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LRASM expansion

Lockheed's stealthy and wickedly smart anti-ship missile is now officially heading for land launch and the P-8 Poseidon. Both announcements are big news. LRASM is the most capable known anti-ship missile in America's arsenal. Being able to push them forward on the P-8, which we knew was onthe Navy's wish list, brings another level of relevancy to the multi-mission jets, especially during a high-end conflict. Being able to deploy it in a coast defense role would make approaching within hundreds of miles of allied shores where it could be deployed a very risky proposition for the enemy. For instance, operating forward from islands in the Pacific, this system could be a critical defensive capability.

Both announcements also open the door to new LRASM orders to America's closest allies, especially P-8 operators in higher-risk areas of the globe.
 

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Strategic command: U.S. 'ready for just about anything' from North Korea
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Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said the United States is fully ready to deter any threat that North Korea poses. File Photo by KCNA/EPA-EFE

The United States is prepared to handle any military threat from North Korea, the leader of the U.S. Strategic Command said, adding the country remains dedicated to fulfilling its security promises to South Korea.

"We're very familiar with North Korea's capabilities, and I'm very confident in our ability to deter that," Adm. Charles Richard, commander of Stratcom, said during a press briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday.

"We are ready for just about anything North Korea can do," he said. "So I am fully confident that we're prepared for whatever they might decide to do."

Stratcom, headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Neb., is responsible for maintaining the nation's nuclear triad, which consists of strategic bombers, submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Richard said a diplomatic solution to the growing threat posed by North Korea remains the preferred option.

"That situation is ripe for a diplomatic resolution," he said. "The best path to resolve issues with North Korea is using diplomacy first."

Washington's nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang have been stalled since a February 2019 summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-U.S. President Donald Trump failed to produce an agreement.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is conducting its North Korea policy review, which is expected to be completed soon.

In the meantime, North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear and missile programs. A report by a United Nations panel of experts earlier this month concluded that the isolated country has "increased its nuclear strike capability, as well as its ability to counter foreign missile defense systems while safeguarding itself with its own new air defense system."

North Korea has not conducted any nuclear or long-range missile tests since 2017, but it launched a pair of short-range ballistic missiles last month in violation of United Nations sanctions. Pyongyang also showed off a new ICBM at a military parade in October.

Recent satellite image analysis by Washington think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggested that North Korea may be preparing to test a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

"North Korea remains a security challenge to the United States and our allies," Richard wrote in a statement to the Senate armed services committee earlier this week.

"It continues conducting activities that threaten regional stability and defy international norms. North Korea has tested ICBMs designed to strike the entire continental United States and has a large inventory of theater ballistic missiles," he wrote.

On Thursday, Richard stressed that the United States remains committed to its security alliance with South Korea.

"I will say that the United States -- and certainly my command -- are fully ready to honor our security commitments and alliance promises that we have made to South Korea," he said.
 

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USS Iwo Jima arrives in Spain for repairs

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The amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima arrived at Naval Station Rota, Spain, on Friday for mid-deployment voyage repair.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy


(UPI) -- The USS Iwo Jima arrived at Naval Station Rota, Spain, on Friday for mid-deployment repairs, a U.S. Navy statement said.

The amphibious assault ship and flagship of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Readiness Group recently transited the Atlantic Ocean to conduct interoperability exercises with the Navy's 2nd and 6th fleets, as well as the armed forces of Britain.

While traveling to Rota, the ship conducted a replenishment at sea, taking on about 320,000 gallons of fuel, 210,000 gallons of aircraft fuel and 244 pallets of food, repair parts and mail from the supply ship USNS Supply, the Navy said earlier this week.

"Interoperability and support with partner nations is vital to sustained operations at sea," said Capt. David Loo, the USS Iwo Jima's commanding officer.

"There are maintenance items and repairs that only become apparent once the ship goes underway. The MDVR [mid-deployment voyage repair] gives us an early opportunity to make those fixes and continue our mission at full strength, plus it allows the crew a timeout from watch stations in order to rest and refresh," Loo said.

The readiness group includes the USS Iwo Jima, the dock landing ship USS Carter Hall and the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio.

They carry helicopters, surgical units and construction units of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit's embarked detachments, a total of about 4,300 personnel at sea.
 

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Navy uses amphibious assault ship USS America as a test center

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Senior Chief Navy Counselor Scott Lane, L, and Chief Navy Counselor Anita Felix, R, helped administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery aboard the amphibious assault ship USS America. Photo courtesy of U. S. Navy

(UPI) -- For the first time, a forward-deployed U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship was used to administer a standard military aptitude test, the Navy said on Friday.

The USS America, stationed in Sasebo, Japan, with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and the 7th Fleet, was the site of the Armed Forces Classification Test on April 15.

The multi-part test is an element of the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery, a series of general- and specific-knowledge examinations by which enlisted personnel demonstrate occupational preferences and specialties.

While the test is routinely administered at colleges, at over 14,000 Military Entrance Testing Stations, at a local Military Entrance Processing Stations aligned with recruiting offices and aboard deployed ships at sea, the USS America was approved as a test site.

"When we heard the Navy College Office was closing its doors in Sasebo and the opportunity for sailors to retake their ASVAB test would no longer be an option, we had to take action," CMDCM Randy Bell, Command Master Chief of the ship, said in a press release.

"The sailors we are entrusted to lead and care for deserve the best opportunities possible and our future depends on them and their ability to grow and progress in their careers," Bell said.

The AFCT administered in April was for personnel who have already taken the ASVAB and seek to improve their scores, which are factors in officer candidacy evaluation and promotions.

"I really appreciate having the opportunity to test myself and see if I can qualify for a job in either engineering or administration," commented Aviation Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Latasha Velez, who is assigned to the USS America.

"It's scary to think that this opportunity almost went away," Velez said.
 

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All B-1B Lancer bombers grounded for potential fuel filter leak

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The U.S. Air Force grounded its entire fleet of B-1B Lancer bombers this week to investigate a potential fuel filter problem. Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force


All 57 active U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers were indefinitely grounded this week after a fuel filter problem was discovered.

Gen. Tim Ray, Air Force Global Strike Command chief, ordered the stand down after one B-1 experienced an emergency relating to its augmenter fuel pump filter housing at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., earlier in April.

A large hole was discovered in the plane's filter housing after it landed, which could cause a pressurized fuel leak and a pilot's inability to utilize the plane's afterburners, known as augmented thrust, Air Force Times reported.

The issue and stand down was first reported Thursday by The War Zone.

Afterburners, which can double the plane's available thrust, are used in takeoffs, emergencies and certain aerial maneuvers.

"As a precautionary measure, the commander directed one-time inspections on all B-1B aircraft to resolve this issue," a command statement on Friday said in part.

Each plane will be examined for potential problems, and will be returned to service individually. No schedule or time line for the inspections was offered by the Air Force.

A failure of the augmenter pump filter housing occurred on a different B1-B in 2018, one of a series of emergencies causing interruptions and maintenance overhauls.

In 2018, the Air Force ordered its B-1 fleet to stand down over concerns of ejection seat safety.

The Air Force plans to phase out the B-1s, in use since the 1980s, in favor of the the new B-21 stealth bomber, currently under development by Northrop Grumman.
 

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AC-130J Ghostrider flies close-air support at Exercise Balikatan, a first

3 hours ago
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An AC-130J Ghostrider lands at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa March 29, marking the first time the updated J model of the AC-130 has landed in or operated in Japan. (Capt. Renee Douglas/Air Force)

A U.S. Air Force AC-130J Ghostrider gunship, in the Philippines for the first time, supported close-air support training for a bilateral team of U.S. and Filipino battlefield airmen this week during Exercise Balikatan.

The Ghostrider, assigned to the 73rd Special Operations Squadron out of Hurlburt Field, Florida, deployed from Kadena Air Base, Japan, to the Philippines and fired its 30mm and 105mm cannons on targets called in by combat controllers with Kadena’s 320th Special Tactics Squadron and joint terminal attack controllers with the Philippine air force’s 710th Special Operations Wing, according to a news release.

The deployment also marked the first time the updated J model of the AC-130 has landed in or operated in Japan.

When it hits the battlefield in a few short years, the AC-130J 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.
Stephen Losey

“This training shows a projection of power and displays the reach of the AC-130J,” said Capt. Aaron Boudreau, a Ghostrider pilot with the 73rd and AC-130J liaison for Exercise Balikatan, in the release. “This is the first time this asset has been in the Philippines, so it will give Philippine controllers the ability to train with American pilots and vice versa and shows that we can accomplish the mission together, as friends and allies.”
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Airmen work aboard an AC-130J Ghostrider during close-air support training at Exercise Balikatan. (Lance Cpl. Dalton Payne/Marine Corps)

The close-air support live-fire training in a complex and realistic environment advanced the combined capabilities of the two nations and demonstrated the reach of U.S. SOF assets, according to the release.

“The airmen from the 320th STS and 710th SPOW have a great partnership and a strong friendship,” said an unnamed 320th STS airman in the release. “During Balikatan, we always start the exercise with some academic classes before progressing to controlling live air-to-ground engagements. “Both U.S. and Philippine JTACs work with U.S. and Philippine aircraft to enhance our interoperability. Together, we get better every Balikatan.”

During the exercise, the Ghostrider also flew alongside Philippine fighter jets.

“This CAS integration between the FA-50PH [fighter] and the AC-130J is a pioneering training for our PAF fighter pilots,” said Philippine air force Maj. Michael G. Rabina, commander of the 7th Tactical Fighter Squadron, in the release. “It is a welcome opportunity for us to participate in such operations that offers a valuable training environment to enhance our capabilities. This exercise demonstrates the interoperability of the Fighting Eagle with the gunship and with our allies in a combined operations setting.”

Balikatan is an annual exercise between the U.S. and the Philippines and comes from a Tagalog phrase meaning “shoulder-to-shoulder.”
 

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Navy carrier, Air Force B-52s, Army Rangers to help protect Afghanistan pullout, officials say

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An F/A-18F Super Hornet launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower in 2016. The Pentagon announced that the Ike will remain in the Middle East to support the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. (PO3 Nathan T. Beard/Navy)

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has decided to keep an aircraft carrier in the Middle East to help provide protection for American and coalition troops during their planned withdrawal from Afghanistan in coming weeks, his spokesman said Friday.

The spokesman, John Kirby, said Austin approved an extension of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower’s deployment in the Middle East for “a period of time.” He also said two U.S. Air Force B-52 bombers have arrived in the region as part of the pre-pullout bolstering of security, which he called a prudent precaution.

“It would be foolhardy and imprudent not to assume that there could be resistance and opposition to the drawdown by the Taliban, given their staunch rhetoric,” Kirby said. He said the withdrawal plan was discussed at a meeting Friday of senior defense officials.

The moves back up Pentagon officials’ public assurances that U.S. forces will be prepared to meet whatever resistance the Taliban might present during the withdrawal of more than 10,000 U.S. and coalition troops starting after May 1. About 2,500 to 3,500 of those troops are American.
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A B-52 Stratofortress prepares for refueling over Afghanistan during a close-air-support mission in 2009. (Master Sgt. Lance Cheung/Air Force)

“I would advise the Taliban that we will be well-prepared to defend ourselves throughout the withdrawal process,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, said Thursday at the Pentagon.

Prior to President Joe Biden’s announcement last week that he would end the American war in Afghanistan by completing the troop withdrawal by Sept. 11, the Taliban had insisted that Washington stick to a February 2020 agreement the militants had reached with the Trump administration to complete the U.S. withdrawal by May 1.

U.S. officials said after Biden’s announcement that extra military personnel would likely be positioned in Afghanistan to facilitate the pullout of troops and equipment, and the Pentagon typically beefs up its military presence as a precaution when executing a sizeable withdrawal. When the U.S. pulled troops out of Somalia in December it kept an aircraft carrier in the region as a precaution.

Kirby said some additional troops likely also would be sent to Afghanistan to assist with the withdrawal, but he declined to provide details. Earlier, two other defense officials said hundreds of Army Rangers were to be sent to provide security during the pullout. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss moves that had not yet been announced.
 

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US airstrikes, surveillance in Afghanistan may continue from afar after drawdown

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A B-52H Stratofortress taxis on the flight line April 23 at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The B-52 aircraft are deployed to Al Udeid to protect U.S. and coalition forces as they conduct drawdown operations in Afghanistan. (Staff Sgt. Greg Erwin/Air Force)

The U.S. military is mulling how to position its aircraft throughout the Middle East and Asia to continue airstrikes and intelligence-gathering missions in Afghanistan, as American forces prepare to leave key installations like Bagram Air Base behind, the head of U.S. Central Command said this week.

Appearing before the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday, Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie told lawmakers he is drawing up options for keeping counterterrorism forces on call in the region. Those alternatives are due to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin by the end of April.

Manned or unmanned aircraft could play a large role in any remaining presence that could peer into and respond to threats inside Afghanistan, McKenzie said.

He made similar remarks before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday: “I didn’t say we wouldn’t go back in to strike. But we’re not planning to go back in to reoccupy.”

To find and track insurgents, the U.S. needs to maintain “heavy intelligence support” in the area, he said. The farther an aircraft like a Reaper drone must travel, the harder that becomes.

“You will have to base your overhead [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets] from no longer within Afghanistan, where an MQ-9 can take off and be over its target in a matter of minutes,” McKenzie said.

The U.S. is dispatching its diplomats to feel out whether a neighboring country would be open to hosting American surveillance assets, he added: “We will look at all the countries in the region.”

Nearby countries like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan no longer have agreements with the United States that would allow military forces to be based in-country to conduct strikes or surveillance.

“Some of them may be very far away,” McKenzie said of potential hosts. “There would be a significant bill for those types of resources, because you’d have to cycle a lot of [ISR aircraft] in and out.”

Maintaining a strong surveillance network will be key to ensuring “individuals in caves” cannot organize to threaten the U.S. homeland, said Amanda Dory, acting undersecretary of defense for policy.

Once a target is identified, the military would need a way to strike from afar — more difficult than a bomb dropped or missile fired from inside the country, but still possible.

U.S. forces could use long-range precision weapons, manned raids or manned aircraft to take out a target, McKenzie said. Whichever the military chooses must minimize civilian deaths and other collateral damage.

“There are problems with all three of those options, but there’s also opportunities with all three of those options,” he said.

An aircraft carrier will remain in the region so that fighter jets can respond to threats during the drawdown, which President Joe Biden has pledged to complete by Sept. 11.

B-52 bombers were also dispatched to protect departing forces.

Republican Rep. Mike Waltz of Florida questioned whether it makes strategic sense to abandon Bagram Air Base in the northeast as the Pentagon increasingly focuses on nearby China, Russia and Iran. Air Force organizations like the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing use Bagram as a home base for A-10s, C-130s, HH-60s and other combat platforms.

“Bagram is key terrain tactically in Afghanistan, operationally, and strategically, it’s the definition of key terrain,” McKenzie answered.

“I don’t want to put on rose-colored glasses and say it’s going to be easy to do,” he added of striking the right counterterrorism balance in the region. “We’re examining this problem with all of our resources right now to find a way to do it in … the most intelligent, risk-free manner that we can.”
 

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Report to Congress on US Navy's SSN(X) Next-Generation Attack Submarine
May 11, 2021

The following is the May 10, 2021 Congressional Research Service In Focus report, Navy Next-Generation Attack Submarine (SSN[X]) Program:
Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

Introduction and Issue for Congress
The Navy wants to begin procuring a new class of nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN), called the Next-Generation Attack Submarine or SSN(X), in FY2031. The SSN(X) would be the successor to the Virginia-class SSN design, which the Navy has been procuring since FY1998. Congress approved $1 million in initial research and development funding for the SSN(X) program in FY2021.

An issue for Congress for FY2022 and subsequent years is whether to approve, reject, or modify the Navy’s funding requests and acquisition strategy for the SSN(X) program. Congress’s decisions on this issue could affect Navy capabilities and funding requirements and the U.S. shipbuilding industrial base.

Submarines in the U.S. Navy
The U.S. Navy operates three types of submarines—nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), nuclear-powered cruise missile and special operations forces (SOF) submarines (SSGNs), and nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs). The SSNs are general-purpose submarines that can perform a variety of peacetime and wartime missions.

Virginia-Class Program
Since FY2011, Virginia-class SSNs have been procured at a rate of two boats per year, and a total of 34 have been procured through FY2021. Most Virginia-class boats procured in FY2019 and subsequent years are to be built with the Virginia Payload Module (VPM), an additional, 84-foot-long, mid-body section equipped with four large-diameter, vertical launch tubes for storing and launching Tomahawk cruise missiles or other payloads. When procured at a rate of two boats per year, VPM-equipped Virginia-class SSNs have an estimated procurement cost of about $3.4 billion per boat.

Download the document here.
 

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The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has contracted Bell to research a high-speed vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft.

The laboratory granted Bell a $950,000 contract to conduct applied research into the concept, it disclosed in an online notice posted 28 April.

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Bell acknowledged the contract, but declined to comment further. The AFRL did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Little else was disclosed in the contract notice titled “Bell’s High Speed VTOL (HSVTOL)”.

The research contract comes several months after US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) said it was looking ahead for a VTOL aircraft with “jet speeds” to replace its Bell Boeing CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor.

“At least our initial thinking in AFSOC is that we’re looking at a generation beyond current tiltrotor technology,” said Lieutenant General James Slife, commander of AFSOC, in September. “We’re not just looking at marginal improvements, in terms of speed, range and reliability, but we’re looking at a generational movement for a vertical take-off and landing capability going into the future. I think it’ll be probably something quite different than the V-22.”

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In addition to being the lead manufacturer of the V-22, Bell is developing a next-generation tiltrotor, the V-280 Valor. That aircraft is a candidate the US Army’s Future Long Range Assault programme, an ongoing competition to replace the service’s Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter fleet starting in 2030. However, the V-280 has a cruise speed of 280kt (519km/h), only 39kt faster than that of the CV-22. AFSOC appears interested in going much faster.

“There are a number of technology and drive system proposals out there that look like they may be within the realm of possibility; that they could provide like a generational step ahead in technology, get us up into jet speed kind of capabilities,” Slife said. “When you look at the future operating environment, where range and access are going to be challenging across the board… I think whatever comes next is going to have to be a generation [ahead] yet again.”

In recent years, the US Department of Defense has stressed the challenge of moving forces across the long distances of the Pacific Ocean for potential combat operations against adversary China. In light of that problem, it’s pushed US aerospace manufacturers for new ways to extend the range and speed of aircraft and weapons.

However, conventional tiltrotors, such as the V-22 or V-280, are limited by drag on their large rotors to speeds and ranges far less than turbofan-powered aircraft.
SWEPT ROTORS

Bell has been exploring aircraft that can take off vertically using tiltrotors, but then fly forward in cruise mode using wing-borne lift and thrust from jet engines, according to patent applications published between 2017 and 2020 by the US and European patent offices. Rotor blades would fold back to reduce drag during forward jet-powered flight.

One way such an aircraft might switch between high-speed cruise and VTOL mode is by relying on a “convertible engine”, a novel jet engine that switches between turboshaft and turbofan modes, according to several of Bell’s patent filings published in 2020.

“During operation as a turbofan engine, the bypass fan produces a bypass airflow to provide thrust to the aircraft,” explains a Bell patent application published by the European Patent Office in April 2020. “During operation as a turboshaft engine, the bypass airflow produced by the bypass fan is blocked, allowing other aircraft systems to utilize the power produced by the convertible engine via the power output shaft.”

In turboshaft mode, one or multiple engines would mechanically power rotor blades via a central gearbox. Alternatively, in turboshaft mode the convertible engine could turn an electrical generator that would send power to electric motors which would then move the rotor blades, say a Bell patent…
 

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US Air Force opens new F-16 production line for foreign military sales

By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Public Affairs
Published May 18, 2021

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A F-16 Fighting Falcon flies during a mission at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Feb. 14, 2019. To support the growing demand for new F-16 Fighting Falcon from partner nations, the U.S. Air Force has teamed with Lockheed Martin Corp. to open a new production line to build the F-16 Block 70/72 fighter aircraft at the company’s facility in Greenville, S.C. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. John Raven)

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Shown is the Lockheed Martin Corp. F-16 foreign military sales production line in Greenville, S.C. To support the growing demand for new F-16 Fighting Falcons from partner nations, the U.S. Air Force has teamed with the aerospace, arms, defense, security, and advanced technologies company to open a new production line to build the F-16 Block 70/72 fighter aircraft. (Lockheed Martin Corp. courtesy photo)
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFNS) --
To support the growing demand for new F-16 Fighting Falcon from partner nations, the U.S. Air Force has teamed with Lockheed Martin Corp. to open a new production line to build the F-16 Block 70/72 fighter aircraft at the company’s facility in Greenville, South Carolina.

Launched on Veterans Day 2019, the line is the only production facility for F-16s in the world, opening three years after the company’s long-time F-16 line in Fort Worth, Texas, wrapped up production.

Recently, and on behalf of five foreign military partners, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin Corp. approximately $14 billion, to build 128 F-16s at the facility through 2026.

“This new production line is very significant,” said Col. Brian Pearson, integrated product team lead for F-16 foreign military sales, with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate, which is leading the effort to build and deliver the new F-16s. “There are 25 nations operating F-16s today, and they have a lot of expertise with the airframe. The line helps us meet the global demand that a number of nations have for [F-16] aircraft and gives us the additional capability to provide the aircraft to countries interested in purchasing it for the first time.”

The first F-16s are expected to roll off the production line in 2022, and production is expected to increase after the first year. The aircraft will be delivered to multiple foreign military partners, including Bahrain, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Taiwan, and others, many of whom have expressed interest beyond the first deliveries.

More aircraft are expected to be built in the upcoming years, and there are requests for F-16s under review from additional foreign military partners.

“Since the LM production line opened, AFSAC [AFLCMC’s Air Force Security Assistance and Cooperation Directorate] has seen an uptick of our partner nations requesting detailed information and requests for U.S. government sales,” said Col. Anthony Walker, International Division senior materiel leader. “We are excited about the new workload and increased opportunity to deliver airpower capabilities that strengthen international partnerships and advance national security.”

In addition to leading efforts to field new F-16s, the Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate is also modernizing 405 F-16s – operated by four partner nations – with the V-Configuration, which consists of new radar and other upgrades to make them similar to the aircraft that will come off the production line.

“F-16s are operational across the globe and are a key capability fortifying the security of our international partners,” said Brig. Gen. Dale White, Fighters and Advanced Aircraft program executive officer. “Every F-16 we equip our foreign partners with improves their ability to defend their interests and support our mutual security interests. The caliber and talent of our foreign military sales program office teams is top-notch, and their impact is felt globally. The F-16 is an enduring, highly capable compact fighter that will have a large role in many partner nations’ security for years to come.”
 

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Amphibious MC-130J Transport Is On Special Operations Command's Wishlist​

There have been proposals for a waterborne C-130 Hercules in the past, but the U.S. special operations community might just make it a reality.​

BY THOMAS NEWDICK AND JOSEPH TREVITHICK MAY 19, 2021
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The U.S. military is once again looking at the potential of an amphibious C-130 Hercules variant to operate from littoral areas in support of special operations forces. The project, which in its early stages, has yielded an artist’s concept of an MC-130J Commando II multi-mission combat transport fitted with large underslung floats mounted on the fuselage. The MC-130J is the latest Air Force special operations version of the Hercules, intended to penetrate into denied areas to insert, extract, or resupply special operations forces, as well as refuel helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft.

The new effort, known as the MC-130J Amphibious Capability, or MAC, came to light today in a briefing given by U.S. Air Force Colonel Ken Kuebler, U.S. Special Operations Command’s (SOCOM) Program Executive Officer for Fixed Wing (PEO-FW), at the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC). At a media roundtable later in the day, Kuebler added that feasibility and operational studies regarding the project are going on now and that the command is working with unspecified “innovative partners” to hopefully prove out a lot of the concept using digital design tools. This, in turn, could help speed up the research and development and help keep costs low.
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A U.S. Air Force MC-130J Commando II conducts an inflight refueling mission off the coast of Okinawa, Japan.

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A slide from Colonel Kuebler's briefing that mentions the MAC concept as one of a number of "focus areas" for SOCOM PEO-FW.

It's important to note that, while the concept art in Kuebler's briefing, seen at the top of this article, shows huge floats added to an MC-130J, he stressed that the MAC concept is looking for an amphibian aircraft able to operate from the land, as well as bodies of water. A basic floatplane would not be able to operate from land, but adding wheels to the floats could give it this capability. There are other possibilities, as well, for how the aircraft could be made truly amphibious.

The basic idea of a waterborne C-130 has been around for decades and it is a concept that certain parts of the Pentagon have mulled in the past. In fact, the aircraft's original manufacturer, Lockheed, pitched a fully amphibious Hercules with a boat-like hull back in the 1960s, without success, though the U.S. Navy did at least undertake studies using a radio-controlled scale-model version. Lockheed has since evolved in Lockheed Martin, which is the current manufacturer of the C-130J family, including the MC-130J.

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A model of a C-130 with a boat hull as well as wheeled landing gear.

The possibility of fitting a C-130J variant with pontoon-like floats attached to the fuselage, as seen in the PEO-FW concert art, is not new, either. Lockheed Martin proposed just a version of the aircraft in the late 1990s, reportedly after receiving interest from the U.S. Navy as a way to insert and extract SEAL teams, and their specialized watercraft, in littoral areas.

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Older Lockheed Martin artwork depicting a C-130J floatplane.

Of course, strapping big floats to a Hercules would impose severe drag and weight penalties, reducing range and load-carrying capabilities, although it is not unheard of for seriously large aircraft to operate on floats.

However, with the amphibious requirement in mind, it may be the case that the concept art is a simple reuse of older floatplane artwork, and not necessarily exactly what SOCOM now has in mind for its seagoing Hercules. While a boat-like hull would not have such an adverse effect on performance, it would require more significant redesign and it’s not something that Lockheed Martin has been known to be working on of late.

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Regardless of the exact configuration, an amphibious MC-130J could offer new and novel capabilities for the U.S. special operations community, particularly as part of future expeditionary and distributed operations. The U.S. military, as a whole, has been exploring concepts of operations in recent years that focus heavily on being able to operate from austere and remote areas with very limited infrastructure in the event that large, established bases are destroyedor are otherwise unavailable.

Air Force MC-130J crews already train to operate in exactly these kinds of environments and there have been many efforts in the past to expand the ability of the Commando II, as well as the older MC-130H Combat Talon II, to operate from very confined areas with little or no infrastructure. You can read more about these initiatives in this past War Zone feature.

At the same time, the U.S special operations community at large is currently in a process of examining how it could contribute to higher-end conflicts, including against near-peer adversaries, such as China or Russia, and especially in the broad expanses of the Asia-Pacific region. This includes operating from small islands in the Asia-Pacific region, where there might not even be sufficient space on certain tiny islands to establish a proper airstripquickly. An amphibious aircraft could be the perfect solution, especially in times of conflict, when existing airfield infrastructure might be placed under considerable threat, if not destroyed in a first wave of attacks.

During the media roundtable, Colonel Kuebler said that potential conflicts with “peer and near-peer” opponents and other “emerging threats” were some of the drivers that had prompted the MAC project. He also acknowledged that the aircraft could be particularly valuable in the Pacific, but also pointed out that it would be able to operate from anywhere there is water.

An amphibious C-130 could potentially perform a wider array of missions beyond those of the standard MC-130J, as well, and Kuebler said he "would not make that assumption" when asked if the MAC aircraft would have the exact same mission set as the Commando II. If a waterborne Hercules finally comes to fruition, various elements of the U.S. military, beyond just the special operations community, could very well be interested in acquiring them.

A 2016 U.S. Marine Corps ‘toolkit’ of existing and notional capabilities for use in developing tabletop wargames includes a section on seaplanes, with a clear emphasis on operations in the Pacific. A slide from that document, seen below, provides data on a float-equipped Cessna 208 Caravan, the Bombardier (now Viking Air) CL-415MP amphibian, and the Japanese US-2 amphibian, as well as their respective ranges operating from Manila in the Philippines.

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“Seaplanes are a proven, cost-effective operational capability that can provide lines of communication to remotely dispersed EAB sites that lack port or airfield infrastructure,” the document read. EAB refers to Expeditionary Advance Base Operations, a broad concept for executing expeditionary and distributed operations the Marine Corps has been developing, which you can read more about here.

The inclusion of the US-2, presently only in service with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, and primarily used for search and rescue, underscores both the relevance of such aircraft in the Pacific and other missions they can perform, including in non-combat disaster relief and humanitarian assistance roles. China is also busily working on a much larger amphibian of its own, the AG600, which is widely expected to have a significant military, or at least paramilitary, role, especially in support of man-made islands and other infrastructure in the hotly contested South China Sea.


With all this in mind, beyond the Navy and Marine Corps, the U.S. Coast Guard could be another service that might be interested in an amphibious Hercules. It is a C-130 operator and a waterborne version could operate as a long-range search and rescue aircraft, allowing survivors to be picked up directly from the sea, thousands of miles from the shore, providing the weather and sea conditions permitted it. It's also worth remembering that the Coast Guard operated HU-16 Albatross amphibian aircraft into the 1980s.

A seaplane variant of the Hercules could also lend itself to the kinds of aerial firefighting missions that are now undertaken by Air National Guard C-130s with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System, or MAFFS.

While it remains to be seen how the MAC effort will progress, and what specific kinds of roles a potential MC-130J amphibian might take on, Kuebler made clear that he felt there was "enough command interest" to be hopeful that this long-discussed concept will finally become a reality.

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Here’s Why Aggressor Learjets Were Making Mock Attack Runs Towards Philly Last Night

The late-night exercise would have put the Navy's "Cornfield Cruiser" through its paces.
By Thomas Newdick and Tyler Rogoway
May 20, 2021
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It looks like contractor-operated Learjet 35 aggressor jets were putting the latest iteration of the U.S. Navy’s cutting-edge Aegis air defense system to the test last night, with a series of flights directed against the USS Rancocas, also known as “The Cornfield Cruiser,” a unique ship-like laboratory located in New Jersey, around 20 miles outside of Philadelphia. The Learjets were from Phoenix Air, whose other adversary support work is usually seen in a more traditional maritime context, acting as marauding cruise missiles and enemy airplanes for U.S. Navy ships to defend against. You can read more about what this actually looks like in practice in this previous feature.

John Wiseman, who tweets as @lemonodor, first brought our attention to this interesting aggressor activity. He had been alerted to the simulated attack runs by referencing publicly available flight tracking data. In fact, a bot that he has specially developed notified him that four aircraft — Learjet 35s with the U.S. civil registration numbers N32PA, N56PA, N71PG, and N545PA — were operating in close proximity, for roughly an hour, and over land.


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Jerry Gunner/Wikimedia Commons
A Phoenix Air Learjet lands at Naval Air Station North Island, California.


The aircraft were operating from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. Considering the flight patterns and the general location it seems glaringly obvious that the Phoenix Air jets had one particular target in mind: the USS Rancocas, more properly known today by its formal title, the Vice Admiral James H. Doyle Combat Systems Engineering Development Site, or CSEDS, in Moorestown, New Jersey. The Rancocas name is derived from the closest body of water to the installation, Rancocas Creek.


Not sure what these 4 Phoenix Air Group Learjets were doing last night around midnight. Simulated attack runs against a ground target near Philadelphia is my best guess. (cc/ @Aviation_Intel) pic.twitter.com/EVU1mtQeBA
— John Wiseman (@lemonodor) May 20, 2021


Carrying electronic warfare pods, the Phoenix Air Learjets are equipped to represent a range of different “bad guys” for target emulation. They may have been simulating anything from bombers to anti-ship cruise missiles, but all four seemed to be making obvious target runs directed at the CSEDS, in a wide line-abreast formation, flying between 16,000-18,000 feet and at a speed of about 300 knots. The repeated attack runs saw the aggressors fly out toward New York City, off the coast of Long Beach on Long Island, and off Lakewood in New Jersey, before returning to their target.

CSEDS is a facility devoted to research and development for the long-serving and often-improved Aegis system and is in fact a commissioned naval vessel, manned by Navy sailors and supported by civilian contractors. Its nickname, “The Cornfield Cruiser,” comes from the fact that it features the 122-foot-high superstructure of a major surface combatant and is equipped with all the sensors you would find on a U.S. Navy Aegis-equipped cruiser or destroyer. The ship-like structure looks freakishly out of place among the nearby fields.

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Google Maps
The location of the "Cornfield Cruiser."


As well as using aggressor jets to provide realistic threat simulation, it should be noted that the CSEDS facility can also test its systems by tracking commercial flights around New York City, a very practical and low-cost way of measuring its capabilities against more predictable aerial contacts.

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U.S. Navy
The facility saw a massive expansion in 2015, which now supports testing of the SPY-6 radar.

The facility was first opened in 1977, but underwent a massive redevelopment in 2015. The expanded site has hosted the powerful SPY-6 radar system since October 2020.

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U.S. NAVY
The AN/SPY-6(V)1 Air and Missile Defense Radar System is installed at the CSEDS last October.


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RAYTHEON
The enormous SPY-6 radar unit.



As for the SPY-6, this radar is set to be installed on Flight III Arleigh Burke class destroyers and work has already begun to integrate it onto the first of those ships, the future USS Jack H Lucas, which is due to be delivered to the Navy in the 2023 Fiscal Year. “The radar will provide new and improved fleet capabilities, and installing and integrating it at the CSEDS will provide needed lessons learned to the Navy and its industry partners,” according to the service. One of the main advantages the SPY-6 will offer is the ability to simultaneously perform anti-air warfare and ballistic missile defense. Many other U.S. Navy ships are slated to receive a version of the SPY-6 known as the Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR). You can read all about this in this past feature story of ours.

The arrival of the SPY-6 actually marked the first significant hardware upgrade for the CSEDS since it received an array from the ill-fated USS Cole (DDG-67) in 2000, a decade after that warship was damaged in a terrorist attack in Yemen.

Testing the SPY-6 in this controlled environment on land will ensure that the Navy and the manufacturer can iron out any problems before the system is installed on a fleet warship. Having aggressor jets put it though its paces is a vital part of that and, with that in mind, we may well see similar mock attacks played out over “The Cornfield Cruiser” in the future.

With thanks to John Wiseman for alerting us to this story.

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Marines' 24th MEU deploys with HIMARS rocket system
May 21, 2021

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The U.S. Marine Corps' 24th Expeditionary Unit is the first East Coast-based unit to deploy with the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, the Marines announced on Friday. Photo by Pfc. Sarah Pysher/USMC

May 21 (UPI) -- The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit is the first to deploy the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System from the East Coast, a Marines statement on Friday said.

The amphibious attack unit, regarded as a fast-response air-and-ground task force and garrisoned at Camp Lejeune, N.C., was assigned a HIMARS, a wheeled, multiple rocket launching system, in September 2020.

Mounted on a standard Army M1140 five-ton truck frame, it carries six rockets or one MGM-140 ATACMS missile, and can launch the entire Multiple Launch Rocket System Family of Munitions (MFOM).

The truck is made by the defense division of the Oshkosh Corp., with the rocket launching system produced by Lockheed Martin Missiles & Fire Control.

With use by the 24th MEU, HIMARS becomes a "theater-level asset" forward-deployed in the area of operations, the Marine Corps statement said, instead of embarking the vehicles on naval vessels.

"MEUs operate globally, year around as the Nation's Force-in-Readiness," said Col. Eric D. Cloutier, 24th MEU commanding officer. "As we lean into the future fight, expanding our reach and flexibility by utilizing platforms like HIMARS gives us the ability to facilitate maneuver and freedom-of-movement for friendly forces, and our allies and partners, while denying our adversaries the ability to do the same."

The HIMARS system allows a platoon to infiltrate contested environments, attack targets, and then depart without an enemy opportunity for engagement.

While the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps have the majority of HIMARS vehicles, they are also in use by Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Romania and Jordan.

The Marine Corps' 2021 deployment cycle is the first use of HIMARS by an East Coast-based MEU.
 

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USS Mobile to be commissioned on Saturday
May 21, 2021

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The USS Mobile, the Navy's newest littoral combar ship, will be commissioned on Saturday in a ceremony in Mobile, Ala. Photo courtesy of Austal USA

May 21 (UPI) -- The USS Mobile, the Navy's newest littoral combat ship, is scheduled for commissioning in a ceremony on Saturday in Mobile, Ala.

The vessel, built in Mobile by Austal USA, will be the 13th Independence variant in the Navy fleet.

The Independence variant LCS -- the other is the Freedom variant -- has a trimaran design that can be used in near-shore environments against mines, submarines and fast surface craft, but also offering ocean-going capability.

At 421 feet in length, the USS Mobile will have a crew of 32 enlisted service members and eight officers, and can add up to 35 more personnel as a mission crew.

It is armed with a Mk 110 57 mm gun, a Raytheon SeaRAM CIWS [close-in weapons system], four .50-cal. guns, two 30 mm Mk44 Bushmaster II guns, eight RGM-184A Naval Strike Missiles and 24 AGM-114L Hellfire missiles.

The ship was christened on Dec. 7, 2019, and delivered to the Navy on Dec. 9, 2020. San Diego will be its home port.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., will deliver the principal address at Saturday's ceremony, which will be reduced in scope because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. James "Hondo" Geurts, the current Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition and Vice Adm. John Mustin, Chief of Naval Reserve, will also participate.
 
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