Leadership: Put Barney in the Cockpit

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March 26, 2007: The U.S. Air Force has a big problem with air transportation. There's not enough of it. The air force generals admit that. But the air force is unwilling to divert money from other projects to build more transport aircraft, and Congress refuses to increase the air force budget, in order to solve the problem that way.

From the beginning (1947, when the USAF was created), the air force agreed to take care of air freight. Made sense, as the air force was a heavy user of air transportation itself. Getting needed spare parts, equipment and personnel to distant air fields was important. Moreover, many of the air transport units would be in the reserves, and manned by former air force pilots who were now working full time for air lines. Yeah, it all made sense.

This arrangement made less and less sense to the army, navy and marines. That's because as time went on, the air force found more uses for air transportation. So did the other services, particularly the army. But the air force controlled the air transports, and air force needs tended to come first. At the same time, the air force fought efforts by the other services to buy air transports of their own.

It's all coming to a head. One draconian solution is to make the USAF's Air Mobility Command a Department of Defense organization, like the United States Transportation Command. Well, not exactly like the Transportation Command, but no longer under the control of the air force. Instead, the new organization would draw personnel (pilots, maintainers, clerks) from all the services. Sure, the air force would have a major influence on the "Department of Defense Air Mobility Command," but the air force would no longer have to worry about buying and operating transports. Of course, the air force would have to fight a little harder to get air transportation for its needs.

This Department of Defense level air transportation proposal isn't unique. There have been increasingly loud demands for Department of Defense level operations. Things like logistics and training pilots are all operations that are pretty much the same, no matter which service its being done for. There are some service specific difference (air force pilots have no need to learn carrier landing techniques), but there's a whole lot more everyone has in common. Resistance to this sort of thing continues, however.

The idea of "thinking purple" (the color of all the service uniforms combined) has been hot for over two decades. But when it comes to actually being purple, there is a lot of foot dragging. However, when the need is great enough, and the heat is high enough, change does happen.

 


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