Archive for the ‘Nuclear Enterprise’ Category

This article originally appeared in Air University’s The Wright Stuff.

The Toyota – Air Force Nuclear Enterprise Analogy

By Mark Stout & Larry Chandler

Although Toyota is one of the world’s premier manufacturers, they are now dealing with an intense threat to their credibility.  At the heart of the issue are concerns about the quality and safety of Toyota products.  In the U.S., at least 52 people have died in accidents thought to be related to unintended and sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles.  These problems have resulted in public apologies in both Beijing and Washington by Toyota’s President, Akio Toyoda, and worldwide, over 8 million Toyotas have been recalled.

In the Air Force, there is an analogous credibility challenge which thankfully hasn’t killed anybody, but is none-the-less significant.  That challenge remains the USAF’s nuclear enterprise.* If the efficacy of the AF’s nuclear endeavors are being accurately measured by Air Force and Department of Defense inspection teams, the nuclear enterprise remains in a very unhealthy condition.

While the details and specific errors have not been announced, the Air Force Times relayed a statement that Malmstrom Air Force Base’s 341st Missile Wing and the its 16th Munitions Squadron both failed their February 2010 nuclear surety inspections.  The Air Force response, as reported in the Washington Post, was that “There were no critical deficiencies noted. The wing is still fully able, in the eyes of the inspector general team, to conduct its mission safely, securely and with credibility” and that the public is in no way endangered by these failures.  OK, I’ll accept the later, but if there were no critical deficiencies, why didn’t they pass?

The not-critical-but-somehow-unqualifying errors at Malmstrom were preceded by a different unsatisfactory performance at Kirtland Air Force Base in November 2009.  There, both the 377th Air Base Wing and the 498th Nuclear Systems Wing received unsatisfactory grades for problems in the personnel reliability program, nuclear weapons maintenance operations, and nuclear weapons security procedures.  In late January 2010, while preparing for its obligatory 90-day recheck inspection, a HQ AFMC staff assistance team found the unit had not corrected the problems from their failed November NSI.  This was so unexpected that HQ Air Force Materiel Command conducted a separate “Over-watch” of the staff assistance findings, which were validated. As a result, the Kirtland (Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center) leadership took the very unusual step of a sort of ‘self-initiated nuclear decertification.’ Strange days, indeed.

So how do the problems at Toyota and in the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise fit together?  Toyota watcher and author Robert Cole, writing in the Harvard Business Review, has detailed several of the manufacturer’s problems which appear to have direct applicability to the USAF’s nuclear enterprise.  Broadly, these problems have to do with organizational goals and incentives and (forgive the cliché) unintended consequences.

An often unspoken but ever-present organizational goal is to be relevant— after all, an irrelevant organization will soon cease to exist.  In 1992, the Air Force faced new challenges to its relevance, shaped in large part by the dissolution of the Soviet Union in late 1991, and in no small part by the AF’s own success in Desert Storm earlier that same year.  Following these events, USAF leaders attempted to make the Air Force ever more relevant by focusing additional organizational effort and resources on conventional capabilities (like stealthy aircraft, “smart munitions”, and the space-enabled successes demonstrated in Desert Storm) and less on its nuclear enterprise.   In many ways, 1992 can be summed up in what Robert McNamara observed following the Cuban Missile Crisis: conventional forces were the spear and nuclear forces the shield, although in the 1990s, the shield was certain to get a lot smaller.

Between Desert Storm and the fall of the Soviet Union, President George H.W. Bush unilaterally de-alerted the USAF’s nuclear bomber fleet along with 450 Minuteman II ICBMs in September 1991, providing the Soviets, in the words of then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney “the incentive they need to shift their country away from the business of cranking out nuclear weapons and toward the work of building democracy.”  With the Department of Defense expected to pay much of the anticipated “peace dividend,” something had to give and one of the bill-payers would be the USAF’s nuclear enterprise.

The flip side of the story of this rapid contraction and associated de-emphasis on the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise was Toyota’s rapid expansion.  In 1998, Toyota set off to enhance its relevance in the global automotive industry with the aim of doubling their global market share.  As an organizational goal, this large increase in market share would entail a number of things: more people working on a broader product line; selling more; manufacturing more (and in different places); bringing products from development to market more quickly; and, sustaining the famous Toyota reputation for quality.  Additionally, the market-share goal could be easily measured, observed, and tracked, but as Cole notes, Toyota’s traditional mantras like “Customer First” had a way of yielding when in conflict with the primary target of increased market share.  After all, what gets rewarded is what gets done.

Instead, Toyota’s rapid market expansion diluted the experience levels of its managers just as the Air Force’s focus on conventional conflicts pulled human and fiscal resources away from a well-established and mature nuclear enterprise.  At Toyota, Cole observed these changes drove massive increases in engineering man-hours, particularly in integration and joint software development.  He adds that overworked people, engineers in this case, tend to make mistakes and that inside Toyota, it is said to take about ten years to develop a fully capable engineer.

As alluded to, the Air Force’s experience was Toyota’s in reverse: rapid contraction instead of rapid expansion.  With the USAF ICBM force, for example, the aforementioned 450 Minuteman IIs were depostured, including removing all weapons, ICBM components, the missiles themselves, and more.  Later, all 50 Peacekeeper ICBMs were also depostured and taken out of the inventory.  In between, 150 Minuteman IIIs from a BRAC’d base were depostured and moved from one base to a separate base in another state and repostured.  Throughout, the Minuteman III system went from a multiple warhead configuration to a single warhead configuration (including using recycled re-entry vehicles that once resided on Peacekeeper ICBMs).  Along the way, a huge Minuteman III life extension program refurbished or remanufactured the missile from “nosecone to nozzle.”  All these actions required a massive amount of effort, including literally millions of miles of travel, and work throughout the far-flung missile fields of Missouri, North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Colorado.

While all this was happening, the traditional ICBM maintenance required to inspect and repair missiles, weapons, facilities and support equipment continued unabated.  And what happened to Airmen manning in the missile maintenance and missile operations officer career fields?  You got it…it decreased.  If many hands make the load light, fewer hands are certain to make the load heavier, all other things being equal.

A separate but contributing move that reduced corporate nuclear knowledge was the 1991 merger of the munitions maintenance officer and aircraft maintenance officer career fields.  At the time, this move drove 250 munitions officers into a larger sea of 1750 “general purpose logistics” officers and clearly reduced the opportunities to develop comprehensive and in-depth munitions expertise.  Because the activities at a Weapons Storage Area comprise about three-quarters of the Nuclear Weapons Technical Inspection criteria, having experienced and capable munitions officers is essential.  This was eloquently forewarned by Major General (Retired) Lew Curtis, the San Antonio Air Logistics Center Commander, who in 1987 said “We have learned through long and bitter experience that nuclear logistics operations demand experience and technical expertise far beyond that required for general maintenance of even non-nuclear munitions.”

So, just as at Toyota, it seems there were too few experienced people doing too much in too short a time and both the Air Force and Toyota underestimated the challenges of these highly complex endeavors.  Airmen may have become experts in depostures and repostures while perhaps losing the habits of mind and the knowledge and experience required to achieve daily and sustained excellence in aircraft, missile and nuclear weapons operations.

These complex problems are reminiscent of Steven Covey’s law of the farm, that is, you reap what you sow.  When Toyota placed market share as a pre-eminent goal, a cascade of unintended consequences followed.  In hindsight, it seems obvious Toyota’s rapid expansion might well affect the quality of its product.  Similarly, when the Air Force de-emphasized nuclear weapons maintenance and operations while concurrently increasing the nuclear weapon systems’ maintenance workload, a weakening of the entire enterprise was bound to occur.

Many nuclear-experienced and capable Airmen could read the writing on the wall and pursued other career opportunities.  For bomber crews and staff, this became a focus on conventional capabilities.  For many ICBM crews and staff, the focus often moved to positions in the space arena.  For ICBM maintenance, nuclear weapons, and security personnel, it meant separating from the Air Force or training into other specialties, especially those involved with the flight line, fighter aircraft, and deployments.  For the Air Force, it appears to have taken about fifteen years to reach a nuclear enterprise “Tipping Point” marked by the inadvertent movement of six nuclear weapons from Minot Air Force Base to Barksdale AFB in 2007 and a separate event involving incorrectly shipping nuclear-related ICBM components to Taiwan.  Through most of the interim years from the end of the Cold War until these times, despite benign neglect, a loss of experience combined, and expanding workloads, the nuclear enterprise was still managed effectively by the experienced officers and NCOs who had resisted or avoided the career enhancing push to “career – broaden,” remaining in the nuclear weapons career fields. But when these Airmen finally left the service, the safety net of experience and expertise unraveled.  Still, if this is now so obvious, why did it happen?  Perhaps it relates back to something attributed to Winston Churchill: no job is impossible for the man who doesn’t have to do it.

After an Air Force Chief of Staff and a Secretary of the Air Force were relieved following the Minot to Barksdale and the disassociated-but-relevant Taiwan incidents, new leadership established the goal of “Reinvigorating the AF Nuclear Enterprise” asthe Air Force’s top priority.  Recently, that goal was subtly changed and is now described as Continue To Strengthen The Air Force Nuclear Enterprise.    Based on the recent inspection results at the nuclear units, it appears we can legitimately question if we are addressing the underlying root causes of the Minot and Taiwan incidents.   While Toyota is important, a compliant (that is, safe, secure, and reliable) USAF nuclear enterprise is essential.

Mark Stout is a researcher at Air University’s National Space Studies Center.  Mr. Stout sometimes posts at the blog Songs of Space and Nuclear War.  Larry Chandler is a retired Air Force Colonel working on the effort to revitalize the USAF Nuclear Enterprise.  The opinions expressed here are those of the authors’ alone and may not reflect the views and policies of the US Air Force or the Department of Defense.

* Even though the term ‘nuclear enterprise’ lacks total precision, it is intended to represent the totality of what the Air Force does regarding anything nuclear to include operations, logistics, security, modernization, delivery vehicles, and weapons.

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This article originally appeared in Air University’s The Wright Stuff


What Would Rickover Do?

by

Mark Stout & Larry Chandler

Admiral Hyman Rickover was quite a man.  Considered the Father of the nuclear Navy, he was a man of action, served an inconceivable 60+plus years of continuous active duty (not a typo), and was highly demanding of himself and others. Unaccepting of the Navy’s traditional methods, Rickover instead chose to build a world-class organization of his own terms. Sometimes this meant taking his programs directly to Congress, a behavior that earned Rickover enemies outside, but especially within the Navy.  Conversely, his naked pursuit of excellence, including nuclear safety, surety, and stewardship, and hisprogrammatic salesmanship also helped cultivate a large portfolio of friends and admirers.  It has been Rickover’s accomplishments–his major and enduring impact on the nuclear Navy–that have created and sustained an interest in his opinions and ideas.

In a 1982 speech Rickover made at Columbia University that served to culminate much of his thinking, three major actors emerge: the individual, the leader, and the organization.  These are then knit together by an overarching Rickover theme regarding the importance of knowledgeable leaders, individual responsibility and the tendency of large government organizations to dilute individual responsibility.  Both the actors and the theme are relevant, first because of Rickover’s nuclear background and ideas relate directly to current Air Force efforts to “revitalize” its nuclear enterprise, but also because of the transcendent nature of his thoughts.  Most of Rickover’s Columbia speech text is at govleaders.org.

The Individual

Rickover felt each individual needed to feel a sense of ownership and have a corresponding sense of loyalty for high achievement to occur.  Ultimately, individuals accomplish things and to do so, they need to possess competence, continuity, and commitment. When an individual has direct personal involvement in an endeavor’s success or failure (and when they know it), Rickover felt superior performance was much more likely to occur.  Conversely, poor performance is more likely when responsibilities are unclear.  Similarly, when an individual’s responsibility and their authority are generalized, unexceptional (or worse) performance can be expected.

However, without individuals doing the right things, organizations fail.  While this is self-evident to most of us, it is a lesson worth considering in prioritization, because Rickover suggests a general human tendency towards performing ‘little tasks’ (which may be interesting, or even urgent, but are ultimately unimportant).  And why is this so?  He suggests human nature often nudges us towards the sorts of “challenges” that really require little effort or energy, but still seem to provide some sort of internal sense of accomplishment.  If less important things are being pursued, even if they are being done well, the individual will fail to accomplish the organization’s mission.

The Leader

Rickover knew leaders had to have more than symbolic value.  That is, an organization’s leaders needed to go beyond vaguely being “in-charge” or replying “I’m the commander” when asked “What do you do?”  Rickover warned against generalist-leaders, “often unskilled in the technical aspects of the company.”  Instead of having a profound understanding of the technical and operational issues, Rickover understood generalist-leaders might not possess the comprehensive understanding of the mission and that without this essential knowledge, could well face a too-tempting inclination to focus issues that are easy to measure, administrative, or even urgent but are not related to the mission.   Rather, Rickover called for leaders to help fulfill the essential role of having individuals working on the aforementioned “right things.”  Rickover would propose that those who depend exclusively on staff, slides, or software to understand what’s going on are likely to lose touch, or restated, he felt that filtering can kill a leader’s ability to lead a complex organization as it strives to accomplish its mission

Rickover also felt strategy, policy, and doctrine, while interesting and important, can be distracting as they can serve to crowd out painful, difficult, and generally unglamorous tactical detail and mission-related work.  Rickover, working in a complex, dynamic, and interconnected environment, found resolving small issues and details was necessary or these difficult endeavors would fail. He argued there is no substitute for a leader’s experience and knowledge, and a profound corporate memory will be a beneficial natural consequence of those two strengths.

As with the individual, a leader’s authority and responsibility must be matched.  Responsibility to the mission comes before all other obligations, to include personal ambition, achievement, and comfort.  Rickover said the person who says or thinks ‘I’m not responsible’ is correct; the person is being irresponsible.  Conversely, Rickover saw when “everyone’s responsible,” no one’sresponsible.

The Organization

Rickover indirectly posits that organizations should exist to provide a framework that helps individuals complete the mission through unity of effort.  However, Rickover was a contrarian who favored self-organizing and opposed hierarchically-driven institutions.  In today’s language, Rickover could be described as advocating for natural work groups (or teams) or self-managing teams.  He used a condemning phrase to describe a systemic organizational flaw he too often observed, which provided organizational leaders the latitude “to do less than is necessary.”

He provided organizational assessments that were troubling in 1982 and remain of concern today.  Rickover opined the traditional DoD process created unintended consequences which generated institutional and personal inexperience and nonaccountability, and that by the time the individual or leader had well grasped their job, it was time to rotate out.  Radical change, like designing, building, and operating nuclear-powered carriers, cruisers, and submarines, did not and does not come easy, and organizational flaws certainly add to the challenge.  Rickover’s nuclear Navy organization is still remarkably successful because individuals and leaders are required to expertly know their business.

Rickover in Retrospect

You don’t serve over 60 years without garnering some high-level attention and when Rickover pinned-on his fourth star, President Richard Nixon had this to say about him, “…once genius is submerged by bureaucracy, a nation is doomed to mediocrity.” In hindsight, it’s not difficult to see that Rickover’s “genius” was based largely on the Edisonian proposition of hard work: that is, one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.  The perspiration was no doubt an acceptable trade-off to Rickover, a man who had lived through two world wars, wars in Korean and Vietnam, and the Cold War.

These experiences placed Rickover as a man who clearly understood the value of the nation’s nuclear deterrent force that he worked so diligently to enhance.  Evidence of this was shown at Rickover’s memorial service in 1986.  There, former President Jimmy Carter read the John Milton poem On His Blindness to honor Rickover.  The poem concludes with the line   “…They also serve who only stand and wait.”  While standing and waiting do not appear to parts of Hyman Rickover’s basic character, they well describe the importance of diligence, preparedness, and readiness he ascribed to of America’s nuclear deterrent force.

Mark Stout is a researcher at Air University’s National Space Studies Center.  Mr. Stout occasionally posts at the blog Songs of Space and Nuclear War.  Larry Chandler is a retired Air Force Colonel working on the effort to revitalize the USAF Nuclear Enterprise.  The opinions expressed here are those of the authors’ alone and may not reflect the views and policies of the US Air Force or the Department of Defense.

While Afghanistan has been described as the graveyard of empires, Minot Air Force Base has become the graveyard of military careers.  How so, you say?  Well, another wing commander has fallen at Minot but this time it’s the bomb wing commander.  If I have the count right, that’s two Minot wing commanders, a group commander, and a squadron commander that we know of in a month.

Perhaps the mythical Frank Savage should be recalled to active duty and placed in command at Minot.  Of course, the fictional Savage had to deal with the 918th Bomb Group’s poor performance and its psychological manifestation, fear (or maybe those are reversed) in the classic World War II flick 12 O’Clock High.  However, if Frank Savage was at Minot, what challenges would he have to deal with? 

In the most recent case, most of what’s been said refers to the traditional ‘loss of confidence in the individual’s ability to command and lead.’  By the way, this commander had been in place just short of two years and himself relieved a fallen wing commander.  It’s been said sunlight is the best disinfectant–we need some serious sunlight pouring into what’s going on at Minot if for no other reason than to serve as a case study in understanding what went wrong and to consider what we might do differently in the future.

As 12 O’clock High unfolds, Savage comes to possess a great deal of empathy for the aircrews under his command.  In fact, it hits him so hard at the end of the story that it literally causes him to lock up and quit functioning.  Tough leadership, practice, and changed methods brought great improvements in Savage’s bomb group, but in the end, his loss-of-function hearkens to a couple of well-known quotes that have some Minot applicability.  The first is attributed to Henry Ford, who proclaimed “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”  The second is from Teddy Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.”

Today, I’m sure there are lots of Minotians who are wondering if they can make it through a year’s worth of daily activities, let alone some rigorous major inspections, without finding themselves in trouble.  Likewise, there are lots of nuclear critics pointing out strong men stumbling and deeds that could have been done better.  However, since the Air Force often characterizes promotions as ‘recognition of the ability to perform at the next higher grade,’ were these individuals at Minot all promoted beyond their ability?  That seems unlikely but does raise the issue of more leadership and process adjustments the Air Force may need to make in this regard.  Were the individuals relieved inadequate in their performance, or were they simply challenged to play the poor hands they had been dealt to the best of their abilities?  The challenges in leading large organizations are myriad, but especially true is the fact you can greatly influence people but you can’t control them. 

It would appear Minot typifies the sticky situation the Air Force has gotten itself in over the last fifteen-plus years.  Even though restoring the nuclear enterprise is a critical USAF goal, long periods of neglect have led to the experience cupboard being bare and the bench being empty.  If that’s true, I’ll propose a heretical solution: bring in some F-15 and F-16 drivers in leadership roles to try and fix Minot’s shortcomings.  Or alternatively, how about some civil engineers or support officers?  After all, if the bomber and missile guys aren’t getting it done, give someone else a chance.  Too often it seems the traditional mutual fund caveat applies to leadership, that is, ‘past performance may not be indicative of future returns.’ 

The Air Force needs to ask itself if the right people are actually getting into leadership positions, and not just nuclear.  Institutionally, it does not appear to be an easy question to answer.  When an NFL owner is unhappy with a team’s performance, the coach or general manager is likely to get fired.  Why?  First, because it’s impossible to fire an entire team and second, owners don’t fire themselves.  The call-back to ‘Why not Minot?’ has historically been ‘Freezins’ the reason.’  Today, air temperatures, while still important, are subsumed by more essential issues.

Compare and Contrast

Posted: October 29, 2009 in Nuclear, Nuclear Enterprise, USAF
Tags:

Here are some observations I’ve made on the past, present, and possible future of the USAF’s nuclear enterprise.

Here is Brigadier General Joseph D. Brown IV’s take on my take as seen in Air University’s current The Wright Stuff.

Enjoy!

Major General Don Alston, the Air Force A10, was here yesterday and gave us a revealing, highly interesting, and timely overview of activities within the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise.

It was fantastic to have him here–really excellent!!

Strive for excellence, not perfection. Perfection is God’s domain.
– Unknown

The Air Force’s top priority is to restore its nuclear enterprise. This priority has been in place for about a year and accomplishing the task has been an exceedingly challenging endeavor. Just as you don’t become physically fit or highly educated overnight, it is similarly difficult to restore a bureaucratic, flaccid, and far flung nuclear enterprise to a pristine condition in a year or two when it has been in a state of institutional decline approaching two decades.

Part of the restoration included creating an Air Force major command to oversee its nuclear forces. This was realized with the recent activation of Global Strike Command and its dedicated focus on the USAF strategic nuclear deterrence mission. However, the activation has made some nostalgic for a modern-day return of the Strategic Air Command, that not-forgotten Air Force within the Air Force. With its bomber and ICBM fleets, SAC provided the preponderance of the nation’s nuclear deterrence for 40-plus years until its deactivation in 1992.
SAC was notorious for its mission focus. While normal operations included the day-to-day activities of pulling alerts, training, and testing, there were also major but less frequent activities such as implementing revisions to the nuclear war plan and changing the cryptographic codes. However, for many former SAC warriors, the preeminent memory of the command is probably the many months spent in the “inspection prep” mode, readying oneself or one’s organization for a never-ending cycle of inspections and evaluations. First in precedence was the SAC Inspector General, followed by SAC’s command evaluators, with the numbered air force evaluators bringing up the rear. Headquarters Air Force inspectors, you ask? No one ever gave them a second thought.
Inspections and evaluations were SAC’s way of proving to itself that the mission was being performed correctly. Within SAC’s mission focus, two particular areas were emphasized. The first was readiness and the second was compliance. Compliance, in its extreme form, becomes focused on perfection, which for some epitomized SAC’s basic character. However, as with anything, an inordinate preoccupation on perfection can create some unintended consequences which are worthy of exploration.
The first and most dangerous unintended consequence is that any culture which requires exceedingly high achievement as its minimum standard is capable of endangering personal and institutional integrity. Top-level sporting activities provide any number of excellent examples, with many coaches and athletes in professional football, baseball, cycling, and Olympic sports doing whatever it takes to win. While the analogy is incomplete in that you didn’t “win” an inspection, test, or evaluation in SAC, you certainly could lose one. Unqualified or unsatisfactory ratings were able to create dire career consequences that were capable of motivating some to avoid failure “by any means necessary.” However, the SAC IG, to its great credit would almost never write errors for program-type discrepancies–even some whoppers–that had been previously self-identified and documented by the unit. SAC wanted integrity to be preserved and felt that could be done with a robust self-examination program that encouraged organizations to first search out and find problems and then, to take action to solve the issues.
Next, a preoccupation with perfection can lead to an overemphasis on rework. Regarding inspections, and while it’s unlikely SAC intended things to work out this way, the goal for many units was not to achieve true-perfection, but rather, to achieve inspection-perfection. For example, regarding nuclear-associated paperwork and documentation, it was never good enough to merely do something right the first time and file it away until it was inspected; rather, the documentation had to be checked again and again and again. With the seldom-ending litany of inspections, re-checking already done work came to be viewed as a sort of insurance that had to be purchased. While it could sometimes help avoid poor inspection results, fixing things after the fact (but before they were inspected) could in no way ensure excellence. Getting it right to begin with was desirable; having it right for the inspection was mandatory. As Bill Creech would tell us, inspecting for quality at the end of a process is generally much more difficult, costly, and time-consuming than building it in throughout the process.
Finally, an overemphasis on perfection can lead to a reduction in initiative. When much of the focus is on rework and checking (and checking the checkers), it can have the unintended detrimental effect of reducing initiative for other important but less urgent work. Even if there were ways to do things cheaper, faster, and better within the nuclear community, the culture was one of extreme compliance and was not one of improvement. While a checklist mentality can be useful, compliance itself is not sufficient for true excellence. In SAC, there was little time or energy left for institutional processes to improve existing nuclear practices.
This discussion on perfection has relevance given the tone of the Air Force’s February 2009 Communications Background Sheet on the Nuclear Enterprise. The background sheet states “Regardless of the size of the nuclear enterprise we are entrusted with, the standard — perfection — remains the same.” Later in the same document, this theme is rephrased as “Perfection isn’t the goal, it is the standard. That’s the demand of the business.” So, is actual perfection a viable standard or is it really a metaphor for excellence and compliance? Certainly that’s an area that can be given some literary clean-up as it seems there should be standards other than 1) perfection and 2) failure. Second, if a unit’s nuclear program actually is perfect, that only means they’ve met the minimum standard. There is lots of stick and very little carrot here, which hearkens back to an old SAC-era phrase “Reward is the absence of punishment.”
For some time, Air Force leaders have been running away from the nuclear mission. This was no doubt due to a variety of factors. First, with the end of the Cold War, the large cuts in the nation’s nuclear weapons inventory signaled the national-level significance of the nuclear mission had diminished. The Air Force’s corresponding de-emphasis–and its consequences–should have been an easily expected and better managed corollary. Second, with the merger of the space operations and missile operations career fields, space and not ICBMs, has become the long-term place to be. Similarly, for bomber crews, conventional and not nuclear missions were preeminent for some time. Third, with more cuts looming in the pending end-of-2009 Nuclear Posture Review and with nuclear modernization serving as a political football, the challenges associated with the long-term viability of the nuclear career fields will be bigger than ever. If the Air Force wants to have enduring and exquisite competencies in the nuclear arena, two elements, promotions and pay, hold the keys and other areas, such as follow-on assignments and education programs will compliment the first two. In the meantime, a reasonable and prudent Airman might see some benefit to moving as far away from a mission area that demands perfection as a minimum standard.