Sunday, July 20, 2008

Smooth SLICC Move, Air Force

There's been considerable consternation all over this weekend as a result of the disclosure of the USAF's SLICC palletized VIP transport pod. Most of the wailing and grinding of teeth has been due to the perception of the USAF brass spending GWOT money hand over fist in order to fly in style, furthering the meme that the USAF leadership is nothing but a bunch of perfumed fighter pilot princes, longing for a good dogfight and blowing billions on their "next war-itis" while shortchanging the valiant soldiers and Marines fighting on the ground.

Sense the sarcasm? I think it's been made apparent on these pages that I am no fan of much of the USAF leadership and the decisions they have made and that I have often criticized some of those decisions...when I have felt it is warranted. This is not one of those times. Yes, this was probably not the best use of funds, but it is incredibly naive to think that none of the other services would ever behave in this manner. The Post article that started all of this is a hit piece. For a more balanced perspective, read this post over at Danger Room (no friends of the USAF's leadership) and the official USAF press release.

I feel the best take on the whole situation comes from that Danger Room post:
Actually, it's not the Air Force's response that makes me think this story is overblown (and in at least one case inaccurate), but the documents the story is based on. I've gone through the documents, posted on POGO website, and I must admit, it shows typical signs of a troubled acquisition, but it's weak soup as a scandal. I strongly encourage everyone to check out the documents for themselves. Most of the changes outlined revolve around routine fixes to things that don't work, like seatbelts that are too short, etc. As for one issue -- that the brown be swapped for blue -- the reason, according to the e-mail, was to match the interior of the rest of the plane, not to match the Air Force's color (gray was another option provided).
Exactly. This out of proportion reaction is indicative of a larger problem. The USAF has become (largely through its own actions) everyone's favorite punching bag for a variety of issues. On everything from UAVs to next war-itis to overreaching with technology there is enough blame to go around between all of the services, yet the only one who is repeatedly beaten up in the public eye is the USAF. Why is that?

As I stated before, it's because we've done it to ourselves. Thanks to the numerous legitimate scandals that have plagued the Air Force in recent years, we've reached a tipping point where the slightest whiff of a scandal is enough to send alarm bells clanging. Whether or not that scandal is actually a scandal is irrelevant. The point is that it's another chance to beat up on the Air Force and add to the litany of Air Force screw-ups in recent years.

Something needs to be done, and soon, to address this because if we don't it's only going to get worse. The USAF's leadership needs to step up and start leading. Hopefully the replacement in leadership at the top will help effect this. However, it's not going to be enough to change within the service. There also needs to be help given by the civilian officials at OSD. They bear some of the responsibility for the current toxic relationship between the USAF and the rest of the Pentagon, and they can help fix it. Again, hopefully the change in USAF leadership will help with this.

Improving this relationship and public perception needs to be near the top of the priority list for all concerned because as much fun as it might be to beat up on the Air Farce, the current situation isn't good for the service or the country.