Monday, September 15, 2008

Call It What It Is

In advance of this week's USAF "summit" on its troubled nuclear program, an advisory panel is recommending that the service put all its nuclear missions under Air Force Space Command, and call it "Air Force Strategic Command."

The Task Force on Nuclear Weapons Management, led by former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, outlined its recommendations at the Pentagon last Friday. As Air Force Times reports, the proposed changes mean that Air Combat Command (ACC) would lose its nuclear bomber mission.

The task force recommended assigning a group of bombers to a numbered Air Force that would fall under AFSTRAT and have a sole nuclear mission.


Gates said his key concern remains the Air Force’s “lack of unity of command, and not having one person or organization accountable for the [nuclear] mission.”

Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Secretary Michael Donley have had discussions about standing up a new strategic command or placing the nuclear mission under Space Command like the task force recommended, said an Air Force official.

Recommendations from the Schlesinger panel came after a tumultuous year for the Air Force nuclear enterprise, a period marked by high-profile mishaps and failed inspections. The problems began last August, when crews at Minot AFB, North Dakota mistakenly loaded six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on a B-52 that flew to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. The incident resulted in the firing of senior officers at both bases, and the temporary loss of nuclear mission certification for Minot's 5th Bomb Wing.

It took the B-52 unit six months to regain its nuclear certification, and a year to pass all required inspections. During that period, the wing failed two evaluations, raising more questions about nuclear security and training.

The Air Force's nuclear woes were compounded by a second incident at Hill AFB, Utah. Earlier this year, it was revealed that base personnel accidentally shipped ballistic missile nose cones to Taiwan. Fallout by the mishaps in Utah and North Dakota ultimately resulted in the firing of the Air Force Secretary and Chief of Staff, who left their posts in early June.

Three months later, Defense Secretary Robert Gates believes the USAF's nuclear program is back on track, but said he remains concerned about the “lack of unity of command, and not having one person or organization accountable for the [nuclear] mission.” Putting those functions under the re-named Air Force Strategic Command will, presumably, allay those concerns.

While the "new" command will be responsible for the Air Force's strategic nuclear mission, we assume that tactical nuclear ops will remain in the hands of ACC and theater commanders, as they have for more than 40 years. If that's the case, then Mr. Gates' desired "unit of command" only goes so far.

In its assessment of the USAF's nuclear enterprise, the Schlesinger panel also had tough words for the inspection process:

“Over the past 10 years, inspection pass rates point to anomalies that indicate a systemic problem in the inspection regime. Something is clearly wrong,” the report read.

The passing rate for Nuclear Surety Inspections — inspections nuclear bases receive every 18 months — dropped to 50 percent Air Force-wide, then jumped to 100 percent three years later.

Schlesinger commended the Air Force Inspector General’s recent move to make all nuclear inspections no-notice, saying it was a “positive step.”

Like similar reports done into the nuclear incidents that plagued the Air Force last year, Schlesinger’s team found an erosion of standards and capabilities within the service’s handling of nuclear weapons. Schlesinger said he was “surprised,” and that the erosion went beyond what he expected.

While most agree that the report--and its recommendations--are a step in the right direction, we still wonder about the consolidation of nuclear functions under a re-named Air Force Space Command. What the panel describes, in terms of mission and responsibilities, is a latter-day version of Strategic Air Command, which handled the bomber and ICBM mission until the early 1990s.

Here's an idea: why not just call it SAC? Bringing back that venerable command--and its rich history--might be the right step in creating the "right" mindset for the nuclear mission.


kitanis said...

I agree with you.. Why Not?

After SAC went away.. I was bombarded with "SAC will be back" cartoons, memorial power point shows and images of patches and I even was given a SAC will be back coin that some former B-52 pilot had made for himself.

When assigned to Ellsworth AFB, a dinning-in occured.. when former CMSAFgt Gaylor spoke and mentioned SAC.. many of the senior pilots suddenly yelled Ohrahh and drank a quick toast outside of the ceremony.

SAC would be Perfect to bring back. and with the cancellation of Cyber Command which was supposed to make use of the SAC emblem.. the old Emblem is available.

Paul W. Davis said...

Bring SAC back?


The best time I had Active Duty was in SAC. SAC actually knew what it was about — and did it.

SMSgt Mac said...

Amen brother - and this time the New Improved SAC would be wise to focus on the nukes, but be able to leverage the inherent conventional capability that comes along with it. If only the original SAC had listened to Carl Builder, they never would have gone away in the first place.

halojones-fan said...

The problem is that hearing "SAC" makes people think of the Cold War. And that reminds people of scary stuff that they don't want to think about.

Unknown said...

People may not want to be reminded of the Cold War, but there are other ways they might be reminded; the Bear is back, recently pawing at our east coast before taking shelter with our southen neighbors.

Only a return of SAC will convince our adversaries that we have our weapons ready and that we are prepared to use them.

Only a return of SAC will convince those within the Air Force that slack time is over, we are at war and they sould be Mission Ready or get out.

Maybe there are some convoys in Iraq or Afghanistan that need rounding out...

PCSSEPA said...

SAC will be back. With the Bear's announced sales of missles to Iran and the pending sale of advanced fighter aircraft and other weapons systems to Hugo Chavez, it is the only logical decision to make.

As I have said in the past and I will say again, "I can no longer sit back and allow communist infiltration, communist indoctrination, communist subversion, and the international communist conspiracy to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids!"

In case you didn't notice, the Cold War never ended, it just cooled down for a while.

ColdWarBUFF said...

While I agree with the "bring back SAC" sentiment, in reality...

"The Chief of Staff is always right, never wrong." -Gen. Billy Mitchel

Though universally despised, Merrill McPeak's orders can't be countermanded (that's why the service dress still looks like a blazer.) Since A Chief of Staff signed SAC's execution order it can't be brought back, because then a CSAF will be proved wrong and "chaos" would ensue.

Outside that three points...

1. There is no way in Hell the Fighter mafia would tolerate SAC, reborn. They fear the inevitable, the fighter jocks greatly despised the "Standards and Checklists" SAC enforced and they hated being relegated to interception they hated it when in exercises the G's made them squeal "Sierra Juliet"

2. Look at the damage that the destablishment has wroth, most of the bomber force was destroyed, the few G's left are prohibited by treaty and rusting away in the desert, the Bone is solidly castrated by treaty, and only four SAC installations are salvageable (Barksdale, Minot, Whiteman, Warren, and Malmstrom) all others have either been sold off to civilian interests or downsized to the extent that they can no longer support a bomb wing.

3. When SAC was killed off all the schools were shutdown and all elements of the culture were sought out and eliminated, to this day (2/19/2012) the Air Force Global Strike Command is going out of it's way to avoid anything remotely "SAC" and as a result that MAJCOM is still struggling to sort out issues that SAC would've resolved in 6 months and LeMay himself would've cleared up in under two months.

Air Force wide "Strategic Air Command" is a curse word treated with the same displeasure by the brass that an unwarranted and uncalled for F*ck or Sh*t would receive. And the reason is that the Brass knows that destablishment was a mistake, and every time they hear "SAC" (or even "Sack" or "Sac-[rifice]") it's a reminder of that, and the brass fear the consequences of going against Billy Mitchel's words.

The real sad thing is that the USAF is dieing, SAC made up 2/3rd's of personnel, it was the heart, soul, and life-blood of the Air Force. Without SAC, "2047" is not the end service date of the B-52, it is the destablishment date for the USAF as an independent armed service.