Thursday, July 31, 2008

Eagle Down

The Air Force is investigating yesterday's crash of an F-15D Eagle on the Nevada Test Range and Training Range, about 50 miles east of Goldfield, Nevada.

One of the two pilots in the aircraft has been declared dead; the other was rescued and taken to the Mike O'Callaghan Hospital at Nellis AFB near Las Vegas. Both the aircraft and its crew were based at Nellis.

A base spokesman said the jet went down around 11:30 a.m. local time on Wednesday, during a training mission that was part of Red Flag 08-03. The semi-annual combat training exercise was temporarily suspended while rescue and recovery crews responded to the crash.

The F-15 and its pilots were part of the 65th Aggressor Squadron at Nellis, which replicates the tactics and equipment of potential adversaries. One of two aggressor units assigned to the base, the 65th was resurrected two years ago, part of an Air Force plan to provide more realistic threat training for aircrews.

Aggressor units were also active at Nellis for three decades, stretching from 1969 until 1989. During that period, the 65th and other aggressor squadrons were primarily equipped with the F-5E Tiger II, which simulated earlier Soviet-bloc aircraft, including the MiG-21 Fishbed.

With the end of the Cold War, the Air Force eliminated its aggressor units in the late 1980s. They were resurrected in 2006 by former Air Force Chief of Staff, General T. Michael Moseley.

There are currently two aggressor units at Nellis, the 65th and the 64th. The latter unit is equipped with F-16s, which replicate the capabilities of the MiG-29 Fulcrum and similar jets. The F-15s of the 65th simulate the performance of the Russian-built SU-27 Flanker.

The Air Force has not released the names of the officers involved in Wednesday's crash. In From the Cold has confirmed the identity of the dead pilot, but out of respect to the individual and surviving family members, we will not publish the name prior to release by the Air Force.

Sources at Nellis tell this blog that the pilot who died was one of the senior members of the squadron.

In From the Cold has also learned that Major General Mark Matthews, the Chief of Requirements at Air Combat Command Headquarters, will head the panel of officers who will investigate the crash. General Matthews is a veteran F-15 pilot; ACC is the parent organization of the Nellis-based Air Warfare Center, which responsible for the aggressor squadrons and other flying units at the base.

The crash is the second since the entire F-15 fleet was grounded late last year. That grounding followed the loss of a Missouri ANG Eagle last November, an incident that was blamed on structural fatigue that caused the jet to come apart in mid-air. The pilot of the Missouri F-15 was able to eject from the aircraft and survived.

An F-15 assigned to the Hawaii ANG crashed in February of this year, about five weeks after the jets returned to operational service. That pilot also survived. An Air Force investigation determined that the accident was not related to the structural issues in the Missouri crash.

Most of the USAF's remaining F-15s are single seat "C" models. There are only a handful of two-seat "D" models, and that number was depleted further by yesterday's crash. According to an Air Force fact sheet, there are currently 522 F-15s in the inventory. A number of U.S. allies, including Japan, Israel and Saudi Arabia also operate the air superiority fighter.

Change of Command

The Navy has relieved the commander and executive officer of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, holding them culpable in a May fire on the vessel that injured more than 50 sailors and caused millions of dollars in damages to the nuclear-powered vessel.

Captain David Dykhoff, the carrier’s former skipper, and his executive officer, Captain David Dober, were dismissed by Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Robert Willard. In his final endorsement on a two-month Navy investigation into the fire on the George Washington, Willard directed the firing of the two officers. They were officially dismissed on Wednesday by Vice Admiral Thomas Kilcline, commander of Naval Air Forces.

As Navy Times reports:

Dykhoff was fired “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command and his failure to meet mission requirements and readiness standards,” Navy officials said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.

Dober was dismissed for “substandard performance,” according to the same statement.

Naval investigators found that the fire on the carrier was the result human errors that were easily preventable:

The investigation found that the likely cause of the fire, which caused $70 million in damage, “was unauthorized smoking that ignited flammable liquids and other combustible material improperly stored in an adjacent space,” officials said in the statement. “The fire and the subsequent magnitude of the fire were the result of a series of human acts that could have been prevented. Specifically, the storage of 90 gallons of refrigerant compressor oil in an unauthorized space contributed to the intensity of the fire.”

Obviously, the Washington’s skipper and the XO didn’t directly supervise the storage of their materials, or approve unauthorized smoking by crew members. But the fire happened on their ship, during their watch, and the Navy held them accountable.

The blaze occurred as the carrier was transiting from its old port of Norfolk, Virginia, to its new base in Japan. But the fire caused so much damage that the George Washington had to return to San Diego, where it is undergoing repairs.

Dykhoff and Dober weren’t the only naval officers to lose their jobs this week. Last Sunday, the commander of the landing ship dock USS Pearl Harbor was fired after a grounding incident on July 21st.

Cmdr. Xavier F. Valverde, a Bronze Star recipient who started his career as an enlisted sailor, was relieved by Rear Adm. Kendall Card, commander of the Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group.
“Following a preliminary inquiry after a recent grounding incident in the Arabian Gulf, Rear Adm. Card expressed his loss of confidence in Valverde’s ability to command,” said a statement released by Naval Surface Forces in Coronado, Calif. “No injuries or damage occurred as a result of the incident.”

Command of a warship is the most demanding of jobs, and the Navy has always been brutally tough on its skippers, with no margin for error. And that’s the way it should be. Dykhoff, Dober and Valverde’s names will never appear on another promotion list, and their next assignment (should they decide to stay in the Navy) will be some back-water desk job, or perhaps an ROTC assignment.

The Navy’s handling of these matters provides an interesting contrast to the Air Force, and its disposition of last year’s nuclear mishap at Minot AFB, North Dakota. True, the USAF did fire five unit commanders--including the leader of the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot and the commander of the 2nd Operations Group at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, which controlled the B-52 that accidentally flew nuclear weapons between the two installations.

But, as we reported in a recent exclusive, the list of Air Force personnel punished in the incident was surprisingly short. The five commanders received Letters of Admonishment, a mild form of non-judicial punishment, while a Captain and four enlisted members were given Article 15s.

While the admonishment letters are supposed to end promotion chances for the former commanders, the degree of discipline imposed stunned many observers. After all, the officers were deemed culpable in the nation’s most serious nuclear accident in almost 30 years. Yet, all they received was an administrative slap on the wrist.

And, at least two of the officers sanctioned in the Minot mishap moved into important jobs after being punished. Colonel Bruce Emig, the fired bomb wing commander at Minot, now runs UAV programs for Air Combat Command (ACC) Headquarters, located at Langley AFB, Virginia.

Given the importance of drones in Air Force operations, Emig is now (arguably) one of the most important division chiefs on the ACC staff. There is also speculation that Colonel Emig’s new job might get him another shot at command. The nuclear transfer may not be a career killer, the thinking goes, because it occurred only two months into Emig’s tenure at Minot.

Meanwhile, the former leader of the Barksdale operations group, Colonel Todd Westhauser, was subsequently installed as Deputy Commander of the 608th Operations Group at the same base. On the surface, Westhauser’s new job might appear to be a demotion, but with the 608th handling operations for a numbered air force, rather than a wing, the move is a lateral one at worst.

Admittedly, both Emig and Westhauser still face long odds in regaining a command position. Still, that type of career resurrection is not without precedent in the Air Force.

Last week, we noted the retirement of Major General Larry New, who was fired as an operations group commander at Nellis AFB, Nevada in 1998, after a deadly helicopter crash in a squadron he supervised. But New went on to become a wing commander and earn two stars over the final decade of his career.

The professional rebound of Major General Mark Shackelford is even more dramatic. In late 2002, Shackelford was fired as Director of the F-22 System Program Office (SPO), after the fighter program incurred billions in cost overruns.

Yet, after a brief stint as a “special assistant” to a higher-ranking Air Force general (a “holding” position for senior officers on their way up—or out), Shackelford went on to jobs at the Missile Defense Agency and the Air Staff. Recently, he was selected for his third star, and reassignment as military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition. The irony of that posting, in light of his SPO firing, cannot be overstated.

By comparison, we can almost guarantee that Captain Dykoff, Captain Dober and Commander Valverde will never hold another Navy command billet, or key staff position. That brutal efficiency of the Navy's system offers a lesson for the Air Force—if anyone cares to absorb it.

Back on the Hill

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for the Air Force…

It now appears that the officer picked to be the next USAF Chief of Staff is facing trouble on Capitol Hill.

General Norton Schwartz, nominated to be the service’s top uniformed officer, was back in front of a Senate panel Wednesday, facing more questions about his Congressional testimony in the early days of the Iraq War.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the second day of testimony was prompted by information Schwartz provided in 2003, while serving as Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

During that testimony in 2003, Schwartz was asked about Iraqi munitions. In the aftermath of the invasion, the U.S. had neglected Iraqi ammunition dumps and looters raided the sites, stealing old artillery shells and other weapons that later would be used to build roadside bombs.

When asked at the time about the munitions, Schwartz told senators and House members that he did not know the answer to their questions. However, some lawmakers believed Schwartz knew more than he acknowledged. And now, behind closed doors, senators want Schwartz to explain more fully whether he withheld answers.

At this point, most observers believe that Schwartz will still be confirmed. Still, the general reportedly faced tough questions in his second day of closed-door Senate hearings—highly unusual for a military nominee.

Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Armed Services Committee, told reporters on Tuesday that he had “secret information” about Schwartz’s 2003 testimony, and planned to raise new questions when the general appeared today.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters yesterday that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has “no questions” about Schwartz’s trustworthiness, honor and reliability.” However, the defense chief and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, made their own trip to Capitol Hill on Tuesday evening, in support of General Schwartz.

The testimony of Gates and Mullen—which also occurred in a classified-door session—was a show of support for the Air Force nominee. But their appearance suggests some concern about the nomination among DoD leaders, and a realization that Schwartz’s confirmation may not be a slam dunk.

ADDENDUM: ADDENDUM: By any reasonable standard, criticizing Schwartz for failing to anticipate the roadside bomb threat is a bit unfair. In the spring of 2003, few in the Defense Department envisioned the rise of an Iraqi insurgency, and no one predicted the emergence of IEDs as a serious threat.

But all’s fair in love, politics and the Senate confirmation process. Besides, Carl Levin can’t resist taking one last shot at a man who will (in all likelihood) be President Bush’s last nominee to the JCS.

The Fighter Pilot and the School Teacher

A story of true love found, lost, delayed and finally regained. Read it, and be inspired.

Kudos to reporter Tony Lystra of the Ilwaco (Washington) Daily News for introducing the world to Ed Leonard, and his bride Suzanne.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Strengthening the Shield

Reuters is reporting that the U.S. will soon link Israel to a pair of advanced missile detection systems, to improve defenses against a possible Iranian attack.

Later this year, Raytheon will install a powerful, X-band radar on Israeli soil. Capable of tracking a baseball-sized object at a range of up to 2,900 miles, the system will improve detection of Iranian missile activity, including potential Shahab-3 launches against Israel. The medium-range Shahab-3 is the only operational Iranian system capable of striking Israeli targets.

Additionally, the United States will provide greater access to Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites, the overhead constellation that detects missile activity (and other events) through IR emissions. In the past, the Defense Department has provided DSP data to Tel Aviv on a case-by-case basis. But, judging from the comments of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israel will now apparently enjoy near-total access to the system.

Mr. Barak also said that his country and the U.S. are “in negotiations” over other, possible upgrades to Israel’s missile shield, built around the Green Pine radar and the Arrow II interceptor. One option would add U.S. interceptor missiles to the system, although the Israelis don’t seem particularly enthusiastic about that offer. From their perspective, addition of the U.S. missiles might result in a reduction of military aid for improvements of the Arrow II.

However, other reports have suggested that Israel might be interested in some American hardware, most notably the Aegis/SM-3 combination that shot down that dying spy satellite in February, and the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), under development by the U.S. Army. The Israelis are interested in full integration of their existing systems with THAAD and Aegis, building on the linkage that already exists. Currently, Israel’s Arrow II and Patriot batteries can share data with some U.S. systems, including Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers.

Barak indicated that the X-band radar will be deployed in his country “before the next [American] administration takes office.” That comments suggests that Tel Aviv is hedging its bets about a potential Obama administration, and his willingness to support Israel.

Worst Idea of the Week

Since he was forced out as Air Force Secretary last month, Michael Wynne hasn’t been shy about sharing his opinions. First, he took some predictable shots at the DoD officials who engineered his dismissal. Now, he’s weighing in on the USAF most contentious—and critical—aircraft acquisition program, the next-generation tanker or KC-X.

As readers know, the effort to field a new tanker for the Air Force has been long and torturous. First, there was the ill-fated lease program between the service and Boeing, which erupted into a full-scale scandal, resulting in jail terms for the service’s senior acquisition official and an executive for the defense contractor.

Five years later the Air Force tried again, with a competition that pitted Boeing’s KC-767 against the Northrop-Grumman KC-30. Earlier this year, the Northrop-Grumman entrant, based on the Airbus A330 jetliner, was selected as the winner. But that triggered a protest from Boeing, which was upheld by the Government Accountability Office. That means another round of competition, with a new “winner” being named later this year. Don’t hold your breath.

So how does Mr. Wynne, who presided over the last round in the tanker war, propose to break to acquisition logjam? Split the contract, he said, in a recent interview with Air Force magazine. Under that plan, Boeing and Northrop-Grumman would each build about 15 tankers a year.

I think a split buy right now is something that we have to examine,” Wynne, who stepped down as USAF’s top civilian on June 20, said during a sit-down interview. “This is an opportunity to resolve a very tense political issue and still maintain competition.”

According to Mr. Wynne, a split contract would make everyone happy, providing jobs and revenue to both defense contractors, while preventing future protests that would put the program further behind schedule.

For the record, Mike Wynne isn’t the first person to suggest splitting the tanker program. But unfortunately, this supposedly “Solomon-esque” solution is one of the worst acquisition ideas that anyone has offered. It might satisfy the contractors—and their friends in Congress—but it would create nightmares for the Air Force.

Look at it this way: two different tankers means two different training programs for aircrews and maintenance personnel. Then, there’s the need for separate logistics and repair functions. This “doubling” of the support network will result in a tanker program that is far more complex (and expensive) than necessary.

That’s why the military has an acquisition process that, supposedly, gives the contract to the vendor offering the best product, at the most affordable price. And there’s no reason to end that practice, which has worked reasonably well for decades.

What the Air Force really needs isn’t a split tanker program, but a reformed acquisition system. The GAO upheld Boeing’s protest because the service made significant errors in awarding the contract to Northrop-Grumman. If the service had done the job right the first time, we’d have new airframes for our refueling wings, instead of a program trapped in organizational limbo.

Besides, if we follow the “split contract” of Mr. Wynne (and others), it will only encourage defense firms and Congress to challenge every major weapons program that comes down the pike. That would inevitably lead to more divided programs, more training and support headaches for the military services and a far greater bill for the taxpayer.

So far, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has resisted calls for dividing the tanker contract. We can only hope that he maintains that strategy, despite the next round of lobbying from Congress and the defense contractors. The “solution” offered by Mr. Wynne isn’t a solution at all, but merely an invitation for continued chaos in defense acquisitions.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Jackie's Bedroom Furniture

The Air Force recently caught flak for its plans to build a small number of VIP comfort pallets, so that senior officers and civilian officials can travel in style, even when flying in "ordinary" transport aircraft.

Budgeted at just over $7 million, the pallets are supposed to provide "world class" accommodations. Never mind that the USAF already operates a fleet of VIP aircraft. Nothing's too good for the brass, or their civilian counterparts.

The pallet controversy reminded one of our readers of another example of Air Force extravagance, from almost 50 years ago. In the summer of 1963, Jackie Kennedy was pregnant with her third child; apparently, Air Force leaders were concerned that Mrs. Kennedy would deliver while visiting the family compound in Massachusetts, and they feared that maternity ward furniture at nearby Otis AFB wasn't up to presidential standards.

So, an enterprising Air Force officer hit on a solution. With $5,000 in taxpayer dollars, he purchased a top-of-the-line bedroom suit from the Jordan Marsh Company, as political science professor David Barrett recounts. Better yet, the service tried to score some p.r. points off the purchase. A Captain at Otis posed proudly beside the furniture, as cameras rolled.

Unfortunately for the Captain, that purchase also wound up in the pages of the Washington Post. And, President Kennedy was none-too-pleased. He voiced his anger to his the Pentagon's chief spokesman and his Air Force aide, General Godfrey McHugh. Recordings of the phone calls have been preserved, and can be accessed through History News Network.

JFK's outrage is genuine, but there's also a sense that he's playing for the tape recorder, trying to make the best of a bad situation. Lest we forget, there was something of a direct pipeline in those days from the Oval Office to the Post, courtesy of Benjamin Bradlee. Kennedy knew that his comments would find their way into the press, putting him on the right side of the controversy.

Flash forward 45 years. Political reaction to those Air Force pallets has been muted, at best. To our knowledge, neither the House nor the Senate has demanded cancellation of the program, or threatened to strip funding from the project. And the White House has been equally silent on the wasteful enterprise.

The reasons are painfully obvious. While the pallets are often depicted as perks for senior officers, they will also support travel by elected officials, including senior members of Congress. It would appear that few Congressmen or Senators want to ride into a war zone in a troop seat, munching on an MRE or Box Nasty, particularly when more pleasant digs are available.

Sadly, Congress is more addicted to VIP airlift than our military leadership. Passing through SE Virginia this afternoon, I noticed a Boeing 737 Business Jet, in Air Force markings, practicing touch and go landings at the Newport News Airport. As I recall, that particular model is a personal favorite of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Congressional leaders.

But many of the VIP jets can't travel into global hot spots. In that case, when our Solon's have to rough it, they plan to "make do" with those expensive comfort pallets.

Look, Ma, No Arms

The Weekly Standard poses the same question we did a few days ago: why is the Bush Administration delaying planned arms sales to Taiwan?

Put another way, if the current White House kicks this can down the road, Taipei may find it virtually impossible to modernize its arsenal. An Obama Administration would almost certainly reject any arms sales to Taiwan, lest Beijing be offended.

Meanwhile, the PRC continues its own, massive military build-up along the strait. Back in 1995, Beijing set a goal of deploying 500 ballistic missiles near Taiwan by the end of that decade. Thirteen years later, there are more than 1,000 missiles, mostly CSS-6 and CSS-7s, threatening Taiwan.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Today's Reading Assignment

Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe, highlighting a few things that were missing from Barack Obama's Berlin speech.

A few weeks back, we paid tribute to the men that Senator Obama forgot about. Apparently, he's never heard of William Tunner, Gail Halvorsen, or the other men who built the airbridge to Berlin, and kept it open for almost a year, despite severe logistical challenges, inclement weather, and harassment from the Soviets.

General Tunner died 25 years ago, but Colonel Halvorsen and scores of other airlift veterans are still around. Mr. Obama owes them an apology.

Not surprisingly, Germans know more about the airlift than an American senator who might be our next commander-in-chief. Colonel Halvorsen has appeared on German TV many times, often with the Berliners, who (as children) caught the candy dropped from his airplane, flying into the city. In 2002, the retired Air Force officer was selected to carry the German national team's placard into the stadium, at the start of the Winter Olympics.

A Death at Elmendorf

Brigadier General Thomas Tinsley, commander of the 3rd Wing at Elmendorf AFB. Tinsley died from a gunshot wound at his base residence on Sunday night (USAF photo).

The Air Force is investigating the death of Brigadier General Thomas Tinsley, commander of the 3rd Wing at Elemendorf AFB, Alaska.

According to a statement released by the service, Tinsley died from a gunshot wound. He was declared dead around 10:30 last night at his residence on the base, which is located on the eastern side of Anchorage.

Elmendorf medical personnel responded to the scene, according to public affairs officials. Their statement provided no additional details on incident, and whether Tinsley's death was an accident or a suicide.

General Tinsley returned to Elmendorf in May 2007 to take command of the 3rd Wing, the Air Force's second F-22 unit. A veteran F-15 and F-22 pilot, Tinsley previously served as commander of the 12th Fighter Squadron at the Alaskan base; commander of the 1st Operations Group at Langley AFB, Virginia, and as executive officer to the former Air Force Chief of Staff, General T. Michael Moseley.

A career fighter pilot, Tinsley's career was clearly on the fast track at the time of his death. Leadership of the 3rd Wing is considered a plum assignment, and his past tour as Moseley's executive officer suggested that Tinsley was destined for even greater responsibilities as a flag officer.

But all of that came to a sudden end last night, with a fatal gunshot in the wing commander's residence. While the investigation is continuing, it will raise inevitable questions about the general's mental condition, and his access to special access programs relating to the capabilities of the F-22.

Pilots and other personnel who work with the low-observable aircraft are "read in" or given access to the most secret details of the F-22. Clearance for those programs are based on additional background checks, beyond those required for a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmentalized Information (TS/SCI) security clearance.

If Tinsley's death is ruled a suicide, it will also raise concerns about the Air Force's vaunted "wingman" program. While the service's suicide rate is below that of the general population, suicide remains a leading killer of Air Force personnel. After a rash of suicides several years ago, the service launched the wingman effort, to identify aimen who were under severe stress and might harm themselves.

As its name implies, the program is based on the time-honored concept of experienced pilots looking out for the junior flyers on their wing--and vice-versa. For troubled airmen, the wingman effort stresses observation and intervention, rooted in a "culture of commitment."

The wingman program (and other efforts) are widely credited with a short-term drop in suicides among Air Force members. One year after the wingman initiative began, the service's suicide rate dropped by almost 50%, from 15.2 per 100,00 airmen in 2004, to 7.8 in 2005.

However, the USAF's suicide rose again in 2006, reaching 11.4 deaths per 100,000 airmen. The increase was largely blamed on more frequent deployments and increased operations tempo, although statistics show that over half of all Air Force members have never served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Capt. Kelley Jeter, a spokeswoman for the 3rd Wing, described Tinsley as a charismatic leader who had the ability to make a lengthy briefing "feel like it only lasted 10 minutes."

During a presentation last Thursday, Tinsley "lit up the room by conveying his love for the wing," Jeter said.
UPDATE/According to the Anchorage Daily News, the Air Force has confirmed that Tinsley died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest. It has not been determined if the shooting was accidental or a suicide.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Cancellation Choice

John McCain continues to hammer Barack Obama for cancelling a planned visit with wounded troops at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Senator McCain has already rolled out a new ad on YouTube; it reminds voters that Obama found time to go to the gym during the Germany leg of his foreign policy excursion, but passed on meeting with wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not surprisingly, two different versions of the cancellation decision have emerged in recent days. According to Obama's handlers, the Senator wanted to avoid turning the visit into a "political event." In response, the Pentagon says the candidate cancelled after being told that he couldn't take members of his campaign staff--or his own cameras--in the hospital.

While Mr. Obama's decision has spurred plenty of debate, there is one element that deserves greater scrutiny. Major Garrett of Fox News was one of the first (and few) reporters to note that Obama's visit was cancelled after being informed that his chief military advisor, retired Major General Scott Gration, would not be allowed to accompany him to Landstuhl.

We've written Gration and his role in the Obama campaign in previous posts. He retired from the Air Force two years ago and was one of the first flag officers to endorse the Illinois Senator's presidential bid. Gration also played a leading role in recruiting other retired generals and admirals to the cause, including his former boss, former Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill "Tony" McPeak.

Since then, Gration has become a key member of the Obama team. When the presumptive Democratic nominee met with Jordan's King Abdullah last week, General Gration was the only other person in the room. There has also been some speculation that Gration had a hand in recent attacks on John McCain's military record, although he has not publicly criticized the Republican nominee, leaving such chores to attack dogs like Wesley Clark and General McPeak.

As a senior advisor Mr. Obama, General Gration would not be allowed to visit Landstuhl in that capacity. Apparently that rule--applied to both campaigns--struck a nerve with Obama, and he decided to cancel the hospital visit.

But that begs a rather obvious question: why was Gration's participation so necessary for the trip to Landstuhl? As the McCain campaign noted, Senator Obama is free to visit any military medical facility in his "day job" as a lawmaker. Indeed, preparations for his arrival began well before Obama began his world tour.

And, getting there from Berlin is no problem. Landstuhl is located in the large American military community in southeastern Germany; just assemble a motorcade, hop on the autobahn, and you'll be there in less than three hours. Or, just ask the military for a helicopter to ferry Obama and his fellow senators to and from the medical center. Should be easy enough to arrange.

But without Gration in his contingent, Mr. Obama decided to take a pass. Did the Senator feel he needed some sort of military "top cover" to make the trip? Someone who could explain the finer points of the medical evacuation system and military health care? Or, someone who could lend a little "gravitas" members of the armed forces? Whatever the reason, General Gration's participation was deemed so important that without him, the visit to Landstuhl was cancelled.

If Obama can't negotiate his way through a military treatment ward without flag-level escort, it speaks volumes about his "comfort level" around members of the armed forces--and it won't win any of the respect he referenced in a recent interview.

On the other hand, if the candidate (or members of his campaign) view such visits through a pure, political prism, it says even more about how they view the military--especially when Senator Obama still found time for a workout, sightseeing, and a brief photo-op with German para-military police.

In any case, the Landstuhl decision will come back to haunt Mr. Obama. General Gration understands that, and should have insisted that his candidate keep the commitment, with or without him.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hanging It Up

Perhaps it’s only a coincidence, or maybe the Air Force is doing a little, belated house-cleaning in its senior ranks.

Whatever the reason, a second general officer with a troubled past is calling it quits.

Major General Larry New, who was fired from his job as an operations group commander after a fatal helicopter accident in 1998, has announced his retirement.

The news was disclosed in an Air Force senior officer announcement, released today by General Richard Newton III, the service’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel. The actual retirement for General New was not disclosed.

In his final active duty assignment, New served as Director of the Joint Theater Air and Missile Defense Organization, part of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. According to his Air Force biography, General New’s responsibilities included chemical, radiological, biological and nuclear defense; air and missile defense, and personnel and infrastructure protection.

Before assuming his current post, General New served as Director of Operations at Air Force Material Command Headquarters, located at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. Previous assignments included a tour as Vice Commander of a NATO Combined Air Operations Center in Turkey, and leadership of the 325th Training Wing at Tyndall AFB, Florida.

New’s elevation to those posts was rather remarkable, given the events of 3 September 1998. Early that morning, two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters, part of the 57th Operations Group at Nellis, collided during a training mission. Twelve crew members--six on each chopper--died.

The youngest of the victims, Airman First Class Justin Wotasik, was one month shy of his 20th birthday.

At the time of the crash, the commander of the operations group was Colonel Larry New.

A six-month Air Force inquiry blamed the crash on pilot error, but found severe problems with “operations tempo, training and leadership” in the 66th Rescue Squadron, the unit which suffered the mishap.

Investigators found that the unit had been on a continuous combat footing for more than five years, making frequent deployments to Kuwait and Turkey, in support of No-Fly Zone operations over Iraq.

But the service also found fault with Colonel New. The accident investigation board determined that New should have done more to find—and correct—problems in the rescue squadron. As Air Force Times later reported:

Investigators said New believed he had solved the 66th Rescue Squadron’s problems when he relieved from their jobs a weak squadron commander and a first sergeant. But actually, the report concluded, New had treated just the symptoms.

New also didn’t provide the new squadron commander and base safety officer a safety evaluation of the rescue squadron, called the Operational Health Readiness Assessment, written by the Air Force Safety Center at New’s request.

The new squadron commander had been in his job three weeks when the crash occurred.

Board president Col. Denver L. Pletcher concluded about New’s performance, “... I believe the 57th OG commander failed to mitigate known safety hazards within the squadron that directly contributed to this accident.”

The disaster at Nellis put New’s career on hold. In 2000, his nomination to command the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin AFB, Florida was put on hold by the Commander of Air Combat Command, General Ralph Eberhardt, and his successor, General John Jumper.

However, New was later promoted to Brigadier General and he gained command of the Tyndall wing after Jumper became the Air Force Chief of Staff.

General New’s phoenix-like rise sparked renewed questions about how the service promotes--and sanctions--senior personnel. Normally, a loss of command after a major accident is a career killer, but New overcame that obstacle, pinning on his first star four years the two choppers went down.

New received the promotion over objections from members of Congress and some of the family members of the dead crewmen. They believed that New should have faced greater accountability over problems in his former command--and their deadly consequences.

With 32 years of active duty service, General New enjoyed a long career. But a decade after that fateful event in the Nevada desert, there are some who still believe that Larry New didn't deserve that first star, let alone the second.

New's retirement comes barely a month after Major General Stephen Goldfein announced plans to step down. Goldfein, another former Nellis commander, was sanctioned earlier this year for steering a $50-million audiovisual support contract to a firm that included a retired Air Force general among its partners.

General Goldfein was the leader of the Air Warfare Center at Nellis at the time the contract was awarded. It was later cancelled by the Air Force, and a subsequent investigation revealed improprieties in selection process.

ADDENDUM: Passed over for promotion to Lieutenant General, New was at the end of his career. But we also wonder if the recent, high-level shake-up of Air Force leadership also influenced his decision. Major General New had a long relationship with General Mike Moseley, the USAF Chief of Staff who was fired from his post in early June.

When New was commander of the operations group at Nellis, his wing commander was none other than Mike Moseley.

The Military Voting Scandal Continues Robert Novak reports in his latest column, reprinted at Mr. Novak notes that the House has failed to act on a recent resolution, introduced by Missouri Congressman Roy Blunt. The measure demands that the Defense Department do more to ensure that military personnel stationed overseas can vote in the November election.

Normally, Novak writes, Democrats are anxious to criticize the Bush Pentagon. But not this time around. Not a single member of the majority party has signed on as a co-sponsor of Blunt's resolution, and without Democratic support, the measure has no chance of passing.

Meanwhile, U.S. military members serving overseas remained the most disenfranchised segment of our electorate:

Analysis by the federal Election Assistance Commission, rejecting inflated Defense Department voting claims, estimated overseas and absentee military voting for the 2006 midterm elections at a disgracefully low 5.5 percent. The quality of voting statistics is so poor that there is no way to tell how many of the slightly over 330,000 votes actually were sent in by the absentee military voters and their dependents and how many by civilian Americans living abroad -- 6 million all total.

Nobody who has studied the question objectively sees any improvement since 2006, and that is a scandal. Retired U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Charles Henry wrote in the July issue of the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings: "While virtually everyone involved ... seems to agree that military people deserve at least equal opportunity when it comes to having their votes counted, indications are that in November 2008, many thousands of service members who try to vote will do so in vain."

However, Congressional efforts to assist military voters are not at a complete standstill. According to Mr. Novak, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland met with Mr. Blunt several weeks ago, and "agreed in principle" to co-sponsor a resolution, aimed at prodding the Defense Department into action.

We'll hold the applause for Mr. Hoyer. Not only has he failed (so far) to keep his promise to Congressman Blunt, but the majority leader also refused to act on an earlier military voting bill, introduced by Republican Representative Kevin McCarthy of California.

His proposal was modest--and eminently sensible, requiring DoD to ship completed absentee ballots by air transport, cutting delivery time from three or four weeks, to as little as three days. Without Democratic support, the McCarthy plan also remains in limbo.

So why are Democrats--who made a mantra of "make every vote count"--so unconcerned about absentee ballots from military members overseas? The answer is rooted in pure, partisan politics. As we observed a couple of months ago, members of the armed forces represent a solidly Republican voting bloc. In an era of tight political races, the Democrats don't want thousands of military absentee ballots in the system, knowing that 60% of them are cast for GOP candidates.

Mr. Novak suggests that current problems can be blamed largely on the White House (which seems indifferent to the issue) and the Pentagon bureaucracy. And, while it is true that the Bush Administration has demonstrated no leadership on military voting rights, we should remember that the Pentagon can't change the current procedures without Congressional approval.

Sad to say, but the party that now controls the House and Senate likes the current system, just the way it is.


ADDENDUM: As The Weekly Standard observed a couple of months ago, the armed forces voting problem could be easily solved with an innovative solution--creating polling places on military installations around the world. Votes from service members and their dependents could be cast and transmitted electronically to their home state, ensuring receipt by election day. Needless to say, Congress won't even discuss that idea.

Crossing the Red LIne

A TU-160 "Blackjack," on the ramp at Engels Airbase in Russia (Wikipedia photo).

“Retired” Cuban leader Fidel Castro says his country does “not have to explain” a recent report that Russia may deploy supersonic bombers to his Caribbean nation--a potential response to U.S. missile defenses planned for Eastern Europe.

Castro's comments appeared in yesterday in a Cuban newspaper. But neither Fidel nor his brother Raul, who succeeded him as the nation's president, have denied the report, published earlier this week in the Russian newspaper Izvestia. Sources told the paper that the Russian Air Force might send TU-160 bombers to Cuba in the coming months, as the United States moves ahead with proposed missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russian officials have denied the report, but rumors about a possible bomber deployment can’t be totally dismissed. As we’ve noted in previous posts, there has been a dramatic upswing in flight activity by Russia’s long-range bomber fleet since 2006, although sortie totals for this year have been running behind those of 2007.

Last year marked the busiest period for Moscow’s bomber force in more than a decade. Russian TU-95 Bear, TU-22M Backfire and TU-160 Blackjacks flew a number of missions against western targets, including Alaska, Guam, Great Britain and Norway. The U.S. and its allies reacted to those flights by scrambling fighters, which escorted the bombers as they approached American or European territory.

Despite the increase in flight activity, Russian bombers never staged their most provocative profile—a flight along the U.S. eastern seaboard. While such missions occurred periodically during the Cold War, the last mission of that type was flown almost two decades ago.

During those flights, TU-95s exited Russian airspace near Murmansk, heading south toward the Greenland-Iceland-U.K. gap. After clearing that corridor, the bombers (usually a flight of two) would parallel the east coast of the United States, before landing at a Cuban base near Havana. Thanks to highly accurate intelligence, the flights never came as a surprise, and the Bears were under constant escort by U.S. or NATO fighters as they flew over the Atlantic.

After a couple of days in Cuba, the TU-95s returned to Russia, flying the same route in reverse. But the Izvestia report suggests a new wrinkle; rather than sending their bombers for a short stay, Moscow is hinting that the Blackjacks might be permanently deployed to Cuba, possibly at San Antonio de los Banos Airfield, the same base that hosted Bear deployments in the past.

As you might expect, the U.S. doesn’t want nuclear-capable strategic bombers based only 90 miles from our shores. During his confirmation hearing earlier this week, the new Air Force Chief of Staff, General Norton Schwartz, suggested that a long-term Blackjack presence would represent a “red line” for the United States.

Schwartz didn’t elaborate on his comment, but defense officials may offer a clarification in the coming days. In the past, the United States has tolerated brief stays by Russian bombers in Cuba, but no one has specified when a deployment would cross the military red line.

The scenario is further complicated by the availability of other bases in the region. Earlier this week, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez called on Russia to form an alliance with his nation and Cuba, to resist “American aggression” in the Caribbean. Russian bombers could (potentially) shuttle between Cuba and Venezuela, avoiding prolonged stays in one location that would invite a U.S. response.

Potential bomber deployments to Venezuela are equally troubling, since it would place them within easy striking distance of the Panama Canal—and targets in the CONUS—but far enough away to avoid the red line issue.

And, unlike Cuba, Venezuela has cash and the gas to support a long-term Russian military presence. Readers will note that Cuba is being mentioned as only a refueling base for the Blackjacks; that suggests that Moscow may be angling for another location in the region to serve as a forward operating base, with Venezuela at the top of that list.

It won’t be another Cuban Missile Crisis—unless we discover that the Blackjacks deployed with nuclear weapons. But the prospective bomber deployment could pose a serious security challenge for the next administration. Someone ought to ask Senator McCain and Senator Obama about their thoughts on TU-160s in Cuba or Venezuela, and when such deployments would cross that proverbial “red line.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Today’s Reading Assignment

Max Boot, writing in the Washington Post, offers an explanation for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s political games.

A few particularly relevant points:

The prime minister has political motives for what he's saying -- whatever that is. An anonymous Iraqi official told the state-owned Al-Sabah newspaper, "Maliki thinks that Obama is most likely to win in the presidential election" and that "he's got to take preemptive steps before Obama gets to the White House." By smoothing Obama's maiden voyage abroad as the Democratic nominee, Maliki may figure that he will collect chits that he can call in later.


Keep in mind also that Maliki has no military experience and that he has been trapped in the Green Zone, relatively isolated from day-to-day life. For these reasons, he has been a consistent font of misguided predictions about how quickly U.S. forces could leave.

In May 2006, shortly after becoming prime minister, he claimed, "Our forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half."

In October 2006, when violence was spinning out of control, Maliki declared that it would be "only a matter of months" before his security forces could "take over the security portfolio entirely and keep some multinational forces only in a supporting role."


But Maliki's public utterances do not provide a reliable guide as to when it will be safe to pull out U.S. troops. Better to listen to the military professionals. The Post recently quoted Brig. Gen. Bilal al-Dayni, commander of Iraqi troops in Basra, as saying of the Americans, "We hope they will stay until 2020." That is similar to the expectation of Iraq's defense minister, Abdul Qadir, who says his forces cannot assume full responsibility for internal security until 2012 and for external security until 2018.

Max Boot also notes--with only a touch of irony--that Democrats never viewed Mr. al-Maliki as a statesman until he voiced general support for the Obama withdrawal timetable. Until recently, Democratic senators and congressman used terms like “American puppet” and “incompetent” to describe the Prime Minister, who has suddenly emerged as their favorite Iraqi politician

Iran Upgrades

Senior Israeli defense sources tell Reuters that Iran is set to receive the advanced S-300 air defense system from Russia, with the first batteries arriving as early as September. However, it could take six months to a year for the system to become fully operational, creating a possible window for potential strikes against Iranian nuclear sites.

Tehran--which previously purchased the short-range SA-15 air defense system from Moscow— announced plans to acquire the S-300 last winter. But that claim was denied by Russian officials, and to date, the long-range air defense system has not been observed in Iran.

But an Israeli official told Reuters’ reporter Dan Williams that Tehran’s contract requires delivery of the S-300 by the end of the year. A second Israeli source claims that the first shipments of S-300 equipment would arrive in Iran by September.

If that timetable is correct, it suggests that Iranian crews and technicians have been in Russia for several months, learning to operate and maintain the state-of-the-art SAM system. Once their training is complete, the Iranians will return home to establish initial operating sites for the S-300, and train additional personnel.

The S-300 designation actually represents a family of surface-to-air missiles, an outgrowth of the original SA-10/GRUMBLE system of the 1980s. The latest version is the S-300PMU2 “Favorit,” which has a maximum range of 200km, versus 150 km for older variants.

It is unclear which model will be delivered to Iran. Previous export customers (including China and Cyprus) bought the S-300PMU1, better known by its NATO designator, SA-20. Nicknamed “Gargoyle,” the SA-20 has the same range referenced in the Reuters article. It is the most likely variant to be exported to Iran, although sales of more advanced versions cannot be ruled out.

Acquisition of the S-300 would complicate U.S. or Israeli planning for possible attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities. Tehran is expected to deploy the SAM system in its western provinces, providing protection of the nuclear sites and other key installations. The deployment pattern would also cover air corridors used by hostile aircraft entering Iranian airspace.

At more than $300 million per battery, the S-300 is one of the most expensive air defense systems in the world. But Iran apparently views it as a worthwhile investment, offering a major upgrade to its defenses against air attack, along with ballistic and cruise missiles.

Currently, Tehran’s “primary” surface-to-air missile is the U.S.-built I-HAWK, acquired by the Shah in the early 1970s. In later years, Iran also purchased the Chinese-made CSA-1 (a clone of the 40-year-old Soviet SA-2), and the long-range SA-5, also developed by the Russians. With dwindling supplies of spare parts, the I-HAWKs are gradually falling apart; the CSA-1 and SA-5 have marginal capabilities against tactical aircraft, and they pose no threat to cruise missiles or ballistic systems.

Iran’s efforts to get the S-300 operational could be accelerated through the use of Russian contractors, who could supplement the initial cadre, or fully man the system until Iranian operators attain required proficiency.

While the S-300 represents a significant boost for Tehran’s air defense network, it is not a panacea. All modern SAM systems have vulnerabilities, ranging from long-range standoff weapons and electronic jamming, to cyber attack.

In Iran, S-300 crews must also overcome the obstacle of a semi-automated air defense network that is subject to saturation and confusion. Against that backdrop, S-300 operators would probably revert to their autonomous mode, selecting and engaging targets at their own discretion.

Unfortunately, that increases prospects for fratricide—and remember, Iran is a country that’s come dangerously close to shooting down civilian airliners, during normal “peacetime” operations. We wouldn’t want to be on the Bandar Abbas-Tehran shuttle when some Iranian S-300 crew decides those unknown blips represent a U.S. or Israeli attack.
ADDENDUM: Israeli officials who spoke with Reuters admitted that the S-300 in Iran poses a “learning curve” for them. But we’d also guess that the IAF already has some ideas about overcoming that challenge, when it finally materializes.

Different Spanks

Nuclear Incident Resulted in Less Severe Punishment for Higher-Ranking Officers

by Nate Hale

Commanders involved in last year's nuclear mishap at Minot AFB, North Dakota received a milder form of non-judicial punishment than lower-ranking personnel who were also implicated in the incident.

In From the Cold has learned that seven higher-ranking officers received Letters of Admonishment for their role in the accident, while a Captain, two Staff Sergeants and two Senior Airmen were given Article 15s.

While the admonishment letters and Article 15s are considered non-judicial punishment, the latter penalty may include multiple sanctions, including loss of pay, additional duty, and for enlisted members, a reduction in grade. Letters of Admonishment are placed in an officer's personnel records, virtually eliminating any chance for promotion or advancement. However, they do not include a pay forfeiture or rank reduction that often accompany an Article 15.

Terms of the non-judicial punishment imposed under the Article 15s received by personnel from Minot and Barksdale were not disclosed. The Captain who received the Article 15 was assigned to the Louisiana base; the enlisted members were part of the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot. Commanders who were given the Letters of Admonishment served at Minot and Barksdale.

While the Air Force has acknowledged that some personnel were punished for the nuclear mishap, it has never provided a full list, citing legal and privacy concerns. The sanctions list was contained in a prepatory briefing for Michael Donley, who has been nominated as the next Air Force Secretary, and General Norton Schwartz, tapped as the service's new Chief of Staff.

According to the listing, compiled by the Air Force Judge Advocate General's office, all of the officers that received admonishment for the nuclear incident were in the grade of Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel. Five served as unit commanders and lost their positions as a result of the incident. No officer above the rank of Colonel were faulted for the incident, although Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne and the Chief of Staff, General Mike Moseley, later lost their jobs because of continuing problems in the service's nuclear program.

The punishment list provides the most complete accounting of sanctions imposed in the aftermath of the nuclear mishap, which occurred almost eleven months ago. During that incident, six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles were accidentally loaded onto a B-52 at Minot and flown to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.

The error was not discovered until hours after the bomber landed at Barksdale, prompting a series of emergency notifications to senior officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Bush.

Word of the incident prompted a series of Air Force and DoD investigations--and immediate personnel changes at Minot and Barksdale. The commander of the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot, Colonel Bruce Emig, was removed from his post, along with the maintenance group commander, Colonel Cynthia Lundell and the leader of the 5th Munitions Maintenance Squadron.

Also dismissed was the commander of the 2nd Operations Group at Barksdale, Colonel Todd Westhauser, and one of his subordinates, who ran the active-duty B-52 squadron at the base. Westhauser's operations group "owned" the bomber and the crew that mistakenly flew the missiles to Barksdale.

After the mishap, observers suggested that a number of personnel could face non-judicial punishment or even a courts-martial on more serious charges. One unnamed Air Force official told the Washington Post last October that the expected sanctions "would be the most severe ever brought [by the service] in connection with the handling of nuclear weapons."

But no Air Force members faced a courts-martial over the nuclear incident. While Emig, Lundell, Westhauser and the other, unnamed, commanders face dim prospects for advancement, all remain on active duty, and will be eligible to retire with full pension benefits. The junior personnel who received Article 15s also remain in the service, although the punishment will make it difficult, if not impossible, to complete their Air Force careers.

The Letters of Admonishment were issued by General John D.W. Corley, the Commander of Air Combat Command (ACC). General Corley assumed leadership of the service's largest command last October, about six weeks after the mishap at Minot.

Corley then asked Lieutenant General Norman Seip, the Commander of 12th Air Force, to review the matter and determine if any service members should face more serious charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. General Seip decided that none of the individuals would face courts-martial charges, but he did initiate Article 15s against the Barksdale Captain (part of the B-52 crew), along the airmen and NCOs assigned at Minot.

A retired Air Force security specialist said the number of individuals punished was surprisingly small, given the gravity of the nuclear mishap. He also expressed surprise at the level of punishment imposed, noting that many observers expected personnel to face a court-martial because of their mistakes. The former security specialist spoke with In From the Cold on the condition of anonymity.

Others viewed the sanctions as an example of "different spanks for different ranks," the old military axiom that suggests junior personnel receive more severe punishment than higher-ranking military members. One retired Chief Master Sergeant, who served as a senior enlisted advisor in a nuclear munitions unit, said the differences in punishment represented a "double standard."

"It's B.S. to think that an Letter of Admonishment for an officer is the same as an Article 15 for enlisted," he observed. "The same punishment should be served to all who serve."

Ironically, the number of Article 15s resulting from the original nuclear accident was smaller than the number imposed after Minot's 5th Bomb Wing recently flunked its Nuclear Surety Inspection (NSI). Eight members of the unit's 5th Security Forces Squadron received Article 15s in May, and five more received the same form of non-judicial punishment in June, according to information released by the base. Many of those Article 15s are believed related to security failures discovered during the NSI, which resulted in a failing grade for the wing.

Along with the individuals who received non-judicial punishment, more than 60 personnel at Minot were temporarily stripped of their certification to work with nuclear weapons. All but five have since re-earned that qualification.

The legal summary prepared for Mr. Donley and General Schwartz also revealed that no one has yet been punished for a subsequent nuclear incident at Hill AFB, Utah. During that episode, components for an ICBM's nuclear warhead were inadvertently shipped to Taiwan. According to the report, potential personnel sanctions will be determined after a final review of the matter.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Un-Accelerated Withdrawal Schedule

In recent weeks, various media outlets (including The New York Times) have anxiously suggested that the U.S. is accelerating its withdrawal schedule from Iraq, based on the improving security situation.

But that’s not quite accurate. In a Weekly Standard post last week, Bill Roggio found the current pace of redeployments mirrors a schedule outlined by General David Petraeus last year. As Mr. Roggio writes:

The graph shows that back in September 2007 the U.S. military planned to draw down to 15 combat brigades by July (this has happened) and targeted a drawdown to 12 combat brigades by the end of this year. The decision to draw down to 12 brigades will be made sometime in September. In March of 2009, the U.S. will decide to draw down to about 10 combat brigades.

The reality is that as the media focused on deriding General Petraeus's testimony on the state of the security situation in Iraq, they ignored the military's assessments on the planned posture of U.S. forces in Iraq in 2008 and beyond. Now that the U.S. is moving forward with its plans, their failure to note the timeline last year is characterized as an acceleration.

Following the draw down "horizon" outlined in the chart, the U.S. would have as few as five combat brigades in Iraq by 2011 or 2012, performing strategic and operational overwatch duties. At that time, the bulk of the security mission would be in the hands of Iraqi forces.

The Petraeus plan is based, of course, on conditions on the ground. If the security situation continues to improve, there might be a slight acceleration; if there’s a sudden uptick in violence, the draw down would be temporarily halted. It’s what you would expect from a leader like Petraeus, based on military judgement and experience.

We’d like to think that the draw down plan under a Democratic president would follow General Petraeus’s outline. But the party’s presumptive nominee, Mr. Obama, has made it clear that he prefers a fixed, arbitrary deadline for withdrawal, with no consideration for events on the ground.

John McCain said it best: when it comes to Iraq, Senator Obama made his mind up before embarking on that fact-finding trip. You’d think that wiser heads in the Democratic party would take their nominee aside and remind him of a salient fact: whoever occupies the White House when the troops finally come home gets credit for winning (or losing) the war.

Thanks to the surge, we are well on our way toward a final triumph in Iraq. But Mr. Obama and his advisers seem determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

That Only Took 10 Years

The hunt for fugitive Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has finally come to an end, a decade after it began.

Serbian security forces arrested Karadzic on Monday night in a Belgrade suburb. Karadzic, who topped the list of wanted Balkans war criminals, had apparently been hiding in plain sight for several years, living in the Serbian capital, and even practicing alternative medicine.

At the time of his capture, Karadzic had a full beard, long hair and glasses, a far cry from his carefully coiffed appearance of the mid-1990s, when he led Bosnian Serb factions in their war against Muslims and Croats.

Government official Rasim Ljajic said Karadzic, once known for his distinctive hairdo, was unrecognizable.

"His false identity was very convincing," Vukcevic said. "Even his landlords were unaware of his identity."

Karadzic used a false name, Dragan Dabic, Ljajic said.

The editor in chief of Belgrade's "Healthy Life" magazine, Goran Kojic, said he was shocked when he saw the photo of Karadzic on TV, recognizing him as a regular contributor to the publication.

"It never even occurred to me that this man with a long white beard and hair was Karadzic," Kojic said.

Karadzic's whereabouts had been a mystery since he went on the run in 1998, with his hideouts reportedly including monasteries and mountain caves in remote eastern Bosnia.

According to the AP, Serb security agents were actually looking for another wanted war criminal—former Bosnian Serb Army Commander Ratko Mladic—when they intercepted Karadzic.

The former psychiatrist-turned-political leader is accused of master-minding the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian conflict in the early 1990s, and the massacre of up to 8,000 Muslim civilians at Srebrenica in 1995. In connection with those crimes, Karadzic is facing genocide charges at the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague.

Karadzic plans to fight extradition to the Netherlands, according to his attorney.

European leaders—and Karadzic’s surviving victims—expressed joy over his capture. But few addressed the lingering question of why it took so long to capture the Bosnian Serb leader, arguably the most wanted fugitive this side of Osama bin Laden.

We may never know the full story, but there were certain, ahem, factors that allowed Karadzic to remain at large. His brand of Serbian nationalism remains popular in certain segments of the population, and Karadzic almost certainly received assistance from scores of individuals over the past decade.

Included in that group are ordinary civilians and Serb officials who were loyal to Karadzic and his movement in the 1990s. The fact that Karadzic was discovered “accidentally” (during a hunt for Mladic) speaks volumes about his ability to live quietly in Belgrade, and resume a medical practice.

Along with Karadzic’s Serb allies, there were also those on the NATO side who preferred that he remain at large. And who would those officials be? Former diplomats and military officers who participated in negotiations with Karadzic and Mladic in the 1990s, cutting deals that were never completely disclosed.

Ironically, the details of those talks may finally come to light, once Karadzic is extradited to The Hague, and faces trial for war crimes. Former Serb President Slobodan Milosevic put on a spirited defense during his time in the dock, offering evidence and testimony that was, at times, embarrassing to the western alliance. However, Milosevic died in the middle of his trial, before he could be convicted by the court.

Karadzic will almost certainly use the same tactics in his trial, attempting to subpoena former officials like Madeline Albright, William Cohen and Wesley Clark, among others. General Clark served as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during the mid-1990s, and was an active participant in discussions with Bosnia Serb leaders. Clark’s reputation could be further stained by evidence revealed at a Karadzic trial.

But there is some good news for western officials who might be cross-examined by Mr. Karadzic’s defense team. It will be years before the “Butcher of the Balkans” goes on trial, and the case will drag on for years after that. At the age of 63—and after years on the run--there is no guarantee that Karadzic will make it through the court proceedings.

Meanwhile, there are former U.S. and European officials who hope that Karadzic will follow Milosevic’s example, and expire before his trial is complete. Mr. Karadzic is expected to level some damning charges against NATO during his day in court; former architects of our policies in the Balkans (or, at least some of them) would prefer that Karadzic carry his claims to the grave.

Hope Fades

It seems unlikely that any of the crew survived Monday’s crash of a B-52 bomber near Guam. The bodies of two crew members were pulled from the water in the hours after the plane went down; the search for the other four is continuing, but a senior Air Force officer said there is “no evidence” that any of the airmen are alive.

An extensive military and civilian search continued to scour vast expanses of ocean on Tuesday for any sign of the remaining crew members, said the 36th Wing Commander, Brig. Gen. Douglas Owens.

"We recognize, however, that the longer this search continues the less likelihood there is that we'll find survivors," Owens said a day after the crash 30 miles northwest of Guam's Apra Harbor.

Air and naval units are still combing the ocean along the island’s western coast, looking for the remaining crew members. The eight-engine bomber was scheduled to make low pass over the Apra Harbor area on Monday morning, part of Guam’s annual “Liberation Day” celebration. The event marks the return of the U.S. military to retake the island from the Japanese in 1944.

While the military has not released the names of the victims, family members said that one of the crew members was Colonel George Martin, Deputy Commander of Andersen’s 36th Medical Group.

Colonel Martin’s sister, Clarissa Clark, told a Columbus (Ohio) TV station that her brother was on the B-52 when it went down. Martin was a graduate of The Ohio State University medical school and had served as a military physician for 25 years.

Colonel Martin’s presence explains why the “Buff” was carrying six crew members instead of the usual five. When the giant bomber’s tail guns were removed in the early 1990s, the position of aerial gunner was eliminated, leaving the B-52 with a standard, five-person crew, consisting of a pilot, co-pilot, radar navigator, navigator and electronic warfare officer.

Reports suggest the crash occurred about an hour after the bomber departed Andersen. The crew was completing a swing around the island, before making a pass over the Liberation Day ceremony near Apra Harbor.

While the Air Force has not released details of the plane's planned profile, fly-bys are conducted at low altitude, typically around 1,000 feet. Given the crash site’s proximity to the island, sources suggested that the bomber was already at low altitude when it went down, about 25 miles northwest of Guam coastline.

At low level, crews have less time to react to pilot errors or in-flight emergencies, making it more difficult to eject. Sources indicate that the two bodies pulled from the water had inflated floatation devices, or LPUs. Those devices automatically inflate when the wearer enters the water.

However, it was unclear if the crew members tried an unsuccessful ejection from the B-52, or were thrown into the ocean when the bomber struck the water and broke apart.

Despite its age—the newest Buff rolled off the Boeing assembly line in 1962—the Cold War veteran has an enviable safety record. Before the Guam incident, the last B-52 crash occurred in 1994, at Fairchild AFB, Washington. That mishap was later blamed on the recklessness of the aircraft commander.

A detailed Air Force investigation revealed that the pilot had a long history of ignoring flight safety regulations, but his superiors let him remain on flying status. The Fairchild crash killed four members of that crew, including the Vice Commander of the 92nd Bomb Wing, who was making his last flight before retirement.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Back to You, Part II

In early June, we noted the latest chapter in Philadelphia's sordid TV news scandal. It began almost a year ago, when KYW-TV anchor Alycia Lane e-mailed some bikini shots (and saucy comments) to her "good friend," NFL Network host Rich Eisen.

Unfortunately for Ms. Lane, the exchanges fell in the hands of Mrs. Eisen, better known as TV sportscaster Suzy Shuster. When the e-mails were subsequently leaked to the New York Post (and other media outlets), Lane became a laughingstock. When she was later accused of striking a New York cop, Channel 3 dumped Alycia Lane.

But the question of who leaked her e-mails remained unanswered, until a couple of months ago. That's when the feds announced that Lane's former co-anchor, Larry Mendte, was under investigation for illegally accessing her e-mail account and (presumably) forwarding them to his friends in the media. As we noted at the time, the revelation was particularly stunning. Mendte and Lane had worked together for several years, helping lift KYW out of the ratings cellar.

But for more than two years, Mendte routinely accessed his co-worker's e-mails, from his Philadelphia home, his vacation home, the TV station and a fourth, undisclosed location. Monday, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philly announced that Mr. Mendte will be charged with one felony count of accessing e-mail without authorization.

Mendte, who was fired by KYW last month, is expected to plead guilty to the charge. He could be sentenced to up to six months in prison, under federal sentencing guidelines.

Investigators say Mendte installed a small device on Lane's computer keyboard, allowing him to capture the passwords to her e-mail accounts. With that information, the former news anchor accessed his co-workers e-mail hundreds of times over a two-year period. The last intrusion reportedly occurred in late May, just three days before authorities raided Mendte's home and confiscated his computer.

According to the feds, Mendte and the e-mails were the primary source for stories about Lane that appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, written by gossip columnist Dan Gross. The columnist was not named in the complaint, and he was not interviewed by the FBI.

Meanwhile, Ms. Lane is pursuing a wrongful termination suit against CBS, which owns KYW-TV. Revelations about Mendte and his spying have given her case a boost, and caused more headaches for her former employers. Lane's attorneys claim that Mendte set out to "destroy" his former co-anchor, after she signed a new contract with the station. By some accounts, Mendte and Lane commanded annual salaries of more than $700,000 each.

Ms. Lane's career, in tatters just six months ago, is showing signs of revival. Many observers believe she will win her case against CBS, or force the company into an expensive settlement. And, recent revelations about Mendte's spying have now cast Ms. Lane as a victim; her "homewrecker" status of last summer is all-but-forgotten. Despite her bone-headed "bikini photo" stunt, look for Alycia Lane to land on her feet, and with a fatter bank account to boot.

As for Mr. Mendte, his reputation and career have been destroyed. Luckily for the disgraced newsman, he's married to another successful anchor, Dawn Stensland, who works for Philadelphia's Fox affiliate. Ms. Stensland also enjoys a six-figure annual income. That should allow Mr. Mendte to enjoy a comfortable retirement--after he gets out of the slammer.

What Comes Next?

Scott Johnson at Powerline does a nice job of summarizing the conservative dust-up over recent U.S. diplomatic efforts toward Iran. As he observes, many of us were stunned when Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns was dispatched to Geneva to "sit in" on the latest round of EU-3 diplomacy with Tehran.

While Mr. Burns didn't actively participate in the talks, his presence was viewed as something of an overture; others would describe it as an exercise in appeasement. Back in January, Secretary of State Condolezza Rice said the U.S. would pursue a "normal" relationship with Iran "only after" suspension of its uranium enrichment efforts. Six months later, the centrifuges at Natanz are still spinning and there sat Mr. Burns, listening to his Iranian counterpart reject the latest EU proposals, and vow that its enrichment program would continue.

In the current issue of The Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes offers a blistering critique of the Bush Administration's flip-flop on Iran. Some of the strongest comments come from officials now serving in diplomatic and defense posts--the very folks who've witnessed the policy shift. One described the new approach as "preemptive capitulation," while other political appointees said they were "embarrassed" to be working for Mr. Bush.

Not so fast, counters Hugh Hewitt. He contends that the recent meeting in Switzerland was tantamount to a "last offer" from the west--an offer that was rejected by Tehran. As Mr. Hewitt writes:

The Bush Administration has done everything a superpower can do except use military action. Iran's mullahs come to the conclusion that the U.S. and Israel either will not or cannot stop their nuclear ambitions. If strikes are launched against the mullahs' nuclear facilities, the U.S. will have tried every avenue to stop the program without resort to bombing. but Iran is an outlaw regime and it does not care a bit what the world demands of it.

That may be true, but it presumes that someone (the United States or Israel) is prepared to act militarily. Mr. Hewitt must be privy to some "inside" information, or he's merely engaged in wishful thinking.

Fact is, there is no sign that the U.S. is prepared to use military force against Iran. Last year's flawed National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) virtually guaranteed it, claiming--speciously --that Tehran halted its weapons design program , although key efforts needed to produce a bomb (including enrichment) were continuing apace.

With Mr. Burns mission to Geneva, the White House shows every indication that it is prepared to stick with the diplomatic track, despite a lack of past success, and dismal hopes for progress in the future. True, the U.S. military has available options for dealing with the Iranian threat, but there is no sign those plans are being seriously considered. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that the next president, Democrat or Republican, will inherit an Iran with even greater enrichment capabilities, and more determined than ever to develop nuclear weapons.

As for the Israeli tea leaves, they are (decidedly) more difficult to read. But Tel Aviv faces its own problems in dealing with Iran. First, the Olmert government is embroiled by scandal, and there is some doubt about the prime minister's political survival. With a resignation or election in the offing, it is less likely that Israel would launch a strike against Iran, absent conclusive proof that Tehran is about to get the bomb.

Additionally, the Israelis face the serious issue of targeting a dispersed nuclear program with limited assets. The Israeli Air Force clearly has the capability to mount a limited strike against Iran's four primary nuclear sites. But follow-on attacks are more problematic, since the IAF would lose the element of surprise, essential for long-range attacks through unfriendly airspace.

As we've noted before, the Israeli campaign is essentially a "one-strike" option. And even if it is successful, there is the strong probability that Iran has a covert nuclear program, at sites unknown to western intelligence agencies or the Mossad. Under that scenario, Tehran's nuclear efforts would continue, and produce a weapon on a timetable similar to the current, overt track.

Giving your adversary a "final offer" is a viable policy option--assuming that "offer" is backed by the threat of severe consequences for non-compliance. So far, we don't see any "sticks" to complement the carrots being offered by the U.S. and its European partners.

What comes after diplomacy? Apparently, the Bush Administration doesn't want to go there, much to the mullahs delight.

Touch and Go

According to reporters accompanying Barack Obama, travel plans for the Iraq leg of his trip remain secret for security reasons. Fair enough. But, from what we’re told, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate plans to spend less than 24 hours in Iraq, compared to his two-day stay in Afghanistan.

Senator Obama’s decision to do a ”touch-and-go” in Iraq is easily explained. If he spends more time in that country, Mr. Obama might be forced to expand his itinerary, coming face-to-face with evidence that the troop surge has succeeded, beyond all expectations.

As you’ll recall, Obama opposed the troop surge when it was first proposed, and quickly joined the chorus of Democratic nay-sayers who opined that it would never work. Now, with violence down by as much as 80%--and Al Qaida on the verge of a “strategic defeat” (in the words of CIA Director Michael Hayden), Mr. Obama would rather focus on Afghanistan.

Still, we have noticed a couple of trends in the Obama trip that suggest long-term problems in winning the support of an important constituency--members of the U.S. military. During his first stop in Afghanistan, the senator was seated at a table with local Afghan officials. U.S. military officers, largely responsible for the region’s security, were seated on the other side of the room.

Incidentally, the video snippet of that meeting reportedly came from the cell phone of an Obama aide, anxious to tout the senator's arrival in Afghanistan. So this clearly wasn’t a case of “doctored” footage, or selective editing.

Perhaps there wasn’t a seating chart, or Mr. Obama merely wanted to show his support for the Afghans, but the visual from that meeting was stunning, emphasizing the gulf between the candidate, and the majority of those who serve in our armed forces.

The same divide was also evident during his stopover in Kuwait, before traveling to Afghanistan. Members of the press corps positively fawned over Obama’s enthusiastic reception in a gymnasium at Camp Arifjan; this dispatch from Susan Carlson of WBBM-TV in Chicago is typical.

According to Ms. Carlson, soldiers at the base were “overjoyed” to meet Senator Obama, and greeted him with “thunderous” applause when he entered the gym. But there are a couple of problems with that narrative. First, Camp Arifjan is home to more than 9,000 U.S. military personnel. By some estimates, less than 100 turned out to meet Mr. Obama at the base gym. We’re not sure if that number troops can generate “thunderous applause,” even in the confines of a gymnasium.

Additionally, most of the personnel who greeted Obama were junior enlisted members, and they were overwhelmingly African-American. According to DoD figures cited in a 2006 Heritage Foundation report, blacks make up 14% of the U.S. military, slightly higher than their representation in the overall population. But African-Americans represented at least 70-80% of the gym crowd in Kuwait.

It must have been an uncomfortable moment for the Obama campaign, which has worked tirelessly to assemble “diverse” audiences for various events—and even remove controversial images from the background (remember the “head scarf” incident in Detroit?) But, with Obama’s handlers unable to “regulate” attendance--or the backdrop--on a military base, they were left with a crowd that was anything but diverse.

In fairness, we don’t know how many military personnel at Camp Arifjan had time to attend the event. The mission always comes first, and we’re guessing that a lot of troops were preoccupied with their duties. It’s also a safe bet that a most “career” NCOs and officers deliberately skipped the event, due to its obvious, political overtones.

And that decision does not represent a slight to Mr. Obama—or any other office holder. Many of those who have worn (or currently wear) the uniform don’t like being used as a prop, regardless of a politician’s race, policies, or party affiliation.

So, that “enthusiastic reception” was actually a bit underwhelming, given the size of the crowd and the lack of non-minority faces. But, Mr. Obama made the best of the situation, thanking the troops for their service and draining that three-point shot, an image guaranteed to make the evening news.

Besides, Senator Obama knew that the traveling press would never ask him a couple of rather obvious questions: did the composition of the Kuwait crowd raise any concerns, given the candidate’s outreach to all segments of the voting public?

And, given Mr. Obama’s willingness to meet with military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, why won’t he participate in the televised, “Armed Forces Town Hall Meeting,” scheduled for next month outside Fort Hood? As we understand it, the invitation for that event still stands, but the Senator has declined to attend, citing some sort of “scheduling conflict.” Memo for the Obama campaign: that snub will stick with military voters a lot longer than the candidate’s three-pointer in Kuwait.
ADDENDUM: Sometime before election day, a MSM type will note the GOP's "problem" with black voters, noting that 10% (or less) typically vote for a Republican presidential candidate. but you won't see similar articles or broadcast pieces about Mr. Obama's troubles with military voters--a group he is trying to court on his foreign policy trip.

Buff Down

A B-52H, on the ramp at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana (AP photo)

Rescue teams are searching the waters off Guam for the crew of a B-52 bomber, which crashed near the island on Monday.

Officials said that aircraft, helicopters and search vessels were combing a 70-square mile area near the island. A Coast Guard spokesman said rescuers were concentrating on an area with a large oil slick and floating debris, believed to be the crash site.

Coast Guard Lieutenant Elizabeth Buendia said that two members of the six-man bomber crew had been pulled from the water, but their condition was not immediately available.

The eight-engine B-52 crashed around 9:45 Monday morning (Guam time), about 30 miles northwest of Apra Harbor. Officials said the bomber was scheduled to fly over the harbor, located on Guam’s western coast, as part of a local military parade. The annual event marks the island’s liberation from Japanese occupation during World War II.

Details of the crash remain sketchy, but prospects for crew survival appear rather bleak. Assuming a cruising speed of 300-350 knots, the B-52 was only five or six minutes away from the harbor, and probably at low-level for fly-by (around 1,000 feet). At that height, flying over the open ocean, it becomes more difficult to ascertain your altitude from visual cues; there’s less time to correct a pilot error, respond to in-flight emergency, or eject from the aircraft.

An Air Force representative said the B-52 was based at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. However, the spokesman did not say whether the bomber was assigned to Barksdale’s active duty 2nd Bomb Wing, or its “Reserve Associate” unit, the 917th Wing.

The 2nd BW is one of the Air Force’s oldest B-52 units, while the 917th operates both B-52s and A-10s. Buff crews from the 2nd and the 917th routinely train and fly together. There was no word on whether the B-52 that went down was manned by an active duty, reserve, or “mixed crew.”

Officials said the B-52 was deployed to Guam in support of the Defense Department’s continuous bomber presence mission in the Pacific. As a part of that program, B-52, B-1 and B-2 bomber units routinely deploy to (and operate from) Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base.

A Pentagon spokesman said the bomber was unarmed at the time it went down.

Prayers for the crew. Here's hoping that some--or all of them--beat the odds.

Friday, July 18, 2008


A cutaway drawing of the Air Force's new Senior Leader Intra-Transit Comfort Capsules. The service plans to acquire three of the pods and four Senior Leader Intra-Transit Pallets, at a cost of over $7 million. (DoD illustration via the Washington Post)

At the very time it doesn’t need one, the Air Force has managed to earn another black eye.

After the recent firings of senior leaders, nuclear accountability issues and a series of scandals involving high-ranking personnel, the Air Force is now under scrutiny for spending millions on “luxury pods” for VIP travelers.

The program is detailed in today’s Washington Post, which says the service originally planned to buy 10 of the capsules, which consist of two adjoining rooms, measuring 18 x 9 feet. The capsules can be mounted in the cargo bay of large transport aircraft, allowing senior officers and civilian officials to travel in comfort.

According to the Post, the pod program has since been downsized. The Air Force is now planning to buy three of the capsules, plus four pallets fitted with swiveling leather chairs, at a cost of $7.6 million. In typical military fashion, the VIP accommodations come with their own alphabetized designations; the pods carry the unfortunate acronym of SLICC (Senior Leader Intra-transit Comfort Capsules), while the smaller pallets are known as SLIPs (Senior Leader Intra-Transit Pallets).

Air Force officials say the pod and pallet program dates from a 2006 decision by General Duncan McNabb, then Commander of Air Mobility Command (AMC), which runs the Air Force transport fleet. With the service hauling more VIPs, McNabb determined that existing seats were inadequate for senior military and civilian officials.

And, to a minor degree, McNabb may have a point. Most transport planes are equipped with “troop seats,” canvas and metal contraptions mounted on the sides of airlifters like the C-130 or C-17. Almost anyone who’s every participated in a military exercise or real-world contingency can tell you horror stories about spending hours sandwiched in a troop seat, sharing the cargo bay (always too hot or too cold) with equipment or pallets.

Along with the Spartan troop seats, the USAF also has a number of older “comfort pallets” that can be mounted in the back of a transport. Those pallets feature a small number of airline-style seats and a lavatory similar to those found on commercial jets. The Air Force’s largest airlifter, the C-5 Galaxy, also has a limited number of permanently-mounted airline seats, found in “troop decks” behind the cockpit, and in the tail of the aircraft.

Unfortunately, the effort to build new SLICCs and SLIPs quickly became a matter of luxury. In various e-mails and memorandum obtained by the Post, senior Air Force officers talk about the need to provide “world class” accommodations, exceeding found in “business class” on the major airlines.

At one point, the service even requested that terrorism funds be used to complete the capsules, which had gone over-budget. While Congress rejected two requests to dip into the terrorism budget, the USAF eventually used $331,000 from that source to help pay for the pods and pallets. An Air Force official now tells the Post that decision will be reversed.

At least four Air Force generals took an active role in the project, providing input on such matters as color of the seats, and the inclusion of side pockets on the chairs. Adding the pockets and changing the seat color from blue to brown reportedly added another $68,000 to the cost of the project, according to one budget document.

General McNabb, who got the pod project rolling, subsequently served as the Air Force Vice Chief of Staff. Last month, he was nominated as Commander of U.S. Transportation Command at Scott AFB, Illinois. He will replace General Norton Schwartz, who has been designated as the next Air Force Chief of Staff.

While the Post article is clearly an embarrassment for the Air Force, there are some missing elements. First of all, what inspired General McNabb to initiate the pod and pallet effort? Was it one of those four-star epiphanies, or did someone tell the USAF that its existing accommodations weren’t up to snuff? The Air Force spends a small fortune on VIP airlift every year, and spares no effort—or expense—to make the brass and politicians.

The Post also fails to report the number of times that current “luxury” pods have been used in support of Congressional junkets and other travel by senior officials. When Congressmen and Senators travel to Iraq or Afghanistan, they usually don’t ride in troop seats. While the pod and pallet program was clearly designed to support travel by flag officers and senior DoD civilians, it was also aimed at supporting Congressional excursions. Readers will note that Congress never told the Air Force to stop building the comfort pods, just don’t do it with GWOT money.

Of course, that doesn’t excuse the enterprise. The USAF already has two “silver bullet” trailers that are loaded onto transport jets for VIP visits to combat zones. Those should be adequate for travel by the highest-ranking officials. For everyone else, those existing comfort pallets should do. Let the brass, senior civilians, Congress members and their staff see “how the other half” lives, riding in old airline seats, eating a “box nasty” served by a grumpy loadmaster.

Or, if they really want adventure, they could try military transit at its finest: a seat on a charter flight to and from the war zone (hope you don’t mind sitting with Private Snuffy and 400 of his pals). Then, there's the ultimate AMC flying experience, wedged into a troop seat on a C-17, hauling MRAPs to Iraq. When your bottom turns numb, you can always stretch out on top of a cargo pallet (or beneath a vehicle), with a field jacket for cover.

Figure it this way: if the military brass, senior DoD civilians and political officials had to travel "like the rest of the armed forces," we could save billions on VIP airlift.