Washington Watch

May 17, 2008

Roche, Sambur Going, but Controversy Lingers

The resignations of Air Force Secretary James G. Roche and Marvin R. Sambur, the service’s civilian acquisition chief, were matters of both timing and desire to clear away obstacles preventing USAF from making the uniformed leadership changes it needs.

The resignations, however, don’t seem likely to end the controversy over the tanker lease deal that played a major role in both men’s tenure at the Air Force.

Roche announced his resignation Nov. 16 and Sambur the day after. Both said they planned to leave by Jan. 20, if not sooner.

In a statement published on the Air Force’s Web site, Roche explained that he had always intended to serve one term and wanted to allow enough time for a replacement to be found and confirmed. He also said he wanted the new Secretary to have some overlap of tenure with Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper, who is slated to complete his term in September. This would avoid “the disruption that could occur should a new Secretary and Chief assume office at the same time,” Roche wrote.

He added, though, “I hope that my departure at this time will allow Congress and the Air Force to concentrate on vital matters, such as confirmation of senior leaders. I am concerned that many of our major commands and combatant commands have been left in a state of uncertainty. Airmen … are in combat with our country’s enemies—we must have stable leadership in place.”

Sambur offered similar explanations for his departure, which came only days after the Pentagon inspector general cleared him of any misbehavior in the Darleen A. Druyun affair. (See “Aerospace World: Sambur Resigns,” p. 19.)

Sen. John S. McCain (R-Ariz.) has put on “hold” nominations for promotion or reassignment for several senior Air Force uniformed leaders. McCain has used the blocks to gain documents he wants regarding his investigation of the Air Force’s planned—but abandoned—lease of Boeing 767 tankers.

McCain succeeded in holding up for almost a year the nomination of Roche to be Army Secretary, until Roche withdrew his name, which in turn ended the nomination of his replacement, Barbara Barrett of Arizona. In October, McCain stalled the appointment of Gen. Gregory S. Martin, head of Air Force Materiel Command, to lead US Pacific Command. After McCain said he would delay Martin’s confirmation indefinitely, Martin, too, withdrew his name from consideration.

In mid-November, there were several key USAF positions going unfilled. Though nominated to be head of Air Combat Command, Lt. Gen. Ronald E. Keys was still waiting to be confirmed for the four-star job, thus blocking his replacement by Lt. Gen. Carrol H. Chandler as the deputy chief of staff for air and space operations. The hold on Martin kept 8th Air Force head Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson from taking over AFMC, and Carlson’s replacement, Maj. Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, similarly remained in his old job without a third star.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in a Nov. 17 statement, praised Roche’s leadership of the Air Force “during an important period in history” and thanked Roche for his service.

McCain, though, in a Senate floor speech later that week, said he wants more investigations into the Air Force leadership’s role in the Druyun scandal. Druyun has admitted wrongdoing on several contracts that went to Boeing, receiving a sentence of nine months in prison.

McCain said, “Over the past few weeks, Air Force leadership has tried to delude the American people into believing that all of this happened because of only one person and that, because no one else has been hired for her position, the problem has been solved. I don’t buy it.”

He added, “I simply cannot believe that one person, acting alone, can rip off taxpayers out of possibly billions of dollars.”

McCain also produced quotes from Air Force-provided e-mails, in which Roche appeared to be rooting for Boeing over rival European Aeronautic Defence and Space in supplying the tankers for the Air Force.

Responding to McCain’s criticism in a press conference, Rumsfeld praised both Roche and Sambur for taking action on Druyun even before there was any reason to suspect she had done anything illegal.

When Roche and Sambur came in, said Rumsfeld, “they looked at that situation, were uncomfortable with it, and began taking authorities away from her.” He added that their efforts to establish a different arrangement and strip Druyun of authorities “apparently” prompted her to begin “negotiating for her departure.”

Rumsfeld said that Druyun acquired an unreasonable amount of power because of high turnover among both the uniformed officers in her shop and long vacancies in Sambur’s position during her 10-year tenure. Rumsfeld said it was an example of how difficult it is to run the Pentagon when about 25 percent of appointees are on hold because of background checks and other bureaucratic delays.

Airpower Aids Battle for Fallujah

The US-led coalition’s taking of Fallujah in November featured not only superb ground force operations but also a startling array of air and space power successes.

Among them: Seamless joint air operations, extremely close air-ground coordination, use of fighter aircraft for tactical surveillance and ground escort, and employment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in lethal and nonlethal roles.

Code-named “Phantom Fury,” the push into the rebellious Iraqi city was aimed at routing insurgent and terrorist forces from Fallujah, where they had established headquarters, training facilities, and armories to make bombs and distribute weapons.

Marine and Army units, assisted by Iraqi forces, cleared the city on the ground, assisted by airpower from the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, as well as British air units. Air planners “went to school” on coalition experience in Fallujah in April 2004, according to the commander of US Central Command Air Forces and 9th Air Force, Lt. Gen. Walter E. Buchanan III.

“We knew it was only a matter of time before we’d have to go back in there,” he said of the aborted offensive in Fallujah during the spring of last year. In the intervening months, detailed aerial study was made of the city, with particular attention to the few landmarks in otherwise nondescript neighborhoods. The combined air operations center in Qatar precisely measured the coordinates of many known targets so that extreme precision could be applied when conducting the operation, said Buchanan.

That homework “paid off very well,” he asserted.

Coalition forces hoped to cause as little damage as possible to the city because, Buchanan said, “we’re going to have to rebuild it.” He reported that coalition air units used “not a single dumb bomb.” The weapons used were either laser guided munitions or satellite guided bombs.

However, despite the desire to limit collateral damage, none was dropped with an inert warhead, as had sometimes been done during major combat operations in 2003. Field commanders “wanted to make sure” that if a target was hit from the air, there was no question that it had been destroyed, Buchanan said.

The landscape was challenging. Planners identified many targets as specific windows on a given face of a particular building. To pinpoint targets for the fighters overhead, ground controllers used a combination of colored smoke, lasers, and other target designation methods. In addition, ground controllers conducted “talk-ons” in which they verbally guided a pilot through visual landmarks to the target. Friendly forces sometimes identified themselves with colored tarps. In many cases, controllers called in strikes very close to their own positions.

“To my knowledge, there were no incidents of fratricide,” Buchanan reported.

While there was thorough planning for specific targets that needed to be struck, Buchanan said, there was also heavy reliance on the ground air controllers. The Air Force had 28 ground controllers in the fight; the Marines and Army each had some as well. Buchanan said there were no problems with coordination or cross-service communications.

“You couldn’t tell [the branch of the controller] … unless you recognized his particular call sign,” he said.

The operation was “principally a Marine ground show,” Buchanan noted. Marine air controllers mostly called for Marine close air support, which was provided by AV-8B Harriers that were used “almost like attack helicopters,” he said.

The Air Force expended many munitions and provided CAS for the battle, but its chief mission was to orbit other cities. Central Command wanted a swift and powerful response on call in other locations if insurgents elsewhere “thought we were totally committed in Fallujah … and tried something,” Buchanan explained.

The coalition made heavy use of laser guided Hellfire missiles fired from Predator UAVs. Another favored munition was the 500-pound version of the GPS guided Joint Direct Attack Munition, which had been delivered to Marine and Navy units only shortly before the operation. Aircraft also used their cannons in some places.

The air campaign was “extremely well planned,” Buchanan said, and was meant to “complement and support the overall campaign.”

Navy F-14s and F/A-18s from the carrier John F. Kennedy supported the fight, and there were other air units on call from airstrips both within Iraq and in the region, he said.

Fighters were kept on station over Fallujah for roughly as long as they still had ordnance. Aircraft low on fuel were sent to aerial tankers to gas up. Once their ordnance was expended, they would return to base and be replaced with another aircraft.

The three services all kept aircraft overhead at all times, with similar weapon loads, Buchanan said.

Fighters also assisted in protecting convoys and lines of communication by flying up and down travel routes, using Litening targeting pods and other sensors to search for hiding individuals or suspicious circumstances. They were able to do this using the heat-sensing and magnification equipment in the pods. Aircraft on standby for uprisings in places like Mosul “didn’t just bore holes in the sky,” but performed this surveillance and reconnaissance function simultaneously, said Buchanan.

Acquisition Gets a Scrub Down

The Darleen Druyun affair has produced a “crisis” that will be addressed with a DOD-wide review of its acquisition system, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official said in November.

Michael J. Wynne, acting under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, convened reporters in his Pentagon office to say that the revelations in the Druyun case have “produced a situation that we have to, in acquisition, consider … a crisis.” He wants to act quickly to restore trust in the system and head off any further breaches of integrity.

Druyun, formerly a top civilian acquisition official in the Air Force, was convicted last fall for showing favoritism to Boeing in contracts worth billions of dollars. (See “Washington Watch: Druyun’s Downfall,” November 2004, p. 10.) The position Druyun held has been eliminated, and the authority she had accumulated over a decade has been reinvested at various other levels in the procurement bureaucracy, as had been the practice before Druyun’s 10-year “reign.”

Nevertheless, Wynne said he wants to be certain there are no lingering questions about ny aspect of the Druyun episode. The first order of business, he said, is to determine if the revelations so far are “all there is” and to rectify Druyun’s wrongdoing. To that end, he has assigned a team led by the Defense Contract Management Agency to look into all the acquisition decisions Druyun made throughout her tenure. The team will review everything from major contract awards to settlements and award fees to make certain Druyun’s decisions—other than those for which she already admitted wrongdoing—were appropriate.

Wynne acknowledged that there might be hundreds of actions to investigate, so a final report may take some time. However, he expects to see an initial report early this year.

If any further improper actions are uncovered, Wynne will inform companies on the losing end of those contracts. He said DOD might take the extraordinary step of inviting them to submit a protest.

He has also asked the Defense Science Board, with academic help from several universities, to take an overall look at the integrity of the defense acquisition system. The main objective is to see if too much power has gravitated into the hands of too few individuals, as was the case with Druyun, Wynne said.

He reported that he and Air Force acquisition chief Marvin R. Sambur, soon after they came to the Pentagon, agreed that Druyun exercised more power than her position warranted and took steps to “diminish” it and shift it elsewhere. Though Wynne said he and Sambur tried, at the time, to be “polite” about the changes, Wynne said he was sure the moves prompted Druyun to retire in 2002. Neither he nor Sambur had any idea at the time that Druyun was abusing her power to throw work to Boeing, Wynne said.

Of Druyun’s initiatives to streamline acquisition—such as her “lightning bolt” efforts to quicken the process of acquiring new capabilities—Wynne said these are under review, as well. However, he did say that some initiatives such as buying commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) gear as a means to reduce costs “clearly began to get a little bit overused.”

The progression to COTS “with modifications” will be “clamped down on,” he said, adding that the term “COTS modified … means, in my opinion, it may not be COTS.”

Wynne added that he believed the whole acquisition reform and the defense re-engineering initiatives had gotten off track and DOD must “drag it back.”

Key Capabilities Need Special Investment

The US industrial base needs more investment in several key areas if the nation is to maintain a sufficient lead over potential adversaries in military technology, according to a recent Pentagon study. One area in particular—production of small satellite guided bombs—requires development of a second source, stated the study. Such weapons are expected to be in great demand over the next 30 years.

According to the “Defense Industrial Base Capabilities Study: Force Application,” six industrial capabilities need “additional” Pentagon investment. Beyond expanding the supplier base for the 250-pound-class satellite guided bomb, the study proposed creating a second industrial source for future hypersonic propulsion and additional sources for chemical oxygen iodine lasers (COILs). It also recommended an industrial capability to make steerable bullets.

Other endeavors that the study said would require more industrial investment include a spacecraft propulsion system called a pulsed plasma thruster and a “self-propagating high-temperature synthesis device.” This last weapon creates effects like a miniature nuclear weapon, with intense blast and heat, as well as radio frequency disruption not unlike that of an electromagnetic pulse.

In its review of the 250-pound Small Diameter Bomb (SDB), the study group found that the Pentagon probably stifled ongoing innovation and cost improvement when it selected a single source for SDB production. The SDB is expected to be used on nearly all US combat aircraft of the future.

The recommendation takes on added weight because former USAF acquisition official Darleen Druyun was the source selection authority on the SDB project. All of Druyun’s procurement actions are being reviewed. (See “Acquisition Gets a Scrub Down,” above.)

Regarding hypersonics, the study group found that the US enjoys no strong lead although it has been working on the technology for decades. The industrial policy shop recommended greater funding and a concerted effort by the Pentagon to create “competitive opportunities for weapon system designs” employing hypersonics.

The COIL technology, which currently is in development for use on the Airborne Laser, may have wider applications, according to the study. It recommended exploring expanded use of the technology that might help bring down its cost. The study noted, too, that other countries are pursuing COIL technology and, in a few years, could pull even with the US.

To spearhead development of promising technologies, the industrial policy group suggested creating an industrial base investment fund and earmarking about $30 million a year, starting in 2007, for the fund. It would promote industrial investment in promising military technologies that may not have an immediate weapon system application.

According to the study group, the fund could reduce some of the risk involved in setting up an industrial capability when there are no guarantees that the technology would find a market.