Metro-East News

Roger That: Air Force unveils design for B-21 bomber

An artist rendering of new Northrop Grumman Corp B-21 long-range bomber.
An artist rendering of new Northrop Grumman Corp B-21 long-range bomber. REUTERS

Meet the newest plane in the United States Air Force, the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber.

It’s so new that it exists only as an artist’s rendering; a prototype has yet to be built.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James unveiled the highly anticipated design Tuesday at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida. The plane is designated right now as the “B-21” and James said they're taking suggestions for a new name from within the Air Force. The 5th generation bomber, James said, will “hold targets at risk in a way the world and our adversaries have never, ever seen,” according to ABC News.

The new design, by defense manufacturer Northrop Grumman, appears to closely resemble its predecessor, the B-2 Stealth Bomber. James acknowledged the Air Force wanted to build off "mature technology," which could speed up and reduce the cost of production.

The Air Force plans to operate the aircraft sometime in the mid-2020s and the initial development contract will cost the defense department $21 billion.

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U.S. cyber attacks and more frontline assistance from U.S. troops in non-combat roles than was used in Ramadi will be part of the Iraqi offensive to retake Mosul, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said Monday, according to Military.com.

Although the battle plan was in its formative stages, "the operations against Mosul have already started," Dunford said at a Pentagon news conference with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. "In other words, you know, we're isolating Mosul even as we speak," Dunford said, and “it is not something that will happen in the deep, deep future.”

Dunford said that Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and their U.S. advisors had moved to a staging area near Makhmour, about 60 miles southeast of Mosul, and U.S. cyber attacks were beginning to disrupt the communications of ISIS commanders in Mosul and their ability to control the militants defending Iraq's second largest city.

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Nearly 20 percent of the military’s most-treasured medals have been awarded for classified missions since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, according to data obtained by USA TODAY.

The secrecy surrounding more than 200 Service Cross and Silver Star awards reflects the reliance on special operations forces involved in classified missions to capture or kill terrorists and free hostages, according to a senior Defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because officials were not authorized to characterize the commendations.

Last month, the Pentagon announced that officials are reviewing 1,090 awards of Service Crosses and Silver Stars awarded since Sept. 11, 2001 to determine if any should be upgraded to the nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor.

Since 9/11, the 216 medals were awarded in secret for missions that cannot be publicly discussed, according to the records. One Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest medal awarded to soldiers, and three Navy Crosses, the equivalent medal for sailors and Marines, have been issued for courageous acts during classified operations. The Navy awarded 112 Silver Stars, and the Army 100 more for undisclosed actions. The Air Force has not issued a Service Cross or Silver Star in secret since 9/11.

That one in five of the nation’s highest medals has been issued in secret is likely due to the reliance on special operations forces undertaking stealthy missions, said the official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue. Along with drone strikes, what are called “direct-action raids” conducted by commandos in secret have become a hallmark of the war on terror, the official said.

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Reports documenting scheduling problems and wait-time manipulation at the Department of Veterans Affairs are being made public, as the agency's internal watchdog bows to pressure from members of Congress and others to improve transparency, accordingn to the Associated Press.

The VA's Office of Inspector General released 11 reports Monday outlining problems at VA hospitals and clinics in Florida. The reports are the first of 77 investigations to be made public over the next few months.

The reports detail chronic delays for veterans seeking medical care and falsified records covering up the long waits. Intentional misconduct was substantiated in 51 of 77 completed investigations.

A scandal over veterans' health care emerged in Phoenix nearly two years ago following complaints that as many as 40 patients died while awaiting care at the city's VA hospital.

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000

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