Military News

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Navy, Air Force Advocate for Modernizing Combat Aviation



By Terri Moon Cronk
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2015 – Top Navy and Air Force officials today told the House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces the president’s budget request for fiscal year 2016 will support modernizing combat aviation programs.

Navy Vice Adm. Paul A. Grosklags, principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisitions; Air Force Lt. Gen. James M. “Mike” Holmes, deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, Air Force headquarters; and Air Force Maj. Gen. Timothy M. Ray, director, global power programs, office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, all testified on the need for a modern force.

Navy and Marine Corps aviation allows “sea-based and expeditionary naval forces to bring simultaneous influence over vast stretches of the maritime environment across the shoreline and deep inland,” Grosklags said.

Aviation Must Stay Ready, Poised

It is therefore critical that U.S. aviation forces remain “always ready and poised to engage at a moment’s notice with required capacity and capability to influence events, and if necessary, to fight and win,” he said.

As global threats and demands increase, the Navy’s budget grows more challenging, Grosklags said, adding that the Navy and Marine Corps depend on today’s modernization and readiness efforts.

“Across the department, the strategies for our development, procurement and sustainment of [existing] and future weapons systems are critically dependent upon stable, and predictable funding at a level commensurate with [the president’s 2016 budget request],” he said.

“The alternative has been made clear by our secretaries and service chiefs,” the admiral emphasized. “A smaller force, a force less forward deployed; a force slower to respond in a crisis, is a force, which, when it does respond, will be less capable and more vulnerable.”

Budget Would Help Balance Air Force Needs

The National Defense Strategy is increasingly at risk, Holmes said, and the proposed budget takes steps to balance the many challenges the Air Force faces.

“The Air Force continues every day to deliver global vigilance,” he said. “However, [after] more than 25 years of sustained combat operations and years of constrained budgets, it is becoming more difficult to achieve our mission.”

The first of many difficult capacity decisions before the Air Force is whether to divest itself of the A-10 fighter jet, he said.

“There’s no question the A-10 has been a steady and stellar performer in recent conflicts,” Holmes told the panel. “Nevertheless, our force structure is simply unaffordable in today’s fiscal environment.”

Divesting the entire A-10 fleet would free up $4.7 billion for the Air Force’s future defense program, which would pay for priority capacity, capability and readiness needs, he said.

But overall, the Air Force fighter jet fleet is facing an average age of 30 years, the oldest in the service’s history, Holmes said.

“The fourth-generation F-15s and F-16s, that are the majority of our fighter fleet, require upgrades to extend their life span and provide the combat capability required to prevail in today’s increasingly contested environments,” he emphasized.

Similarly, the advanced capabilities of the fifth-generation fighters -- F-22s and F-35s -- are critical to ensure the service’s ability to fight and win in contested environments, he added.

“The Air Force continues to be the world’s finest across the spectrum of conflict, but the gap is closing,” Holmes noted. “A return to sequestration-level funding would result in a less-ready, less-capable, less-viable Air Force that’s unable to fully execute the National Defense Strategy.”

Sequestration is a provision of current budget law that mandates major across-the-board spending cuts in fiscal 2016, which begins Oct. 1.

Global Security Complex

Today’s global security environment is more complex than ever before, Ray told subcommittee members, and the Air Force “must continue to invest in science and technology to modernize our capabilities.”

The budget proposal continues to focus on modernizing Air Force capabilities while exploring game-changing technologies for the future, Ray added.

“Adversaries are developing technologies and capabilities to shape and deter our nation,” he pointed out.

“[We] must continue to institute servicewide efficiencies that will capitalize on innovative concepts, keep weapons systems on track and build affordability into new systems,” Ray said, adding that the president’s FY 16 budget proposal “reflects Air Force priorities in these areas.”

Safety office spots way to improve road safety

by Gina Randall
100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs


3/26/2015 - RAF MILDENHALL, England  -- Team Mildenhall leadership are asking its members to step up and step in if they see someone driving unsafely on or off base. If they see someone potentially putting people at risk, they should report it.

The 100th Air Refueling Wing Safety Office runs a program where people can get involved if they see something unsafe.

"The safe street spotter program allows individuals to report unsafe driving acts and behaviors, on or off the installation, to the safety office via our ground safety SharePoint page," said Staff Sgt. Koert Lyman, 100th ARW Safety Office occupational safety professional from Eastham, Massachusetts. "Once identified as an RAF Mildenhall member, the information is then sent to the individual's squadron leadership and they will face appropriate action under Mildenhall Instruction 31-218, Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or other lawful authority. This specifically may include revocation of their 3rd Air Force license."

The base population is spotting many areas of driving that are unsafe.

"Any unsafe act or behavior conducted in a motor vehicle by base personnel can be reported," said Lyman. "The most common things reported to our office are individuals overtaking on the no passing roads (as identified in Mildenhall Instruction 31-218), erratic driving behavior (such as tailgating, swerving or weaving through traffic), speeding, cell phone use and failure to obey traffic lights, signs and United Kingdom road rules."

This is not a new program, but with continuous incoming military members and their families, it's important everyone is informed.

"The program has been in effect for at least 10 years, going back to a string of fatalities occurring in 2003," said Master Sgt. Dominic Cilia, 100th ARW Ground Safety superintendent from Brooklyn, New York.

The reason behind the program implementation is clear -- the safety of the Air Force's most valuable assets: the people that make the mission happen each day.

"The program was set up in the hopes of curbing drivers from operating their vehicle in an unsafe manner and, more importantly, to save and protect lives while operating a vehicle in the U.K.," said Lyman.

The superintendent seconds the reason for the program.

"We are proud of the program as it identifies members with risky driving behaviors before they seriously injure or kill themselves or others on the U.K. roads," said Cilia.

The safety office can't be everywhere and hopes people get involved to be their eyes and ears.

"We'll never know what's happening on the roadways if people aren't reporting risky behavior they observe," said Lyman.

Everyone can help to potentially save a life. They can report offenders without a direct confrontation.

If someone spots an unsafe driving act or behavior from base personnel, they can go to the 100th ARW Ground Safety SharePoint Page and use the automated Safe Street Spotter link to report the individual. People will need to know the registration number (full or partial) and include a vehicle description and detail of the unsafe act. If they don't have access to the SharePoint site, they can call the safety office at DSN 238-2255, commercial at 01638 542255 or email 100arw.segv3@us.af.mil.

Air Guard Airmen pioneer critical inspection for F-15

by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
173rd Fighter Wing Public Affairs


3/25/2015 - KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. -- Airmen at the 173rd Fighter Wing here pioneered a critical fix Feb. 26 preserving airworthiness for the Air Force F-15C Eagle aircraft as the airframes approach 40 years in service.

Master Sgt. Dusty McAllister, supervisor of the 173rd Sheet Metals shop, asked one of his Airman, Tech. Sgt. Jeff Childs, who has a background in machining, if it were possible to engineer an inspection point for wing spars, which are inaccessible at field locations.

This inspection was in response to stress testing conducted by Boeing in which an airframe was subjected to stresses proportionate to more than 20-thousand flight hours. Those tests revealed a vulnerability in some wing spars.

"There was a catastrophic failure on the stress test aircraft on the intermediate spar," said McAllister. "[The engineers] said they need to find out if we can remove some skin in an area and check these, and we said, 'yes, we will take a look at this.'"

McAllister, Childs and other members of the shop spent several weeks of trial and error and created a fixture machined from a block of aluminum that holds a carbide cutting tool and allows them to cut through the titanium skin precisely enough to preserve the spar it touches.

"We take off thin layers in successive cuts until we get close, then we hold our breath for the last cut," said Childs, the one who physically performs all the cutting operations.

The operation has worked well enough that he visited the wing's sister unit, the 142nd Fighter Wing in Portland, and showed them how to make the fixture and helped them cut five wings.

McAllister says that depot maintenance thinks the design is excellent and is sending it to all F-15 units to help them accomplish their inspections.

"A rough drawing of the fixture and a new [Time Compliance Technical Order] has gone out to all the F-15 units to begin working the fix," McAllister said.

He adds that they continue to refine the process and are looking at using an ultrasound scan to help measure the thickness between cuts to provide a wider margin of error.

USARAK officer vies for slot on Olympic boxing team

by Air Force Staff Sgt. Wes Wright
JBER Public Affairs


3/26/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Its 4 a.m. Much of the working world is still asleep, but not her. She is getting ready to go to the gym. There's something she wants more than sleep -- she wants to be a boxing champion and is willing to outwork everyone else to become one.

For many people, getting to the gym three times in a week would be considered a successful fitness week, but not for Army 1st Lt. Rory Santos, 486th Movement Control Team executive officer, 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. Try three times each day.

Such is the life of a motivated 27-year-old female boxer with a military career and two kids. She's at the gym when it opens first thing in the morning for her cardio session. She does a strength and conditioning workout on her lunch break and is in a ring sparring as soon as she gets off work in the evening.

The daily grind has propelled her to the forefront of female boxers in Alaska. Her current record is 27-6 and she has never been knocked out.
"This is my life and my passion," Santos said. "I started when I was 15 years old. I found it motivated me and gave me discipline that I needed in my life. It has worked out pretty well so far."

Santos's foray into what is considered to be a male-dominated sport began during her childhood in Hawaii. The Hawaiian-Filipino-Chamorro fighter had a neighbor who participated in the 2000 Olympics.

"I would see him train every day. He saw I was interested and recommended I hit the gym."

After joining a local gym, her skill and determination caught the eye of her coach at the time.

"He saw potential in me and decided to see how far he could push me. That would form the foundation of hard work, dedication and discipline I would need to propel myself up in the ranks within the sport."

Shortly thereafter, Santos enlisted in the Army at 17.

"I joined the Army to put some discipline in my life. I was not the best student in high school. I grew up in Hawaii and wanted to get off the island. I needed to do something with my life."

Santos took a break from the sport after enlisting, mostly due to being stationed at a location where boxing was not an interest in the community. She used this time to channel her discipline and drive into education.

She earned a bachelor's degree through the University of Phoenix and a subsequent commission in the Army. In 2012, she stepped back into the ring, picking right back up where she left off.

Since joining the Army, she's come to know the meaning of the word discipline and her interest in boxing has only cemented it further, Santos said. Everything she does is like clockwork to her, both in her job and in the gym.

"The discipline allows me to focus as a leader," Santos said. "My Soldiers see I'm a hard worker and I manage my time well. "They don't complain when I give them orders. They want to work hard because they see me working hard."

Her current trainer, Jarid Symens, a prior service member and owner of Martial Art Alaska, said Santos's hard work is what sets her apart from her peers.

"She is amazing. She trains harder than anyone else and is always trying to improve. She has an unmatched, tireless drive," Symens said.

Santos has her sights set on one day competing for Team USA in the Olympics.

"She could turn pro right now, and quite frankly would destroy many of the professional female fighters, but she's aiming for something more important to her. She wants to represent her country and come home with gold. There wouldn't be a prouder moment for her."

Santos said fighting in the Olympics is the entire reason she boxes.

"It would mean everything," Santos said. "That is the ultimate achievement for me. As a Soldier I get to fight for and serve my country, and this is just one more way I can do that. My country means everything to me."

At work, Santos is in charge of 18 Soldiers. She manages supplies, resources and training events for her unit. With her unit looking to her for leadership to solve problems, she approaches those challenges the same way she approaches her opponents in the ring.

"I try to keep as calm as possible," Santos said. "I look at it as all the hard work I've put in at the gym and in my job. It's just me sparring like I've done countless times. This is just someone or something in the way of success. I try to take the emotion out of it."

While the cool, calm calculation is her go-to approach, Santos said sometimes she has to dig deep for special problems or opponents.

"You always want to stay calm, but it's OK to look for something special to motivate you. Personally, if I need that extra push, I'll imagine the person in front of me is trying to harm my family.

"I put their face on that emotion and feed off it. Obviously, it's all in good sport in the end, but it's ok to find something like that to fuel you when you need it."

Santos has had to overcome many opponents and challenges to get where she is today, not the least of which was garnering respect of her peers in the male-dominated sport.

She had to prove herself, Santos said. She's usually the only female at the gym who fights.

"Gender equality has come a long way, but I can still tell guys don't want to hit me," Santos said.

"But, I don't hold back. You better hit me. I'm going to hit you. For the most part, people respect that. Now, when I'm in the gym, I'm not 'Rory the female boxer,' I'm 'Rory the boxer.'"

Santos said her gender, role as a leader and known passion for fitness create a healthy competition and camaraderie in her unit.

"The guys know I can hang," Santos said. "I smoke them at PT. I can see an 'Oh, if lieutenant can do it, I can do it,' competitive spirit. It's fun."

The driven Soldier had words of advice for others who may be interested in the sport.

"Just try it out. Go to a gym and put on a pair of gloves. Do your best. It's just like anything else in life. If you enjoy it and want it bad enough, you can have it. You just have to be willing to work for it."

Eagle Flag exercise brings services together

by Senior Airman Charles Rivezzo
60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs


3/26/2015 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- The boots of more than 170 Airmen and Soldiers trekked through the grounds of a remote exercise site at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

All that stood before them was a barren field - with mud so dense it would act as a suction cup with each step they took - all while ice and snow thawed and soaked the ground around them.

They had officially arrived at the fictitious nation of Nivan, in support of Eagle Flag 15-2, a weeklong exercise geared toward developing, testing and rehearsing rapid opening of an aerial port and the establishment of cargo distribution capability.

The over-arching concept behind the mobility based exercise relates to U.S. Transportation Command's Joint Task Force-Port Opening mission set; a robust combination of the Air Force's swift airbase opening capability and the Army's critical over-land cargo movement, tracking and distribution capability.

Hosted by the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center, Eagle Flag is used to evaluate mobility operations and expeditionary combat support. Unlike traditional, simulation based exercises, EF provides a dynamic venue with scenarios designed to challenge participants executing complex operations in a deployed environment.

These attributes drew USTRANSCOM to sponsor multiple EF events over the past several years as part of a broader JTF-PO training program.

Although scripted beforehand, the reaction of participants within the exercise drive the scenario - good or bad - to further enhance the sense of realism. Eagle Flag uses role players to provide realistic interaction and involvement throughout the scenarios, acting as host nation civilians, government and military officials, and other critical roles.

"The Expeditionary Center is well-versed at allowing you to set up operations and then start throwing scenarios at you that you might encounter in the operational environment," said Col. Scott Zippwald, 570th Contingency Response Group commander and commander of the JTF-PO. "It's challenging enough to open an austere airbase and set up a distribution network without any kind of other factors on you, but part of this exercise is learning to adapt to any environment we may be called upon to operate within.

"A big part of this mission-set is our interaction and coordination with the host-nation - the EF staff does a superb job at creating those opportunities. The JTF-PO team is also trained to execute this mission in a semi-permissive environment with the potential of hostile actions against us ... something they also simulate very well," Zippwald continued. "When you put all these different elements together, the experience created at Eagle Flag makes for a very complex and realistic training environment."

The simulated tasking placed upon the Airmen from the 570th CRG at Travis Air Force Base, California, and Soldiers from the 688th Rapid Port Opening Element at Fort Eustis, Virginia, focused on testing the Joint Task Force's ability to provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief to refugee camps - a scenario similar to recent efforts supporting Ebola relief operations as part of Operation United Assistance.

Upon their initial arrival March 9 to their "redeployment" on March 13, JTF-PO servicemembers unloaded 66 flatbed trucks - a simulation of C-17 Globemaster IIIs, C-130 Hercules and foreign aircraft - handled and processed 365 pieces of cargo and delivered more than 2.4 million pounds of "humanitarian aid" to U.S. Agency for International Development role players.

"Our goal is to turn a barren dirt strip into a bustling logistics hub some 12 hours later," Zippwald said. "It's pretty impressive to show up and there is nothing there ... zero. And hours later you've got a fully functioning airbase and distribution system getting supplies to people in need.

"Eagle Flag validates our mission-set and instills confidence in our Airmen that when something happens around the world, and we get the call, we are going to deliver," he continued. "That's a testament to the contingency response mindset we possess and the type of Airmen we have in the CRW."

The JTF-PO mission-set brings a unique tool to our nation - it underscores our ability to project power and reach anywhere in the world, the commander noted. With it, our nation can extend an open hand to those in need.

"CRW Airmen are postured to react quickly and deliver," Zippwald said. "Our operations in Africa and Iraq last summer are great examples of what our highly trained Airmen bring to the fight. The world remains a volatile place, and we will certainly be called upon in the future. Eagle Flag gives us that opportunity to ensure we are 'tip of the spear ... ready to go.'"

Joint combat communication creates realistic training, cost savings

by Master Sgt. Patricia F. Moran and Staff Sgt. Darlene M. Seltmann
145th Public Affairs and 99th Public Affairs


3/24/2015 - NEW LONDON, N.C. -- "Train like we fight" and "do more with less" are mottos echoing the walls of countless conference rooms across the Department of Defense and U.S. Air Force daily -- and for good reason. U.S. military missions continue to expand while concurrently trying to balance shrinking budgets and decreasing personnel.

"Whatever you can do to come up with solutions that really do save us money and provide additional capability across the Air Force, we're all for it," said Gen. John Hyten, then vice commander of Air Force Space Command, during an April 2014 Air Force Association Air and Space Conference speech.

The recent partnership between the North Carolina Air National Guard's 263rd Combat Communications Squadron and Air Combat Command's 527th Space Aggressor Squadron, and their Reserve counterpart, the 26th SAS, represent this vision in action. This serves as a prudent example of using innovation to tie limited resources together through a total force integration relationship and build mission capability and capacity for the joint force.

The 263rd CBCS, located at North Carolina Air National Guard base, 145th Combat Operations Group, New London, provides tactical secure and unsecure voice and data communications systems in support of deployed warfighters and in support of civil authorities for state disaster response. Reliable communication is the life-blood of any crisis, natural disaster or conflict, and the unit has actively and diligently sought advanced training opportunities with the 527th SAS to ensure mission success.

As a geographically separated squadron located at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, of the Nellis AFB-based 57th Adversary Tactics Group, the 527th SAS fully embodies the aggressor concept. That concept, formed after disappointing air-to-air kills during Vietnam, provides training audiences enemy-like capabilities and tactics to realistically replicate adversary threats. The Space Aggressors enable training audiences to develop new tactics, techniques and procedures to counter threats and improve U.S. joint warfighting communication capabilities, specifically by providing satellite communication electronic attack replication.

Using boxing as an example, the 263rd CBCS is the boxer preparing for a fight, while the aggressors represent the sparring partner.

"We hit them in practice, to make sure they can take a punch, standup and hit back in combat," said Major Christopher Fernengel, 527 SAS operations officer.

During training exercises, the 263rd CBCS and 527th SAS typically act as each other's adversaries. Now, in addition to being rivals in training, these innovative units are partnering to build a stronger future force while simultaneously executing fiscal dexterity.

Between October 2014 and January 2015, the space aggressors deployed to North Carolina to support nearly 37,000 Sailors, Marines and Airmen during three U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Navy exercises.  Rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars in shipping costs to transport electronic attack training equipment, the 527th repurposed standard combat communications equipment to replicate electronic attack to support the training exercises. Meanwhile, 263rd Airmen provided technical expertise and manpower in support of the space aggressor mission.

"The relationship between our unit and the 527th advances total force integration, makes great fiscal sense and has significantly increased our ability to provide reliable communications to the warfighter in a contested environment," said Lt. Col. Anthony Sullins,  263rd CBCS commander.

The commonality of equipment between the 527th and 263rd provides many advantages that enhance the missions of both units.  The space aggressors save on transportation costs and personnel hours by leveraging combat communications equipment and personnel.  The Air Force guardsmen of the 263rd can leverage training opportunities to remain proficient on their mission tasks prior to real world deployments.  The advanced training provided by the 527th allows CBCS operators to develop TTP and mitigation strategies through electro-magnetic Interference "dogfight" exercises.

The combined efforts of both squadrons resulted in nearly $62,000 in total savings of travel and personnel associated costs. Such a partnership answers the charge from the ACC commander, for our Airmen to think creatively and develop innovative solutions to near term shortfalls.

In fiscal 2015, the support relationship between the 263rd CBCS, 527th SAS and 26th SAS units is expected to be executed four times, providing the DOD an estimated savings of $250,000. "This total force effort will culminate by arming over 50,000 joint personnel with training and TTP development to fight in and through a contested environment during combat," said Fernengel.

The most significant benefit of this partnership, which can't be measured in cost savings, is how the CBCS becomes better prepared to fight in a contested, degraded and operationally-limited environment while the aggressors learn more about critical communications and ensure vulnerabilities are identified, exploited and mitigation tactics are developed.

"Over the last year, we, along with our combat communications group, have worked with the 527th to integrate more combat comm units into this training and codify our lessons into community wide TTPs that are regularly exercised and trained," said Sullins.  "Until technical solutions to mitigate jamming are integrated into our equipment, we will use these TTPs to ensure Combat Communicators mitigate this threat at the tactical edge of our networks."

A day with AGE

by Airman 1st Class Amber Powell
177th Fighter Wing Public Affairs


3/20/2015 - ATLANTIC CITY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.J.  -- Airmen from the 177th Fighter Wing's Aerospace Ground Equipment shop performed preventative maintenance for the entire base here recently servicing roughly 200 pieces of powered and non-powered equipment.

Aerospace ground equipment, also known as the AGE equipment, help Airmen prepare aircraft to support the Air National Guard mission.

"Sometimes it takes six arms to do everything," said Senior Master Sgt. Frank Camillo, powered support systems mechanic supervisor. "There's so much going on and so many things you have to do to get the job done right."

On one of the walls in the shop hangs two paintings of an octopus with different types of ground equipment in each tentacle, representing how much the shop is responsible for and how busy it can get at times.

"Our maintenance is labeled in two categories, scheduled maintenance and unscheduled maintenance," said Camillo. "Unscheduled is anything that breaks, we fix it. Scheduled maintenance has its own subcategories."

The subcategories are phase one and phase two maintenance. Phase one consists of six month maintenance and phase two is annual maintenance that is more comprehensive and is performed on each of piece of equipment ranging from light carts and generators to air conditioners and hydrogen carts.

Electronic manuals are used in order to ensure that the proper steps are taken while performing the work.

"Each step must be complete," said Senior Airmen Gregory Gilkes, a Powered Support Systems Mechanic who has been with the AGE shop for five years, "and each thing has to be signed off on in case someone else comes in to finish the job; they need to know what has been done."

While Gilkes performs maintenance on a light cart, which is used by crew chiefs to light the aircraft, he checks things ranging from hinges and latches to the oil in the motor.

Every little step plays a part in the inspection of each piece of equipment, making sure it is mission ready. Likewise, every Airman has an important job that keeps the base functioning in an effective way.

Central Command Region Remains Volatile, Commander Says



By Claudette Roulo
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2015 – U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility is more volatile and chaotic than ever, Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, Centcom commander, told Congress today.

Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Austin said the stakes in the region have never been higher.

Forces of evil thrive in the region’s poorly governed areas, the general said. “It is essential that we are present and engaged, and that we cultivate strong partnerships and continue to do our part to address emerging threats and to move the region in the direction of greater stability and security," he said.

“And we must be properly resourced to do what is required to effectively protect and promote our interests,” Austin added.

Managing Future Outcomes, Current Crises

Centcom forces are doing all they can to prevent problems while shaping future outcomes, and they concurrently manage real-world crises, the general said.

“Over the past year, we dealt with conflicts in Iraq and Syria,” he said. “We transitioned combat operations to a train, advise and assist and [counterterrorism] mission focus in Afghanistan. At the same time, we've dealt with a number of difficult challenges in Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon, and a host of other locations throughout our area of responsibility,” Austin said.

Centcom troops in that area of responsibility pursued violent extremist groups and “took measures to counter the radical ideologies that are espoused by these groups,” the general said.

“We also dealt with Iran, which continues to act as a destabilizing force in the region, primarily through its Quds forces and through support for proxy actors such as Lebanese Hezbollah,” he said.

Despite the number of difficult issues in the region, Austin told the committee, he firmly believes that challenges present opportunities.

“And we make progress primarily by pursuing those opportunities,” he said. “And we do pursue them. And I am confident that our broad efforts are having a measurable impact.”

ISIL Must, Will be Defeated, Centcom Commander Says

The most immediate threat is posed by the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the general said.

“This barbaric organization must be defeated, and it will be defeated,” Austin told the senators.

The U.S. and its allies and partners are making significant progress against ISIL, he said.

The group’s advance has been halted in Iraq, the general said. Iraq’s security forces are regenerating and its national borders are being re-established, Austin said.

The United States is helping its regional partners bolster their defenses against ISIL, and ground forces from the moderate opposition will soon begin training to help fight ISIL in Syria, the general said.

Austin said ISIL can no longer do what the group did at the outset, “which is to seize and to hold new territory.” The general said ISIL “has assumed a defensive crouch in Iraq,” and while the group has greater freedom of movement in Syria, it is “largely in a defensive there as well.”

“[ISIL is] having a tough time governing and this is crucial to [their] claims of a caliphate,” Austin said. He said the group has begun to expand into other areas, namely North Africa, in part because ISIL is “losing in Iraq and Syria … [and] needs to find other ways to maintain [their] legitimacy.”

He added, “Going forward, we should expect to see this enemy continue to conduct limited attacks and to orchestrate horrific scenes … to distract and intimidate.”

Though ISIL remains a danger, the terror group is being hard-pressed, Austin said.

“But make no mistake: ISIL is losing this fight. And I am certain that [they] will be defeated,” the general said.

All of this progress does not mean that the fight against ISIL is won, he told the committee members.

“We intend to continue to execute the campaign as designed. And I say that because how we go about this is very important,” Austin said.

“If we don't first get things under control in Iraq, where there is a government that we can work with and some amount of reliable security forces -- if we don't get things right there first before expanding our efforts in Syria, then we risk making matters worse in both countries,” the general said. “But done the right way, in light of the limitations that exist, I believe that we can and we will be successful in our efforts to defeat ISIL.”

If the United States is deliberate in its actions in the region, he said, it can “move this strategically important region in a direction of increased stability and security.”

Tough Choices Ahead

The nation will have to make tough choices going forward, Austin said.

“We will need to find ways to do more, or at least as much with less, in the current fiscal environment,” the general said. “That said, I remain concerned by the fact that capability reductions can and will impact our ability to respond to crisis, and especially in the highly volatile central region. The resulting loss of flexibility makes the U.S. and our interests increasingly vulnerable to external pressures.”

He added, “And so, I would ask Congress to do its part to make sure that we avoid sequestration and other resourcing limitations that serve to degrade the readiness of America's military forces.”