Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James today outlined new incentives and measures designed to change the culture of the service’s nuclear force.
Following a cheating scandal involving intercontinental ballistic missile launch officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, and the subsequent relief of nine officers, a commander’s retirement and 91 other airmen receiving discipline, James touched on ways the Air Force has begun to address “systemic issues.”
“I do think this is more than a single issue,” she said in remarks at a Defense Writers Group breakfast. “As I’ve said before, I do think we need some holistic fixes for the nuclear force. This is not something that happened in the last year or two, or even 10. It’s probably been happening gradually over the last 25 years.”
The secretary said while there are likely no quick fixes to resolve these issues, there are measures she and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III can implement now.
“Let’s talk money,” James said. “Money is not everything, but money’s important. So right now, in [fiscal year 2014], just in the last few months, we have redirected $50 million — $50 million, by the way, is the most that the Global Strike Command said they could reasonably spend in [the fiscal year].”
Money should be spent reasonably, she said, so in addition to $50 million, $350 million more will be redirected to the nuclear mission over the next five years. The money will go to sustainment infrastructure and to some of the “people issues,” the secretary added.
There could be more to come, James said, but this is what officials have decided so far.
Another issue being addressed is undermanning in the nuclear force, the secretary told the defense writers.
“When you’re undermanned, that means the existing people have to work harder,” she said. “That impacts morale and it could impact other things as well. We have, right now, already directed 1,100 additional people are going to be inserted into the nuclear force to get those manning levels up.”
They principally will be in the field, she said, and the Air Force is going to 100-percent manning in the eight critical nuclear specialties. Air Force officials have lifted some of the ongoing servicewide manpower reductions to add people back into the nuclear force, she added.
Along with those adjustments, the secretary noted, she has called for elevating the Global Strike Command commander’s position to the four-star level and that the related major general position on the Air Force staff be made a lieutenant general position.
“We want to up the rank of the nuclear forces within the Air Force,” she said. “Rank matters in the military, so that’s another thing that we’re doing.”
Additionally, James said, the testing environment that produced the cheating scandal has been revamped, and the inspections environment will also see changes.
“It had become this zero-defect mentality, where even the smallest of the small kinds of errors could cause an entire failure,” she explained. “That wasn’t a healthy environment.”
In the fall, James said, the Air Force also will introduce a variety of new financial incentives for the nuclear force “to kick it up a notch,” including offering accession bonuses for new officers’ ROTC scholarships and incentive pay.
James also noted 20th Air Force commander, Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, has issued a series of directives to the field designed to start to shift the culture.
“Now, you know memos don’t shift culture,” she said. “Leadership and time eventually shifts culture, but this is a start. This is designed to stop the micromanaging, to push down to the lower levels [and encourage] decision-making.”
All of that will help, James said. “We didn’t get here overnight, and we’re not going to fix it overnight,” she added. It will take persistent focus, leadership and attention for years to come, she said.
“With all of what I’ve just said, I’m certain that additional resources are probably still in order,” James said. “We’re going to have to talk about those resources as we get into the next [program objective memorandum] cycle.”
James said she believes the U.S. nuclear mission is a national mission for the entire Defense Department, not just the Air Force.
“So I’ll be talking to the deputy [defense] secretary, the secretary of defense [and] the senior leaders of DOD to see what we can do about this,” she said.
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