After decades of research, the Air Force is still many years away from fielding a hypersonic weapon system capable of delivering a warhead into denied airspace, according to a Jan. 29 statement from the service.
The weapon system is seen as the ideal capability since its Mach 5-plus speed allows it to penetrate denied airspace before ground-based defense systems have time to react.
Building on results from its X-51 unmanned scramjet demonstration aircraft, the service said it hopes to demonstrate other technologies necessary to provide militarily useful capabilities “towards the end of this decade,” according to a statement provided by Air Force Materiel Command spokeswoman Estella Holmes.
China’s pursuit of a “diverse and complex” counterspace program threatens to significantly reduce the effectiveness of the entire American military apparatus in the event of war, a joint hearing of two House Armed Services subcommittees was told on Jan. 27.
The hearing was one of two that day focused on the Asia Pacific re-balancing or “pivot” and included testimony from counterspace experts Ashley Tellis, Robert Butterworth and Michael Krepon.
The three witnesses agreed that recent advancements in China’s counterspace program, coupled with America’s reliance on vulnerable space assets, poses a serious risk to national security.
Deborah Lee James’s long road to office came to end on Jan. 24 after she was ceremonially sworn in as the 23rd Air Force Secretary at the Pentagon.
President Obama nominated James to succeed Michael Donley as the head of the department in April 2013 but her confirmation was held up in the Senate for almost six months.
The ceremony followed James’ tour of the air bases responsible for the Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missile force, including Malmstrom Air Force Base, MT, where a number of missile officers have been implicated in a test cheating scandal.
Beale Air Force Base in California is continuing normal operations of its fleet of 42 MC-12 Liberty intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft at home and abroad despite a looming secretary-of-defense-level report into its future within the Air Force.
The 9th Reconnaissance Wing, which operates fleets of U-2, RQ-4 and MC-12 reconnaissance aircraft, has so far received no orders to prepare for a transfer of some MC-12 aircraft to the Army, according to 9RW spokesman Eric Petosky.
“The 9RW at Beale AFB trains the MC-12 crews, serving as the official home base and training center for the MC-12 and its crews,” he said. “The MC-12 crews deploy overseas and fly the missions as required. Indeed, this will remain the case until the [Secretary of Defense] tells us otherwise.”
First JASSM-ER missiles built and ready for testing
The Air Force’s AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile program office has satisfied the recommendations the Pentagon’s top weapons tester made last year by completing a system improvement program on its 120D variant, the latest annual report by the director of operational test and evaluation states.
Released on Jan. 29, the fiscal year 2013 DOT&E report said the system improvement program was carried out to address Air Intercept Missile (AIM-120D) aircraft integration problems which were discovered during operational testing.
The service also satisfied the FY-12 DOT&E direction to continue its root cause analysis of problems with the original AIM-120D rocket motors, which led to major production delays and the temporary sidelining of a sole-source propellant manufacturer.
Lockheed, Boeing submit bids on spaceplane program
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is set to enter Phase One of its XS-1 Experimental Spaceplane program with the awarding of contracts due in the next few months.
The cutoff date for industry proposals was Jan. 16 but DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, which is overseeing the program, is refusing to say which companies bid for Phase One funding.
Responding to requests from Inside the Air Force, both Lockheed Martin and Boeing’s Phantom Works prototyping division confirmed their intentions to bid. SpaceX and Orbital Sciences were also approached, but did not provide answers by press time (Jan. 23).
The Air Force is looking to partner with electronics and software companies capable of supporting the modernization of its fleet of E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning And Control System aircraft from the Block 30/35 mission system to Block 40/45.
In a Jan. 15 sources-sought notice issued by the Air Force Materiel Command’s Life Cycle Management Center, the service said it is interested in “conducting information exchanges with industry regarding procurement, integration, engineering and documentation support efforts for the planned modification of the remaining AWACS Block 30/35 aircraft.”
Built on a radar-mounted Boeing 707-320 commercial airframe, the AWACS provides crucial overhead battle management, surveillance and target detection to the Joint Air and Space Operations Center.
Lockheed Martin plans to boost production capacity at its Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile factory in Troy, AL, in an anticipation of more missile orders from allied nations and the Air Force.
On Jan. 10 the company announced a major milestone for its AGM-158 JASSM program — a $13.3 million Foreign Military Sales contract from the Air Force to further integrate the baseline JASSM with the Finnish Air Force’s fleet of F/A-18C and D Hornets.
The announcement comes less than a month after Lockheed Martin received Lot 11 and Lot 12 production contracts totaling $449 million to produce 340 baseline and 100 extended-range standoff missiles for the Air Force.
The Federal Aviation Administration is working to propose a ruling on small unmanned aircraft systems sometime this year, an administration spokeswoman said on Jan. 14. The highly anticipated draft ruling is expected to define what constitutes a small UAS and where it can operate.
The process will allow time for comments from the public and interest groups ahead of any final ruling.
For the last year, the administration has been under pressure from industry to publish a small UAS ruling, but its efforts were directed towards the establishment of six UAS test sites, which occurred on Dec. 30, 2013.
Congress has appropriated fiscal year 2014 funds to allow the Air Force to look into finding a cost-effective way of installing U-2 reconnaissance aircraft sensors on its fleet of RQ-4 Block 30 Global Hawks.
Omnibus appropriations legislation unveiled on Jan. 13 and passed by the House of Representatives on Jan. 15 included $10 million in forward financing for the study, along with orders for the Secretary of the Air Force to brief congressional defense committees on its progress within six months.
The study requires the Air Force to look at the feasibility of integrating a Senior Year Electro-optical Reconnaissance System (SYERS-2) sensor into a Block 30 GH airframe with the objective of performing a flight test and demonstration.
The Air Force Scientific Advisory Board has described the emphasis and scope of its fiscal year 2014 studies at its first meeting of the year in Arlington, VA, on Jan. 7.
Attended by Inside the Air Force, the open meeting allowed leaders of the four studies to present their terms of reference and publication schedules as well as give a background briefing on each topic. This year’s studies will cover: Nuclear Command, Control and Communications; Technology Readiness for Hypersonic Vehicles; Defense of Air Force Forward Bases; and Combating Sexual Assault.
The four studies are of high importance to Air Force leadership, and a series of study conferences and installation site visits for committee members are planned throughout the year on top of the mid-term meetings in spring.