Austin Bay has written a very interesting (and very worrying) appraisal of morale and structural problems in the USAF's strategic missile forces. Here's an excerpt from his analysis.
The latest assessment concludes that the problems persist because so much of the equipment on these missile bases is so old that many components are no longer made and the shrinking air force budget cannot meet demands for expensive improvisations. As a result the missile bases are considered a bad assignment because so much stuff is ancient and breaking down. All this was made worse by the post-Cold War air force leadership stressing “zero defects”, micromanagement and political correctness. This stuff made matters worse at the missile bases. These three items made it particularly difficult to admit that they were key problems and as a result morale among officers and airmen was low and staying low because despite the headlines about “fixing the problem” things got worse, especially when it came to living and working conditions in these rural bases. The problems were particularly harsh during cold weather, which in this area, near the Canadian border, have always been a challenge.
The problems got so bad that in the last few years that some officers were punished for being too harsh in their efforts to improve discipline and performance of subordinates. While Air Force commanders want discipline and performance improved in the missile forces, it must be achieved in a politically correct manner. That, the latest analysis of the situation concluded, had become a major part of the problem and a massive obstacle to any solutions.
By 2012 a growing number of Minuteman launch officers were suspended from launch duty for months at a time so they could receive more training and new procedures developed and implemented to ensure that all regulations were being followed. There was apparently a breakdown in training and leadership in their squadron (which controls 50 silos) and wing (which controls three squadrons). Air force leadership also believes that there is still an attitude problem among those who maintain and operate the ICBMs.
. . .
Now the air force finds itself with a morale and performance problem that has gotten worse. Despite studies showing that commercial firms had found ways to solve similar problems the generals put in charge of the nuclear weapons have not, so far, accepted this as a solution and continued to insist that the problem is not as bad as it appears (it is) and that they have it under control (they don’t). The most senior air force management is somewhat aware of how this has gone off the rails but continue to have problems dealing with it.
. . .
But there was another problem. The air force has lost its appetite for improvising and coming up with practical solutions for any problems encountered. The officers and NCOs who staffed SAC in the early years were World War II veterans had understood the need to be quick and practical at detecting and fixing problems. They were replaced with a generation of Vietnam War vets but by the 1990s these were all gone and solutions tended to be more bureaucratic and “cover your ass” than practical. So while the SAC attitudes may be back, the mentality that made those hard-ass attitudes motivate people are not there. It turned out it was all an “attitude problem” and it was the senior leaders who were most responsible. Still no sign of a fundamental change and out on the northern prairie airmen still struggle to make a broken system work.
There's a lot more at the link. If you're interested in military affairs and strategic deterrence, it's well worth your time to click over there and read the whole thing.
The problem is, of course, symptomatic of a wider issue: the politically correct makeover of the US armed forces as a whole. Speaking as a combat veteran, I know full well that the job of an armed force is to break things and kill people on command. It's as simple as that. There's no politically correct way to sugar-coat that reality . . . but politicians keep trying to do so. They also prefer to spend money on things that garner votes for them, like entitlement programs, rather than on expensive military hardware that may, or may not, be needed.
The Obama administration in particular (with the active cooperation of both parties in Congress and the Senate) has cut military spending so much that, as I write these words, the US Navy currently has no aircraft carriers at sea at all. Many of its ships are months or even years behind in scheduled maintenance, because there's no money available to pay for it. Similarly, much of the equipment of the US Army and US Marine Corps is in urgent need of modernization., and the US Air Force's aircraft have an average age of no less than 27 years. They're wearing out. (Last year, the USAF and the Marines had to raid aircraft in museums, taking parts off them to repair aircraft in active service, because their stocks of spares were so denuded. If that doesn't speak volumes, I don't know what does!) The upper command structures of our armed forces have also been filled with general and flag officers whose views were considered politically acceptable by the outgoing administration. That doesn't fill me with confidence in their military abilities.
I hope and trust that President-elect Trump and his nominee for Secretary of Defense, retired General Mattis, will be able to turn things around; but that can't happen overnight. The Obama administration has left our defenses in a parlous state. It'll take time to restore them to what they should be. I hope our adversaries give us that time . . . because if they don't, there won't be much we can do about it in the short term.
If anyone's hearing echoes of the situation in 1941, you're not alone. Let's hope we're all wrong.