Friday, July 25, 2008

A Few Things USAF

L'enfer gèle
While We Have Your Attention: Lawmakers took the opportunity during the July 22 Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing for the Air Force's two prospective senior leaders to air their views on the KC-X tanker battle. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), whose state the Northrop Grumman/EADS team has elected as an assembly site for its tanker, reminded Michael Donley and Gen. Norton Schwartz of the service's five-year tanker quagmire, urging both nominees to pursue a fair and speedy resolution. Donley acknowledged that DOD acquisition czar John Young, who has assumed the mantle of KC-X source selection authority, would "have all the support he needs and wants from the Air Force." Sessions also asked for assurance that the new tanker would be a flexible "game changer" that would swing from refueler to airlifter, a role for which the Northrop team contends its aircraft is well-suited. Schwartz replied, "Its primary mission will be air refueling, but we can no longer afford to have platforms that are sort of single-mission, point-mission focused." Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) maintained that USAF's original award of the KC-X contract to Northrop was at odds with Title 10 considerations that require DOD to consider the impact of every major program award on the US industrial base. Donley said he must "defer to the acquisition experts on the issues of foreign content," but he added that "we live in a global economy in which most" US companies "have international connections." Clinton asked for a "specific answer" to her question in writing, noting that she is "very well aware that we live in an international economy, but I'm also extremely conscious of the impact of decisions ... that undermine our competitiveness for the long run and eliminate jobs and thereby undermine technical skill acquisition in a way that I think will come back to haunt us."
My opening line… loosely translated… is French for “Hell freezes over” (“frozen Hell”), about which: note the highlighted bits above. It IS the proverbial “cold day” when I agree with Her Hillaryness about anything, but I agree with her on this. It’s not about the job losses, although that stings. It’s the erosion of our industrial base that worries me. We can outsource the production of underwear, Mattel toys, and even cars to the Chinese and others with little effect on our safety and well being, lead paint aside. But outsourcing your military procurement is a whole ‘nuther ball o’ wax. Aircraft production lines and the people that work on them just don’t materialize over night. Our aerospace industrial base is a complex system of people, processes, and physical plant… which must either be used or lost. You don’t keep production lines in “stand-by” mode; when the last aircraft rolls off the line that line (and sometimes the whole plant) is shut down and the people either move to another line or are released to seek other “opportunities.” “Opportunities,” such as they are, tend to be rather limited these days.
Additionally, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to grasp the fact that people who aren’t exactly “in tune” with the nation’s foreign policy just might threaten to withhold aircraft production, or spare parts, or support, or whatever… should significant disagreement between gub’mints over something like, say Iraq, arise.
(h/t: AFA’s Daily Report)
Remember that recurring bitch (Or moan. Or groan.) I have about medals-and-ribbons creep in Today’s Modern Air Force? Well, Doc weighed in on my most recent rant on this subject last evening, and I wanna make sure everyone sees what he has to say:
Wasn't sure I'd find this still on the front page, but glad it is. Thought of it yesterday as I was walking down the hall in the admin bldg at the Academy yesterday. Pictures from yesteryear adorn the walls (ancient history being about the time my class came through). What suddenly struck me was the ribbon racks of the colonels in the photos with my classmates. One, two, or three rows, maybe. Seriously, one O-6 had about two--ribbons, not rows. An airman gets two ribbons for living through an induction physical these days. And these guys, I thought with amazement, probably flew in Korea and the Nam. People who think "ribbon inflation" doesn't exist need to see those photos.
You may or may not know this, Gentle Reader, but when Doc says “the Academy,” he’s talking about the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs, where he was Deputy Inspector General until a week ago today. So his comment carries a lot of weight with me, even though it’s his personal opinion and not that of the Newnited States Air Force. It’s good to know I’m not just some addled ol’ geezer who rants and raves about stuff changing for the worse. Although it’s been brought to my attention I have tendencies in this space… ahem.
Oh. And why is Doc no longer the Deputy IG at USAFA, you ask? He retired last Friday… after 27 years of service to the nation. Drop by his place and congratulate him, won’t you?
And finally… some Good Stuff. Three minutes and 26 seconds on what it means to be a Thunderbird, including some pretty cool aerials:
I’ve seen the PBS show referenced in the trailer and it’s very, VERY good. As are the Thunderbirds. But ya knew that, Gentle Reader.


  1. Viz the ribbon inflation. I heard the same thing from a retired Army general. He is my old man and he never wore more than 3 ribbons and neither do I.

    But is that fair? I was proud of the first MUC and Sea Service Ribbon I earned and wore the two proudly, even after returning through England from one year in the Middle East, sweeping mines, etc and meeting a brand new USAF airman, fresh from bootcamp on his way to his first assignment at Mildenhall with his 2 rows of ribbons. We bumped into each other at the train sation in London.

    That was 25 years ago and I've got a flock of ribbons and medals but I still wear just the 3. I'm proud of all the NUCs, MUCs, CAMPAIGN awards, I was there awards, etc. but I concur with the poster. Nimitz had 3 rows of ribbons after 4 grueling years of war. Same for the sea fighters.

    I would say it was ridiculous except it remains true that we can get young men and women to work themselves into the ground in support of our missions and the ONLY reward we can give them is a bit of medal or a ribbon. We've been working very hard of late. While I feel free to sneer at "community service medals" and other BS awards, I cannot find it in me to sneer at SWASM, SSDR, GWOTSM, GWOTEM, ICM, ACM, etc.

  2. Buck, First, you're too danged kind. In the barrel is a long post lamenting the direction things are headed in some segments of our service. We still excel at putting fire and steel on target, but we suck at taking care of our people. I just haven't finished figuring out how much I can say while still on terminal leave. >-)

    And for Curtis, thanks for the note over at my place and for your own service. I didn't mean to sneer at anything in the ribbon post. I just meant to point out that the ribbon ribbing we get doesn't make sense to the ten-year captain or fifteen-year major who grew up with our current system. Even I've sometimes wondered what all the whining was about. But seeing those old photos put it in perspective for me.

    Lastly, loved the T-bird video. The previous commander of the jump squadron, now overseas and back in the seat of a Viper, was Thunderbird Seven before coming here. I always thought it said a lot that he once remarked that even flying the Viper didn't compare to exiting the door of an Otter two miles above the earth. Another exercise in perspective.

    Blues skies! Doc

  3. Buck, I am with you on the erroding of Manufacturing base in this country for the entire aerospace industry. The two biggest let downs have to be the lack of responsibility of the FTC and acceptance of 'offsets' by US firms to do business overseas has crippled the US aerospace base.

    The continued merger of aerospace firms virtually uncontested by the FTC has led from us having 6 or 7 wide-body aircraft manufacturing companies to only 1 (one). That is all at the feet of the FTC. So, for any service that wants competition in the manufacture of a large-tubed aircraft you have to include Airbus or some other company from outside the US (MIL, MIG, ILL from Russia are alternatives as well). No so much for fighters but it is getting close to that. And it will only get worse cause even Boeing is doing a lot of the manufacture over in China and brining it here in large tube sections. So that may be on the way out too.

    As for offsets, they are a cancer that US companies willing take on and it is steadily ruining the industry. The funny part is that we don't do the reverse to them when we want to buy their stuff. Offsets weaken our industry by forcing our companies to give up the very technology that the overseas government was buying in the first place.

    The Congress has to step up and strap on some brass ones to fix this. And it has to be a comprehensive fix as well. The only Buy-American clause for military applications is on Fasteners (nuts, bolts and rivets). If the Hildabeast wants to lead on this she needs to throw down a blanket Buy American bill and run with that. Couldn't hurt her chances to be the VP eh!!!

    BT: Jimmy T sends.

  4. Curtis: Thanks for dropping by, and thanks for your service. I applaud your decision to wear just three of your ribbons but I don't think airmen have that option. More clearly: I don’t think airmen have the option of wearing the ribbons they want to wear, as opposed to being required to wear every ribbon and decoration they’ve ever been awarded. That was the way it was back in my day… but things change. I checked with SN1 before posting this reply to see if selected ribbons were optional on the service dress uniform, instead of the mandatory “full rack.” The regulation changes often, and SN1 didn’t know the correct answer right off the top of his head, although he’s pretty sure the full rack is required wear these days. But it wasn’t always so in the recent past.

    He suggested I check out Merrill McPeak’s official bio photo, because McPeak made wearing selected ribbons optional during his tour as Chief of Staff. Well, I did just that, and McPeak’s official bio pic shows him with five rows of ribbons, this image, OTOH, shows him wearing three ribbons… period. I don’t have a lot of good things to say about General McPeak, but being a proponent of the “plain blue suit” gives him at least one Attaboy in my book. But… you know what they say about Attaboys and AwShits… and McPeak’s AwShit list is substantially longer than his Attaboys. But I digress.

    Like Doc, I don't mean to sneer, either. And like you, I have NO beef whatsoever with campaign ribbons or even the GWOTSM. Your point about rewards and incentives for our hard-working and overstressed troops is semi-well-taken. By that I mean I "get" it, but I'm also wondering where the line between "enough" and "too much" is, or even if such a line exists at all. Your anecdote about the recent BMT graduate with two rows of ribbons re-enforces the point... that airman had yet to make a contribution to the force and the nation, yet he still sported two rows of ribbons. That ain't right.

    Doc sez: I just haven't finished figuring out how much I can say while still on terminal leave. >-)

    I'd hold the post until terminal leave is over, were it me. Because you just never really know what evils lurk in the heart of the bureaucracy. ;-)

    I always thought it said a lot that he once remarked that even flying the Viper didn't compare to exiting the door of an Otter two miles above the earth. Another exercise in perspective.

    Validation is GOOD, ain't it!?! ;-)

    Jimmy: Thanks for the input, and I agree with most of what you said. But the sustainability of our industrial base is a VERY knotty problem, almost a conundrum, eh? There simply isn't enough work today to keep a '50s-era military industrial base gainfully employed, unless you wanted to go to a Soviet-style government design bureau approach. But even our Russian friends have (sorta) abandoned that organizational model. Consolidation in the defense industry is a "necessary evil," in my book. As an example, I'm glad to see a company like Grumman (and it's technology base) survive, even if it's as a hyphenated version of its former self. It's doubtful Grumman would have survived on its own without a takeover bid from Northrop. YMMV on this particular point.

    I'm not well-versed, at ALL, on the mechanics of "offsets," so I don't feel qualified to comment on that...

  5. Buck, the Offset thing is very complicated too. The best way is to describe one well known case.

    Back in 1979 the Ministry of Defense over thar in England decided to cut their losses on the AEW variant of the Nimrod. They were 10 years late and 1 Billion Dollars over budget (in 1979 dollars too) and needed something. So, they turned to the US and Boeing which had that fancy AWACS thing, the E-3A.

    So, merry-ole MOD negotiates a deal and one of the provisions is this new fangled thing called an "Offset" wherein for every Dollar that Boeing gets from the MOD Boeing has to invest 25% in England. Now, on an aircraft buy of several Billion dollars, Boeing is on the hook to spend a fortune in England. Boeing decides on British owned Avionics companies. They will pump technology and raw buck into the very company (British Aerospace) that was the reason for those long delays on the Nimrod.

    Today, BAE (as it is now known as) competes quite vigorously with several Avionics companies here in America All thanks to that huge investment by Boeing.

    The Offset is almost a normal thing now, and works only against American companies, I have never heard of the reverse. And this gets even worse because a lot of FMS sales are negotiated by the State Department or a Service (Navy or Air Force) instead of the manufacturer and the give aways can get really bad. I have seen 100% offsets on some deals.

    Don't know how to stop that but it is slowing taking away our ability to compete by giving away technology.

    That's the quick and dirty of it, and dirty it is.

    BT: Jimmy T sends.

  6. Thanks for the explanation, Jimmy. Much appreciated!


Just be polite... that's all I ask.