Air Force Adrift

Air Force Adrift
June 21st, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Air Force Adrift

Air Force Adrift
Washington Post
June 21, 2008
Pg. 16
One U.S. military service has yet to adjust to the wars of this century.

SLOWLY AND painfully, the U.S. Army has adapted itself to the unconventional wars the country has faced since Sept. 11, 2001. Following a reorganization of forces, a rewrite of doctrine and the emergence of new commanders such as Gen. David H. Petraeus, American ground troops are winning counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and eastern Afghanistan -- and are recognized as state-of-the-art by NATO allies. In contrast, the U.S. Air Force, which dominated the 1990s with its smart bombs and stealth planes, has lost its way in the new century. Its top leaders have remained stubbornly focused on the production of advanced tactical aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor, which has not flown a single mission in Iraq, while failing to provide adequate numbers of the unmanned aircraft that are crucial to American success in the new wars. Air Force commanders allowed two inexcusable breaches of nuclear security, in which warheads were flown across the country by mistake and bomb fuses were mistakenly shipped to Taiwan.
Now the Government Accountability Office has found that the Air Force bungled one of its largest and most important procurement contracts, for the second time. A GAO report issued Wednesday said that officials "made a number of significant errors" that could have skewed the outcome of a competition between Boeing and Northrop Grumman to build tanker planes used for aerial refueling. We haven't had much sympathy for the public relations campaign Boeing has waged since losing the $40 billion contract award in February, a campaign that has focused in part on rallying protectionist and nationalist sentiment against Northrop Grumman's partner, the European parent of Airbus. Yet the GAO found that Boeing was correct in arguing that the Air Force failed to judge the tanker competition according to the criteria it had established. The service also conceded that it made mistakes in judging the overall cost of the two bids that, when corrected, made Boeing the low bidder.
Though not binding, the GAO decision should compel the Air Force to make a third try at choosing a tanker supplier. A first run, in which Boeing was chosen to build and lease tankers, was blown up by a corruption investigation led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that eventually led to the imprisonment of two Boeing officials. Mr. McCain was right to press for a real and fair competition for the tanker contract; the problem was the Air Force's mismanagement of the subsequent process.
The good news is that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates appears determined to drag the service into the 21st century. This month he fired its two top leaders, whom he blamed for the lapses in nuclear security but who also led the misguided lobbying for the F-22. In choosing a new Air Force chief of staff, Mr. Gates passed over the favored candidate of the fighter-pilot mafia for Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, who previously headed the U.S. Transportation Command. At the rate he's going, Mr. Gates just might get the Air Force focused on the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq before he leaves office. That, combined with the Army's continued improvement, would be a substantial legacy.

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