Thursday, January 16, 2014

Air Force officers cheat on proficiency exam

According to an article in the Daily Mail,  34 officers at Malstrom, AFB texted each others the answers to a proficiency exam.  Malstrom is one of three bases for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

The story does not go into detail but since these were officers taking a proficiency exam, we can assume they were most likely missile launch officers.  The one difference between the USAF and other branches are officers are the war-fighters (i.e. pilots, navs, weapon systems officers, missile launch officers, etc) with the enlists troops being the technical experts.  In the other branches, the enlisted troops or warrant officers are the war-fighters and the officers are the commanders.

The scandal is more pathetic than one realizes.  Proficiency exams are all part of any operational AFSC (air force specialty skill).  In order to maintain mission-readiness (MR) on a given weapon system, an officer is tested constantly via written every month and practical exams every 60-90 days (depending on the command and weapon system).

The officers above were most likely were taking a standard proficiency test to maintain their MR-status.  What makes the incident especially shameful is that all proficiency tests questions are pulled from what used to be called a Master Question File (MQF).  There term may have been replaced but the MQF is a bank of questions on a particular weapon systems.  You drill and drill the answers into your head because those questions (or very similar) are the ones you will be tested on either on the proficiency exam or your practical evaluation (think check ride).

When I was in mobile radar, we helped quiz each other before we had to take a proficiency test or go through a practical evaluation. It kept your skills sharp, helped identify areas you needed to work on and built a sense of unit cohesion.  There is sense of prestige of being able to claim you are "MR".

The utter lack of respect for what they are doing just seethes through every article I've read on this incident.  Thirty-four officers were so damn lazy they couldn't study for material on the very skills they are required to perform.  Thirty-four college educated, technically bright, psychological stable (based on testing they had to undergo to go into nuclear weapons) were still so unimpressed with their jobs they took the easy way out to passing a proficiency exam.

It is beginning to look like Maj Gen Michael Carey was the norm instead of the exception.

What really is most disgusting about this scandal is how it makes the readiness of our nuclear forces appear to the Russians and Chinese.  Not only have the Russians and Chinese been working on increasing their nuclear forces (along with their conventional forces), both Russia and China have leaders that will not back down from the United States.

Nuclear weapons have primarily been about deterrent.  What deterrence is left if the officers responsible for launching those weapons are seen as indifferent to their mission?

Putin is a trained KGB officers from the days of the Cold War.  He cannot be missing the implications of this and the Carey scandal for his own objectives.  Factor in the NSA scandals and Putin must see the United States as more vulnerable than ever.  The vulnerability does not mean an attack (at least not in a military sense) but certainly Putin can take a much stronger stance in the future with the United States.

China may already be planning ways to further exploit these lapses in judgement.  During the height of the Cold War, we were always cautioned about getting into excessive debt for fear this could be exploited by Soviet agents.  China is a much bigger economic power that ever was the Soviet Union so it is even easier for them to find a young troop that has over extended their credit line.

The obvious failure on the parts of the officers in the this scandal to realize their importance of their jobs is amazing.  Somehow, over the last 10 plus years of being at war we've become in many ways less combat-ready.  I've speculated before that the lack of involvement by nuclear forces have made them feel their mission is unappreciated.  But I'm not certain this is the complete answer.

Our culture is going through many changes, often glommed into the term "entitled".  The behaviors I've written about in my past few entries are seem to be related to that mindset.  The military in general and the USAF in particular needs to recognize this sense of entitlement and adjust internal procedures accordingly.  Be aware that it doesn't matter if the recruit is from an Ivy League school or from the inner cities, their is a sense of entitlement there that is subtle and different from anything we've dealt with in the past.

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