33rd FW hosts first F-35A load competition

33rd FW hosts first F-35A load competitionEGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS)

The 33rd Fighter Wing held its first weapons load competition with the F-35A Lightning II here Feb. 5 to find the best weapons load crew in the 33rd Maintenance Group.

The event marked a milestone in the wing’s F-35 program as the first competition in seven years since the 2009 drawdown of the F-15C Eagle. The 33rd FW flew F-15s until the Defense Department’s Base Realignment and Closure Commission directed the divestment of the aircraft and established the wing as the host unit for the F-35 Integrated Training Center. On Sept. 8, 2009, the wing’s final F-15 departed to make way for the F-35’s arrival in the summer of 2011.

“(This competition) is very important to the F-35 program because it shows our progress as weapons load trainers and how the F-35 has grown,” said Tech. Sgt. Daryl Crane, a 33rd MXG weapons load standardization crew member. “It also shows how we’ve brought this aircraft (toward) initial operational capability. We set the milestones for other bases to have these aircraft ready to drop (munitions) as soon they get them.”

During the competition, load crews underwent a uniform inspection, a written 25-question test covering loading procedures and weapons safety, a weapons tool box inspection, and an Air Intercept Missile-120 and Guided Bomb Unit-12 integrated load. All evaluated processes are graded on a point system distinguishing the team with the highest points as the winner.

“The purpose of weapons load competition is to allow the 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit load crews to showcase their abilities as excellent loaders and encourage a competitive spirit to our career field,” said Tech. Sgt. Raymond Mott, a 33rd MXG F-35A loading standardization crew member.

The 33rd FW has 14 load crews made up of one lead standardization crew, two lead crews and 11 load crews. Only these 11 load crews in the 58th AMU are eligible to compete in the load competition.

The wing hosted four quarterly load competitions for the 11 load crew teams to compete against each other to qualify for the event.

“The competition pushes our loaders to stay competitive,” Mott said. “This (event) ultimately makes all of our 11 load crews better and smarter loaders.”

The winners of this competition will be announced at the military professional of the year ceremony March 11. This team will then compete in a base-wide load competition March 18 against load crews from the 96th Test Wing on Eglin Air Force Base to determine the base’s best load crew.

“Our career field has a lot of pride. Earning the title of the best load crew is the same as winning the gold medal in the Olympics because it follows you throughout your entire career,” Mott said.

Out of the shadows: ACMS Airmen provide missing link

Out of the shadows: ACMS Airmen provide missing linkCREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada (AFNS)

Preparing to support remotely piloted aircraft operations is no easy task. Still, Airmen assigned to the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing recently spent time showing leadership exactly what it takes to provide RPA intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support at any time.

Chief Master Sgt. Michael Ditore, command chief of the wings, shadowed two Airmen from the 432nd Aircraft Communications Maintenance Squadron Feb. 10 and learned about how the unit provides the link between RPAs and ground support at Creech Air Force Base.

Senior Airman Robert, a communications mechanic, and Staff Sgt. Rachel, a communications supervisor, are responsible for ground control squadron maintenance. Assigned to the 432nd ACMS, they maintain the electronic link between pilots in the ground control station and their RPAs.

Both Airmen are also part of the only communications squadron that services ground control stations at Creech AFB. A station acts as a cockpit to pilots and sensor operators who control MQ-1 and MQ-9 aircraft from the ground, and being the only specialists with the tools to maintain them makes their job especially important to the RPA mission.

As they conducted a preventative maintenance inspection (PMI) with Ditore, the Airmen covered important aspects of the job, and provided him with valuable insight. The Airmen showed Ditore how to properly care for the station, as well as how to fix it if something goes wrong.

Robert said that keeping the stations maintained enables pilots and sensor operators to fly, and demonstrated that without them, RPA flights wouldn’t be possible.

“When you’re enabling combatant commanders to successfully complete the mission, it’s a great feeling,” Robert said. “I love being in the Air Force and being in communications because there is a requirement everywhere for us. We can go anywhere in the world, we can set up anywhere in the world.”

For Robert, station maintenance often involves more than wrench turning. It also focuses on servicing the computers and the technical aspects of communications that enable RPA crews to talk with ground crews and the aircraft itself.

As part of his efforts to develop Airmen at Creech AFB, Ditore developed the shadow an Airman for a day program to put faces to the Airmen of the community.

“It’s really important that we get to know our Airmen and what they are doing,” Ditore said. “We all bring something to the fight. It’s important for us not to lose that perspective of one another.”

As a former maintainer, Ditore felt at home performing the PMI alongside the ACMS Airmen. Ditore finished various tasks alongside the Airmen, from cleaning computer screens to taking apart station items.

Like most other jobs in the Air Force, paperwork is a crucial part of maintenance inspections. When Ditore was finished with the shadow, Robert showed him how to fill out forms and mark discrepancies found during the inspection, explaining what each one meant and how to write them.

Ditore said shadowing the Airmen allowed him to gather a new perspective on the 432nd ACMS and their importance to the mission.

“(Working with) communications gives me variety,” Ditore said. “It lets me see how these Airmen are making a difference, helps me find out how to help and show we care.”

Editor’s note: Some last names were removed due to security concerns.

AF temporarily transitions to contract maintenance for some active-duty units

AF temporarily transitions to contract maintenance for some active-duty unitsWASHINGTON (AFNS)

The Air Force will temporarily transition some legacy active-duty maintenance units to contract maintenance beginning in fiscal year 2017 and continuing through fiscal year 2020.

The move to contract maintenance for some legacy non-deployable flying units and back shop maintenance will allow the Air Force to cross train approximately 1,100 experienced maintainers from legacy aircraft (F-16 Fighting Falcon, A-10 Thunderbolt II, and C-130 Hercules) into the F-35 Lightning II program.

There is a shortfall of 4,000 maintainers as a result of budgetary constraints that has significantly impacted our overall maintenance manning, said Lt. Gen. John B. Cooper, the deputy chief of staff for logistics, engineering and force protection.

“Changes in the geopolitical environment also require us to maintain our current fleet, rather than divest legacy aircraft,” Cooper said. “All of this has affected our plan to transition maintenance manpower from legacy aircraft to the F-35A as originally planned.”

Cooper said contract maintenance is a short-term solution that will ensure the Air Force remains on a steady path toward full operating capability for the F-35A as the maintenance career fields grow and strengthen.

“This is one of many deliberate measures we are taking to help manage this shortage of experienced aircraft maintainers until we can grow and develop our new accessions,” he said.

Additional initiatives to manage the maintainer shortage include: increasing the number of maintenance accessions; offering selective reenlistment bonuses as an incentive to improve retention; offering experienced former Airmen the opportunity to return to active duty; offering high year of tenure extensions; implemented direct duty prior service accessions; implemented voluntary limited period of active duty; and evaluating total force manning solutions.

Locations affected include formal training units at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, and Little Rock AFB, Arkansas; A-10 Weapons Instructor Course and operational test and evaluation units at Nellis AFB, Nevada; F-16 aggressor maintenance at Eielson AFB, Alaska; aerospace ground equipment units Anderson AFB, Guam; Holloman AFB and Kirtland AFB, New Mexico; Peterson AFB, Colorado; and Rota Air Base, Spain; and avionics units at Eglin AFB and Tyndall AFB in Florida.

Beginning in fiscal 2017, the Air Force will use an existing contract vehicle to begin the transition. As contract maintainers come onboard, military members will begin moving to operational units in the summers of 2017 and 2018. As accessions grow, it will allow the Air Force to phase out the contract support by 2020.

James focuses on value of Airmen at AFA breakfast

James focuses on value of Airmen at AFA breakfastWASHINGTON (AFNS) Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James spoke during the Air Force Association’s Air Force Breakfast Series Feb. 12 at the Key Bridge Marriot in Arlington, Virginia. James emphasized that her number one priority is to take care of Airmen and she ensured the fiscal year 2017 budget focused on this. “Our Airmen have shouldered the lion’s share of this effort (the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), and I am very cognizant that it is (taking) a toll,” James said. “We’re asking them to do more and more. For this reason, we have got to preserve the force we have today and I believe we need to grow it for the future.” James thanked Congress for their support to modestly upsize the active-duty force from roughly 311,000 to 317,000 by the end of this fiscal year. She also expanded on how the fiscal 2017 budget will support Airmen, such as: a 1.6 percent pay raise for military and civilian forces, an expanded Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, additional support for child care facilities, and educational benefit boosts. The secretary also spoke to the numerous operations Airmen are currently supporting around the world. “Besides Daesh, a resurgent Russia now supports Assad in the skies over Syria … (and) we observed North Korea conduct another illegal nuclear test, and a rocket launch last Sunday,” James noted. “We continue to see worrisome Chinese military activity in the South China Sea, and we have growing threats in both space and cyberspace. Bottom line is: the Air Force has a key role to play in each of these areas. We are fully engaged in every region of the world, every mission area, and across the full spectrum of military operations.” One part of taking care of people is ensuring the Air Force modernizes its aircraft fleet and develops its capabilities to ensure Airmen maintain an advantage as adversaries close the technological gap. “In terms of readiness, we will fund flying hours to their maximum executable level, invest in weapons system sustainment, and ensure combat exercises like Red Flag and Green Flag remain strong,” James said. “We’ll continue to advance the F-35 (Lightning II), the KC-46 (Pegasus), the Long Range Strike Bomber, Combat Rescue Helicopter programs, and we will get going with the (Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System) recap as part of this budget.” James’ message was clear. Current operations keep the Air Force busy – Airmen continue to go above and beyond to get the mission done, she said. “Airmen and their families are the Air Force’s most important resource and our budget submission reflects this truth.”

AF officials announce FY 2017 budget force structure changes

AF officials announce FY 2017 budget force structure changesWASHINGTON (AFNS)

Air Force officials released force structure changes resulting from the president’s fiscal year 2017 budget Feb. 12.

This year’s budget request continues the momentum gained from the recovery provided by the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act, but still reflects the tough choices the Air Force was forced to make as the demand for Air Force capability continues to increase as the Budget Control Act looms in fiscal 2018. The fiscal 2017 budget leverages the total force active duty, Guard and Reserve to maintain the service’s ability to support ongoing operations while ensuring the service is ready to face future threats. The budget keeps the active-duty force at 317,000 while posturing the force for future growth. Guard and Reserve manning will remain constant, but the Air Force will continue plans to transfer aircraft and flying missions to Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve locations that would otherwise have no mission due to fleet divestments. “We are using the strengths of our total force team while we continue to balance readiness today and tomorrow,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. “In this budget, we will transfer some strategic airlift capability from active-duty to Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve locations, maintaining critical surge capability in the Reserve component.” The budget rephases divestment of the A-10 Thunderbolt II to coincide with fielding of follow-on capabilities and will delay retirement of the first A-10s until fiscal 2018 to align with F-35 Lightning II bed down, keeping the A-10 in the inventory until fiscal 2022. “Rephasing the retirement of the weapons system until later in the Future Years Defense Program ensures critical capability is retained in the near term to support ongoing operations, as well as any potential changes in the geopolitical environment,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. “This plan will allow us to maintain vital fighter capacity as we transition to the F-35 and deal with a resurgent Russia and a protracted counterterrorism war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.” The Air Force also plans to grow the tanker force over the next several years to the required 479 tanker aircraft before it considers divesting tankers as it receives KC-46A Pegasus aircraft to replace them. The fiscal 2017 plan also maintains all 14 of the current EC-130H Compass Call fleet through fiscal 2018, while retiring 28 C-130H Hercules aircraft between fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2019 to reduce excess capacity and free up resources to invest in enterprise requirements. Additionally, a small number of F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft will be transferred to formal training units to help increase the rate of pilot production to help fill critical fighter pilot shortages. “The actions in this budget represent our best plan to balance readiness for the warfighter today and into the future, but we need to ensure our Air Force stands ready for any unseen challenge of tomorrow,” James said. “Our (fiscal 2017) budget continues the recovery and gives us a larger and better equipped force. However, we still had to make tough choices in modernization, infrastructure and people to live within Bipartisan Budget Act limits. We need to continue the recovery, repeal sequestration in FY18, and give America the Air Force it deserves … now and in the future.”

Avionics flight ensures aircraft equipment mission ready

Avionics flight ensures aircraft equipment mission readyAL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar (AFNS)

Avionics specialists with the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, manage an $83 million electronic warfare pod fleet and provide critical support to ensure aircraft stay mission ready.

The squadron’s avionics flight manages the only Avionics Consolidated Repair Facility in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility and services equipment on five different airframes, including the F-15 Eagle and B-1B Lancer.

In the past six months, the flight has performed 56 maintenance inspections and produced more than 1,000 line replaceable units. LRUs can be removed from an aircraft to be quickly fixed or replaced, such as a joystick from an F-15 or an antenna from a B-1B.

Staff Sgt. Charles Filholm, the 379th EMXS B-1B Lancer offensive avionics back shop team leader, said the avionics flight has an incredible impact on the mission.

“When our aircraft need something fixed so they can fly, we get it done,” said Filholm, of Perry, Georgia. “It’s a group effort; everyone in this shop is mission and team oriented. Every one of us wants to see those planes flying day after day.”

The avionics flight, which has more than 30 Airmen, consists of two sections the avionics intermediate section and electronic countermeasures section. The AIS team focuses on providing intermediate-level maintenance support for F-15, F-16 Fighting Falcon, B-1B, A-10 Thunderbolt II and C-17 Globemaster III avionics systems. The ECM team provides maintenance support for the ALQ-184 and ALQ-131 electronic warfare pods.

Senior Airman Alex Mohr, a 379th EMXS EW team member from Dayton, Ohio, is one of more than a dozen Airmen who work in the electronic countermeasures section.

“We maintain our EW pods and perform periodic maintenance inspections on every one, three times a year,” Mohr said.

An EW pod uses radio frequency radiation to jam enemy anti-aircraft weaponry. A pod receives a targeting signal from an enemy system, determines how to best counter that signal and then transmits its own signal to confuse or block the enemy targeting signal.

“Ensuring each pod is performing like it’s supposed to is important work,” Mohr said. “We ensure the pod transmits the proper radio frequency techniques to counter whatever enemy equipment may be out there.”

“For example,” Mohr said, “surface-to-air missile sites may try to hit our planes, so the pod attempts to jam the signals sent from those SAM sites.”

The avionics intermediate section repairs a variety of aircraft equipment, including radar and flight control systems.

“We do a lot of work in this facility,” Filholm said. “We’ve repaired antennas, power supplies, countermeasures boxes, and much more.”

The AIS team maintains 11 test stations capable of replicating signals from five airframes to ensure flight systems are operating at the proper frequencies. The section receives approximately 54 LRUs per week.

With every repair, the avionics team saves the Air Force thousands of dollars. Over the past six months, the flight has saved $25 million by avoiding shipping and repair costs associated with shipping equipment back to the United States.

“Having us here enables us to repair equipment needed for all of our airframes in the AOR and get that equipment out swiftly and efficiently,” Filholm said.

Maj. Joshua Depaul, the 379th EMXS commander, said to have a consolidated repair facility prepositioned in the AOR “increases responsiveness to the warfighter, streamlines the logistics trail, and provides an inherent capability embedded into the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing to fix, test and overhaul LRUs to ensure we have mission ready aircraft to support mission requirements.”

The commander said he’s proud of his maintainers.

“It takes an integrated team across the AEW to generate combat airpower; every functional area contributes to that end,” he said. “As a direct combat support agency, our maintenance professionals take great pride in ensuring the safety and reliability of the aircraft and equipment we maintain.

“We ensure the best pilots in the world can safely and effectively prosecute targets, acquire critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, refuel our joint and coalition partners, and sustain the fight,” Depaul added. “I am extremely proud of our avionics team and their ability to support the warfighter.”

In 2015, the avionics team produced more than 4,000 LRUs, sustained a 91 percent quality assurance pass rate and maintained a 100 percent mission capable EW pod rate.

Airmen strengthen forward capability in Bulgaria

Airmen strengthen forward capability in BulgariaPLOVDIV, Bulgaria (AFNS)

Airmen from the 352nd Special Operations Wing supported deterrence-specific training here in conjunction with the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron Feb. 9-11.

A-10C Thunderbolt II pilots, assigned to the 74th EFS and currently deployed to Bulgaria as part of the European Theater Security Package, performed unimproved surface landings on an austere landing strip to simulate conditions of a deployed environment.

“The A-10 is a fighter aircraft that specializes in close air support,” said Lt. Col. Bryan France, the 74th EFS commander. “This training will prepare our pilots to land in a variety of surface conditions allowing us to bring the fight even further.”

To aid the pilots, 321st Special Tactics Squadron combat controllers surveyed and set up the landing strip with visual reference markers while also providing air traffic control.

“A lot of preparation is done by the combat controllers to make the austere landing strip as favorable as possible for the pilots,” France said. “They go in early to control that airfield and provide to the pilots’ needs.”

Austere landings are nothing new for the TSP mission; however, the A-10s were not the only aircraft using the landing strip. An MC-130J Commando II, assigned to 67th Special Operations Squadron, also practiced landing on the unimproved surface, bringing with it a key capability.

“The MC-130 is a tactical airlifter designed to operate in austere environments,” said Capt. Justin Nadal, a 67th SOS MC-130J aircraft commander. “Because it can carry a lot more cargo while simultaneously having the ability to land in these difficult conditions, it makes for an effective aircraft to provide supplies to troops on the ground or in this case a forward area refueling point to extend the range of our aircraft assets.”

A forward area refueling point, or FARP, is a location where fuel can be transferred from one aircraft to another; in this case from the MC-130 to the A-10s.

There are less than 60 Airmen in the Air Force that share the title of FARP team member and Senior Airman Tristan Mitchell, a 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels operator, is one of them.

“We can provide fuel to a range of different aircraft,” Mitchell said. “Our job is to make sure our birds get the fuel they need quickly to get back in the fight faster.”

The FARP team can be ready to transfer fuel in less than 15 minutes after exiting the MC-130. Once set up, the MC-130 can provide tens of thousands of pounds of fuel to multiple aircraft in a matter of minutes.

This fast-paced refueling and interoperability between different groups is a continued effort to sustain enemy deterrence and assure European allies the U.S. commitment to the region.

“FARP operations in combination with austere field operations provide commanders the ability to project combat capability to areas otherwise denied by traditional airpower methods,” France said. “This exercise demonstrates our ability to integrate across commands with joint forces while supporting our NATO allies.”