Air Force shake-up may lead to deeper overhaul
Secretary Gates is likely to nominate a new civilian chief in days.
The US Air Force must undertake a wholesale assessment of itself in the wake of the extraordinary firings last week of its top two officials, say analysts.Skip to next paragraph
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Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that the forced resignations of Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley was only the result of a loss of confidence in the service's ability to handle nuclear weapons after two embarrassing incidents in the past year. But those events capped a period of turbulence between the service and the Pentagon and Congress over broader issues such as acquisition, contracting, and strategy, analysts say.
"I think it's going to take aggressive leadership to restore the Air Force's reputation with regard to a whole series of things that don't really have a lot to do with nuclear weapons handling," says Tom Ehrhard, a retired Air Force colonel and now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a think tank in Washington.
Within days, Mr. Gates is expected to nominate a new civilian official to oversee the service. That individual's first job will be to refocus on the Air Force's nuclear mission, its most critical job but one it had lost sight of, Gates said Thursday.
The unprecedented firings stem from two separate incidents over the past year. In August, a B-52 bomber flew from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana mistakenly armed with nuclear cruise missiles. Then in March, US officials discovered that the Air Force, along with another defense agency, had accidentally sent nuclear missile nose cone fuses instead of helicopter batteries to Taiwan. The mistake was discovered 17 months later, and the fuses brought back under US control.
Gates's nominee for Air Force secretary will reportedly be Michael Donley, now a top Pentagon aide. He will have to examine the institutional culture that led to the incidents in the first place. A Pentagon investigation directed by Gates in March concluded that there were systemic problems the service had failed to address.