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Few Air Force Aircraft Have New, Fully Functional Transponder

The Air Force Academy's aircraft are outfitted with the latest version of the satellite-based transponder known as the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B.

But the rest of the Air Force's aircraft inventory may be falling behind.

The academy's 27 training planes are the only part of the Air Force inventory to be fully retrofitted with the transponder, according to the service's data recently provided to Military.com.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ruling in 2008 to establish regulations and procedures for transitioning to ADS-B. The technology uses global positioning satellites rather than radar to determine an aircraft's location, airspeed and other data, and broadcasts that information to a network of ground stations.

The FAA requires the transponder by 2020 for all aircraft flying at or above 10,000 feet.

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Two C-130J Hercules -- the latest models of the airlift cargo plane -- also have ADS-B out of the 77 total J models the service has in its inventory.

 

Fighter and attack aircraft such as the F-15 Eagle, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10 Thunderbolt II all have "to be determined" status when they will incorporate ADS-B, the service said.

Between fiscal years 2023 and 2025, the B-2 Spirit, B-1B Lancer and B-52 Stratofortress bombers, along with the F-22 Raptor, are set to get the new technology, according to Air Force data.

The E-4B -- a militarized version of the Boeing 747-200 known as the "Doomsday plane" for its command-and-control capability in the event of a nuclear attack -- will comply by fiscal 2019, the data shows.

Air Force aircraft otherwise fully compliant? Zero.

Whether the FAA has extended the 2020 deadline for the service is unclear.

"In an effort to enhance safety and efficiency inside the nation's airspace, the Air Force is working with the FAA to mitigate operational concerns and acquire the appropriate ADS-B accommodation," Capt. Emily Grabowski told Military.com on Tuesday.

Last year, lawmakers held a hearing on the issue, sounding the alarm the Air Force would likely miss the crucial Jan. 1, 2020, deadline, leaving U.S. Air Force training and flight operations in limbo.

Air Force officials argued that the high pace of operations overseas is delaying its ability to outfit aircraft with new transponders.

Because the service isn't able "to sit the entire fleet down and look at what each aircraft needs" due to ongoing missions, it's likely going to miss the date, Maj. Gen. Timothy Fay, then-director of strategic plans at Air Force headquarters, said in 2016. He is currently deputy commander for U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa.

Fay, alongside then-Lt. Gen. Mike Holmes, who is now a four-star heading Air Combat Command, said officials would petition the FAA for exemptions for certain aircraft if it knows it will miss the deadline to update them.

The academy aircraft ready to go include: the Cirrus Aircraft SR-20 T-53A; Cessna 150 T-51A; Cessna 172 T-41D; De Havilland DHC-6 UV-18B; DG Flugzeugbau GmbH DG-1001 glider TG-16; Schempp-Hirth dual glider TG-15A; and the Schempp-Hirth solo glider TG-15B.

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