Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mr. Donley's Road Ahead

Senior Air Force leaders will meet tomorrow at Bolling AFB in Washington, D.C., to "discuss and make decisions about urgent issues" affecting the service. The meeting represents one of the first steps in a busy, four-month plan to address key problems facing the USAF.

According to Air Force Times, the Wednesday summit will include the recently-confirmed Chief of Staff, General Norton Schwartz; acting Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, the service's other four-star generals, leaders of all major commands and the heads of various Air Staff Directorates.

Among the topics on the agenda are personnel issues, namely the right "end strength" for Air Force manning, now that the multi-year draw down has ended. Senior leaders are also scheduled to discuss new uniforms, maintenance reorganization, battlefield training for airmen and plans for the service's new "Cyber Command" which was recently put on hold by the Pentagon.

An Air Force official told the Times that decisions on some issues may be made tomorrow, but others will come in the months ahead. Indeed, acting Secretary Donley has laid out an ambitious schedule for the next six months, with plans for tackling (and resolving) many of the critical problems facing his service.

Mr. Donley sketched out his timetable for change in a " SECAF Call" held last week. A copy of the briefing slides used during that session was obtained by In From the Cold. Donley said the meeting's purpose was "to introduce himself to Air Force personnel," help them "understand his priorities for the service," outline a six-month strategic plan, and share his expectations regarding the USAF's core values.

The acting Air Force secretary reminded his audience that "national security is a team sport," and all airmen are responsible to those we serve, "from the airmen sitting next to you, to those who entrust us with the Air Force." Donley also emphasized that all personnel are "temporary stewards of a great institution," with a responsibility to to leave the service in better shape than they found it."

In terms of specific Air Force issues, Donley listed three "urgent tasks" for leadership at all levels: "Steady this great institution and restore its inner confidence; restore national trust and confidence in the USAF and ensure that our core values underpin every action, by every airman, at all times." Donley's remarks mirrored those of General Schwartz; both have called for a new commitment to "individual and organizational accountability" in the wake of recent Air Force scandals.

At the heart of his reform agenda, Mr. Donley listed five priorities for the USAF:

--Reinvigorate the nuclear enterprise
--Prevail in the Global War on Terror
--Strengthen Joint warfighting capabilities
--Refocus on "people" issues
--Transform enterprise management, through appointment of a chief management officer and "strengthening acquisition excellence."

In support of his priorities, Donley outlined a tight timetable for addressing specific issues. The late August/early September period, for example, will see decisions on such "immediate" topics as global wing reorganization, core fuctions review, common battlefield airman training and acquisition lessons learned.

During the latter half of September (and continuing into October), the acting secretary plans to concentrate on the service's nuclear enterprise, with a summit on that program scheduled for 18 September. Air Force leaders will also address personnel end strength and the cyber way ahead during the same period. According to Donley's briefing, the early fall will also be used to "build roadmaps for decisions that require a longer look."

Some of those decisions include a space management/organizational review, a long-term roadmap for unmanned aerial systems and an acquisition enterprise review, all due before the end of the calendar year. Donley has also requested a new review of counter-insurgency warfare during the same period, and plans to "migrate supplemental funding to the baseline budget by year's end."

The ambitious (some would say overly-ambitious) agenda reflects several factors. First, the Air Force remains afflicted by long-standing issues that haven't been sufficiently addressed in years past, including problems with the nuclear enterprise. Donley and General Schwartz must put those problems to bed, once and for all.

Secondly, the new leadership team must overcome the inertia that developed after June's dismissal of Michael Wynne, the former Air Force Secretary, and General Michael Moseley, who served as the Chief of Staff. Both men were forced out of their posts in early June, but Schwartz and Donley didn't arrive in their new jobs until late July. As a result, the new SecAF and Chief of Staff must resolve matters that Wynne and Moseley initiated, but never finished.

Both General Schwartz and Mr. Donley are able leaders, but there are legitimate questions about how much they can get done. Withe the presidential election less than three months away, there will a tendency to postpone decisions with political components. Readers will note that decisions on the service's most important acquisition programs (CSAR-X and KC-X) did not make Donley's list.

To be fair, we should note that the Air Force has lost its decision-making authority on the tanker (KC-X) program, but it will select the next-generation search-and-rescue helicopter, better known as CSAR-X. Still, the absence of these programs from the Air Force priority schedule reflects the political realities that accompany such decisions. Regardless of who wins those contracts, there will be protests, political meddling and further delays. Mr. Donley, who is expected to leave his post under a new president, will gladly defer those thorny acquisition issues to his successor.

Both Donley and Schwartz deserve credit for addressing the Air Force's problems head-on, and implementing an aggressive "fix it" plan. But in an election year--and the pending transfer of executive power--they may be promising more than they can deliver.


Unknown said...

And if one is in the USAF, hearing or seeing in print yet one more point paper by the latest temporary help (Sec of USAF) doesn't really mean squat. Kind of a joke really. The next temp helper will come in and think THEY know what the deal is too. Like the buzz of a fly in the room.

owr084 said...

"Senior leaders are also scheduled to discuss new uniforms, maintenance reorganization, battlefield training for airmen and plans for the service's new "Cyber Command" which was recently put on hold by the Pentagon."

The Air Force does not need new uniforms. There are more important issues than what the Service Dress Uniform should look like. Besides, no one wears "blues" on a daily basis anymore since 9/11.

And quit wasting time and effort on a BDU replacement. It would be a heckuva lot cheaper and faster to adopt what the Army has...

Unknown said...

Owr--Couldn't agree more...we've been down the "uniform road" too many times over the last 15 years, beginning with that frustrated fashion designer-turned-Obama-advisor, Gen. Merrill "Tony" McPeak.

As you point out, we've got a serviceable dress uniform--that virtually no one wears outside the Pentagon. The Army and Marine Corps have done all the research on BDUs--better to piggyback on what they've learned and get the best combination of design, comfort and durability into the field. But we'd rather waste time (and money) on blue BDUs.

Some things in the Air Force never change.