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Fincantieri Marinette nabs $553.9M for second Constitution-class frigate
May 20, 2021
By Christen McCurdy

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An artist rendering of the guided-missile frigate. The Navy awarded a contract option Thursday to build its second Constellation-class frigate. Image courtesy of U.S. Navy

May 20 (UPI) -- The Navy has awarded a $553.9 million contract option to Fincantieri Marinette Marine to build a second Constellation-class guided missile frigate, the service announced Thursday.

The future USS Congress is designed to have multi-mission capability to conduct air warfare, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, electronic warfare, and information operations, the Navy said.

"The Navy Program Office is pleased to award the option for the USS Congress (FFG 63) to our industry partner Fincantieri Marinette Marine," Capt. Kevin Smith, major program manager for Constellation Class Frigate, said in the Navy's release. "As the second ship of the Constellation Class Frigate Program, the USS Congress will provide a highly capable, next-generation surface combatant that our Navy and Nation needs."

The vessel will be built at Fincantieri's shipyard in Marinette, Wisc., where preparations are currently being made for the construction of its sister ship, the USS Constellation, the Navy said.

According to the Pentagon's contract announcement, other work on the contract will be performed in Boston, New Orleans, Crozet, Va., and several other U.S. worksites.

The USS Congress' name was announced in December by then-Navy Secretary Kenneth J. Braithwaite.

As of December the vessel is expected to be delivered in 2026, with the Pentagon's more recent announcement saying work is expected to be completed by January 2027.

More details in our dedicated thread:
 

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USS Constellation, is expected to be delivered in 2026.

The Navy seeks 20 guided missile frigates by Fiscal Year 2030, a 2019 Navy report to the U.S. Congress said.

The ships must fully integrate with a carrier strike group, hunt submarines and fire at ships over the horizon. They will also carry at least 32 Mark 41 vertical launch tubes system tube for missile-firing, as outlined in a 2019 Navy report to Congress.

The future USS Congress, currently designated FFG63, will be the sixth Navy vessel to carry the name. The first was among six ships authorized by the Naval Act of 1794, forming the U.S. Navy.
 

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US Navy's experimental drone ship passes through Panama Canal
May 20, 2021
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One of two unmanned Ghost Fleet Overlord test vessels takes part in a capstone demonstration in September 2019, pictured, while another vessel earlier this week was spotted transiting the Panama Canal as part of another test. Photo courtesy U.S. Navy

May 20 (UPI) -- Nomad, an experimental unmanned surface vehicle, passed through the Panama Canal en route to its new home port in California, the Navy confirmed.

USNI News reported that ship spotters had found evidence of the vessel's passage through the Panama Canal using data from MarineTraffic.com, and that a Navy official had confirmed the transit.

The Navy did not provide comment on the transit, but web cameras at the Miraflores locks on the canal showed that Nomad -- a retrofitted offshore patrol vessel -- was heading toward the Pacific as of Tuesday night.

Ship spotters said the Nomad was underway in the Gulf Coast and traveled as far away as Norfolk, Va., for testing.

In January, the Pentagon announced that one of the two ships involved in the Ghost Fleet program had recently traveled a distance of more than 4,700 nautical miles, almost entirely autonomously, and then participated in an exercise where it spent nearly all of its underway time operating autonomously.

The vessel was one of two ships known to have been created for the Pentagon's Strategic Capabilities Office's Ghost Fleet Overlord program to test the viability of at-sea autonomous ships.

In 2019, as it entered the second phase of the program, the Navy awarded contracts to two industry teams to work on integration of command-and-control systems and payloads for the vessels.

The Pentagon has not disclosed information about the cost of the program or the contractors involved, citing special contracting rules, according to USNI.

On Thursday, Huntington Ingalls Industries announced that it had debuted another unmanned surface vessel, the Proteus, off the coast of Panama City, Fla., last week.
 

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Sailors sue U.S. Navy for religious exemption to have beards
May 19, 2021
By Pamela Manson

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Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa is the first active-duty airman permitted to dress according to the Sikh religion. Four U.S. Navy sailors are seeking the right to wear beards for their religion. File Photo courtesy of ACLU

May 19 (UPI) -- Four sailors have filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the U.S. Navy from forcing them to shave in violation of their religious beliefs.

Three of the sailors, a Hasidic Jew and two Muslims, have either been denied a faith-based accommodation to have a neatly maintained beard or told that previous permission to have one is going to be rescinded, the suit says.

The other sailor, who is Muslim, suffers from pseudofolliculitis barbae, or "razor bumps," and has had a beard for medical reasons but is required to shave every 30 days to prove he still gets painful swelling on his face each time he does, according to the suit.

The suit alleges violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the constitutional rights of free speech, due process, the guarantee of equal protection and the free exercise of religion. The RFRA bars the government from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion except in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and only if an action is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

The sailors reject the Navy's contention that beards could interfere with the performance of their duties, especially when they might have to wear a sealed gas mask or similar equipment, and say there is no compelling reason to require them to shave.


"The fact that the U.S. Army and Air Force both allow religious beards further belies any supposedly compelling reason defendants may assert for suppressing plaintiffs' religious exercise," the suit says. "And the allowance for religious beards by militaries around the world, including in the United Kingdom, Canada, Israel, Australia, New Zealand and India, as well as by police and fire departments throughout the U.S., further undermines defendants' claims."

The suit also says the Navy has a "robust tradition of bearded sailors" but recently started insisting there can be no religious beard accommodations for sailors on sea duty. Mustaches are allowed under the rules.

The suit was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., on April 15, hours before a deadline set for Petty Officer 3rd Class Edmund Di Liscia by his chief to shave off his beard or be subject to disciplinary action. Named as defendants are the Navy, the Department of Defense and several of their officials.

Faith accommodations
Di Liscia, who serves aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, had been given a "no-shave chit" in December 2018 while he was assigned to shore command that permitted him to maintain his beard as an accommodation of his Hasidic Jewish faith. The suit says that many Hasidic Jews believe the beard is so holy that they do not even trim it with scissors. Di Liscia has not shaved in more than two years.

The suit says Di Liscia's beard has not interfered with his performance in routine gas mask-seal-integrity tests, which he passed.

The no-shave chit transferred over to sea duty, and Di Liscia's commander also has issued a ship-wide no-shave chit to help boost morale, the suit says. However, the sailor is now being told the 2018 chit is no longer valid

In addition, the morale chit requires sailors to clean-shave every 14 days. So Di Liscia sought a durable religious accommodation that would provide more long-term protection, the suit says. His request was denied on safety grounds, and he filed an appeal to the chief of naval operations, which is pending.

The other three plaintiffs are devout adherents of Islam, obliged by their faith to maintain a substantial beard, the suit says.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Leandros Katsareas has had a religious accommodation for a quarter-inch beard since October 2018, and an accommodation for a four-inch beard since July 2020, which he has been told is about to be rescinded.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Mohammed Shoyeb has sought a religious accommodation to grow a beard, but was denied.

And Petty Officer 3rd Class Dominque Braggs has a beard for medical reasons since completing boot camp because he has pseudofolliculitis barbae but still has to shave regularly. He has asked for an official religious accommodation, but that request is likely to be denied or granted only to the extent he remains on shore duty, the suit says.

The Navy has agreed not to enforce shave orders against the four sailors for now.

Shave orders
Attorney Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who represents the sailors, said razor bumps overwhelmingly impact African American men.

"The Navy now is actually pressuring our client and others to undergo laser hair removal or other more extreme measures to kill their beards, which is a double affront to their religion," he said.

Baxter said he is not aware of any specific incident that led to the recent shave orders by the Navy, which he describes as an outlier because the Army and Air Force allow religious accommodations for beards.

A favorable ruling for the plaintiffs probably would lead to only a small number of sailors getting a religious accommodation for a beard, but for them, "it would be huge to finally be able to serve their country without having to sacrifice their religious beliefs," Baxter said.

The Becket Fund previously helped represent Capt. Simratpal "Simmer" Singh, a Sikh soldier who sued the U.S. Army to get a permanent religious accommodation to have unshorn hair and a beard and wear a turban, and also three other members of the faith in a separate lawsuit. In January 2017, the Army issued new regulations allowing Sikhs to wear the articles of their faith.

"Now they have close to 100 soldiers who have religious beards, and they have had no problems in the last five years," Baxter said.

The Army Times reported in April 2018 that under those regulations, a soldier at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., had been granted permission to wear a beard in accordance with his Norse pagan faith.

Also in 2018, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Abdul Rahman Gaitan became the first Muslim airman granted a shaving waiver based on his faith. The religious accommodation was allowed under new guidance released by the Air Force in 2016.

Grooming rule changes
Recent changes in military hair and grooming rules have involved more than religious accommodations.

Since Feb. 10, the Air Force has allowed female airmen to wear their hair in one or two braids or a single ponytail beginning Feb. 10. In addition, women can wear longer bangs that touch their eyebrows but do not cover their eyes.

A uniform board had discussed changes in dress and appearance based on feedback from airmen of various ranks, including thousands of women, according to an Air Force news release. The styles permitted under the previous grooming standards, including tight buns, sometimes caused migraines and hair damage or loss.

"In addition to the health concerns we have for our airmen, not all women have the same hair type, and our hair standards should reflect our diverse force," Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass said in a news release.

Members must adhere to procedures that mitigate the potential for injury involving hair of varying lengths around machinery, equipment, power transmission apparatus or moving parts, the release says.

For now, U.S. Space Force guardians will follow the Air Force's grooming standards for women until their branch develops its own policy.

The uniform board reviewed numerous other suggestions, including changing the beard policy, which allows shaving waivers only for medical reasons or as a religious accommodation. The Air Force decided against changes, saying they weren't needed because there are no health or hair loss issues associated with the grooming standards for men.

For many military members, having a beard is a personal preference. U.S. Army Sgt. Dalton G. Rowan, who is stationed in Fort Knox, Ky., started a petition on change.org calling for a change in grooming standards that would allow soldiers in a non-combat environment to grow a beard.

Rowan said the petition -- which is titled "Allow U.S. Army soldiers to grow beards in a garrison environment" and has more than 103,000 signatures -- has gotten attention from military members of all ranks and from all over the world, including Italy and South Korea.

"It's not just the guys on the ground," Rowan told UPI. "It's an Army-wide thing. People want this change."
 

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Competition, not war, with China is the future, top Marine says

Philip Athey
3 days ago

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Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David H. Berger delivers remarks at a press briefing about the Marine Corps and COVID-19 at the Pentagon on March 26, 2020. (Lisa Ferdinando/DoD)

War with China is not inevitable, but it will take an all-of-government approach to deter it, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said Tuesday.

The Marine Corps is currently going through a massive period of experimentation and reorganization with a focus on keeping up with the “pacing threat” China poses and ultimately winning a war if one comes.

The commandant said he has spent the past decade studying China as it was adopting increasingly aggressive foreign policy goals.

“You can look at a map from 10 years ago and a map from today you can see what they are trying to do,” Berger said at an online event about the future of Marine Corps warfare held by the Brookings Institution in Washington. “We need to be in a position to hold the freedom both the seas and the airs and really all the domains.”

A host of scenarios could push China and the United States into some kind of conflict.
Todd South, Philip Athey, Diana Stancy Correll, Stephen Losey, Geoff Ziezulewicz, Meghann Myers, Howard Altman

Using Marines as a stand-in force near China’s geographical interest points may slow down China’s willingness to push its territorial boundaries and bully its neighbors, Berger said.

“You need a very forward expeditionary, fairly light, fairly mobile force, all the time in the right areas, if you’re the United States,” Berger said.

The watchful eyes of the Marines in that “very forward” expeditionary force will likely deter China from being as regionally aggressive as it might be without the eyes of the American military on it, Berger said.

Additionally, the stand-in force would be prepared to fight immediately if deterrence were to fail and war with China kicked off too fast for the rest of the joint force to mobilize.

To fully accomplish the mission of either deterring China or ultimately beating it if war were to break out, the U.S. must build on its relationships with regional allies ― a role the Marine Corps is well suited for, Berger said.

“We are not going to be successful on our own, we have to acknowledge the value of our allies and partners,” Berger said.

Ultimately, though, Berger does not see war with China as inevitable, but it is clear to him that the U.S. will be competing with China for the foreseeable future.

“They clearly have a strategy, they have a plan and they are resourcing that plan,” Berger said.
 

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Northern Edge 21 Wraps Up Achieving Important Testing Goals Of New Capabilities For The Joint Forces​

May 25, 2021 Military Aviation
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A view from the cockpit of the U-2 Dragon Lady as it flies over the USS Roosevelt during Northern Edge 21. (Photo: U.S. Air Force/Beale AFB)

The high-end realistic scenario of Northern Edge 21 allowed testers to assess the behaviour of new systems and upgrades before their fielding to frontline units.​


Northern Edge 21, the premier bi-annual joint exercise of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, took place this year through May 3 to May 14 in locations in and around Alaska. The exercise, which involved Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy, recreated high-end realistic warfighter training to practice tactics, techniques and procedures and to improve command, control and communication relationships, improving the joint interoperability and enhancing the combat readiness in a large force employment training scenario with a focus on multi-domain operations.

With all these characteristics, Northern Edge provides an ideal joint test environment for new systems and capabilities to be evaluated in realistic combat scenarios as part of their initial, culminating and milestone tests. The Nellis AFB-based 53rd Wing deployed more than 25 aircraft from its tenant units, alongside the Eglin AFB-based 96th Test Wing and the 926th Wing, to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, including the F-15C, F-15E, F-15EX, F-35, MQ-9, B-52 and U-2. The Wing achieved major test objectives for multiple weapons systems during the exercise, with a lot of useful data to analyze for further development.

“Northern Edge is an essential event for operational tests,” said Col. Ryan Messer, 53rd Wing commander. “It is one of only a handful of exercises that combine great power competition-level threat complexities with the joint interoperability necessary to realistically inform our test data. The individuals in the 53rd Wing continue to inspire me with how they challenge themselves and their programs in complex environments, ensuring we deliver the most lethal, ready and capable force for our nation.”

The common key objective for the assets deployed to Alaska was the integration of fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft, and in particular the integration of the newly arrived F-15EX Eagle with the F-35 Lightning II. Here below are some further details published by the 53rd Wing about the operational tests during Northern Edge 21, grouped by platform.

F-35A Lightning II​

The 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron recently fielded a new Operational Flight Program, called Suite 30P06, to the Combat Air Forces’ F-35s Lightning II. Northern Edge allowed operational testers to evaluate how the new OFP software functioned in a realistic threat environment to inform the tactics associated with the software. “At Northern Edge, we are validating our assumptions that we made in the OFP test process on a grand, realistic scale and incorporating WEPTAC Tactics Improvement Proposals,” said Maj. Scott Portue, 422 TES F-35 pilot.
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An F-35 Lightning II from the 53rd Wing, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., taxis on a runway at exercise Northern Edge 21. Approximately 15,000 U.S. service members participated in the joint training exercise hosted by U.S. Pacific Air Forces May 3-14, 2021, on and above the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, the Gulf of Alaska, and temporary maritime activities area. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Savanah Bray)

These Tactics Improvement Proposals, known as “TIPs,” are established at the annual weapons and tactics conference, which brings together warfighters to discuss current and future issues and to find solutions for joint operations (in fact, while this is primarily an Air Force event, Army, Marines and Navy often take part to the discussion). TIPs tested this year at Northern Edge by the 422 TES included F-35 emissions control, which consist in minimizing the F-35’s emissions to get as close as possible to the adversary, and fourth-to-fifth (and fifth-to-fourth) electronic attack tactics, techniques and procedures.

“As a fifth-gen. asset, we have stealth, so we can physically get closer, but we may not have all the weapons that a fourth-gen. aircraft, like a (F-15) Strike Eagle, does. We’re trying to figure out how we (fourth- and fifth-generation platforms) can benefit each other so that we can get closer to the adversary,” Maj. Portue said. The F-35’s integration with 4th gen. aircraft has been the focus of many exercises, and this example represent the importance of the integration.

Talking about these benefits, Maj. Portue further explained that, for example, the AN/ALQ-250 Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS), which is being installed on the F-15, can allow an F-35 to control its emissions, while getting closer to the enemy, by not using its own radar or employing its own EA (Electronic Attack) capabilities. Additionally, the F-35 performed missions in the Gulf of Alaska focused on exploring maritime tactics and joint interoperability with the other branches of the military.

“When we talk about fourth- and fifth-gen. integration, we absolutely mean joint integration. Northern Edge is the biggest melting pot that we have as a joint force, in which we can test the most cutting-edge technologies, OFPs (operational flight program) and tactics and see how they match up against a near-peer threat,” Maj. Portue said.

F-15C Eagle, F-15E Strike Eagle, F-15EX Eagle II​

One of the main goals for the F-15 testers during Northern Edge 21 was the testing of EPAWSS by exploiting the complex electronic attack environment created for the exercise. According to the Air Force press release, EPAWSS was put to the test in the F-15E Strike Eagle, which is set to receive the new system as an upgrade, and the F-15EX Eagle II, which will be equipped with EPAWSS from the factory.
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An F-15EX Eagle II from the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, 53rd Wing, takes flight for the first time out of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., April 26, 2021, prior to departure for Northern Edge 2021. The F-15EX brings next-generation combat technology to a highly successful fighter airframe that is capable of projecting power across multiple domains for the Joint Force. (U.S Air Force photo by 1st Lt Savanah Bray)

However, we can notice from the photos released that EPAWSS appears to be installed also on two F-15Cs deployed to Alaska for the exercise. Initially, the Eagle was set to receive the new system along with the Strike Eagle, however it was later decided to abandon the project because of the not-so-distant retirement of the aircraft.

One of the milestones reached during Northern Edge is the first-ever four-ship mission of F-15Es equipped with EPAWSS, which flew on May 14 and saw the Strike Eagles employing EPAWSS as it would be used operationally in a tactical formation. Lt. Col. Reade Loper, Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force F-15E test director, remarked the significance of this milestone as the large force, dense-threat environment of the exercise provided opportunities for growth that might be difficult to recreate during home-station flying.

One of these opportunities came from the continuous evolution of modern EW combat scenarios, with threats changing their emissions to avoid jamming and countermeasures. This kind of scenarios require a continuous work on the database that lies within systems like EPAWSS to adapt them to new threats, and the speed of this process is vital. A demonstration of this was performed by the system’s producer, BAE Systems, which was able to rapidly reprogram and improve the mission data files for EPAWSS during the exercise over just one to two days.

Another system that was tested on the F-15, and specifically the F-15C, is the Legion Pod IRST (Infrared Search and Track) system. Northern Edge 21 was the last step to complete the operational flight testing of the Legion Pod, a “graduation” test event as described by the Air Force, before the fielding of the new system with the frontline squadrons.

The Legion Pod integrates the IRST21 sensor, the same that was selected for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet to be integrated on the centerline external fuel tank. Unlike the radar, the IRST is a passive sensor which does not have electronic emissions and can work also in presence of jamming systems. Last year, an F-15C used the pod during a test mission to target and launch an AIM-9X IR-guided air-to-air missile without the use of the radar.

Maj. Aaron Osborne, 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron F-15C pilot, explained that the IRST allows pilots to have an “out-of-band” sensor to find what an electronically scanned radar (AESA) cannot, particularly in the event of an electronic attack. “IRST pod is an added capability to the warfighter and is proving capable in the dense electronic attack threat environment of Northern Edge,” Maj. Osborne said. “While at Northern Edge, I’m using the pod not as a test pilot, but exactly as I would in the CAF or in operations. We’re checking the final boxes of the test plan here before the pod fields and using it with the latest operational flight program.”

Northern Edge 21 was also the perfect opportunity to test the latest operational flight program for the F-15C and F-15E, called Suite 9.1RR (Re-Release), which is similar to the OFP used by the F-15EX, Suite 9.1X. The new software, which will be soon fielded to the CAF, brings new capabilities that otherwise would have had to wait until Suite 9.2 in late spring of 2023. Among the improvements, one of the most notable is the new Data Transfer Module 2 (DTM II). The DTM is the system used to transfer all the data needed for a flight mission (route, IFF codes, radio frequencies, weapon settings and so on) from mission planning computers to the aircraft.
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Maj. Aaron Osborne, F-15C Eagle pilot with the 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., prepares to fly an operational test sortie at exercise Northern Edge 21 while carrying an Infrared Search and Track pod, known as the Legion Pod. NE21 is a U.S. Indo-Pacific Command exercise designed to provide high-end, realistic warfighter training, develop and improve joint interoperability, and enhance the combat readiness of participating forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Savanah Bray)

Until now, the F-15 kept using the same system that was fist developed in the 1980s, but the latest aircraft processor, the Advanced Display Core Processor 2, and new OFPs needed more memory than it was available on the DTM. “With 9.1RR, we’ve been able to upgrade the entire data transfer system to keep up with our new software. DTM II increases in memory capacity from 2MB to 256GB,” Lt. Col. Loper said. “With the increase in memory and processing power, we can now add all sorts of new tactical capabilities to the aircraft.”

Northern Edge 21 saw also the participation of the two recently delivered F-15EXs.

During the exercise, the Air Force assessed during 33 flight sorties how the F-15EX performs in the roles usually assigned to the F-15C and how to bring new capabilities to the mission. Air Force Magazine talked to Lt. Col. John O’Rear of the 84th Test and Evaluation Squadron, who provided some more details.

The Eagle II was paired with the older F-15C and F-15E, as well as the fifth-generation F-22 and F-35, both shooting down adversaries and getting shot down itself. “If you go into any large force exercise and you come back with everybody—with no blue losses—I would probably say that your threat is not as robust as it needs to be, in order to get the learning,” Lt. Col. O’Rear said. “In this kind of environment, most of your blue ‘deaths’ are probably going to be outside of visual range, just because of the threat we’re replicating.” The scenario was purposedly designed to be unforgiving so the blue forces would sustain losses that are used to discover weaknesses and find out how to mitigate or eliminate them.
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F-15 Eagles and Strike Eagles from the 53rd Wing and 96th Test Wing sit on the ramp at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska during exercise Northern Edge 21. Approximately 15,000 U.S. service members participated in the joint training exercise hosted by U.S. Pacific Air Forces, May 3-14, 2021. The exercise was conducted on and above the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, the Gulf of Alaska, and temporary maritime activities area. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Savanah Bray

MQ-9 Reaper​

Another asset that was heavily involved in testing activities at Northern Edge is the MQ-9 Reaper, with the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron operating out of Eielson Air Force Base while working with new pods, including the hardened targeting pod and Reaper Defense Electronic Support System, and auto-take-off and landing. The Reaper is in fact receiving new capabilities that will bring it to the new MQ-9 M2DO (Multi-Domain Operation) configuration, ensuring that it will be able to support operations over the next 10 to 15 years.

“The hardened targeting pod has an electro-optical counter-counter measure and testing that is one of our objectives at Northern Edge,” said Lt. Col. Mike Chmielewski, 556th TES commander. “We’re also demonstrating the capability of the RDESS pod, of which there is currently only one in the world.”

The RDESS pod is a broad spectrum, passive Electronic Support Measure (ESM) payload designed to collect and geo-locate signals of interest from standoff ranges, providing the MQ-9 the ability to find and detect threats from a safe distance in contested environment the one replicated during Northern Edge. Another upgrade tested is the anti-jam, anti-spoofing (AJAS) system TIP, which utilized new aircraft antenna capability to see its impacts on GPS effectiveness in a denied environment and mitigate potential jamming to the platform.
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An MQ-9 Reaper with three Ghost Reaper pods awaits takeoff at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, N.Y., April, 14, 2021. The pods will establish new and enhanced capabilities for the MQ-9 during operational assessments at exercise Northern Edge 21, May 3–14, 2021 in Fairbanks, Alaska. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Megan Fowler)

The 556th TES was not the only unit doing testing with the MQ-9 during the exercise.

The 174th Attack Wing, based at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse (N.Y.) tested three new pods while deployed at Eielson AFB, part of an Air National Guard program known as the Ghost Reaper which aims to integrate the MQ-9 in the Joint All-Domain Command and Control system in a contested battlefield.

The pods are the Northrop Grumman’s Freedom Pod, which houses a communications gateway system that connects fourth and fifth generation fighters via Intra-Flight Data Link (IFDL), Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL), Link 16, and Tactical Targeting Network Technology, the Ultra Electronics’ Rosetta Echo Advanced Payloads (REAP) pod, which improves targeting with improved connections to ground systems, and the General Atomics’ own Centerline Avionics Bay, which employs artificial intelligence and hardware expanding capabilities not originally built into the MQ-9 airframe.

B-52H Stratofortress​

A B-52 from the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron flew a more than 13-hour sortie from Barksdale Air Force Base (Louisiana) to Alaska and back, conducting a successful simulated hypersonic kill chain employment from sensor to shooter and back on May 5. Obviously, the B-52 did not launch any hypersonic ordnance during Northern Edge 21, as the long-waited AGM-183A ARRW (Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon) first flight test has yet to happen (a first attempt in April failed preventing the release of the weapon).

During the test mission, the Stratofortress was able to receive target data from sensors via the All-Domain Operations Capability Experiment (a joint team that allows the synchronization of joint functions in forward, contested environment when traditional C2 structure effectiveness is degraded or denied), located more than 1,000 nautical miles away miles away at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, and then successfully take a simulated ARRW shot at the target from 600 nautical miles away.

“We were really exercising the data links that we needed in order to complete that kill chain loop, and then get the feedback to the players in the airspace that the simulated hypersonic missile was fired and effective,” said Lt. Col. Joe Little, 53rd Test Management Group deputy commander.

U-2 Dragon Lady​

The 9th Reconnaissance Wing deployed a U-2 Dragon Lady from Beale AFB which acted as a critical hub of ISR during the exercise. Details about the U-2 participation are scarce, but a press release of the 53rd Wing before the beginning of Northern Edge 21 mentioned that the 53rd Test Management Group, Det 5, at Beale AFB was to deploy the U-2 for communication gateway testing.

This testing might be related to Project Hydra, which recently allowed the F-22 and F-35 to establish bi-directional communications each using its own datalink, the IFDL and MADL respectively, via a “translator” payload installed on the U-2S. As we explained in past article, the F-22 and F-35 can’t talk freely between each other as the “language” used by their datalinks is different and needs to be translated in order for the receiving aircraft to interpret the data.

During the drills, a U-2 also flew at low altitude over an aircraft carrier (USS Roosevelt): something that we have rarely seen in the recent past.

Other participants​

n spirit with the joint employment of the forces, Northern Edge 21 saw also the participation of the Navy, Marines and Army. The Navy deployed the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) aircraft carrier, which conducted more than 300 aircraft launches and traps, and its embarked squadrons completed more than 830 flight hours during the exercise.

A P-8 Poseidon of the Patrol Squadron One (VP-1) “Screaming Eagles”, stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (Washington), was also deployed to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to provide the joint force participating in Northern Edge 2021 with a multi-mission maritime patrol, available for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and collateral Search And Rescue (SAR) missions, both over water and land.

The Marines deployed the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), which executed various air and amphibious operations from the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD-8) and amphibious transport docks USS San Diego (LPD-22) and USS Somerset (LPD-25) while maneuvering over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex. The Marine Wing Support Detachment of the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 164 (Reinforced) also established a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) at Cold Bay to provide around 85,000 lbs of fuel to multiple aircrafts from all branches of the military.

The Army conducted an airborne operation on May 11, with approximately 300 paratroopers from the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (assigned to the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division) dropped by multiple C-17 Globemaster III and C-130 Hercules aircraft while A-10C Thunderbolt IIs provided close air support. The paratroopers seized Allen Army Airfield at Fort Greely (Alaska), allowing an M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) battery from the 17th Field Artillery Brigade out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, forward deployed to Cold Bay, to be airlifted there and conduct a live fire exercise at the nearby Donnelly Training Area, demonstrating the ability of the joint force to quickly build and implement combat power.
 

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Here Are The Major Airpower Developments In The Pentagon's Latest Budget Proposal​

The latest Pentagon budget proposal shows the Air Force, as well as Navy and Marines, want to modernize, but at the cost of existing capacity.​

BY JOSEPH TREVITHICK MAY 28, 2021
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Months later than usual, the Pentagon has finally released its budget request for the 2022 Fiscal Year, which starts just a little over five months from now. The overall request comes in at approximately $715 billion in proposed defense spending, just over $11 billion more than it has received for the current fiscal cycle. When it comes to U.S. military airpower, the new budget proposal contains a number of interesting developments and generally underscores a broad push across the services, but especially by the U.S. Air Force, to cut older aircraft in order to buy new aircraft and otherwise focus on advanced development efforts.

Hundreds of aircraft of various types are now on the chopping block and the Air Force, specifically, would see a decline in the combined size of its fleets if the budget, in its current form, is approved. This is also just the first part of plans that could see the divestment of even more planes and helicopters in the next five years as the Air Force, as well as the Navy and Marines, continue to move ahead in modernizing and otherwise consolidating their fleets.

What follows is a brief overview of the most important details regarding major U.S. military aviation programs from the Pentagon's Fiscal Year 2022 budget proposal:


  • The U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps are asking for funds to buy 85 F-35s, in total, which includes examples of all three variantsof the Joint Strike Fighter.
    • This is six more F-35s than the three services asked for in the 2021 Fiscal Year budget request, but 11 fewer jets that Congress ultimately provided funding for in the current fiscal cycle.
    • The Air Force, specifically, wants money to procure 48 F-35As, while the Navy is asking for funds to buy 15 F-35Cs for itself, as well as five more C variants and 17 F-35Bs for the Marine Corps.
  • As said would be its plan last year, the Navy is not asking to buy any new F/A-18E/F Super Hornets in this budget proposal, as it shifts its focus to the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.
  • The Navy is also looking to accelerate the retirement of its remaining legacy F/A-18A/B/C/D Hornets, including through the potential replacement of some of those jets now serving in the aggressor role with ex-Air Force F-16s.
  • The Air Force hopes to receive funds to buy another 12 additional F-15EX Eagle II fighter jets.
    • The service has already received funding for eight F-15EXs in the 2020 Fiscal Year budget and a dozen more in the budget for the 2021 Fiscal Year.
  • The Air Force is looking to retire 48 F-15C/D Eagles.
    • It had previously been reported that the service was looking to divest the entire F-15C/D fleet by 2026, with most of these aircraft being replaced by F-15EXs.
  • The Air Force hopes to shed 47 of its oldest F-16C/D Vipers.
    • This is part of a plan to retire 124 so-called "pre-block" Vipers by 2026, with the service working to rationalize the fleet to include only variants built to the Block 40 and subsequent standards.
    • The equates to the retirement of six squadrons worth of F-16C/Ds and, at present, the last four of these units will stand down before F-35As arrive to replace them.
  • As part of its broader aerial combat plans, the Air Force is looking $1.5 billion to support its Next Generation Air Dominanceprogram (NGAD), which is separate from the Navy's effort.
  • The Air Force wants to cut its 42 A-10 Warthogs.
    • This would shrink the Air Force's overall A-10 fleet down from 281 to 239 aircraft.
  • On the bomber front, the Air Force is asking for $2.873 billion for continued work on the B-21 Raider stealth bomber, an increase of $30 million over its 2021 Fiscal Year request, which it says is "to prepare for initial production" of these aircraft.
  • The Air Force wants $716 million to support its B-52Hs, a significant increase compared to the $483 million it asked for in the 2021 Fiscal Year budget request, and it says this added funding will go toward efforts "to replace engines, upgrade radar & communication systems."
  • When it comes to aerial refueling tankers, the Air Force wants to retire another 18 KC-135Rs and 14 KC-10As.
  • The Air Force wants to buy 14 more KC-46A Pegasus tankers, which continue to struggle to perform the aerial refueling mission even on a limited basis.
  • The Air Force is looking to divest 20 Block 30 RQ-4 Global Hawk drones.
  • The Air Force is again looking to stop buying MQ-9 Reaper drones, entirely.
  • The Navy is looking to pause purchase of additional MQ-4C Triton drones, “to allow the Integrated Functional Capability-4 (IFC 4.0) design to mature, which will eliminate concurrency risk and minimize the retrofit cost," as well as retire its remaining RQ-4A Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Demonstrator (BAMS-D) drones.
  • The Air Force wants to divest four of its 16 E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) battlefield management aircraft.
  • The Air Force is hoping to buy 14 additional HH-60W Jolly Green IIcombat search and rescue helicopters.
    • The service has previously acknowledged that these helicopters will need significant upgrades after delivery to adequately perform their core mission set.
  • The Air Force is also seeking to push back the procurement of its first back of MH-139A helicopters by a year over unspecified technical issues that have caused a delay in receiving certain Federal Aviation Administration certifications.
  • The Air Force is looking to procure three more MC-130J Commando IIspecial operations transports.
  • The Air Force's budget proposal includes a request for funds to buy one E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) aircraft to replace one that crashed in Afghanistanlast year.
    • Earlier this year, the service had also disclosed it was looking at expanding the overall E-11A fleet size by 2026.
  • U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is asking for funds to buy six light attack aircraft as part of its Armed Overwatch program.
    • In May, SOCOM awarded contracts to five companies to demonstrate prototype designs for this program in trials that will start later this year and wrap up in early 2022.
As always, it is important to note that this is just a budget proposal and that Congress will have the final say in which of these provisions, if any, get approved in the end. Lawmakers routinely block requests and even insert additional funding for certain aircraft the Pentagon and the various service branches have not asked for.

There are already a number of these provisions that will almost certainly face at least some backlash from legislators. For instance, members of Congress blocked a similar proposal from the Air Force in the 2021 Fiscal Year budget request regarding cutting the A-10 fleet and forced that service to walk back its plans to retire KC-135 tankers in the face of serious and still-ongoing issueswith the KC-46A that severely limit its capabilities.

The Air Force is also notably required, by law, at least a present, to secure a waiver before it can retire any Global Hawks. There has been pushback from legislators to the service's efforts to stop buying MQ-9 Reaper drones in favor of the development of a successor, known as MQ-Next, too.

In addition, there have already been heated debates this year between members of Congress and U.S. military officials over the future of the F-35 program, especially the Air Force's component thereof. That service still wants to buy more F-35As, but is also now looking a new clean-sheet fighter design to at least supplement those jets, which is presently referred to as the Multi-Role Fighter, or MR-X.

Will all this in mind, it's not surprising that U.S. military officials have already been defending their various portions of the overall budget proposal in the weeks leading up to its formal release.

As we do every year, The War Zone will examine the line-item budget documents in more detail as they are released for additional details about the U.S. military's future plans with regards to airpower, as well as in other domains. We will be sure to highlight any other major developments and surprises that we find along the way.

Contact the author: [email protected]
 

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The famous American M-16 rifle, which has been in service for many years, is becoming a thing of the past. It will be replaced by the new XM5 assault rifle of the German company Sig Sauer, which has its own branch in the United States. The M249 machine gun will also be replaced, it will be replaced by the XM250 light machine gun of the same company. One of the main reasons for the rearmament is the weak penetration characteristics of the 5.56 mm caliber cartridge, as a result of which the M249 machine gun and the M-16 rifle began to poorly penetrate modern army bulletproof vests. The characteristics of the XM5 are still unknown, however, according to experts, they largely correspond to its civilian version - the MCX Spear, that is, the rifle has a length of 80 cm and a weight of 3.8 kg. It uses a two-stage trigger and a 20-round magazine. The assault rifle will be equipped with a silencer as a base, so that future fights will be much quieter. Both models are chambered in .277 with a new 6.8mm cartridge that outperforms previous generations of 5.56 and 7.62mm rounds in terms of lethality and range. The US Army plans to purchase 250,000 XM5 and XM250 units. When entering service, they will receive the designations M5 and M250.

 
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