The Air Force has sealed the last of its Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile launch silos — including one test launcher at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA — as the United States and Russia move closer toward compliance with agreed New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty numbers.
The last remaining Peacekeeper silos were decommissioned in February and now no longer count as non-deployed ICBM launchers under the provisions of the New START treaty with Russia, according to Col. Thomas Summers, a senior official at the Air Force’s office of strategic stability and countering weapons of mass destruction.
Although the last Peacekeeper missile was removed from service in 2005, the government maintained 56 operational silos and one test silo in a non-deployed status. Those hardened missile sites have been reflected in treaty verification data maintained by the State Department since the 1980s, and their destruction completes the elimination of the Peacekeeper as a weapon system.
Speaking in an interview with Inside the Air Force at the Pentagon April 20, Summers said the United States remains completely committed to meeting all of its obligations under the New START treaty despite recent tensions between the two sides. The Russians were formally notified about the Peacekeeper’s elimination on Feb. 18, Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Kelley Jeter noted in a follow-up email.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh has raised the prospect of buying a more efficient and deadly manned aircraft to support close-air-support missions in low-end threat environments “in the relatively near- and mid-term if the money would allow it.”
The comment, made at an April 22 Defense One event in Washington, comes as Congress continues to resist the service’s attempts to divest the A-10 Warthog, which the head of Air Combat Command described recently as “the best CAS platform ever.” The A-10 performs that mission today alongside the B-1B Lancer and fourth-generation fighter jets.
One senior official with the Joint Staff recently told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing that it would probably take 15 years to fully develop a next-generation platform to replace the A-10. Congress is strongly opposed to the aging aircraft’s retirement, mostly because the Air Force has not yet committed to fielding a replacement that could match the Warthog’s capabilities.
Welsh was responding to a question about Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ statement last week that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter “should be, and almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of Navy will ever buy or fly.”
As the Air Force prepares for a major overhaul its intercontinental ballistic missile command-and-control enterprise, House lawmakers want a clearer picture of the Defense Department’s plans to modernize the nuclear command network in future budget submissions.
Known as the nuclear command, control and communications (NC3) system, the network links the president and senior command authority to the nation’s nuclear triad of heavy bombers, submarines and ICBMs. Much of the network has been in place since the Cold War, and is due to be modernized or replaced by various nuclear-capable weapon systems like the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), Long-Range Strike Bomber, and Ohio-class Replacement.
This week, the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee proposed legislation that would require the DOD comptroller to improve the way NC3-related programs are presented in the budget.
“An improved budget structure could ensure that the department and Congress are in the best possible position to make available needed resources for the NC3 system,” the subcommittee’s mark of the fiscal year 2016 defense authorization bill states.
Sikorsky believes the Army’s UH-60M would be a more cost-effective option for replacing the Air Force’s UH-1N Huey fleet over the purchase of remanufactured A-model Black Hawks because of the reduced life-cycle cost and because the M-model is equipped with a modern, digital cockpit.
The Air Force has a plan to replace its vintage Huey helicopters with 72 government-owned Black Hawks that would be converted from the A- to L-model configuration at a cost of about $10,000 to $12,000 each. A new UH-60M off the active Army production line would cost about $17 million per copy depending on the configuration. That amount does not include any mission-specific modifications the Air Force might need.
In an April 20 phone interview with Inside the Air Force, Sikorsky business development executives Scott Starrett and David Morgan said the company’s proposals for replacing the Huey are both Black Hawk-related — either supplying new UH-60Ms or conducting the remanufacture and upgrade of the A-models.
The company is in discussions with the service about the best recapitalization path to take within its budget limits. Company officials contend that a brand new helicopter might cost more, but it would remain in service longer and cost significantly less to operate and maintain over time than an L-model Black Hawk — plus the UH-60M would be about 95 percent common with the new HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter being developed to replace the Pave Hawk.
Despite the United States’ adoption of the “3+2 strategy” that would whittle 12 nuclear weapon types down to five, there is currently no plan to do away with what would be the sixth nuclear weapon type — the bunker-busting B61-11 nuclear bomb.
According to the general in charge of the Air Force’s nuclear mission and the principle deputy administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, there are no agreed upon plans to retire the B61-11 even as the other five B61 weapon types are consolidated into one called B61-12.
Slides presented by NNSA’s Madelyn Creedon at an Air Force Association seminar in Washington April 24 lists the B61-11 as “being phased out,” but Creedon and Air Force Assistant Chief of Staff for Strategic Deterrence Maj. Gen. Garrett Harencak said there are no plans to remove the weapon from the stockpile anytime soon.
“We don’t have a set retirement date yet for the B61-11,” Creedon said. “It was actually one more recently introduced into the stockpile, but it will continue for a while.”
The B61-11 was introduced in 1997 and is a hardened and highly modified version of the B61, which was introduced in the ’60s. The weapon is one of many Air Force weapons designed to destroy hardened and deeply buried targets, but is the only nuclear bunker-bomb.
Congress has expressed interest in the possibility of knocking out hypersonic missiles with an extended-range version of the Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system as the United States and Russia race to produce air-launched hypersonic cruise missiles.
According to media reports, Russia aims to produce a hypersonic cruise missile before 2020, around the same time the U.S. Air Force expects to transition its scramjet and boost-glide hypersonic missile designs into acquisition programs.
The House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee proposed legislative language last week that would direct the Defense Department to brief Congress on the possibility of using a proposed extended-range THAAD missile system to “confront hypersonic missile threats.”
“Although a materiel solution decision has not yet been made, THAAD-ER could be a vital capability improvement for the ballistic missile defense system to defeat evolving and emerging threats, including hypersonic vehicles and anti-ship ballistic missiles,” the subcommittee’s mark of the fiscal year 2016 defense authorization bill states.
The Air Force has nominated 2027 as the targeted initial operational capability date for the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program, a time line that teeters precariously close to the forecast expiration of critical Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile components, including the rocket booster and guidance unit.
According to a GBSD request for information notice posted in January, the service will not consider ICBM recapitalization strategies that would deliver a Minuteman replacement beyond the 2027 time frame due to those aging concerns.
In written testimony to the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee’s April 15 nuclear forces hearing, the service’s assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration revealed 2027 as the target IOC date. That fielding time line would leave very little room for schedule delays, since the Minuteman is only expected to remain in service through 2030. Furthermore, achieving full operational capability with the replacement missile system would take several more years beyond the IOC date.
Testifying before the committee, Maj. Gen. Garrett Harencak said the Minuteman III is a 1970s weapon system housed in underground missile silos that are many years older. “It’s an amazing engineering challenge to keep that system up and functioning,” he said.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has improved upon the laser technology matured under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program to create a tactical laser weapon module capable of deploying on an AC-130 gunship or V-22 Osprey.
The company displayed a mockup of the laser module at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space exposition in National Harbor, MD, this week. Company officials claim the module was designed for carriage in the internal weapons bay of the Predator C Avenger unmanned aerial vehicle, but is easily reconfigurable to deploy on a tactical AC-130 or V-22 aircraft, and even a guided missile destroyer or Army ground vehicle.
The high-energy laser technology inside the weapon module is the product of two military programs: DARPA’s High-Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) and the Defense Department’s Robust Electric Laser Initiative (RELI). In fact, the HELLADS program is due to conclude later this year with a series of 150 kilowatt laser test shots at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
In an April 14 interview with Inside the Air Force, General Atomics’ chief laser engineer, Jim Davis, said the laser is scalable to 300 kilowatt, and has evolved from the HELLADS and RELI programs through internal investments.
Davis said the laser system has applications for the Air Force, Navy and Army, but which service carries the technology forward depends on who “writes the first check.” The design has been proposed for the Office of Naval Research’s Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation Program and the Army’s High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator. The Air Force is pursuing airborne lasers to destroy missiles and ground-based electrical equipment like radars.
The Air Force is looking for a contractor to sustain its largest conventional bomb, the 30,000-pound GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator produced by Boeing to destroy weapons of mass destruction located in fortified bunkers.
On April 7, the service’s hard target munitions office published a sources-sought notice for contractors to maintain the bomb for up to five years.
Interested parties must be capable of providing personnel support “within 24-hours notification of weapon operational use,” and have at least two years of experience conducting similar work.
As the Air Force tries rein in schedule growth, its new acquisition “best practices” should bear fruit in new programs like the Long-Range Strike Bomber and next-generation trainer since correcting long established procurement programs has little effect on fielding timelines, according to a spokesman for the service’s top acquisition office.
A report on the performance of the Air Force acquisition system in fiscal year 2014 found that schedule growth trends have continued to worsen, with major acquisition programs adding 112 cumulative months of schedule last year.
An average Air Force ACAT I program takes almost seven years to move from milestone B to milestone C, the start of low-rate initial production, the report by the director of the acquisition excellence and change office, published in December 2014, found. Similarly, it takes eight-and-a-half years to move from milestone B to the battlefield, a milestone known as initial operational capability.
In an April 2 email responding to the report’s findings, service spokesman Ed Gulick said proposed changes to the way the Air Force buys weapon systems won’t have much effect on the fielding timelines of established programs, because ideally those different approaches should be designed into the early acquisition and contract strategies.
A plan to demilitarize the AGM-86C/D Conventional Air-Launched Cruise Missile faces another congressional roadblock, this time because of a directed energy weapon known as CHAMP — which destroys electronic equipment with blasts of high-powered microwave energy.
House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Richard Nugent (R-FL) has proposed legislation that would prohibit the Air Force from junking its CALCM stockpile since those missile bodies could be repurposed to carry the new counter-electronics weapon produced by the Air Force Research Laboratory, Boeing and Raytheon under the $38 million Counter-electronics High-power microwave Advanced Missile Project, or CHAMP.
In an April 7 interview with Inside the Air Force, Nugent said AFRL successfully tested CHAMP on a cruise missile in 2012 and the weapon system should be made available to combatant commanders for operational use as quickly as possible while the Air Force pursues other, longer-term development and production programs.
According to a 2012 Boeing press release, CHAMP successfully navigated a pre-programmed flight plan over the Utah Test and Training Range while using bursts of high-powered energy on selective, high-frequency radio waves to shut down rooms full of computers. The weapon is capable of destroying multiple targets in a single mission, since CALCM has an unclassified range of about 600 nautical miles.
As the Air Force moves from single-mission surveillance aircraft to long-range “sensor-shooters,” the time for orbit counting has expired and the Defense Department must take a joint approach to meeting the unconstrained combat demand for airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
That is the view of retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, dean of the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute. In a recent interview with Inside the Air Force, the former Air Force deputy chief of staff for ISR said there are more ways to provide full-motion video than to simply launch more Predator, Reaper and Global Hawk combat air patrols, or orbits. Instead, joint assets should be pulled into the fight — like the thousands of tiny Army RQ-11 Ravens, most of which are in garrison today.
“Folks in the Air Force continually remind [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] and others that you need to take a look at ISR in the context of how it’s executed, and that’s by the combatant commanders, not just one service,” Deptula said.
If the Air Force had additional money it would purchase eight more MQ-9 Reapers, 13 C-130J airlifters, keep six Compass Call aircraft marked for retirement, extend the life of 141 B-1B bomber engines and sprinkle more cash across its readiness accounts, according to a detailed breakdown of the Air Force’s fiscal year 2016 unfunded priorities list obtained by Inside the Air Force.
The Air Force’s list attached to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s letter to Congress in March was vague compared to the other services, but a separate, undated document provided by the Air Force on April 7 breaks down the $5.5 billion request line by line.
The service would prefer lawmakers support the president’s budget position, but if it had extra cash it would spend $1.2 billion to buy more C-130Js from Lockheed Martin for a total buy of 155 aircraft, and an extra $31 million would purchase a new C-130J fuselage trainer.
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The Air Force could purchase two new Airbus UH-72 Lakota helicopters to replace each UH-1N Huey for about the same cost of acquiring and restoring 40-year-old, government-owned UH-60 Black Hawks, according to Airbus Defense and Space President Michael Cosentino, who spoke to Inside the Air Force April 3.
Airbus has built more than 330 general purpose Lakotas for the Army, Navy and Thailand and another 90 are on order. The aircraft is being pitched to the Air Force as a viable candidate to replace the UH-1N Iroquois, better known as the Huey.
The service is trying for the fourth time in 10 years to replace the Vietnam War-era helicopter, and the most recent acquisition strategy being considered would take old Army Black Hawks and upgrade them to the modern L-model configuration.
The estimated cost of buying 72 Black Hawks is $980 million, but Airbus believes it could deliver the same number of UH-72s for about half that price with deliveries starting as soon as the service requires.
The Air Force has determined that hosting critical, national-security surveillance payloads to include the SYERS-2, Optical Bar Camera and MS-177 on the RQ-4 Global Hawk is feasible, and the service intends to submit a High Altitude Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Transition Plan to lawmakers this summer.
Those three sensors collect sophisticated, national-level intelligence data but are currently only hosted on Lockheed Martin’s U-2 Dragon Lady, which the Pentagon has marked for retirement.
Despite shifting the U-2’s retirement date from 2016 to 2019 in its latest budget proposal, the Air Force must still validate to Congress that divesting the manned spy plane in favor of the unmanned Global Hawk for high-altitude intelligence gathering won’t compromise capability or capacity.
The service is preparing a transition plan for Congress that will address those concerns and outline the cost and schedule for making the necessary modifications to Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk. A number of reports are due to Congress in the next few months.
The United States and Russia’s strategic stockpiles are edging closer toward the New START levels of 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads with each side fielding just under 1,600 warheads, new data from the State Departmentshows.
America deployed 45 fewer warheads on its strategic submarines, heavy bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles in March compared to the previous count in September 2014, according to an April 1 update from the State Department’s bureau of arms control, verification and compliance. Russia’s stockpile dipped to 1,582 warheads in March, down 61 weapons compared to the last count.
The latest version of the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, the AIM-120D, has been declared operational by the Air Force and Navy and now the program office is looking to add new electronic-attack protections through a software upgrade recently fielded on the AIM-120C7.
The services made positive fielding decisions on the Air Force F-15 and Navy F/A-18 in January after several rounds of optional testing in 2014, according to the Air Force’s Program Executive Officer for Weapons Maj. Gen. Scott Jansson.
“The assets are being fielded as we speak,” Jansson said in a March 26 phone interview with Inside the Air Force. “We continue to upgrade the AMRAAM to keep up with the latest threats.”
AMRAAM is produced by Raytheon in Tucson, AZ, and has been in production since 1991 as the Defense Department’s primary long-range, air-to-air weapon system.
The Small Diameter Bomb II program could receive a signed milestone C acquisition decision memorandum from Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall in May following a positive Defense Acquisition Board planning meeting last month. The milestone decision would move the next-generation, precision-attack munition to low-rate initial production and eventual fielding on the F-15E Strike Eagle and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
According to Air Force Program Executive Officer for Weapons Maj. Gen. Scott Jansson, the recent planning meeting with Kendall — the program’s milestone decision authority — went so well that the program can skip a planned DAB readiness meeting. Instead, the SDB II team will meet with the full DAB panel in May and it is hoped the program will be cleared to move to production.
“We’ll be waiting to get a signed acquisition decision memorandum out of Mr. Kendall,” Jansson said in a March 26 interview with Inside the Air Force. “The goal is for him to sign it at the meeting. As soon as we have that, then we’ll be able to award the first pre-priced production option that we have with Raytheon Missile Systems. We expect that to happen by the June time frame.”
Five years after issuing a request for proposals, the Air Force has down-selected 17 small businesses for its Network-Centric Solutions II Network Operations and Infrastructure contract, worth up to $5.79 billion, following protests against the original source-selection decision last March.
Last year, the service chose 12 of the 29 bidders for the small business companion contract but several sidelined offerors submitted protests to the Government Accountability Office, claiming they met the source-selection criteria included in the RFP and should have been chosen as vendors for the contract.
GAO sustained the protests in part in a July 15, 2014, decision and recommended the Air Force take corrective action and make another selection decision.
The second-round winners were revealed last week in an April 2 Air Force contract announcement, with five additional small businesses making the cut as well as the original 12 awardees.
The Air Force could soon start building a next-generation family of bunker-killing weapons to include the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 2,000-pound High Velocity Penetrating Weapon for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, following the internal release of the service’s classified hard-target munitions analysis of alternatives.
Air Combat Command is due to outbrief the report to senior leaders on the Air Force Requirements Oversight Council in June before taking its recommendations to the higher Joint Requirements Oversight Council in the mid-summer time frame.
A spokesman for ACC provided the planned briefing dates in a March 31 email to Inside the Air Force.