Top AF nuke general: We must continue ‘cultural change’

The head of the Air Force's Global Strike Command says strategic-unit airmen must continue their emphasis on 'discipline and professionalism,' and remember they're still relevant today.

All the cool kids in the Air Force today operate lightly armed robot airplanes from a trailer park in the desert. The squares? All they get are boring ‘ol nuclear weapons. But the airmen of Global Strike Command should buck up, their top general said this week, because darn it, nuclear weapons are special too! Lt. Gen. Jim Kowalski told airmen this week that Global Strike Command must continue to develop an esprit de corps about its mission that will keep strategic units from sliding back into their recent era of embarrassing goof-ups, like that time they accidentally flew live nuclear weapons over the United States, and wings kept failing their nuclear inspections.

Here’s how Kowalski made the case, per an official Air Force story:

“We have to complete the restoration of a culture that embraces our special trust and responsibility, not just for folks who have hands on our weapons, but all of our Airmen,” he said.

In the context of an uncertain, multi-polar world, knowing how the mission contributes to national defense is critical, Kowalski said. Nuclear deterrence maintains strategic stability, assures allies and provides regional deterrence against those wishing to do harm to the United States.

“Nuclear weapons are strategic weapons, they’re political weapons,” he said. “Majors and master sergeants talk about 2,000 pound bombs, senators and secretaries of defense talk about nuclear weapons.”

AFGSC, which stood up in August 2009, was established to provide a single command with a single focus on developing and providing combat-ready forces not only for nuclear deterrence, but for global strike operations as well.

“The command was established to get it right…to bring focus back — a single command focused at the high end of conflict,” Kowalski said. “Global Strike Command was organized to create certain behaviors in our Air Force and Airmen. Behavior over time equals culture. It is especially important we get a culture that embraces the special trust and responsibility of nuclear deterrence.”

The command’s top leader identified two behavioral traits, discipline and professionalism, as well as the need to adapt deterrence principles to 21st century security challenges, hallmarks for achieving desired results.

For outsiders, it’s baffling that the Air Force could have so marginalized its strategic units that it needed a big reorganization and these kinds of pep talks. But from the way it appears, Air Force missileeers and nuclear-capable squadrons felt left behind as the service scrambled to field UAVs, deal with “cyber,” and buy F-22s and F-35s. Unlike their strategic cousins in the Navy’s ballistic-missile submarine crews — who consider themselves to be among the elite of an already elite silent service — many airmen in strategic units were apparently miserable.

Air Force officials say Global Strike Command is the right answer, and it’s getting better. This year the unit held a big cohesion-building exercise in which it invited units to compete in readiness and other games, and its B-2 units just showed in a major drill that if the big balloon ever goes up, they’re ready to dance. But not everything is working perfectly: The Air Force also announced this week that it had to destroy an unarmed Minuteman III ICBM during a test flight, for reasons that aren’t yet clear. It may have nothing to do with Global Strike Command’s “culture,” but it’s definitely raising eyebrows about the Air Force’s strategic portfolio — again.