U.S. Air War All-But-Over in Iraq

This is how far the U.S. war effort in Iraq has wound down: There wasn’t a single American airstrike in Iraq last month, according statistics from the U.S. Air Force. And insurgent improvised bombs, the country’s deadliest threat, are down 90 percent.

Iraq is still a dangerous place; five Christian churches were attacked on Sunday, for example. But the newly quiet sky shows just how far American military involvement in Iraq’s affairs has shrunk. In June of 2007, there were 207 airstrikes. In June 2008, there were 25. Now, none.

No more bombs over Baghdad doesn’t mean peaceful skies across the Middle East and Central Asia, however. American aircraft bombed Afghanistan 437 times this past month, and over 2000 times in 2009. That’s about 20 times the amount of bombs dropped on Iraq this year.

The changing tempos of the two wars can be seen in other statistics, as well. There were 260 Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks in Iraq last month, according to statistics from the military’s Joint IED Defeat Organization. That’s down from 602 attacks in June 2008 and 2588 in June 2007. The trends in Afghanistan are going in the other direction. The jury-rigged explosives hit a new high there last month: 736 in June, compared to 308 in June 2008, and 234 in June 2007.

Numbers from the military’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany tell a similar story. Since January, 2004, there have been over 43,000 troops sent there from Iraq. That’s more than triple the 12,000 patients sent from Afghanistan. But in recent months, cases from the conflict zones have begun to run even — despite the fact there are twice as many U.S. troops in Iraq.

Afghanistan is receiving a record amount of supplies as well, according to the Air Force.  U.S. planes dropped 3.25 million pounds of it this past June, the most ever.

Noah Shachtman and Shelley DuBois

[Photo: USAF; spotter: MG]


Air Force Eyes Purple Bacteria to Power Drones

by Katie Drummond


The Air Force doesn’t exactly want its drones powered by purple bacteria. Instead, the air service would like to use a synthetic dye, based one the microorganisms, to juice up its robotic planes.

Let me explain: The U.S. armed services are on a slow crawl towards environmental friendliness, investing in everything from massive solar arrays to algae-based jet fuels to trash-powered generators. Military-funded researchers are also experimenting with downright novel methods to come up with green fuel and power. Like this bacteria-and-drones project.

The Air Force is sponsoring a University of Washington research effort to generate power using a bacterial pigment that can convert solar energy to electricity, Defense News reports. The pigment, found in purple microorganisms that thrive in shallow water, harnesses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide to carbohydrates, which the bacteria then uses for energy.

Dr. Minoru Taya’s University of Washington lab has created a synthetic version of the pigment and embedded it into solar energy cells (the components of solar panels). When the dye-sensitized cells are hit by sunlight, the pigment launches an electron circuit, yielding electricity. That process can repeat over and over, so the cells rarely need replacing.

Right now, the cells are used commercially to recharge cell phones. It would take a lot more of them to charge an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), but the military thinks the project is feasible. Mostly because dye-sensitized cells are cheap and small compared to the silicon alternative. They’re a little less efficient, but cost a quarter as much to produce. And the cells are lightweight and thin, so they could spread across the wings of an UAV without taking up extra space.

And that’s exactly what the Air Force wants: panels of dye-sensitized cells that run along the wingspan of UAV’s, charging a battery that could power the plane’s propeller, surveillance systems, onboard computers and flight controls.

So far, the Air Force has spent $450,000 on the project, and expect to power an UAV with the mock bacterial dye within three to five years. But the cells could be used in other projects before that. The military is considering a bacteria-inspired solar “power shade” that would fit over Army tents to keep the electricity flowing inside.

[Photo: NASA]



by David Axe


The fight over the future of Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor just got a lot nastier. While Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Congress fuss over whether to buy more of the $150 million-a-copy jets (not counting development costs), allegations have surfaced of serious and surprising problems with what is widely considered the world’s most capable fighter. One former Lockheed Martin engineer has sued the company in federal court, alleging that the company knowingly applied faulty stealth coatings to the Raptor’s skin. And today, The Washington Post connected the stealth-coating allegation to a series of Pentagon tests between 2004 and 2008 that revealed problems with the jet’s skin, requiring “frequent and time-consuming repairs.”

The lawsuit filed by engineer Darrol Olsen, who was fired in 1999 for unrelated reasons, claims he “witnessed Lockheed commit fraud regarding the F-22’s stealth coatings. Specifically, from September 1995 until June 1999 when he left Lockheed, Olsen “witnessed Lockheed order and use coatings that Lockheed knew were defective.” Olsen — described as “one of the top materials and process, composites and low observables engineers in the stealth technology industry” — first took his findings to Lockheed officials, but was told to “stay out of it,” according to the lawsuit. He turned to noted Lockheed whistleblower Mike DeKort, for help filing suit.

The end result of the alleged fraud, is an F-22 fleet that can only fly 60 percent of the time, according to WaPo. “The trends are not good,” Thomas Christie, former Pentagon top weapons tester, told the paper. It was apparently these problems, and others, that former Defense Department chief weapons buyer John Young was referring to, when he recommended, in November, that the Pentagon focus on fixing the Raptors it has, rather than buying more.

A Lockheed spokesperson told The Post that “the issues raised in the complaint are at least 10 years old.” “We deny Mr. Olsen’s allegations and will vigorously defend this matter.” They’ll surely have to, as criticism of the pricey F-22 mounts, in what could be the program’s 11th hour.

[PHOTO: Air Force]



By David Axe

Congress and the Pentagon are locked in a battle royale over the future of the Air Force’s $150 million-per-copy F-22 Raptor stealth fighter. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates thinks 187 of the jets is just plenty. House and Senate panels have moved to buy at least another seven this year — and potentially dozens more, later.

In a Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, Marine Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of Joints Chief of Staff, defended Gates’ position — and whipped out a new argument for why Raptor-making should end. Faced with shutting down either Lockheed Martin’s F-22 production line, or Boeing’s competing F/A-18E/F  fighter, for cost reasons, Cartwright said he asked the military’s regional commanders what air capabilities they needed most. They chose “electronic warfare,” a.k.a. “radar jamming,” Cartwright said. That meant keeping the Boeing jet, for only it has a dedicated jammer version, the EA-18G Growler.

Cartwright’s testimony might come as a surprise to some Raptor boosters, who for years have touted the stealthy jet’s ability to perform “electronic-attack” missions, including jamming, using its sophisticated, electronically scanned radar. It’s for this reason that a top Air Force official, in 2007, said the Raptor’s “F-22″ designation simply wasn’t comprehensive enough. “It’s not an F-22, it’s an F-, A-, B-, E-, EA-, RC-, AWACS … 22,” then-Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. David Deptula said, adding the letter prefixes for bombers, spy and radar planes and jammers.

But the F-22’s electronic-attack skills have remained dormant, while the Air Force focuses on honing the jet’s air-to-air prowess, and improving vexing maintenance problems. The Raptor won’t be able to jam enemy radars, until 2011 — and then, only half the fleet will have that capability. The Raptor suffers other, serious limitations, that haven’t been widely reported. As many as half of the jets already paid for, lack modern dogfighting systems, such as helmet-mounted sights.

Still, the F-22 is the only jet that can routinely “supercruise” — flying faster than sound, without afterburner — and there are hints it can use this ability to loft AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, high enough to kill enemy satellites. But that wasn’t enough to sway top generals, when asked to choose between the Raptor and the much cheaper F-18. In a recent mock dogfight, an EA-18G “killed” an F-22 — one of only a handful of times any other fighter has managed such a feat, in the air. Now the electronic F-18 has also beaten the Raptor in the hallways of the Pentagon.

[PHOTO: Steve Trimble]


Carrier Air Wing 9 Completes 2009 Deployment


By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW) Steve Owsley, USS John C. Stennis Public Affairs
约翰·C·斯坦尼斯号航空母舰公共事务办公室 大型通讯专家 史蒂夫·奥斯里上士

SAN DIEGO (NNS) — The squadrons of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9 completed their 2009 deployment when the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) pulled into Naval Air Station North Island, Calif., July 6.

CVW 9 began its deployment Jan. 17, when it embarked Stennis for a scheduled deployment to the Western Pacific Ocean as the air assets of the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group.

According to CVW 9 Deputy Commander Capt. Paul Haas, the deployment was more like the traditional Western Pacific Ocean deployments from his days as a junior officer.

"We’ve spent a lot of generations in the Arabian Gulf doing Fifth Fleet operations," said Haas. "This is a vital and very important thing that we do in the Western Pacific."

During the deployment, CVW 9 participated in an undersea warfare exercise with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, annual exercise Foal Eagle with the Republic of Korea and joint exercise Northern Edge 2009.

CVW 9 Sailors also participated in 38 community service projects during seven port visits.

The deployment marked several milestones within the air wing. The Raptors of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 71 completed their maiden deployment, while the "Yellow Jackets" of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 138 made their last scheduled deployment with the EA-6B Prowler. The "Argonauts" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147 completed their first deployment with the F/A-18E Super Hornet after transitioning from F/A-18C Hornet.

CVW 9 flew more than 7250 sorties, consisting of approximately 12,747 flight hours with a sortie completion rate of 97 percent during deployment.

While deployed, the squadrons of CVW 9 increased maritime security in the Western Pacific Ocean through their active presence and working with partner nations during exercises and port visits.

For more news from USS John C. Stennis, visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn74/.




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