The Boys in Blue

Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates sacked the Air Force's top leadership. Although he cited breakdowns in nuclear weapons security as the main cause, I've heard a lot of chatter since then about how Gates intended it to serve as a broader message to the Air Force about the need to play team ball.

Yesterday, Gates announced his picks to head the embattled air service. He tapped Michael Donley, currently director of the Pentagon's administration and management office, to be Secretary of the Air Force. And he picked General Norton Schwartz, commander of the Air Force's Transportation Command, to be the Air Force's top uniformed officer.

What do the choices signify?

In Donley, Gates gets a competent manager and "systems guy," whom he can rely on to be a good steward for the Air Force until the next administration. Given Donley's history of work for a Democratic administration, it's even possible that he will be kept on in some acting capacity should Sen. Barack Obama be elected this November.

In Schwartz, Gates gets something more. Schwartz comes from outside the Air Force's fighter-bomber jock culture. He flies transport planes and helicopters and has spent term moving between the special operations and logistics communities of the military. Schwartz is unlikely to be parochial on things like the Joint Strike Fighter or B-2 Stealth Bomber; it's highly unlikely he will go around Gates's back to ask Congress for more fighter jets. (Sidebar: Schwartz is likely to be substantially less parochial on one issue in particular -- religious tensions at the Air Force Academy -- given that he's Jewish.)

In comments yesterday to airmen at Langley Air Force Base, Gates acknowledged there was more to these leadership replacements than nuclear security:

Fixing the nuclear stewardship issue is the most important task for the new leadership team, he said. Nuclear deterrence is going to become more critical, not less so, in the future, the secretary said. He said the rising threat of nuclear proliferation is one reason for his conclusion.

The second important task the new Air Force leadership team will face is "figuring out how to get the modernization program back on track," he said.

Air Force tanker procurement is at least 10 years behind where it should be, Gates said. The new team will have to figure out "how to work with the Congress and get this thing done."

There also needs to be a decision by the next administration on the balance between the F-22 fighter and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and then "just getting on with it," Gates said. "End the debate, make a decision and move on. 'Start getting stuff built' is just so important. The tankers we are flying today are the tankers I rode in as a second lieutenant in 1967."

. . . The secretary told reporters he chose Schwartz as the new Chief of Staff because he "brings fresh eyes to these issues. He's very smart, very process-oriented. The changes he has made in Transportation Command have been pretty dramatic.

"It was mobility, jointness, special operations and being very, very smart" that led him to the choice of Schwartz, Gates said.

Gates clearly wanted a team that's willing to work with other services and agencies, responsive to his priorities, more flexible on force structure and budgeting, and more open to new roles and missions for the Air Force.

Gates has talked a lot about a "balanced" force -- and one that's capable of doing everything on the spectrum, from major combat operations to humanitarian assistance. But the services have resisted, seeking to maintain their traditional focus on conventional warfare. In one example, the Air Force publicly broke with the secretary of defense over the number of F-22 Raptors worth purchasing.

Ultimately, the nuclear security issues may have been a pretext for Gates, who had plenty of larger policy disagreements with the Air Force's leadership.

By Phillip Carter |  June 10, 2008; 10:36 AM ET  | Category:  Air Force
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Phil:

All great points - I'd argue you missed one critical element of Gates' speech yesterday - the announcement that he was suspending the force drawdown for the USAF.

http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2008/06/airforce_drawdown_ends_060908w/

The original plan was to use the money savings from the personnel cuts to pay for force modernization. It will be interesting to see what comes of this.

Posted by: Ray Kimball | June 10, 2008 12:24 PM

Phil,

Regarding your statement, "But the services have resisted, seeking to maintain their traditional focus on conventional warfare."

Suggest you take a look at recent Army doctrinal changes, including FM 3.0 and other TRADOC-led doctrinal documents - they are in line with the concept of full-spectrum operations.

Posted by: Armywonk | June 10, 2008 1:42 PM

It would be interesting to see what Schwartz will do to the tanker issue. The tanker program right now is very political because the USAF decided to go with a single aircraft. Would Schwartz go w/ a split buy to expedite this program politically, or would he stick w/ the "most capable" tanker/transporter?

Posted by: Jimmy Wu | June 10, 2008 2:11 PM

Armywonk,

Do you think that all parts of the Army -- including manpower, procurement, force structure, etc. -- have kept up with those doctrinal changes?

Posted by: Phillip Carter | June 10, 2008 2:24 PM

Phil,

To varying degrees, yes. The folks at the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC), which is part of TRADOC, can certainly address that in greater detail, especially the ARCIC-Forward office in Crystal City. Couple of quick examples - on the procurement/materiel side, the FCS program is the best example of an acquisition program that is geared for full-spectrum operations - it can do MCOs, COIN, and has excellent applicability to disaster relief/humanitarian assistance missions. Within the FCS program, the FCS Brigade Combat Team has several hundred more infantrymen than a HBCT, which increases its utility in COIN missions. Army is using doctrinal changes to drive everything else, much last AirLand Battle did back in the late 70s/early 80s.

Posted by: Armywonk | June 10, 2008 3:41 PM

"The folks at the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC), which is part of TRADOC"

Armywonk,

The devil is in the details. Given the Army's acknowledged 89% selection rate to LTC in the RA; 82% fill on RA MAJS and 54% strength on RA BQ/KD CPTs, one needs to ask exactly WHO is being levied to fill the low-visibility, undesirable and non-nominative positions like the ARCIC.

I think once the quality and career viability of these personnel is examined, one can readily come to the conclusion that the future leadership of the Army is decidedly NOT in such positions. This lends support to many concerns that the Army is culturally losing touch with full-spectrum operations. I would say that among the "below the zone" and "top 20%" officers, this is doubley or tripley true.

FACT: the Army is desperately soliciting IRR MAJs and LTCs (if there are any left) and retiree recalls to fill critical ARCIC vacancies (Alongside those at CGSC/ILE; The Infantry Training Brigade and virtually every branch school.)

The ARCIC officers are majority "bottom 25%" types and the IRR, USAR TPU and Retiree recall "hired help" will play absolutely no part in directing the Army's future at the macro level. None.

Full spectrum capability is shot and if FCS is used as an example to shop that it's alive and well, God help us all!

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | June 10, 2008 6:22 PM

Phil,

Ultimately, the nuclear security issues may have been a pretext for Gates, who had plenty of larger policy disagreements with the Air Force's leadership.

If you read the actual speech, that's simply not true. He specifically denies that anything but the nuclear issue played a role. The "larger policy differences" have been completely and irresponsibly overplayed in the press. Even the quote you provide does chide the Air Force force's priorities or policies except to say that recapitalization needs to get a kick in the rear, which it does.

Ray,

The reason for the suspension of the drawdown is that it was originally conceived in 2003 and has since been overtaken by events. Had the the additional cuts gone through, the Air Force would be at 95% manning after 2009 because of all the increased requirements like five new UAV wings (4 predator, 1 global hawk), a much larger DCGS capability, plus the additional requirements to support the increases in end strength for the Marines and especially Army in terms of battlefield airman, airlift, weather, etc.

Posted by: Andy | June 11, 2008 2:18 AM

There is a "feeling" among the Acquisition types that TRADOC is a broken command that produces requirements without foundation and doctrine without content. It is a place where retired colonels reign over sleepy generals and impose investments for backward looking visions - All, while doing business development efforts for large scale capture opportunities for which their employers and benefactors reward handsomely. TRADOC is one level above the JFCOM in the inferno created by the war related appropriations boom.

Gates has another very fertile vineyard to march through - do it with gusto for the good of the nation!

Posted by: Bill Keller | June 11, 2008 6:32 AM

IRR Soldier,

I worked at ARCIC for a number of years and its predecessor organization, the Futures Center. The idea that ARCIC is not involved in shaping the future of the Army is laughable - I've seen the changes brought about by ARCIC. The quality of the leaders I worked with was first rate - LTG Curran, LTG Vane, MG Fastabend, BG Terry, BG Swan, COL Schaill, etc. are just a few examples.

Bill,

Suggest respectfully that your views on TRADOC, especially under General Wallace's leadership, are outdated. Additionally, if anybody is in the tank for the contractors, it's the acquisition community.

Posted by: Armywonk | June 11, 2008 8:01 AM

Armywonk,

I'm not talking about GOs assigned to ARCIC in the past, I'm talking about the current slate/caliber of MAJS, LTCs and COLs assigned to there and similar organizations. Anyway you slice it, the future Army leaders are NOT toilng there as staff MAJs and LTCs. The O/H officer pool is out of balance with requirements and third tier assignments like ARCIC suffer.

Again, IRR and retireee recalls are not the future of the Army.

Posted by: IRR Soldier... | June 11, 2008 8:38 AM

Andy,

Understood, and I think suspending the pers drawdown was a good decision. However, the estimate is an initial cost of $1.4 billion to fund that halt - where is it going to come from? That is going to be among the first of some very tough decisions for the new USAF staff.

IRR:

I'm not sure if it's been publicized yet, but word is that HR McMaster is headed to the Futures Division of ARCIC after he finishes his current round of JPME. So again, like Armywonk, I ask you - who, specifically, are the "third tier" folks you see working at ARCIC? If you're going to have the stones to claim an entire group as deadwood, please give the details to back it up.

Posted by: Ray Kimball | June 11, 2008 9:45 AM

Ray,

Again, I'm not talking about General Officers here! For God's sake, MG Bostick of USAREC is a great officer - this does not mean that the quality of MAJs serving as recruiting battalion XOs corresponds. I'm talking about the overall quality of the MAJs and LTCs being assigned to toil in places like ARCIC. That's my point. Given insanely high RA slection rates to MAJ (97%) and LTC (89%) and the corresponding requirements v. O/H imbalance, logic dictates that the quality slectivity of the field grades assigned will be diminished. You can't squeeze blood from a rock and when MI is sitting at 73% fill on RA MAJs and Transportation is at 48% fill on RA MAJs, something's got to give. That something is unfortunately the institutional Army - the seed corn that has nourished us for over a century.

You should know better than anyone that the Army's current BQ/KD CPT and MAJ slating is akin to "whack-a-mole" ... the depth does not exist to cover down on requirements (e.g. FA branch alone has 8 BCT equivalents of officers allocated to the advisor mission right now).

The fact remains that ARCIC is begging for IRR officers and retirees to mobilize and staff vacancies. I am in the IRR. I get the notices. This is not a broadside against ARCIC ... it's an observation across the Army. CGSC/ILE is begging for IRR and Retirees to serve as instructors. The Infantry is so short that they are seeking IRR MAJs to serve as Battalion XOs and S-3s in the ITB!

While dedicated and consciencious, an organization staffed with the "farm team" at the worker bee level doesn't strike me as the "force for change" you purport it to be. Fact is, the future leaders of the Army are proving their mettle in tactical units or serving in high-impact, nominative assignments such as yourself.

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | June 11, 2008 11:23 AM

IRR,

The folks at the AETF at Bliss, which is part of ARCIC, are majority combat vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. Similarly, the folks in FFID (also at Bliss and part of ARCIC) have strong combat vet experience. 3 of the six officers I referenced in a previous post are at ARCIC right now. In BG Terry and COL Schaill, you have two officers with superb combat command experience leading the FCS effort out at Bliss. LTG Vane used to be the deputy J-8. I understand your point about how the Army is stretched and that promotion rates are higher than they should be but if you look at the output/impact that ARCIC is having on Army modernization, it is a reflection of those quality leaders.

Posted by: Armywonk | June 11, 2008 2:07 PM

Armywonk,

I hear you and I fear that we may be talking past each other. Again, my original comments were made WRT to the quality/career potential for the officers toiling in the MAJ and LTC "nug" assignments - not distinguished GOs and COLs who are at the top of their careers. Rather, I'm talking about the institutional legacy of ARCIC in 10 or so years.

I am not dismissing the value of ARCIC. I am saying that the notion that this organization can be touted as the force to keep the necessary long term focus on full spectrum capabilities is overstated. Given the Army's real personnel limitations, many of the ARCIC folks at the MAJ/LTC level are, shall we say, less competitive for long term advancement. It's a fact. Otherwise, ARCIC would not be advertising for a few dozen IRR MAJ/LTC positions at the HRC-STL website.

Posted by: IRR Soldier... | June 11, 2008 5:16 PM

Well, I'm going to back off on ragging on the Air Force for a bit, just to see what unfolds here. We absolutely need a good Air Force, so I'm hopeful the recent draconian steps may yield dividends.

As an old Army guy, I've always had, shall we say, a problem, with the USAF, specifically because they've given the impression that they care more about space than they do their ground-pounding brethren. We'll see. IOTM that any zoomies reading this ought to realize just how far the USAF has gone in losing its cred with many current and past members of the service from which it was born.

Much of what IRR--one of my favorite commenters, BTW--and Armywonk, augmented by Ray Kimball, are saying is kind of in the category of inside baseball. As a retiree, I'm not that close to the issues, so I'll refrain from commenting. With a couple of exceptions.

First, IRR always makes a big deal about Army officer fill and the consequent high promotion rates. Well, I agree that the promotion rates to field grade ranks don't say a lot good about the Army. They're way too high. But then there is the issue regarding which I've challenged IRR on a number of occasions: why the promotion rates are so high. IMO, they're high simply because the Army is over-officered. What's the current ratio of officer to enlisted? One to five? That's too high and that's why we see those amazing promotion statistics. IRR is trying to have it both ways: he condemns those low officer fill rates, but then decries the promotion rates. Can't have it both ways, IRR. Fact is the Army won't attract sufficient numbers of super-qualified people to fill all of those positions. But since they must be filled, well, we know the rest of the story.

You guys are talking about something called the "ARCIC." First time I've heard of it. So I'll pass on its value, although, having gone through many of these new and wonderful ideas, I'm fundamentally skeptical. What got me was Armywonk talking about how it great ARCIC is, and then bringing FCS into the discussion. FCS is something I know about. I was present at the creation and I know the issues and the technologies. IMO, FCS is a money pit for the Army and until they can somehow repeal the laws of physics, it will continue to be that way. As a taxpayer, I'm getting a little tired of FCS and I suspect there will be some serious looks at it in the next administration.

Futures Division, AETF, FFID, JPME. Right. Do you guys speak English?

Posted by: Publius | June 11, 2008 8:56 PM

Ray,

The initial cost is slated to be $385 million and total $12 billion between now and 2015. Here's a pretty good analysis of the issue.

Posted by: Andy | June 11, 2008 9:50 PM

>>>IOTM

Posted by: Panhandle Willy | June 11, 2008 10:11 PM

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