Washington Watch

July 1, 2008

Wynne, Moseley Step Down

The Air Force’s top two leaders resigned suddenly and under pressure on June 5, after a Pentagon review found the service had “lost focus” on its nuclear mission, that there has been an “erosion” of its nuclear competency, and that USAF leaders didn’t move aggressively enough to fix the situation, once it become apparent.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates accepted the resignations of Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne and the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, saying in a press conference that he felt “strong action” was needed to underscore the need for accountability in performance of the service’s most sensitive mission.

Gates added that he had discussed the matter with President Bush and Adm. Michael

G. Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Michael B. Donley, DOD’s director of administration and management, was nominated on June 9 to step into Wynne’s job. Donley earlier had served as acting Secretary of the Air Force, filling in during 1993 between the terms of Donald B. Rice and Sheila E. Widnall.

Gates nominated Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, head of US Transportation Command, to replace Moseley. Schwartz had already announced his intention to retire by Jan. 1, 2009. Gates announced the nomination of Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, USAF vice chief of staff, to replace Schwartz, and Lt. Gen. William M. Fraser III, assistant to Joint Chiefs Chairman, as McNabb’s replacement.

The unprecedented double resignation, Gates said, was the result of an investigation which revealed “systemic issues associated with … declining Air Force nuclear mission focus and performance.” The service, he said, lacks “a clear, dedicated authority responsible for the nuclear enterprise,” and that “a lack of effective Air Force leadership oversight” had contributed to two embarrassing errors involving nuclear weapons or related equipment.

The first blunder took place in August 2007, when a B-52 flew from Minot AFB, N.D., to Barksdale AFB, La., with six live AGM-129 nuclear missiles aboard. The missiles weren’t supposed to have warheads. The error was not caught at Minot, and continued to go undetected for many hours at Barksdale.

The second was the mistaken 2006 shipment to Taiwan of Minuteman III ICBM parts, which only came to light in March. The components weren’t dangerous, but they were classified, and it took the Air Force and Defense Logistics Agency months to recognize and correct the mistake after Taiwan informed the US of the foul-up. The DLA shipped the parts to Taiwan thinking they were helicopter batteries.

It was Gates’ contention that the Air Force paid attention and acted “only after the two internationally sensitive incidents.” He added that, “even then,” righting the situation required “my intervention,” because the service didn’t undertake a thorough investigation.

The second incident, Gates said, “clearly was the trigger” for the Air Force shake-up. He said it indicated that the B-52 snafu might not be an isolated case of USAF carelessness with nuclear systems.

In March, Gates ordered Adm. Kirkland H. Donald, the Navy’s top nuclear officer, to assess what happened in the Taiwan transfer specifically, and to consider the status of the overall military nuclear enterprise. Gates said Donald found that no one was ever in any danger as a result of the parts transfer; they were fuses that contained no fissile material or explosives.

However, Gates said, the incident marked a “significant failure to ensure the security of sensitive military components, and, more troubling, it depicts a pattern of poor performance” first revealed in the Minot-Barksdale incident. Existing procedures that might have averted the error weren’t followed, and more stringent procedures were warranted in any case, Gates said.

The Taiwan episode represented a “symptom” of bigger problems, Gates asserted, such as “degradation of the authority, standards of excellence, and technical competence within the nation’s ICBM force.”

Moreover, he said the Air Force is suffering from a “declining … nuclear expertise,” brought about by the abandonment of a career path in the nuclear mission that used to be “well-established and prestigious.” Because the service’s mission focus has “shifted away” from the nuclear role, it hasn’t been retaining its best people in the field.

The two nuclear weapon errors “have their roots in decisions made over a period of at least 10 years,” Gates reported, but still, the problems that led to the mistakes “have been known, or should have been known,” by service leaders.

Schlesinger Steps In

Gates announced that he had appointed James R. Schlesinger, a former Defense Secretary, Energy Secretary, and CIA director, to lead a task force that will consider the US military’s nuclear situation and make recommendations on how to ensure complete accountability and control over the nuclear enterprise. He said he had requested an assessment specific to Air Force procedures and policies in early August. By early October, Schlesinger will make recommendations that pertain to the rest of the military. Task force members will come from the defense policy and science boards.

There was plenty of blame to go around for the two nuclear mistakes, Gates observed.

“A substantial number of Air Force general officers and colonels have been identified as potentially subject to disciplinary measures, ranging from removal from command to letters of reprimand,” Gates noted. While punishment handed out by him or the Air Force “might help address immediate problems,” he said such action wouldn’t fix “the broader issues involved.” He said he would leave it up to Donley and Schwartz to decide whether to punish individuals.

He also noted that problems have been identified with the Defense Logistics Agency, and “there are a couple of disciplinary recommendations that have been made to the Secretary of the Army.”

Gates thanked Wynne and Moseley for their service, calling Wynne a “dedicated and honorable public servant” and noting Moseley’s “decades of courageous and devoted service.”

Asked if other areas of friction with USAF leaders contributed to the ouster of Wynne and Moseley, Gates said he based his actions “entirely on Admiral Donald’s report.” Senior USAF officers have clashed with the Pentagon leadership in several areas—notably, USAF’s advocacy for continuing production of the F-22, which Gates and his senior deputies believe isn’t needed, and Gates’ dissatisfaction that the Air Force hasn’t sought more creative ways to multiply intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance assets in the ongoing Southwest Asia wars. Moreover, Moseley has been under a cloud since the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee asked the Pentagon’s inspector general to more closely review Moseley’s role in the Thunderbirds Air Show Production Services contract.

In a speech at Langley AFB, Va., on June 9, Gates insisted that the nuclear findings were “not ‘the last straw’ ” with regard to Wynne and Moseley, and that he understood the need for his policies to be challenged by underlings if the situation warrants.

Moseley: War for a Decade

The Air Force will probably have a job to do in the Middle East for another 10 years or more, conducting the same kinds of missions it is performing there now, and increasingly providing air support to Iraqi forces.

These are among the observations of Gen. T. Michael Moseley, outgoing Air Force Chief of Staff, given in an interview about two weeks before his June 5 resignation.

With respect to Middle East operations, Moseley said that the Air Force, or a broader US air component of US Central Command, “is going to be active and engaged out there for at least a decade.” The Air Force will be involved in “assisting Iraqi ground forces,” and ISR missions, providing theater airlift, and performing strike operations.

“I think that’s just the reality of the way we’re going to be doing business for the next decade,” Moseley said.

He said he’d not been in any meetings “where we’ve addressed … no-fly zones [or] exclusion zones,” which would be a kind of inversion of the Southern and Northern Watch missions of 1991-2003, this time keeping invaders out rather than containing Iraq’s own army. However, such a possibility has factored into USAF planning for basing, composite force training, “strategic partnering, footprint, [and] expeditionary airfield operations.”

It still makes sense for USAF to be the executive agent for unmanned aerial vehicles that operate well above 3,500 feet, Moseley said, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ orders to the services to be more creative and less bureaucracy-bound in fielding ISR assets echoes USAF’s own thinking on the subject. Moseley attended a couple of summits with Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr., along with Army Training and Doctrine Command chief Gen. William S. Wallace and Air Combat Command chief Gen. John D. W. Corley, to work out UAV coordination issues. Moseley said there’s also “no question” that UAVs operating “at the tactical level, from the lower altitudes” are “Army business.” Still to be ironed out is who runs the show at “the medium-altitude regimes,” where both the Army and Air Force operate Predator-like aircraft. He expected something to emerge in June from the discussions.

The availability of the Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS), which allows paradrop of supplies within a few feet of desired coordinates, illustrates that there is a diminishing case to be made that the Army must perform the “last tactical mile, … yard, or inch” of transport, Moseley said. He thought the two services would soon “come to closure” on the issue of who has responsibility for the role of fixed-wing airlift.

The Army and USAF are partnered on the C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft, but Moseley said the Army has become aware that it can save money by letting the Air Force do the tactical resupply mission. It is an issue to be hashed out in roles and missions debates this summer.

However, Moseley made no Air Force claim to primacy in the realm of cyber warfare. US Strategic Command has the mission, he said, and the Air Force will be a provider of cyber forces to STRATCOM. Just because the Air Force has a cyber command doesn’t mean it has sole competency in the domain, he said.

The Air and Space Expeditionary Force as a concept still works, despite recent moves to make some deployments above 120 days routine, Moseley said. He argued that about 60 percent of those deployed do so in the “normal” 120-day cycle, and the others are mostly in jobs requiring longer stays, for continuity. For fighters and bombers, the 120-day cycle is essential, he said, and the overall concept is doing what it was meant to do: Give USAF people “predictability” about when they’ll be gone, and for how long.

The expected emergence of fifth generation fighters in Russia and China’s air forces within 10 years prompted him to put Air Force Materiel Command to work planning a sixth generation fighter, he said. It isn’t clear whether the technological leap will be as huge as it was from fourth to fifth gen—which incorporated agile, round-the-clock stealth and sensor fusion—but AFMC is looking at hypersonics, extreme stealth, and advanced network operations as possible attributes. It may be an unmanned system, Moseley said. In any case, the adversary threat means a program must get under way soon.

“You can’t get behind, because there’s no recovery,” Moseley said.

Before his resignation, he had also put AFMC to work defining capabilities needed in a future strategic airlifter to replace the C-17 and C-5, and the trade space was left open to consider options as diverse as dirigibles to conventional aircraft. A blended wing body, like Boeing’s X-48, or a stealth transport are also in the realm of candidates, Moseley said.