Sunday, July 26, 2009
I am of the opinion that UAVs (both existing and capable of existing within months using today's technology and sufficient motivation among lawmakers and the defense industry) can provide the ISR that our warfighters in the DoD (and especially the SecDef) are demanding while simultaneously giving us an advantage beyond the F-22 and F-35 in terms of air supremacy and global strike. I also think it can be done cheaper and cost the taxpayers a great deal less money than our fleet costs us today both to purchase and to maintain. I also think it can be done relatively quickly if we can loosen the power grip of the culture of pilots running the Air Force and make the case to Congress.
So before I try to explain why I think why I do let me admit up front that I’m not a fighter pilot. Let me also say I have nothing against them and I think they do great things in certain roles and they certainly provide support I need to do my mission (much of the time). I also think they possess a great deal of flying skill required by the nature of their jobs. Unfortunately, however, they have limitations that play greatly in this discussion and some might suppose I have a chip on my shoulder for saying so. I don’t. I passed up the fighter/bomber track in pilot training for the good life of hauling cargo but after the events of 9/11 I volunteered for the Gunship and, like several in the class, ended up an attack pilot. I spent five of the last six years prosecuting interdiction, close air support, and armed recce missions and I have 1100 combat hours doing it. More importantly to this discussion, I have integrated air and ground effects hundreds of times with other aircraft including special ops assets, F-16s, F-15Es, F-18s, A-10s (once), EA-6Bs, AV-8s, Apaches and Predators. My integration has [redacted for OPSEC]. By integrate I mean sometimes employing together such as the Al Faw invasion on hit night of Iraq where I employed with a two ship of A-10s with limited coordination mostly deconfliction or with F-15Es such that coordination was required and their ordnance was dropped through my orbit or by lazing for F-16s. Most of the time, however, my integration experience is characterized by F-16s or F-15Es in the air stack well above me over an operation where the integration is on the radio and is characterized by radio communications and the passing of information and building of SA. This is key to backing up my claims. I have literally hundreds of hours in combat evaluating and building the SA of fighter aircraft. My experience leads me to conclude that single seat fighters have very low SA over the objective and provide little unless ordnance is required on a static set of coordinates. My experience with two seater F-15Es has been a little better but not significantly. I can’t offer much about my A-10 experience as we mostly just deconflicted airspace and target sets although during integrated live fire/dry fire missions with them back home in the states I was very impressed with their SA. What’s my point? My point is that single seat aircraft moving fast and flying in formation bring limited capability to a fluid ground environment. It takes a great deal of skill to bring that limited capability but in the end it’s still limited. When they would check into an air stack over an operation and contact the ground party asking for a situation update I often found myself wishing the ground party would tell them to just be quiet and wait to be called. The time they spent trying to develop the picture of what was going on took up a fair amount of time and radio chatter and once the situation changed (hostiles squirted in various directions) they generally would lose it quickly. On my aircraft we had multiple sensors and could independently track multiple targets giving us significantly more SA on the fluid dynamic. More sensors, more people, longer loiter time equated to a vastly superior amount of SA. This isn’t to say I haven’t made big mistakes or that our crew aircraft is blemish free. Comparatively, however, the more people involved and the more data (sensors) the better the outcome in my experience. This is just one major advantage UAVs bring to the table.
There will be no single seat UAVs. Each UAV will come with a host of analysts, sensor operators, and at least one weaponeer. The self induced panic and adrenaline producing fear that comes from unseasoned pilots imagining they are threatened will not be a factor although the trigger happy neophyte will still have to be guarded against (and will be with more oversight). I’ll talk more about the Blackhawk shoot down that occurred when two supersonic F-15Cs engaged a slow moving flight of helicopters later but I do want to bring up the killing of the Canadians by the F-16 pilots at Tarnak Farms because it painfully illustrates just what a limitation the pilot can be. In this situation they saw small arms fire 20,000 feet below them in an established ground fire practice range in friendly territory. They claimed the fog of war feeling of being threatened made them attack. As a reference, an AK-47 small arms machine gun (according to Wiki), has an effective range somewhere around 400 meters. The level of incompetence here is hard to translate to somebody without air sense that isn’t used to being shot at and seeing ground fire. It sounds “reasonable” to people that don’t know any better but to those with an idea the situation is staggering. I would liken it to an armored police officer that uses deadly force because he feels threatened by a four year old with a butter knife. Imagine instead of two pilots flying at 300+ knots you instead have a crew of people sitting in Vegas analyzing all the sensory data. The only thing they’re scared of is shooting the wrong people for the wrong reason. They can’t use the “self defense” excuse for incompetence or a masked trigger happy desire to be the first kid on their block to get a confirmed kill. The self defense rationale should be emphasized as it’s important. One might wonder why there aren’t lots more examples of fratricide by single seat aircraft if the SA of the single seat pilot is as limited as I make it out to be. The reason there aren’t more is because of release authority rules. Fighter/bomber aircraft ordnance employment is controlled by somebody on the ground that provides coordinates (generally) and other information to ensure the right target is hit. More importantly the pilot must get permission from that ground controller to release weapons. As such, the decision making of the single seat pilot is greatly reduced with target selection in most cases. They simply punch in coordinates, pickle, and the GPS does the rest in most modern cases. Where these sad stories arise is during exceptions to that control where the pilot, with limited SA, makes the decision. The most common example is the self defense loophole; a pilot can defend him or herself if engaged. There are other exceptions as well but they are rare. The AC-130 that I flew, however, was [redacted for OPSEC]. As the pilot I was [redacted for OPSEC]. [Redacted for OPSEC] the biggest reason was due to our many sensors, many eyes, many brains, and exceptional (though not perfect) SA. My aircraft aside, a single seat pilot (or two) is a limiting factor for several reasons including limited SA, the potential for emotional over-reaction, and the “self defense” excuse for trigger happy decisions. The multiple people and oversight a UAV will bring will bring about more rational, calm, professional decisions.
The single seat pilot is not just a limitation due to SA and decision making. He or she is also a massive physical limitation. Having a pink fleshy in the center of our flying machines requires an oxygen system, heating systems, cooling systems (which will still be needed for avionics in some fashion), pressurization systems (pressure suit or cockpit pressurization), ejection systems, and an often less than perfectly aerodynamic cockpit. How does this translate into capability loss? The aircraft must weigh more than it has to, can’t climb as high as might be desired, burns more fuel and costs more to operate, is exceedingly limited by its G maneuvering and defensive capability, is theoretically subject to more anti-aircraft threat rings, and can’t fly indefinitely (think weeks or months). The pilot is a major limitation.
UAVs have already started replacing the two obvious manned arenas….ISR and bomb dropping. There isn’t a need for much maneuvering typically in ISR collection and bomb dropping with today’s laser and GPS technology. We can still make better ISR and bomb dropping UAV platforms but when we make the next platform it should be an obvious choice to choose the unmanned version. We can expect UAVs with the stealth of the B-2, the speed of the B-1, and the payload of the B-52. Why wouldn’t we? There is nothing that requires UAVs to be small.
The heart of the fighter mafia isn’t safe from the UAV, either, although they’ve done a great job keeping the discussion out of the mainstream (although unmanned F-35 options have been discussed). It could be argued there are more benefits to unmanning air to air than any other area. The most exciting advantage is the significantly more maneuverable ability of a UAV although the heart of modern air to air engagements (especially in the theoretical early days of a conventional war with China where the “if it flys it dies” rule is in effect) remains the radar and the capability AWACs provides (another aircraft that can go unmanned). The days of Mig Alley are pretty much over and he with the best radar and missiles with the best range usually wins. There isn’t much need for a furball these days outside of the MOA back home in a training area. Paint, shoot, about face, and then confirm you got em. But certainly you may need to get closer in some circumstances. For example, if you are flying in a fairly low threat peace keeping environment dubbed “Operation Provide Comfort” enforcing a no fly zone in your supersonic F-15C and you see two possible enemy helicopters that aren’t squawking. You may want to shoot them down because they could be Hinds terrorizing the Iraqi people. But they may not be. You need to do a visual ID pass to ensure they are in fact hostile. What happened on April 14, 1994 however was two trigger happy pilots took the lives of 26 U.S. servicemen because they saw what they wanted to see and later justified their response with, you guessed it, fear they were threatened by the vastly inferior helicopters. A Hind is a threat to larger aircraft in certain circumstances but is not a credible threat to a supersonic F-15C. The F-15Cs did a visual pass within roughly 1000’ of the helicopters and at a speed of 400+ mph. The helicopters were dubbed Hinds although they were clearly not due to paint scheme and instead of the pilots following ROE to then determine the nationality of the helicopters they instead reported they were “engaged” (ie threatened or fire upon by the helicopters) and took them out. I think it’s instructive that one of the pilots flying over the burning wreckage of the helicopters said, “Stick a fork in them, they're done.” We can see again in this scenario the “self defense” excuse conjured out of thin error to allow two trigger happy neophytes to be the first kid on their block to get a confirmed kill. If I make it sound like they were a couple of kids living out their childhood movie fantasies that is because that’s exactly what I’m saying. Part of the problem here is a culture of immaturity fostered by the fighter (primarily) community where a job requiring a professional, sterile, calculating decision to kill is met by a slap sticky, cocky, unprofessional with a cloudy “cranium” that killed 26 Americans in “6 to 9 seconds” but sounded cool on the radios doing it. When that attitude and culture informs the decision to kill it’s an issue. I know this sounds over the top and if there is anything I'll take flak for it will this but I think it deserves to be said. There is a cultural immaturity I think has to be factored into the process and when that immaturity is combined with boredom and the feeling of "this may be my one shot" then young guys (and old) tend to get creative in a bad way. Now to be fair, the issue of professional killing is not at all limited to the fighter community. It’s most definitely found in my own community and I would hazard a guess it’s also found in the trailers of UAVs. It’s a human issue and [redacted for OPSEC]. But I would postulate that with the “detached killing” that comes from flying UAVs with multiple people and more oversight we will see more professional killing with limited fratricide and human collateral damage. Fog of war and “self defense” are not get out of jail free cards although, unfortunately, none of the pilots in the two examples I cited did jail time.
So how would a UAV have done a better job with the Blackhawk shootdown? First, the sensors would have been much better than the “mark one eyeball” that saw two Hinds that didn’t exist. Secondly, the visual pass could have been done supersonic, closer, and provided crystal clear digital photos to a group of people with all the resources and time necessary to make a very positive identification. The SA of the pilot would have been nothing compared to the SA of the crew on the ground. Most importantly, there would be no conjured excuse of self defense to mask unprofessional trigger happy human desires. Lastly, unprofessional human desires would be likely checked by a system of oversight.
UAVs are the answer for ISR, attack, and air to air operations. Cargo and tanker operations should stay manned for the most part (with a few specialized exceptions) because in both we will want the option to haul people. If we haul people we will require the same systems and have the same limitations as a manned aircraft so being unmanned will not be an advantage. I think we can begin developing these systems now to meet our current and future needs and will save money in the long run doing it. First, one of the advantages to UAVs is the ability to fly higher and burn less gas with less weight and fly longer (with manned or unmanned in flight refueling). This equates to less gas burned, less sortie generation required, less maintenance required (aircraft break when they stop flying more than when they are flying), and less of a forward deployed footprint needed. As [redacted for non-attribution] stated in a recent post logistics like search and rescue capability are no longer required, as well. The logistical support and force structure required to support operations will be lessened and more importantly less junk will need to be hauled across the world to support saving money and gas. We won’t be hamstrung as much by countries not letting us base in their territory and lives will be more stable for our airman improving retention and quality of life. As far as purchasing a brand new aircraft with that “new UAV” smell….that should be cheaper, as well. Less specialized systems are required (outside of the data link systems that many manned aircraft already have). The aircraft I fly now has a cost mostly accounted for by the ejection seat, as an illustration. Without all the life support systems a UAV can be much cheaper and, with the exception of air to air UAVs, a one size fits all approach can be taken for many missions. Meeting the desired ISR objectives means we will purchase in bulk driving the per unit costs down further. The UAV that provides the ISR we need today can be used to penetrate China’s IADs and drop bombs to supplement our cruise missile technology. Training for the UAVs will save money, as well, because operators don’t need to build “air sense” related to flying and feeling Gs and operating in austere environments. Like the Global Hawk most of flying becomes click and drag with a mouse. Much of that training can be accomplished easier with computer simulators lessening peace time training costs.
Let me sum up this novel. The single seat pilot is the limfac both physically and more importantly mentally with great limitations to decision making mostly owing to the real or invented “fog and friction” of being threatened and needing to invoke self defense. Every auditory and visual sense the pink fleshy pilot has in a cockpit can be accurately transmitted to operators on the ground and enhanced in near real time if not in real time providing better situational awareness. SA is not a casualty of the unmanned argument. The advantages given by going unmanned can be achieved now and will cost significantly less money. Leveraging the technology, however, will mean filling the skies with UAVs beyond the pilot production pipeline. It will mean opening up the virtual cockpit to non-pilots with less training (a year long tech school will not be required) and an Air Force that may not longer be dominated by pilots. I would think Space Command might be a good command to take over the reigns of the Air Force as I would think UAV ops would be well suited to their capabilities.
I look forward to your spears and comments.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
“Whenever you challenge the status quo, present a solution. The world is full of problems and messengers; the problem solver is the rarity” (O'Connell, 1988, 325).
I find it interesting that this message is included in these writings on loyal dissent because it seems to carry a large potential to suppress dissent. What should one or several officers do when they know there is a critical problem but the problem is so enormous, entrenched, or complicated that they cannot possibly provide the solution? This truism, taught as a part of good followership, may lead an officer to rationalize not alerting leadership to large and important problems. If the problem is self evident then a lack of follower input may result in leadership assuming the problem is not a priority. In my opinion, an officer should certainly try to provide a solution with the revelation of a problem. But there are cases when this simply isn’t possible for two reasons. First, the problem may be just too big and complicated. Second, our time to devote to the problem may be too limited.
Complicated problems may require resources and expertise that we simply don’t have and may require the pull of our superiors just to explore solutions. The divide between operations and support squadrons means that even the simplest problems often require several organizations in different chains of command to work together. In my experience, the near omnipresence of mission essential computer applications combined with the removal of computer support personnel from operations squadrons has greatly exacerbated this fact. As a result it is often difficult to get anything done in our “do…with less” Air Force without letting your boss know. Attempts to improve processes can easily result in bad blood between organizations and the boss will not want to be blindsided. When the boss tells you “so-and-so called asking why you are trying to get so-and-so to do such-and-such” the right answer is not going to be “I wanted to present you a solution along with the problem.”
The other reality is, in my opinion, that in the current Air Force we spend a great deal of time and energy just trying to keep from going backward. In the flying business there is a concept known as the “region of reverse command.” It refers to a part of an airplane’s performance envelope where it actually takes more engine power to fly slower. The reason is because at slower speeds the airplane has a higher pitch and therefore has a higher drag holding it back. This additional drag has to be compensated for by adding more power. Reducing the pitch reduces the drag, however, and the airplane sails along faster with less power required.
With long hours and undermanned offices, Airmen are simply trying to keep their heads above water while they produce the widgets and make the doughnuts. There is little if any time for reducing the pitch of the organization and making things more efficient. Besides the drag that must be overcome is enormous in many cases. It seems to me that it is unreasonable to expect officers to figure out a solution to every problem before passing it up the chain. We should just be happy they’re bringing it to our attention.
Further, I submit any message that discourages negative information from being pushed up the chain of command should be examined closely. This widely accepted cultural truism flies in the face of Crew Resource Management (CRM) and other problem solving philosophies that encourage members to not hold back if they think something is wrong. We would not tell a young loadmaster on a C-17, "if you see fluid streaming down the side of the aircraft but don't know how to fix it...well, keep that information to yourself until you figure it out." So why do we encourage such thinking when we're on the ground? I think pointing out problems is a service that should not be devalued or discouraged.
Lt General Paul K. Carlton, Jr., MD., Heretics and Their Tools, Office of Homeland Security, Texas A&M.
Maj William O’Connell, Military Dissent and Junior Officers, Air University, 1988.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
- Winston Churchill
I just read Secretary Gates' speech and found myself, as usual, deeply inspired by his common sense, candor, and courageous leadership by example. He knows what is right and he knows what is convenient and with the enormous challenges before him he continues to fight the good fight.
He makes a compelling argument for his defense priorities and shines a light on the transparent reasoning of those who love (to sell) the F-22. So much credibility has been sacrificed upon that gold plated stealth altar but as the Secretary mentions...his priorities are supported by the senior Air Force leadership. Thank God for great leadership.
I recommend all Air Force officers read his speech and become well versed in the issues. As our Secretary shows, it's an important issue that extends far beyond one aircraft. Read his full speech here.
Back to Basics.
“... That I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” That was how it went. There wasn’t an exception for ‘achieving childhood dreams,’ nor an exclusion for ‘as long as leadership has a coherent plan,’ nor a caveat for ‘as long as you’re still doing what you signed up for.’ After serving for the better part of a decade, you start taking your original oath for granted; you start to forget the reasons that called you to service in the first place. It is often only after losing all the bastions of our comfort that we find our way back to those first things. At least, that’s my story.
Two years ago, in the middle of my third deployment as a pilot in the AC-130, I felt the world was more or less in order. I loved the Gunship, its mission and the community, I enjoyed the feeling that I was contributing to the fight; truly, I was living out a childhood dream of flying CAS missions in combat as a Special Operations aviator. I had poured my passions into learning the aircraft and the mission, having read the thousand page Dash-1 two times through, and it felt as if those efforts were finally resulting in a deep understanding of the weapon system. On the home front, I had just finished re-modeling my house, a three year and ten thousand dollar project. The West Florida housing market had already crashed, but it didn’t matter to me, because I was going to be in Gunships for quite some time, and I had budgeted for mortgage payments long ago. Things were finally coming together… Famous last words.
I found out I was coming to Predators right before a step brief for a combat mission, in the form of a post-it note. There was no preferences worksheet, no input, and, being downrange, no ability to make a case one way or another. I think the conversation went something along the lines of, ‘we had to give them a name, and it was you. Sorry.’ Needless to say, I was not exactly ecstatic about this turn of events. Being moved right before I could upgrade to Aircraft Commander effectively closed off the option of coming back, at least for the foreseeable future; being moved from a collapsed housing market into Cannon’s speculators’ market threw my finances into a tailspin. Any plans I had at that point in time were pretty much left in tatters.
It is strange how, in the wreckage of plans, you find valuable things long forgotten rising to the surface like flotsam. I don’t think that I had seriously considered my reasons for joining the military for quite some time. True, I wanted to be a pilot. And I wanted to be part of a tactical culture. And I certainly didn’t mind living in Florida. Ultimately, though, none of those were a calling, for a calling must be about something higher than yourself. Being a warrior is a calling. Being a pilot is a job. I love flying with all of my heart, and I am thankful that I can do both. Nonetheless, being a warrior must come first, and warriors serve where they are needed, not necessarily where they would prefer.
Therefore, I decided that I would become the best Predator pilot that I could possibly be. I decided that I would take that airplane and use it to bring American kids home and send terrorists away for good. I decided that I would spend my time and effort making Al-Qaeda hate me, rather than concerning myself with whether or not the arbiters of pilot culture liked me. (You know, songs about Predators crashing are funny during Operation Southern Watch. They’re not all that funny anymore when Preds are on the cutting edge of chasing down terrorists in their safe havens and keeping American sons and daughters safe.) Between being cool and winning this war, I’ll choose winning this war.
That was the attitude I took into day one, and it is one that has served me well: I take great pride in denying the terrorists safe haven night after night; I am even more proud to stand watch over brave Americans on the ground. I still miss the feeling of being airborne, the sound of the howitzer firing, the adrenaline of actually being physically present for a fire mission. But I would trade all of that and more to ensure that one more American hero makes it home safely. If this is where I am needed to bring that about, then so be it. I am proud to serve toward that end alongside my manned aircraft brethren.
I won’t sugar coat it, though: the Pred life is tough. Our choices in bases aren’t exactly great, our career path isn’t exactly well defined, our hours are long and our extrinsic rewards are virtually non-existent. We have a long way to go as a service before we achieve sustainability for the Predator community. All of that said, none of it changes the ground truths of duty, honor or country. I imagine that a sailor heading off to war in the opening bouts of World War Two must have felt disappointed with the poor strategic choices that sent the battleships of the Pacific Fleet to the bottom of Pearl Harbor. Legitimate as it may have been, that feeling didn’t in any way change his duty or his responsibility, nor in any way lessen the absolute imperative of achieving victory.
I wonder if my story isn’t in some way a microcosm of the Air Force’s journey of the last few years. We had a largely fixed way of viewing the world, our mission and ourselves. We were, in effect, comfortable with our role. But war does not abide comfort. I do not presume to interject myself into discussions about strategic risk, the number of air supremacy fighters, and the like. But I do know that war changed around us. Some hold that by focusing on the present war, we are becoming ill-equipped for future wars. I would point out that the strategic geniuses on both sides of the quite-conventional American Civil War were forged in the fires of the counterinsurgency actions of the American West. Remember that Red Flag itself was borne out of our experiences in Viet Nam, an unconventional war if there ever was one. I believe that by engaging fully in this war, we forge ourselves for both present and future wars, for combat itself is the truest seedbed for future combat leaders. We cannot expect war to meet us on our terms. War has found us… will we ride out to meet it, or will we opt out?
I can only speak for myself and my own situation. But insofar as I am able, and as long as I am bound to my oath, energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. If I can best meet them via satellite, then all the better… so long as my Hellfires meet them in person. This is my war. I will do all I can to win it. If that happens to be inside a cargo container parked on a concrete slab at Cannon AFB, then so be it. I am proud to serve.
His article can be downloaded here.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
In that course we were required to read "Sharing Success – Owning Failure: Preparing to Command in the Twenty-First Century Air Force" by Major General (select) Dave Goldfein (F-16 pilot). He was a Colonel when he wrote the paper.
Then-Col Dave Goldfein stated in his article, written for the consumption of brand new squadron commanders, the following:
"Many of the stories I included in this paper involve situations in which the individual failed. Why? Because it is from studying our failures that we learn, grow, and improve as officers and leaders (Goldfein, 2001, 53)."
"Owning failure…and then sharing the story of that failure in a published paper takes courage and a commitment to helping you succeed (Goldfein, 2001, 61)."
He also quotes an example of senior leader expectations for a new commander, "From relationships to money matters, you need to be squeaky clean. As a commander, you will sit in judgment of others, and you cannot afford to surrender the moral high ground-ever! You are expected to be above reproach (Goldfein, 2001, 111)."
Then-Col Dave Goldfein also quotes Adm Stockdale, "A leader must be able to look a man in the eye when he fires him and weep for him at the same time (Goldfein, 2001, 524)."
In a couple places then-Col Dave Goldfein referred to his older brother, retired Major General Steve Goldfein (F-15C pilot) as an example of leadership to be emulated. Gen Steve Goldfein was also a Colonel at the time the article was written.
Years later his brother Major General Steve Goldfein was found by the DoD/IG (read the report here) to have acted unethically. The DoD IG found his brother Maj General Steve Goldfein guilty of exerting serious undue influence to steer a $50 million dollar Thunderbirds video creation contract to his boss's friend (a retired four star general) despite the company "barely existing" and having bid more than twice the lowest bid (Washington Post). He was administratively punished by the Secretary of the Air Force according to this AF News article.
The author of the article on “owning failure” again put pen to paper and wrote to the Air Force Times defending his brother despite the IG conclusion and the punishment. Then Brigadier General Dave Goldfein defended his brother as a model of integrity and honesty who was blameless and undeserving of the administrative punishment he got for the "Thundervision" scandal. (Air Force Times).
The situation resulted in commentary on what punishment was fitting for a flag officer who was found guilty of unethical and/or illegal behavior. One blogger discusses a double standard and specifically how an enlisted man got much worse punishment for a much lesser offense. The recent IG report rehashing this same scandal and charging General Moseley with unethical and illegal action may resurrect this same discussion.
Regardless of what actually happened there are a couple of points I find to be true. First, Maj General (select) Dave Goldfein was correct when he wrote that we need to own up to our failures and that publishing such failures does take courage. We have to honestly discuss our shortcomings if we are to improve and such analysis is not the mark of disloyalty. Our Secretary of Defense has challenged us to critically analyze our service culture and to change what needs changed while keeping the valuable parts of our culture intact. The General's words on owning failure are a good part of our culture and we need to expand upon them and solidify such reflection.
Second, it’s important for followers to ensure they communicate and act properly. Major General (retired) Steve Goldfein discussed the problem with subordinate perception in his investigation testimony. He told a story about how he might be looking at a wall of the Pentagon and the next day there would be a crew performing maintenance on the wall assuming he found something wrong with the wall which must be fixed. I believe he used that analogy to argue that sometimes subordinates go out of their way to read a high ranking officer’s mind and some might unwittingly break rules trying to accomplish these imagined desires. I think Maj Gen (retired) Steve Goldfein brings up a good point that emphasizes the need for followers to properly communicate and act even when faced with intimidating high-ranking officers.
It seems to me we need to remember an old fashioned American trait that may be slipping by the wayside. Men are men. They are not gods because they have stars or influence or know people or have money. We shouldn’t lose our minds in their presence to the point where we are too timid to ensure we have received correctly any message they intended to communicate. We’ve probably all seen the stock footage moment in movies where somebody meets a movie star and they’re too tongue tied to make good on their one brief chance to talk to the person they put on a pedestal. We can’t allow that kind of thing to become a wall between our superiors and us. And even when we know what the message is intended to be, that does not relieve us of the moral duty to say no when that is the appropriate response. We need to raise a courageous corps of officers who are not shackled by warped mutations of “loyalty” resulting in them thinking vice is a virtue. I think both Major General brothers have something to teach us about the importance of good followership and critical reflection.
Goldfein, Col David L., Sharing Success – Owning Failure: Preparing to Command in the Twenty-First Century Air Force, Kindle Edition (2001)
Monday, July 13, 2009
Reading this report and watching the recent news about the former VP potentially having ordered the CIA to break the law makes me ask a question I find myself asking on an almost daily basis. Literally. How much does it cost to do the right thing?
I'm not just asking how much it costs for "leaders" to do the right thing but also the price of integrity for the multiple followers that ensure their leaders do what is right. Accountability is a two way street and a chain of command has an up and a down. How much does it cost for people to do what is right?
I understand the world is not a perfect place. I'd like to think I have a pretty good grasp on human nature and a not complete lack of understanding of human history. I'm not an idealist and the truth is I've done things I wish I hadn't done and I did them out of self interest. When I look inside myself I find that I am essentially no different than any of these personalities that make the news each night with perhaps one exception. I think it costs less for me to do the right thing. And so I'm puzzled why the price seems so high for these others in public service that we read about.
Imagine a young man growing up on the streets in New York in the 1930s. He's got a wife and a small child tucked away in a apartment and he's not rich. While I may not agree with him, I can understand if he has to bend a few rules to scratch out a living to feed his family. I can understand that whether I agree with it or not. What I cannot understand is educated and successful people who live by the brow of the taxpayers underneath a golden parachute and yet still cannot manage to do the right thing. It puzzles me to no end to see officers and other public servants with a guaranteed retirement and health care for the rest of their lives (should they simply "throw in the towel") unable to do the right thing. How much does it cost? I honestly want to understand.
I recently had the opportunity to engage in dinner conversation with an honorable and experienced public servant and his wife; both well educated and knowledgeable of politics and ethics. I expressed my growing concern with the lack of basic integrity that appears to be rampant across society and especially in public service and asked if they thought my concern was the result of growing corruption or more likely the result of me simply paying more attention as I get older. The gentleman said in his time he had never seen as much corruption as he sees today.
While I realize there never was a golden age where everything was perfect in America, I do think our basic morality is being lost and replaced by shoddy hollow values. Unfortunately those that typically peddle morality and preach of its demise, in my opinion, are part of the problem and their wares to immorality are like saltwater to thirst. But there is a problem in our greater American culture and we need to figure out how to keep this immorality out of our military. Easier said than done no doubt.
In my opinion, as a military we need to spend much less time discussing leadership and a great deal more time discussing followership. It seems to me we need to encourage the type of courageous followership espoused by our Secretary of Defense and remove "leadership" from the pedestal of career progression. Leadership should not be a destination or a reward and people shouldn't be trained to pride themselves on rank and title but rather on how they comport themselves. Above all, it seems to me, our officers should enter their careers willing to lose them instantly in defense of what is right for their countrymen. As somebody once said, "Sometimes we are called to give up our lives for our country and sometimes we are called to give up our careers for our country." If we can train our military men and women to be good followers then our leaders will be better as a result.
Friday, July 10, 2009
I'll post some of the comments from the latest email chain sent to me with names removed. I think these comments may provide another view of the fighter pilot culture. The subject of the email chain is, "FW: must read from d-bag...read the whole thing, this is great, pass it on."
One Captain writes:
An attack from a C-130 guy (now flying the ****) on not just the Eagle community, but fighter pilots as a whole (he wasn't good enough in UPT and is still envious). The unfortunate thing is I'm sure his views are not at all different from our chief of staff's. Be prepared to have your blood boil."
A Lt Col writes:
"YGBSM...How quickly even our 'brightest academic' Air Force minds completely dismiss the notion of a battle for air superiority as a ludicrous endeavor of a bygone era and, by extension, falsely assume that air superiority is an inalienable U.S. right; let alone the constant dedication, tireless effort & tremendous level of skill required to achieve that crucial wartime mission-enabling role in the USAF's most dynamic combat environment, regardless of the airframe employed for the task...(you see, I too can use inflated vocabulary to create a verbal ruse that veils any potential pitfalls in my position and simultaneously provide a perception of veracity to my case)
Translation to Fighter Pilot speak, 'Zip it Fatty. You have no clue. I won't be buying you a beer at the Nellis Club, but I'll still shoot the MiG off your 6 so you live & you can get your job done.'"
A Major writes:
The winds of change are blowin' in the AF, and it appears this couldn't happen fast enough for some of our flying brethren who didn't make the cut in UPT. Start from the bottom and read up.
I'm thinking an Eagle guy stole this dude's girlfriend..."
And this came from a Captain at Tyndall (the home of the F-15C school house made famous-ish by the short lived reality TV show "American Fighter Pilot"):
Besides the obvious slight to the F-15C community specifically, this is an affront to all fighter drivers. I am afraid it is symbolic of the direction our Air Force is going. Interesting how this happens on the heels of the announcement that ACC will no longer be led by a fighter driver. I forward to you to replace your cup of coffee this morning and get the blood pressure up through introspection.
This is a PME discussion thread that was sent to me by *******, an F-15C guy I used to fly with. He's debating with a former C-130, current **** ADO in the ****** at ********. If any of you know ****** "&$@#head" ***** then please send him my regards and tell him to STFU.
Start at the bottom and read up."
It appears the word about "academic freedom" in PME still hasn't gotten out. Unfortunately I'm not surprised. I still have not heard from Air University on the petition for redress for the academic freedom violation and the cowardly action of the F-15C guy still appears to have some teeth. Given AETC's actions taken concerning officers who helped students "cheat" in UPT (court martial) it will be interesting to see how they handle an officer breaking the UCMJ in an effort to hurt another officer's career for having different ideas. It will be interesting to see what action Air University eventually takes while this email continues to bounce around the Air Force. Fortunately the Air Force has given me a voice through new media to respond to those who whisper in the shadows while I wait for their response.
I'll be contacting each of the individuals from the email chains personally to ensure they each have a full opportunity to provide their perspectives to me. In the meantime, here is a limited response to their comments.
EDIT: All the individuals were contacted several days ago and invited to professionally debate my ideas by replying to my official email. I have yet to receive a response from any of them.
As far as me not being good enough to fly fighters (and envious, jealous, etc) the fact is when I went through Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) we had a more fair ranking system than exists now. Back then the number one guy in the class got his pick of all the possibilities (fighters, heavies, helos, etc). Once he or she picked the number two guy got to pick from whatever remained. And so on until the last guy got what was left without a choice.
I turned down the T-38 Fighter/Bomber track. In short I was good enough for that track but it wasn't good enough for me. Just wasn't a good fit. As a military dependent I grew up worshipping F-15C pilots. I knew several F-15C wing commanders and their families including flag officers. I still keep in touch with their families. When I was a dependent in Iceland I used to hide in the lava rock on the approach end of the runway and Eagles would fly over me. I showed up at UPT wanting to fly fighters very badly.
In UPT, however, I turned down the fighter track because I didn't generally like the type of people that took T-38s. There were some good guys that did go that route, of course, but as a whole I thought the people that went T-38s were shallow and looking for an identity to make up for something lacking in themselves. Their confidence wasn't real and it wasn't grounded in my estimation. That was my impression at the time anyway. I'm sure a large part of that has to do with youth and growing up. At any rate, I didn't want to be a part of that community so I turned down the fighter track.
The "he wasn't good enough" argument is actually pretty common and plays into the broader cultural discussion. People expect fighter pilots to be the best. That is the legend. That is the myth. Fighter pilots are given credibility and respect almost instantly simply with the title. The superiority of the fighter pilot and the inferiority of other pilots is taken for granted in the Air Force. The reality when I went through, however, was many of the best pilots turned down the fighter track. As a result, those who struggled in pilot training were getting "stuck" with that track. In response AETC changed the system. Instead of the fair system I went through where the number one performer could choose what they wanted...people had to put in a dream sheet but the "Needs of the Air Force" ruled and still rules today. That way AETC can pick the top people to go the fighter/bomber track whether they wanted to or not.
The new system, it seems to me, does ensure that typically the "better" pilots go the fighter track. But even that isn't a given. I know of one student pilot that started pilot training with his commercial license already, significant flight experience, and a good deal of skill. Even the Air Force thought he was that good. He was given the award for having demonstrated the greatest flying skill in his class; an award presented to him at his graduation ceremony. He put the fighter track number one. He obviously got fighters, right? Wrong. Instead, at least two people who scored worse on flying ability got to go T-38s. Why didn't he since he was the superior performer? That's up for debate. Since I know the guy it's clear to me. He's a great guy but he doesn't fit the "image" of the fighter pilot. In my opinion, the fighter community chooses "good hair" over "good hands" more than people may realize. It seems to me the "right stuff" may be just a little wrong when it comes to the defense of our nation.
In my opinion, the importance of perception to the fighter community (and thus the larger Air Force as a whole) is difficult to overstate. It seems to me this may have to do with the great fighter pilots of the past generation...men like Robin Olds and John Boyd. They were fiercely independent, critical thinkers, honest, integrity filled, and truly courageous. They were great Americans without question. Those who followed, however, spend their time trying to duplicate their image. They master the swagger, the cigars, and the drinking but in doing so they fail to honor the spirit of their great forefathers. Ironically they disrespect the very men that forged the fighter pilot image. Like a cover band that almost looks and sounds like the real thing but still lacks something essential...
Before I close I should respond to the Lt Col briefly. I do not doubt the necessity of air superiority. I likely disagree, however, with the Lt Col on how best to achieve it. In the defense of the Lt Col and the others in the email chain they did not get the full context of my discussion from the F-15C pilot who violated my academic freedom. Had he included the essay I posted as part of our PME discussion the commentators would have had a better idea of my views on air superiority and how I think it can be better provided.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Typically the mission/people discussion is posed as a dichotomy of mission versus people and usually frames the concepts as opposed to each other. In an instance you can either take care of people or you can take care of the mission. What do you do? What matters more? Typical examples of taking care of people might include getting an airman home from a deployment to see sick family or the birth of a child or ensuring their spouse has no issues while the airman is deployed. Mission is typically described as the J-O-B of the unit and might entail flying, fixing, or providing other vital functions required to defend the nation. A commander who tells a deployed airman he cannot go back home to be with his wife during her surgery because the deployed unit can’t afford to lose the body, for example, might be considered an example of choosing mission over people.
A common slogan I've seen on various PowerPoint slides has been "Mission First, People Always." While I'm typically not a fan of such slogans I think this one does a pretty good job of prioritizing the two concepts. In my view the mission is always first. Period. The mission is always primary. People are needed to do the mission, however, so we must take care of people so that they can perform the mission now and in the future. As Dave Blair explains, if we treat them fairly and do right by their families we may later find quality recruits in their children (Blair, 2009, 9). People are resources to accomplish the missions, as are our aircraft. We don’t fix them and wash them for the sake of the aircraft but rather we do so for the mission. People probably won’t like the comparison of airman to aircraft or “people to things” but both are resources needed to accomplish a mission. I think we should do what we can for our people, within reason, as long as it doesn’t degrade the mission. We can’t lose sight of why we take care of people, however. We don’t do it because we are in the “taking care of people business.” We do it because we need our people to accomplish our very important mission. Mission is always first.
Some in the course thought my view was “despotic” or negative. Even the course instructor made it very clear he did not agree and said that I could not make an absolute statement like "mission is always first." While I didn't engage further with the instructor (he responded to my views with his own viewpoint but said he didn't want to continue the discussion) he apparently felt there were times when commanders should do things for people without it furthering the mission. I wonder if he thinks it is ever acceptable to do things for people while actually degrading the mission. Either way, this view is strange to me. Why would a commander think it was his or her duty to do something for people if it didn't benefit the mission? Perhaps the idea of servant leadership that was heavily emphasized in the course has something to do with this idea.
This raises more questions. Is it possible that culturally some have lost sight of the emphasis on mission? Perhaps Air Force senior leadership has been so far removed from real sustained combat operations that they have never acquired or have lost perspective on the essential purpose of the Air Force. Perhaps after decades of concentrating on promotions and career and budgets they have formulated other priorities and ideas of what makes a good officer or commander. Is it possible the management aspect of taking care of people has eclipsed the leadership duty of performing the mission?
I think this may partially be the case. One of my peers discussed his favorite commander as one who put people first. He then said he hoped to one day be a commander and that he would put people “right up there” with mission. Like the course instructor, he felt my view—that mission was always first—was too negative.
The belief that a military commander should provide services to people without those services enhancing the mission is, in my estimation, irrational. The purpose of the Air Force is to defend the nation. That is the mission. While it may be nice to do things for our people to make their lives better, if doing so doesn’t come with the expectation or hope of better accomplishing the mission then it is a waste of resources. Is it possible we have officers who have forgotten the very purpose of the Air Force? The question reminds me of some of the "Raptor" funds created by Enron. These funds were created and bankrolled by Enron. Enron paid the fund's employees and provided them with inside information so the fund could then take advantage of Enron in business contracts. One consultant accountant reviewing one such deal said “the idea made no business sense” and expressed “disbelief” that a company would do such a thing (Eichenwald, 2005, 5294). The deal went through, as did several others like it, eventually bringing Enron to its knees. It appears sometimes organizations can forget their most basic purposes and can act irrationally (Eichenwald, 2005, 8272). When I hear officers pine over the Air Force's own "Raptor" (pardon the pun) and concentrate on a hypothetical future conventional war at the expense of the reality of warfare in the present, I find myself wondering how much we may have lost our focus. The vision of our CSAF reassures me, however, and I think he's leading the Air Force to a renewed focus on the defense of the nation.
Another question I have relates to the idea of “taking care of people.” Is the emphasis on taking care of people creating or reinforcing an entitlement generation? When people and mission are discussed as separate issues and taking care of people is viewed as an enterprise unrelated to the mission, I think we may begin to create airmen and families who feel entitled to something beyond a safe working environment, good faith, and a paycheck. Shouldn’t we expect our airmen to act responsibly and use their paychecks to take care of themselves and their families? If the military has a duty to take care of personnel beyond the basics and a paycheck then where is the line drawn? Should commanders ensure spouses have babysitters when their sponsors are deployed? Should they ensure spouses have lawn care? Where is the line?
It seems to me that like Enron there may be short-term advantages to acting outside the pure interest of the organization with long-term ramifications. While the funds described above gave short-term advantages by allowing Enron to hide debt, it came with a long-term price that proved fatal to the company. For a commander, the short-term gain of popularity or compliance that comes with “taking care of people” beyond mission necessity may possibly come with a long-term price of a dependent group of airmen who are irresponsible with finances and their private family affairs. If we don’t specify exactly what we mean by taking care of people we may find people have their own expectations to the detriment of the mission.
Blair, Dave “Dodging Gaugemela: Three Ways In Which We Are Inviting Catastrophe and How to Stop Doing So”, 2009.
Eichenwald, Kurt “Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story” Broadway Books, New York, 2005.
There were only two books students were required to purchase for this course. Both of the assigned books are products of Christian authors and appear to be written in the spirit of “servant leadership.” Servant leadership, in many popular forms, teaches the ultimate example of leadership is the life of Jesus.
The first book was John C. Maxwell’s “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” which can be purchased from ChristianBooks.Com. Nearly every example of good leadership in this book was an easily identifiable Christian. Billy Graham was provided as a positive example of leadership in three different places throughout the book. The book mentioned “church” fifty-three times, “faith” thirteen times, and “God” seven times. ACSC/DL required students purchase the book but did not require the entire book be read. It did, however, require Maxwell’s section entitled “We Add Values to Others When We…Do Things That God Values” which points to scripture as the method to divine what God values. The ACSC/DL required reading informs us, “when he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne (Maxwell, 2007, 56).”
The second book students were required to purchase was “A Leader’s Legacy” by James M. Kouzes. Kouzes is also the author of a book entitled, “Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge” which had a foreword written by the same John C. Maxwell mentioned above. In “A Leader’s Legacy” we see “faith” mentioned five times while “servant” is mentioned six times.
Servant leadership with a Christian flavor is certainly taught in ACSC/DL but I'm not sure how prevalent the idea is for most commanders. The idea that the "leader" should submit him or herself to their followers as a servant is an interesting one and perhaps it plays in Air Force leadership culture more than I realize. Air University is, after all, the "intellectual and leadership center of the Air Force."
Maxwell, John C., “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You” Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee, 2007.
Friday, July 3, 2009
In his master’s thesis entitled, “The Effects of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Assignments on Fighter Pilot Morale and Retention” Paul Thornton, an Air Education and Training Command (AETC) F-16 Instructor Pilot, argues that fighter pilots sent to UAS are suffering from severe morale issues and, if the factors underlying the lack of morale aren’t remedied, the service will face a shortage of pilots to fly the UAS.
States Thornton, “I would like to dedicate this paper to the warriors who inspired its writing, Stroke, Mega, Shiv, Adder, and Liquor. They all define what a fighter pilot truly is and the F-16 community is no doubt less lethal without them. I hope this paper will get their message out and that they will be repaid for the wrongs they have lived” (Thornton, 2009, iii).
In my opinion, Thornton raises some valid points especially regarding the issue of UAS basing locations. While overall I don’t think his conclusion (that fighter pilots don’t want to fly UAS and will probably separate) is a particularly useful addition to the research body of knowledge, his thesis has provided some excellent data for the cultural analysis of his community.
Thornton surveyed 254 pilots and Weapon Systems Operators (WSO). Of these, 165 were currently flying fighters and 89 were flying UAS (Thornton, 2009, 26). Of those flying UAS, 39 were former fighter pilots and 48 previously flew tanker/airlift assets (Thornton, 2009, 27).
Thornton explains “…the number of UAS pilots who received the survey for this study was limited due to the request to conduct research being disapproved by the Special Operations Group Commander at Cannon Air Force Base” (Thornton, 2009, 4).
In other words, Thornton’s findings do not represent the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) community. While merely anecdotal, I know members of that community flying UAS at Cannon. In my opinion, their attitudes, levels of commitment, pride, and sense of mission accomplishment significantly diverge from the findings of Thornton’s research. I would be interested to see further research in this area to see if there is a difference between the fighter pilot culture of Thornton’s work and the quiet professionals at Cannon.
Thornton’s research suggests there may be a difference. Analyzing the data he collected, Thornton observes, “job satisfaction and organizational commitment are significantly higher among UAS pilots who were not previous fighter pilots” (Thornton, 2009, 71).
He describes fighter pilots as “achievement striving and action oriented individuals” who are bored by the UAS mission which is too easy and does not challenge them (Thornton, 2009, 4). He states that the odds of becoming a fighter pilot are comparable to becoming a professional athlete and outlines the long hard road.
“The seemingly basic duties and significantly reduced workload of a UAS pilot would undoubtedly be a much different experience from flying fighters. This much more simple job when done by an action seeking fighter pilot, is causing lower job satisfaction and hence lower morale” (Thornton, 2009, 24).
He then provides reasoning for the decrease in morale claiming that fighter pilots are bored with the UAS job, feel their valuable skill set isn’t being properly utilized, and believe they have been unfairly treated by an Air Force leadership which they can no longer trust. Thornton writes:
“People typically feel pride as the result of accomplishing great things. With the UAS pilots' lack of sense of accomplishment follows a lack of pride in their unit. One UAS pilot said, ‘I am personally embarrassed to be in my current squadron.’ This individual's feelings are indicative of the over 60 percent of former fighter pilots now flying UAS who are not proud to tell others they are in their current unit. On the other hand, current fighter pilots often feel a sense of accomplishment and it shows in their pride in their unit” (Thornton, 2009, 55).
Thornton then links this lack of pride, and lack of desire to tell others what they do, with organizational loyalty. Thornton continues:
“Pride and loyalty usually go hand in hand, which was the case in this study. The lack of pride in UAS units by UAS pilots brings a lack of loyalty. One of the reasons for this situation is the feeling by former fighter pilots that they have been treated unfairly” (Thornton, 2009, 55).
Thornton then follows up his discussion of a lack of loyalty with this observation:
“Since military officers are patriotic and practice the core value of service before self, UAS pilots are going to perform the duties assigned to them to the best of their ability. This however, does not mean that they necessarily want to…” (Thornton, 2009, 56)
He also observes, “The FAA does not recognize UAS flight hours and when it comes to applying for a job with an airline, these pilots are at an extreme disadvantage” (Thornton, 2009, 60).
“The research conducted in this study addressing morale and retention issues among fighter pilots who are assigned to fly UAS has brought to light some very important conclusions. First, former fighter pilots are very dissatisfied with their job as UAS pilots due to a multitude of reasons that include lack of challenge, boredom, and a lack of sense of accomplishment. The feeling that these pilots were assigned to UAS unfairly, the constantly changing policies of the USAF, and the lack of guidance about the future are some of the reasons former fighter pilots demonstrate low organizational commitment. These two conclusions lead to the obvious conclusion that morale among this group of pilots is low due to their UAS assignment” (Thornton, 2009, 71).
Thornton then makes several recommendations including:
“Based on the conclusions of this study, the researcher recommends the USAF take immediate action to address the problem of low morale among all UAS pilots in order to avoid a manning crisis in the community in the coming years. The most obvious way to improve morale and retention is to send UAS pilots back to their previous MDS” (Thornton, 2009, 73).
Thornton, Paul Daniel, The Effects of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Assignments on Fighter Pilot Morale and Retention, Embry-Riddle, March 2009.