Washington Watch

Dec. 1, 2008

It’s “Global Strike Command”

Responding to the nuclear weapons and materials handling mistakes that have caused turmoil for the better part of a year, the Air Force released a new roadmap designed to redouble its emphasis on the nuclear mission. The centerpiece of the plan, released in late October, was a new major command solely focused on the nuclear enterprise.

The roadmap was described as the product of “painful lessons” derived from seven internal and external reviews of how the Air Force operates with and manages nuclear weapons. It is “the starting point” for reclaiming the service’s credibility in this arena, Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley told a Pentagon press conference.

The new entity will be called Global Strike Command. Much like the famed but long-defunct Strategic Air Command, it will be responsible for nuclear-capable bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

GSC will soon stand up as a provisional command and come under the command of a three-star general. Plans call for it to achieve operational status in September 2009.

The command will comprise 20th Air Force—which controls ICBMs—and 8th Air Force—which controls nuclear-capable B-2 and B-52 bombers—as well as most airmen in those two outfits. Those assets currently fall under Air Force Space Command and Air Combat Command, respectively.

The conventional-only B-1B bomber fleet will remain under ACC because, Donley said, the Air Force doesn’t want to backtrack on “10 years’ worth” of learning how to integrate bombers with ground support operations. Requirements for the next bomber, due to be operational in 2018, will still be managed by ACC, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz said, with GSC supplying specific nuclear requirements.

Cyber operations will not be part of Global Strike Command’s portfolio. According to Schwartz, top Air Force leaders concluded that a combination of nuclear and cyber functions “perhaps was too much for a single organization to address with the necessary focus.”

The Air Force announced that cyber operations will be conducted by 24th Air Force, under Air Force Space Command. The service is abandoning plans to create a new major command for cyber, officials said.

Nuclear assets controlled by US Air Forces in Europe will not be part of the GSC portfolio, Donley noted. He also said that nuclear-capable bombers will still be available to regional commanders in a conventional role if requested.

Six Nuclear Themes

The Air Force’s roadmap is a direct outgrowth of a shocking and unprecedented leadership shake-up. On June 5, then-Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne and then-Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley were sacked in the wake of two nuclear events. In one, live nuclear missiles were inadvertently flown cross-country on a B-52. In the other, parts for nuclear fuses were mistakenly shipped to Taiwan, labeled as helicopter parts.

Donley and Schwartz were brought in with a charge to restore the service’s lost focus on the nuclear mission.

The roadmap addresses “six recurring themes” identified as problem areas in USAF’s nuclear enterprise by the Schlesinger Commission and other internal and external reviews.

The six, according to Donley, were as follows:

  • Inadequate investment in the nuclear deterrence mission, owing in part to the lack of a senior officer advocate.
    • Fragmented nuclear-related authority and responsibility.
        Ineffective processes for discovering and fixing nuclear-related capability and compliance problems.
          Dwindling nuclear-related expertise within the Air Force.
            The lack of a critical self-assessment culture in USAF.
              Erosion of the nuclear mission culture since the end of the Cold War, and a perception within the Air Force that the nuclear mission has become less important.

            The roadmap is based on the work of a service task force headed by Maj. Gen. C. Donald Alston, then director of nuclear operations, plans, and requirements. It is aimed at restoring USAF’s “culture of compliance” with rigorous inspection processes; rebuilding the service’s nuclear expertise; investing in nuclear systems; organizing for clear lines of authority in the nuclear mission; and revitalizing the Air Force’s role as a steward of nuclear forces.

            The roadmap covers everything from tightened and streamlined inspection procedures to a bigger role for nuclear doctrine in professional military education.

            Donley said the changes will help the Air Force keep focus on the nuclear mission even as it evolves its other activities, and “regardless of how big or small the nuclear enterprise is.”

            Donley announced creation of a service nuclear oversight board, chaired by himself and Schwartz, which will meet quarterly to review the Air Force’s nuclear activities, and it is this committee that will keep Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates informed of progress in revamping the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise.

            Two parts of the roadmap, disclosed prior to the press conference, call for the creation of a new staff office at Headquarters USAF to “provide singular focus on nuclear matters.” The new office, to be called A10, will be split off from the existing directorates for air, space, and information operations (A3) and plans and requirements (A5).

            Industrial Base Angst

            Washington insiders predict that defense spending will have to be sharply curtailed as a result of the economic meltdown, but a trio of recent reports warns that such a move couldn’t come at a worse time for the defense industrial base. In fact, a new and coherent defense industrial policy is needed if the US is to continue to field the most technologically advanced force in the world.

            The Aerospace Industries Association, in a report it styled as a primer for the incoming Administration, warns that the next decade will be crucial for the industrial base. In “US Defense Modernization: Today’s Choices for Tomorrow’s Readiness,” AIA said most of the weapons bought in the so-called Reagan buildup have reached “the end of their useful lives” and must be replaced. If they aren’t, rising costs to keep old gear operating will continue to escalate, and an already shrunken supplier base—particularly among companies able to design new state-of-the-art equipment—may disappear in some critical areas for lack of work.

            The pressures are being keenly felt already, AIA warned. Breaking out defense spending into two big chunks, it notes an increasing imbalance between operations and support costs with investment accounts. The O&S accounts—personnel, operations, and maintenance—now claim about 60 percent of the defense budget, up from about 57 percent in 1989. Pay, health care, and education costs have risen sharply, as have costs for fuel and to keep increasingly worn-out equipment functioning. Meanwhile, investment accounts—research and development and procurement—have shrunk to about 35 percent of the budget. That number, though, doesn’t reflect the fact that newer gear is more complex, sophisticated, and expensive, meaning fewer actual items can be bought.

            The Bush Administration’s plan to add 72,000 more ground troops will worsen the personnel cost issue, and if defense budgets do stay flat, the extra money will have to come from investment accounts, AIA warned.

            “Continuing this trend beyond current projections will make it even more difficult for defense planners to adequately resource the investment spending upon which our military superiority and technological edge depends,” the AIA maintained.

            It also noted a tendency for defense budgets to dip after conclusion of a major conflict, but the difference this time is that there was no massive procurement of weapons during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts that the military can live off afterward. In fact, two rounds of modernization—one that should have taken place in the 1990s, and another this decade—have been “chronically deferred.”

            AIA said last year’s unexpected grounding of the Air Force’s F-15 fleet—and a six-month hole in homeland defense—should be a wake-up call.

            “We are now in uncharted territory with so many aging weapons systems having to be retained beyond the life spans for which they were originally designed, simply because funding their timely replacement by modern systems has been long deferred.”

            The Defense Science Board sounded similar themes in its own report, “Creating an Effective National Security Industrial Base for the 21st Century: An Action Plan To Address the Coming Crisis.”

            Former Pentagon acquisition, technology, and logistics czar Jacques S. Gansler, chairman of the Task Force on Defense Industrial Structure for Transformation, said in the report that there is a “critical need” for the Defense Department to establish a vision for what it wants its industrial base to look like—something that has been hitherto left for the industrial sector itself to figure out. The Pentagon should more urgently reform its own business practices, move toward faster and more affordable acquisitions, and take steps to ensure an adequate acquisition workforce, he said.

            The task force set out nine steps the DOD should take, as quickly as possible. It should “articulate a national security industrial vision”; focus on interoperability and net-centric systems; cut costs and delivery times while still providing better performance; “recognize the role of contractors in the ‘battlefield’ “; properly fund “engines of innovation”; understand and properly benefit from globalization; make greater use of “best value” in choosing contractors; upgrade the military’s logistics with a data-centric system; and “move aggressively to strengthen the future high-quality, high-skill DOD acquisition workforce.”

            Seeking a Middle Ground

            Yet another industrial base prescription came from Barry D. Watts, former head of DOD’s program analysis and evaluation shop, now an analyst with the private Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

            In “The US Defense Industrial Base: Past, Present, and Future,” released in October, Watts maintained that the Pentagon actually should play a much more direct role in shaping its network of suppliers, given that many defense products have no commercial application, and the field is largely divorced from normal market forces.

            Some middle ground should be found between the “hands off” approach to the defense industry and dictating its structure, Watts said.

            Watts agreed with the DSB that the Pentagon must establish a “vision” of what it wants the industrial base to be.

            Noting that the industrial base has dwindled from dozens of big companies to “monopolies or duopolies” in key areas such as combat aircraft, shipbuilding, large aircraft, radars, missiles, etc., Watts proposed that the Pentagon move to keep a steady flow of work in the pipeline. It should do this by adopting a new policy of elevating program schedule above all other considerations.

            “Time is easier to understand than cost and less subject to abuse through artful ways of portraying costs,” Watts wrote. Imposing strict time limits on programs would make them far more resistant to ceaseless requirements creep, and would get them in the field quickly, when they are still relevant. Lengthy procurements run the risk of fielding obsolescent gear, he said, and threaten the numbers built because of increased development cost and the price of keeping older gear in service until the new equipment appears.

            Time-based procurement would thus stimulate constant innovation through lots of new starts, and while numbers of items built would be smaller, they would come out more frequently, thus creating “a richer mix of advanced systems … making it more difficult for adversaries to counter American capabilities.”

            He said the “defense industrial base is not on the brink of [an] imminent crisis or near collapse,” but is having contraction pains that can best be alleviated by articulating “a more consistent, thoughtful, longer-term, and active strategy for influencing the structure and capabilities” of the arsenal of democracy.