AGE mechanics provide vital mission support

AGE mechanics provide vital mission supportAL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar (AFNS)

The 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron’s Aerospace Ground Equipment Flight at Al Udeid Air Base is the largest AGE flight in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

The flight maintains 93 different types of equipment, including generators, heaters and hydraulic test stands valued at $32 million. The equipment is used by maintenance personnel to ensure Al Udeid’s aircraft are mission ready. The section also provides ground equipment maintenance support to six bases across the CENTCOM AOR, which consists of 20 countries in Southwest Asia and Africa.

“We provide everything that an aircraft may need so maintenance can be performed, such as generators, hydraulics, air conditioning … everything,” said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Roman, a 379th EMXS AGE Flight journeyman from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Roman is currently serving on his fourth deployment. He’s responsible for ensuring the accountability and serviceability of nearly 700 items, including socket sets, drills and hammers. He said he loves his job.

“I like being able to identify problems on equipment and fix them,” Roman said. “With AGE, you kind of have to be a jack of all trades. You’re not doing the same thing every day; you work on one piece of equipment one day and you’ll likely work on something else another day.”

Roman first deployed as an AGE mechanic to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, in 2007. During his deployment, he learned just how important AGE mechanics are.

“About two months into the deployment, I met a Marine, and he thanked me for what I do,” Roman said. “I said, ‘I don’t really do that much; I’m just a mechanic.’ The Marine told me ‘You put that aircraft in the air, whether you think you do or not, you have a hand in that; if that plane was 30 seconds late yesterday, I would’ve been dead.’”

The Marine was referring to the F-15E Strike Eagle.

The unit’s work supported more than 20,000 sorties in 2015, including historic accomplishments by the B-1B Lancer, which set rotational records for total ordnance dropped, and the KC-135 Stratotanker, which flew more than 100,000 combat hours.

“Our job is important,” said Airman 1st Class Gavin Baker, a 379th EMXS AGE mechanic from Lancaster, California. “Each aircraft has specific needs. For example, if an aircraft needs to be connected to a generator, we must ensure that generator is operating at a specific voltage and frequency, otherwise it could severely damage the components on the aircraft.

“An aircraft may need to test its hydraulic systems, so we supply the hydraulics test stands to support that function,” Baker added. “We ensure the fluid flows at a certain rate to ensure the hydraulics that move the wing tips to change the elevation of the aircraft aren’t being over-serviced.”

An oversight in this area could result in severe interior aircraft damage, Baker added.

Senior Master Sgt. Jaysen Lausten, the 379th EMXS AGE flight chief from San Jose, California, said he’s been impressed with his Airmen.

“We have more than 100 people, including members from the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and active-duty force, and we all come together here to perform the mission,” he said.

“When they set their boots on the ground here, their minds are focused on the mission,” Lausten added. “Sometimes it may seem like the odds are stacked against them. We’ll have equipment break and they will do what they have to, without complaining, and find a way to fix anything quickly and efficiently. Their ability to do that is phenomenal. This shop performs above and beyond all expectations.”

The 379th EMXS AGE Flight supported 90,000 equipment dispatches, performed 6,000 maintenance actions and provided ground support for more than 5,000 transient aircraft in 2015.

Super Bowl air coverage provided by Air Force

Super Bowl air coverage provided by Air ForceROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFNS)

There will be Panthers and Broncos at this year’s Super Bowl but Eagles?

Thanks, in part, to work done at Robins Air Force Base, the answer is a resounding yes. The teams won’t be the only ones commanding a presence Feb. 7 during one of the country’s most anticipated annual sporting events. So, if you’re lucky enough to score tickets, you’ll be in very good company.

The skies above Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, in Santa Clara, California, will be a well-protected fortress, defended by one of the most feared weapon systems in the Defense Department’s inventory.

F-15 Eagles, from the California Air National Guard, have been training in the weeks leading up to the big game, along with Cessnas from the Civil Air Patrol. That training includes practicing interception techniques should they ever have to locate and guide wandering aircraft who have flown into restricted airspaces, such as those imposed for the Super Bowl.

Those F-15s, by the way, are the same aircraft maintained by the 561st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex.

At some point in an F-15’s service life, it will have been touched by someone from Robins AFB. The aircraft’s worldwide reach is possible due to the contributions from hundreds of people at this base.

There are folks in the fabric survival equipment shop who inspect and pack parachutes. If you’re coming out of an airplane at 20,000 feet, it’s critical those chutes open in time. Each parachute has a service life of 13 years.

Then there are those in the 572nd Commodities Maintenance Squadron, who work on the aircraft’s wings. Workers de-panel the wings, tear it down, remove plumbing and foam, then hydroblast sealant and debris. It’s inspected and repairs are made as needed before build-up. Mechanics here also work on the aircraft’s protective canopies that cover its cockpit and enclose the aircrew.

High-quality visibility is paramount in an F-15, especially when flying in air-to-air combat environments. When an F-15 leaves Robins AFB, it does so with a brand new piece of protective glass. There are the program managers in the system program office who plan the work performed on the F-15 fleet; and foreign military sales professionals who engage with international partners who purchase these high-value assets.

The rewire flight maintainers remove and replace every single piece of wire inside the fighter aircraft’s C and D models. That workload will soon end when the final aircraft is scheduled to leave the complex in late February.

The hundreds of engineers, schedulers, planners, sheet metal, and aircraft mechanics who come to work daily to perform programmed depot maintenance have also contributed to fiscal year 2015 numbers that exist due to continuous process improvements in the 561st AMXS. That resulted in the delivery of 73 Eagles back to the warfighter in the last fiscal year.

It takes a true team effort to keep these aircraft flying, not only overseas engaging with enemy forces, but also here in the homeland protecting tens of thousands of citizens who want to enjoy a football game.

Things won’t just be crazy on the ground, with metal detectors and bag checks, long lines, congestion in the streets, armed security guards and law enforcement personnel throughout the stadium and city, but the sky, too, will be off-limits. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there will be temporary flight restrictions prohibiting certain aircraft operations within a 32-mile radius of the stadium on game day.

So what happens if you’re a pilot and you decide to take a quick, casual detour to peek at gameday activities below? Or, maybe you’re just out for a nice flight, got lost for a few minutes and are unaware of your surroundings?

Either way, probably within a matter of seconds, expect you’ll be intercepted by a pair of F-15s. In the unlikely event that happens, there’s an FAA guide explaining how to react, in case you haven’t received training on interception procedures.

In the meantime, sit back, eat some snacks and enjoy a good, old fashioned American pastime knowing the skies are safe.

Campbell to lawmakers: Afghanistan not a short-term problem

Campbell to lawmakers: Afghanistan not a short-term problemWASHINGTON (AFNS)

The situation is extremely complex in Afghanistan, but one simple truth is that 2016 cannot be a repeat of 2015, Army Gen. John Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 4.

Campbell, the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said the Taliban were emboldened by the U.S. withdrawal and the concomitant reduction in close air support. The Taliban “have fought the Afghan security forces very tough, and we can’t let that happen as we move forward,” he said.

Campbell told the committee that the current plan, which calls for a reduction in U.S. service members in the country to 5,500 by Jan. 1, 2017 would limit the train, advise and assist mission in Afghanistan. “The 5,500 plan was developed primarily around counterterrorism,” he said. “There is very limited train, advise and assist (funding) in … those numbers.

“To continue to build on the Afghan security forces, the gaps and seams in aviation, logistics, intelligences, as I’ve talked about, we’d have to make some adjustments to that number,” he said.

Prepare, adjust

Campbell said he is, of course, prepared to pare U.S. numbers in Afghanistan to 5,500 from about 9,800 by the end of the year. “I believe the right thing to do is to prepare to go to 5,500 as I am ordered, but at the same time take a look at conditions on the ground, look at the capabilities … not the number and to provide those adjustments to my military leadership, and then make those adjustments to the capabilities,” he said.

“If we don’t have the capabilities, or if the assumptions that we made for the 5,500 plan don’t come out true, then of course, we have to make those adjustments,” he added.

Any adjustments would have to be made early this year, Campbell said, and preferably before summer. Campbell stressed that Afghanistan is not a short-term problem and that it must be viewed in years. NATO and partner nations need time to prepare troops and equipment for deployment, he explained.

A five-year cycle “gives them the ability to plan, to resource,” Campbell said. “Again, any budget one year at a time is very, very hard to do. So I think NATO’s completely on board with that. All the countries continue to provide the assistance that they pledged at the Chicago 2012 conference. Again, the United States is the biggest contributor, but the NATO countries continue to provide and have done so.”

In addition to internal training requirements, the general said a long-term commitment also serves to give confidence to the Afghan government and people.

“It sends a message to Pakistan, it sends a message to the Taliban, and it sends a message to NATO,” Campbell said. “Talking those kind of terms, conditions based on the ground, is the way we need to move forward to enable the Afghans to have a predictability and stability.”

State of AF: Modernizing for next offset strategy

State of AF: Modernizing for next offset strategyORLANDO, Fla. (AFNS)

Budget plans are poised to keep the Air Force atop of its game, with a new bomber and advanced technology to help Airmen execute a future offset strategy, the head of the service announced at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium Feb. 26.

“We’ve got to be forward thinking enough to balance winning today’s fight while preparing for tomorrow’s,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. “Though the horizon may seem distant, it’s actually just around the corner, and we’re getting ready for takeoff.”

With a requested top-line budget of $120.4 billion for fiscal year 2017, the Air Force aims to stand up to any threat, such as terrorist groups, China, North Korea and a resurgent Russia.

“We’re keeping our eyes on the ball to protect against a wide range of potential adversaries,” James said.

Building blocks

The secretary outlined the foundation for an upcoming third offset, following decades of nuclear deterrence and precision airpower in defense of the nation.

The first building block would harness the power of autonomous learning systems.

“These are computers that can learn and adapt over time,” she said. “They’ll be able to sort through massive amounts of data in a flash to help the warfighter make high-pressure decisions on cyberattacks, satellite movements, and target identification.”

Next, human-machine collaboration would play a key role while relying on Airmen thinking.

“This is where a machine acts as a human’s assistant to prevent overload,” James said. “This allows the user to focus on the life or death decisions that only the brain of the trained Airman can make.”

Assisted human operations, including wearable technology or combat applications to help ground troops, may also be used one day in cockpits, the flightline and even in space to give space operators a “virtual presence” on satellites, she said.

The fourth building block, human-machine combat teaming, would integrate autonomously operating platforms with a manned strike package. One example is the F-35 Lightning II helmet, which breaks down complex sensor and computer data from the aircraft before giving it to the pilot.

“Autonomous platforms could conduct initial (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) to identify surface-to-air threats, and relay the information back to the manned package for follow-on electronic warfare operations,” James said.

Lastly, network-enabled semi-autonomous technology, found in weapons like the small diameter bomb, could allow weapons to talk and share data with each other.

“So they can still hit the target if they lose data link from the aircraft or access to GPS, as they may in a highly contested environment,” she said.

Budget plans

Future spending will look to build up the force with quality Airmen who can effectively conduct the next offset strategy.

“We have been downsizing for a long time in our Air Force and this simply must stop. And it is stopping. Now we are in an era of modest upsize and we are doing it for our total force,” the secretary said.

Congress has allowed the Air Force, she added, to boost its active-duty ranks by about 6,000 Airmen to roughly 317,000 by the end of this fiscal year.

“In reality, I think mission demands will indicate that we need more growth in (fiscal 2017),” she said. “To meet these demands, I’m planning on taking a judicious approach to incrementally increasing our total force beyond the current level, provided we can attract the right talent.”

To ensure mission readiness, the secretary pointed to efforts for the new B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber and advancements on the F-35, KC-46A Pegasus and combat rescue helicopter programs.

Plans are also in place to add two dozen MQ-9A Reaper drones, extra munition buys, and to postpone the retirements of A-10 Thunderbolt II and EC-130 Compass Call aircraft.

The secretary also called for Congress to support base changes to maximize funding.

“We really need the authority to conduct a base closure and realignment,” she said. “We’re spreading out a much (smaller) pie for infrastructure improvements to many different places and we’re not doing justice to any single location.”

But there has been recent success with Cost Capability Analysis, an analytical tool used to study cost and military utility, which helped reduce the cost of B-2 Spirit communications system upgrades by 41 percent.

“The bottom line is that the numbers count, innovation counts, and speed counts,” James said. “If we can get the price tag right, leverage innovation, and do so faster, we can continue to acquire more of what we need.”

In closing, the secretary noted that despite what happens with the next offset strategy, the Air Force will lean on its most prized possession.

“Our Airmen represent our legacy and our future,” she said. “Airmen are our secret weapon. They always were, and always will be.”

Officer developmental education application window opens Feb. 8

Officer developmental education application window opens Feb. 8JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS)

Eligible active-duty officers can apply for intermediate and senior developmental education opportunities beginning in February.

Officer nominations, with senior rater endorsements, will be accepted beginning Feb. 8 and are due to the Air Force Personnel Center no later than March 14.

“There are many opportunities available to those interested in taking the next step to grow personally and professionally,” said Kris Hunter, the AFPC Developmental Education deputy chief.

Intermediate programs include the Air Command and Staff College, sister service schools, international schools, a variety of fellowship programs and more.

Senior programs include Air Force and defense fellowships, Army War College, sister service schools, National Defense University programs, international schools and more.

“The eligibility requirements vary depending on the program, so we encourage applicants to carefully review force development information available on the myPers website prior to applying,” Hunter said.

The selection results will be announced in October 2016.

Civilian Developmental Education and Civilian Strategic Leadership Program nomination information is projected to be released in March.

For more information about Air Force personnel programs go to the myPers website. Individuals who do not have a myPers account can request one by following the instructions on the Air Force Retirees Services website.

Luke pilot flies 500th hour in F-35

Luke pilot flies 500th hour in F-35LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. (AFNS)

A 61st Fighter Squadron pilot made history Feb. 2 as the first Luke Air Force Base pilot to achieve 500 flight hours in an F-35 Lightning II.

Lt. Col. Matthew Hayden, also the 56th Fighter Wing chief of safety, achieved this milestone flying his 270th sortie, a routine training mission.

“This is a testament to Luke and all the work we’ve done here to build up our experience and operations,” Hayden said. “This is a reflection of our efforts to set up a high-quality training program for new pilots.”

Hayden is one of the most experienced F-35 pilots in the world, and has flown and instructed new pilots at Luke AFB since the inception of its program.

“The (61st FS) Top Dogs are incredibly lucky to have an F-35 instructor pilot who has been with the program since the beginning flying with us on a daily basis,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Jelinek, the 61st FS director of operations. “Lt. Col. Hayden’s depth of knowledge when it comes to both F-35 systems and tactics add incredible value to squadron operations each and every day.”

As Luke AFB transitions from its mission of training F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots, maintainers and support specialists to training equivalent Airmen in operation of the new F-35 platform, Hayden’s 500th hour in the air marks a significant leap of progress in the development of the base’s F-35 program.

“When our most experienced instructor pilot only has 500 hours in the plane, it goes to show the F-35 program is still young,” Jelinek said. “However, it also shows that we are reaching a point where operations are normalizing, and we are able to transition our syllabus from training initial cadre to training less experienced fighter pilots.”

Luke Airmen are among the first in a global generation of pilots to fly the F-35, and will continue to reach milestones such as this for the duration of the aircraft’s development.

“The fabulous thing about this is that there are a lot of guys who are right behind me, who are really close to getting the same kind of milestone in their flying experience,” Hayden said.

As today’s pilots become more experienced with the F-35 platform, they position themselves to become the instructors and mentors of future generations of pilots flying more advanced versions of the fighter jet as they are developed and produced.

“As we build our cadre of instructors here, they’ll be able to look back at their experience flying the airplane and have credibility and a solid background that they can use to teach their students,” Hayden said.

Carter talks budget, readiness with Nellis community

Carter talks budget, readiness with Nellis communityNELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFNS)

Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited Nellis Air Force Base Feb. 4, during the last leg of his defense budget installation visits.

After meeting with service members at the California-based Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Carter spoke to Nellis Airmen to preview the fiscal year 2017 defense budget and discuss its impact on the Air Force.

“The key is readiness; that’s the key to the Air Force today and tomorrow, and it happens here,” Carter said. “What I’m asking the Air Force to do … is maintain a very high level of readiness, and that you get from Nellis.

“This is the only test range where you can bring it all together not only all the kinds of aircraft you see on the ramps out there, but the satellites you don’t see and the cyber (activity) you don’t see. In today’s world, all of that is brought together only here at Nellis, so it’s an enormously important installation. That is reflected in our budget, where we’re adding $1 billion more for training of this kind over the next five years. That’s going to support no fewer than 34 major exercises.”

The defense secretary spoke about attaining a lasting defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, while also ensuring the department is ready for potential conflict with higher-end adversaries and more technologically advanced threats in the future.

Carter said the men and women of the Air Force like the ones he visited earlier in the day at the 66th Rescue Squadron and 823rd Maintenance Squadron will be the keys to the direction the Defense Department plans to take the service in the future.

“We are adding funds to the Air Force budget to grow manpower in the maintenance area because we need more maintainers, given the high-operations tempo, to keep our aircraft ready,” Carter said. “We’re doing all this at the same time that we are modernizing the Air Force, so you’ll see in the future new aircraft here on the ramp.

“You’ll see, shortly, the KC-46 (Pegasus) and one day maybe you’ll see but maybe we won’t show a new bomber, and there’s other things you also won’t see because we like to have some surprises for potential adversaries,” he continued.

On his way to depart the base, Carter noticed a C-5 Galaxy where Airmen were coming off the aircraft, returning from deployment. So, he took a 20-minute detour to personally welcome home every returning Airman.

“It’s indicative that at his last moment on the ramp, when he realized there were Airmen returning, he delayed his departure and said let’s go meet those Airmen. Those Airmen had no idea, they just flew back from their (area of responsibility), climbed off the plane, and here’s the secretary of defense welcoming them back,” said Maj. Gen. Jay Silveria, the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center commander. “As he said, he supports us 1,000 percent.”