Tag Archives: Air Force

New Air Force Unit Focuses Funding On Small Business For Mobile APP Development

Image: US Air Force


In a move that could put software factory BESPIN (Business and Enterprise Systems Product Innovation) center stage, the Air Force has been forced to consider its mobile future in addressing its telework needs.

BESPIN works with a $17 million budget — $14 million from SBIRs and $3 million from the Air Force budget.


“I think the COVID situation has actually helped to highlight the fact that the Air Force has no mobile capabilities,” Lt. Col. Paul Cooper, BESPIN’s CEO, told FCW.

“We’re hoping that translates to budget allocation so that we can go out and build an organic mobile development capability,” Cooper said.

BESPIN’s acronym is yet another Defense Department Star Wars reference — the name of a gas planet that’s home to Cloud City. It followed in the path of Kessel Run, a pioneering Dev Ops program at USAF (also a Star Wars namecheck). BESPIN got its start with just a five airmen in 2018, according to Master Sgt. James Crocker, BESPIN’s CTO and lab director.

“Let’s take a few airmen, let’s lock them in a closet off base — literally like a closet, it was a really small room — find some problem sets, throw them at y’all see what you can do,” Crocker told FCW of the early days.

The first problem was taking the task of ordering of parts and putting it in a mobile device, reducing the protocol to six screens and nine button clicks in six weeks from idea to prototype.

BESPIN now boasts near 100 personnel – double its size from just September 2019 – and are working on 14 development efforts, 12 applications and two platforms. But the timelines for those projects could accelerate because of current needs.

BESPIN is also hoping to scale its mobile interface used by maintainers to order parts to the entire Air Force by 2023.

“Right now as we built this out, we realized that there was a lot of other hurdles and everything that we had to go through from the Air Force policy to getting access, remote access via iPads,” Cooper said of the project, adding that they were still wrestling with mobile platform access and legacy system challenges.

The group also wants to scale capabilities, such as mobile-delivery-as-a-service, its enterprise mobile and business platform which hosts applications and improve delivery times and help deliver on that mobile workforce.

Wake up call

“The Air Force has a tsunami of mobile requirements coming and we’ve started to do that. But the problem is is there’s not been really a budget allocated to going out and standing this up,” Cooper said.

But the trick is getting senior leadership bought in. Crocker said he’s frequently made the pitch, but it’s a hard sell because the assumption is that mobile capabilities exist in the Air Force — just as they do in the civilian world — and are cheap to make.

Andrew Hoog, founder of NowSecure, which specializes in automated mobile security testing, told FCW “traditional controls that have been in place to go test web apps or traditional apps are simply not effective testing mobile apps. It’s a different architecture…there’s a whole bunch of sensors that sit on your phone and they don’t sit behind firewalls.”

NowSecure partners with BESPIN to run automatic security testing on the apps it builds. The company was one of the first to be awarded an Small Business Innovation Research contract, and later a follow-on contract, via one of the Air Force’s first Pitch Day in 2019 to support continuous mobile security testing for BESPIN. The result was taking the company’s off-the-shelf product and tweaking it for the Air Force’s needs.

“Mobile basically runs the economy now. To a large degree, the federal government and DOD have been left behind those waves of mobile innovation because of stringent security requirements,” Brian Reed, NowSecure’s chief mobility officer told FCW.

But getting the Air Force to scale its mobile efforts will require a policy shift — including subverting the notion that mobile devices are inherently unsafe.

Jason Howe, the Air Force’s CTO and chief cloud architect for manpower, personnel and services (A1) said as much during a May 11 panel discussion on identity management.

“In the DOD, I truly believe that if we can start securely authenticating users on their personal mobile devices to interact with A1 systems on government devices to interact with A1 systems, that we will see growth occur. But you’ve got to get past that first step,” Howe said.

And that comes down to culture and policy.

“Policy doesn’t reflect mobile capabilities,” Crocker said, such as “how we secure and vet DOD-owned data versus public data. If we publish an application that’s a government-only application and our men and women our airmen download it and they put government data on there and there’s a breach between the two, that phone is now compromised. And so those, those capabilities are major hurdles to [bringing] your own approved device.”


Air Force Category Management: Spend Intelligently, Not Just By Year’s End



Again, and again, the Air Force has found that the most important lever for spending efficiency is managing demand.

Redirecting demand to substitute products can end inefficient processes and produce human and monetary resource savings


“When the Air Force identified fire protection suits as a target for better management, the priority was improving firefighter safety by standardizing equipment. Market analysis had revealed that assembling fire protection ensembles using boots, helmets, gloves and suits bought from different suppliers was a safety problem. It took more training to learn to properly use equipment from different manufacturers, and that opened the possibility for dangerous errors. Mismatched pieces also could expose firefighters’ skin to chemicals and burns.

Buying from a Defense Logistics Agency contract wound up costing more than necessary because the Air Force wasn’t aggregating its demand. Pricing was based on orders from individual bases rather than on the average of 5,000 ensembles bought every year for 10,500 firefighters Air Force-wide.

Benchmarking fire departments in New York and California showed that they buy standard suits for all their firefighters and develop longstanding relationships with the suppliers. So, Air Force firefighters narrowed down their requirements to an overall ensemble configuration. That led to a reduction from 109 to 14 contract line items and 14 contracts to nine—one for chem-bio boots, five for ensemble pieces, and three for suit care and support. The changes saved $1.1 million in fiscal 2018, alone.’

Now, an Air Force directive has made these contracts mandatory, so savings should increase, releasing more funds to buy protective suits and to move to other critical readiness requirements.

In the Air Force’s best-in-class business approach to category management, contracts aren’t the main event. In fact, while the strategy rarely leaves current practice unaltered, it doesn’t always end with changed or new contracts.

Instead, Air-Force-style category management delivers a range of demand-shaping, policy and process improvements aimed at achieving desired outcomes, saving on outlays and redirecting resources to increase readiness and lethality.

Even when category management is focused on improving solutions, it also saves money and improves processes.

The Air Force category management approach can wring efficiency from a mammoth contract like the General Service Administration’s IT Schedule 70.

Agencies come to IT 70 with their individual buys and often end up paying higher prices than they could be. When a company sees an order for 50 printers, it has no idea or expectation that tomorrow another order for 50 or 100 is coming, so it prices according to 50. The Air Force sought to harness the full power of having a bigger contract.

It created a computing blanket purchase agreement (BPA) on IT 70. Every six months, the Air Force puts its entire client computing demand up for bid on the BPA and provides the winner all the Air Force orders for the following six months. The Air Force gives bidders its historical spend data. Eyeing that demand, contractors sharpen their pencils and might even take a loss in the first three months, planning to make it up plus more in the next three because they are confident the orders will be there.

Redirecting demand to substitute products can end inefficient processes and produce human and monetary resource savings, as demonstrated in the case of taxiway lighting. Air Force airfield taxiways need to be lighted at night, and they require a lot of light bulbs. The Air Force was using incandescent bulbs in taxiway fixtures, and they often burned out. Every time one did, a civil engineering troop had to drive a truck out to change the bulb.

Those out-and-backs were creating big manpower and materiel costs. Bases were spending an enormous amount on lighting, not even accounting for the cost of electricity. Shifting demand to substitute LEDs for incandescent bulbs increased bulb life expectancy 100 times, reduced electricity costs by 60%, achieved off-the-charts civil engineering process cost reduction, and is on track to save $4.7 million over 10 years.

Improving outdated or inefficient policies, as in the case of an Air Force elevator maintenance directive, can produce impressive savings by itself. With every base handling its own elevator maintenance contracts, the Air Force Installations Contracting Center (AFICC) had expected that imposing one big contract would be the right way to generate savings. But it turned out that the Air Force hadn’t updated its elevator maintenance policy in 30 or 40 years, even though elevator technology had evolved significantly.

The policy required monthly and quarterly inspections. Because it was an Air Force directive, no base could deviate from it. It wasn’t that costs were so out of line, it was that the policy, and thus the requirement, was out of date. So, AFICC wrote a standardized requirement based on current private sector best practice—some elevators now self-report when they need repairs, for example—and collapsed maintenance costs by 27%.

Follow the Air Force Model

In 2018, then-Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan directed the other military services to adopt the Air Force’s business-oriented category management approach.

Now, the Army is standing up five categories for an Army-wide program and category management is the number two priority for Army acquisition. AFICC is helping the Defense Health Agency and other federal organizations apply the Air Force approach. Air Force category managers also are cooperating with those leading the governmentwide program.

Government-wide category management performance measures such as increasing spend under management (SUM) and moving up the governmentwide program’s tiers of SUM can be important metrics for some purposes, but they don’t change incentives. They won’t help reinvest money from support to mission. They won’t add rigor to focus category management on the spending that will produce the greatest return on investment, and they won’t correct the mistaken belief that a bigger contract is always better.

By tracking the savings from reducing common spending and apportioning those dollars to successful category management practitioners, the Air Force is attempting to move the incentives from “spend all your money on time” to “spend as intelligently as possible.” With help from financial managers, those who take a business approach like the Air Force’s to category management will be able to free up cash flow to invest in mission capabilities.

The United States must move faster than our adversaries can keep up. This requires thinking critically and seeking mission-focused business opportunities. The Air Force example demonstrates that aligning incentives and protecting and encouraging disruptive thinkers and actors can spread exceptional outcomes governmentwide.”

GSA, Air Force Open Bidding For $5.5Billion 2nd Generation IT Contract



The five-year contract will be split among five line item categories: data center, end user, network, radio equipment, and order level material.

The contract is open to all federal, state, local and tribal agencies “to purchase IT, security, and law enforcement products and services offered through specific Schedule contracts.” GSA will award spots on the contract to several vendors that those agencies can purchase from.”

“The General Services Administration, on behalf of the Air Force, kicked off a multiple-award acquisition this week that could be worth up to $5.5 billion.

Last fall, GSA and the Air Force announced their intent to create a blanket purchase agreement to provide hardware, software and IT services to replace the expiring NETCENTS-2 contract with one called 2nd Generation IT (2GIT).

In a presolicitation document, GSA said it estimates spending of between $850 million and $1.1 billion on the contract annually. Public solicitation documents did not reveal if that estimate has changed.

In a message on GSA’s Interact website, the agency champions the savings the BPA will drive governmentwide. “The forthcoming 2GIT BPAs will provide the Government a fast and effective way to order IT hardware and software commodities, ancillary supplies and services at discounted prices with prompt, cost-effective delivery, while capturing economies of scale, fostering markets for sustainable technologies and environmentally preferable products, while simplifying data collection.”

GSA will host a virtual conference on the solicitation March 14 to answer questions from industry. Bids are due by April 18.”


Air Force Teams With GSA For $5.5B ‘2nd Generation IT’ Contract


Communication Airman literarily communicates passion

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tessa B. Corrick)


“Acquisition officials held an industry day Wednesday in Atlanta to discuss the 2nd Generation Information Technology (2GIT) contract, which they said is currently targeted for award early 2019 and will replace the Air Force’s primary IT contracts, the Network-Centric Solutions-2 (NETCENTS-2).”

“The General Services Administration and the Air Force are teaming up for a new five-year, $5.5 billion contract to provide IT capabilities to the military service.

“We need your feedback. This is a big effort for us,” said Charles Wingate, branch manager of GSA’s IT Commodity Program.

The 2GIT contract is a blanket purchase agreement that will provide IT hardware and software commodities, including services, to Department of Defense and Air Force, as well as federal, state, local, regional and tribal governments buying from GSA’s IT Schedule 70 program.

GSA officials said 2GIT would provide agencies with five BPA pools to draw from — allowing them to procure data center equipment, end-user hardware like laptops and tablets, network and radio equipment, plus a total solutions pool for vendors who can provide all four line items on a single BPA  — to help secure IT hardware and software at a discounted rate.

In each pool, vendors will have an opportunity at what officials called an open competition for what could be between three to five BPA awards, or perhaps more depending on the feedback GSA receives on the draft solicitation.

Alongside the broad buying power that the contract can provide, acquisition officials are also calling for vendors to demonstrate stronger supply chain risk management, namely through better reporting of vendors’ suppliers.

Because NETCENTS-2 is set to expire next year, GSA officials are planning to release a formal request for proposals by February, followed by a scheduled award to take place in April or May.

The contract is expected to have a 12-month base period, followed by four 12-month option periods.

Interested stakeholders have until Nov. 7 to submit questions. GSA officials said Wednesday they anticipate holding another 2GIT industry day in March.”


‘Different Spanks for Different Ranks’


Mil Justice Washington Times

Image: Washington Times


“The Air Force has never tried a single general officer by court-martial in its entire history, suggesting it shows higher-ranking personnel face different standards of punishment.

Four-star Gen. William “Kip” Ward, who misused thousands of taxpayer dollars was paid over $200,000 annually for two years to wait on the completion of an investigation that would quietly end his career and retire him as a lieutenant general, without a public airing of the charges against him.”

” Indeed, courts-martial for flag and general officers in all four services are exceedingly rare, particularly in recent history.

“I think we do have a problem with different spanks for different ranks,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, said in a Feb. 7 hearing into misconduct by senior military leaders, held by the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee. “As I understand it, there have been 70,000 courts-martial in the Air Force, for instance, and not one general officer has ever been court-martialed.” Her observation is technically true, as famed air power pioneer Billy Mitchell was administratively reduced in the Army Air Corps from brigadier general to colonel before his 1925 court-martial for insubordination. Mitchell’s trial was born not of salacious personal misconduct, but of his fiery, scathing critiques of the war department for not advancing the cause of air power with sufficient vigor. How times have changed: Mitchell was tried and convicted for advocating too fervently for his service. In modern days, admirals and generals are far more likely to be punished for corruption, graft, and sex crimes.

While Speier focused her ire on the Air Force, she also cited two former Army generals ― Maj. Gen. Ron Lewis, who used his government credit card at strip clubs in Rome and Seoul, and four-star Gen. William “Kip” Ward, who misused thousands of taxpayer dollars, borrowed military aircraft for personal use, and had staff members run personal errands for him. But while both officers lost a star ― and Ward was ordered to repay $82,000 ― neither was tried by court-martial. Speier omitted the recent, infamous cases of retired Maj. Gen. James Grazioplene, who was recalled from retirement to stand trial by court-martial for sexual assault offenses alleged to have occurred from 1983 to 1989; and Brig. Gen. Jeff Sinclair, charged with forcible sodomy and other charges related to fraternization. Sinclair pled guilty and was sentenced to a fine and a reprimand, then allowed to retired as a lieutenant colonel. Interestingly, Grazioplene’s prosecution will likely end on statute-of-limitation grounds, thanks to a recent landmark opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

“A junior enlisted would get prosecuted” for doing what Lewis did, Speier said. Turning to Ward’s offenses, she said, “That’s theft, and under normal circumstances, that would be subject to a court-martial. One of the things that I would like to do…is that we take the time to make sure that everyone is being treated fairly in the military.” Speier omitted that Ward spent 24 months in limbo during the Department of Defense Inspector General’s Investigation as the “Special Assistant to the Army Vice Chief of Staff” – a do-nothing job with no official duties. Ward was paid over $200,000 annually for two years to wait on the completion of an investigation that would quietly end his career and retire him as a lieutenant general, without a public airing of the charges against him. That is certainly good work, if you can get it.

But Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris, the Air Force’s inspector general, disagreed. She said the Air Force’s data don’t show a disparity in punishments, and declared, “We hold our officers, actually, to a higher standard of accountability.”

Speier and Harris are both right. Officers are, from selection and throughout their careers, held to much higher standards than enlisted personnel, particularly those in the lowest ranks. But more senior personnel are also accorded special treatment and do, in fact, avoid punishments for acts that, if performed by a junior enlisted member, would certainly result in trial by court-martial and often confinement, if convicted.

During ordinary times — that is, when the armed services are not desperate for personnel because of a war―it is difficult to receive a commission, but it is easy to enlist. The military institution needs vastly more enlisted personnel. There are recruiting centers all across the country, with recruiters under heavy pressure to meet monthly quotas. Would-be officers, meanwhile, must compete actively for service academy appointments, ROTC slots, and the like. An appointment is no guarantee of a commission; Marine Corps Officer Candidates School boasts a typical 36 percent attrition rate, a figure that shows how seriously the Corps takes the award. Similarly, the promotion process actively tries to pare the officer ranks, with a brutal cut of 30 to 40 percent of the entire cohort at the selection point for major/lieutenant commander around the ten-year mark; enlisted soldiers can easily serve the 20 years to retirement if they’re marginally competent and refrain from major violations of the UCMJ.

Officers and senior NCOs are treated like professionals, whereas junior enlisted are treated almost like children. If a private is a few minutes late to work, all hell breaks loose. If a sergeant or captain is late, it is quite possible nobody will even notice since they typically don’t have a reporting formation. Even if a supervisor notices, they’ll much more readily accept normal “life happens” explanations―sick kid, stuck in traffic, and the like―in view of the responsibility the NCO and officer shoulder on behalf of the institution, and the fact NCOs and officers often work hours long past the time the troops have headed to the enlisted club, planning training and exercises, writing performance evaluations and awards, and studying their profession.

The more senior the soldier, the more they are held to high professional standards. They are expected to know their craft and set the right example for their subordinates. But they are also given much more credit for their past service and more benefit of the doubt for transgressions. Commanders, quite rightly, do not want to end the career of a good soldier, officer or enlisted, after 15 or 20 years of honorable service. Doing so would be not only demoralizing to subordinates, who will be signalled that their contributions, too, will be dismissed if they make one mistake, but the penalty is simply more harsh as time goes on―loss of retirement pay and the end of a chosen career.

For example, one of the authors of this piece was involved in a misconduct case years ago in Iraq: a violation of General Order 1 regarding the consumption of alcohol. Seven lieutenants from a single squadron slated for redeployment celebrated a couple days too early by getting drunk in their quarters on a major U.S.airbase. These seven officers had accumulated scores of Air Medals and Strike/Flight numerals, and had hundreds of hours of combat flight time between them. They were the future of Marine combat aviation in their aircraft type. If the general officer deciding their fate had applied the same standard as he would have a lance corporal in that circumstance, he would have robbed the Corps of a major fraction of a generation of combat aviation expertise. Instead, he took the seven lieutenants to nonjudicial punishment, locked them down for the rest of the deployment, and, upon returning to their home station, set aside the punishment and removed the marker from the record books―never to be mentioned again and recorded nowhere in any Marine personnel record. It was a completely legitimate outcome, because the Corps had millions of dollars and thousands of hours of experience invested in these seven officers. At last count, five of them are now majors in Marine squadrons or on instructor duty, teaching a new generation of nugget pilots how to fly in combat. “One size fits all” punishment in this instance would have been a penny-wise, pound-foolish outcome.

Similarly, a general officer will have served at least 22 years before pinning on that first star;  four-star officers may be close to four decades in uniform. Because they’re expected to set the highest example, they will be cashiered for offenses―say, sleeping with the wife of a subordinate―that a more junior soldier might survive. At the same time, it would be unconscionable to strip away all they have contributed over anything but a heinous offense that seriously damages their position and the faith that more junior personnel place in them. The example of Kip Ward springs to mind―helping himself to lavish luxuries at the government’s expense, in a salacious display of self-entitlement that would make Caligula blush. Ward’s breaches of integrity earned his inglorious end―yet, even so, his career was ended without a court-martial.

Finally, it is also true there’s a “protect our own” mentality within the “club” of the senior ranks. These people will have served together for decades and will have greater empathy for one another than for a junior soldier. Many of them see leadership of the armed forces as a sacred calling for which few are chosen, and they protect their prerogatives accordingly. There is also the fear that scandals among the senior ranks will damage the prestige in which the profession is held by the general public, which perversely cultures a general atmosphere of See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil. The combination of these factors leads to pressuring generals who have violated the rules to resign quietly―ending their career but keeping their pensions and the lucrative private-sector salary that comes with being a retired flag officer.

This, naturally, looks bad from the standpoint of a young private or a member of Congress. There are, indeed, different spanks for different ranks. But there are also different considerations.”



Logistics Support is on the Rise – Air Force Awards Nearly $1B to Upgrade Landing Gear on Older Aircraft


C130 Landing Gear

910th Airlift Wing maintainers install a new C-130 main landing gear tire in 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jim Brock).


“The Air Force plans to drop some serious cash to upgrade the landing gear on some of its oldest aircraft.

The service has awarded a contract to AAR to overhaul the landing gear on its C-130 HerculesKC-135 Stratotanker; and E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system, or AWACS, fleets, according to an announcement.

AAR, an Illinois-based aviation services company, recently landed a $909.4 million fixed-price contract from the service for landing gear performance-based logistics, the company said in a release.

AAR will provide “total supply chain management,” including “purchasing, remanufacturing, distribution and inventory control to support all Air Force depot and field-level, foreign military sales, other services, and contractor requisitions received for all C-130, KC-135 and E-3 landing gear parts,” the release states.

“We are excited to get started on this important contract for the Air Force,” said Nicholas Gross, senior vice president of AAR’s government supply chain solutions, in a statement. “Serving as the prime contractor, AAR will support these three fleets utilizing our Landing Gear Repair and Overhaul center in Miami [Florida], as well as our supply chain network across the country.”

AAR also has offices and warehouses in Wood Dale, Illinois, and Ogden, Utah.

The work comes at a time when landing gear malfunctions have become more common, especially in older aircraft such as the Hercules.

A maintenance team with the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, based in Southwest Asia, recently worked to fix a C-130’s landing gear after a tire blew out on landing at a forward operating base — days before this reporter took a flight in a sister C-130 over Iraq.

The team’s combat metals airmen ended up creating and installing the damaged Hercules’ landing gear door to salvage the wheels’ cover.

The repair cost the Air Force “229 man-hours, $400 in material, and 264 rivets for an engineer-approved air battle damage repair procedure,” the service said.

In total, it saved $107,000 in replacement cost for the Air Force, according to a release.”





Air Force Chief: Lack of Defense Budget More Dangerous Than Any Enemy



Image: Senior Airman John Linzmeier/Air Force


“The chief of staff of the Air Force on Thursday warned decision-makers that failing to pass a defense budget will damage his service like no foreign enemy can.

“There is no enemy on the planet that can do more damage to the United States Air Force than us not getting a budget,” he said, adding the service has “serious challenges.”

“There is talk right now of going to a year-long continuing resolution,” Gen. David L. Goldfein told an audience at a Feb. 23 Center for Strategic and International Studies event.

Of the many responsibilities the Air Force maintains, guaranteeing air superiority is at the top of the list, Goldfein said.

“I don’t ever want a Marine or a soldier or a sailor or airman who hears jet noise — I don’t ever want them looking up,” he said. “I want them looking directly into the eyes of their enemy because I want them to know in their heart that that is me. I don’t ever want them thinking that is somebody else.

“If we don’t invest in those capabilities, I’m going to have them looking up, and that spells failure,” he said.

The Air Force is also responsible for two-thirds of the “nuclear enterprise, the bomber leg of the triad and the missile leg of the triad,” Goldfein said.

Currently, there is an executive order to review the country’s nuclear posture and ballistic missile defense to determine, “Do we want to walk away from the attributes that were built into the triad?” he said.

Missiles are the most responsive part of the triad, giving the commander-in-chief the quickest capability, Goldfein said. “The bomber leg is the most flexible; it’s the one you can call back. It’s the one that you can deploy forward.”

The U.S. Navy’s nuclear submarine force is the most survivable, he said. “Do those three attributes still make sense? If so, modernization of all three legs is still required.”

If a continuing budget resolution is put into place, readiness will suffer, Goldfein warned.

“I’m not going to be able to hire the people I need to get those aircraft airborne or have the pilots I need to actually fly those missions,” he said. “I’m not going to be able to get aircraft in a depot; the lines are going to stop. The civilian hiring freeze will continue for the remainder of the year.

“I’m not going to have the flying hours to get those planes airborne, I’m not going to be able to invest in the training and I’m not going to have any relief on the time,” he said.

At Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, “You are going to find one squadron that’s down range, one squadron that just got back and one squadron that is getting ready. That’s the story of where we are right now,” Goldfein said.”






Cyber’s Role in Air Force’s Premier Training Exercise: Red Flag


Red radar display with identified targets


“Cyber forces have become an integral part in the Air Force’s premier realistic combat training exercise typically held four times each year.

The new face of warfare includes land, sea, air, space and cyber.

“We are bringing the non-kinetic duty officers into the fight at Red Flag,” Lt. Col. Neal, chief, current operations, 25th Air Force, said. “These experts in ISR and cyber warfare are the newest weapons in our command and control arsenal.”

Neal stressed the importance of bringing non-kinetic elements to the fight as the services are transitioning to multi-domain battle.

Air Force cyber teams have been integrated in Red Flag since 2009, a spokesperson from 24th Air Force said. The Air Force’s cyber element is made up of personnel from both 24th and 25th Air Force. Personnel from 25th Air Force provide cyber intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance while personnel from 24th Air Force provide cyber operations and effects resulting in a 60/40 split of personnel from each numbered Air Force, respectively, to make up the roughly 1,700 AFCYBER workforce.

Cyber forces began in 2009 with a small contingent of 57 information aggressor squadron teams acting as red teams against operators in the Combined Air Operations Center at Nellis, the spokesperson said via email. Defensive cyber teams were then added.

Cyber mission teams, whose role is to defend the nation from cyberattacks, were added in the 2014-2015 timeframe to conduct full spectrum operations, integrating non-kinetic effects with kinetic operations and working with coalition partners. For example, in 2015, the Air Force looked at how to defend a s upervisory control and data acquisition, or SCADA/industrial control system at Red Flag, the 24th spokesperson said.

Defensive and offensive teams operate remotely from their home stations as well as at Nellis, where the main event is held, Jose Delgado, cyber-ISR subject matter expert at 25th Air Force said. Members from 24th Air Force, operating from Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, operate and defend the Air Force Information network at the CAOC-Nellis while offensive cyber operations executed from 24th and 25th cyber mission teams are executed at home station and Nellis.

Offensive teams work to infiltrate networks and disrupt data, Delgado said, representing adversary forces Blue teams must defend against.

Aside from the role of Cyber Command, each service has cyber components to address inherent challenges for their respective missions. The Air Force is no different.

“There’s a clear recognition that our service needs an organic cyber capability to get after much of what Cyber Command … just doesn’t have the bandwidth to do or simply not in their charter, and it’s critical [to the] Air Force,” Air Force CIO Lt. Gen. William Bender said.

This organic capability revolves around the Air Force’s five core missions – air and space superiority, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, rapid global mobility, global strike and command and control – and focuses on mission-specific tasks in the air domain. CYBERCOM, Bender said, is concerned with big problems and high-end warfare, such as protecting missile defense systems and air defense systems and assuring the nuclear enterprise and space enterprise.

Red Flag is now used to validate training objectives for cyber mission force teams at Cyber Command. Each individual and team must meet certain training objectives in order to be validated at initial and full operational capability. The CMF reached initial operational capability in October, though slightly behind schedule.

The CMF is slated to reach FOC at the end of 2018.”



Air Force ‘Nerd Cyber Swat Team’ at Pentagon



“DOD Buzz”

“We’re setting up a nerd cyber swat team — the NCST,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced.

Engineers walking around in hoodies and jeans may become a common sight at the Pentagon as part of an Air Force initiative to create its own “nerd” cyber squad, according to the service’s top civilian.

The team will also be known as the Air Force digital services team, a group of engineers “helping [to] build software excellence and troubleshoot existing programs that run into difficulties associated with softwares,” she said.

“The Air Force digital service is going to be a component of the [Defense Department] digital service,” James said, “which is a group of extremely talented engineers with skills honed in the private sector who today have come into government for a brief period of time … and [are] now serving their country solving some big problems.”

James said she recently saw the team’s skillset firsthand as they worked on the GPS next-generation operational control system, or the OCX program.

The secretary said the OCX, made by Raytheon, “ran into some problems in part because we … underestimated what level of software complexity and cyber security that the project would require.”

The OCX is the new ground control station for the GPS-III satellites built by Lockheed Martin Corp.

Brought in from Silicon Valley, the “experts helped us understand some very advanced new software … techniques and practices, and gave us some advice in part that helped us collectively bring the program back on track,” James said.

The team members will be known as “HQE” or highly qualified experts, she said, “working six to 12 months, and then would return to the private sector.”

While James did not say how much the nerd squad will cost, the idea is to avoid unforeseen hiccups that could end up delaying programs, or costing the Air Force more money in the long run — all part of the service’s commitment to get the most “bang for its buck,” she said.”




The Air Force “Ultimate Close Support Battle Plane”




“The AC-130 and all its variants have been workhorses of the past 15 years of war.

The AC-130J Ghostrider is set to be the most heavily-armed gunship in history, bristling with 30mm and 105mm cannons, AGM-176A Griffin missiles, and the ability to carry Hellfire missiles and GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs.

But that’s not all.

Some day in the future, the Ghostrider could even be equipped with a high-energy laser.

That’s right. Lasers.

When it hits the battlefield in a few short years, the Ghostrider will be the most heavily armed gunship in history – a badass plane providing close-air support to U.S. troops on the ground and delivering withering firepower that will send enemies running for the hills.

Aircraft such as the F-35 and A-10 may be the focus of headlines, arguments on Capitol Hill between brass and lawmakers, and viral videos pulsing with hard rock. But despite drawing a fraction of the attention, the AC-130 and all its variants have been workhorses of the past 15 years of war.


They rained down fire on the Taliban and al-Qaida during the early days of the Afghanistan war, and fought in many more battles there over the years. They supported ground troops during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, as well as in subsequent clashes, such as the battles of Fallujah. They conducted raids on Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi’s forces during the civil war there in 2011. And as the military’s focus gradually turned to the Islamic State militant group, the AC-130’s guns were trained on ISIS fighters, vehicles and oil trucks in places such as Raqqa, Syria.


Since it first flew to war during Vietnam, the AC-130 has destroyed more than 10,000 trucks, the Air Force says. The AC-130J is the fourth generation of this model, and will eventually replace the aging U and W variants – and it’s a virtual certainty that it will be loitering above the battlefield, wherever Americans are fighting, for decades to come.


The AC-130W Stinger II has a 30mm cannon, precision-guided munitions, and the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb. The AC-130U Spooky has 25mm, 40mm and 105mm guns. And the now-retired AC-130H Spectre had 20mm, 40mm and 105mm cannons. But until now, no gunship has had this combination of multiple high-powered cannons and precision-guided munitions.

On Sept. 6, an AC-130J Ghostrider lifted off from a runway at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and flew northeast to the range at nearby Eglin Air Force Base.Sitting on the range was an old, lone tank used for target practice. The crew of the Ghostrider trained its newly added 105mm cannon – basically a Howitzer mounted in the plane’s belly – on the tank and opened fire, striking the tank several times.

The test was a success, the Air Force said, and a major milestone on the path to the AC-130J achieving initial operating capability, which is expected to come in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2017.


‘A bomb truck with guns’

The Ghostrider is a Lockheed C-130J that’s been heavily modified until it practically bristles with weaponry – so much so that Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, former head of Air Force Special Operations Command – famously called it “a bomb truck with guns” and “the ultimate battle plane” in 2015.

Walking through the cargo bay of the 130J, the sheer amount of firepower on display quickly becomes apparent. After leaving the cockpit, one first encounters the block 10 30mm cannon – an automatic weapon that can fire up to 200 rounds per minute, each roughly the size of a Coca-Cola bottle, out of the left side of the plane.

“Each round blows up with the equivalent [blast] of a hand grenade,” said Maj. Jarrod Beers, a weapons system officer on the AC-130J, on Sept. 7. “And there are plenty of them on the aircraft.”

The 30mm brings a lot of flexibility to the Ghostrider’s crew. Not only is it trainable, making it easier to aim at a target without having to reorient the entire plane, but its ammunition feeds in from two different chains. This can give the Ghostrider plenty more of one kind of ammo to shoot – but it can also allow airmen to quickly switch to a second kind of ammunition if they need to take out a different threat.

“It’s a very capable, and very awesome weapons system,” Beers said.

Toward the aft end of the plane, also aiming left, is the block 20 105mm cannon. The Ghostrider originally wasn’t meant to have the 105mm, which was also mounted on the older AC-130U Spooky model, but Heithold insisted on adding it, telling reporters last year, “I want two guns.”


The 105mm cannon shoots rounds that weigh 50 pounds apiece – with more than 32 pounds of explosive – and are about 2 ½ to 3 feet long, Beers said. To illustrate what kind of a boom it delivers, some of the Army’s howitzers also fire 105mm shells.

“It’s literally an artillery weapon that we decided to shoot down from the sky, instead of up from the ground,” Beers said.

But that massive boom also recoils the gun back 49 inches, with 14,000 pounds of force – easily enough to instantly kill an unfortunate crew member caught behind it. For that reason, a safety cage was built around the 105mm cannon to keep airmen away from danger.


Beers said the airframe of the AC-130J is stronger than it normally would be so that it can handle the fatiguing effect of such massive recoil. But, he said, the crew is careful not to shoot both the 30mm and 105mm at the same time, since that would double up on the stress and recoil.


But the crew feels the recoil nonetheless. For example, an AC-130U pilot with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, who asked that his name not be used, said sustained bursts of his plane’s 25mm Gatling gun – which can fire 1,800 rounds per minute – actually pushes the nose to the right.


“As pilots, we need to counteract that force to make sure the gun stays where it needs to shoot,” the Spooky pilot said. “You can definitely feel the 105 when it shoots. It’s a huge recoil from the 105, but definitely the 25mm is the most significant recoil that we feel up front.”


The AC-130J will carry 80 105mm rounds, and can fire more than 10 rounds a minute, Beers said, and the plane’s crew can also use the controls to aim it at targets.

AFSOC spokeswoman Erica Vega said in an email that the successful Sept. 6 test of the 105mm was to make sure systems worked together so the gun can safely fire.

“Future tests will look more into actual vs. expected accuracy and other system performance standards,” Vega said. “We should learn a great deal more from those tests, and that will contribute to the aircraft’s overall effectiveness, and in turn, better prepare it for IOC.”

Zoom stick and boom stick

Between the 30mm and the 105mm cannons is the MOP, or Mission Operator Pallet – two stations, one for WSOs like Beers and one for an enlisted sensor operator, each with multiple video screens and instruments controlling the array of cameras and sensors that help the crew target, and another control used to fire weapons. It uses some instruments borrowed from the F-35, which Beers said helps save money.

“This is the zoom stick, and this is the boom stick,” Beers said, gesturing first to the control on the left and then to the control on the right.


Beers demonstrated how he uses the “zoom stick” to turn the plane’s cameras 360 degrees and toggle between a standard view and infrared, switch the infrared’s polarity, and tweak the image for better resolution. He pointed it toward a light pole far off in the distance on the tarmac and zoomed in – and zoomed, and zoomed, and zoomed again, until a tiny red bulb on top of the light pole filled the screen, pixelated and shimmering beneath the thermal heat radiating up.


“That’s as good as it’s going to get right now because of the thermals,” Beers said, “That doesn’t look good on the ground, but in the air, it’s a pretty darn good picture.”

From the MOP, crew members must absorb a massive amount of information for their situational awareness – where friendly troops and aircraft are, where enemies and their vehicles are, where civilians are – using radio communications, emails, targeting data, and video beamed in from other sources, such as command headquarters.


“It’s a pretty formidable arsenal, and we haven’t even gotten to the Griffins yet,” Beers said.


The AGM-176A Griffin missiles are the centerpiece of the Ghostrider’s precision-strike package – and part of what makes it truly stand above its predecessors. The plane carries 10 Griffins, which are essentially half-scale Hellfire missiles that are laser-guided, with a fragmentation warhead and a GPS backup to ensure it lands on target. Each Griffin stands nose-up in a roughly 4-foot-tall tube mounted in its tail. When it’s time to fire, the Griffin is electrically launched out of the back of the plane, pops out its fins, and orients itself into the windstream. When it’s far enough away, its rocket motor fires and it “goes screaming off past the plane,” Beers said.


“It’s nuts, it’s the coolest thing ever,” Beers said.


Master Sgt. James Knight, left, an aerial gunner with the 18th Flight Test Squadron, performs a pre-flight inspection at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, July 29, 2015.Photo Credit: SrA Christopher Callaway/Air Force

But those missiles – being precision-guided munitions – are much more expensive than the 30mm or 105mm shells, Beers said. So they’re typically reserved for the highest-priority targets that must be hit with the greatest accuracy. The AC-130J also can carry Hellfire missiles and GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs.

All the various weapons on board allow the crew to gradually escalate the amount of force used to meet the threat.

“So, [we] take out the smaller targets with the 30, then escalate up to the 105, and even the 250-pound glide munitions [GBU-39 bombs] as we go up,” Beers said.

Frickin’ lasers


And it could get even cooler. At the Air Force Association’s conference last September, Heithold declared, “I want a high-energy laser on an AC-130J gunship by the close of this decade.”


“This isn’t Star Wars stuff, folks,” he continued. “The technology is ripe for doing this. I’ve got the space, I’ve got the weight, and I’ve got the power.”


Heithold floated the idea of first using a laser — possibly mounted in place of the 105mm gun – in a defensive capacity, to take down an enemy missile fired at the AC-130J. But eventually, Heithold said, he envisioned using it for offense, to disable enemy aircraft or other vehicles. Such a laser could have come in handy during the 1989 capture of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, he said. During that operation, four Navy SEALs died in the process of destroying his boat and airplane to keep him from escaping.


“Wouldn’t it have been nice had we had a high-energy laser on an AC-130 that would have simply zapped some point on that airplane?” Heithold said at AFA. “Disable the aircraft and nobody knows it happened until they go to use it, because nobody heard anything and nobody saw anything. You haven’t spooked anybody, you’ve simply disabled the aircraft.”

Maj. Brian Pesta, right, 1st Special Operations Group Detachment 2 pilot, and Maj. Jason Fox, 18th Flight Test Squadron pilot, look out the left window during the delivery flight of Air Force Special Operations Command’s first AC-130J Ghostrider.Photo Credit: Senior Airman Christopher Callaway/Air Force

Beers agreed that a silent laser would be a great weapon to have at his disposal.

The laser would “give us an advantage, and be able to just take out a truck from miles away, without nobody knowing,” Beers said. “I’m looking forward to trying them out.”

Heithold has also suggested buttressing the plane’s capabilities with small drones to help it fight in heavy cloud cover. When targets are under thick clouds, he said, the 130J can’t identify and hit them. But if the plane could launch a drone from its rear tubes, instead of the usual missile, Heithold said it could fly below the clouds and target the enemy.

Beers also said a drone could help in mountainous terrain, or in areas with heavy fire that would otherwise endanger the 130J.


“So now I’m not risking myself and my crew in order to go in and prosecute that target,” he said. It would “give us an advantage over previous generation gunships at that point.”

A lighter aircraft — but at what cost?But there’s more than just its weaponry that makes the Ghostrider remarkable. It’s lighter, faster and more efficient, Beers said, and burns 25 to 30 percent less gas than legacy aircraft. It flies at a top speed of about 362 knots, or 416 miles per hour – well above the roughly 300 mph top speed of the AC-130U. The AC-130J can fly a maximum range of 3,000 miles and up to 28,000 feet in the air – about twice as far, and roughly 3,000 feet higher than the AC-130U.


A big part of what makes the Ghostrider more efficient is its six-bladed propellers, which provide more thrust and allow it to carry more ammunition or fuel.

But the increased efficiency may come at a price, however. The AC-130J was dinged by the Pentagon’s weapons testers, the Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, in a 2013 report for having lighter armor than its predecessor, the AC-130U. The report said the AC-130U’s armor protects aircrew stations, personnel, ammunition and critical systems against a 37mm high-explosive incendiary round at a range of 10,000 feet, or about 3,000 meters.


Staff Sgt. Derek Watson, a special missions aviator with the 1st Special Operations Group Detachment 2, inspects a wing of an AC-130J Ghostrider during a pre-flight inspection at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Feb. 2, 2016.Photo Credit: Senior Airman Christopher Callaway/Air Force

The AC-130J’s armor, on the other hand, protects primary crewmember positions and oxygen supplies against a 7.62mm ball projectile at 100 meters, the report said. The armor on the AC-130J also doesn’t cover the Mission Operator Pallet, which weapons testers said should be considered a primary crewmember position and protected.


When asked about the tester’s armor concerns, Vega said in an email, “The final AC-130J will have adequate defensive systems [and] features to fulfill its designed role. As the aircraft approaches IOC, all systems will be finalized and adjustments made.”

In another email, AFSOC spokesman Michael Raynor said, “Lt. Gen. [Brad] Webb [current AFSOC commander] has gone on record saying there are no trade-offs being made with security of the crews.”


In the J’s cockpit, a series of multi-function electronic displays has replaced the old analog dials that used to clutter up the view of pilots and navigators. So, instead of having, say, a physical weather radar in front of a navigator’s face, whether or not he needs it, crewmembers can call up only the most pertinent digital instruments such as radar and collision avoidance systems or hide unwanted instruments with the ease of flipping through an iPad app.


“Looking at this is crazy,” said Beers, who previously served as a navigator on older planes like the C130E/H. “This is a totally spaceship type of thing up here. The plane has a lot more ‘go,’ it’s quieter, it’s more comfortable inside, the air conditioning is better, which allows us to be better for the guys” on the ground.


And Beers is champing at the bit to put this plane into action to protect his fellow service members.

“The biggest thing for me is to make sure the guys on the ground get home OK,” he said. “That’s really what makes it worth it at the end of the day”