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Judge Halts Air Force’s Efforts to Discharge Airmen with HIV

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Airmen from the 823rd Base Defense Squadron (BDS) board an HC-130J Combat King II during airfield security training on Jan. 28, 2019, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erick Requadt)

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A federal judge in Virginia has ordered the U.S. Air Force to halt efforts to discharge service members who are HIV-positive.

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema in Alexandria issued the preliminary injunction Friday. She ruled that the Air Force’s treatment of HIV-positive personnel is “irrational, inconsistent, and at variance with modern science.”

The ruling will keep at least two HIV-positive men in the Air Force for the time being. They were just days and weeks away from being formally discharged.

The men are suing the U.S. military over policies that could lead to the dismissal of HIV-positive personnel. The policies prevented the service members from deploying outside the United States without a waiver. That, in turn, resulted in the men being considered “unfit” for continued military service.

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Retired General: Train, Pay Army and Marine Infantry as an Elite Force

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A year after the launch of the Defense Department’s Close Combat Lethality Task Force (CCLTF), Army and Marine infantry may be moving closer to being transformed into an elite force, much like the 75th Ranger Regiment.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, a key adviser to the CCLTF, told Military.com that he believes Marine Corps 0311 and Army 11B infantrymen should be recruited, selected, trained and treated as a specialized force.

“Infantry is not a branch — O311s, 11Bs — it’s not that. It’s a function. It’s those people on the ground who have line of sight of the enemy and kill them face-to-face,” Scales said, talking about retired Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ vision for the task force.

“Secretary Mattis said from the very beginning … the only way this will work is if we treat close combat as an excepted function. If we build that functionality into the task force, it will work. If we fail to do it, if we fall back and treat the infantry as just another branch, it won’t work.”

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Scales said the concept of creating an excepted force is not new, referring to sailors who work on submarines.

“The nuclear submariners are different; they are excepted,” he said. “They are treated, trained, paid, recruited, selected differently than the rest of the Navy. Why? Because of what they do.

“It’s the same thing with the infantry. Unfortunately, over the last 220 years of our republic, the infantry at peacetime have been just sort of place-fillers. If you need somebody to do police, call up the guys who aren’t doing anything, the infantry,” he said.

Fortunately, Scales said, Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, has embraced the idea of creating elite, close-combat forces, an effort that has paid off over the last 17 years of war.

“If you except close combat as JSOC does — SEALs and Delta and the Rangers and so forth — and you look at what they do, what they are capable of doing, and you think to yourself, ‘Well, holy crap. You get that much more effectiveness by treating them differently?’ So why don’t we treat them all differently,” Scales said.

The key will be having the right template for “recruiting, selection, pay, dedicated training, leadership — all the things that need to be done differently for the Army and Marine infantry,” he said.

“We spent a long time looking at that, what you need for a template, and we were all over the place,” Scales said. “We went to Marine Force Recon, we looked at Delta Force, and it seems to me that the sweet spot in that is the Ranger Regiment.

“You don’t turn them into individuals like you do with Delta. It’s still a team sport at the Ranger Regiment level, but you give them the resources and the exceptional ability to recruit, select, train and retain, and you get to a level of competence, frankly, that is unparalleled in the world.”

Joe L’Etoile, director of the CCLTF, said the task force has started efforts to develop a system for screening individuals to see if they have the attributes to be successful in close combat.

“We have worked with TAPAS, the Tailored Adaptive Personality Assessment System, which is essentially a personality test … to find people that have the attributes that propense them for success in close combat,” he said. “So we have efforts underway to identify those; that would be a cognitive factor.”

The CCLTF also supports multiple programs “to look at physical X-factors” and figure out “what are the things physically that we need to do to optimize human performance,” L’Etoile said. “There is a universal recognition that human performance is an area where we can make exponential increases in performance.”

Scales acknowledged that there will be challenges to overcome along the way, but said the potential payoff is too great to ignore.

“Let’s say instead of having 3,000 Ranger-quality, light infantry, we have 55,000,” he said. “How much of a difference is that going to make in our ability to fight wars in the future? I’ll tell you … in terms of outcomes and success on the battlefield at a lowest possible cost, I think it’s far more impactful than a new aircraft carrier or a new fighter.”

— Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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Deployed Lawmaker Fights Air National Guard’s Effort to Shrink Spy Plane Fleet

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The Air National Guard may be looking to get rid of at least half its RC-26 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance fleet in coming years, and one guardsman — who also happens to be a U.S. congressman — isn’t happy about it.

While the move is predecisional and hinges on the upcoming fiscal budget request, the Guard could potentially shed part of its inventory of older RC-26 models, Military.com has learned.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger has spoken out against the plan, entering the discourse as both a policymaker and a guardsman.

In a recent Op-Ed in Air Force Times, Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, said divesting the aircraft at a time when border security needs to be a top priority for the nation would be a mistake.

During the recent 35-day government shutdown, Kinzinger, who serves as an RC-26 pilot with the Wisconsin Air National Guard‘s 115th Fighter Wing, wrote that the ISR plane could be the boost that border security needs when other resources are scarce or troops are limited by other means.

“As a Guard pilot, I fly the RC-26 — the only aircraft in the Air Force inventory that can do Pillar I of the president’s National Security Strategy, which includes counter-drug and border security for both state and federal missions,” he said.

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“Despite the important abilities of this reconnaissance plane, Air Guard officials announced they’ll be removing it from use, and will do so quickly. Their announcement was made quietly, as the country’s attention was drawn to the government shutdown focused on the issues on our southern border,” he said in the Jan. 27 op-ed. Pillar I of the National Security Strategy is defined as protecting “the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life,” according to the strategy document.

Kinzinger, a lieutenant colonel, deployed to the border earlier this week as part of his Guard duty, according to a statement from his office.

While the Pentagon last month called for 3,750 additional troops to support the Department of Homeland Security mission, Kinzinger had already been given his deployment orders by then.

Maura Gillespie, a spokeswoman for Kinzinger, said the lawmaker stands by his overall arguments for additional resources for border security.

“As the congressman has said before, he believes we need stronger border security, and that includes having additional military personnel on the ground to handle the illegal activity on the border, but also to help facilitate activity through the points of entry and people coming into the country,” Gillespie told Military.com last week before his deployment.

Kinzinger was commissioned in the Air Force in 2003, according to Air Force Magazine. He first flew KC-135 Stratotankers before switching to the RC-26, and deployed several times for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Like Martha McSally, the Air Force’s first female combat pilot and now a Republican senator from Arizona, Kinzinger is backing his plane, said retired Gen. David Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

“Because he does fly the plane, it actually adds to his credibility to comment on its status with respect to its potential future,” Deptula, who was also the Air Force’s first deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, told Military.com on Tuesday.

McSally, who was recently appointed to the late Sen. John McCain’s seat, has been a significant voice for backing the A-10 Warthog’s preservation amid the Air Force’s attempt to retire the close-air support mission aircraft.

A former A-10 pilot whose home state includes Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, McSally even orchestrated an amendment to make the Air Force perform simulated drills to determine whether the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or the A-10 could conduct the close-air support mission better.

But unlike McSally, who retired from active duty in 2010, Kinzinger remains a service member. Even so, his lawmaker status gives him the ability to focus on projects he’s passionate about, Deptula said.

There’s “nothing unusual about a congressman speaking to their bias,” Deptula said in an email.

“However, [his] perspectives need to be put into context as he is viewing the value of the RC-26 at a tactical level, and the Air Force is making its programmatic assessment and decisions at the operational/strategic level and need to balance mission, capability and available resources.”

Retiring a portion of the RC-26 fleet could allow the Guard to focus its resources elsewhere, sources familiar with the discussions said. It’s a move the service has slowly tried a few times before.

There are currently 11 RC-26 aircraft in the fleet, according to the service. They vary in upgrades: five are Block 20s and six are Block 25s, which have different avionics packages. Since at least 2009, the Guard has overseen all 11 of the medium-altitude ISR aircraft, which are used for domestic response, counter-drug operations and disaster relief, as well as in response to requests for assistance from local governments.

The planes, which date back to the early 1990s, have deployed to assess and monitor damage sustained during Hurricane Katrina, multiple wildfires out West and, more recently, to scour areas in Texas affected by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. They’ve also deployed overseas in support of missions such as Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn.

Funding for the RC-26 — a twin turboprop known as the “Condor” — comes out of the operation and maintenance budget.

It costs $6,500 per hour to fly it, according to the Air Force’s fiscal 2017 cost data. That year, the aircraft logged 4,241 flight hours globally, the service said. Statistics were not available for similar, manned intelligence-gathering platforms such as the MC-12 Liberty or U-28A for operational security reasons.

By comparison, the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper — which has also flown domestic missions for the border as well as for fire and hurricane relief — costs about $4,800 to fly, according to the 2017 data.

The Reaper logged more than 290,789 hours worldwide in fiscal 2017.

Deptula argued the RC-26, though aging, is still a good fit for the Guard’s home missions.

“While the RC-26 is a small fleet, it’s relatively inexpensive to maintain for the spectrum of missions it is capable of conducting — humanitarian assistance/disaster response; counter-drug operations; and other ISR missions depending on sensors on-board,” he said. “As a result, it is a perfect fit for the Air National Guard.”

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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Air Force Approves Performance Medal for Hungary-Based Airmen

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KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The Air Force for the first time has approved an award for airmen serving with the heavy airlift wing at Papa Air Base in Hungary.

The Heavy Airlift Wing Service Medal will be based on exceptional performance or service and is retroactive to the fall of 2008, when the first team arrived ahead of the start of flying operations the following summer, said Capt. Christopher Bowyer-Meeder, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa.

USAFE-AFAFRICA announced the award earlier this month.

The medal will allow commanders for the first time to acknowledge airmen for their contributions to the world’s first and only multinational C-17 Globemaster III wing.

“We wanted to be able to recognize the hard work and dedication” U.S. airmen serving at Papa “have shown to the mission and to our partner nations that we work with here,” said Col. James Sparrow, vice commander of the Heavy Airlift Wing, in a statement.

“It is a huge win for the program for the U.S. Air Force to approve this decoration,” he said.

But there’s a small catch: As a foreign award, the medal must be presented in Hungary and it may only be worn while there, officials said. It will not count toward promotion.

Sparrow is also vice commander of the Strategic Airlift Capability Program, a partnership that supports the airlift operations of 12 NATO and partner nations from Papa, a former communist airfield located in the countryside about 100 miles west of Budapest.

The participating countries pooled their resources to buy and share C-17 cargo planes over a 30-year period, providing them more options for transporting large numbers of troops and supplies to far-flung places, including Afghanistan.

U.S. airmen assigned to the wing work alongside airmen from NATO members Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania and Slovenia; and non-NATO partners Finland and Sweden.

Airmen volunteer for the assignment, typically serving either two years accompanied, or 18 months unaccompanied.

The medal was first approved for use by all 12 nations in 2013. But to date, only Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Norway, Poland and Romania had awarded it to its airmen, officials said.

For U.S. airmen, medal recognition originally required the Defense Department, with concurrence from the State Department, to sign off on it, officials said. The medal was also formerly considered a service award, meaning airmen need only be assigned and serve honorably at the wing for a specific timeframe, Bowyer-Meeder said.

The medal is now a personal performance award, Bowyer-Meeder said.

USAFE personnel experts spent about a year updating the criteria and changing it to a foreign award, a classification that allows commanders at Papa to issue the medals, officials said.

Airmen who believe they distinguished themselves during a previous assignment at Papa can submit service records through the wing for consideration, Bowyer-Meeder said.

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A Marine Raider Was Awarded the Silver Star for Taking Out an ISIS Car Bomb

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A Marine special operator received the nation’s third-highest valor award after his heroism in Iraq during the bloody fight to retake Mosul from the Islamic State saved his comrades’ lives.

A staff sergeant with 2nd Marine Raider Battalion received the Silver Star for repeatedly braving enemy fire while surrounded by dozens of terrorists to take out a vehicle-borne explosive device that was careening toward him, according to his award citation. The previously undisclosed award was first reported by Marine Corps Times.

The Raider, whose name Military.com agreed to withhold since he’s still carrying out missions with Marine Corps Special Operations Command, is the first Marine to receive a Silver Star in the fight against ISIS. Defense Department data shows a sailor, an airman and three soldiers have received the combat-valor award for their actions during Operation Inherent Resolve, the Pentagon’s mission to eliminate the Islamic State terror group.

The Marine was serving as an assistant element leader in Mosul on Oct. 20, 2016, when he and his team positioned themselves between two enemy-held villages. The Marines had taken fire throughout the day, and that evening launched a counterattack on “25 heavily armed fighters and an armored vehicle-borne improvised explosive device,” according to the citation.

The staff sergeant was able to take down some of the terrorists with his sniper rifle, but the vehicle was still headed toward them. Still facing enemy fire, he climbed onto the top of a nearby vehicle to retrieve a Javelin portable anti-tank missile.

He fired, but the missile failed to launch. Still under fire, he got his hands on a second Javelin and launched another missile that took out the vehicle.

“His decisive actions under fire [repelled] the enemy and saved the lives of friendly forces,” the award citation states.

The battle for Mosul left thousands of civilians and coalition fighters dead. ISIS had taken hold of the city in 2014, and it took three years to recover it from the terror group’s grip.

U.S. troops, including Marines, are still fighting ISIS across sections of Iraq and Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. Most are on advise-and-assist missions, but the Raider’s Silver Star citation shows that some of those troops find themselves on the front lines of that fight.

At least 47 U.S. troops have been wounded in action during Operation Inherent Resolve, Marine Corps Times reported.

— Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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West Point to Hold One-Day Stand-Down to Address Problem Drinking

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The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, will hold a one-day stand-down to address alcohol use among cadets, part of an effort to curb problem drinking, sexual assault and harassment on the campus.

Leaders of the three Defense Department service academies told members of a House Appropriations defense subcommittee on Wednesday that the schools are working to get at a root cause of sexual assaults — alcohol.

According to a report issued Jan. 25 by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, alcohol was a factor in 63 percent of sexual-assault events reported by female students and 56 percent of events reported by men across the academies.

At West Point, where alcohol was thought to have been involved in 52 percent of incidents reported by women and 59 percent reported by men, the school is planning a community day Feb. 25, during which classes and sports will be canceled and alcohol use will be addressed, according to Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams.

Williams said cadets, coaches, instructors, tactical officers and administrators will discuss how to “move forward” to address alcohol use and sexual harassment.

“There are current policies and procedures, but they aren’t working,” he said, adding that the commandant is conducting a policy review that will address topics including whether the academy has too many locations where cadets can access alcohol.

It’s the opposite approach to that of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, which is considering whether to serve alcohol at more locations on base to encourage students to remain on the Yard, where they are more likely to consume alcohol responsibly, rather than drinking in downtown bars.

According to the Jan. 25 report, based on a survey of students at the three schools, incidents of unwanted sexual contact — the term used by the DoD in a questionnaire for students to describe assaults ranging from unsolicited kissing and groping to assault and rape — increased from 507 in the 2015-2016 school year to 747 in the 2017-2018 academic year, an increase of nearly 50 percent.

This included 273 incidents at West Point; 254 at the Naval Academy; and 221 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. DoD officials said the numbers total 748 due to rounding.

Following the release of the report for the 2015-2016 school year, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ordered the academies to institute changes to decrease incidents of sexual assault and harassment. The schools developed plans that were introduced before the 2018-2019 academic year began, but the academy leaders said even more needs to be done.

At the Naval Academy, 72 percent of the incidents of unwanted sexual contact reported by women involved alcohol. For men, an estimated 45 percent of the incidents involved alcohol.

Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Ted Carter said the school has instituted a number of programs, including a “Guardian Angel” system that encourages midshipmen to help their peers get home safely after drinking.

“We have identified alcohol as one of the principal root causes of sexual assault. We have been working on this for a year, more so than we ever have … and getting after this is the most important part. We’ve seen 49 percent reduction in alcohol-related incidents just this year,” Carter said.

The Air Force Academy also has implemented a Guardian Angels program, increased supervision of cadets by company officers and instituted an education program among 3rd class cadets as they approach drinking age, Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria said.

Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said she’d like the policies and disciplinary actions to be standardized at all three academies.

“What really are the consequences? …We know some colleges have taken drug and alcohol abuse very, very seriously, particularly in regards to scholarships,” McCollum said.

The superintendents expressed disappointment that many students didn’t feel comfortable reporting incidents of sexual assault, as indicated by the report, which showed that just 117 students filed a formal complaint in the 2017-2018 academic year.

They said increasing diversity in the student population and building a culture of respect and trust will help solve some of the issues at the schools.

Binge drinking, defined as having more than five drinks at one time, remains a problem at the academies and among the military services. According to the report on sexual assault, across the academies, 15 percent of women and 32 percent of men said they drank heavily at least once during the covered period.

A third of all troops reported binge drinking, according to the Defense Department’s Survey of Health-Related Behaviors, released in July 2018.

Subcommittee members told the school leaders that they plan to hold them accountable for addressing the problems.

“We hold our public institutions, especially the military, to a higher standard. All cadets, especially females, must be made to feel safe and free from any kind of harassment and assault,” said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-California.

— Patricia Kime can be reached at patricia.kime@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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US Charges Former Air Force Intel Agent with Defecting to Iran

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The U.S. Justice Department charged a former Air Force intelligence official Wednesday with spying for Iran, saying she exposed a fellow U.S. agent and helped the Revolutionary Guard target her former colleagues for cyber attacks.

U.S. officials said Monica Witt, who worked for years in Air Force counterintelligence, had an “ideological” turn against her country and defected in 2013, turning over information on U.S. intelligence operations against Tehran.

“It is a sad day for America when one of its citizens betrays our country,” said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, announcing the indictment.

“This case underscores the dangers to our intelligence professionals and the lengths our adversaries will go to identify them, expose them, target them, and, in a few rare cases, ultimately turn them against the nation they swore to protect,” he said.

The U.S. also indicted four Iranians working for the Revolutionary Guard who, using information Witt provided them, targeted her former colleagues in U.S. intelligence with malware and other hacking tools in hopes of accessing their computer networks.

The Justice Department has issued arrest warrants for Witt and the four Iranians, who all remain at large.

Witt served in the Air Force from 1997 to 2008, becoming a special agent in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, its counterintelligence unit.

After leaving the Air Force, she worked as a defense and intelligence contractor, but by 2012 her politics had begun to turn.

That year, she travelled to Iran to attend an anti-America conference sponsored by the Revolutionary Guard-related New Horizon Organization.

She returned to Iran the next year and began disclosing classified information to Iranian officials, including on her former colleagues in the U.S. intelligence community.

She revealed to the Iranians a “highly classified intelligence collection program” as well as the true identity of a U.S. intelligence officer, Demers said.

According to an undated FBI missing persons declaration regarding Witt, she had not been in contact with anyone since 2013.

The announcement, which also included sanctions on the New Horizon Organization, organization officials, and a company tied to the hacking effort, came on the opening day of a U.S.-led international conference in Warsaw, Poland aimed at boosting pressure on Tehran.

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Marine Combat Veteran Lays Groundwork for 2020 Presidential Campaign

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Marine war veteran and Massachusetts congressman Seth Moulton began to build a platform for a potential run in the 2020 presidential election Tuesday by arguing that the United States needs to spend more on cyber technology and artificial intelligence and less on aircraft carriers and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Moulton, a Democrat, joined the Marine Corps in June 2001 and led troops as an infantry officer during his four tours in Iraq, earning the Bronze Star with “V” device in the 2004 Battle of Najaf. The 40-year-old lawmaker has served in the House of Representatives since 2015, sits on the House Armed Services Committee and is the top Democrat on the Oversight and Investigations Committee.

“The reason I got into politics goes back to my time in the Marine Corps,” the former captain told an audience Tuesday at the Brookings Institution. “I realized that I loved service … and I enjoyed going to work every single day to serve our country even in the midst of a war I disagreed with. And fundamentally, that is what motivated me to go back into public service and become a congressman.”

Now, Moulton is considering becoming a candidate in the 2020 presidential race to energize the country’s approach to keeping pace with China and Russia’s high-tech defense programs, as well as rebuild relationships with allies that the Trump administration threatens to destroy, he said.

“The [Trump] administration has alienated our allies, cowered to our key adversaries and abandoned our alliances,” Moulton said. “In so doing, it has torn down the policy values that two generations of American leadership built.

“When your old house gets damaged by a bad renter or, in this case, by a terrible president, you don’t just restore it to look like it was built in 1950. You take the opportunity to renovate it. You don’t just rebuild, you build something new,” he said.

Moulton, who has a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s degree in business and public policy from Harvard University, said America is at “serious risk of being entirely leapfrogged by China and Russian by new technology.”

“China is not trying to compete with our 11 [aircraft]-carrier Navy by building 12 or 13 or 14 of their own,” he said, adding that the U.S. should focus on the number “1,238.”

“That is our best estimate for how many Chinese anti-carrier missiles you can buy for the price of one U.S. carrier,” he explained.

Moulton then described a conversation with the Navy’s chief of naval operations, Adm. John Richardson.

“I asked the CNO how many times had the Chinese attacked a U.S. carrier. [He responded] ‘Never, sir,’ ” Moulton said. “How many times have the Chinese attacked us through the internet? ‘Over the last 24 hours, sir?’

“The punch line is this: We have invested 16 times more in carriers than cyber. We need to re-examine that balance,” he said.

Moulton said the U.S. also needs to ask the same questions “of our massive financial commitment to the F-35.”

“I am more worried about how soon we can field the F-45,” he said, referencing a notional future aircraft. “We need to dramatically up our investment in autonomous, hypersonic and cyber weapons to compete and win.”

Moulton argued that the U.S. also needs to radically improve its foreign policy.

One way to do this is to take a new approach to arms control that ultimately “makes us stronger, giving us a strategic advantage,” he said.

“The U.S. and Russia agree to comparable reductions in ICBMs. But [if] our missiles are more accurate and more reliable, then we have the advantage,” Moulton said. “That is why I was such a strong advocate four years ago for a worldwide convention to limit the proliferation on drones. Back then, we were still far ahead of the rest of the world, and limiting them may have solidified that advantage.”

The U.S. needs to start “thinking about arms control, not just with traditional weapons but with new weapons as well,” he said. “Much sooner than later, we would be wise to consider what kinds of arms control over autonomous weapons powered by artificial intelligence will make us safer.”

Moulton also argued that the U.S. needs to strengthen its relationships with NATO partners and should be asking if it makes sense to establish a Pacific NATO to counter China.

But he also said America would be stronger if more emphasis were placed on national service for young people.

“Being in the Marines taught me how much I enjoyed serving, and I think that if more young people had that experience, it would make us a better country, a stronger country, a more united country, a country that understands each other in these extremely divisive times,” he said.

He does not believe in returning to a draft, Moulton said, adding that “we have had tremendous success having an all-volunteer military.”

Instead, there are “tremendous opportunities for civilian service” through programs such as AmeriCorps, a voluntary civil society program supported by the federal government in which adults can serve their communities.

Moulton said he wants to see national service become an expectation.

“When you interview for a job in your thirties, one of the first questions that gets asked is, where did you serve,” he said. “I think that is where we want to go with national service, and I am a huge proponent of it myself.”

During the event at Brookings, Moulton briefly acknowledged that he is considering a 2020 campaign.

“Yes, I am looking at a presidential campaign. I think we have to make the argument to people that there are serious national security [issues] across the globe, and this has got be part of the debate,” Moulton said.

“I will be the first to say we have extraordinary candidates who have already announced they are running,” he added, naming the recent campaign launches of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota.

“There are amazing people out there who are running and contributing to this debate,” he said. “If this is one of the things that I can add to the debate, then that is perhaps an argument for me to jump in.”

Moulton acknowledged that the “political fight will be severe” in the 2020 race and that the country needs leaders with moral courage.

“Moral courage is often in short supply around here, but we need it to meet these tough challenges. Our troops deserve it, and our national security demands it,” he said.

— Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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Air Force’s 1st Female Demo Team Commander Relieved After 2 Weeks

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The first female commander of the U.S. Air Force‘s Viper demonstration team has been relieved of command after only a couple of weeks on the job.

Capt. Zoe Kotnik, an F-16 Fighting Falcon demonstration pilot at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, was removed from her post Monday, Air Force officials confirmed to Military.com. The news was first reported by Air Force Times.

“Capt. Zoe Kotnik, former Air Combat Command F-16 Viper Demonstration Team pilot, was relieved from her position as commander of the Viper Demonstration Team by Col. Derek O’Malley, the 20th Fighter Wing commander, due to a loss of confidence in her ability to lead and command,” wing spokeswoman Capt. Alanna Staver said in a statement.

In a separate post on Facebook, O’Malley noted Kotnik had made “mistakes.”

“We have thousands of Airmen across our Air Force serving our country, and not one of them is perfect. As good people, like Capt. Kotnik, make mistakes, I want them to have the opportunity to learn from them without being under public scrutiny, and to continue to be a part of this great service,” he said in the post.

O’Malley continued, “In these types of situations, I never forget that we’re dealing with real human beings, that I care deeply about, and that we are charged to take care of. This will be a difficult time for Capt. Kotnik, but she’s surrounded by wingmen that will help her every step of the way. It was exciting to have the first female demo team pilot here at Shaw, but I’m also just as excited about the many other females that are serving with great distinction across our Air Force.”

Kotnik will no longer perform with the demo team “but will continue to serve in a non-supervisory role in the 20th Fighter Wing,” Staver said.

Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command, certified Kotnik to lead the team on Jan. 29.

Kotnik, whose call sign is SiS, was recently profiled by the Air Force as its first female single-ship tactical demonstration pilot.

The service even likened Kotnik to the upcoming superhero flick “Captain Marvel,” in which actress Brie Larson plays an F-16 pilot.

Kotnik, of Poynette, Wisconsin, comes from an aviation-enthusiast family, according to Stars and Stripes.

She graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2011 and was selected for undergraduate pilot training, flying the T-6B Texan II and the T-38C Talon, according to her official Air Force biography.

After earning her wings in October 2013, she moved to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, and learned to fly the F-16C Fighting Falcon.

Kotnik was the chief of training for the 55th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Shaw for three years before switching to the Viper team.

She flew missions in support of Operation Noble Eagle — the air defense operation following the Sept. 11 attacks — and has more than 1,000 flight hours in military aircraft, the Air Force said.

Maj. John “Rain” Waters, last season’s Viper demo pilot, has resumed command in Kotnik’s place, O’Malley said.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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Navy Astronaut, Air Force Pilot Could Square Off for McCain’s Senate Seat

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PHOENIX — Retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who became a prominent gun-control advocate after his wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in a failed assassination attempt, announced Tuesday he will run to finish John McCain’s last term in the U.S. Senate.

If he wins the Democratic nomination, Kelly would take on Republican Martha McSally in what is expected to be one of the most closely contested Senate races of the 2020 election.

Kelly described himself as an independent-minded centrist who will take a scientist’s data-driven approach to solving problems such as climate change, wage stagnation and health care affordability.

“You see a lot of partisanship in Washington and a lot of polarization, and to some extent we’ve created that,” Kelly told The Associated Press. “It’s going to take people who are more independent to fix it. Arizonans value independence.”

If Kelly is nominated, the race would pit the Navy veteran and astronaut against McSally, a trailblazing Air Force pilot, in the contest to replace McCain, a legendary Navy flier who was famously shot down and held captive in North Vietnam.

McSally is a former Republican congresswoman who was appointed to McCain’s seat after she narrowly lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema last November in the race for outgoing Republican Jeff Flake’s seat. McSally leaned heavily on her record as the first woman to fly a combat mission, but she was hurt by her embrace of President Donald Trump.

The 2020 election will decide who finishes the last two years of McCain’s term. The winner would have to run again for a full six-year term in 2022.

Democrats are eagerly watching the Arizona contest, having already defeated McSally. The party is also gauging whether Arizona could be competitive at the presidential level in 2020, where Trump won in 2016.

Kelly has never held elected office. He flew combat missions during the first Gulf War before becoming an astronaut along with his twin brother, Scott Kelly. He flew four space missions over 10 years and commanded the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 2011.

Kelly and Giffords have pushed Congress to enact gun control measures with little success. They shifted their focus to state legislatures in recent years, helping to strengthen background checks and domestic violence protections.

Giffords was severely wounded in a mass shooting on Jan. 8, 2011. The shooting at a Giffords meet-and-greet event in Tucson left six dead and 13 injured.

Giffords played a prominent role in the four-minute video Tuesday launching Kelly’s campaign.

“I thought then that I had the risky job,” Kelly says to Giffords. “Turned out, you were the one that had the risky job.”

Kelly told the AP that Giffords, who had been a rising Democratic star before the shooting, will join him frequently during campaign appearances.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey appointed McSally to the vacant Senate seat after his first appointee, former Sen. Jon Kyl, resigned after only a few months in office.

Arizona has been a longstanding Republican stronghold, but a growing Latino population and frustration among women with Trump have helped Democrats make inroads.

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego of Phoenix is also considering a Senate run that would likely position him to Kelly’s left politically.

“I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m looking seriously at running for the U.S. Senate in 2020, and that hasn’t changed,” Gallego said on Twitter following Kelly’s announcement. “I’ll be making a final decision and announcement soon.”

Former Attorney General Grant Woods, a lifelong Republican who became a Democrat and a fierce critic of Trump, said last week he will not run for the seat.

McCain, a legendary and beloved Arizona politician, died last year from an aggressive form of brain cancer after more than three decades in the Senate.

—–

This article was written by Jonathan J. Cooper from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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