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.

141891023
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]

TIME Nuclear

U.S. Looks to Improve Management of Nuclear Weapons Cache

“Our nuclear deterrent plays a critical role in securing U.S. national security”

The United States’ arsenal of nuclear weapons is badly in need of a makeover, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday.

“The good news is that there’s nothing here we can’t fix,” Hagel told reporters. “But if we don’t pay attention to this, if we don’t fix this eventually, it will get to a point where there are some questions about our security.”

Hagel said a full review of the country’s nuclear arsenal revealed “evidence of systematic problems,” including issues with manpower, infrastructure, skill deficiencies, a culture of micromanagement and over-inspection.

The overhaul of nuclear arms across the entire Department of Defense will include reforms that address each of these areas. In order to make the nuclear field a more attractive career path for young soldiers, for instance, Hagel elevated the Global Strike Command to so-called a four-star billet, meaning high-ranking soldiers in the nuclear fleet can be equal in rank to their counterparts in non-nuclear fields. Hagel also announced the creation of a new medal to recognize service in the nuclear field.

“Our nuclear deterrent plays a critical role in securing U.S. national security,” Hagel said. “No other capability remains more important.”

Read next: Why ISIS Can Survive Without Baghdadi

TIME Iraq

Iraq Plans ISIS Counteroffensive With U.S. Help

Iraq Army ISIS Islamic State
Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Iraqi government forces and Shiite militias launch an operation against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants to take control of Jurf al-Sakhar south of Baghdad, Iraq. on Oct. 25, 2014.

Working closely with U.S.

Iraq is training 20,000 soldiers for a spring counter-offensive against the militant group that has taken over large swaths of the country, according to a new report, and working in close consultation with the United States to do it.

The plan, described to the New York Times by at least a dozen unnamed sources, involves hundreds of American military advisers stationed in Baghdad to help the government there take on the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“It is a balance between letting them develop their own plan and take ownership for it,” one U.S. military official said.

Read more at the Times

TIME Military

Airmen No Longer Required to Say ‘So Help Me God’ During Oath

Untited States Air Force Academy graduation ceremony
Craig F. Walker—The Denver Post/Getty Images United States Air Force Academy graduation ceremony at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, May 29, 2013.

“We take any instance in which Airmen report concerns regarding religious freedom seriously," the Air Force Secretary said in a statement

The U.S. Air Force said Wednesday that enlisted members and officers are permitted to omit the phrase “so help me God” from their oaths if they so chose. In a statement Wednesday, the Air Force said it arrived at the decision after consulting with the Department of Defense General Counsel; last week an airman who was prohibited from re-enlisting until he uttered the phrase threatened to sue if the Air Force did not change their policy.

“We take any instance in which Airmen report concerns regarding religious freedom seriously,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in a statement. “We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our Airmen’s rights are protected.”

The change will go into effect immediately and enlistment instructions will be adjusted within the coming weeks.

TIME Australia

The U.S. Will Increase Its Military Presence in Australia

US Marines Train In Australia's Northern Territory
The Sydney Morning Herald—Fairfax Media via Getty Images The first group of 200 U.S. Marines arrives at Darwin's Robertson Barracks for a 6-month training rotation, April 2012.

The move comes at a time when China has been testing the waters in the region

The United States will be finalizing an agreement to increase its military presence in Australia in an attempt to bolster its ties with allies in the Asia-Pacific, where China has been flexing its muscles, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The negotiations will conclude an agreement made between Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott and U.S. President Barack Obama in June.

At the annual AUSMIN talks between U.S. and Australian defense leaders this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will discuss a proposal to add more fighter jets and bombers to a military base near the northern Australian city of Darwin, Reuters said.

Australia’s defense minister David Johnston and U.S. officials will also sign a 25-year agreement, which will create a larger ballistic missile defense shield for U.S. allies in Asia-Pacific and boost U.S. troops in Australia from 1,500 to 2,500 by 2017. The additional forces will respond to humanitarian disasters and conflicts in the region.

The negotiations for an increased military presence in the region follow Beijing’s rejection of a U.S. request that China and other nations refrain from provocative acts in disputed areas of South China Sea.

TIME Military

U.S. Air Force Finds Boy’s Body in Aircraft Landing Gear

Members of the US Air Force stand alongside a C-130 transport aircraft at Kabul international airport on October 9, 2013.
Noorullah Shirzada—AFP/Getty Images Members of the US Air Force stand alongside a C-130 transport aircraft at Kabul international airport on October 9, 2013.

U.S. officials said they were investigating how an "apparent stowaway" accessed the upper recesses of a C-130's landing gear

Maintenance crews recently discovered the body of an adolescent boy lodged deep in the wheel well of a U.S. Air Force cargo aircraft shortly after it landed at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base.

“The body of an apparent stowaway was found trapped in a compartment above the aircraft’s rear landing gear,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby in a Tuesday press briefing. “American and German emergency responders were summoned; removed the body, transported it to a German facility for autopsy and further investigation.”

Kirby said investigators were still trying to determine when and how the boy accessed the inner recesses of the C-130’s landing gear. The aircraft recently returned from a long-haul mission in Africa, and Kirby said “the boy was an adolescent black male, possibly of African origin.”

 

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com