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Unmanned Autonomous…Red Air
The Air Force may have over 2,000 fighter jets, but it has less than 69 fighters dedicated to fly as adversaries for them to train against.

Those in the know are acutely aware of the massive resource disconnect between the “blue air” the Air Force has and the “red air” to support them for live-fly requirements.

For a generation, the solution was to use some blue air as red air. This “no-cost” organic approach sounded good, except it squandered combat aircraft life while pretending to be bad guys. It also cannibalizes unit readiness (pilots flying as scripted bad guys are not increasing proficiency at how to be a better good guy).

A few years ago, the Air Force tried to out-rate this fight by awarding a seven-vender $6.4 billion Combat Air Force Contracted Air Support (CAF CAS) contract, which basically established a new industry.

Each contractor chased down older, 3rd generation foreign fighters and slapped some training EA pods on them. That seemed to all make sense at the time for two reasons:

  1. The business case economics of the contractor
  2. The quantity over quality demands from the customer

Although the original contract requirement was for “realistic and challenging advanced adversary air threats,” it quickly became clear that the Air Forces’ “quantity over quality” approach was still wearing neon-colored leg warmers and stuck in the 1980s.

It turns out that not only is the Air Force buying more capable fighters…the bad guys are too. This is creating a widening mismatch in red air replication and unfortunately, unlike Vegas, you can’t just throw money at this problem.

It’s difficult to make the business case for a contractor to buy 5th generation fighters (even if they were allowed to) and cost-prohibitive to design a “training only” fighter jet to meet the evolving market needs.

So What
This pain point is giving momentum to another solution: unmanned, semiautonomous adversary air platform, aka

A majority of the red air requirements are beyond visual range (BVR), something that formations of unmanned fighter-sized vehicles are perfectly suited for. Red air also happens to be the perfect sandbox to refine blue air manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) technology and integration concepts.

ICYMI: MUM-T efforts you’ve probably heard of are Air Force Research Lab’s Skyborg autonomy algorithm program (that’s often confused with the XQ-58 Valkerie test vehicle)

Sprinkle on some AI from DARPA’s Air Combat Evolution program and you have a formidable sparring partner…that can learn from your actions, adapt, and make it harder for blue air to defeat. Like we said, red air is the perfect sandbox to mature the technology for blue air integration.

What Now
If it were only that easy. It turns out that the biggest issue isn’t technological… it's cultural.

The cultural friction comes from those fighter pilots who can’t imagine how ADAIR-UX fits into their Operation Desert Storm reenactments on the Nellis Range, and those who can’t imagine how they could lose to an AI-enabled drone. 

It’s hard to measure the hubris of an average fighter pilot, but it’s pretty high on the Richter scale. Weirdly, these are often the same tribes of people touting that the same technology is vital to integrate into the blue air side of the equation.   
In That Number

The percentage of U.S. Air Force F-35As that don’t have working engines. The engine shortage is due to a manufacturing defect that has depleted the supply of spare engines, creating a depot maintenance backlog that has grounded 46 F-35’s in total. Unfortunately, 41 of them reside in the U.S. Air Force’s ~285 F-35A fleet. 
Trivia: The guitarist for which of these yacht rock bands accidentally stumbled into a career in defense consulting becoming a renowned expert on ballistic missile defense and counter-terrorism?

Doobie Brothers
Air Supply
On the Radar
The NGA is embracing “bailment agreements” to help the commercial satellite industry innovate. These legal mechanisms permit the organization to take temporary possession of a commercial product, test out the capabilities for free, and provide feedback to companies. This provides crucial customer feedback for startups, and it gives the NGA a chance to help shape the commercial satellite market. #winwin

The Air Force released a solicitation for commercial companies who are interested in 3D facility/infrastructure scan modeling. This pilot program would conduct 3D scans and colorized point-cloud models of 40 facilities but could scale across the DoD if it's successful. The market cap of this idea is UUGE: The DoD has 560,000 facilities across 4,800 locations worldwide encompassing 2.2 billion square feet.
They Said It
“We are very concerned about latency. You need to be able to test that, and this gives us a venue where we can test the latency impacted error rate and target location error across long distances.”

— Director of Orange Flag, Major Brandon “Siphon” Burfeind on the recent successful end-to-end test of a 2,000-mile Air Force Link-16 datalink network pushed through the Army’s Integrated Fire Control Network.
Zoom In
Space is one of the sectors that is exploding in both technology and popularity, making it easy to get caught in the hype cycle and lose sight of reality. Zoom in here for an easy read to re-ground (or educate) yourself on the physics of astrodynamics.

Yes, we said it’s an easy read. We wouldn’t steer you wrong—we don’t have the delta-v budget to do it. See what we did there?
Saved Rounds
  • Air Force Personnel Center completed its 3-year effort to migrate all of its 42+ applications to the cloud (setting the stage for endless “lightning within 5” memes when the cloud service hiccups)
  • A Marine receives 3D-printed teeth and a jaw made from his lower leg during military-first reconstructive surgery
  • An RC-135 unit showed off how its incorporating VR into its training…by showcasing someone flushing the aircraft toilet in VR
  • Kitty Hawk’s Heaviside tilt propeller aircraft becomes the fourth eVTOL company to receive airworthiness certification from the Air Force
  • The Air Force’s home-grown Puckboard flying scheduling software gets a boost with an AI-enabled plugin 
  • Researchers have taught a drone to autonomously recognize and hunt down meteorite impacts on earth
  • Arctic Astronautics’ plywood satellite project is now certified for launch…and will carry a selfie stick into space. #woodsat
  • Northrop Grumman wins a $935 million NASA contract to build a Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) for the lunar gateway program
  • Facebook signs a deal to move its satellite connectivity team over to help Amazon’s $10 billion Project Kuiper satellite broadband network
  • The Navy’s efforts to implement robotic process automation in its supply chain management is showing big gains
  • The Pentagon doubles F-35’s so-called agile software update timeline from 6 months to 12 months to cut down on “test escapes” (i.e. flaws that reach the warfighter)

And finally:

  • The Navy plans to “fix” its F-35C shortfall by changing its carrier air wing composition from two F-35 squadrons per air wing with 10 fighters….to a single squadron with 14 tails.
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The 5 Second Debrief
Trivia Answer: The Doobie Brothers. Guitarist Jeff Baxter became interested in how technology originally developed for the military might be used to advance the music recording industry. His neighbor was a retired AIM-9 Sidewinder engineer, got him hooked, and the rest is history.