Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Change at the Top

The USAF's embattled Chief of Staff, General T. Michael Moseley, and the Air Force Secretary, Michael Wynne, resigned this morning, amid the biggest leadership shake-up in the service's history.

According to Air Force Times--and other media outlets--both men were forced out after hastily arranged meetings with their Pentagon bosses:

Moseley was summoned to an early morning meeting with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to discuss a report on the Air Force’s problems handling nuclear weapons. The report, by Navy Adm. Kirkland Donald, director of naval nuclear propulsion, convinced Defense Secretary Robert Gates that senior officials should be held accountable.

Moseley resigned in response.

Later in the morning, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England was dispatched to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, to ask for Wynne’s resignation, sources said. Wynne resigned during the meeting.

It is not clear how quickly these changes will take effect, and other senior officers could still be relieved in the wake of the Donald report.

Sources tell AFT that the Donald report is "very damming to the Air Force." Mr. Gates commissioned the report, after nuclear weapons fuses were mistakenly shipped from an Air Force storage depot in Utah, to Taiwan in 2006.

The fuse controversy was one of several that have dogged USAF leadership in recent months. Last August, six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles were inadvertently shipped from Minot AFB, North Dakota to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. That incident, described as the nation's worst nuclear mishap in three decades, prompted three separate investigations by the Air Force and the Defense Department.

More recently, the service was criticized for its handling of a $50-million support contract for the Thunderbirds, the Air Force's precision flying team. An investigation by the Defense Department Inspector General revealed that senior officers pressured the selection team to award the contract to a firm with close ties to General Moseley.

While the contract was later overturned--and the report did not accuse Moseley of wrongdoing--a new probe in the matter has been launched, at the request of key U.S. Senators. They claimed that General Moseley and other senior officials should be held accountable in the matter.

Five lower-ranking personnel, including a two-star general, have received administrative punishment in conjunction with the matter. Other investigations have revealed similar problems with at least seven Air Force contracts, worth millions of dollars.

The service has also been faulted for its handling of recent acquisition decisions. In April, the USAF selected a French-built aircraft for its next generation tanker, igniting howls of protest from rival Boeing and members of Congress. The Government Accountability Office is currently evaluating a protest of the tanker contract, with was awarded to Northrop-Grumman and its European partner, EADS.

In 2007, the GAO overturned an Air Force plan to buy new combat search-and-rescue helicopters from Boeing. The Chicago-based defense giant was a late entrant in the competition, and other bidders claimed that the Boeing design did not meet contract specifications. A final decision on the new helicopter has been delayed until later this year.

Air Force leaders also fought a running battle with Secretary Gates over the service's contributions in the War on Terror. In a speech at Maxwell AFB earlier this year, Mr. Gates openly chided the USAF for its reluctance to supply more surveillance drones, in support of ground operations in Iraq. Air Force officials contend that more UAV missions puts a greater strain on drone units, and the intelligence organizations that support them.

Against that backdrop, Gates apparently decided it was time for a change, forcing Moseley and Wynne to step down. General Moseley had served as the Air Force's top uniformed officer since September 2005. Before that, he spent two years as the service's Vice Chief of Staff, and previously, as Commander of allied air units during the invasion of Iraq.

Mr. Wynne became Secretary of the Air Force in 2005, after a stint as Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. Before entering public service, Wynne was a senior vice president for General Dynamics, retiring from the company in 1999.

Loren Thompson, an airpower analyst at the Lexington Institute, told AFT that relations between the Air Force and DoD leadership had eroded in recent months:

“It was clear the relationship between the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Air Force was deteriorating,” Thompson said. “But it wasn’t clear what that would mean for Air Force leadership. … “This [is] the final chapter in a long list of grievances between OSD and the Air Force.”

At this point, Mr. Gates and President Bush have not indicated how they will fill the leadership gap left by the resignation of Moseley and Wynne. With only seven months remaining in office, Mr. Bush could elect to leave the secretary's position vacant, and allow the current Vice Chief of Staff, General Duncan McNabb, to serve as acting Chief of Staff.

But, with the service facing critical budget battles and acquisition decisions, it seems likely that the Chief of Staff position will be filled. Air Force sources believe an early contender for that post is General John D.W. Corley, Commander of Air Combat Command (ACC) at Langley AFB, Virginia. Corley previously served as Vice Chief of Staff, but he has not been implicated in the recent controversies that rocked Air Force leadership.

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More on the USAF's recent woes--and today's leadership change--from The Danger Room.

And, our own thoughts on the service's ethical morass, posted almost two months ago.

4 comments:

Storms24 said...

I wonder if the long running spat between Gates and Mosley over increased UAV flights in the CENTCOM theatre also played a role? While Mosley argued that there simply were not enough pilots available, Gates was recently quoted as saying, "I’ve been wrestling for months to get more intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets into the theater. Because people were stuck in old ways of doing business, it’s been like pulling teeth,” and “All this may require rethinking long-standing service assumptions and priorities about which missions require certified pilots and which do not.”

SMSgt Mac said...

RE: The service has also been faulted for its handling of recent acquisition decisions. In April, the USAF selected a French-built aircraft for its next generation tanker, igniting howls of protest from rival Boeing and members of Congress. The Government Accountability Office is currently evaluating a protest of the tanker contract, with was awarded to Northrop-Grumman and its European partner, EADS.

What French-built aircraft? Careful! - That trope is part of Boeing's propaganda. EADS/Airbus itself is mostly German and Spanish, and the KC-45 is about 60% US content. When production is in full swing, France's piece will be even smaller.

PCSSEPA said...

The brothers Goldfein can't be far behind...

A. said...

I think this article from Stars and Stripes sheds more light on the issue. http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=55432

Gates had recently criticized the AF for not providing enough support to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now manning cuts in the AF have been suspended. Gates wants more bodies to prosecute the wars not more technology.

The nuclear incidents are simply icing on the cake. One wonders if Gates was not already upset over manning vs technology if the nuclear incidents would have registered at all.