The US Air Force (USAF) constitutes the aviation component of the Armed Services, providing tactical, strategic and logistical air support for US military operations. USAF also is charged with operational command of US nuclear forces. Some of the most advanced weapons systems in the US military have been developed for the Air Force, often at great costs and involving much controversy.
The Air Force’s origins reside in the US Army Signal Corps, which established a small Aeronautical Division in 1907 responsible for all matters pertaining to military balloons, “air machines and all kindred subjects.” The Signal Corps tested its first airplane at Fort Myer, VA, in 1908. By 1912 the Signal Corps had acquired 11 aircraft. The following year the Army ordered its aviators to Texas to take part in maneuvers where the assembled men and equipment were designated the “1st Provisional Aero Squadron,” making it the Army’s first unit devoted exclusively to aviation. It was subsequently designated the 1st Aero Squadron and even later the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron which has remained continuously active to this day.
In 1914 Congress created in the Signal Corps an Aviation Section to replace the Aeronautical Division and directed the new section to operate and supervise all military aircraft, including balloons, and to train officers and enlisted men in matters pertaining to military aviation. When World War I broke out in Europe in August 1914, the 1st Aero Squadron represented the entire tactical air strength of the Army. It counted 12 officers, 54 enlisted men and six aircraft. By the end of the war, there were 185 squadrons consisting of 740 American aircraft, which only represented 10% of the total aircraft strength of Allied nations. American squadrons only saw combat during the last nine months of the war, conducting 150 separate bombing attacks, while downing 756 enemy aircraft and 76 enemy balloons, but losing 289 airplanes and 48 balloons.
Before the war ended, President Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order in 1918 transferring aviation from the Signal Corps to the newly created Air Service of the US Army. Like the rest of the Army, the Air Service underwent demobilization, leaving it with only 22 squadrons. Officer strength plummeted from 19,189 to 1,168 and enlisted strength dropped from 178,149 to 8,428.
Aside from a name change, from Air Service to Air Corps in 1926, the inter-war period was marked mostly by the establishment of new training centers for pilots. In August 1926 the Army established the Air Corps Training Center in San Antonio, Texas. Randolph Field, in Texas, became the “West Point of the Air” and the headquarters of the Air Corps Training Center in 1931. By 1932 the Air Corps had grown to 1,305 officers and 13,400 enlisted men, including cadets, and possessed 1,709 aircraft.
As the likelihood of war grew in Europe during the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt acknowledged the growing importance of airpower, prompting the Air Corps to prepare plans in October 1938 for a force of some 7,000 aircraft. Soon afterwards, President Roosevelt asked the War Department to prepare a program for 10,000 airplanes, of which 7,500 would be combat aircraft.
Beginning in September 1939, the German military’s rapid conquering of Poland, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France was aided by the Luftwaffe, demonstrating to American leaders the importance of air power. Leaders of the Air Corps found themselves in the novel position of receiving practically anything they requested. Plans soon called for 54 combat groups, then 84 combat groups. All told, US Army air forces strength in World War II swelled from 26,500 men and 2,200 aircraft in 1939 to 2,253,000 men and 63,715 aircraft in 1945.
In the early stages of WWII, American combat planes such as the P-40 struggled to compete in aerial dog-fighting with the Japanese Zero and the German Messerschmitt. But as the war progressed, military designers produced newer, more sophisticated fighters and bombers. Tactical aircraft like the P-51 Mustang allowed American pilots to gain the upper hand over their enemy counterparts. New long-range bombers, such as the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-29 Superfortress, became the backbone of the Army Air Corps strategic bombing campaigns designed to destroy the industrial war machine of Germany and Japan. Bombing missions gradually grew in size and frequency, pummeling German factory towns and major Japanese urban centers.
American air attacks caused considerable civilian casualties and controversy. In 1945, American and British bombers dropped incendiary bombs on Dresden
, causing an enormous firestorm that destroyed large sections of the city and killed tens of thousands of Germans. A month later 300 B-29 bombers dropped nearly a half-million M-69 incendiary cylinders over Tokyo
, causing a similar firestorm that destroyed some 16 square miles of the city. The attack killed between 83,000-100,000 Japanese.
But the most controversial bombings by American warplanes came in August 1945 when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
in an effort to shorten the war and avoid American military forces having to invade Japan. Both cities were obliterated, killing a combined 220,000 people and leaving thousands more sick and dying from radiation poisoning. The atomic attacks not only marked the beginning of America’s nuclear weapons program, but also cemented the Air Corps’ strategic importance in post-war military planning.
Shortly after the end of WWII, military leaders agreed to establish an independent branch of the services dedicated to air power. The US Air Force (USAF) was formally created by the National Security Act of 1947. Within the USAF three new commands were set up: Strategic Air Command; Air Defense Command; and Tactical Air Command. These three commands represented the strategic, tactical and air defense missions that would serve as the foundation of the Air Force in the coming years of the Cold War.
During the Cold War struggle between the US and the Soviet Union, the Air Force played a featured role for American military and political leaders. Only a year after being officially born, the Air Force was called upon by President Harry Truman to conduct a massive airlift of supplies to West Berlin after Russian forces cutoff the city’s land corridors to Western powers. The Berlin Airlift
proved successful, forcing the Soviets to reopen West Berlin the following year. This event was only the beginning of the Air Force’s strategic place in American battles with the USSR.
As the nation’s nuclear weapons program grew during the 1950s, the Air Force was given the prime mission of delivering America’s strategic arsenal in the event of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. At first the focus was on bombers. A new generation of jet-powered aircraft took over USAF squadrons, most importantly the B-52 Stratofortress. Air wings comprised of B-52s, based both in the US and overseas, were set up on round-the-clock aerial missions to fly toward the Soviet Union until reaching a “fail safe” point at which they turned around unless given the “go codes” from Strategic Air Command (SAC) to attack the USSR. This game of nuclear cat-and-mouse was depicted in the Hollywood films “Dr. Strangelove
” and “Fail Safe
The Air Force’s role in American nuclear war planning grew more significant with the development of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) capable of delivering multiple warheads at targets in the USSR and China. SAC oversaw the operation of all US ICBM silos, and it played key roles in the development of US strategic doctrine, such as Massive Retaliation, Flexible Response and Mutual Assured Destruction.
USAF squadrons continued to play important non-nuclear roles as well for the US military. During the Korean War, American pilots engaged in the first combat missions involving jet fighters. Beginning with the Eisenhower administration, USAF pilots flew highly-secret reconnaissance missions over the USSR using U-2 spy planes. In 1960, USAF pilot Francis Gary Powers
was shot down while flying his U-2 over Sverdlovsk. Powers was captured by the Soviets, and the incident proved a huge embarrassment for the Air Force and the US government. It also escalated tensions between American and Russian leaders that later culminated with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962
, the closest USAF commanders ever came to engaging American nuclear forces against the Soviets.
During the Vietnam War, the Air Force performed some of the most controversial military missions of that era. Convinced that massive conventional bombing
(PDF) could turn the tide of the war in America’s favor, USAF commanders followed the strategic bombing philosophy of USAF General Curtis LeMay, the architect of America’s WWII strategic bombing campaign, who later organized Strategic Air Command. LeMay was quoted in 1968 as saying of the Vietnamese enemy that America should “bomb them back to the stone age,” and it nearly tried as more munitions were dropped on Vietnam than during WWII. This included not only massive attacks on North Vietnam but also secret missions inside Cambodia and Laos.
When American planes weren’t dropping explosives on the Vietnam countryside, they were dispersing highly toxic chemicals, such as Agent Orange and other defoliants designed to destroy the thick jungles that North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces used effectively to attack American soldiers. The aerial spraying wound up causing serious illnesses among many US servicemen who fought long after the war for the Air Force and other branches of the military to recognize their mission-related sicknesses.
With no war to fight during the remainder of the 1970s, following America’s withdrawal from South Vietnam, the Air Force concentrated on modernizing its aircraft. New fighter and strategic bombers were ordered from defense contractors on the basis that the USAF had to stay ahead of the USSR for control of the skies. This modernization meant producing more sophisticated aircraft at substantially higher costs, a trend that the Air Force has continued to this day. Tactical fighters such as the F-15, which were first built in 1975, wound up costing $40 million a plane, and even more advanced stealth fighters that came along in the late 1980s cost $80 million a plane.
New bombers such as the B-1 and B-2 registered per aircraft costs in the $300-400 million range. The B-1 proved to be especially costly for the USAF due to design flaws that forced Air Force commanders to alter the mission of the plane. Originally purchased to replace the aging B-52, the B-1 was supposed to be able to fly at low altitude in order to penetrate Soviet air defenses. Military planners later realized that the high-tech bomber was vulnerable to such defenses, forcing the Air Force to abandon its plan of replacing the B-52, which continues to serve in USAF squadrons to this day. Although another high-tech bomber, the B-2, proved more reliable in terms of performance, its price tag of almost a half-billion dollars per plane made it impossible for the Air Force to purchase the aircraft in the quantity it had originally proposed.
In addition to pricey new aircraft, the Air Force also became involved in new strategic nuclear weapons systems advocated by President Ronald Reagan. The MX
missile first began development in the 1970s, but support for it waned until the Reagan years, when the administration wanted to subdue the Soviet Union by bolstering America’s nuclear first-strike capability . Capable of carrying 10 nuclear warheads (three times the number of other ICBMs), the MX proved vulnerable to the Soviet’s new generation of highly-accurate long-range missiles, causing some American policymakers to call for building a huge underground railroad system upon which the MX would ride. This provoked outrage by both anti-nuclear activists and political leaders in Western states where the mobile MX would be based. Ultimately, the administration chose to order fewer missiles and simply place them in old, vulnerable Minutemen III silos.
Even more controversial was President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), or “Star Wars” concept. Influenced by the vision of scientist Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb, President Reagan in 1983 called for a defensive shield to protect the US from missile attack. The ambitious plan called for developing space-based laser and other kinetic-kill weapons that were decades away from becoming operational, if they could work at all. Cost estimates put the price tag for SDI in the hundreds of billions of dollars, prompting the Air Force along with other military branches to promote new projects to gain a share of research-and-development monies. Momentum for Star Wars waned as the Cold War came to an end, although the program continues to live on through the Missile Defense Agency
It wasn’t until after the Cold War that the Air Force got the chance to fully demonstrate the capability of its modernized aircraft. But instead of taking on the Russian Red Army, USAF pilots helped smash the Iraqi army during the Gulf War of 1990-91. As part of Operation Desert Shield, Air Force squadrons were some of the first American military units to engage Iraqi air and ground forces. Some of the most prominent images recorded during the war featured USAF weapons systems, such as laser-guided bombs destroying Iraqi bunkers, stealth fighters and bombers attacking under the cover of darkness or the slow-moving A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft effectively destroying the Soviet-made tanks that comprised Iraq’s armored units occupying Kuwait.
When hijackers crashed civilian airliners into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, the Air Force found itself at a readiness level not seen in the United States. With fears running high of more assaults from the skies, USAF squadrons of F-15s were scrambled with orders to shoot down unidentified aircraft in American air space. Squadrons remained on high alert for months after 9/11 in the event of possible attack.
The Air Force and the Cold War
The US Air Force (USAF) constitutes the aviation component of the Armed Services, providing tactical, strategic and logistical air support for US military operations. USAF also is charged with operational command of US nuclear forces.
In order to carry out its missions, the Air Force separates its forces into nine major commands and their subordinate units. Major commands are organized either on a functional basis in the United States or a geographic basis overseas. They organize, administer, equip and train their subordinate elements. Major commands generally are assigned specific responsibilities based on functions. In descending order of command and authority, elements of major commands include numbered air forces, wings, groups, squadrons and flights.
The basic unit for generating and employing combat capability is the wing, which has always been the Air Forces prime war-fighting instrument. Composite wings operate more than one kind of aircraft. Other wings operate a single aircraft type, such as F-15s, ready to join air campaigns anywhere they are needed. Within a particular wing are the operations, logistics and support groups needed to make the wing function.
The nine major commands are as follows:
- Air Combat Command (ACC), headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, VA, was created June 1, 1992, by combining its predecessors, Strategic Air Command and Tactical Air Command. ACC’s mission is to provide combat airpower to US military warfighting commands. It operates fighter, bomber, reconnaissance, battle-management, and electronic-combat aircraft. It also provides command, control, communications and intelligence systems, and conducts global information operations.
ACC provides the air component to US Central, Southern and Northern Commands, with Headquarters ACC serving as the air component to Joint Forces Command. ACC also augments forces to US European, Pacific and Strategic Command.
ACC commands several numbered air forces that provide security for the continental United States. First Air Force, with headquarters at Tyndall AFB, FL, provides surveillance and command and control for air defense forces for the continental United States in support of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Eighth Air Force,
with headquarters at Barksdale Air Force, LA, supports ACC in providing command and control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; long-range attack; and information operations forces to Air Force components and warfighting commands. Ninth Air Force,
with headquarters at Shaw Air Force Base, SC, controls ACC fighter forces based on the East Coast and serves as the air component for a 25-nation area within the US Central Command area of responsibility (Middle East, Southwest Asia, Northeast Africa). Tenth Air Force,
located at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Fort Worth, TX, directs the activities of more than 13,300 reservists and 900 civilians located at 28 installations throughout the United States. Twelfth Air Force,
with headquarters at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ, controls ACC's conventional fighter and bomber forces based in the western United States and has the warfighting responsibility for US Southern Command (Central and South America).
Second Air Force
, with headquarters at Keesler AFB, MS, is responsible for conducting basic military and technical training for Air Force enlisted members and support officers. The first stop for all Air Force, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve enlisted people is basic military training at Lackland AFB, TX. Nineteenth Air Force
, with headquarters at Randolph AFB, TX, conducts AETC's flying training.
, headquartered at Maxwell AFB, AL conducts professional military education, graduate education and professional continuing education for officers, enlisted members and civilians throughout their careers.
- Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), with headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH, conducts research, development, testing and evaluation, and provides acquisition management services and logistics support necessary to keep Air Force weapon systems ready for war. It equips the Air Force with weapon systems through the Air Force Research Laboratory and several centers which are responsible for the “cradle-to-grave” oversight for aircraft, electronic systems, missiles and munitions.
- Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC), with headquarters at Robins Air Force Base, GA, has 35 flying wings equipped with their own aircraft and nine associate units that share aircraft with an active-duty unit. There also are more than 620 mission support units in the AFRC, equipped and trained to provide a wide range of services, including medical and aeromedical evacuation, aerial port, civil engineer, security force, intelligence, communications, mobility support, logistics and transportation operations.
The AFRC has 447 aircraft assigned to it. The inventory includes the F-16 Fighting Falcon, O/A-10 Thunderbolt II, C-5 Galaxy, C-141 Starlifter, C-130 Hercules, MC-130 Combat Talon I, HC-130, WC-130, KC-135 Stratotanker, B-52 Stratofortress and HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter. On any given day, 99 percent of these aircraft are mission ready and able to deploy within 72 hours. These aircraft and support personnel become available to Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command and Air Force Special Operations Command if mobilized. The aircraft and their crews are immediately deployable without need for additional training.
· Air Force Space Command (AFSPC)
, with headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, CO, defends North America through its space and intercontinental ballistic missile operations. AFSPC has two numbered air forces and two centers. Located at Vandenberg AFB, CA, Fourteenth Air Force manages the generation and employment of space forces to support US Strategic Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Twentieth Air Force, located at F.E. Warren AFB, WY, operates and maintains the nation’s ICBMs. The Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles AFB, CA, designs and acquires all Air Force and most Department of Defense space systems. It oversees launches, completes on-orbit checkouts and then turns systems over to user agencies.
· Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC)
, with headquarters at Hurlburt Field, FL, provides Air Force special operations forces (SOF) for worldwide deployment and assignment to regional unified commands. The command’s SOF are composed of highly trained, rapidly deployable Airmen. These forces conduct global special operations missions ranging from precision application of firepower, to infiltration, exfiltration, resupply and refueling of SOF operational elements. AFSOC's unique capabilities include airborne radio and television broadcast for psychological operations. The command’s special tactics squadrons combine combat controllers, special operations weathermen and pararescuemen with other SOF to form versatile joint special operations teams.
· Air Mobility Command (AMC)
, with headquarters at Scott AFB, IL, is responsible for rapid, global mobility and sustainment for America’s armed forces. The command also plays a crucial role in providing humanitarian support at home and around the world. AMC personnel - active duty, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and civilians - provide airlift and aerial refueling for all US armed forces. Many special duty and operational support aircraft and stateside aeromedical evacuation missions are also assigned to AMC.
· Pacific Air Forces (PACAF)
, with headquarters at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, provides air and space power to promote US interests in the Asia-Pacific region during peacetime, through crisis and in war. PACAF’s area of responsibility extends from the west coast of the United States to the east coast of Africa and from the Arctic to the Antarctic, more than 100 million square miles. The command’s major units are 5th Air Force, Yokota Air Base, Japan; 7th Air Force, Osan AB, South Korea; 11th Air Force, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska; and 13th Air Force, Guam.
· United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE)
, with headquarters at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, serves as the air component of the US European Command, a Department of Defense unified command. USAFE directs air operations in a theater spanning three continents, covering more than 20 million square miles, containing 91 countries, and possessing one-fourth of the world’s population. During the Cold War, USAFE was a fight-in-place force geared for a large-scale conflict with the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, it has transitioned to an Air Expeditionary Force with a mobile and deployable mix of people and resources that can simultaneously operate in multiple locations. Its role in Europe and Africa has included warfighting as well as humanitarian and peacekeeping operations. USAFE consists of seven main operating bases: RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall in England; Ramstein and Spangdahlem Air Bases in Germany, Aviano Air Base in Italy, Lajes Field in the Azores, and Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.
A complete list of all aircraft
employed by USAF can be found on their web site.
Fifth Air Force Noseart Gallery
Almost all of the weapons, equipment and supplies used by the Air Force are provided through defense contractors
. According USAspending.gov
., in FY 2007, 79,087 different companies received Department of Defense contracts totaling $312 billion. However the top six companies, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon and BAE Systems, received almost one third of that money.
These six also help make up the top 25 defense contractors
who do business with the Air Force, along with United Technologies Corp., North American Airlines, Fedex, Computer Sciences Corp., General Electric, Honeywell, MIT and the Carlyle Group, among others. Some of the Air Force’s most important weapons systems, and their contractors, are:
- A-10 Thunderbolt attack plane (Fairchild Republic Co.)
- B-1 bomber (Boeing)
- B-2 Spirit bomber (Northrop Grumman Corp. along with Boeing, Hughes Radar Systems Group, General Electric Aircraft Engine Group and Vought Aircraft Industries, Inc.)
- B-52 Stratofortress bomber (Boeing)
- C-130 Hercules transport plane (Lockheed Martin)
- C-17 Globemaster III transport plane (Boeing)
- C-5 Galaxy transport plane (Lockheed)
- F-15 Eagle fighter (Boeing, from McDonnell Douglas)
- F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter (Lockheed Martin)
- F-22 Raptor fighter (Lockheed Martin, Boeing)
- KC-135 Stratotanker tanker (Boeing)
The company that the Air Force chooses to build a new plane can be quite controversial. Take for example the task of midair refueling. For decades the Air Force used Boeing’s KC-135 (a rendition of the old 707 commercial jet) to refuel Air Force fighter and bombers on long missions. But with the aircraft reaching its service limits due to age, the Air Force tried to lease a modified version of Boeing’s 767 to replace the KC-135. The deal fell apart after accusations arose over costs and ethical violations (see Controversies).
With the failure of the Boeing lease deal, USAF officials turned their attention to buying a newly designed fuel tanker. In March 2008 the Air Force announced that Northrop Grumman was the winner of the KC-X competition for development and procurement of up to 179 tanker aircraft for approximately $35 billion. The initial contract for the newly-named KC-45 called for the system design and development of four test aircraft for $1.5 billion. The contract also included five production options targeted for 64 aircraft at $10.6 billion.
The Air Force’s decision to go with the Northrop Grumman team infuriated lawmakers in both chambers and both parties. Not mentioned in the Air Force public statement about the contract was the fact that the American subsidiary of the European defense conglomerate EADS, which includes aircraft maker Airbus
, would help Northrup Grumman build the new tanker. Lawmakers charged that the selection shortchanged US jobs, weakened the aerospace industrial base and created jobs in Europe at a time when the economy was headed for recession.
Air Force faces fire for controversial tanker decision
(by Roxana Tiron, The Hill)
The U.S. Air Force, in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security, DARPA and other agencies, has a five-year, $30 billion plan to control all computers worldwide.
Air Force Commercials Uber Alles
A recent advertising campaign by the Air Force, purportedly intended to help with recruitment, created a backlash of criticism from both Congress and other branches of the military. The commercials featured troubling images of black-clad terrorists and the Chinese army followed by narration that stated, “Only the United States Air Force has the speed, power and vision to defend our nation for the century ahead. US Air Force, above all.” Officials on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon believed that the new Air Force ads were less about recruiting and more about lobbying for extra money.
Part of a $25-million campaign called “Above All,” the ads did not highlight what the military offers individuals who join. Instead, they stressed how the Air Force protects the nation. Some Pentagon officials questioned why the Air Force needed recruiting ads at all since the service has had no trouble meeting its recruiting goals and was supposed to be downsizing, not growing.
The language used in the ads also was controversial. One Defense official said “Above All” evoked the phrase “uber alles” from the national anthem used by Nazi Germany, which roughly translates to “above all.” Air Force officials insisted the commercials merely represented an innovative and necessary campaign, and that they brought in German language experts to make sure the “Above All” catchphrase did not evoke the words “uber alles” with German speakers.
To some members of Congress, the recruiting ads looked suspiciously like a lobbying effort. Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA), chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, called the advertising campaign “outrageous” and questioned in a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates whether it amounted to an illegal lobbying effort.
Rep. Allen Boyd (D-FL) said Congress should “thoroughly examine” the ads. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) was incensed over ads that seemed to target the Washington area. Two full-page newspaper ads ran in the Washington Post, which has a limited circulation outside the capital region, suggesting the ads were designed to lobby Congress.
Although the Air Force is supposed to shrink, top officials have asked Congress for money to halt the cuts and restore its ranks. The Air Force’s budget proposal stated the objective of the advertising campaign was to increase the service’s “brand awareness.”
“If we are even thinking about turning around from a declining Air Force to an increasing Air Force, we need to show what we are doing in support of the nation,” said Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne. “We need the influencers not to think about the Air Force as a dead end.”
Air Force to Farm out Strategy
Relying on defense contractors to meet its mission goals is nothing new for the Air Force. But now USAF leaders apparently want to farm out their master strategizing as well.
Every four years, the Pentagon produces its Quadrennial Defense Review
, “a comprehensive examination of the national defense strategy, force structure, force modernization plans, infrastructure, budget plan, and other elements of the defense program and policies of the United States with a view toward determining and expressing the defense strategy of the United States and establishing a defense program for the next 20 years,” according to DoD.
The Air Force provides its section of the review, detailing how it sees the future of military aviation. But instead of writing it themselves, Air Force officials published a notice saying they were looking for a company “to provide the focal point for the Air Force Quadrennial Defense Review ... through an integrated process that reaches across the Department of Defense, supporting the Chief of Staff's global strategic vision while preparing our nation to fight and win in air, space, and cyberspace.”
Weapons Procurement Waste and Corruption
In March 2008 the Government Accountability Office released a scathing report on the status of numerous weapons projects being developed for the Pentagon. Government auditors found programs for new ships, aircraft and satellites were billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.
Among the major programs reviewed was Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a stealthy tactical fighter intended for the Air Force and Navy. Cost projections put the price tag at almost $100 million per plane, up 40% since 2001. In a statement, Lockheed said that the Joint Strike Fighter was “performing solidly, making outstanding technical progress in the context of the most complex aircraft ever built” and that “the bedrock and the cornerstone” of the F-35 program have been “affordability and cost containment.”
In another case, the initial contract target price of Boeing’s program to modernize avionics in the C-130 cargo plane was expected to skyrocket 323%, to $2 billion.
The GAO report said the reasons for the cost overruns and delays were threefold: Too many programs chasing too few dollars; technologies not mature enough to go into production; too long to design, develop and produce a system.
“They’re asking for something that they’re not sure can be built, given existing technologies, and that’s risky,” said a GAO official.
Air Force Grounds F-15s
In November 2007 the Air Force twice grounded its fleet of F-15 fighters. On Nov. 3, all 676 of the planes were grounded, even those supporting critical missions, after an F-15 crashed during an Air National Guard training exercise in Missouri. The plane had been among four planes engaging in one-on-one training flights in which speeds of 400 to 450 mph are typical. The pilot was forced to eject from the aircraft which crashed harmlessly in the Missouri countryside.
Air Force officials insisted the grounding stemmed only from the Missouri crash. However, three other F-15s crashed earlier that same year in separate incidents. In May, an F-15 crashed just outside of Vincennes in southwestern Indiana during a flight practice with four F-16 jets from the Indiana Air National Guard’s 181st Fighter Wing, based in Terre Haute. In June, another F-15 jet from the 142nd Fighter Wing, Oregon Air National Guard, went down in the Pacific Ocean during a training mission. And in a separate incident in June, an F-15 crashed near Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska.
On Nov. 21 the Air Force returned all of its F-15s to active service in spite of the fact that there had been concerns about structural failure in the case of the Missouri incident. But a week later, the Air Force again grounded the majority of the planes, 452 in all, after discovering defects in the metal rails that hold the F-15s fuselage together. USAF officials said the planes would remain grounded until each one was inspected and possibly repaired.
The plane is built by Boeing, which bought the aircraft from McDonnell-Douglas. Boeing delivered the last F-15s to the Air Force in 2004. The Air Force plans to replace the aging fighter with the F-22 Raptor, built by Lockheed Martin.
Air Force Officers Accused of Attacking Blackwater Contractor
In February 2006 the Air Force Times reported a bizarre incident involving two Air Force lieutenant colonels who were facing charges of assault and conduct unbecoming an officer after a face-off with a Blackwater contractor in Afghanistan. Accounts from the Air Force and the two officers, as well as their families, differed wildly.
The Air Force charged that the two officers, Lt. Col. Gary W. Brown and Lt. Col. Christopher R. Hall, initiated the incident by ramming the contractor’s sport utility vehicle. But family members of the two men said it was the other way around — that security contractor Jerry Bergeron rammed the Air Force SUV the two officers were in and that they responded to what they perceived as a threat on their lives and their accompanying wives.
Neither officer had previous disciplinary problems. Both were reservists who returned to active duty after Sept. 11, 2001, as part of Air Force recall programs. Brown took a military leave of absence from his job as a pilot for American Airlines in the fall of 2003 and ended up flying C-17s out of Charleston Air Force Base, SC. Hall left his airline job in September 2002 and had been serving as an instructor pilot at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. The two men deployed separately to Afghanistan in spring 2006 and ultimately worked to help get the Afghan air force off the ground.
In April 2006 the charges against Hall and Brown were dropped after the investigating officer determined the men had behaved properly given the security situation in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the Air Force began an investigation into allegations of witness tampering, attempted bribery, falsified evidence and doctored charging documents. The Air Force statement read, “someone may have attempted to influence the testimonies of several local national witnesses.”
Air Force Academy Sued for Intolerance
In October 2005 a Jewish father of two Air Force Academy cadets sued the Air Force, claiming senior officers and cadets illegally imposed Christianity on others at the school. The lawsuit was filed in federal court by Mikey Weinstein, an academy graduate and outspoken critic of the school’s handling of religion.
The lawsuit stated that over the past decade or more, academy leaders had fostered an environment of religious intolerance at the Colorado school, in violation of the First Amendment. Weinstein’s sons were subjected to anti-Semitic slurs from evangelical Christian cadets, he said.
Cadets, watchdog groups and a former chaplain at the academy alleged that religious intolerance was widespread at the school. In August 2005 the Air Force issued guidelines discouraging public prayer at official functions and urging commanders to be sensitive about personal expressions of religious faith.
Other complaints included a Jewish cadet being told the Holocaust was revenge for the death of Jesus and that another Jew being called a Christ killer by a fellow cadet. A banner in the football team's locker room read: “I am a Christian first and last ... I am a member of Team Jesus Christ.” There also were complaints that cadets were pressured to attend chapel, that academy staffers put New Testament verses in government e-mail and that cadets used the e-mail system to encourage others to see the Mel Gibson movie “The Passion of the Christ.”
The lawsuit named the Air Force and its secretary, Pete Geren, as defendants.
Boeing Lease Deal under Assault
For years the Air Force relied on the KC-135 to provide air-refueling services to its fleet of planes. Arguing that it was time to replace the aging KC-135, the Air Force negotiated a $24 billion deal with Boeing to lease 100 of its 767 commercial airliners to take over air-refueling responsibilities. The deal came under attack by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) who claimed that Boeing officials had improperly won the contract from the Air Force, which prompted an investigation by the Pentagon’s inspector general.
The report found that Air Force officials had not thoroughly examined all of their options before concluding that they were paying a fair price for the tankers. The inspector general, Joseph E. Schmitz, also said that Air Force officials improperly waived the government’s right to audit the program and failed to follow other important acquisition and testing practices.
In the fallout over the scuttled deal, Boeing fired two executives after uncovering “compelling evidence” of ethical violations related to contract negotiations. The two employees were Darleen Druyun, a former Pentagon acquisition official who lobbied the Air Force on behalf of Boeing, and Michael Sears, Boeing’s chief financial officer, who was accused of violating company policies by communicating directly and indirectly with Druyun about future employment when she had not disqualified herself from acting in her official Air Force capacity on matters involving Boeing. In addition, an internally initiated review found that both employees had attempted to conceal their misconduct.
Boeing fires former Pentagon official involved in tanker lease deal
(by Amy Svitak, CongressDaily)
Michael W. Wynne
Michael Wynne served as secretary of the Air Force from November 2005 until he was forced to resign on June 5, 2008. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in general engineering from the US Military Academy at West Point in 1966; his master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in 1970; and his master’s degree in business from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, in 1975.
Wynne served in the Air Force for seven years from 1966 to 1973, completing his career as a captain and assistant professor of astronautics at the US Air Force Academy. From 1973 to 1975 he held the title of principal at Research Analysis and Development (RAD), Inc. In 1975 he joined General Dynamics, where he worked a total of 23 years in various senior positions with the Aircraft (F-16s) and Main Battle Tanks (M1A2) Divisions and served on the corporate staff prior to becoming the president of Space Systems, including launch vehicles (Atlas and Centaur), and a corporate vice president.
In 1994 he joined Lockheed Martin after selling General Dynamics’ Space Systems Division to then Martin Marietta (which merged with Lockheed). He integrated the division into the astronautics company and became general manager of the Space Launch Systems segment, combining the Titan with the Atlas launch vehicles. In 1997 he returned to General Dynamics to serve as senior vice president of international development and strategy until 1999.
In 2000 he became chairman and chief executive officer of the IXATA Group, which offers business-to-business e-commerce services for corporate travel and hospitality markets, and held an executive position with Extended Reach Logistics. He also was involved in venture capital as a member of the NextGenFund Executive Committee.
In 2001 he joined the Department of Defense and served in a key procurement role, first as principal deputy and then as acting Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. In April 2005 President Bush nominated Wynne to take over as Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. But his confirmation was opposed by US Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) because of Wynne’s support for the controversial Boeing lease deal (see Controversies). Thus, in June 2005, the President withdrew Wynne’s name as under secretary. Five months later, however, Wynne’s appointment as Secretary of the Air Force was confirmed by the Senate.
Source Watch: Michael Wynne
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Department of the Air Force