James Mattis testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 11, 2016, during his confirmation hearing to be the next Secretary of Defense. Screenshot photo.
At his Senate confirmation hearing, Defense Secretary nominee retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis presented a moderate vision of military leadership. He diverged from public statements made by President-elect Donald Trump on the Russian threat, the value of NATO, and the F-35 program. He also indicated he might not support a recapitalization of the Long Range Standoff weapon, though he supported a new ICBM program and the B-21 bomber. He also took a balanced view of military budgets and said he won’t seek to rollback changes on gender and sexuality policy in the military.Read the full report by Wilson Brissett.
The full Senate approved a waiver for Secretary of Defense nominee James Mattis Thursday afternoon by a vote of 81-17, according to a Senate Armed Services Committee spokesperson. SASC had approved the measure earlier in the day by a vote of 24-3. The House Armed Services Committee also approved the waiver Thursday, by a vote of 34-28, according to a HASC spokesperson. The full House is expected to vote on the bill tomorrow. Mattis’ confirmation requires a waiver because federal law stipulates a Defense Secretary must be retired from Active Duty military service for seven years before serving in the top civilian job at the Pentagon. Mattis retired from the US Marine Corps in 2013.
Airmen assigned to the
34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and 75th Logistics Readiness Squadron
perform hot refueling operations on an F-35 Lightning II fighter jet
Nov. 8, 2016, at Hill AFB, Utah. Air Force photo by Todd
The Air Force has selected NAS Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, as the preferred location for the first Air Force Reserve F-35 base. The base is slated to begin receiving its strike fighters in the mid-2020s. “We selected the Air Force Reserve unit in Fort Worth because it is the location that meets all of the necessary training requirements at the lowest cost,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James in a Jan. 12 release. “Additionally, the location will provide mission synergy and access to an experienced workforce for recruiting as a result of its proximity to the F-35 manufacturing plant,” which also is based in Fort Worth. Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.; Homestead ARB, Fla.; and Whiteman AFB, Mo.; are the reasonable alternative sites. The Air Force also is continuing with site surveys at Dannelly Field AGS, Ala.; Gowen Field AGS, Idaho; Jacksonville AGS, Fla.; Selfridge ANGS, Mich.; and Truax AGS, Wis.; as potential sites for the next two Air National Guard-led F-35 bases, states the release. USAF expects to release the preferred and reasonable alternatives for the Guard bases this summer. F-35As also will begin arriving at the second and third Guard bases in the mid-2020s. The service also has selected Hill AFB, Utah; RAF Lakenheath, UK; and Eielson AFB, Alaska, as the first Active Duty-led F-35A bases. Burlington AGS, Vt., was selected as the first Air National Guard F-35A base.
Shaw AFB, S.C., has been selected as the preferred location for a new MQ-9 Reaper group and mission control elements, according to a Jan. 12 Air Force release. Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.; Moody AFB, Ga.; Mountain Home AFB, Idaho; and Offutt AFB, Neb.; were named reasonable alternatives. The first airmen assigned to the group will begin arriving in Fiscal 2018, but the base will not house any remotely piloted aircraft. The Air Force is, however, considering another location to host an MQ-9 wing, including 24 Reapers, launch and recovery elements, a mission control element, a maintenance group, and support personnel. “Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance continues to be our No. 1 most requested capability of combatant commanders and I believe adding additional RPA locations will help our efforts to retain experienced RPA operators that contribute to this vital mission,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. Shaw was selected as the preferred location “because it was the best option to help us diversify assignment opportunities for personnel within the MQ-9 enterprise, provide increased opportunities for leadership from within the community, and provide flexibility to enhance integration with other organizations and capabilities,” said James.
JB McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., and Travis AFB, Calif., were named the preferred location for the next two Active Duty-led KC-46A bases, according to a Jan. 12 announcement. Each base will receive 24 Pegasus aircraft to replace the legacy aircraft already there, with the first aircraft set to arrive in 2019, states the release. The bases were chosen because they “meet all operational mission requirements at the bet value for the Air Force,” and they “support our tanker recapitalization strategy.” Fairchild AFB, Wash., and Grand Forks AFB, N.D., are the reasonable alternatives. The Air Force already has named Altus AFB, Okla.; McConnell AFB, Kansas; Pease ANGS, N.H.; and Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., as future KC-46A bases. McConnell and Altus will receive the first new tankers this fall.
An Air Force Special Operations Command AC-130J Ghostrider flies
a training sortie from Hurlburt Field, Fla., June 17, 2016. AFSOC decided not
to field the gunships early, citing system immaturity, and will instead press
forward with operational testing. Air Force photo by SSgt. Christopher
The initial AC-130J Ghostrider gunships are not technologically mature enough to press into combat early, the annual Director of Operational Testing and Evaluation report revealed on Tuesday. Air Force Special Operations Command conducted an Operational Utility Evaluation to judge the Block 10 configuration’s suitability for early deployment. Following the 18-sortie evaluation, however, “almost none of the surveyed aircrew” rated the system as “usable.” High operational demands have forced AFSOC to delay retiring its legacy gunships, and although early Block aircraft lack a 105-millimeter gun, the interim capability could have relieved strain on the heavily tasked fleet. Testers instead found that a handful of issues, mostly related to the aircraft’s Precision Strike Package, “required aircrews to use burdensome workarounds,” rendering initial AC-130Js unsuitable for combat. AFSOC dropped early fielding plans as a result, and Block 20 modifications should rectify many of the discrepancies, including cyber vulnerabilities identified in the PSP. Upgraded AC-130Js are slated to begin initial operational testing in March, which will validate the Block 20 configuration ahead of an initial operational capability planned for later this year.
US and Afghan forces fought in self defense in a Nov. 2-3, 2016, battle in Boz Village, Afghanistan, returning fire against Taliban fighters using civilian houses as firing positions. A total of 33 Afghan civilians were killed and 27 wounded, according to the results of a US Forces-Afghanistan investigation, released Thursday. The joint operation was planned to capture Taliban leaders responsible for violence the previous month in Kunduz, US Forces-Afghanistan said in a news release announcing the investigation. When the joint forces arrived, they were fired upon by Taliban fighters in multiple civilian buildings. The team took casualties and requested air support from US aircraft in the area, which “used the minimum amount of force” to neutralize the threats. While no civilians were seen during the battle, they were likely inside the buildings, according to the report. A Taliban weapons cache was targeted, which resulted in secondary explosions. Two US soldiers were killed and four injured in the fight, while 26 Taliban fighters were killed and another 26 wounded. “On this occasion the Taliban chose to hide amongst civilians and then attacked Afghan and US forces,” Gen. John Nicholson said in the release, that says the US acted in self defense and in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict. “I wish to assure President Ghani and the people of Afghanistan that we will take all possible measures to protect Afghan civilians. We will continue to assist the Afghan Security Forces in their efforts to defend their country.”
The US Special Operations Force is already over stretched at a time when the incoming presidential administration is likely to ask it to do more, and lawmakers should look to address this in future budgets and legislation, a new report states. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service released a report last week stating that US Special Operations Command is strained, and standard military units may need to take on more authorities. Congress should “seek clarity” from the Trump Administration on its plans for US Special Operations Command, CRS states. “Such a discussion might also examine whether the Trump Administration’s stated plans to increase the size of the US military and improve its capabilities also relates directly to USSOCOM, and if there is potential for expanded conventional forces to take over certain missions or responsibilities currently being assigned to USSOCOM, ” the report states. The report notes that in August 2016, the Pentagon directed SOCOM to be the primary authority for countering weapons of mass destruction, a mission that was previously assigned to US Strategic Command. This is another leading role for special operators, already tasked with being the leading role on several other missions, including tracking foreign fighters across the globe. (Read the report, pdf warning.)
The 200th operational F-35, the second for Japan, takes off from Lockheed Martin's facility in Forth Worth, Texas, on Jan. 11, 2016. Lockheed Martin photo.
The first F-35 delivery of 2017 was a milestone, the 200th operational jet, which is now the second delivered for the Japan Air Self Defense Force. The aircraft touched down at Luke AFB, Ariz., on Tuesday, according to a Lockheed Martin release. The jet brings the total number of F-35s at Luke, a training base for US and international pilots to 46. Eventually the base will host 144 strike fighters in six F-35 fighter squadrons. So far, the overall F-35 program has tallied 75,000 flight hours, training more than 380 pilots, the company said. The delivery came as the Pentagon’s weapons tester said the program’s initial operational test and evaluation will further slip a minimum of 16 months.
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