US Air Force aborts the planned test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile for unexplained reasons

icbm minuteman
An unarmed Minuteman III ICBM during a test at Vandenberg Air Force Base, August 2, 2017.

  • The US Air Force had to abort a planned test launch of one of its Minuteman III ICBMs.
  • The service said a “ground abort” was experienced prior to launch but didn’t go into specifics.
  • The abort comes amid a debate about the nuclear modernization and the future of the ICBM force.
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The US Air Force aborted the planned test launch of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, Air Force Global Strike Command said in a statement Wednesday.

The launch was scheduled for sometime between 12:15 a.m. and 6:15 a.m. Pacific Time on Wednesday morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but it “experienced a ground abort prior to launch,” the Air Force said.

The service did not go into detail on the specifics, only noting in its brief statement that “the cause of the ground abort is currently under investigation” and that Global Strike Command is “assessing the potential to reschedule the launch.”

The US military’s roughly 400 silo-based LGM-30G Minuteman III ICBMs are the land-based leg of the US nuclear triad, which also includes nuclear-capable bombers and nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines.

The Air Force conducts regular test launches to ensure that weapons, respective launch systems, and related personnel remain reliable should the US find itself in a nuclear crisis.

Problems during the testing are rare, but they do happen. In 2018, for example, the US military was forced to terminate an unarmed ICBM in flight after an anomaly created an “unsafe flight condition.”

The latest issue, whatever it may be, comes amid a debate over efforts to modernize America’s ICBM force, an expensive endeavor that has received some pushback from progressive politicians and arms control advocates.

The US military, in partnership with major defense contractor Northrop Grumman, aims to replace the existing intercontinental ballistic missiles with new ICBMs under the Ground-Based Strategic Defense (GBSD) program, which could have a total cost of several hundred billion dollars.

Minuteman ICBMs have been in service since the early 1960s, and US military leaders argue that without modernization, the US runs the risk of its missiles eventually not working at all.

Adm. Charles Richard, who currently leads US Strategic Command, told lawmakers in April that he “cannot deter with the leftovers of the Cold War forever,” arguing that the ICBM force is past the point of upgrade and needs to be replaced.

Given the lack of clarity surrounding the unexpected abort of Wednesday’s test launch, it is unclear what impact, if any, this could have on the ongoing debate surrounding nuclear modernization efforts and the future of the ICBM force.

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The Air Force’s brand-new F-15EX fighter jet is about to have its first major exercise

Air Force F-15EX fighter jet
The first F-15EX is delivered to its new home at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, March 11, 2021.

  • The US Air Force is sending its new F-15EX fighter to a large-scale exercise around Alaska.
  • The top commander in Alaska said the F-15EX will try out its Eagle Passive/Active Warning Survivability System, designed to increase its threat assessment and survivability.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Air Force is sending its new F-15EX fourth-plus generation fighter to participate in a large-scale exercise in and around Alaska next month.

The 53rd Wing out of Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, announced Thursday that the F-15EX, now known as the Eagle II, will conduct operational tests while flying in Exercise Northern Edge 21, a joint Indo-Pacific Command drill incorporating approximately 15,000 service members from each branch, multiple Navy ships and roughly 240 aircraft.

“The unique range assets in place at Northern Edge provide a different, unfamiliar, complex, and operationally realistic environment for the technology and the tactics we’re testing,” said Lt. Col. Mike Benitez, 53rd Wing director of staff, in a news release. The service’s first two F-15EX fighters belong to the 53rd as they undergo test and evaluation. The Boeing-made jets were delivered to the Air Force earlier this month.

The wing will also test other equipment during the exercise, such as the Infrared Search and Track sensor pod on the F-15C model and communication node gateways on the U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane, the release states.

In a discussion with the Air Force Association this week, Lt. Gen. David Krumm, Pacific Air Forces’ 11th Air Force commander, said the F-15EX will try out its Eagle Passive/Active Warning Survivability System, an advanced electronic warfare technology designed to increase its threat assessment and survivability.

Air Force F-15EX fighter jet
The F-15EX arrives to Eglin Air Force Base, March 11, 2021.

Exercise locations include Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Eielson Air Force Base and Allen Army Airfield, along with King Salmon, Cold Bay, Fairbanks International Airport, Ted Stevens International Airport and Juneau International Airport in Alaska; and Fairchild Air Force Base and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, according to another release.

Aircraft will fly within the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, which encompasses more than 77,000 square miles of airspace. Pilots often practice aggressor training there – simulating friendly “blue air” against enemy fighters in advanced air-to-air training.

Ships and aircraft, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, will operate in the Gulf of Alaska for the exercise, the release adds.

The Air Force is in the process of building up its fighter fleet at Eielson, including the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing version, to support missions in both the Pacific and Arctic. A total of 54 F-35s are scheduled to arrive at Eielson by December 2021.

Major units participating in the exercise include the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and Carrier Air Wing 11; the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit; the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, from Elmendorf-Richardson; 17th Field Artillery Brigade from Lewis-McChord; and the 3rd Expeditionary Air and Space Task Force.

“Typically, training happens within your units, within your services, but you never really get the volume or the complexity you would expect to see in a modern-day conflict,” said Lt. Col. Mike Boyer, Pacific Air Forces Northern Edge lead planner, in the release.

“Northern Edge allows the joint force to put all the pieces of the puzzle together in the big picture and allows our younger generation within the armed forces to experience what future conflict could feel like in the complexities associated with it,” he said.

The exercise will run from May 3 to 14.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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US F-15E fighter jets did their munitions transport mission in their new ‘bomb truck’ configuration

Air Force F-15E fighter jet bomb truck
An F-15E Strike Eagle configured to carry extra bombs to bare base locations, taking off from an undisclosed location, April 25, 2021.

  • Six F-15E Strike Eagles relocated as part of an Agile Combat Employment operation.
  • The fighters were in their “bomb truck” configuration, each bringing 12 JDAMs and 4 SDBs.
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Just two months after it was tested at Eglin Air Force Base, the F-15Es of the US Air Force used for the first time the new “bomb truck” configuration during an operational mission in the US Central Command theater.

More precisely, six Strike Eagles of the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron relocated to Al Dhafra Air Base (United Arab Emirates) on April 25 as part of an Agile Combat Employment (ACE) operation, bringing with them a heavy load of munitions to sustain combat missions from the new base.

The six F-15Es in “bomb truck” configuration are part of a larger deployment of 18 Strike Eagles of the 494th Fighter Squadron “Panthers,” which deployed from their homebase at RAF Lakenheath to an “undisclosed location” earlier this month.

This location is likely Muwaffaq Salti/Al-Azraq Air Base in Jordan, where Lakenheath’s other F-15E squadron, the 492nd Fighter Squadron “Bolars,” was deployed in 2020.

Air Force F-15E fighter jet bomb truck
An F-15E Strike Eagle configured to carry extra bombs to bare base locations, taking off from an undisclosed location, April 25, 2021.

The Bolars were relieved by the 391st Fighter Squadron “Bold Tigers” from Mountain Home AFB (Idaho), which are now being in turn relieved by the Panthers.

“These F-15Es are carrying what is called a ‘tac-ferry’ load out. What that means is we can maneuver using Agile Combat Employment, and be postured to go forward from a main operating base,” said Lt. Col. Curtis Culver, 494th EFS Director of Operations. “This is the next step for the Air Force in Agile Combat Employment. So instead of having multi-capable airmen that are exercising maneuver and logistics, now we’re doing that with sustained munitions to project power.”

Each of the six F-15Es in “bomb truck” configuration was carrying 12 500-kg-class JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munition), both the base GBU-38 and laser-guided variant GBU-54, and four GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bomb).

In this configuration, the Strike Eagle is actually carrying twice its standard bomb load, as testing at Eglin AFB allowed to clear for use all six attachment points on each “Fast Pack,” instead of just three.

Back then, the USAF noted that not all the JDAMs carried can be employed in a single mission, so it is possible that the six bombs mounted on the upper hardpoints of the “Fast Packs” may not be cleared for release in combat, but only for ferry flights.

Air Force F-15E fighter jet bomb truck
An F-15E Strike Eagle configured to carry extra bombs to bare base locations, taking off from an undisclosed location, April 25, 2021.

“We were asked to come out and support combat missions with a very short turnaround, and with the bombs not being built previously here for us. By carrying more bombs than we’d actually carry to drop, we’re setting up the initial days of combat,” said Capt. Jessica Niswonger, 494th EFS Weapon System Officer (WSO) and mission planner. After witnessing the arrival of the six F-15Es in “Bomb Truck” configuration, Capt. Niswonger added: “It was a great moment. I’m just glad to have the team here and now we’re going to get ready for combat ops.”

The forward-deployed 494th EFS with its F-15E “bomb truck” aircraft will begin flying air tasking orders immediately to support US Central Command priorities, according to the USAF press release.

It is not clear if the relocation of the six F-15Es to Al Dhafra Air Base is related to the flux of support fires that will protect US troops during the Afghanistan drawdown. Among those we can find four B-52H Stratofortress bombers of the 5th Bomb Wing from Minot Air Force Base (North Dakota) that were deployed last week to Al Udeid Air Base (Qatar).

Training for ACE operations has become routine for US Air Forces Europe units with the goal of being strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable, as it was originally mentioned in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, and capable of operating everywhere with minimal support.

Air Force F-15E fighter jet bomb truck
An F-15E Strike Eagle configured to carry extra bombs to bare base locations, taking off from an undisclosed location, April 25, 2021.

This concept can also be found in the new Air Force mission statement released earlier this month: “To fly, fight, and win … airpower anytime, anywhere”. The ability to fight and win with airpower is considered, in fact, the key factor to facing emerging competitors and near-peer adversaries.

According to the US Air Force, the ACE concept envisions the ability to generate airpower from austere airfields with varying levels of capacity and support in a contested environment, dispersing forces across different or remote airports and support their operations with fewer specialists.

The purpose is “to become more agile in our execution, more strategic in our deterrence, and more resilient in our capability. Agility, Deterrence, and Resiliency are essential to defense and operational capability in a contested environment,” the US Air Force in Europe website says when explaining the ACE Concept of Operations.

The latest ACE training operation is currently in progress in Poland, where 20 F-15s, both E and C variants, and four F-16s deployed from their homebases RAF Lakenheath and Spangdahlem Air Base (Germany), respectively, as part of Aviation Detachment Rotation (AvRot) 21-2.

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7 times the military lost nukes – and 4 times it never found them

US nuclear weapons
An ICBM launch-control facility outside Minot, North Dakota.

The military makes a big deal out of when a rifle goes missing, not to mention when a nuke disappears.

In spite of the fact the program is designed to be “zero defect,” here are seven examples of doomsday devices wandering off (including a few where they never came back):

1. 1956: B-47 disappears with two nuclear capsules

B 47
A B-47.

The first story on the list is also one of the most mysterious since no signs of the wreckage, weapons, or crew have ever been found.

A B-47 Stratojet with two nuclear weapons took off from MacDill Air Force Base, Florida on March 10, 1956 headed to Morocco. It was scheduled for two midair refuelings but failed to appear for the second. An international search team found nothing. The US military eventually called off the search.

2. 1958: Damaged bomber jettisons nuke near Tybee Island, Georgia

On February 5, 1958 B-47 bombers left Florida with nuclear weapons on a training mission simulating the bombing of a Russian city and the evasion of interceptors afterwards. Over the coast of Georgia a bomber and interceptor collided.

The interceptor pilot ejected, and the bomber crew attempted to land with the bomb but failed. They jettisoned the bomb over the ocean before landing safely.

Since the plutonium pits were changed for lead pits used during training, the missing bomb has only a subcritical mass of uranium-235 and cannot cause a nuclear detonation.

3. 1961: Two nuclear bombs nearly turn North Carolina into a bay

Air Force B-52 bomber
A US Air Force B-52 bomber in 1957.

On January 24, 1961, a B-52 carrying two Mark 39 bombs, each 253 times as strong as the Little Boy bomb that dropped on Hiroshima, broke apart in a storm and dropped both of its bombs.

One survivor of the crash, the pilot, was able to alert the Air Force to the incident. The first bomb was found hanging by a parachute from a tree, standing with the nose of the weapon against the ground. It had gone through six of the seven necessary steps to detonate. Luckily, it’s safe/arm switch, known for failing, had stayed in the proper position and the bomb landed safely.

“You might now have a very large Bay of North Carolina if that thing had gone off,” Jack Revelle, who was in charge of locating and removing the weapons, said. The other bomb’s switch did move to the “Arm” position but, for reasons no one knows, it still failed to detonate, saving tens of thousands of lives.

4. 1965: Loss of Navy plane, pilot, and B43 nuclear bomb

A Navy A-4 Skyhawk was being moved aboard the USS Ticonderoga during a military exercise December 5, 1965 when it rolled off its elevator with a pilot and a B43 nuclear weapon loaded. The plane sank quickly into waters 16,000 feet deep.

The status of the weapon is still unknown. The pressures at that depth may be enough to detonate the weapon and the waters were so deep that it would’ve been hard to detect. If the weapon is still intact, it would be nearly impossible to find as very few vessels can make it down that far.

5. 1966: B-52 crashes into KC-135, four thermonuclear bombs are released over Spain

US Air Force nuclear H bomb radioactive contamination Spain
A US soldier looks through material found after a B-52 bomber collided with a tanker plane during aerial refueling, January 17, 1966.

On January 17, 1966 a B-52 was approaching a KC-135 for refueling when the bomber struck the tanker, igniting a fireball that killed the crew of the KC-135 and three men on the B-52.

The plane and its four B28 thermonuclear bombs fell near a small fishing village in Spain, Palomares. Three were recovered in the first 24 hours after the crash. One had landed safely while two had experienced detonations of their conventional explosives. The explosions ignited and scattered the plutonium in the missiles, contaminating two square kilometers.

The fourth bomb was sighted plunging into the ocean by a fisherman. Despite the eyewitness account, it took the Navy nearly 100 days to locate and retrieve the weapon.

6. 1968: B-52 crashes and a weapon is lost under the Arctic ice

Like the Palomares crash, the January 21 crash of a B-52 resulted in four B28 bombs being released. This time it was over Greenland and at least three of the bombs broke apart.

Investigators recovered most of these components before realizing they had found nothing of the fourth bomb. A blackened patch of ice was identified with parachute shroud lines frozen within it.

Recovery crew speculated that either the primary or secondary stage of the bomb began burning after the crash and melted the ice. The rest of the bomb then plunged through the Arctic water and sank. The weapon is still missing, presumed irrecoverable.

7. 1968: The sinking of the USS Scorpion

USS Scorpion
USS Scorpion.

The USS Scorpion, a nuclear-powered attack submarine, was declared presumed lost on June 5, 1968. The loss was especially troubling for the Navy since the boat had been following a Russian research group just before its disappearance.

At the time it was lost, the Scorpion was carrying two Mark 45 antisubmarine torpedoes (ASTOR). The wreckage would not be found until October 1968. The USS Scorpion is still on the floor of the Atlantic under 3,000 meters of water and the cause of the sinking remains unknown. The torpedo room appears to be intact with the two nuclear torpedoes in position, but the Navy can’t tell for sure.

Recovery of the torpedoes would be extremely challenging, so the Navy monitors radiation levels in the area instead. So far, there has been no signs of leakage from torpedoes or the reactor.

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A US F-15C fighter jet recently fired the longest air-to-air missile ‘kill’ shot in Air Force history

F-15C fires missile at Eglin Air Force Base
An F-15C fires a missile near Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

  • A US Air Force F-15C scored the longest “kill” shot ever recorded in a recent test.
  • The fighter took out a BQ-167 aerial target drone in March at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.
  • The Air Force did not disclose the distance, as that information could be valuable to adversaries.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A US Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter fired the longest known air-to-air “kill” shot to date in a recent test, the service said Wednesday.

The fighter fired an AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) at a BQ-167 target drone and scored a “kill” from the farthest distance ever recorded during testing at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida in March, the 53rd Wing said in a statement.

US  Air Force F-15Cs
US Air Force F-15Cs.

The wing did not say exactly what the distance was, as that information could be valuable to adversaries, particularly given ongoing efforts by US rivals to develop long-range air-to-air missiles for improved standoff in air-to-air combat.

The weapon that was fired during the testing last month was an AIM-120D, the latest version of an all-weather, beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile that first entered service in the early 1990s, a wing spokesperson told Insider.

It is unclear if the weapon or aircraft involved in the test were modified in any way.

The Air Force plans to eventually replace the AMRAAM with a weapon called the AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile, a longer-range air-to-air missile expected to be able to better compete with some of the systems developed by US rivals, such as China’s PL-15 missile.

The Air Force is also pursuing other lines of effort as America’s competitors do the same.

A US Air Force F-16 firing an AIM-120 AMRAAM over the gulf near Eglin AFB
A US Air Force F-16 fires an AIM-120 AMRAAM over the Gulf of Mexico near Eglin Air Force Base.

The aircraft used to launch the missile is a venerable combat platform that has served the US Air Force for decades. An F-15 has never been shot down in air-to-air combat, according to the Air Force.

But the average age of the Air Force’s legacy F-15C/D fighters is almost 40 years, and about 75% of the fleet is flying past its service life.

The Air Force intends to steadily replace all of these fighter aircraft with either the fifth-generation F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter or the advanced fourth-generation F-15 Eagle II, previously known as the F-15EX. The service received its first new Eagle in March.

Air Force F-15EX fighter jet
The F-15EX, the Air Force’s newest fighter, arrives at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, March 11, 2021.

The long-range “kill” shot by a legacy F-15 in March was part of efforts to develop “long range kill chain” capabilities.

The test was carried out by the 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron in partnership with the 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron.

The test “exercised existing long-range weapons testing infrastructure and laid the ground work for modernizing range capabilities in support of future long-range weapons testing on the Eglin-Gulf Test and Training Range,” the 53rd Wing said in its statement.

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Poland is buying 5 cargo planes out of the US Air Force’s ‘boneyard’

US Air Force C-130H
Airmen from the Wyoming Air National Guard prepare a C-130H for a mission out of Cheyenne, Wyoming, February 27, 2019.

  • Poland is buying five C-130H Hercules aircraft out of the “Boneyard” in the Arizona desert.
  • The aircraft will be partially retrofitted with new equipment, made flightworthy, and flown to Poland.
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The Armament Inspectorate of the Polish Ministry of Defense published a release stating that an intergovernmental agreement has been signed on April 12, 2021, concerning the delivery of five C-130H airlifters to Poland.

The deal is a part of the Excess Defense Articles grant program. The aircraft would be partially retrofitted with new equipment, made flightworthy, and then they would fly to Poland.

The agreement has a relatively low value – USD $14.3 million. The US side, the Polish MoD reports, assumes that five C-130H airframes that the Polish Air Force would receive. They are worth $60 million, as per the US quote. The deliveries would be finalized by mid-2024, with the first aircraft arriving this year.

According to the Polish MoD, the aircraft procured rolled off the production line in 1985 and then were decommissioned in 2017. After that, they were stored at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group facility (AMARG) in Tucson, Arizona. The above makes them 15 years younger than the C-130s currently operated by the Polish Air Force.

The technical status of the aircraft was assessed during the so-called Joint Visual Inspection procedure. It took place at AMARG in Tucson, stated the Inspectorate. The cost of the transfer to Poland was also a subject of this process.

C-130 Hercules takeoff landing gear
An Illinois Air National Guard C-130 Hercules takes off at Fort Carson in Colorado, September 12, 2016.

Then, after the transfer, the aircraft would undergo the periodic, scheduled maintenance (Programmed Depot Maintenance – PDM) at the WZL Nr 2 S.A. facility in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Bydgoszcz is also going to be the place where extra equipment, as required by the Polish Air Force, would be fitted onto the aircraft. Then the airframes are expected to become a part of the inventory of the 33rd Airlift Base in Powidz.

It has been pointed out by the experts that both the engines, as well as the propellers, along with the avionics, may need to be upgraded. What upgrades would be done within that scope remains unclear. However, to make the acquisition reasonable, the AMARG restoration work should also include an upgrade similar to the ones carried out in case of the ANG aircraft: a set of new T-56 Rolls Royce 3.5 engines and NP2000 eight-bladed propellers with electronic controls.

The PGZ Group’s WZL facility in Bydgoszcz provides the Polish Air Force with a relevant maintenance capability regarding the Hercules.

The Polish MoD was putting the airlift capability enhancements in the modernization plans – the procurement was designated as the Drop program. It involved Leonardo S.p.A., Airbus Defence & Space, Embraer, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing, but it was ultimately suspended in July last year. It seems that Poland went with second-hand airframes to serve as an intermediary gap-filler solution.

Krzysztof Płatek, spokesman for the Armament Inspectorate told us that the Drop program is to follow a schedule that is confidential. Procurement of the AMARG C-130s would diminish the pressure caused by deadlines and time.

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The B-52 is getting new wheels and brakes as part of Air Force’s effort to keep it flying for decades

Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar
A pair of US Air Force B-52 bombers taxi after landing at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, April 9, 2016.

  • The Air Force’s plan to keep the B-52 flying into the 2050s includes numerous upgrades to the bomber.
  • As part of that effort, the service has awarded a contract for the design and development of a new wheel and brake for the aircraft.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

With the US Air Force‘s plan to keep the long-range B-52 Stratofortress flying into the 2050s, the venerable, Cold War-era bomber is going to need new brakes and wheels.

The service selected Collins Aerospace, part of Raytheon Technologies, to design and develop a new wheel and brake for the bomber, and to retrofit 77 new brake and wheel combinations, including spares provisioning, the company said Wednesday.

To increase the brakes’ wear life, the company will use its carbon heat sink material known as DURACARB, which provides “increased thermal absorption” as the aircraft slows and brakes on the runway during a landing, explained Matthew Maurer, vice president and general manager of military programs, landing and mechanical systems.

“Today, the aircraft uses the steel brake, and we’re going to be replacing that with a carbon brake,” Maurer said in an interview Monday.

The new brake-wheel combination “is going to allow for longer intervals between brake overhauls or longer intervals between inspections on the wheels,” he added. “We anticipate being through the design and development phase and supporting flight testing by 2023, and then [retrofitting] the fleet by 2026.”

Air Force maintainers will work alongside engineers to learn how to change or update the system; Maurer said the service will run the schedule, choosing which bombers will receive the first upgrades. Collins did not publicize the cost of the contract award.

Air Force B-52 wheels
Airmen drag chocks alongside a B-52 at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, February 28, 2017.

The Air Force already uses the DURACARB system on the C-130 Hercules, F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-15 Eagle. The new wheel is rated for 12,500 miles, a major upgrade from just 1,500 miles for the B-52’s current brake system, Maurer said.

The Air Force is also nearing a decision on procuring new B-52 engines.

The service has been pushing for a major engine overhaul for the bomber fleet for years. In 2017, an engine fell off a B-52 while the aircraft was flying over North Dakota. Each aircraft currently has eight Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-3/103 turbofan engines.

Three companies are in the running to replace the engines: Pratt & Whitney, which is a Raytheon Technologies’ company; General Electric; and Rolls-Royce. But while the Air Force issued a request for proposal, or RFP, last May, it has delayed issuing a contract award.

In 2019, lawmakers insisted that service officials nail down contract specifics before they would provide funding. That year, the Air Force estimated it would spend around $1.3 billion through 2024 on work related to the re-engining.

The RFP stipulated a total of 608 engines for its 76-aircraft fleet.

While officials have said there has been no delay, the service has still not committed to an official award date.

Gen. Tim Ray, head of Air Force Global Strike Command, said in February that it’s “too early” to determine whether the award will be announced in June – the original projected contract announcement time frame.

Air Force B-52 Anderson Guam
A B-52H at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam for a Bomber Task Force deployment, February 8, 2021.

“We should have this summer the answers back from the competitors to be considered,” Ray said during the Air Force Association’s virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium. “And so then, from that process, we’ll go from there.

“This is not being [dragged] out,” he said, as reported by Defense News. “It is on time. In fact, it is several years early.”

He said that digital prototyping, or simulating parts via computer models, has begun on the companies’ side, which could shorten the engine production time.

The planes are among the oldest in the Air Force. Three generations of airmen have flown the B-52 in combat, from Vietnam to Afghanistan; the final bomber rolled off the production line in 1962.

The B-52 has been prominent in missions such as Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, as well as the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Affectionately known as Big Ugly Fat Fellow, or BUFF, B-52s have been on rotation for the service’s Bomber Task Force, or BTF, missions over the past year, part of the Pentagon’s larger “dynamic force employment” strategy.

As part of the BTFs, the service sends out two to four bombers for units to test how nimbly they can move from place to place.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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23 terms only fighter pilots understand

US Air Force F-35 pilot cockpit
An F-35 student pilot climbs into an F-35 at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, July 7, 2017.

If you’ve ever hung out with military aviators (or watched movies like “Top Gun” or “Iron Eagle”) you know they tend to use a lot of strange lingo when they talk, even when they’re out of the cockpit. Trying to hold a conversation with them can be tough – until now.

WATM presents this handy list of fighter speak that will help keep that social interaction going, which is important because fighter guys have a lot of wisdom to put out and it would be a shame if it got lost in translation.

So here’s the gouge . . . er, here you go:

1. ‘Angels’

Altitude in thousand of feet. (“Angels 3” is 3,000 feet.)

2. ‘Cherubs’

Altitude in hundreds of feet. (“Cherubs 3” is 300 feet.)

3. ‘Bandit’

A known bad guy.

4. ‘Bogey’

An unknown radar contact.

5. ‘Bent’

If a piece of gear is inop it is “bent.” (“Giantkiller, be advised my radar is bent.”)

Air Force fighter pilot
A US airman photographs himself and a three-ship formation of F-15Es, August 3, 2006.

6. ‘Bingo’

Low fuel status or direction to head for the divert field. (“Lobo is bingo fuel,” or “Ghostrider, your signal is bingo.”)

7. ‘Blind’

Wingman not in sight.

8. ‘Delta’

Change to a later time, either minutes or hours depending on the context. (“Delta 10 on your recovery time” means the jet is now scheduled to land 10 minutes later.)

9. ‘Firewall’

Push the throttles to their forward limit. (“I had that bitch firewalled, and I still couldn’t get away from that SAM ring.”)

10. ‘Buster’

Direction to go as fast as possible. (“Diamondback, your signal is buster to mother.”)

Air Force F-22 Alaska
A US Air Force pilot climbs aboard an F-22 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, March 24, 2016.

11. ‘Bug’

Exit a dogfight rapidly. (“Gucci is on the bug.”)

12. ‘Fragged’

An indication that the airplane is loaded weapons-wise according to the mission order. (“Devil 201 is on station as fragged.”)

13. ‘Grape’

A pilot who’s an easy kill in a dogfight.

14. ‘Naked’

Radar warning gear without indication of a missile threat.

15. ‘Punch out’

To eject from an airplane.

f22
A pilot gets situated in his F-22 at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.

16. ‘RTB’

Return to base. (“Big Eye, Eagle 301 is RTB.”)

17. ‘Spiked’

Um, not that “spike.” The real “spiked” is an indication of a missile threat on the radar warning receiver. (“Rooster has an SA-6 spike at three o’clock.”)

18. ‘Tally’

Enemy in sight (as opposed to “visual,” which means friendly in sight). (“Nuke is tally two bandits, four o’clock low.”)

19. ‘Texaco’

Either a label for the tanker or direction to go to the tanker. (“Gypsy, Texaco is at your one o’clock for three miles, level,” or “Gypsy, your signal is Texaco.”)

20. ‘Nose hot/cold’

Usually used around the tanker pattern, an indication that the radar is or isn’t transmitting.

US Air Force Greece
A US Air Force pilot prepares for a mission at Andravida Air Base in Greece, April 1, 2019.

21. ‘Vapes’

The condensation cloud created when an airplane pulls a lot of Gs. (“Man, I came into the break and was vaping like a big dog.”)

22. ‘Visual’

Wingman (or other friendly) in sight (as opposed to “tally,” which means enemy in sight). (“Weezer, you got me?” “Roger, Weezer is visual.”)

23. ‘Winchester’

Out of weapons. (“Tomcat 102 is winchester and RTB.”)

Bonus 1: ‘G-LOC’

“G-induced loss of consciousness.” (Not good when at the controls of a fighter traveling at high speed at low altitude.)

Bonus 2. ‘The Funky Chicken’

“The Funky Chicken” is what aviators call the involuntary movements that happen during G-LOC.

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The US Air Force says the Valkyrie drone launched another drone in a first for the aircraft

The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrates the separation of the ALTIUS-600 small UAS in a test at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground test range, Arizona on March 26, 2021
The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrates separation of the ALTIUS-600 small UAS in a test at the US Army Yuma Proving Ground test range in Arizona, March 26, 2021

  • The Air Force Research Laboratory conducted its sixth test of the Valkyrie drone in late March.
  • During the test, the drone launched a smaller drone from its internal weapons bay.
  • The Air Force is looking at Valkyrie as an autonomous UAV that could support manned aircraft.
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A Valkyrie drone launched another drone during a recent flight test, the Air Force Research Laboratory announced Monday.

The XQ-58A Valkyrie is a long-range unmanned aerial vehicle capable of high subsonic speeds. It was built by Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) program and first flew on March 5, 2019.

The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle completed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona
The XQ-58A demonstrator completed its inaugural flight at Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona on March 5, 2019.

During its sixth flight test on March 26, 2021, the aircraft conducted its first payload release from its internal weapons bay, launching an Area-I ALTIUS-600 small unmanned aircraft system.

The Air Force is looking at relatively inexpensive, expendable drones like the Valkyrie as potential artificial-intelligence-driven autonomous platforms that could fly alongside and support manned fighter aircraft. This is the major focus of the Skyborg program.

The Air Force’s Skyborg project, for which Kratos, Boeing, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems are developing prototypes, is about fielding autonomous unmanned systems that will “enable the Air Force to operate and sustain low-cost, teamed aircraft that can thwart adversaries with quick, decisive actions in contested environments,” the service says.

The smaller, tube-launched autonomous ALTIUS-600 drones provide additional support in the form of intelligence gathering and reconnaissance, counter-drone, electronic-warfare, and strike capabilities.

An XQ-58A Valkyrie low-cost unmanned aerial vehicle launches at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., Dec. 9, 2020
An XQ-58A launches at the US Army Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, December 9, 2020.

The recent Valkyrie test was not only the first time the payload doors have been opened in flight, Alyson Turri, the demonstration program manager, said in a statement, but this time the XQ-58A drone also flew higher and faster than it has in previous tests.

The recent test followed the Valkyrie drone’s fifth flight test in December, which involved the aircraft flying alongside Air Force F-22 and F-35A fighters and a Marine Corps F-35B.

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor and F-35A Lightning II fly in formation with the XQ-58A Valkyrie low-cost unmanned aerial vehicle over the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground testing range, Ariz., during a series of tests Dec. 9, 2020
An F-22 and F-35A with an XQ-58A over the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona during tests, December 9, 2020.

The rocket-launched Valkyrie drone conducted a semi-autonomous flight while carrying a gatewayONE payload built to allow the different fifth-generation aircraft to communicate, though the communication tool lost connectivity shortly after the aircraft took off.

Despite the connectivity problem during the testing in December, the Air Force was able to overcome the digital security barriers to allow the F-22’s Intra-Flight Data Link and F-35’s Multifunctional Advanced Data Link to communicate and transmit data, demonstrating some of the possibilities for this technology.

The Air Force Research Laboratory said that the most recent Valkyrie drone test, which like past tests was conducted at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona and supported by Kratos and Area-I, “further demonstrates the utility of affordable, high performance unmanned air vehicles.”

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3 things you might not know about the vaunted F-15 fighter jet

f 15
US Air Force F-15C Eagles over the island of Okinawa during a solar eclipse.

  • The F-15 has been a workhorse for the US Air Force for more than 40 years.
  • Newer, more sophisticated jets have joined the service in that time, but the F-15 has a few features that keep it in high demand.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Mcdonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle and its subsequent variants have served as America’s workhorse intercept fighters for over 40 years.

For a short time, it seemed as though the F-15 would fade into history as it was being replaced by its stealthy successor, the F-22 Raptor. But the F-22 program ended and its supply chain was cannibalized to support F-35 production.

America’s relatively small fleet of fifth generation air superiority fighters isn’t large enough to replace the venerable F-15. Instead, Uncle Sam has agreed to purchase more fourth generation F-15s to replace those quickly aging out of service.

So what is it about the F-15 that’s so special that America’s Air Force can’t seem to get enough of them? Quite a bit, actually.

It’s the fastest fighter jet in America’s arsenal

f-15 eagle afghanistan

Although the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter tends to garner most of the headlines, the F-15Cs and F-15Ds currently run by the US Air Force actually beat out the F-35 in a handful of crucial air-combat metrics.

The F-35, it’s important to note, wasn’t designed to serve as a dedicated dog fighter: It was built to engage ground targets primarily. The F-15, on the other hand, was designed from the ground up to go toe to toe with the best Soviet fighters in the sky – and back then Russian fighters were really something to be feared.

The F-15’s top speed, of slightly over Mach 2.4 or 1,875 mph, is the subject of a bit of debate, as many claim the powerful fighter can go even faster. Either way, it leaves platforms like the F-35 – with a top speed of just 1,230 mph or so – in its dust.

Even the top-of-the-line F-22 can only achieve Mach 2.2. This gives the F-15 the crown of America’s fastest fighter jet.

It’s got serious range

F-15C Eagle refueling during deterrence patrol
A F-15C Eagle during aerial refueling.

While the US Navy struggles to find ways to increase the operational range of its carrier-based F/A-18 Super Hornets and F-35C Joint Strike Fighters to stretch carrier ops further away from Chinese anti-ship ship missiles, the Air Force’s F-15s are boasting around three times the range of their Navy peers when flying with their three external fuel tanks.

In total, the F-15 can cover around 3,000 nautical miles without needing to refuel. Thanks to its inflight refueling capabilities, it could feasibly even stay airborne and in the fight for as long as the pilot, and its ordnance, last.

It’s got a perfect combat record

US Air Force F-15 Eagle
An F-15 Eagle fires an AIM-7 Sparrow medium range air-to-air missile.

Despite being in operation for over four decades and serving in the air forces of not just the United States, but also Japan, Israel, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Qatar, no F-15 has ever been shot down by an opposing force.

Unlike the F-35 and F-22, which rely on stealth to avoid detection and therefore, engagement, the F-15 has never been sneaky.

Without stealth to protect the aircraft from opposing fighters or ground-based air defenses, F-15 pilots have had to rely on tactics, skill and speed to outmaneuver or entirely avoid enemy contact.

This article was originally published on January 2, 2020.

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