Skip to comments.Behind Gates' Decision to Fire Up the Air Force
Posted on 06/11/2008 9:52:34 AM PDT by Dawnsblood
The classic World War II-era poster reminded talkative dock workers that "loose lips sink ships." Well, loose nukes present an even more imposing problem, one with continent-cracking possibilities.
Last week, when Defense Secretary Robert Gates requested and received the resignations of Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley, Gates' office cited as a reason a Pentagon investigation of lax standards in Air Force oversight of nuclear weapons. One incident involved a USAF bomber with cruise missiles over-flying a wide swath of the United States -- and the crew didn't know the weapons had real nuclear warheads.
That sounds bad, and bad it is.
Resignation at Wynne and Moseley's level of national service, especially under these conditions, is a euphemism for "fired."
A SecDef can relieve his subordinates for almost any reason, and mistakes involving nuclear weapons, especially if the SecDef believes they involve command issues, are certainly justified.
Gates' decision to appoint Gen. Norton A. Schwartz as chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, however, indicates Gates used a nuke to win a battle in the Pentagon's turf war among the war-fighting services -- a complex, often opaque and long-lived problem that makes war-winning more difficult and costly.
Schwartz is an airlifter with lots of special operations experience. As commander of Transportation Command, Schwartz comes from the Air Force's C-side of the house (C as in cargo and transport, e.g., C-17 and C-130 planes). For years, the Air Force has been led by generals from the F side (fighter, like F-15) or B side (bomber, like B-52).
A scan of Schwartz's bio indicates he has a lot of experience with the AC-130 gunship, which along with the A-10 Thunderbolt II (close air support aircraft) and the B-52 are arguably the favorite manned aircraft of American infantrymen. (A B-52 with smart bombs is very precise artillery. The AC-130 is flying artillery.)
But the loose nukes first. Though the Cold War's threat of nuclear immolation has receded (thank goodness) and the nuclear mission has declined in importance, nuclear weapons still serve as a deterrent. Russia and China have nukes; Iran is getting them. We hope North Korea's murderous dictatorship knows its use of a nuke on South Korea or Japan (the likely targets) would lead to its destruction -- and a U.S. strike on the deep caves protecting Pyongyang's missile and nuclear facilities might well include nuclear weapons.
Rules governing the storage, preparation and use of nuclear weapons, for obvious reasons, remain strict. The USAF's old Strategic Air Command (SAC) -- the Cold War's long-range bomber and missile organization -- prided itself on rigorous enforcement of "nuclear weapons surety" requirements, as well as tough institutional investigation and correction of mishaps. SAC's successor, Strategic Command, has the same rules, but Gates' relief of Wynne and Moseley is a message that says the entire Air Force, from newly enlisted airmen to service secretary, will make certain they are enforced. The checklists will be checked 10 times, then 10 more.
As for the turf wars, the Army has always complained that the USAF "fighter mafia" gives airlift missions (which often involve lifting the Army and Marines) short shrift -- and in the Global War on Terror, airlift is critical. The USAF budgets billions for the advanced F-22 fighter, despite complaints within the Department of Defense that War on Terror missions are underfunded.
The biggest turf war, however, is over Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) like the Predator and an emerging fleet of "strike" UAVs that can handle traditional bomb and close air support (CAS, supporting ground forces) missions. The Air Force wants UAV operators to be pilots. The Army has found young soldiers familiar with video games can fly UAVs.
The UAVs are a sensor and weapons system that conflicts with current organizational structures. They fly but don't need highly trained pilots onboard. Strategic recon UAVs clearly fit into traditional USAF-type missions, but putting missile and bomb-armed UAVs under the command of Army and Marine division and brigade commanders puts a powerful, available and relatively cheap weapon in the hands of the immediate users. Instead of fighting over traditional turf, the Pentagon needs to adjust its turf.
Schwartz has first-rate experience in joint multi-service operations.
Gates is sending the message that this is how America wins its wars.
And, in this grunt’s personal opinion - LONG OVERDUE.
That's gotta hurt.
I'm no military expert but I ain't buying that explanation.
The Army has found young soldiers familiar with video games can fly UAVs.
Makes a lot more sense to this armchair general.
Personally I want whoever has their finger on the trigger of a maverick to have a bit more training then just video games. the UAVs essentially fly themselves. targeting and other such activities require more judgment.
Not that fighter pilots always have the best judgment but the comparison is faulty.
As I recall, an number of officers in the Air Force fought to not have the A-10 in the first place, and they keep trying to retire it.
The grunts need some of their own with their fingers on the triggers.
Agreed, but sooner or later the institutional Air Force will get the new COS or find a way to go around him. Face it, the blue suit boys are never going to become believers in close air support. Only Marine Air lives by the credo of supporting the grunts on the ground before anything else.
Lets be very blunt here. Manned fighters are dying. There are maybe twenty years left of this. Within five years, the Chinese will likely have a highly maneuverable UAV that can fly circles around manned fighters. These pilots are going to sit there in a denial stage for the next three decades...pretending that technology can’t take them out of the cockpit. We will eventually come to a point of grasping that manned fighters are becoming a dinosaur. I’m not endorsing a rush to UAVs, but the mental strategy and the competence to grasp this trend...isn’t showing.
I would think that UAV’s would be vulnerable to ECM by the enemy and have a greater success ratio against unsuspecting targets as they are now being used. Trying to use UAV’s in general battle would decrease their success when being jammed by the enemy. As for which side of the “Farce” (as we used to call it when I was a young Security Police SSGT) should be in charge I don’t believe that any particular side has an inherent corner on said claims. The military has always prided itself on being subordinate to civilian control so whatever the Sec Def says is the way it will be. The danger in that becomes one of emphasis...failure to recognize proper priorities.
A little more customer oriented attitude would help.
They wanted to get rid of the A-10’s but there was just too much demand.
Within five years, the Chinese will likely have a highly maneuverable UAV that can fly circles around manned fighters.
“As I recall, an number of officers in the Air Force fought to not have the A-10 in the first place, and they keep trying to retire it.”
IMO UAVs are a very good tool but not the whole toolbox. i also don’t think we can afford many $2 billion bombers or $200 million dollar fighters.
There would also be a concern that once you reduce the number of real pilots below a certain point you will never recover.
It's obvious that the Army/Marines will go with NCO operators. I wonder what the Navy will do when they get their hands on a shipboard UCAV?
The first thing that’s likely to happen if we get into a shooting war with China is that they will “take out our eyes”. No more Sat communications, GPS or Intel Sats. I don’t know how we could plan & execute UCAV missions without them. I don’t think that these drones will be autonomous anytime soon.
Wow ... and to think no more than 3 hours ago I watched the F-35B STOVL make its first flight. 20 years Huh. Nice try.
A couple of days ago a friend of mine who is soon to a retire as an Army First Sergeant asked me this, “Why does the Army love the Air Force?”
“Because they fly us to where the wars are.”
Some computer nerd may fly a hit drone, but he has to go so far up the command before a fire order is received.
Personally if I was an Officer I would feel pretty gay telling people I was a UAV pilot. That’s pretty lame, and yes plenty of people can do it. Pilots can and should stick to the real things.
I've heard and read a LOT of complimentary praise for the Air Force's Warthogs and the new Puff the Magic Dragon ---- but little else beyond that..
In our era --- it was a fact of life and survival to retreat into the deepest most secure bunkers at our fire base when informed the Air Force was conducting operations in the area..
When determined we had Navy air above us -- we would leave the bunkers -- and secure a good seat for the show that was sure to come...
When determined it was Marine Air overhead---- we would really relax, "spread a picnic" and toast the Marine Pilots who ALWAYS swept down VERY low to I.D. us and confirm the extent of our perimeter before dealing death to the uninvited guests......
Marine pilots would frequently come down low enough he could acknowledge and return our salute.
For such "thoughtful nice guys".......they had a dark side.. They were brutally efficient in killing folks...
I realize the A-10 and the new Spooky gunships are marvels, but neither of those planes is an Air Force priority. In fact, the Air Force would kill both, if it could.
Which probably played into the decision to fire the top guys this week...
All services need to prepare for the next war, not the last war.