Gates Sends a Message

Big news out of the Pentagon today: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates fired the secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force's top general, both for improprieties. Among other things, Gates blamed Sec. Michael Wynne and Gen. Michael Mosely for the inadvertent flight of nuclear weapons over the United States, the mistaken transfer of nuclear secrets to Taiwan and serious contracting improprieties relating to the Air Force Thunderbirds.

In addition to these two firings, Gates appointed former SecDef James Schlesinger to run an inquiry into accountability over nuclear weapons. Coming on the heels of other major Air Force scandals, this is yet another blow for the beleaguered air service.

Army Lt. Col. Bob Bateman notes in a new Armed Forces Journal article that it has become increasingly unusual for senior military officers (and Pentagon political appointees) to be relieved over performance issues, although many do land in hot water over issues of personal conduct (i.e. sex and ethics problems). Notwithstanding the contract irregularities here, it looks like performance was the dominant reason Wynne and Mosely for fired.

It's possible (but not likely) that the SecDef read the Bateman article (or Paul Yingling's article on generalship from last year) and said "By God, the next opportunity I get, I'm going to fire a general. And a political appointee, too, for good measure."

But I don't think so. Rather, I think Gates cares about personal accountability, especially where such things like nuclear weapons are concerned. And he wanted to send a strong message to the Air Force (and the other services as well) that leaders will be held accountable for their performance and that of their troops.

Update: Noah Shachtman adds a bunch of context to the story over at Danger Room. And Moira Whelan notes some of the institutional details at Democracy Arsenal of how Gates carried out today's terminations.

By Phillip Carter |  June 5, 2008; 8:05 PM ET  | Category:  Air Force
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I expected better analysis of this issue here. The "nuclear weapons" and "Taiwan" issues are transparent fig leaves (and not very good ones).

The elephant in the room here is that the USAF leadership - civilian and military - have shown the fortitude to stand up to DoD efforts to eviscerate/transform the Air Force! I say good for them. While I am not always in agreement, I think MG Dunlap, Air Force magazine and the "Above All" awareness campaign are performing a valuable public service in arguing for full-spectrum capabilities.

Some of us, still believe that the USAF and Navy are not endless "in lieu of" manpower pools for a Pentagon and Army that failed to conduct due dilligence for requirements, course of action development or post-war planning. In other words, "a lack of proper planning on your part, doesn't create a crisis on my part."

No matter how much DoD wants it, the USAF should continue to resist any and all efforts to diminish its full-spectrum capability for the sake of Iraq operations and supposed Army "needs" (e.g. FCS) that GEN Schoomaker spent 4 years insisting didn't exist.

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | June 5, 2008 10:50 PM

Michael Wynne was one of a bunch of General Dynamics executives brought into the Pentagon by Donald Rumsfeld.

Rummy loved to claim that he was one of the few DoD officials to have no arms industry connections, but that wasn't really true. In fact, he was caught in 2004 still holding shares in six companies that did business with the Pentagon.

But more to the point, he was paid $11 million by General Dynamics in 1999 for his shares in Gulfstream, of which he was a director.

A year later, he appointed several General Dynamics executives to policy posts, including Wynne and Gordon England, who was made Secretary of the Navy. Among other things, the Navy buys all its submarines from Electric Boat, a General Dynamics company.

Here are some of the senior posts in Rummy's War Cabinet - the men who led America into Iraq. See if you can spot any possible conflicts of interest:
Deputy secretary of Defense - Paul Wolfowitz - Northrop Grumman consultant

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy - Doug Feith - formerly Northrop Grumman's senior lawyer

Secretary of the Navy - Gordon R. England - former Executive vice president, General Dynamics

Secretary of the Army - Thomas E. White - former Vice chairman, Enron Energy Services, a major Army contractor

Secretary of the Air Force - James G. Roche - former President, Northrop Grumman electronic sensors and systems

Under Secretary of the Air Force - Peter B. Teets - former President, Lockheed Martin

Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness - David Chu - Former VP Rand Corp

Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics - Edward C. Aldridge Jr - former CEO, the Aerospace Corporation

Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics - Michael Wynne - Senior VP, General Dynamics

Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics - Nelson F. Gibbs - former Controller, Northrop Grumman

Sorry, it was a trick question. They ALL have conflicts of interest, because the Pentagon is - by a long mile - the most corrupt branch of the US govt.

What was it Eisenhower said: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."


Posted by: Bud0 | June 5, 2008 11:07 PM


I would have emphatically agreed with you a few years ago. The problem is that Army Secretary Tom White (an insider) was forced out by Rumsfeld for his fierce defense of his service - the Army. While White began his tenure with some questionable actions (e.g. the privatization of Ft. Hamilton's electrical system to Enron); as the Iraq war began he closed ranks behind his embattled Chief of Staff and transformed from Crusader-endorsing hack to principled defender of the Army.

I see much the same here in the USAF saga. Wynne and Moseley have their own issues - not the least of which is a flight suit/field uniform fetish at civilain events. That said, like White they have been firm in their resistance to "what have you done for me lately" Dod attempts to shortchange the Air Force and use it as an endless pool of "in lieu" personnel to bail out the Army that the discredited Francis Harvey and GEN Peter Schoomaker failed to effectively advocate for.

The USAF must remain prepared for full spectrum threats. the DoD has lost sight of this. This is tragic.

FWIW, I NEVER thought that I would find myself defending USAF's need for resources. The world certainly has been turned on its head by the calamity of OIF!

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | June 6, 2008 7:54 AM

I am going to get fundamental. If you look at the American corporations which have grown to pinacles and declined into abysses and match it against the organizational growth of the DoD and component services, you will note that DoD with its Generals has continued to grow despite an inability to perform. You will also note that the American corporations during the same period declined, restructured or disappeared. We are saddled with such people within the DoD and organizations who can do neither the change nor even the continuation of competent performance. We have placed body armored knights in the field of fast moving Saracins. HMMVVS vs IEDs. Look who is effective.

This failure of the AF to operate and view the future (other services are probably move effective under cover.) is just one of the elements which along with rampant corruption at the lowest levels of acquisition signals an organization dying from chronic sclerosis.

Posted by: Bill Keller | June 6, 2008 9:15 AM

I can't shake the feeling that the reason systemic Federal management problems aren't solved is that most Federal employees are eligible for retirement, and retirement-eligible stakeholders who get fired without being demoted have very little to lose.

To my knowledge, none of the military top brass who were fired because of Walter Reed were demoted, so they get to spin their legacy as making a no-impact sacrifice of their career, taking a painless fall for a systemic failure that a retirement-eligible employee with no fear of demotion has no motivation to fix.

After all, retirement can be lonely, and if a senior executive started fixing systemic gaps in accountability, who would go fishing with him?

Posted by: Basil White | June 6, 2008 9:48 AM


I'm gonna have to disagree w/ you there on the In Lieu Of issue there.

Yes, USAF has been tasked for a lot of ILO personnel in theater. However, who has been sent on the ILOs?

The answer: very few of the USAF's core personnel. Very few pilots have been tasked for the ILOs. The USAF battle managers have been fully tasked running the CAOC, et al. The USAF commo/satellite ppl are, surprise, doing commo missions. Other than this Predator pilot issue, the USAF has not had to eat its seed corn to support the current fight.

[Of course the USAF is getting less flight hours, but air forces everywhere are feeling the pinch of the gas crisis, too.]

Who are the USAF sending? The security force, contracting personnel, truck drivers, and airmen who are disaffected at their current rating. The security and contracting guys are getting some operation experience out of the deployment. Only the truck drivers are arguably losing out here on preparing for their wartime functions.

Not to be callous here, but, on the personnel side, if the only wartime skill to atrophy for the USAF is that of its truck drivers, I'd say the USAF is doing pretty well.

Posted by: Jimmy Wu | June 6, 2008 10:47 AM

"Not to be callous here, but, on the personnel side, if the only wartime skill to atrophy for the USAF is that of its truck drivers, I'd say the USAF is doing pretty well."

This is the typical, obnoxious Army answer ... willfully ignorant to the missions of other services and the fact that the USAF's mission is not to bail out an Army that was failed for four years by the incompetent Schoomaker/Harvey Tag Team.

The reality is that USAF Security Forces do not have detainee mission or a large-scale convoy security mission. Yet, In Iraq, these are precisely the missions they have been tasked with.

Only a true-believing soldier who has bought the hooah/warrior Kool-Aid that 13B Field Artillerymen can still be "proficient" after multiple tours serving as motorized infantry would posit the statement that these "in lieu of" taskers are part of the USAF's core mission.

How about the highly skilled aircraft mechanics tasked to provide convoy? It happens. It is a tragedy. My brother was tasked to provide 15 mechanics for an "in lieu" mission and a great maintenance NCO was killed on those convoy ops.

Again, "a lack of proper planning on your part, does not create a crisis on my part." DoD failed in pre-war planning and the Army compounded those failures for FOUR YEARS led by an ineffectual buffoon for a CSA.

I never thought I would defend the USAF like this, but in this case, they are correct.

Posted by: IRR Soldier... | June 6, 2008 12:34 PM

I am amazed at the support by some commenters for the AF leadership's parochial, chauvanistic, myopic and ultimately insubordinate pattern of conduct over the past several years. Just amazed. Instead of plotting to undermine plans and programs to fight the war we're in, so that they can buy equipment for the war that never happened (because we won the cold war by economic means) and may never happen if we're smart . . . they ought to be wracking their innovative brains for ways in which the AF can help end the conflicts we're in quickly. From placing service deployment policies, service culture, and service chain of command ahead of the needs of the joint and inter-agency effort needed for current operations, the AF has shown a corporately selfish "me first" attitude, which has been profoundly unhelpful to joint commanders in the thick of a real shooting war. Shame on them. I say again: Shame on them. To that, add rank incompetence with nuclear weapons and equipment, corruption (even AF JAGs -- a two star fired and retired as a Colonel for sexual indiscretion and a senior Colonel in a top legal position who was discovered to have had been disbarred 20 years ago -- have not shown particularly well for the AF lately) and it becomes very difficult to find any reason to castigate SECDEF or praise AF defenders here. MG Dunlap is a deep thinker with an innovative and provocative perception -- turn that mind and those of other bright, and often brilliant, AF thinkers to what the AF can do to win now and not to how can we defend our blue suit culture -- and well, maybe the sky is not the limit (pun intended).

SEDEF did the right thing here, though maybe too little too late. I recommend that those who love our USAF turn their minds to support for the team -- the one that's in the fight , and stop focusing on being a victim of the world we're in.

Posted by: A G Kaufman | June 6, 2008 2:12 PM

Jimmy Wu.... You seemed to have forgotten the communication specialists who have a 1-1 ratio of being deployed to being at home station. Vehicle Mechanics who are taking alot of the burden off the Army convoy duty requirement. Also there is a term "Augmentee". That is where the Air Force sends office folk or ANY one else to do the job of a security forces personnel. What about the heavily deployed medical field. I'm not trying to negatively criticize you. Just want you to know about what people like me have to deal with everyday.

Posted by: AF_WRENCH | June 6, 2008 3:09 PM


Yes, the commo and medical field are getting a lot of deployment. The question is, tho, are we attriting their wartime skills? If the next Big One happens tomorrow, are they technically competent to perform their USAF jobs? The answer is, yes they are.

[The question of, are they ready to deploy to the Far East tomorrow to fight the Big One, is a more complicated question, and we can discuss that later. I'd probably agree w/ you on that topic, tho.]

IRR, Wrench,

If the convoy duty ILO is significantly impacting the USAF aircraft availability rate [as a proxy for wartime skill readiness/sortie generation], then I would agree that is an unacceptable tradeoff for the USAF.

It appears, at this moment, that the USAF's #1 priority, offensive counterair, is still good to go. However, it is arguable if they are spending too much money to maintain that capability.

The F-22 will certainly overmatch all of our competitors. But did the AF think they have a realistic chance of getting all 360 F-22s that they wanted? Is it good of them to sabotage their alternative options (eg, standing down all F15s) to support their "only" option, 360 F-22s?

The USAF staked its future on the F22, at least publicly. They even traded people for planes. Now they have to own up to the fact that they gambled badly.

Posted by: Jimmy Wu | June 6, 2008 4:01 PM

I think the main issue for Gates was and is the future of the Air Force and its ambitions versus competing service demands for finite resources. The "silk scarf" syndrome that has caused the Air Force to frown on UAVs and especially the idea of "unmanned wingmen", something I know was proposed to the USAF Systems Command back in 1983 because I was on the Honeywell Systems and Research Center team that brainstormed it and 9 other suggestions for a committee of Air Force colonels tasked to survey industry for 'game-changing' ideas. It has long been known among those who design control systems for advanced fighters that the advantages of removing the human from the plane would be extreme: modern airframes can tolerate many G's more than the human body. Unmanned fighter plans could pull off maneuveurs that no pilot could survive. Unfortunately, unmanned fighter planens won't get any pilot his wings. The GWOT has brought the issue to the forefront but to the Air Force brass UAVs are the camel's nose under the tent. The Air Force silk scarves should consider the fate of the 'gun club' battleship admirals who dominated the pre-WWII navy.


Posted by: PCB | June 6, 2008 5:24 PM

(1) Not to defend the pilots' union -- I was most emphatically NOT a member -- but it's actually Congress's fault as much as anything. It is unlawful for a nonrated officer to command any unit (USAF or otherwise) with a flying mission. That, all by itself, automatically pushes the pilots to the front of the promotion line, because the largest USAF units that do not have a "flying mission" requiring a rated officer are air base wings commanded by an O-6.

Thus, even if the Air Force wanted to get more nonrated flag officers, it couldn't without help from Congress. Of course, it doesn't want to, but that's an argument for a purple force more than it is for reforming the Air Force.

(2) The problem is at least as much the monastery-like environment at the service academies -- and USAFA is the worst, albeit not by much -- that prevents academy graduates from actually growing up while they're there.

-- A now-civilian career line, nonrated USAF officer

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