TIME Drones

This Is How the Air Force Plans to Fix its Drone Pilot Shortage

NIGER-MALI-FRANCE-WAR
MARTIN BUREAU—AFP/Getty Images

You can up your salary by $15,000 by taking this job

If you’ve ever thought it would be cool to join the military, the United States Air Force is sweetening the deal, offering a $15,000 per year bonus to people who sign up to be drone pilots for either five or nine years.

The plan is being implemented due to a shortage of drone pilots, according to The Wall Street Journal. The offer is available to existing Air Force Pilots, although the Journal also notes that 80 pilots graduating flight school this year will be automatically placed in the corps of drone pilots.

The United States has used drones for both airstrikes and surveillance throughout the world. The Obama administration’s use of drones in the “War on Terror” has garnered ferocious criticism from both sides of the political aisle, but if this program is any indication, the mechanization of war looks to be something that will expand, not recede.

One other change that could be made to expand the pool of drone pilots would be to allow enlisted airmen, rather than just officers, to pilot drones. As of now, that’s not happening.

TIME indonesia

Crashed Plane May Have Suffered Engine Problem, Indonesia Air Force Chief Says

APTOPIX Indonesia Military Plane Crash
Gilbert Manullang—Associated Press Firefighters and military personnel inspect the site where an Air Force cargo plane crashed in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, June 30, 2015

The fact that the plane turned rightward after takeoff suggests an engine failure

(MEDAN, Indonesia) — Indonesia’s air force chief said Thursday the military transport plane that crashed into a residential neighborhood of Medan killing 141 people had a propeller “abnormality” that indicates an engine stalled.

Air Marshal Agus Supriatna told reporters the fact that the plane turned rightward after takeoff and was flying at a lower than normal speed also suggests an engine failure.

Before crashing shortly after takeoff on Tuesday, the C-130 Hercules hit a 35-meter (115-foot) radio antenna, he said. “By hitting the antenna, I imagine it certainly affected the plane,” Supriatna said.

The search for bodies ended Wednesday. The plane was carrying 122 people and the impact also killed people on the ground.

Air force spokesman Dwi Badarmanto said it has grounded other B-type Hercules planes pending the investigation’s outcome. He didn’t say how many planes that involved.

The C-130 was carrying many more passengers than the military first reported. Initially, the air force said there were 12 crew members on the 51-year-old plane and did not mention passengers. It then repeatedly raised the number of people on board, indicating confusion about how many people had boarded and alighted during a journey covering several cities.

TIME indonesia

The Death Toll in the Indonesian Plane Crash Has Risen to 141

Security forces and rescue teams examine the wreckage of an Indonesian military C-130 Hercules transport plane after it crashed into a residential area in the North Sumatra city of Medan, Indonesia
Roni Bintang—Reuters Security forces and rescue teams examine the wreckage of an Indonesian military C-130 Hercules plane after it crashed into a residential area in the North Sumatra city of Medan, Indonesia, on June 30, 2015

Recovery teams continue to search through the rubble for bodies

Officials said early Wednesday that the death toll from Tuesday’s military plane crash on the Indonesian island of Sumatra had risen.

“We have received 141 bodies,” a police official named Agustinus Tarigan told Agence France-Presse at a local hospital.

The Indonesian air force, whose C-130 Hercules aircraft crashed in the highly populous city of Medan on Tuesday before exploding, revised the number of people on the plane to 122, 12 of whom were crew members. Authorities had earlier said there were only 113 people on board, and that they do not expect to find any survivors.

The plane hit a massage parlor and a hotel in one of the city’s residential areas, and recovery teams continue to clear debris in search of more bodies. Officials have thus far confirmed only three deaths on the ground.

The Aviation Safety Network, an agency that tracks air disasters worldwide, says this has been the sixth fatal crash involving Indonesia’s air force within the past decade.

[AFP]

TIME Veterans

See Powerful Photos of Wounded Warrior Athletes

More than 600,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have been left partially or totally disabled from physical or psychological wounds received during their service. Ever year, hundreds of Wounded Warriors from every branch of military service compete in a variety of sports over 10 days at the Department of Defense's Warrior Games. What they have in common is the will to overcome

TIME Companies

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Is About to Tap a Huge New Market

Elon Musk SpaceX Dragon
Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images SpaceX CEO Elon Musk introduces SpaceX's Dragon V2 spacecraft, the company's next generation version of the Dragon ship designed to carry astronauts into space, at a press conference in Hawthorne, Calif. on May 29, 2014.

It'll take on Boeing and Lockheed

The U.S. Air Force certified SpaceX to launch satellites for the Pentagon, it was announced Tuesday.

This is significant news for Elon Musk’s 13-year-old aerospace company, which has long been involved in a court case over certification from the Pentagon. As the Washington Post reports, obtaining Pentagon certification means SpaceX can compete with United Launch Alliance, a joint space venture formed in 2006 by Lockheed Martin and Boeing Defense, Space & Security.

ULA provides launch services to government entities like NASA and the Department of Defense—customers SpaceX also wants to service.

The certification process began when SpaceX sued the U.S. Air Force in April of last year, arguing its bidding process for awarding contracts to launch Pentagon satellites had turned ULA into an unfair monopoly. (In 2012, the Air Force awarded 36 launches to ULA, which was the only contractor certified to launch under the EELV, or Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.) Musk framed the lawsuit as a broader effort to get future launches reopened to widespread competition.

The suit was a rare and risky example of a company suing the organization that would be its biggest customer if it won the suit. In January of this year, SpaceX dropped the lawsuit and the certification process began.

Now Musk has earned what he sought—the right to compete. It’s a big win for Musk and SpaceX, which last year won a contract to fly astronauts to NASA’s International Space Station. In a statement about earning Pentagon certification, Musk said it is an “important step.”

He’s not the only one that thinks so. The news is getting big reactions from major names in the defense industry. Republican Senator John McCain, for instance, said in a statement: “The certification of SpaceX as a provider for defense space launch contracts is a win for competition . . . I am hopeful that this and other new competition will help to bring down launch costs and end our reliance on Russian rocket engines that subsidizes Vladimir Putin and his cronies.”

Read next: Watch What It’s Like to Get Blasted to 100MPH in 1.2 Seconds

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TIME Aviation

Meet the First Female U.S. Pilot to Fly the F-35 Lightning II Jet

Lt. Col. Christine Mau, 33rd Operations Group deputy commander, puts on her helmet before taking her first flight in the F-35A on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
Staff Sgt. Marleah Robertson—33rd Fighter Wing/Public Affairs Lt. Col. Christine Mau, 33rd Operations Group deputy commander, puts on her helmet before taking her first flight in the F-35A on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., on May 5, 2015.

It's not her first brush with Air Force history

Meet the first female F-35 fighter jet pilot.

The U.S. Air Force said that Lt. Col. Christine Mau on Tuesday piloted the F-35 Lightning II — a state-of-the-art fighter jet often described as one of the most technologically complex planes ever built.

It said that Mau, 33rd Fighter Wing Operations Group deputy commander, had completed 14 virtual training missions in a flight simulator before taking to the skies from Florida’s Elgin Air Force Base on Tuesday and joining the ranks of 87 other F-35 pilots who’ve trained there.

“It wasn’t until I was taxiing to the runway that it…

Read the rest of this story from our partners at NBC

TIME Military

Air Force Security No Longer Banned From Saying ‘Have A Blessed Day’

The greeting was briefly changed to "have a nice day"

After a brief hiatus, Air Force security guards at a Georgia Air Force base can once again wish visitors a “blessed day” after a rule change stemming from a complaint was overturned Thursday.

Mikey Weinstein, CEO of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, spoke with officials after receiving comments from 13 service personnel — nine of whom were practicing Christians. He convinced a commander to change the greeting to “have a nice day,” the Air Force Times reports.

News of the rule change at Robins Air Force Base quickly went viral, prompting officials to review the decision and eventually have it reversed.

“The Air Force takes any expressed concern over religious freedom very seriously … ‘have a blessed day’ as a greeting is consistent with Air Force standards and is not in violation of Air Force Instructions,” the Air Force said in a statement.

Weinstein said he plans to consult with lawyers to discern if any of his company’s clients wish to sue over the matter.

TIME Military

The Real Star Wars: Air Force Heads to the Heavens for Weapons Guidance

An armoured vehicle of US Marines from 1
DMITRY KOSTYUKOV / AFP / Getty Images The Air Force wants to harness stars like these in the Milky Way over Iraq to guide future weapons if the GPS system is attacked.

If a foe disables or destroys GPS, Pentagon still needs to drop bombs accurately

The success of precision-guided bombs in 1991’s Gulf War was a revelation. The world watched transfixed as U.S. generals briefed before screens showing scratchy black and white videos of American weapons blasting bridges, buildings and brigades with amazing precision. Potential foes were dutifully impressed, and have spent a lot of time figuring out how to disable or destroy the satellite-based Global Positioning System that have since cheaply turned dumb bombs into smart ones—and gets the planes carrying them to the right spot.

“Over the last several years, many potential adversaries have invested significantly in counter measures associated with Global Positioning System (GPS) guided weapons,” the Air Force warns in its formal Mar. 5 call for help developing something to replace GPS if a foe knocks it off line. “The Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL’s) response to this challenge is the Celestial-aided Strike at Any Range (CStAR) program.”

GPS is a constellation of roughly 24 satellites that offers the precise location of your smart phone, your car, an airplane or pretty much anything else. The satellites, orbiting about 13,000 miles above the Earth, do this by sharing timing signals that pinpoint a GPS unit’s whereabouts. But the radio signals are weak, making them vulnerable to jamming. And killer-satellite tests by nations like China have unnerved the Pentagon’s high command, given the U.S. military’s reliance on GPS to track and guide everything from bunker-busting bombs to shipping containers.

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Jody Dole / Getty ImagesAn antique brass sextant

The growing threat to the GPS system is leading the Air Force to seek what amounts to a 21st Century sextant, an updated navigation tool created in the 16th Century to help sailors chart their ocean voyages with help from the stars. The new version’s goal: “to reduce the technical risk to future weapon systems by demonstrating an integrated navigation solution that can later be tailored to a specific weapon platform.”

Easier said than done, of course. The Air Force didn’t offer many details about CStAR in its plea for assistance. Further information about it is contained in the Celestial-aided Weapons Navigation Technology Security Classification Guide, available only to companies eligible to receive what the Pentagon calls “military critical technical data.”

Let’s just hope the stars stay out of reach.

TIME Military

How the Pentagon Bombs Budget Estimates to $mithereens

Northrop Grumman An artist's conception of what the Air Force's new Long Range Strike Bomber might look like.

And why skepticism should accompany Monday's proposed 2016 defense budget

President Obama is sending his proposed $585 billion 2016 Pentagon budget to Capitol Hill on Monday. It consists of reams of documents, charts and tables that make it difficult for normal folks to understand. So let’s take a look at a single line item—the Air Force’s new bomber, for which the service is expected to seek about $1.5 billion next year—for insight into why Pentagon numbers don’t always add up.

The new bomber—designed to augment, and ultimately replace, the nation’s aging fleets of B-52, B-1 and B-2 aircraft—is so new that it doesn’t even have a name yet, beyond the generic title Long Range Strike Bomber.

But the highly-classified warplane already has a well-publicized price.

The cost, the Pentagon has been saying since 2011, is $550 million per bomber. It’s the only price tag attached to the new bomber and, and a result, it’s the one cited when the new plane is discussed.

“It’s like $550 million per copy,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said earlier this month. “It’s an estimate based upon multiple reviews of the program and not a single source.”

“Five hundred million dollars per copy sounds like a lot of money, but for the capability that we will be achieving, it actually is considered to be affordable,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told Bloomberg last summer.

A team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin is competing against Northrop Grumman to build the Air Force’s next crown jewel. Northrop produced the nation’s newest bomber, the B-2, and hinted at its desire to build the Long Range Strike Bomber during Sunday’s Super Bowl, when it aired a 30-second spot in Washington, D.C., and Dayton, Ohio, home of the Air Force’s acquisition corps.

The $550 million figure has been cited so often that those not playing close attention could be forgiven for thinking that it’s the actual cost of the airplane. Kind of like the bottom line on the sticker you see on the window of a new car. But it’s not. Like any bureaucracy dedicated to expansion, the $550 million sum is the lowest figure the Air Force number can say with a straight face.

After repeatedly planting that $550 million flag in the minds of lawmakers and taxpayers, Pentagon officials have sometimes acknowledged that the $550 million represents what is known inside the military as the “APUC,” or average procurement unit cost. What’s important about that figure isn’t what it includes, but what it leaves out.

First of all, the $550 million price tag is based on buying between 80 and 100 of the bombers. Driving the price per plane down to $550 million requires economies of scale that only come over such long production runs. Early aircraft off the assembly line are very expensive, as the radar-eluding B-2 “stealth” bomber made clear. “Cost of Stealth Bombers Soars to $450 Million Each,” the Washington Post reported breathlessly on its front page nearly 30 years ago, in May 1988. Few believed at the time that a bomber could cost so much. But that was for a planned buy of 132 planes. The Air Force ended up buying only 21. The B-2’s ultimate price: $2.1 billion each.

Second, the $550 million doesn’t include the research and development needed to actually build the plane. Without the R&D, the plane would truly be stealthy—because it wouldn’t exist. Experts inside and outside the Pentagon estimate the new bomber’s development will add between $20 billion and $25 billion to the Pentagon’s projected $55 billion procurement price tag for 100 planes.

Third, the $550 million price is based on the value of a 2010 dollar. That’s 12 years before the first pair of bombers is slated to be delivered. Accounting for inflation since has already driven the cost per plane close to $600 million, and that number will keep rising in the future. Delays in the plane’s production schedule will push it even higher.

Finally, the $550 million estimate doesn’t include anything for the all-but-certain cost overruns a weapons program like this will experience. No one can say how much unanticipated costs will add to the bomber’s ultimate price, but one can declare with certainty that it won’t be zero.

Todd Harrison of the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think tank estimates the bomber program’s true cost—assuming 100 planes and no cost overruns—at $90 billion. That’s $900 million a copy, 64% higher than the Air Force’s official $550 million figure.

“I actually think it’s very important that we buy the bomber,” Harrison says. “I just think we should acknowledge what it is likely to cost.” He also thinks there will be cost overruns, and that fewer than 100 will be bought. That’ll drive the price per plane into the B-2’s billion-dollar stratosphere.

Harrison isn’t the only one with doubts, judging from what some Air Force officials have said while describing the new bomber’s advertised price. Eric Fanning, the Air Force’s #2 civilian, has called the $550 million figure “a pretty firm chalk line.” Chief Air Force weapons buyer William LaPlante describes it a “marker in the sand.”

Whatever. It’s obvious that the Air Force’s $550 million estimate isn’t carved in stone.

TIME Military

U.S. to Station 150 Armored Vehicles in Europe

LITHUANIA-UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CRISIS-DEFENCE-NATO-BALTICS
Petras Malukas—AFP/Getty Images Members of the US Army 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, transport heavy combat equipment including Bradley Fighting Vehicles at the railway station near the Rukla military base in Lithuania, Oct. 4, 2014.

The U.S. has around 30,000 troops on the continent

The United States will station around 150 tanks and armored vehicles in Europe by the end of next year for U.S. training use.

Commander of the U.S. army in Europe, Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges, says the vehicles could be placed in Poland, Romania or the Baltic states, Reuters reports.

Housing equipment in Europe ensures soldiers coming from the U.S. do not need to bring it with them. It also makes it easier for the U.S. to respond to emergencies like the Ukraine crisis if need be.

Currently the U.S. has around 30,000 troops in Europe, as well additionally large numbers of Air Force, Navy and Marine members, according to Reuters.

[Reuters]

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