Friday, June 06, 2008

Air Force shake-up

As I predicted last October, USAF heads are rolling due to last summer's mishandling of nuclear weapons, and a subsequent cock-up in which ballistic missile components were mistakenly shipped to Taiwan. Of course, anyone with half a brain could have predicted that. What I didn't figure was that the first heads to roll would be those of the AF Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the AF; respectively the top military and civilian members of the Air Force. These firings are sure to be the first of many, the next ones surely to be done by their replacements.

In last October's post, I laid the blame squarely at the feet of Gen. Merrill "Tony" McPeak, AF Chief of Staff in the early 1990s. It was his decision to merge Strategic Air Command (SAC) with Tactical Air Command (TAC) which I'm convinced led to the breakdown in discipline within USAF's nuclear forces. SAC, up until that time, was responsible for the Air Force's nuclear weaponry.

My brother Mark, another USAF vet like myself, e-mailed me this morning with his take:
How could things have gotten so bad that it has come to this? This sort of decay doesn't happen in a few years. It is most emphatically NOT due to OPS TEMPO from 2003.

It goes back farther. Like 1992 and the administration of Bush 41. Nuclear "incidents" in SAC would NEVER have been tolerated. Had "special weapons" been loaded on a BUFF when they shouldn't have been, every unit even tangentially connected to the incident would have had their commander replaced within days. Back in the day they may have tossed the Chaplains too, just to make sure.

But a poorly conceived re-organization started the decline. Its poor execution and revision under the Clinton administration hastened it.

The "Frenchification" of the Air Force was complete when they did away with regulations. We are quite possibly the only military orgainzation on the planet that has "intructions" instead of regulations. I still don't know what "Air Force Instruction" replaced 35-10. [AFR 35-10 was the regulation that prescribed dress and appearance. Everyone knew it. I don't know which "instruction" replaced it, either, and that came more than 10 years before I retired. --ed.] But what do I mean by the "Frenchification" of the USAF? Consider the reputation of the French military. Then consider the reputation of the French soldier. The individual soldier, and up to small units, are well regarded. For generations the French soldier, sailor and airman has performed on par with or better than his peers in other nations. So why the low regard for the French military as a whole, if it's made up of quality service men? Because as an organization it is brittle.

Steel is made by adding carbon to iron. It must be done right in order to get the desired change at the molecular level. If too little carbon is added the iron becomes the stuff used for wrought iron gates... Yes it's iron, but it's soft. It doesn't take much for a 7th grade girl to twist it. Add too much carbon and you skip the steel stage and go to cast iron. Take a sledge hammer to a steel pipe and you dent it. Take a sledge hammer to a cast iron pipe and you shatter it. There are many good uses for cast iron... but if you need flexibility and a sharp edge, cast iron is a loser.

The organizational fabric of the French military has been brittle since World War I. And now the USAF is headed down the same path.

It's not going to get better any time soon. Here's my prescription:
  1. Get rid of the Hollywood logo. Go back to the WWII winged star. The one MEN wore on their uniforms when they had higher casualty rates than all others in WWII.
  2. Train the way you want to be able to fight... Because you fight the way you train. Nuff said.
  3. Review every "instruction" - If it's any good, reissue it as a regulation. If it sucks delete it.
  4. Worry less about off-duty "hurt feelings" and concern yourself more with on-duty killing of the enemy.
  5. If basic trainees are taught one thing, it should be "The planes come first." Not a database, not a pee test, not even the soft ball game between CE and Supply.
  6. STOP changing the uniform... We are screaming to the world, and all of our members, that the Air Force doesn't "like itself". Well, it's just the idiots on the Uniform Board. If the AF leadership insists on a redesigned uniform, hire a couple of wardrobe guys from Hollywood (as long as they aren't connected to the new logo). Then promise to stick to the design for at least 10 years.
He makes some very valid points. Of course, many of the problems he rants about started with McPeak, and those that didn't, well, he's definitely the one who set the precedent for those who came after.

Oh, and one more thing about McPeak. He supports Obama, and will likely have a role in his administration should Obama get elected.


The Ripley Porch said...

One would have to say that McPeak probably was the dimmest general to ever run the Air Force. I had a GS-14 that arrived last year...and engaged me into a conversation about McPeak...and I laid out a dozen of his shortcomings. My new boss, the GS-14, was a huge McPeak supporter, as I came to find out. I probably didn't win any points...but here is the amusing thing. Six months after this new boss arrived...the division determined that he was NOT going to stay, and they terminated him at the end of the probation period. From the dozen negative McPeak comments I made...this guy was easily committing five of these mistakes weekly. It was a trend that they simply weren't going to accept.

I would also put General Fogelsong (the USAFE 4-star who retired three years ago) as second to McPeak as incompetent. His various "combat" programs were amongst the most embarrassing things that I've ever witnessed in my life. No one would dare tell him that he was doing the wrong thing. So he leaves and gets a job as chancellor of MSU. If you followed the news this spring...he announced he was leaving very quickly (otherwise, the state guys were going to bring him over and ask a bunch of stupid questions). The crowning touch was when he secretly ordered the paint scheme of the school changed without consulting the board of trustees (the approved color was peach or yellow for building colors, and "Doc" ordered it to be gray).

Someone ought to sit down and write a book on this entire mess and how the McPeak years brought the Air Force down.

Eric said...

Thanks for the comment.

I've often wondered if the Air Force might benefit from having a Marine serve as Chief of Staff for a few years.