The Giant Challenge Facing SecDef Mattis

There’s been a fair amount of Trump-supporter braggadocio regarding the President-elect’s nomination of Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis as the new Defense Secretary – an admirable choice, certainly. If Mad Dog can navigate the machinations of the Pentagon as well as he did the battlefield we’re in for a rejuvenation of America’s military that should be a major reversal of its downward fortunes over the past few decades. I hope that Mr. Trump fully appreciates the magnitude of the task he has set before Gen. Mattis.

That task that has grown steadily in size and complexity since the end of the end of the Bush I administration. It’s not just a matter of budget and resource allocation. Much has been done with the intention of diminishing, if not eliminating, the traditions and esprit-de-corps of all the armed services. An early example is what happened in the wake of a 1991 convention in Las Vegas following the prosecution of the Gulf War. Several Navy officers had their careers sunk in what became the “Tailhook Witch-Hunt” as recounted in the October 1993 issue of Heterodoxy. This is but one of many ventures into the transformation of the military into post-modern, politically-correct, feminist-beholden, open-homosexuality organizations. The 2008 PBS mini-series “Carrier”, whether intentionally or not, gives our potential foes an insight into just how far the emasculation of our armed services has gone. A few extracted bits may be seen here.

All PC nonsense aside, the defense budget is an issue. What has the $10 Trillion increase in the national debt bought? I’m not sure if anyone really knows, but certainly not a stronger, more robust military. Being a former USAF officer and pilot, the Air Force is my particular concern. A recent article in the American Spectator titled “The Air Force Needs Maverick” caught my attention and I thought I’d pass it along to my pilot training classmates (we had a 50th reunion at the end of October). Was USAF really suffering from a severe pilot shortage? A response from one of my comrades-in-arms broadened the picture:

Not sure I buy premise that there is a pilot shortage. I recall recently reading that maintainers say they have a serious shortage of trained personnel. And I have heard logistics guys say they do not have enough parts, fuel and people. And complaints earlier this year about munitions shortages resulting in combat sorties flown with sub-optimal ordnance loads. Lastly, senior Air Force leaders are continually arguing for additional airframes. Altogether, situation appears to result in complaints that pilots in non-combat assignments are flying only once per week or less. And apparently, some of those graduating UPT are put on the shelf for a year because there are no cockpits available. Real problem in my mind is that our national strategy leads to a force structure that leads to a budget requirement and that amount is simply not available. As the country is apparently unwilling to cough-up more for defense spending, the hard requirement should be to reduce the strategy and force structure such that a balance is struck between the elements competing for the funds made available. The solution lies not so much in more pilots but in the need for a strong National Command Authority prepared to re-set national strategy and enforce budget constraints, and an armed services leadership prepared to balance requirements based upon available funding.

The Air Force’s conventional combat readiness and capacity appear rather stunted.

Nuclear strike forces? Well, USAF’s Minuteman III missile force has now been de-MIRVed in conformance with our nuclear weapons agreements with the Soviets/Russians. The Minuteman IIIs were once each armed with three nuclear warheads but now sport only one. Additionally, as announced in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, “… the intercontinental ballistic missile warheads now are targeted on open oceans — not Russian or Chinese cities — in case of an accidental launch, senior administration officials said in releasing the report.” That’s sure to put fear caution whatever into the hearts of our adversaries.

We’ve also been decommissioning advanced, nuclear-capable cruise missiles that are aircraft launched. Meanwhile, the Russians have tested a ground-launched, nuclear-capable cruise missile, said item being specifically prohibited by treaty. The Russians and Chinese have both developed and are deploying or will deploy advanced ICBMs as well as maneuverable hypersonic glide vehicles for nuke delivery that are very difficult to intercept with our current ABM technology. Both are advancing their anti-satellite capabilities. The Cold War arms race didn’t end. It’s accelerating. America?

Over the last 10+ years there have been several controversies targeting the Air Force over its command and control – or lack thereof – of the USAF nuclear strike force including both missile and aircraft delivered warheads. Two of these led to the dismissal of the Air Force Secretary and USAF Chief of Staff by then Defense Secretary Robert Gates. There was also a problem with missile alert crews sleeping with the missile silo blast door open. A SAC wing flunked its ORI (Operational Readiness Inspection) re-inspection ostensibly because of improperly filled-out paperwork. USAF’s nuclear command and control sins may be manifold, but where do we stand in correcting them now that the headlines have faded well into the past?

Procurement of military materiel from foreign suppliers is an issue even less publicized. The idea of buying a new USAF aerial tanker from Airbus didn’t seem like a very good idea to Mr. Gaffney who detailed some of the shenanigans involved in the bidding process. There was also a problem with counterfeit chips from the Chinese ending up in our military aircraft as was revealed by Dr. Joel F. Brenner, National Counterintelligence Executive, in a 2009 address. Have we ever held the Chinese accountable? Have we held anyone accountable for any of this? Other than the chaps Mr. Gates tossed?

We have some very serious problems concerning America’s Air Force and our military in general. I wish President Trump and General Mattis the best in addressing those problems, however serious and pervasive they may be. They’ll need all the support they can get from the American people if the job’s to be done well.