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The production of F-35 Lightning II has encountered another setback. The fuel tank of the JSF was found to be problematic, casting another gloom to the most controversial and expensive defense program of Pentagon.
To make up for the late arrival of the F-35s, the US Air Force is spending nearly $6 billion to upgrade and refurbish its F-15 jet planes. Almost half of the money allocated for the F-15s will be spent on new electronics. The remaining budget will be spent on older F-15s. Introduced 30 years ago, the F-15 was originally designed to fly for just 8,000 hours. The Air Force is looking forward to adding another 10 thousand hours with internal and external improvements to the F-15.
The US Air Force is also looking forward to upgrade its fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcon Aggressors. The improvement involves equipping the jet planes with an electronic system that will improve the accuracy of replicating enemy fighters.
“To date, generally, it is considered that the aggressors under-replicate the current threat,” says Major Gary Barker, the ACC training operations division’s F-16 functional area and realistic training manager. “It’s very difficult for the aggressors to provide the threat picture that we think we would see in near-peer combat.”
The Air Force sees the System Capabilities Upgrade-8 (SCU-8) configuration as the solution. With the SCU-8, older Blocks 30 and 32 F-16s will have a helmet-mounted cueing system and a new center display unit, which Barker describes as having functionality similar to an Apple iPad
“With that, you can simulate missile WEZs [weapons employment zones] and provide more accurate cueing real-time that can aid in kill removal and weapons assessment airborne,” Barker says.
As of now, the current F-15s and F-16s are well-suited to deal with fourth-generation enemy fighters. But with the emergence of new warplanes such as the Chinese Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31 or Russian Sukhoi PAK-FA, the Air Force has to take measures to keep up while waiting for the fifth-generation F-35 jet fighters.
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News Source: www.flightglobal.com, www.strategypage.com
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Sixty five years ago, Chuck Yeager was the first pilot to break the sound barrier during a flight test for the F-15. Yeager was dropped in an experimental rocket-propelled Bell X1 jet from a B-52 Bomber at 45,000 feet to fly and flew faster than Mach 1.
“That’s the only way we could do it,” Yeager said. “It took the British, French and the Soviet Union another five years to find out that trick. It gave us a quantum jump” in aviation advancement, he said.
On Sunday, Chuck Yeager had an easier time flying faster than the speed of sound. Over the Mojave Desert, the same location where he broke the sound barrier for the first time, Chuck Yeager flew a U.S. Air Force F-15 and hit Mach 1.3 Yeager said, he “laid down a pretty good boom over Edwards” Air Base. For the reenactment, Yeager no longer needs the help of a B-52 bomber, today’s F-15 aircraft can reach supersonic speed at 33,000 feet.
“I really appreciated the Air Force giving me a brand new F-15 to fly,” Yeager told CNN.
Chuck Yeager was not the only one breaking the sound barrier last Sunday. The same day, Austrian Felix Baumgartner skydived from a balloon at the edge of space and descended faster than the speed of sound for a 23-mile journey.
From the first supersonic flight, aviation had progressed immensely. Warplanes has a wide range airplane replicas of ancient and modern airplanes. Display your own fleet of model airplanes right at your home.
News source: edition.cnn.com
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One of the problems with the Air Force’s drone fleet? There aren’t enough humans to operate the flying robots. And it’s contributing to a surprising Air Force decision to buy fewer drones — even as its own budget plan calls for the robots to get much busier.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced weeks ago that the armed, unmanned Predators and Reapers will fly more often in the coming few years, going up to 65 combat air patrols, or CAPs — teams of up to four flying robots — “with a surge capacity of 85.” That’s up from 61 today. But the Air Force’s budget figures, released on Monday, show that the flyboys will slow down their drone purchases, rather than increase them.
Under last year’s defense budget, the Air Force bought 48 Reapers, the bigger, faster, more lethal descendant of the Predator. (The Air Force stopped buying Predators in 2010.) In the proposed budget, the Air Force wants to buy half as many — 24 armed, spying drones. And its budget chief, Maj. Gen. Edward Bolton Jr., was unsure when the service will start buying the next-generation, jet-powered, stealthy Avenger drone in earnest.
There are a couple reasons for the shift. One is that there aren’t enough airmen who know how to remotely pilot the things. Another is that the Air Force says it can do more stuff with fewer drones. And of course, there’s the budget crunch.
“It turned out, when the [Pentagon's Joint Requirements Oversight Council] established this past year the requirement of 65 CAPs, we determined we could meet that with this [reduced] production rate,” Bolton told Danger Room during a Monday afternoon briefing.
After the briefing, Brig. Gen. Les Kodlick, the Air Force’s public-affairs chief, told Danger Room that the reduced Reaper purchase has to do with flesh-and-blood concerns — namely a lack of airmen trained to fly the drones and analyze the data the robots collect.
Well, sort of, clarifies Jennifer Cassidy, an Air Force spokeswoman. “Manning was a consideration in reducing the MQ-9 Reaper purchases for [the next fiscal year], but not the only consideration,” Cassidy emails Danger Room. “The MQ-9 crew production rate and the attrition rate of the [Predator] allowed the reduction of MQ-9 purchases [next year] without impact to the Air Force ramp-up to 65 CAPs.”
But the Air Force has acknowledged it’s got a people problem with its unpeopled planes. “Our No. 1 manning problem in the Air Force is manning our unmanned platforms,” Gen. Philip Breedlove, the vice chief of staff, recently told the Los Angeles Times.
In recent years, the Air Force relaxed its restrictions on who can fly its drones, in order to make up the shortfall; there are pilots now flying Reapers who have never grabbed the throttle of a traditional aircraft. But it hasn’t been enough. Contractors are brought in to the drone bases to remotely pilot the Predators and Reapers, as well as to help analyze the endless hours of full-motion video they collect. Thousands of airmen have been shifted into new jobs, in order to better scour all the video.
Absent a big crash program to train up new drone experts– or switch to the Army’s preferred method of using pasty, video-gaming teenagers to pilot their robot planes — the manpower problem is likely to get worse. In the next few years, the sensor and video packages carried by Air Force drones are going to get more sophisticated, like when the panopticon Gorgon Stare spy suite comes online. And the Air Force will cut 9,900 personnel over the next year, although it’s unclear what specialties the cashiered airmen will have performed.
When top Pentagon officials like former Defense Secretary Bob Gates browbeat the Air Force into accepting 65 unmanned CAPs, top service officials complained that there was no formal “requirement” for the drones — no way of knowing when it had satisfied the other services’ need for robotic eyes in the sky. Even drone-backers at the top of the Air Force thought all those patrols were overkill. So it’s not surprising that they chose to slow the rate of drone buys, when budgets got tight.
Instead, the Air Force’s priority future upgrades and purchases are all in manned planes. Upgrading the software on the F-22 Raptor, even as it’s got big problems with its oxygen systems. Enhancing the radar on F-15s. Extending the service life of F-16s. Buying 19 new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, even as they develop 13 expensive new flaws. An arguable exception is that the service’s desired next-generation long range bomber won’t always be piloted by a human being; it’s “optionally manned,” as the Air Force calls it.
But a recent congressional study obtained by Danger Room explains the Air Force’s preference for manned planes. About 40 percent of the air fleet is robotic. Yet over 90 percent of the Air Force’s procurement money is spent on planes with a human in the cockpit. Of course, part of the allure of drones is that they are cheap. And obviously, drones are the weapon of choice for the Obama administration’s Shadow Wars against terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
Asked by Danger Room, Bolton said that the new budget figures “should not” be interpreted as a sign that the Air Force prefers its manned planes.
“This budget really is a manifestation of the strategy that was laid out by Secretary Panetta on the 26th of January,” Bolton said. “And so our real challenge within this budget was to first determine how we could build a budget that could implement that strategy, and then secondly, how could we do that within the necessary physical constraints as based upon the guidance of the Budget Control Act passed to us by [the White House].”
Except Panetta was clear that day that the Air Force would “provide unmanned capabilities through their operators as well” — and would increase its Predator and Reaper flights. The robots are still waiting for the humans to catch up.
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In the early hours of the morning of January 13, the Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan is bursting with activity. Crew chiefs, support units and flyers are also busy making sure everything will go without a glitch in order to achieve the 10,000 flying-hour milestone of F-15E Strike Eagle #89-0487.
F-15E Strike Eagle #89-0487, nicknamed “487”, entered the service on 13 November 1990. Despite being younger than many F-15A or F-15C models, it is the first F-15 of any type to reach the 10,000 benchmark. The aircraft has served the country zealously being a veteran of numerous operations like Desert Storm, Deliberate Guard, Northern Watch, Southern Watch, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom.
This monumental achievement is shared by the entire 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. The 455th EAMXS includes the 335th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit and supporting units. For more than 21 years, over 1 million hours of inspection and repair had been performed by qualified maintenance technicians to ensure that the F-15E Strike Eagle 487 is ready and capable to do its assignment. The current crew chief all agree that good maintenance and support was essential for the “487” to gain this distinction. As the squadron’s flagship aircraft, the F-15E Strike Eagle 487 is a testament of the caliber of the former and current crew who maintains, supports and flies it. This milestone is a total team effort.
As a tribute to history, Lt. Col. David Moeller, the 335th Expeditionary Flying Squadron commander chose Capt. Ryan Bodenheimer, a 335th F-15E EFS pilot, and Capt. Erin Short, a 335th EFS weapons systems officer for the honor of flying the F-15E for its 10,000th flying-hour. “It just seemed appropriate that the longest flying F-15E be flown by the youngest flyers in the unit,” he said.
The F-15E Strike Eagle #89-0487 also has the sole distinction of being aircraft of its model to record an air-to-air kill.
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A senior Robins Air Force Base official believes the massive $29.4 billion upgrade to the Royal Saudi Air Force’s F-15 fleet remains on track although the Saudi government has not yet signed the agreement.
Final agreement from the Saudi government was expected by mid summer, but that did not occur. Col. Robert Stambaugh, who heads the project for the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, attributes that to the sheer scope of the effort.
“Typically, the Saudi timeline (for signature) is about six months which would have been the end of September,” Stambaugh pointed out. “We expected them to potentially sign this one early. But this is the biggest foreign military sale in history times three. So you can understand why they would be hesitant — $30 billion is a lot of money even for the Saudi Arabian government.”
Robins Air Force Base, the sustainment focal point for the U.S. Air Force’s F-15 fleet, will be a key player in the project when it becomes official. For almost three decades, Robins has partnered with the RSAF in supporting that nation’s F-15s. The new program would add about 100 people to the Robins payroll including some who will be positioned in Saudi Arabia.
Stambaugh said Boeing, the F-15 manufacturer, and a host of suppliers are cooperating to sustain the terms originally offered to the Saudi government in April.
Reports originally surfaced that Boeing would shut down its F-15 production line in 2012 if additional orders were not received by the end of 2011. The company has since backed off that timeline. According to media reports, Boeing will deliver the last of 21 F-15Ks to South Korea in March of next year. Singapore’s fleet of 24 F-15SGs also will be completed next year. The company is competing for a follow-on South Korean buy of 40 to 60 aircraft.
The former Warner Robins ALC vice commander does not believe the sale is being held up by politics.
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For the dozen lawmakers tasked with producing a deficit-cutting plan, the threatened “doomsday” defense cuts hit close to home.
The six Republicans and six Democrats represent states where the biggest military contractors — Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics Corp., Raytheon Co. and Boeing Co. — build missiles, aircraft, jet fighters and tanks while employing tens of thousands of workers.
The potential for $500 billion more in defense cuts could force the Pentagon to cancel or scale back multibillion-dollar weapons programs. That could translate into significant layoffs in a fragile economy, generate millions less in tax revenues for local governments and upend lucrative company contracts with foreign nations.
The cuts could hammer Everett, Washington, where some of the 30,000 Boeing employees are working on giant airborne refueling tankers for the Air Force, or Amarillo, Texas, where 1,100 Bell Helicopter Textron workers assemble the fuselage, wings, engines and transmissions for the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
Billions in defense cuts would be a blow to the hundreds working on upgrades to the Abrams tank for General Dynamics in Lima, Ohio, or the employees of BAE Systems in Pennsylvania.
For committee members such as Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., the threat of Pentagon cuts is an incentive to come up with $1.5 trillion in savings over a decade. Failure would have brutal implications for hundreds of thousands workers back home and raise the potential of political peril for the committee’s 12.
“I think we all have very good reasons to try to prevent” the automatic cuts, Toomey told reporters last week when pressed about the impact on Pennsylvania’s defense industry. “That is not the optimal outcome here, the much better outcome would be a successful product from this committee.”
The panel has until Thanksgiving to come up with recommendations. If they deadlock or if Congress rejects their proposal, $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board cuts kick in. Up to $500 billion would hit the Pentagon.
Those cuts, starting in 2013, would be in addition to the $350 billion, 10-year reduction already dictated by the debt-limit bill approved by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama this month.
Not surprisingly, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has described the automatic cuts as the “doomsday mechanism.” He’s warned that the prospect of nearly $1 trillion in reductions over a decade would seriously undermine the military’s ability to protect the United States.
For the Pentagon, “we’re talking about cuts of such magnitude that everything is reduced to some degree,” said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a think tank. “At that rate, you’re eliminating the next generation of weapons.”
Committee members will face competing pressures as they try to produce a deficit-reducing plan.
As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a possible successor to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton if Obama wins a second term, Sen. John Kerry is certain to be protective of the budget for the State Department.
Yet the Massachusetts Democrat, who recently said he would seek a sixth term in 2014, represents a state that was fifth in the nation with $8.37 billion in defense contracts this year, behind Virginia, California, Texas and Connecticut, according to data on the federal government’s website USAspending.gov.
In Tewksbury and Andover, Mass., deep defense cuts could have serious ramifications for thousands of Raytheon employees working on the Patriot, the air and missile defense system. It was heralded for its effectiveness during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and is now sold to close to a dozen nations, including South Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates.
Whatever decisions Kerry and the committee make will affect Massachusetts-based Raytheon, which was fourth in defense contracts this year at $7.3 billion, behind Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Dynamics. Raytheon also has operations in Arizona, home to another committee member, Republican Sen. Jon Kyl.
“While some will argue there is peril in serving on this committee, we believe there is far greater peril in leaving these issues unaddressed,” Kerry said in a joint statement with Murray and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., after they were selected by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
In February, Murray celebrated when the Air Force ended a decade-long saga of delays and missteps and awarded one of the biggest defense contracts ever, a $35 billion deal to build nearly 200 air refueling tankers, to Boeing, a mainstay in her home state.
Boeing was fourth on the list of donors to Murray from 2007-2012, with its political action committee, individual employees and family members contributing $102,610.
Michigan is home to two committee members, Republican Reps. Dave Camp and Fred Upton, and General Dynamics work on the Abrams tank. The state is struggling with a 10.5 percent unemployment rate, which is above the national average.
Already facing the prospect of $350 billion in defense cuts over 10 years, the Pentagon could look to scale back some projects, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the stealthy aircraft that has been plagued by cost overruns and delays.
Lockheed Martin, in conjunction with Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems, is building 2,400 of the next generation fighter jet for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as working with eight foreign countries. But the cost of the program has jumped from $233 billion to $385 billion; some estimates suggest that it could top out at $1 trillion over 50 years.
Questioned about the defense cuts, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen recently said that “programs that can’t meet schedule, that can’t meet cost … requirements are very much in jeopardy and will be very much under scrutiny.”
The Joint Strike Fighter is being built in Fort Worth, Texas, and Palmdale and El Segundo, Calif. Those are the states of committee members Reps. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems also have operations in Pennsylvania.
The Pentagon could decide to scrap the program or scale it back while upgrading the existing F-15 and F-18 aircraft, a troubling prospect for lawmakers from the states that benefit from F-35 production.
In the military world, however, reducing the number could make it more costly.
“The problem when you cut back in numbers is you increase the number for one, you increase the cost for one,” said Laicie Olson, a senior policy analyst with Council for a Livable World and the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. “Sometimes it’s almost better to buy more.”
Boeing, in a statement, said it has been “anticipating flattening defense budgets for some time.” Company spokesman Daniel C. Beck said that while Boeing is trying to improve production and efficiency, it’s moving into new markets such as cybersecurity and energy management.
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Several Japan Air Self-Defense Force Mitsubishi F-15 Eagles joined other RED FLAG-Alaska participants July 12 after having its entire F-15 fighter fleet grounded in response to an incident on July 4 with one of the fighter jets during a routine training exercise back in Japan.
The F-15 was brought to RED-FLAG Alaska to help JASDF members improve their tactical flying skills and their ability to generate aircraft in a simulated combat environment.
In Japan’s first overseas military training exercise since the disastrous earthquake and tsunami in March, JASDF will be receiving world class training and experiencing a realistic combat simulation. Thorough planning and precautions have ensured challenges were overcome, and the participation of six of Japan’s F-15s began immediately upon their arrival at RF-A 11-2.
“Some of our major training goals as RF-A participants are to expand our fighters’ tactics,” said Lt. Col. Koichi Tokushige, JASDF F-15 Unit Commander. “We would like to improve cooperation between U.S. Forces and JSDAF as well as continue to strive for better understanding with our friends and allies in a joint environment.”
The RF-A participants were ready to begin training earlier this week, however, with the F-15s not arriving until a few days into the exercise Japanese F-15 pilots and maintenance members utilized extra time to further prepare for the weeks flying schedule.
“There are some significant differences in how we maintain our fighter aircraft,” said Tech. Sgt. Toru Michibata, a JASDF maintenance technician. “We would like to show that the Japanese are the best of the best, but we also want to know how some of our international partners repair their aircraft and keep them mission ready.”
Ultimately, the arrival of the F-15s has motivated JASDF personnel who are ready to play their part in this large training exercise. The F-15 will fly a variety of tactics and missions in concert with other participating aircraft throughout the exercise.
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For the first time since a deadly crash caused the F-15 fleet to be grounded nationwide earlier this month Japan F-15 fighter jets began flying again on Okinawa last Wednesday. This is according to the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.
The decision to resume flight operations on the island was made after a survey of the F-15 fleet discovered no aircraft structural problems that might have caused the crash that killed a veteran pilot who was on a July 5 training flight out of Naha Air Base, said Maj. Minoru Takara, chief spokesman of Naha Air Base in Okinawa.
“We resumed the flight beginning today after conducting elaborate security precautions to ensure safety in both the aircraft and mental and physical aspect of the pilots,” Takara said.
The grounding affected about 200 aircraft in Japan and Okinawa was the last prefecture to bring the F-15s back online.
Flight operations on mainland Japan had resumed last week.
Source: Stars and Stripes
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Officials said that the US Air Force has grounded its entire fleet of F-22 fighters, after problems emerged with the plane’s oxygen supply.
The radar-evading F-22 Raptors have been barred from flying since May 3 and Air Force officials could not say when the world’s most advanced fighter planes would return to the air.
“The safety of our airmen is paramount and we will take the necessary time to ensure we perform a thorough investigation,” spokeswoman Captain Jennifer Ferrau said June 25.
The Air Force was probing possible breakdowns in the oxygen supply system for the plane after several pilots reported problems, according to the journal Flight Global.
In one case, an F-22 scraped tree tops before landing and the pilot could not remember the incident, indicating a possible symptom of hypoxia from a lack of air, the magazine reported.
Ferrau said it was too soon to say for certain that the technical problem was related to an onboard oxygen generating system, known as OBOGS.
“We are still working to identify the exact nature of the problem. It is premature to definitively link the current issues to the OBOGS system,” she said.
Since January, F-22 pilots have been barred from flying above 25,000 feet (7600 metres), following the crash of a Raptor jet in Alaska during a training flight.
Officials said that grounding an entire fleet of aircraft is a rare step,.
In November 2007, the Air Force grounded all F-15 fighters after one of the planes broke apart in flight and crashed.
The planes were not allowed back in the air until March 2008, said Major Chad Steffey.
The Air Force has more than 160 F-22 Raptors in its fleet and plans to build a total of 187.
The planes have not been used in the NATO-led air campaign in Libya or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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Nine paintings depicting the evolution of air and space, which are displayed in the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station technical support building lobby, will be adopted into the Air Force Art Program this year. The paintings were rescued years ago after being abandoned inside a storage closet at the Chidlaw Building, the then-headquarters building for the Aerospace Defense Command of the North American Air Defense Command.
“The big significance is that we capture some heritage, so that it doesn’t get lost,” said Col. Russell Wilson, tjhe 721st Mission Support Group commander at CMAFS.
For years, the paintings have been a source of conversation and mystery, Colonel Wilson said. The only clue about the paintings’ origins is the signature, “T. Patterson.” Beyond that, the paintings are not dated and no one knows who T. Patterson was.
“We still ask the question, where did these paintings come from?” he said.
Art Marthaller, a retired chief master sergeant and retired Department of Defense civilian, found the discarded paintings in the mid 1980s in the Chidlaw Building. The paintings were covered in dust, but he liked them, he said. Chief Marthaller asked around and no one objected, so he took them up to the mountain and put them up in the conference room.
The paintings run as a series that begin with Greek mythology and the depiction of Icarus, the Greek man who made wings of feathers and wax to escape Crete. However, he flew too close to the sun and melted his wings causing his crash to earth.
Each painting has a number of faces or images that represent different eras of flight history. The paintings depict the first manned balloon flight in France by the Montgolfier brothers in 1783 and the first successful airplane flight by the Wright brothers in 1903.
T. Patterson also paid homage to World War I German fighter pilot Manfred von Richthofen, also known as the Red Barron, and in a separate painting to Valentina Terskova, a Soviet cosmonaut who in 1963 became the first woman in space.
The paintings also treat viewers to the Flying Tiger, the P-38 Lightning, the Supermarine Spitfire and the CH-47 Chinook, which spans 1941 to the early 1960s in three paintings. The artist also paints the Apollo 11 moon landing of 1969 and then the more modern F-15 Eagle tactical fighters and the all-weather surveillance E-3 Sentry, which would indicate the paintings were done after 1977, when those aircraft were introduced.
“As you look at them, they really show the transition of air power,” Colonel Wilson said. “There are a lot of famous people in the paintings — it’s fun, a lot of folks will stop here and try to figure out who they are.”
The paintings have been examined by the 21st Space Wing and Air Force Space Command historians, but neither had ever seen the paintings or knew anything about the artist, Colonel Wilson said.
“I heard comments and rumors that the painter was a Vietnam veteran doing some art therapy,” said Jim Burghardt, 721st MSG test control operations chief. “I would like to know who he is.”
Source: U.S. Air Force