An Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot receives fuel from with a KC-135 Stratotanker while in flight over Saudi Arabia, Oct. 22, 2021.

An Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot receives fuel from with a KC-135 Stratotanker while in flight over Saudi Arabia, Oct. 22, 2021. U.S. Air Force / Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick

The Air & Space Brief: China’s hypersonic did ‘circle the globe’; Female fighter pilots make history: “We fly for her.”

Welcome to the Defense One Air and Space newsletter. Here are our top stories this week:  

China’s hypersonic missile that launched this summer “did circle the globe,” a U.S. official confirmed to Defense One. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley called the launch a potential “Sputnik moment,” and defense experts said it reveals how far behind the U.S. is in hypersonic technology. “Maybe the nuclear game has just changed,” one American Enterprise Institute visiting fellow warned. 

Major weapons manufacturers are preparing to fire potentially thousands of workers who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine by the Biden administration’s Dec. 8 deadline. That could delay some programs, the CEOs of some of the nation’s largest defense firms said during quarterly earnings calls last week. While some of the firms are proactively hiring additional workers now to pick up the slack, there’s a risk that some production lines may temporarily shut down due to a lack of skilled workers. 

The Air Force and Space Force will miss getting all active duty airmen and Guardians 100 percent vaccinated, but not by much, according to the services’ latest COVID-19 vaccine statistics. As of Oct 25, 94.6 percent of the active-duty force was fully vaccinated. Only 88.9 percent of the total force, including Guard and reserve personnel, had been fully vaccinated. Each of the services is also now evaluating exemption requests filed by some members.

Female fighter pilots from the 25th and 36th Fighter Squadrons at Osan Air Base in South Korea made history Oct. 25. Ten women planned and flew the first large all-female formation flight with A-10s and F-16s: “The significance of today’s flight is not for us, the pilots,” said Capt. Grace “Slap” Herman. “It is for the young girl who has never seen a female fighter pilot, let alone 10 of them. We fly for her.”

Sign up to get The Air & Space Brief every Tuesday from Tara Copp, Defense One’s Senior Pentagon Reporter. On this day in 1947, Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose” aircraft took its first and only flight.

From Defense One

‘It Did Circle the Globe’: US Confirms China’s Orbital Hypersonic Test // Tara Copp: “Maybe the nuclear game has just changed,” one analyst said.

As COVID Hits Defense Factories, Some Workers Push Back on Vaccine Mandate // Marcus Weisgerber: Some Republican lawmakers say the requirement will compromise national security.

Air Force Will Miss Its COVID Vaccination Deadline by a Few Percent // Elizabeth Howe: The service’s Nov. 2 goal is nearly a month earlier than those of its sister services.