douglas A-4 Skyhawk: one of several companies and aircraft types that will participate in the USAF's Combat Air Force training contract awarded on 18 October. Source: IHS Markit/Gareth Jennings

The US Air Force (USAF) has awarded a contractor-based 'Red Air' training contract valued at USD6.4 billion, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced on 18 October.

The indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity Combat Air Force (CAF) adversary air (ADAIR) award is divided between seven companies, with each contracted for the provision of "complete contracted air support services for realistic and challenging advanced adversary air threats and close air support threats", the DoD said.

The contracted companies comprise Air USA Inc.; Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC); Blue Air Training; Coastal Defense; Draken International; Tactical Air Support; and Top Aces.

(118 of 232 words)
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[*] posted on 24-10-2019 at 09:29 AM

Raytheon delivers first laser counter-UAS System to U.S. Air Force

Posted On Wednesday, 23 October 2019 12:46

Raytheon delivered the first high-energy laser counter-unmanned aerial system to the U.S. Air Force earlier this month. The system will be deployed overseas as part of a year-long Air Force experiment to train operators and test the system's effectiveness in real-world conditions.

The Multi-Spectral Targeting System is a turreted electro-optical and infrared sensor used in maritime and overland intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. This system can also be adapted to a vehicle, the Polaris MRZR for instance (Picture source: Raytheon illustration created by Grant Parsley)

Raytheon's high-energy laser weapon system uses an advanced variant of the company's Multi-spectral Targeting System, an electro-optical/infrared sensor, to detect, identify and track rogue drones. Once targeted, the system engages the threat, neutralizing the UAS in a matter of seconds.

"Five years ago, few people worried about the drone threat," said Roy Azevedo, president of Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems. "Now, we hear about attacks or incursions all the time. Our customers saw this coming and asked us to develop a ready-now counter-UAS capability. We did just that by going from the drawing board to delivery in less than 24 months."

Raytheon installed its high-energy laser weapon system on a small all-terrain vehicle. On a single charge from a standard 220-volt outlet, the HELWS can deliver intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability and dozens of precise laser shots.

It can also be paired with a generator to provide a nearly infinite number of shots.

Raytheon Company is integrating multiple proven technologies to counter the unmanned aerial system threat across a wide range of scenarios – from commercial airports to forward operating bases to crowded stadiums.

Raytheon installed its high-energy laser weapon system on a small all-terrain vehicle. On a single charge from a standard 220-volt outlet, the HELWS can deliver intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability and dozens of precise laser shots. (Picture source: Raytheon)
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[*] posted on 24-10-2019 at 05:24 PM

USAF Unit Moves Reveal Clues To RQ-180 Ops Debut

Oct 24, 2019

Guy Norris | Aviation Week & Space Technology

Secret Service

Almost six years after Aviation Week first disclosed the existence of a large, classified unmanned aircraft developed by Northrop Grumman, there is a growing body of evidence that the stealthy vehicle is now fully operational with the U.S. Air Force in a penetrating intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) role.

Thought to be dubbed the RQ-180, the advanced design is believed to have been flying since 2010 and under operational test and evaluation since late 2014. According to new information provided to Aviation Week, the aircraft became operational with the recently reformed 427th Reconnaissance Sqdn. at Beale AFB, California, this year. The Air Force declined to comment on the status of the program.

- RQ-180 First flight believed to have occurred in 2010
- At least seven vehicles have been developed and are in operation

Although images of the aircraft remain elusive, an assessment of new evidence enables a clearer picture to be drawn of the secret aircraft’s progress through early flight testing, development and initial deployment. New information from open sources backs up the first reports of its existence published in 2013 and fills in gaps in the program’s earlier history as well as subsequent test and operational evaluation at sites mostly in and around California and Nevada.

RQ-180 operational test and evaluation is believed to have begun in 2014. Credit: Colin-Throm/AW&ST

Developed to conduct the penetrating ISR mission that has been left unaddressed since the retirement of the Lockheed SR-71 in 1999, the RQ-180 ultimately emerged from what was originally a large unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) design proposed by Northrop Grumman to the Air Force in 2005. At the time, Northrop was competing against Boeing with a smaller tailless design for the Air Force/U.S. Navy Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) program.

However, when J-UCAS was canceled in 2006 after the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review opted to restructure the joint-service program into a Navy-only UCAV carrier suitability demonstration, funding was removed from the fiscal 2007 defense budget request. A total of $239 million was requested in lieu of the Pentagon funding to begin a U.S. Navy carrier-based, long-endurance UCAV demonstration program.

At the same time, Air Force funds were transferred into a classified high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) program which, it is believed, led to a competition between Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Northrop also publicly discussed a range of longer-winged X-47C configurations around this time. The largest of these was a 172-ft.-span design with two engines derived from General Electric’s CF34 and capable of carrying a 10,000-lb. weapon load.

Although Aviation Week commissioned an artists’ impression of the aircraft incorporating a cranked-kite wing configuration when it broke the RQ-180 story (AW&ST Dec. 9, 2013, p. 20), industry sources have since said the aircraft differs in detail from the published concept. Additional evidence now suggests the final configuration may be closer to the company’s more familiar flying-wing designs, with a simpler trailing edge similar to that seen in the Air Force’s official rendering of the B-21 Raider. Northrop Grumman originally crafted the same basic trailing edge configuration for the B-2 under the Advanced Tactical Bomber program but changed it to the stronger load-carrying sawtooth design when the Air Force added the low-level penetration role.

The RQ-180 design also was likely strongly influenced by Northrop Grumman’s work for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) SensorCraft project, aimed at developing technologies for future stealthy, high-altitude unmanned surveillance platforms. In 2002, AFRL unveiled several SensorCraft vehicle studies, including a Northrop Grumman flying wing with a highly loaded airfoil capable of handling large aeroelastic deflections. Two years later, the company revealed it was partnering with AFRL to mature advanced conformal antenna integration technology for SensorCraft under a five-year, $12 million effort called the Low-Band Structural Array (Lobstar) program. At the time, the company said Lobstar would “enhance the surveillance capabilities of aerial vehicles by embedding antennas in the primary load-bearing structures of composite aircraft wings.”

In 2007, following a yearlong Air Force HALE contest, Northrop signaled it had been successful when the corporation’s leaders reported they expected to win a major restricted program. By June of that year, observers of the Air Force’s top-secret Area 51 test complex at Nellis AFB, Nevada, noted that construction was underway for a new large hangar at the “Southend” zone of the Groom Lake facility. The size and dimensions of the building suggested it was being made ready for an aircraft with a relatively large span wing.

As the new Groom Lake hangar neared completion in early 2008, Northrop Grumman’s financial reports revealed the company had been awarded a large classified aircraft development contract valued at $2 billion for an operational ISR UAV with an unprecedented combination of extreme low-observable (LO) features and aerodynamic efficiency. The development effort was undertaken by Northrop Grumman’s Advanced Technology Development Center, the equivalent of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works or Boeing’s Phantom Works.

In 2009, with Northrop well underway on low-rate initial production of the RQ-180, the Air Force began preparations to evaluate the new vehicle and established a flight-test organization at Groom Lake dubbed the “Mad Hatters.” That same year, the Air Force published an “unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) flight plan” which outlined a near-term priority requirement for an LO penetrating ISR “special category” UAS.

In February 2009, a paper by Col. Eric Mathewson, director of the Air Force’s UAS Task Force, referred to an unidentified project as MQ-L/O. (AW&ST Aug. 29, 2011, p. 46).

New information given to Aviation Week now points to 2010 as the key year for the program. First flight of the prototype air vehicle at Groom Lake, known as V1, was believed to have taken place on Aug. 3, 2010. Circumstantial evidence that supported the buildup of pre-first-flight test activity included frequent flights to the site by Northrop Grumman-owned Beech 1900D logistics aircraft, one of which was seen parked by the large Southend hangar in a May 2010 satellite image.

The first prototype, V1, had been in flight testing for more than 14 months when a second vehicle, V2, is thought to have joined the test campaign in November 2011. Three more test and development aircraft are also suspected of following the first vehicles into flight trials over the next 15 months, with first flights believed to have occurred in November 2012 (V3), July 2013 (V4) and February 2014 (V5).

Following the first flight of the fifth aircraft, RQ-180 testing transitioned to Edwards AFB, California, where Detachment 1 of the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group was officially stood up at the secretive South Base area in March 2014. Tasked with operational test and evaluation, Detachment 1 appears to be a logical choice for the role as the group’s Detachment 2, based at Beale AFB, California, performed evaluations of the Lockheed Martin U-2R/S and RQ-4 Global Hawk.

Activity in the program stepped up through the remainder of the year, with the first flight of V6 believed to have taken place in September 2014. In late 2014 and early 2015, a unit described as Detachment 2 of the 15th Test Flight was stood up at Edwards AFB, likely marking another key phase for acceleration of the new UAS capability toward front-line operational service.

The 15th Test Flight, part of the 53rd Wing headquartered at Eglin AFB, Florida, has responsibility for test management oversight of the Air Force’s high-priority, rapid acquisition programs. According to 53rd Wing instruction documents published in 2014 and updated in 2018, the 15th Test Flight “provides operational test management services for a specific subset of developmental systems that require expedited delivery to the warfighter.” Detachment 2’s sister unit, Detachment 1, was assigned at the time to provide test management of Lockheed’s RQ-170 Sentinel at Creech AFB, Nevada.

In November 2015, the program marked another significant event—believed to be the first flight of the seventh air vehicle. Eight months later, the system took another step toward its operational debut when Detachment 2 of the 9th Operations Group was established at Edwards South Base. The 9th Operations Group is the operational flying component of the Beale-based 9th Reconnaissance Wing and is usually tasked with training and equipping U-2R, RQ-4 and Beechcraft MC-12W Liberty combat elements.

Following the establishment of Detachment 2 in 2016, preparations for initial operations entered the final phases and are believed to have culminated in a secret long-range graduation test mission from Edwards sometime in early 2017.

No details of the flight, thought to have been code-named Project Magellan, have been acknowledged, but the mission is thought to have focused on validating the performance of the autonomous navigation system at extremely high latitudes—possibly as high as the Geographic North Pole. It should be noted the secret code name was shared with Northrop Grumman’s public search to find an engineering base for the B-21 program around that time.

With this mission accomplished, the RQ-180 was seemingly fit for initial deployment in 2017. And in quick succession during August that year, the 9th Operations Group stood up two new supporting units. Detachment 3 was established at Beale, while Detachment 4 was set up at Andersen AFB, Guam, representing a significant ramp-up in preparations for operational readiness.

Detachment 3 had previously operated the RQ-4 out of Guam, while Detachment 4 had also formerly operated the Global Hawk out of Sigonella AB, Italy.

The following year, 2018, another unit was established at Beale to further test and evaluate the readiness of the aircraft. The activation of Detachment 3 of the 605th Test and Evaluation Sqdn., the command-and-control and ISR test manager for the Air Force’s Warfare Center and Air Combat Command, was accompanied by the deactivation of Detachment 1 of the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group at Edwards AFB.

The assets and test personnel of the unit were believed to be immediately transferred to the newly activated 417th Test and Evaluation Sqdn., a unit which previously tested the C-17 and YAL-1 airborne laser. Until recently, the true test focus of the squadron—which was stood up in April 2018—was linked with preparations for B-21 testing. However, at this year’s Air Force Association meeting in September, it was announced that the new bomber test role has been assigned to the 420th Test and Evaluation Sqdn.

Further signs of RQ-180 regular operations support activity are believed to have been indicated by the activation during 2018 and early 2019 of Detachment 5 of the 9th Operations Group at Beale to serve as the schoolhouse unit for the aircraft. Given the 9th Operations Group’s role in training, planning and execution of U-2 ISR missions as well as training for RQ-4 flight crewmembers, this unit would be considered as a logical candidate to support and train RQ-180 operations.
In a final phase of changes this year, all of which have been focused on Beale, Detachment 3 of the 9th Operations Group was deactivated in April and its personnel and assets transferred and immediately activated again as the 427th Reconnaissance Sqdn.—a shadowy unit that previously operated the MC-12W and was inactivated in November 2015 when these aircraft were transferred to the U.S. Army. However, evidence from open sources indicates the current commander of the 427th Reconnaissance Sqdn. has held this role since 2015, even though the unit officially did not exist for most of that period.

Although the Air Force has made no reference to operations by the unit involving any particular aircraft type, the 427th Reconnaissance Sqdn., together with Detachment 5 of the 9th Operations Group and Detachment 3 of the 605th Test and Evaluation Group, hosted the opening of a new Common Mission Control Center at the base on April 23. The the new center will “provide combatant commanders scalable, tailorable products and services for use in contested environments,” the Air Force says. “Using software, hardware and human machines, the center will be able to manage C2 productivity, shorten the task execution chain, and reduce human-intensive communication.”
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[*] posted on 25-10-2019 at 09:11 AM

Boeing KC-46A starts IOT&E despite US Air Force concerns

24 October, 2019 SOURCE: BY: Garrett Reim Los Angeles

The Boeing KC-46A Pegasus in-flight refueling tanker formally transitioned into Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) on 22 October.

The US Air Force programme executive officer for the tanker formally certified the long-awaited process, the service says in a media release.

IOT&E is intended to test the KC-46A’s effectiveness, suitability and capabilities for its three primary missions: air-to-air refueling, cargo and passenger operations, and medical evacuation, says the USAF.

Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tanker practicing refuelling F-16 fighters

While the USAF starts operational tests of the KC-46A, Boeing will continue to work in parallel on fixes to category-one deficiencies in the aircraft’s design. The service decided to move forward with IOT&E despite the tanker’s lack of full functionality as it thinks in the long run it would be the fastest way to achieve full operational capability, which the USAF hopes will come by 2022 or 2023.

“Air Force leadership remains concerned with Boeing’s slow progress resolving issues limiting the KC-46’s operational capability and continues to work with Boeing to ensure the KC-46 meets all essential mission requirements,” the service says in a statement.

That statement echoes comments made in September by General Maryanne Miller, commander of the USAF Air Mobility Command, on the KC-46A’s remote vision system (RVS) – the camera-based technology that helps crew guide a refuelling boom to receiving aircraft.

In particular, Boeing is having difficulty improving the camera’s resolution. Boom operators see images with degraded 20/50 vision and poor depth perception, says the USAF. The camera also has struggled to adjust to sun glare, which causes the monitor to washout.

The service has labelled the RVS problem a category-one deficiency, meaning a problem which "may cause death or severe injury… or major damage to a weapon system”.

Category-one deficiencies can also restrict combat readiness or lead to a production line stoppage, the USAF says.

Boeing is also working to fix another category-one deficiency found by the USAF in September. During a recent mission, the service found that cargo floor restraints became unlocked in flight. Those floor restraints hold pallets in place, preventing cargo from shifting or sliding around during flight, an event which might endanger the aircrew and aircraft.

After discovering the problem, the USAF banned the KC-46A Pegasus from carrying passengers and cargo. Resumption of KC-46A flights with cargo or passengers have not yet been announced by the USAF.

The USAF has said the KC-46A is “a great airplane”, but is frustrated by Boeing’s quality problems. The service is eager to see those problems fixed and wants to procure more KC-46As so it can retire its fleet of aging Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers.
Boeing received a $2.63 billion contract from the USAF for 15 additional KC-46A tankers in September. The company is now on contract for 67 tankers.
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[*] posted on 25-10-2019 at 09:23 AM

U.S. Military Is Still Fighting Pilot Shortage

Oct 25, 2019

Lee Hudson | Aviation Week & Space Technology

The U.S. military’s pilot ranks are being pinched between two forces: a booming commercial aviation industry that is scooping up mid-career pilots and the after-effects of a seven-year shortfall in funding to train new pilots.

The issue came to light in March 2017, when Air Force Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, Army Maj. Gen. Erik Peterson, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Mark Brilakis and Navy Vice Adm. Robert Burke alerted the House Armed Services Committee. Grosso discussed the Air Force’s fighter pilot shortage, Peterson sounded the alarm on the Army’s warrant officer corps pilot gap, Brilakis informed Congress of Marine company grade officer rank pilot depletion and Burke outlined the Navy’s problems.

- Pentagon looks to augmented reality to reduce training costs
- Aviation bonuses play major role in retention strategy

Two years later, the military is still struggling to build out its pilot ranks. The gap for the Army is most glaring at the chief warrant officer 2 level, because from 2010 to 2017, the Army was not producing enough pilots, Army Brig. Gen. Michael McCurry, Army aviation director at the Pentagon, told Aviation Week during an interview at his office.

Warrant officers make up about 81% of an Air Cavalry Troop. For instance, one air cavalry unit consists of eight Boeing AH-64 Apaches and 16 pilots in the formation. Of those 16 pilots, three are commissioned officers—lieutenants and captains—and 13 are warrant officers, McCurry says.

“When we talk about manning and training aviation, a huge proportion of that goes to our warrant officer population,” he says.

The Army has no problem attracting candidates to apply for flight school. One out of four candidates who are accepted to pilot training are civilians, while the remaining 75% come from within the Army or another service, McCurry says. Last year, the Army graduated 1,199 pilots from flight school and is targeting 1,272 this year to help increase its throughput.

“One problem is that we have a shortage of mid-grade warrant officers over a specific set of year groups,” McCurry says.

Many pilots decide to separate from the Air Force when their service commitment expires. Credit: U.S. Air Force Sr. Airman Collette Brooks

These pilots are departing the military to work for the airlines, which offer better pay and a more predictable schedule.
The Army decided to take a risk when the federal budget dipped, and now pilots are leaving the service during predictable breakpoints. Military pilots tend to depart the service once their first obligation expires and once they are retirement-eligible.

The service is also considering an exit survey to gain a better idea about why pilots are leaving—whether the motive is to work for an airline, retire or another reason, McCurry says.

“When we noticed this a couple of years ago, the first thing we did is invest in assessing pilots. We’re investing in increasing the throughput of those pilots at Fort Rucker [Alabama] at the training base, and then in the near term we have offered incentives to stay in,” McCurry says.

Some of the incentives are aimed at enticing senior pilots to stay and help the Army grow the junior year groups back up to the optimal manning rate. Over the last couple of years more than 600 pilots have accepted a monetary bonus to continue their service.

The Army is also exploring options to increase maximum flight pay from $840 to $1,000. “There’s a little bit of space there and going forward would be a secretarial-level decision,” McCurry says. The Marine Corps is targeting captains and majors within the Lockheed Martin F-35, Boeing F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8 Harrier, Bell Boeing MV-22 Osprey, Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules, Bell UH-1 Huey, AH-1 Cobra and Sikorsky
CH-53 communities for an aviation bonus in fiscal 2020.

“The Fiscal Year 2020 Aviation Bonus aims to keep competent, skilled aviators in service to continue flying and mentor the next generation of pilots,” Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Christopher Harrison tells Aviation Week.

Retiree recall is another tactic the services are using to attract senior pilots, but the Army is not seeing success, and McCurry said the numbers are almost “mathematically insignificant.” The Navy is allowing voluntary recall of pilots from retirement. Members requesting to return would need a Naval Aerospace Medical Institute long form physical examination to make sure they are still qualified to fly.

The military must also harness new technology to make pilot training more affordable. The Navy and Air Force are looking to produce experienced fighter pilots faster using virtual reality and augmented reality. These training devices will most likely cost the Air Force less to operate than the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor or F-35 Lightning II. The service must insert technology that emulates advanced mission systems like radar, data links and targeting devices into early stages of training so that pilots develop the skills to use them, according to Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command.

The lack of trained maintenance personnel is also hurting pilot retention. Naval aviators are growing frustrated because of the number of aircraft that are not ready on the flight line. This is especially apparent for legacy aircraft like the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet rather than the brand-new F-35s. The squadrons with legacy aircraft tend to see less support from service leadership, because they are focusing all of their time and resources on the transition to new aircraft. For instance, there are two squadrons at NAS Lemoore in California that cannot conduct two-shift maintenance, which is a huge setback, says Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller, naval air forces commander.

The lack of flight hours due to grounded aircraft and better work-life balance with a predictable schedule make leaving the military to fly for a commercial airline an attractive option for mid-career pilots.

In September, the Navy surpassed the Pentagon’s 80% aviation readiness goal. Readiness rates had been dire, floating in the 40-50% range when former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ordered the services to focus time and money on increasing the number of aircraft on the flight line. “We must focus on meeting our most critical priorities first. These include a minimum of 80% mission capability rates for our fiscal 2019 Navy and Air Force F-35, F-22, F-16 and F-18 inventories—assets that form the backbone of our tactical airpower—and reducing these platforms, operating and maintenance costs every year, starting in fiscal 2019,” Mattis wrote in a September 2018 memo.

The Navy’s readiness level of 80% equates to 320 Super Hornets, a number calculated based on the primary-mission aircraft inventory, or aircraft assigned to deployable units that would go to combat if called upon, and does not include jets that perform training, testing and other missions. The service beat its own internal goal of 341 ready Super Hornets and 93 Growlers, which represents how many aircraft the Navy would require to surge forward.

“Fiscal year 2019 was the first year in some time that naval aviation has completely executed our allocation of flight hours,” Navy spokesman Cmdr. Ron Flanders tells Aviation Week. “This is a sign of our improved health, and it means that aviators are flying more. We recognize that our dedicated men and women answered the call to serve, but they also joined to fly. Our focus now is on readiness sustainment.”
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[*] posted on 25-10-2019 at 09:42 AM

Air Force Explore Opportunity Call

(Source: Air Force Research Laboratory; issued Sept. 26, 2019)

The Air Force Explore Opportunity Call seeks transformational Capability Ideas that address one of the following Functional Challenges and advance at least one of the five Strategic Capabilities outlined in the Air Force Science and Technology Strategy.

Capability Idea submissions will be similar to that of a 2-3 page white paper and will require elements such as an idea maturation plan consisting of aggressive, short duration applied research and development efforts to assess the operational viability and demonstrate feasibility of transformational warfighter capabilities including their associated business and use cases.

Idea Maturation Plans can demonstrate operational viability and feasibility of the Capability Idea through various approaches including, but not limited to: modeling & simulation, military utility experimentation, exercise participation, technical analysis, technology maturation, risk reduction activities, and subject matter expertise input.

To guide these Capability Ideas, the Air Force is issuing a series of functional challenges beginning with the following three:

-- In-Flight Rearming and Refueling
-- Personnel Recovery Kit Delivery
-- Vehicle Tracking Through Commercial Imagery

In-Flight Rearming and Refueling

The Air Force envisions future scenarios in which runways on their forward main operating bases are destroyed shortly after aircraft have been sent on missions. One approach to keep operations flowing while the runways are being repaired may be to re-arm and refuel aircraft in flight. This may be required several times before landing at another operating location with functioning runways.

The Air Force is interested in transformational Capability Ideas for in-flight rearming and refueling to preserve a competitive advantage and maintain operations in the future battlefield.

Click here for the full story, on the AF Explore website.

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[*] posted on 26-10-2019 at 10:45 AM

USAF releases light attack RFI for ‘limited number’ of aircraft

25 October, 2019 SOURCE: BY: Garrett Reim Los Angeles

The US Air Force (USAF) released its final request for proposal (RFI) for about half a dozen Textron Aviation AT-6 and Sierra Nevada /Embraer A-29 light attack aircraft.

The RFI was issued on 24 October. The USAF plans to purchase two to three light attack aircraft from each manufacturer, the service says in a media release.

The light attack programme is intended to find aircraft that would boost US allies and foreign military partners’ ground attack capabilities, while also developing communications technology that would connect those aircraft with the USA’s robust intelligence, surveillance reconnaissance (ISR) network.

Embraer A-29 over Afghanistan
Wikimedia Commons

“Over the last two years, I watched as the Air Force experimented with light attack aircraft to discover alternate, cost-effective options to deliver airpower and build partner capacity around the globe,” says secretary of the USAF Barbara Barrett, who was confirmed this month. “I look forward to this next phase.”

The light attack experiment has evolved over the last several years. Its original intent was in part to find a cheap-to-fly aircraft for the USAF. The hope was that light attack aircraft would be low-cost alternatives for air-to-ground attack missions compared to using expensive aircraft such as the Lockheed Martin F-35 or Boeing F-15.

The service eventually shifted its focus towards developing communications networks for foreign countries’ light attack aircraft. Such communications hardware and software are to connect aircraft, ISR sensors and weapons of foreign military partners and allies to the US military.

“If I hear one thing from my international air chiefs, it’s ‘we need to figure out how to share information both ways,’” says General David L. Goldfein, the USAF’s chief of staff.

As part of the next phase of the light attack programme, AT-6 Wolverine aircraft will be used by Air Combat Command at Nellis AFB in Nevada, for continued testing and development of operational tactics and standards for new tactical communications and data-sharing networks, says the USAF.

That technology is intended to be exported to US allies and foreign military partners.

The A-29 Super Tucano aircraft will be sent to Hurlburt Field in Florida, where they will be used by Air Force Special Operations Command to develop an instructor pilot programme for the command’s Combat Aviation Advisory mission, says the service. The programme is intended to help train foreign pilots in the use of light attack aircraft.

“Our focus is on how a light attack aircraft can help our allies and partners as they confront violent extremism and conduct operations within their borders,” says Goldfein. “Continuing this experiment, using the authorities Congress has provided, gives us the opportunity to put a small number of aircraft through the paces and work with partner nations on ways in which smaller, affordable aircraft like these can support their air forces.”

The USAF expects to issue a contract by the end of the year for A-29 aircraft and another contract in early 2020 for AT-6 aircraft.
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[*] posted on 26-10-2019 at 12:00 PM

JUST IN: Air Force Leader Shares Details on B-21 Bomber


By Mandy Mayfield

Concept Art: Nothrop Grumman

The Air Force’s secretive B-21 Raider bomber effort is making progress as prime contractor Northrop Grumman builds the program’s first test jet at its Palmdale, California, facility, said one official Oct. 24.

“Today we do have an airplane in there that would be our test jet number one,” said Randall Walden, director and program executive officer for the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, which is spearheading the program. “I won't go into a lot of detail [on] how far along we are, but suffice it to say, ... we're working the production line literally today.”

Walden noted that “big parts” are currently being manufactured at the facility, but did not disclose which specific components are being built.

The date for the aircraft’s projected first flight is still up in the air, Walden said during a breakfast hosted by the Air Force Association in Washington, D.C. The earliest flight date could take place in December 2021. However, he said he would not bet on it.

“Things like large components coming together, integration, ground tests — all the things that lead up to a first flight — have to be accomplished,” he said. “There's a lot of things that have to happen between now and a couple of years, … but in general terms, that's what we're shooting for.”

The B-21 is a complex airplane, so it will take time to get all the parts and subsystems into place, he added.

The Air Force plans to hold a public event next year to roll out the B-21 prior to its first flight, Walden said.

In hopes of keeping the bomber on its current schedule trajectory, the service is focused on maintaining the aircraft's major design plans, Walden said.

“Requirements is probably the number one thing — if you don't have stable requirements, that's going to drive a lot of” delays, he said. “In fact, the chief of staff of the Air Force is the only guy who changes the requirements on the model.”

The Air Force plans to purchase at least 100 new stealth bombers, which will be capable of carrying nuclear or conventional weapons.

Earlier this year, Gen. Stephen “Seve” Wilson, the Air Force’s vice chief of staff, said a critical design review for the program was conducted earlier this year and the service was working on software integration.

— Additional reporting by Connie Lee
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[*] posted on 29-10-2019 at 09:34 AM

Boeing’s plan to get the KC-46A tanker back on schedule

28 October, 2019 SOURCE: BY: Garrett Reim Los Angeles

Amid criticism from the US Air Force that it is moving too slowly towards fixing the KC-46A Pegasus in-flight refuelling tanker Boeing is touting incremental improvements that is says should help get its troubled programme back on track.

The Boeing KC-46A aircraft is beset by three category one deficiencies: problems which could cause injury, death, aircraft damage or restricted combat operations. The issues include deficiencies with the aircraft’ remote vision system (RVS), its refuelling boom and cargo floor restraint locks.

Boeing believes it is within striking distance of fixing one of those problems: cargo floor restraint locks which have jostled partially unlocked during flight, an issue which could lead to pallets coming loose.

KC-46A Pegasus connects with an F-15 Strike Eagle for an aerial refueling test over California in 2018

The company says it plans to retrofit the restraints with a secondary lock to hold the first lock in place.

“We've developed a design solution for it, fabricated hardware, tested the hardware – both in our lab environment as well as in flight – and determine the final solution,” says Boeing KC-46A programme director James Burgess. “That is going through the final phases of certification now.”

The company declines to give a specific timeline for completing the retrofits, noting that the schedule will be dictated by the USAF. However, it says the retrofitting process should start “soon”.

In September, Boeing and the USAF also agreed to technical standards to judge its proposed fixes to the KC-46A’s RVS – the camera-based technology that helps crew guide a refuelling boom to receiving aircraft.

The RVS has two problems: a 3-D video display system that distorts images and leads to depth perception problems for operators trying to guide booms into receiving aircraft; and a problem automatically adjusting to changing lighting conditions.

“It's primarily when you're looking directly into the Sun or directly away from the Sun – when the Sun's at a low angle, casting a shadow,” says Burgess of the RVS’ difficulty adjusting to changing lighting.

Boeing plans to upgrade the camera system’s ability to automatically adjust contrast and resolution as lighting conditions change. The image distortion issues will be addressed with improvements to the camera lenses, new algorithms and additional computing power to process image data, says Burgess.

Over the past several months, disagreement with the USAF on how the RVS should be judged was a major obstacle in fixing the cameras.

“Now that set of quantified requirements has been established, at this point, it will be a matter of both hardware and software development,” Burgess says “And then, the certification of that hardware and software [will happen] together before it can be released, as a retrofit to the KC-46 fleet.”

Boeing’s proposed RVS fixes are in the preliminary design phases, he says.

“We’ve submitted design concepts to the Air Force and gotten lots of good feedback,” says Burgess. “Our teams work together on a daily basis.”

The company is aiming for a preliminary design review of the RVS in the early part of next year and a critical design review toward the end of 2020.

Boeing is also in the preliminary design phase of changing the boom actuator system on the KC-46A, which is doesn’t connect properly to the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. The A-10 doesn’t have enough engine power to push into the boom and compress the actuator, especially at high altitudes or when it is weighed down with weapons, says Burgess.

The force needed to compress the boom into the A-10 wasn’t spelled out properly by the USAF in its programme requirements, so that category one deficiency is being fixed at the service’s expense. The boom actuator will likely be fixed on a timeline that is similar to the RVS, says Burgess.

Boeing has also had trouble getting the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to certificate aerial refuelling pods made by Cobham. Aerial refueling pods had not been certificated by the FAA before and Boeing says it underestimated the time needed to gather all of the required data. The company believes the pods should receive certification by June 2020.

Despite lingering issues the USAF transitioned the Boeing KC-46A into Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) on 22 October. IOT&E is intended to test the KC-46A’s effectiveness, suitability and capabilities for its three primary missions: air-to-air refueling, cargo and passenger operations, and medical evacuation.

The service says it decided to move forward with IOT&E despite the tanker’s lack of full functionality as it thinks running the process in parallel with Boeing’s retrofit work would be the fastest way to achieve full operational capability in the long term.

As of 25 October, Boeing had delivered 23 KC-46A tankers to the USAF. The company is now on contract for 67 tankers. It aims to continue delivering about three to four aircraft per month in the near term.

At that pace the company will miss its 36 per aircraft delivery goal for 2019. Burgess declines to comment on the number of aircraft the company will deliver by year end.

Boeing is playing catchup on its original delivery schedule. It was on contract to deliver the first 18 fully capable aircraft by August 2017.

The company plans to decrease its delivery rate sometime next year when it catches up on its original timetable, says Burgess.

After getting the programme’s delivery plan back on track, Boeing will need to resolve the aircraft’s lingering deficiencies with designs approved by the USAF as well as work with the service to complete IOT&E. Under that current timeline, the aircraft should be approved, retrofitted and introduced into service by 2022 or 2023, says Burgess.
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[*] posted on 29-10-2019 at 11:04 AM

That program truly is a joke. It was supposed to be the low-risk option, instead they got a Frankentanker that still doesn't work.

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It is by will alone I set my mind in motion
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[*] posted on 29-10-2019 at 02:05 PM

Keeping 4th-Gen Fighters in the Game

October 2019

John A. Tirpak
Editorial Director

A-10s, F-15s, and F-16s aren’t giving up the fight.

An F-16 releases a flare in the USAF CENTCOM area of responsibility. F-16s have had countless capability upgrades, patches, and life-extension mods since joining the fleet in the 1980s and early 1990s. Photo: SSgt. Chris Drzazgowski

The Air Force planned for a fighter force comprised mostly of stealthy, networked, and hyper-situationally aware F-22 and F-35 fighters. But the premature termination of the F-22, delays with the F-35, and decades of anemic investment mean USAF will have to rely on its 1980s-era fourth-generation jets for many years to come.

To keep its A-10s, F-15s, and F-16s combat-relevant and capable, the Air Force is strengthening their fatigued structures and buying avionics that will let them get close to the battle. To strike deep, USAF is buying stealthy standoff missiles to keep them in the game.

“Fourth generation … will be with us into the 2030s,” USAF Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein told Air Force Magazine in a recent interview. That’s a major challenge in executing the National Defense Strategy, because the fighter fleet “is the oldest it’s ever been,” on average, while competitor air defenses continue to improve, and adversary air fleets bulge with new airframes.

Even adding 48 or 60 new F-35s per year doesn‘t chip away much at the 28-year average age of the fighter fleet. To bring that number down to something manageable, the service needs to buy 72 new airframes annually, and the F-35 production line hasn’t spun up to that level yet.

“At 48, 72, or even 100” new fighters a year, “we’re going to have a mix of fourth- and fifth-gen … for a long time,” said Air Combat Command chief Gen. James M. Holmes in August. “I think that was always a reality.”
Click here or on the image above to view Air Force Magazine's infographic as a full-size PDF. Teaser graphic: Dashton Parham/staff.

The ratio of 4th-to-5th-gen aircraft in the fighter force is 82 percent to 18 percent, said retired USAF Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, dean of AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. “Not all contingencies will require fifth-generation capability,” he added. “Fourth generation will suffice in relatively permissive airspace.” But, “the Air Force needs to maintain air superiority across the spectrum of conflict.”

At Air Force Materiel Command’s Life Cycle Industry Days in June, Brig. Gen. Heath A. Collins, program executive officer for fighters and bombers, said the Air Force is investing in an expansive program of aircraft modifications for its existing fighters. He said in the year leading up to his presentation, 221 modifications were performed on the A-10; 970 on F-15s; and 281 on F-16s. To accelerate the improvement of older fighters, Collins said AFMC is trying to integrate new information technologies and tools, upgrade its facilities, and hire new talent as rapidly as possible.

The four fourth-gen fighters are collectively getting $15.9 billion worth of new investment over the next five years, not including regular repair and maintenance or the purchase of new F-15EXs included in the 2020 budget.

“And so, what do you do to keep those [fourth-gen] airplanes relevant and useful?” Holmes said. “We have plans.”

Contractor Dale Benoit inspects paint beneath a new A-10 Thunderbolt wing at Hill AFB, Utah. The aircraft was the last of 173 to receive new wings under the initial program, which extends the life of the fleet. Photo: Alex Lloyd/USAF


From 2018 to 2024, the Air Force plans to spend nearly $2.9 billion on a life-extension program for the A-10C Thunderbolt II.

The last update gave the “Warthog” a digital backbone, a helmet-mounted cueing system, and the ability to carry multiple new Global Positioning System-enabled precision weapons.

Boeing completed the first phase of rewinging the A-10 in August, providing new wings for 173 aircraft, adding 10,000 flight hours—or about 10 years—to their service lives. That means the jets can fly safely well into the 2030s. The upgrade also installed a new wire-bundling arrangement to make the wings easier to remove, service, or modify. Boeing received a follow-on contract worth up to $1.3 billion in August that could replace the wings on 109 remaining aircraft, plus a few spare sets, under the Thunderbolt Advanced-Wing Continuation Kit, or ATTACK.

“We’re focused on the re-winging effort to make them structurally sound,” Holmes said of the A-10. Other A-10 upgrades underway include the Lightweight Airborne Recovery System, which is a radio system to make it easier for A-10 pilots to find downed airmen in hostile territory and protect them until they can be extracted; a new Identification, Friend, or Foe system; a new On-Board Oxygen Generating System; new computer software, radios, and a high-resolution display; and anti-jam Global Positioning System capability. A new computer could also be in the offing.

The A-10 will also get a raft of new weapons, including the Small Diameter Bomb, a new variant of the Joint Direct Attack Munition; a new laser-guided rocket; and the AIM-9X dogfight weapon for self-defense. The requested funds also buy contract depot maintenance in the Pacific Theater and fuselage repairs.

An F-15 (left, rear) flies in formation with two F-22s over Nevada. USAF is buying new-build F-15EXs. At least 80 are expected to be produced. Photo: SSgt. Daryn Murphy


The F-15’s life expectancy has been much in the news in the last year because the Air Force was presented with a plan by the Office of the Secretary of Defense to buy brand-new air superiority versions of the airplane, known as F-15EX, that the service didn‘t ask for. Congress funded eight airplanes in the fiscal year 2020 budget. At least 80—and as many as 144—aircraft could be built.

Why buy “new old” airplanes? The F-15C and D models “won’t make it” to the late 2020s, Air Force Materiel Command chief Gen. Arnold M. Bunch Jr. told Air Force Magazine in an interview. The aircraft now in the fleet are speed- and load-limited due to stress fatigue in key parts, such as the longerons, Bunch noted. Longerons are major load-bearing structures running alongside the cockpit and connecting the front of the aircraft to the back; they were “life of the aircraft” parts specified to last up to 30 years. The F-15Cs and Ds have exceeded the parts’ life expectancy and replacing them entails virtually dismantling the aircraft.

Goldfein said the Air Force agreed to OSD’s plan to buy new Eagles because the service needs more fighters, and Lockheed Martin can’t boost production to the required 72 F-35s per year fast enough. The F-15EX will rapidly slide into existing squadrons, Boeing argues, using existing ground equipment and weapons, and pilots will transition to the new version in only a few months.

A similar version of the F-15 are in production for the United Arab Emirates, and it is that version that’s the basis for the F-15EX. Development costs have been amortized and testing is nearly complete on foreign variants, so those costs can be saved, the Air Force asserted.

On the jets that it will retain—of both the air superiority F-15C/D and E model for strike—the Air Force has budgeted $7.6 billion for hardware upgrades and life-extension modifications for the period 2018 to 2023.

The biggest capability upgrade planned for F-15s is the Eagle Passive/Active Warning Survivability System, or EPAWSS. This electronic warfare system should provide a big increase in the jet’s situational awareness, its ability to autonomously and automatically detect threats, jam enemy radars, geolocate enemy emitters, defeat enemy electro-optical and infrared sensors, and function in a “highly contested” battle space, according to Boeing and the Air Force.

EPAWSS will also manage the F-15’s deployment of physical countermeasures, such as chaff. The EPAWSS is estimated to be a $2.4 billion program in then-year dollars, and it goes beyond the future years defense plan.

“EPAWSS is the answer, we think, for the F-15 fleet,” Holmes asserted. He also noted that an effort to re-equip the F-15 inventory with Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars has been “really successful” and is “fairly close to being complete.”

Boeing officials, at an advance Paris Air Show briefing earlier this year, said the EPAWSS will “buy back” some of the Eagle’s ability to approach modern adversary air defenses.
The EPAWSS was put on hold for a couple of years as the Air Force wrestled with how long it would keep the F-15, and a Pentagon inspector general report at the time said the funding was diverted to an unnamed “higher priority” air superiority program.

The Pentagon’s Selected Acquisition Reports for 2018, released in July, describe major program cost and schedule fluctuations. The Defense Department said EPAWSS had experienced a cost increase of 24.3 percent because of a sharp reduction in the number of units the Air Force programmed. The program will be revisited later this year by the Defense Acquisition Board, which will determine if it is mature enough to move forward.

“Like most complex programs,” Holmes said in April, the EPAWSS suffered from a combination of inconsistent funding and shifting requirements. The system “won’t make an F-15 into an F-35 or an F-22, but it makes it a whole lot better, and it expands the envelope quite a bit,” he said. “I’m in favor of continuing the investment.” Initially, Holmes said, installing EPAWSS will reduce F-15 availability, but “we have a plan to do it, and we’ll manage it.”

Collins reported that the EPAWSS is actually moving about a year faster than it normally would because one of his program managers had the idea—employing new authorities from Congress—to “break up the program” into “multiple decision points,” with fewer reviews looking at more manageable chunks.

The EPAWSS upgrade goes hand in hand with a new processor for the Eagle, which will give the F-15 the fastest fighter processor flying. Other major initiatives include a new Infrared Search and Track system, to assist the F-15 in seeing, tracking, and shooting stealthier targets; the MIDS/JTRS (Multifunctional Information Distribution System/Joint Tactical Radio System) digital data link and programmable radio; and a new cockpit pressure monitor and warning system.

Future F-15 improvements under consideration include a full cockpit upgrade with new displays; a ground collision warning system; “3-D” audio; a pod to allow direct, encrypted and low probability of intercept communications with fifth-gen aircraft; removable memory; and a Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM) pod. In very basic terms, a DRFM can capture an incoming radar signal and send it back, attenuating its own signature, and fooling the radar into thinking the aircraft is somewhere else, or is a different kind of aircraft.


The most numerous of the Air Force’s fighters, the F-16 has had countless capability upgrades, patches, bulkhead strengtheners, and life-extension modifications since joining the fleet at a rate of hundreds per year in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The Air Force has planned to spend $5.4 billion on F-16 upgrades from 2018 to 2023, with the biggest improvement being an AESA radar, which will become operational on some jets this year and will be fully equipped across the Falcon fleet by fiscal 2025. In addition, a service life extension program intended to add up to 8,000 hours to the F-16’s service life is planned to begin around fiscal 2022, with completion in fiscal 2029.

The F-16’s Auto Ground Collision Avoidance System, or Auto-GCAS, has already been installed in some aircraft and should be widely in place in two years, with the whole fleet equipped by fiscal 2025. A modular mission computer is also in final development and should start installations next year.

Further improvements include a new digital radar warning receiver, a new operational flight program, the MIDS/JTRS and a communication suite upgrade, all planned for initial capability in the early 2020s and full fleetwide installation by the late 2020s.

The Air Force is also pursuing integration of the B61-12 tactical nuclear weapon on the F-16, as well as the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, which is a new precision seeker warhead for the Hydra rocket.

The radar and digital radar warning receiver upgrades are to ensure that the F-16 “can detect the more modern threats,” while the new computer will “tie those things together,” Holmes said in August.


Across the fourth-gen fleet, Holmes said the Air Force is considering “options for a next-generation jamming pod.” He said USAF has worked with contractors and is “evaluating that, and we hope to make some decisions” in time for the 2021 Program Objective Memorandum.

He acknowledged that the Air Force has invested heavily in refilling its weapons stocks, saying “we’ve made good progress in trying to buy back depleted munitions” used heavily in the “15 years of a pretty kinetic operation in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Because of the need to limit collateral damage, the vast majority of weapons used were what are called “preferred” munitions, which Holmes described as the Joint Direct Attack Munition, Small Diameter Bomb, and Hellfire missile.

The Air Force also recently revealed that it has sharply increased its planned acquisition of the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), a long-range, stealthy weapon that can be launched by a nonstealthy, fourth-gen aircraft from well outside enemy air defenses. The Air Force will nearly double its planned acquisition from 4,000 units to more than 7,200. Production will shift to the longest-ranged variant, the AGM-158D.

Asked if USAF was trying to accomplish with stealthy missiles what it can’t manage by buying stealthy aircraft, Holmes would only say that the JASSM is “a fairly important capability” useful for “deterring peer adversaries.”

He also said he doesn’t anticipate a time when USAF won’t need to be able to penetrate enemy air defenses. Adversaries—noting what USAF is “good at”—are investing in mobile air defenses, anti-satellite systems, and theater ballistic missiles. Attacking these targets requires either “exquisite knowledge” of their movements or a platform operating “in and around them,” Holmes said. “Those are the kind of trade-offs we look at.”
And for those missions that the fourth-gen force can’t take on, the fifth-gen airplanes will be available, Holmes said. “There will still be places they can’t go and things they can’t do, that the fifth-gen airplanes can.”
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