Monday, August 11, 2014

Do we still need nuclear forces?

I attended a retirement over the weekend of a close friend from the Army National Guard.  It gave me the occasion to chat with a senior Army officer and learn the Army Guard is facing the same reductions the Air Guard went through about 10 years ago.  All of this is part of the drawdowns being implemented by the White House and Department of Defense.

This morning the AFA Magazine Daily Update stated the Air Force Global Strike Command  (AFGSC) will add 848 airmen to its missile and bomber wings beginning this fall.

"We've been saying that the nuclear enterprise is the number one mission, and the Air Force is putting its money where its mouth is," said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. "We must show airmen that there's value in this mission by making the appropriate investments in people, weapon systems, and infrastructure." James said the Air Force "will continue to work to identify and rearrange funds to make important improvements within our missile and bomber force." AFGSC boss Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson said the changes being made in the nuclear enterprise are designed to empower airmen and ensure they have the resources they need for this priority mission.--AFA Magazine

At first glance, it would seem this is a long overdue re-investment in the nuclear forces highlighted by the recent cheating scandals of nuclear launch officers.  But the USAF is facing huge budget shortfalls right now and plans to eliminate 500 aircraft from its inventories.  The Air Force will reduce its end-strength from 503,000 to 483,000 in FY 2015 (Stars and Stripes).  Adding manpower to nuclear forces in this austere budgetary environment can't seem to be driven merely by a desire to finally recognize the "value" of a long neglected part of the Air Force. (Note:  the USAF is still flying UH-1s to support the nuclear forces.  How much "value" does the nuclear forces have if they are only worth of a 43 year old helicopter?)

A far more likely reason for this sudden re-investment in USAF nuclear forces is found in this article from the Washington Times.  According to the article, over a period of 10 days US airspace was incurred but Tu-95 bombers 16 times.  Earlier last week, a R-135 Rivet Joint was chased by a Russian fighter and forced into Swedish airspace without clearance (RT).  Then over the weekend, Russia claims its never chased away a US submarine (WSJ).  The reports said the fleet sent several vessels and an anti-submarine Il-38 aircraft to drive the submarine away.

Ever since Russia moved forces near Ukraine and annexed Crimea, the rhetoric between the US and Russia have taken a serious turn.  Obama tried to strike first by claiming Russia shot down MH-007 but in typical fashion, did not release any facts to support his allegation.  Putin struck back by saying the US is trying to turn the world against Russia.

It appears that Putin knows Obama is loathe to go into any kind of direct conflict.  Putin and Russian intelligence agencies had to have seen the recent cheating scandals by nuclear officers as a confirmation that the US was no longer serious about maintaining its nuclear weapons.  But this is not a new trend.

The weakening of US nuclear forces started 25 years ago when then Secretary of Defense Cheney as part of his 1990 budget postponed the buying of a new long range bomber and cut the "Star Wars" missile shield (Chicago Tribune).  Cheney and George H. Bush then ordered that long-range bombers and some long-range missiles end their 24-hour alert, and that several nuclear missile programs be canceled. Cheney then ordered the military today to put into effect President Bush's plan to eliminate about 2,400 short-range nuclear weapons on land and sea in Europe and Asia.  (NY Times)

All of this was done in the name of saving money and in seemed prudent with the imminent fall of the Soviet Union.  But what everyone pretended to forget was that though Soviet Union may have fallen, their nuclear inventory didn't go anywhere.

Bush and Cheney emphasized their reduction of nuclear weapons by aggressively emphasizing the use of conventional weapons in Desert Storm.  President Clinton continued the focus on small contingencies with conventional forces (Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo).  When George W. Bush and Cheney took office, they continued what Cheney and the first Bush had started to included the expanded use of contractors.  Nuclear forces were not part of the "Global War on Terror" and as such their facilities and equipment upgrades took a back seat to conventional forces.

One of side-effects of war, especially protracted ones like Iraq and Afghanistan, is on who gets promoted.  "War-fighters" with silver and bronze stars become the new golden children.  As they become senior officers and NCOs, they start to pick other war-fighters for promotions and assignments.  Those without the requisite combat time are passed over.  Nuclear personnel, especially those in the USAF, didn't stand a chance.

Despite running on a campaign promise of "bringing the troops home", President Obama has kept US military forces busy.  Taking a note out of President Clinton's playbook, Obama has preferred drone strikes as his way of dealing with contingencies.  The new found "value" of our nuclear forces comes as somewhat as a surprise given President Obama's position back in 2009.  In a speech at Prague, Czech Republic he said:

"The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War. No nuclear war was fought between the United States and the Soviet Union, but generations lived with the knowledge that their world could be erased in a single flash of light...So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. This goal will not be reached quickly - perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change.

First, the United States will take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons.

To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same. Make no mistake: as long as these weapons exist, we will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies

To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia this year. President Medvedev and I began this process in London, and will seek a new agreement by the end of this year that is legally binding, and sufficiently bold. This will set the stage for further cuts, and we will seek to include all nuclear weapons states in this endeavor." (Arms

No, it does not appear that the increase in airmen to the AFGSC wings is a signal of better times for the missile and bomb wings.  Rather, it appears to be a band aid fix to the increasing aggression of Russian forces.  Crimean was annexed and Ukraine is still under threat from Russia without any sign of US forces increasing their readiness posture (after 12 years of continuous operations and projected manpower cuts that may not even be possible).  Syria crossed the "red line" without so much as a drone strike.  It took weeks of repeated images of the atrocities being committed by ISIL before Obama authorize the use of airstrikes and resupply missions for the Iraq Yazidis.

Obama has to do something to show he and his predecessors haven't completely gutted our nuclear forces.  Putin took lessons learned from the failed Georgian campaign in 2008 and has modernized his conventional forces, including ditching the cumbersome Soviet era command and control system.  Russian assessments may show that after 12 years of continuous ops, Russian forces could defeat US forces in a limited conflict.  A weakened US nuclear deterrent does not help matters.  Russia upgraded its forces after the fall of the Soviet Union to compensate for the disastrous state of its conventional forces.  

The other problem is the state of the USAF.  The Air Force and Navy are the only two branches that can project power.  From what John Q. Public has been saying recently, the state of the airlift community may be even more toxic than that in the missile wings.  Obsequious officers only seeking their next promotion seemed to have become the norm in Air Mobility Command (AMC).  Airlift is the life blood for deployed US forces.  If it fails, then sending US forces anywhere becomes problematic.  The Navy then becomes the only service with a nuclear force and is the only means to project power.  Great for the USN, bad for the US.  If the US gets engaged in a conflict with Russian forces, it will only have to contend with the carrier strike force.  Russian attack subs and surface skimming missiles will give the US Navy much to worry about.


Thursday, August 7, 2014


Dear USAF, what has happened to the core values of Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence In All We Do?  The last few years have seen multiple scandals involving the USAF and its airmen.

Exhibit A:

"The U.S. Air Force's nuclear command has been rocked by a cheating scandal involving nearly three dozen officers.

Cheating on a proficiency exam involving intercontinental missile launch officers at the Global Strike Command at Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana apparently was carried out around last August and September by text and appears to be the largest incident of its kind, the Pentagon said."  Source: CNN

Exhibit B:

"A military jury on Friday convicted an instructor at Lackland Air Force Base of raping one female trainee and sexually assaulting several others, the first major case in a sex scandal that has rocked the Air Force’s basic training system.

The jury of two officers and five enlisted airmen found Staff Sgt. Luis Walker guilty on 28 counts, including adultery, violating regulations and committing sexual crimes against female trainees, most of whom reported to him at Lackland, in San Antonio, the Air Force’s lone basic training school."  Source: NY Times

Exhibit C:

"Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, an Air Force three-star general, defended his decision to overturn an F-16 pilot's sexual assault conviction in a memo released Wednesday, calling criticisms of the move "complete and utter nonsense."

Franklin's recent decision had sparked outcry from advocates and members of Congress, which ultimately resulted in Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calling...for reforms to the military justice system, including eliminating a commander's power to overturn a court martial."  Source:  Huffington Post

Exhibit D: 

"The Air Force Academy said Sunday it has launched an investigation of its athletic department and is demanding more accountability from coaches after the Colorado Springs Gazette reported allegations of lax oversight and athlete misconduct.

Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, the academy's superintendent, released a statement acknowledging "troubling" behavior by some athletes and other cadets. She cited a 2011 party that eventually led to the court-martial and expulsions of several cadets, some for sexual misconduct.

The Gazette reviewed hundreds of pages of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act that shed new light on the 2011 party and an earlier one in 2010. Air Force investigators looked into allegations of heavy drinking and drug use at both parties, and claims of the use of date-rape drugs and sexual misconduct at the 2011 party, the documents showed.

Several weeks after the 2010 party, investigators seized synthetic marijuana during a raid on six dorm rooms. Twenty-one cadets were expelled and five resigned, but it's not known how many were athletes."  Source: ABC News

Exhibit E:

"In February of this year, the commander of the 19th Airlift Wing relieved Lt. Col. Blair Kaiser of command of the 30th Airlift Squadron, an active duty C-130 unit embedded within the Wyoming Air National Guard. The news came as an absolute shock to Kaiser and his 200+ airmen. He’d just returned from commanding a deployed squadron in Afghanistan, a job he’d done with great distinction despite having been dispatched on short notice almost immediately after being given command of the 30th."  Source:  John Q. Public blog

Exhibit F:

From Feb 23, 2011

"Boeing won the U.S. Air Force's $35 billion contract to build 179 aerial refueling tankers, Pentagon and Air Force officials announced Thursday.

An initial 2003 lease deal for new Boeing tankers fell apart under a cloud of scandal. The Air Force then chose a Northrop Grumman-EADS tanker over a Boeing offering in 2008, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates threw out that result after congressional auditors found serious flaws in the process."  Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Exhibit G:

From Sep 19, 2013

"Days after the U.S. Defense Department signaled an improving relationship with Lockheed Martin Corp. over the cost of the F-35 fighter jet, Sen. John McCain called the program “one of the great national scandals.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, who oversees the F-35 program, this week said the relationship between the service and Lockheed — the plane’s manufacturer and the world’s biggest defense contractor — along with engine-maker Pratt & Whitney, part of United Technologies Corp., is “orders of magnitude” better than it was a year ago."  Source:  DoD Buzz

These are the ethical scandals that have made the news.  There are others as well.  The USAF is not alone in experiencing a crisis of integrity, however the number of scandals that have come to light recently and the depth of these scandals is alarming.  Perhaps this is why Gen Welsh, USAF Chief of Staff had to go on record:

"The Air Force's top officer gives his service top marks for personal behavior, saying he is "very happy with the ethical fabric of the United States Air Force," despite problems that include a cheating scandal at its nuclear missile sites and a general's drunken binge on an arms control mission."  Source: USA Today

The USAF is has the most corporate culture of any of the military branches.  Nearly 90 percent of Air Force officers have degrees in engineering or related fields which means the USAF tends to copy the tech world more so than other branches.  It is not surprising then that in a service that tends to mimic a corporation more than a branch of the military lapses in ethical judgement happen as a result of trying to climb the corporate ladder.  

In all of my "exhibits", senior commanders and general officers failed to follow Air Force core values.  Their lapses in ethical behavior caused that of the junior officers and NCOs below them to become compromised as well.  

As though all of this weren't bad enough, the White House and Secretary Hagel want to severely slash the military including the USAF.  Here is a listed of proposed cuts to the USAF from NBC News:

  • Eliminate the A-10 and replace it with the F-35
  • Eliminate the U-2 and replace with Global Hawk unmanned drone
  • Eliminate the KC-10 fleet
  • Sequestering in 2016
  • Another BRAC in 2017
The F-35 is too expensive and too few in number to risk having it perform the close air support (CAS) mission of the A-10.  The Global Hawk vs U2 is not a true apples-to-apples comparison.  The U-2 is actually the more capable platform.  Eliminating the KC-10 but the KC-46 won't be coming off the production line anytime soon which means even more hours on the KC-135 fleet.

Hidden is all of this though is the reduction of manpower.  Fewer manned platforms, more reliance on unmanned vehicles, a nuclear force that may not be that capable, and fewer bases raise a very disconcerting question.  Does the US really need the USAF anymore?

The scandals and projected reductions in manpower has to be obvious even to Hagel.  Obama may just be waiting until after the mid-term elections to pull a major paradigm.  Save huge amounts of money be eliminating the USAF and dividing its mission up between the Army and Navy.

Far-fetched?  Perhaps but if more scandals start coming out, don't be surprised to hear talk about reducing/eliminating at least one branch of the military.

Friday, August 1, 2014


Writing any kind of political blog, especially one about foreign policy, attracts PR firms to send you offers to conduct interviews or receive press releases on a variety of topics (sometimes you wonder if they even bother to read your blog).  Even though I make no money from writing Losantiville, I see no reason to share my readership with some politician or pundit for free.

The reason for my rant is about a week ago I got a press release about Secretary State Kerry's Vision 2020 for India.  It was a professional press release full of all of the superlatives requisite for such a grand vision of partnering with a developing economic power.  I also thought it was perfectly ridiculous.  Kerry has never been to India as Secretary of State.  Neither had Hillary.  Kerry has been so tied up with Iraq, Ukraine, Israel, Egypt, Iran and Russia that I doubt he even remembers India.

Then I was perusing my news feed and came across an article from the Washington Post.  India elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a landslide victory back in May.  Here is where the story gets interesting.  The U.S. government had denied Modi a visitor’s visa for almost 10 years because of his inability to stop deadly religious rioting in 2002 when he governed Gujarat state.  An independent Indian panel concluded there was no evidence to charge him with a crime.

Ah but now Modi is the Prime Minister of the world's 10th largest economy (according to IMF figures for 2013), with 2nd largest population.  India also has nuclear weapons and does not get along with our "ally" Pakistan.  The US has completed ignored South Korea and Japan after announcing the "Pivot towards Asia" and left on their own, the two countries have found other things to occupy their attention.  South Korea has to worry about Kim Jong Un to the north.  Japan can't seem to make up their minds if they want to pick a fight with China or Russia over territory.

No wonder the US has to make nice with India.  But in typical fashion, the US is ready to jump on-board with another leader before they even understand what his government will be all about.  India is still sore after the arrest of an Indian diplomat last year.  India, like China, really does not have copyright laws so there is little appreciation for the US concern about protecting intellectual property rights.

Kerry has to dump everything that's been on his mind about the Middle East, including being lambasted by the Israeli press, and now try to lay the ground work for Modi's visit to Washington in September.  Kerry had this gem of a quote, "the moment has never been more ripe to deliver on the incredible possibilities of the relationship between our nations" (Washington Post).  A newly elected Prime Minister, that the US denied a visitor's visa for over 10 years, and the time have never been more ripe?  What a doof.

The foreign policy track record for Kerry and Team Obama in the last 8 months has been unimpressive.  India and Modi will not be so easily swayed, especially now that they are part of BRICS.  I wonder if I will get a press release about that?