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July 3, 2008—Michael Wynne met with reporters on June 20, the day on which he stepped down as the 21st Secretary of the Air Force. He discussed the circumstances surrounding his ouster, including the investigation by Adm. Kirkland Donald into the errant shipment of Minuteman III missile components. Wynne also offered his insights on the Government Accountability Office’s KC-X tanker ruling, the Air Force’s contribution to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the pressing need for USAF to modernize and retain a technological edge over potential near-peer adversaries. What follows are excerpts of his remarks.

Relationship with Defense Secretary Robert Gates
“Over the course of this last year as I have become more strident and challenging on several fronts ... I advised the Secretary that I was not with him on the F-22 budget, for example. I advised the Deputy Secretary [Gordon England] that I was not with him on joint basing. And we [Wynne and Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley] kind of told everybody that we needed to change the amount and number of people that we had from what we had forecast as 316,000 up to about 330,000.

“So there were differences that accrued. ... When your boss feels like it’s time for you to go, he gets to pick the time and the place. You’ve got to roger up.”

Head Held High
“I have no regrets, nor a sense of feeling of anger, or anything else. This is business and I feel like I’ve pushed the system pretty hard. ...

“Although I told my wife that this is not personal, it’s business, she said, ‘Well, it seems very personal to me.’  I said, ‘Well, still, I think of it as ... when you have a difference in philosophy with your boss, he owns the philosophy and you own the difference.’ ...

“I would say that it’s been an honor and privilege to serve in the [Bush] Administration. It’s been an honor and privilege to serve as the Secretary of the Air Force.”

Preparing for Tomorrow’s Wars
“I would say that getting ready for a future war is a responsibility that I’ve been talking about since the very first day. ... One time we [Wynne and Gates] were in conversation about would you ever fight a peer. In previous conversations with my partner, Gen. Buzz Moseley, I asked him the same question. He said that it was probably a very low probability of ever entering into an occasion with a true peer competitor. But they sell their stuff all over the world. So my response to Secretary Gates during that interchange was my brother was shot down in Vietnam by a Russian surface-to-air missile that was sold to the North Vietnamese. I said I never considered Vietnam to be a peer competitor, but I lost my brother to the fact that some peer sold them the weapon that killed him.”

Maintaining an Edge
“I started out as a futurist and still am. And I believe that as Eugene Zuckert [Air Force Secretary from January 1961 to September 1965] said ... when he was interviewed right after he left office, he didn’t know whether there was going to be an Air Force in 50 years, but he wanted to be sure that whoever it was doing that job had the best technology and that nobody else had that kind of technology. I feel that very same way, so that has sort of shaped my approach to things. ... I don’t want anybody to ever think we have shrunk our strategic margin to the point where they can take us.”

The Cost of Losing the Edge
“Somebody indicated that ... the Air Force mission was to put a silver cloud over any geospatial location on Earth. I had a Congressman ask me ‘How do I know when the strategic margin erodes?’ I said when you cannot put a silver cloud over any geospatial location on Earth that you choose, you have been blunted. Right away your diplomatic [efforts] will blunt in treaties, everything else will be blunted as well. ...

“Somebody asked me the question the other day ... ‘Since we have a lead, why don’t we just protect that lead by not letting any of our information flow out?’ ...  

“I think the only way to win a race is to keep running.  I think, in technology, we’ve got to continue to push our educational system to supply us science and engineering talents and keep running.”

Current Challenges
“I think we are supporting the Army as best we can.  ... Ninety-five percent of our people are in the rotation bucket. I even thought to myself, ‘Is this the way the Air Force cracks because of the stress?’ ...

“We’ve been at war for 17 years. I would say we’ve attempted to use all of our equipment in very new and novel ways. Not the missiles, but the B-52s, the B-1s, the F-16s, the F-15s. We haven’t been engaged in an air superiority and air dominance mission, so we’ve been challenged to innovate. We’ve been asked to train our airmen for combat duty. We actually had ... missile techs out of Malmstrom [AFB, Mont.] as interrogators and translators because they happened to have the language skills.  You heard me say every airman can’t be a rifleman. It just doesn’t work. Yet the mission pace there was unrelenting.”

Air Force Role in Counterinsurgency
“If you go read [Army Gen.] Dave Petraeus’ [commanding general of the Multi-National Force-Iraq] account for counter-insurgency ... he did not see a role for airpower so it’s not referenced. When he got to the theater, he surged about 20 percent of the troops. We surged 400 percent in the number of sorties and a thousand percent in the pounds of ordnance dropped.

“What happened that suddenly the airpower became a vital part of the counter-insurgency and surge? I would tell you that what happened was the realization that we could get connectivity between the ground commanders and the air component, that there was true situational awareness available. ...

“Suddenly as a customer, and the Army is our customer, they woke up. I mean they woke up and now all of a sudden the confidence that they could predict the collateral damage, the confidence that they could save lives, just soared. I would tell you that was culturally hard for the Army and here’s why.

“In the past, a young captain or a young lieutenant or a sergeant would have to call for division artillery. ... Indirect fire was a headquarters event. All of a sudden, because you could get devastating power out of the air, it was a captain or a lieutenant calling for this firepower. They didn’t have to tell Corps. They could just tell the pilot, drop it here. A big cultural change. Had to go through, I think, a revolution in thought in the Army.”

GAO’s Ruling on the KC-X Tanker Award
“As you might imagine, we were very disappointed, and the reason we were very disappointed, I think, is the intensity of effort that went into having a very open and a very transparent basis. ... If there’s anything I could say here, it is I think we made it overly complex and we needed to make the decision process simpler. ...

“One of the reasons that we’re disappointed is we had a red team on everything we did. ... Every time we did a modification to the RFP [request for proposals], we had a murder board. We had partners all over the government. ... The disappointment is interagency. ...

“With all the energy that we put in, my first concern was for the people who did it. I was very concerned about the team, because they were leaning so far forward. They, even in the last 60 days, worked themselves very hard to get ready to do whatever they were going to do. So you’ve got to be a little bit concerned for their professional welfare as to how they feel about it. That’s why my message to them was this is a tough business in acquisition. You’ve got to just pull our socks up and get at it again.”

The Way Forward with KC-X
“We should be able to handle this. ... We now know these products, we’ve advanced a year and a half down the road. How do we take full advantage of that year and a half advance? Is there an opportunity here to essentially protect the government’s interest even more in reshaping and revising the bid? ...

“Can we afford to do a fly-off? These airplanes are fairly well enough along. Is that an idea that can come back on the table? ...

“[We] are somewhat confused by some of the [GAO] wording because it would almost say that you can’t add cost to a low-ball bid. I don’t think that was their intent. We’ve kind of got to ask [GAO] if that was their intent. ... What I don’t want to do is to have a message sent out to the industry that if you think you’re low, cut it 10 percent.”

“I think this is going to shape acquisition for some time to come, but I think [Pentagon acquisition czar] John Young and Shay Assad [the Pentagon’s director of defense procurement, acquisition policy, and strategic sourcing], and [Air Force acquisition executive] Sue Payton, and Ken Miller [USAF’s special assistant for acquisition governance and transparency] really do have—and [KC-X program manager] Terry Kasten, by the way, who is a phenomenal program manager—have got the handle on where they’re going with this. They just need clarification. ...

“The Air Force will try desperately to hold onto the [initial fielding date goal of 2013] because of the age of our fleet. I will also say there’s almost no way to do that in the face of a straight-forward delay in the start date.

“I think we’re all in our infancy as to how to use [the cyber domain]. You have to remember that the first use of airplanes was to replace balloons, and the reason for balloons was artillery spotters and intelligence people. So when the first pilot brought a pistol or a gun on the airplane, he ruined this replacement for balloons. Now it became an air dominance action that you had to go make sure you had the only balloons or the only airplanes in the air.

“That’s where we are in cyber. We don’t know quite yet how to do it. I think, over the course of the next five or six years, it’s going to change remarkably. What we’re going to find is the best way to use cyber is in combination with air, space, maritime, and ground. Just like, right now, the best use of air turns out to be in combination, fusing and distributing the information to our ground troops, making them confident there.”

New Bomber
“We need to do the next-generation bomber. Is it going to be 2018? 2019? Let me go back and just say I think we need to do the bomber and I think we need to push it.”

Fifth Generation Apples and Oranges
“The notion of the F-22 as being common and similar to the F-35, we need to get rid of that. The F-35 is a very different airplane. It has similar characteristics but it’s a different airplane. ... It complements the F-22, but the F-22 is clearly an air superiority and air dominance  weapon. The F-35 is a multinational, multi-role, ground-to-air versatile airplane.”

Time and Place for UAVs
“I watched with interest the [film of the] Georgian UAV [getting shot down in April], and I recognize there’s a time and a place to employ unmanned air vehicles. You need first to have air superiority and total air dominance, because if you don’t have it, then the bad guys can fly in with MiG-29s and they can shoot down your UAVs.

“So there has to be a visceral fear that somewhere that UAV was not just sending data back to a command center watching itself get killed, it was sending it to a killer who was out there and was big brother to the UAV and would have shot down the MiG-29.”

Synthetic Fuel
“I was told early on to knock this stuff off about the Air Force buying synthetic fuel because we can always get fuel. Well, you know, I didn’t. The reason I didn’t was because I felt like one of the things you can do in big government is be a market place. You can be a preferred market place. You cannot by giving subsidiesthat’s somebody else’s purviewbut by making a market and asking for a preferred source.

“You ask for it, you know it’s for national defense, so there’s not really a commercial application to it. You just ask for it. Now, all of a sudden when it comes, like the Internet itself, there may be a commercial benefit. I remember that when ARPANET [Advanced Projects Research Agency Network, the military precursor to the Internet] arrived, the government was the big investor in ARPANET. Made the market, and then boom, the rest is history.”

Donald Report
“First of all, the investigation by Admiral Donald, who’s a Navy nuclear submariner, saw things a lot differently than the Air Force did. We’ve been growing apart because we’ve been doing it as a separate service for a long time. He brought a different eye to it. In bringing a different eye to it, he evaluated us against [criteria] within the Navy and found some of the ways we do it wanting. I can appreciate that.

“Seventeen years ago, as the Secretary of Defense indicated, we went a different path in the nuclear collateral parts, so we cast them into a system that was a little bit less careful about the inventory control ... and I think he’s very right to take a look and reanalyze that.”

Don’t Forget
“There’s nothing wrong with this great Air Force. It’s set and ready to defend America. It is leading the way in management foundation. It is leading the way in cyber. I think part of the other problem is the standards to which we hold ourselves—and we hope the American people hold us to—are very, very high. So when we break those standards, we are very, very disappointed. And it’s not surprising to us that the American people are like that too.”