Skip to comments.Air Force's Cultural Shake-Up
Posted on 06/11/2008 1:14:21 PM PDT by K-oneTexas
Air Force's Cultural Shake-Up by Robert Maginnis
Last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made history when he simultaneously fired the Air Forces top military and civilian leaders. Most press accounts attribute the head chopping to a series of institutional failures but the truth is that Gates real objective is to radically change the services culture.
Gates forced Air Force secretary Michael Wynne and the services chief of staff, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, to resign following the release of a nuclear investigation which reported a pattern of poor performance.
That report proved a tipping point for Gates, whose grievances with the Air Force include multiple nuclear faux pas, a public relations incident that tainted the chief of staff, major acquisition program protests, the services slow response to war support requirements, and repeated clashes with administration officials over budget priorities.
Gates had warned the air service that dramatic change was over due. In April, the secretary gave a hard hitting speech to the services staff college at Maxwell Air Force Base. That speech outlined the type of air service he believes America needs.
He told the students that he wants the Air Force to learn how to adapt to a constantly changing strategic environment characterized by persistent conflict. Gates expects unconventional thinkers to rise in the service who are open to a new set of realities and requirements and ready to abandon the current orientation on winning the big battles in the big wars.
An active duty Air Force colonel agrees with Gates explaining that his services leadership have lost their way which he blames on the fighter mafia which has run the service since the 1980s.
Before the fighter mafia the Strategic Air Command (SAC) bomber pilots were king of the roost. Every chief of staff from the birth of the Air Force in 1947 through 1982 had a bomber background, but for the last 26 years every chief has been a fighter pilot.
There was a general feeling in the post-Vietnam era that the SAC mentality was too prescriptive and checklist-oriented, and the new blood with a devil may care attitude of the Air Forces fighter community infused a measure of fresh ideas and got the service beyond just nukes to think conventionally.
Today, the fighter community, specifically the air-to-air warfare community, occupies most of the services top positions, explained a colonel, but they are myopically focused on winning the big battles in the big wars.
Gates warned the staff college students that the culture of any large organization takes a long time to change and then he challenged the services future leaders to preserve those elements of the culture that strengthen the institution and motivate the people in it, while shedding those elements of the culture that are barriers to progress and achieving the mission.
One of the barriers to progress says an Air Force pilot is the lack of mission clarity. As a service we are grappling with our expanding mission set while at the same time desiring to get back to our core competencies, the officer said.
"The mission of the United States Air Force is to deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests -- to fly and fight in air, space, and cyberspace." A colonel volunteered that Nobody I talk to knows what that means. The services traditional mission was simple: fly, fight and win.
Another barrier to progress is the services willingness to grow its list of missions - such as cyber warfare and space operations by migrating scarce resources away from pre-existing programs. Those decisions have created an overstretched, unfocused institution.
Secretary Gates called attention to the Armys transformation to illustrate the success he seeks for the Air Force. The Army that went over the berm about five years ago was essentially a smaller version of the [Cold War-era] force that expelled Saddam Hussein from Kuwait a decade prior. Todays Army has started to institutionalize the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan to change its doctrine, funding priorities and personnel policies.
An Air Force officer admitted that his service hasnt been malleable and has demonstrated a corporate attitude which eschews the critical joint fight. He said his services Basic Doctrine 1 sums up the corporate attitude that Airmen [only] work for airmen. This attitude reflects a dangerous parochialism said the officer.
Another officer recently attended a briefing that promoted the F-22 Raptor, a $180 million fighter aircraft. The presenters pitched all the neat gadgets on the Raptor but when asked why the service wasnt focusing on what the Raptor brought to the joint fight, there was silence. The pilot concluded: The Air Force was not selling the F-22 as a capability that would help the joint fight, but rather as an amazing air-to-air platform. We are failing to make the connection with the larger picture.
Gates asked the Maxwell students to consider new priorities that should drive procurement and specifically how we accomplish the missions in the most affordable and sensible way. He used his quest for more unmanned aerial vehicles to illustrate. In 1992 the Air Force would not co-fund, with CIA, a vehicle without a pilot, the frustrated Gates complained. He argued that Unmanned systems cost much less and offer greater loiter times than their manned counterparts.
Its clear that the Air Forces priorities dont mirror the Secretarys. For example, the service recently re-established Aggressors, flying units that act as potential adversaries in order to hone pilots air-to-air skills an important mission, but a curious funding priority given the current fight, foreseeable future, and in the midst of increasingly constrained resources.
One of the few Air Force priorities that match the ongoing war requirement is the production of the C-27J Spartan, a joint cargo aircraft. Unfortunately, says one Air Force insider, 95 percent of the Air Staff oppose the project because it may get the service down and dirty with the Army and create needed competition for Lockheed Martin, many officers post retirement home.
My concern is that our services are still not moving aggressively in wartime to provide resources needed now on the battlefield, said Gates. He explained to the air students that hes not getting whats needed because people were stuck in old ways of doing business, its been like pulling teeth.
The secretary was right to fire the Air Forces top leaders and now he must follow-up that decision with real cultural transformation beginning with the right leadership.
On Monday, Gates named Michael Donley, an organizational and management planning expert, to become Air Force secretary and Gen Norman Schwartz, a C-130 pilot with special operations experience, to be chief of staff. These selections break the mold of former aircraft manufacturing executives for secretary and fighter jocks for chief. Hopefully, this new crew will begin the generational process of transforming the Air Forces out of synch culture.
Mr. Maginnis is a retired Army lieutenant colonel, a national security and foreign affairs analyst for radio and television and a senior strategist with the U.S. Army.
He said his services Basic Doctrine 1 sums up the corporate attitude that Airmen [only] work for airmen. This attitude reflects a dangerous parochialism said the officer.
As a former infantryman, I wonder what $180 million could do to save lives of the soldiers actually bleeding and dying. Research into truly lightweight body armor (liquid armor, anyone?), a truly advanced weapon system for the infantryman, better commo, better night vision, better combat lifesaving equipment, heck, better boots for that matter.
The axiom that airmen work for airmen, and the senior airman works for the joint force commander (JFC) not only preserves the principle of unity of command, it also embodies the principle of simplicity.
The blue suit boys need to forget about the F-22 and concentrate on the planes that can deliver close air support to ground troops, which any but the obtuse know is the future of air combat.
Never were at happy hour at the O’club at Ramstein, while the fighterjocks in their lightsuits were trying to pick up teachers? ;-)
The other problem is that all the services have to be able to 'do' high intensity combat for some duration against a range of opponents. History has shown that the period of high-intensity combat will be brief (it's just too consumptive of resources). Then you settle down to the low-intensity stuff.
Where to put the dollars?
I only know that todays 'new paradigm' will be wrong given enough time. Recall that the Army/Marines had a lot of low-intensity focus coming out of Vietnam.
Fine. That does not by any means say that “airman work only for airman”; the quote does not include the important qualifier. The full sentence provides for the possibility, indeed the likelihood, that airmen will work in the context of a joint organization. About 30% of my AF career was spent in joint assignments—almost all those were commanded by officers from other services. In fact, during the last half of my career, jointness was consistently emphasized as important to ones career development. The fact that low level airmen work for other, more senior airmen is common sense—the same can be said for personnel from any service. Bottom line: there is nothing in my experience that made us hostile to jointness.
That's not my understanding based on Nagl's writings (Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife). My understanding is that the Army decided they weren't good at counter-insurgency, so they avoided it and focused on conventional wars they knew how to fight (i.e., getting ready to fight the Soviets in Germany).
As they say in Congress, “allow me to revise & extend...”. The Army/Marines HAD a lot of counter-insurgency experience coming out of Vietnam — AND they lost it pretty quickly. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of effort made to retain the body of knowledge gained.
Reminded me of the time I went on a trip (old brain can't remember which base it was right now) with a young female AF Captain. She was bright, with a good sense of humor, and also a very attractive blond.
We went to the O’Club for dinner one evening, and at some point, went into the bar for a couple of drinks before heading back to the VOQ.
The club was pretty crowded, and had a lot of pilots in their flight suits enjoying themselves. Shortly after getting our drinks, she elbowed me and said “You see all these pilots in their flight suits in here tonight?”
When I said that I did, she said “Well, here's what's going to happen shortly.” A bunch of them will line up against the far end of the bar over there, and one by one, will swoop down the bar and offer to buy me a drink and/or dinner, and will be doing some sweet talking to me in the process.” I'm going to be a down-range target, but in this case, I'm going to be shooting each of them down as they come swooping in.”
We both laughed (I didn't really believe her scenario would happen). Then I watched them (about 8 of them) line up at the end of the bar and, one by one, swoop in on the target, and one by one, get shot down by her response. It was really a sight to see.
As we walked out of the O’club later, I said “Apparently you've had tonight's experience before.” She responded “Many, many times” and added “they all should be glad I didn't write down their tail numbers and drop their wife or girlfriend a note about their failure to file a flight plan with her before hitting the O'club.”
Thanks for the memory.
That's weird. I thought my time in India was just for that purpose. silly me. I guess that Sec Def Navy just knew that I hated cold weather.
Then there were those British guys and their little Tibetan friends I met that were really good at playing hide and seek in the Indonesian area..... and those Army guys that were in Georgia, and those other Marine guys in Africa.... and those spanish speaking fellers south of us....
I think maybe we didn't call it "COIN" but I can pretty much say that somebody in the Army, Marines and those lunatic squids from Virginia and California might have retained some counter-insurgency training.
Follow the money. Who gets to suck off the government nipple more and make bigger checks. The officers ordering billion dollar jets or some guys that like to use any weapon that shoots, a couple of flares, a knife, map and household products to blow stuff up and rattle the enemies cage.
IF we had a huge Predator force or any UAV force way up out of sight, you could seriously put the hurt on people in urban or jungle warfare.
Man, to be 30 years younger and have good knees..... some satcom equipment, optics,map, rifle, knife and let the good times roll ....hahahahahahaha...
The press and the PC weenies make you think that we forgot how to fight in a low intensity environment. I know that there are many in the FR that might possibly disagree with that assessment.
The bottom line is that we'll still need boots and eyeballs on the deck. Those have to be trained up to speed every 4-5 years to replace the worn out boots and eyeballs.