Gates addresses Air Force personnel at Peterson Air Force Base

By Petty Officer 1st Class Joaquin Juatai | NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs | June 10, 2008

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates addressed the men and women of Air Force Space Command here today, discussing the recent upheaval in the Air Force’s senior leadership.

“By now, you all know about my decision to accept the resignations of Secretary Wynne and General Moseley,” Gates began.

“I have asked the President to nominate Michael Donley as Secretary of the Air Force and to appoint him as acting Secretary of the Air Force. Mr. Donley is currently the Department’s director of Administration and Management – in effect the ‘mayor of the Pentagon’ overseeing DoD’s vast headquarters apparatus.

“I’ve asked the President to nominate General Norton Schwartz, who currently leads the U.S. Transportation Command, to be the next Air Force Chief of Staff,” he continued.

“I have asked the President to nominate General Duncan McNabb, the current Vice Chief, to take General Schwartz’s place at Transportation Command … Finally, I’ve asked the President to nominate Lieutenant General William Fraser, III to become the next Air Force Vice Chief. General Fraser is currently the Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

Gates went on to outline the reasons behind the Air Force shakeup.

“There has been no shortage of speculation why I made this change in leadership. And, in particular, whether there were any reasons beyond those that I cited last week – specifically, the leadership failures associated with the control of nuclear weapons and equipment.

“It is important to establish up front that, were it not for the findings of Admiral [Kirkland] Donald’s report regarding systemic problems and weaknesses in our nuclear weapons program, the leadership changes would not have taken place.

“Our policy is clear: We will ensure the complete physical control of nuclear weapons, and we will properly handle their associated components at all times. It is a tremendous responsibility – one we must not and will never take lightly.”

According to Gates, “the Donald Report identified three systemic problems: First: The Air Force does not have a clear, dedicated authority responsible for the nuclear enterprise who sets and maintains consistent, rigorous standards of operation. As a result, there was an erosion of performance standards and a lack of effective leadership oversight.

"Second: The failures that led to the nose cone mis-shipment could have been prevented had the Air Force’s and the Defense Logistics Agency’s existing inspection and oversight programs been functioning effectively. Additional existing controls that would have been appropriate for sensitive or classified parts were not used.

"Third: The investigation confirmed a decline in Air Force nuclear expertise, similar to findings in other earlier reports. Years ago, there was a well established and prestigious career path for Airmen in the nuclear field. As the overall focus of the Air Force has shifted away from this nuclear mission, it has become more difficult to retain people with sufficient expertise. The Service has not effectively compensated for this deficiency through training and active career management. Moreover, the nuclear mission has not received adequate funding for years.

“The investigation also determined that the Air Force nuclear program lacked a culture of critical self-assessment. There was not an intensive inspection regime and the inspection processes that did exist tended to diminish command ownership. As a result, systemic weaknesses were less likely to be discovered and addressed.”

Gates said the investigation concluded that both the Barksdale/Minot nuclear weapons transfer incident and the Taiwan mis-shipment had a common origin: The gradual erosion of nuclear standards and a lack of effective oversight by Air Force leadership.

Gates concluded with two final thoughts regarding the continued service of Air Force Personnel: “Embrace accountability in all that you do – for everything in your area of responsibility. When you see failures or growing problems in other areas – outside your lane, as it is often described – throw a flag: bring them to the attention to people who can do something about it; and, rededicate yourselves to the standards of excellence that have been the hallmark of the United States Air Force for more than 60 years.”