Washington Watch

Aug. 1, 2008

Wynne Goes On Record

Well, surprise. Former Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne’s sudden resignation June 5 was not just a matter of accountability for USAF slipups with nuclear weapons and parts, but also the result of serious disagreements with his Pentagon superiors.

That word came from Wynne himself. In an hour-long June 20 press conference—his last day on the job—Wynne noted that, over the last year, he had become “more strident and challenging” to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and to Gates’ deputy, Gordon England.

Gates simultaneously accepted the resignation of Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force Chief of Staff.

The key points of friction were Wynne’s insistence that the Air Force be allowed to prepare for future wars, and field enough personnel to avoid breaking the force.

“I advised the Secretary I was not with him on the F-22 budget,” Wynne said. “I advised the deputy secretary I was not with him on joint basing. And we kind of told everybody that we needed to change the … number of people” on active duty from a planned 316,000 back up to 330,000, Wynne reported. “So there were differences that accrued.”

There were, Wynne said, “a lot of things” on which he and Gates didn’t see eye to eye.

“I would say that getting ready for a future war is a responsibility that I’ve been talking about since the very first day,” Wynne noted. Gates has in recent months complained publicly that some of his departments were suffering from “next-war-itis” instead of putting all their energies against winning the two ongoing conflicts in Southwest Asia.

Wynne said he felt no regrets about the situation. “This is not personal, it’s business,” he observed, adding that Gates has the right to have as his top Air Force leaders people who “are more aligned” with Gates’ and England’s policies, “if that’s what they want.”

There were other disagreements. Wynne said he had been “told early on to knock this stuff off about the Air Force buying synthetic fuel, because ‘we can always get fuel.’ ” Wynne believed the Air Force could be the launch customer for a new industry that could help ease the nation’s energy crisis. He saw it as no different than seeking to buy an advanced missile or other technology which then has commercial spin-off possibilities.

“I remember that when ARPANET arrived, … the government was a big investor in ARPANET,” said Wynne. “[It] made the market, and then boom, the rest is history.” The ARPANET, an early computer communications system for the defense community, was a forerunner of today’s Internet.

F-22 Dispute Aired

Wynne said he had been told to consider it unlikely that the US would get into a war with a “peer competitor”—such as China or a resurgent Russia—and that therefore the Air Force shouldn’t place too much emphasis on preparing for major theater war-type threats. However, for Wynne, the issue was personal.

“My response to Secretary Gates during that interchange,” said Wynne, “was, ‘My brother was shot down in Vietnam by a Russian surface-to-air-missile that was sold to the North Vietnamese.’ I said I never considered Vietnam to be a peer competitor, but I lost my brother to the fact that some peer sold them the weapon that killed him.”

Wynne flatly contradicted the claims of Gates, England, and John J. Young Jr., the Pentagon’s acquisition, technology, and logistics chief, that USAF does not need more F-22s because it is roughly similar in capability to the cheaper F-35, now entering initial production.

“The notion of the F-22 as being … similar to the F-35, we need to get rid of that,” Wynne asserted. The F-35, he said, “complements the F-22, but the F-22 is clearly an air superiority and air dominance weapon. The F-35 is a multinational, multirole, [air-to-ground] versatile airplane.”

Asked if he thought the US has already lost its edge to the point where a foreign power could “take us,” Wynne said, “No. I have to say that categorically.” However, he said that US pilots, as the best-trained in the world, could “do better than we would like them to do” if equipped with top “foreign airplanes” now in service overseas.

Wynne also ran afoul of the Pentagon by making some intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance equipment available to “first responders” in the US who were dealing with wildfires and floods. Wynne said, “There are some people that might say, ‘Why do we have anything to give to the first responders here? Why isn’t everything in Iraq?’ My response to that is, this government is responsible for all things for our people.”

He said Pentagon higher-ups “became real nervous” when the Air Force offered to go “all in” and close its Predator unmanned aerial vehicle schoolhouse in order to put every possible asset to work in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“That would mean you’ve actually topped out,” Wynne said. “That meant there were no assets to draw on for NORTHCOM or SOUTHCOM. We know there’s a requirement down on the border for some of these things. There’s a requirement now to use it for first responders.”

The Army Wakes Up

Wynne noted that when Army Gen. David H. Petraeus wrote a new manual for counterinsurgency two years ago, he found little room to mention the role of airpower. In last year’s “surge” in Iraq, however, “we surged 400 percent in the number of sorties and a thousand percent in the pounds of ordnance dropped. What happened … that suddenly the airpower became a vital part of the counterinsurgency and surge? I would tell you that what happened was the realization that we could get connectivity between the ground commanders and the air component, that there was true situation awareness available. …

“Suddenly, as a customer—and the Army is our customer—they woke up. … And now, all of a sudden the confidence that they could predict the collateral damage, the confidence [that] they could save lives just soared.”

That was a hard pill for the Army to swallow, culturally, Wynne said. In the past, if a captain wanted artillery, he had to go through the chain of command—it “was a headquarters event”—but now, he could simply ask the fighter orbiting overhead.

“They didn’t have to tell corps,” said Wynne. “They could just tell the pilot, ‘Drop it here.’ A big cultural change. [They] had to go through, I think, a revolution in thought in the Army.”

However, once the Army realized the value of things such as real-time, full-motion video, “the demand signal … went nuts on us,” and the Air Force was not prepared for the sudden spike.

“The demand for ISR went … up so bad,” Wynne added, “that I became a huge advocate for compressed data and trying to figure out how to pack more data, because we’re truly bandwidth-limited anyway.”

He said he worked for two years to “convince people” of the need for greater connectivity between the ground commander and the air commander, and pointed with pride to the success of the ROVER system that does that.

“I coined the term ‘spherical situation awareness’ to try to get people … to look up [overhead] for data,” said Wynne. “I was for five years the leading edge of interoperability and connectivity. I’m an advocate for ‘need to share,’ not ‘need to know.’ “

Before becoming Air Force Secretary, Wynne was the No. 2 man in the Pentagon’s undersecretariat for acquisition, technology, and logistics.

Nuclear Paths Diverge

Seventeen years ago, Air Force and Navy took different paths in handling “nuclear collateral” parts, meaning those that are part of a nuclear system but that aren’t themselves inherently dangerous, Wynne said.

When Gates asked Adm. Kirkland H. Donald, the Navy’s top nuclear officer, to review the Air Force’s methods, Wynne pointed out, he “brought a different eye … [and] evaluated us against [a standard] within the Navy and found some of the ways we do it wanting. I can appreciate that.” The Air Force’s methods, said Wynne, were judged to be “a little bit less careful” on inventory control because it had many secure locations at which to store items.

Wynne said he instructed personnel involved in the handling of nuclear collateral parts that they needed to be “a lot more crisp,” and “that means that while a part is still in the shop, they needed to track it.”

“Whether or not” the fuse assembly shipment to Taiwan—marked by the Defense Logistics Agency as helicopter batteries—was the “catalytic event” in Wynne’s relationship with Gates, Wynne will leave “to people who can more fairly evaluate it and [who are] probably not as biased as I am right now.” In any case, Wynne said, the “seeds were sown” for the incident 17 years ago, when the Cold War ended and the mission was changed.

It would be too simplistic, Wynne observed, to lay the blame for his and Moseley’s ouster on the people directly responsible for the inadvertent shipment of ICBM fuses to Taiwan, which Gates described as the “trigger” for removing the two top USAF leaders. “I don’t think the burden of our replacement should be placed on the guys at Ogden [Air Logistics Center] or the people at F. E. Warren [Air Force Base].”

“When I expressed accountability, it was on a range of events, as it should be.”

KC-X Yields Lessons

The day before Wynne’s last day on the job, the Government Accountability Office rendered its verdict that the Air Force had made “significant errors” in awarding the KC-X contract to Northrop Grumman, and upheld a protest of the contract by Boeing.

Wynne said his first reaction was to conclude that the Air Force had made the selection process “overly complex,” and that “we needed to make the decision process simpler.” However, the heavy public and Congressional scrutiny of the contest forced the complexity on the Air Force, he added.

He offered his hope that USAF would be able to “take full advantage” of the reams of information obtained on the KC-30 and KC-767 in order to refine the KC-X award, and not have to start over. Given that some of the “soft” areas of the contractor choice were areas requiring subjective judgments about likely future costs, he said it might not be unrealistic to conduct some sort of “fly-off” between the two types, toward obtaining harder information on their performance and cost of ownership.

The two airplanes in the KC-X contest could each succeed in the mission, Wynne said, adding that either way, the next tanker will “totally revolutionize the way we do war.” That’s because either tanker will be able to receive fuel as well as offload it, meaning they can take off “light”—with less than a full load of fuel aboard, and thus able to take off from shorter airstrips—and take fuel on from a tanker whose crew is due to come down for a rest. That also means tankers would never have to land “heavy,” further broadening the number of fields they could operate from.

Wynne regrets that he won’t have a chance to implement the idea of using tankers as network nodes. Since fighters have to hook up with tankers, often several times during a mission, “it’s a perfect opportunity to unload the data set and get it back while they’re going back to war.”