Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Culture of Perfection

Now the US Navy is facing a cheating scandal amongst its ranks.  Unlike the USAF, the cheating involves nuclear technicians versus nuclear launch officers.  The nuance may make little difference.

The military culture changes only when faced with irresistible forces that compel change such as war.  The USAF did not change basic training until many years into the Iraq an Afghanistan war.  Until those wars, new recruits at Lackland were still being trained to operate from fixed bases well away from the battlefield.  When a shortage of truck drivers by the Army occurred around 2003, USAF vehicle operators were brought in to help fill the need.  Air Force vehicle operators were never intended to work outside the wire before and as such required much training by the Army in order to work in convoys being attacked by the enemy.

The USAF basic training began to change the experience for new recruits getting them used to working in an expeditionary environment. but it took years for the change to occur.

The nuclear forces of the USAF and USN have not had the same tempering event.  They train the same way they did when the US and Soviet Union were at the height of the Cold War.  Nuclear forces have not had to re-evaluate their training against any real world experience (thank God!) to see if requiring memorization of answers makes the troops better.

The military and civilian sectors are moving quickly towards more automation, especially drones or unmanned vehicles.  We've seen reconnaissance/surveillance platforms that are virtually autonomous and now the British have unveiled the Taranis hunter/killer aerial drone that can perform its entire mission profile without human intervention. British Drone

Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the number of tasks that truly require human intervention for nuclear weapons.  I am not an advocate for drones, I actually believe the opposite since having a large autonomous forces invites the potential for action without the risk of consequence.  But nuclear weapons have only been used once, by the US during WWII against Japan.  All other nuclear weapons sit and wait to hopefully never be used.  Efficiencies could be gained by looking at increasing automation in the nuclear career field.

That's why I don't agree with Secretary Hagel's comment, "take a step back and put renewed emphasis on developing moral character and moral courage in our force.”  If we insist on a zero failure rate on proficiency test for nuclear forces, then we pretty much have guaranteed to see cheating.  Why?  Because the emphasis is on the score and not the knowledge.

Hagel's comment fails to recognize the true culture of "cooperate and graduate" that permeates military technical training.  Every vet will tell you about how they all worked together to graduate, get ready for the final or to help someone that was lagging behind.  It is part of what bonds troops together and helps form unit cohesion later.

Troops in the nuclear side are no different.  They see the need to help each other master the mind-numbing questions that may have little to no relationship to how you actually perform the task.  Hagel should look to have a reevaluation of the testing, not more lectures on ethics and the need to change the culture.  Nothing I've read indicates a problem with the military culture, it seems to be a problem with the perceived lack of relevance of the proficiency tests.

Pentagon Cheating Scandal

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