Twitter Facebook Google RSS
National Defense > Blog > Posts > Gates vs. Air Force Round Two
Gates vs. Air Force Round Two
By Sandra I. Erwin

Gen. T. Michael Moseley and Robert M. Gates

Former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' much-talked about memoir includes a chapter in which he relives bitter clashes with Air Force officials over nuclear weapon screw-ups, drone deployments and funding for the F-22 fighter aircraft.

The showdown culminated in June 2008 with the firing of Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley. In the memoir, titled, "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War," Gates dubs the Air Force one of his "biggest headaches” during his time running the Pentagon.

Moseley, for his part, has not released any tell-all books, but did speak recently about the issues that sparked those notorious feuds with Gates. During a talk last month hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute, the now retired general suggested that, in hindsight, Gates made poor equipment-buying decisions that are now coming back to haunt the U.S. military.

Speaking at the Mitchell forum, where Wynne also was in attendance, Moseley said the shutdown of the F-22 program "will prove to be one of the most strategically dislocated decisions made over the last 20-25 years."

A decorated fighter pilot and an ardent advocate of high-performance aircraft, Moseley fought to keep the F-22 program alive but could not overcome the political headwinds. The Air Force in the mid-1990s envisioned it would buy more than 700 airplanes from manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp., but rising costs compelled the Pentagon in 2001 to reduce orders to 295. By fiscal year 2006, the budget proposed by the George W. Bush administration funded just 187. Congressional supporters kept the project going until 2009.

Gates, with the backing of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., led the Obama administration’s effort to stop funding the F-22 in fiscal year 2010. The last aircraft ultimately was delivered in 2012. In speeches and congressional hearings during his tenure, Gates consistently bashed the F-22 — estimated to cost nearly $200 million apiece — as a symbol of extravagant spending on weapons that were conceived to combat the Soviet enemy but were no longer relevant in the fights against Islamic extremists or guerilla warriors like Hezbollah. He pointed out that China would not be able to field an advanced fighter jet until 2025 and by then, the United States would have hundreds of next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in the inventory. Gates also blamed expensive weapons such as the F-22 for draining resources from wartime priorities, such as unmanned drones and armored trucks.

Moseley conceded the program initially was too large and expensive, but insisted that, had the production line stayed open, the price would have dropped considerably. “We didn't, and still don't need, a thousand of those things. But you need the right number.” Several of the United States' closest allies would have bought F-22s and helped lower the cost, he said. “The last airplanes we took delivery of were $87 million,” said Moseley. “Had we been able to go to another multiyear [contract] there was an understanding that we would be able to get them for $85 million,” he added. “Find me an airplane out there right now that costs $85 million and has that capability.”

Tight budgets were not the real reason why Gates terminated the program, he said. “The money was there. … We spent $50 billion on MRAPs [mine resistant ambush protected] trucks. We spent a large amount on unmanned aerial vehicles for every private first class and corporal,” Moseley said, and immediately added, “I'm being a little facetious but not much.”

The money was available, but the determination to kill the F-22 was driven by other factors, said Moseley. “Knowing what I know now I would have been more aggressive in protecting that airplane and the building blocks of 5th generation systems into the future.”

Another contentious issue that deepened the rift between Gates and the Air Force was what the secretary characterized as “foot dragging” in buying and deploying UAVs to war zones. He was convinced that Air Force leaders were intentionally slowing down drone procurements to ensure that there was sufficient funding for their prized fighter jets.

During a question-and-answer session at the Mitchell forum, Moseley said there is no intentional bias against unmanned aircraft in the Air Force. There is a place for both manned and unmanned, he said. “Secretary Wynne got tired of hearing me say this when we were beaten up about not going all unmanned." The reality is that there are few instances when the use of unmanned aviation is imperative. “One is when you believe the threat is so terrible that you'll lose the human,” he said. “I believe the Air Force has never found that threat. We will penetrate any threat. We haven't found a place we won't go. So I don't buy that one.”

The other is when human pilots are the limiting factor to the persistence of the machine. “I got that one,” said Moseley. “You leave the plane out there for 30 hours on a reconnaissance mission. That's a valid one.”

According to an excerpt of Gates’ memoirs published by Military Times, what triggered the dismissal of Moseley and Wynne, more so than the F-22 and the drone flaps, were incidents of mishandling of nuclear warheads and sloppy procedures for overseeing such sensitive weapons.

“I took no pleasure from the dismissals,” Gates wrote. “I enjoyed working with both men, but I didn’t believe they really understood the magnitude of the problem. … There would later be allegations that I fired the two of them because of their foot-dragging on ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], or more commonly, because we disagreed on whether to build more F-22 combat aircraft, or on other modernization issues. But it was the Donald report that sealed their fate.” After the Air Force shipped four Minuteman III nose cones to Taiwan, Gates asked Adm. Kirkland H. Donald to investigate the incident. The so-called Donald Report in June 2008 led Gates to blame the problems on a lack of accountability and held the service’s top leaders responsible.

Photo Credits: Defense Dept.


Re: Gates vs. Air Force Round Two

Killing the F-22 WILL go down as a major strategic blunder we should have continued to produce 40/year for the next decade to completely replace F-15C/E's

If there is a war over the Taiwan Straits it will be felt, tragically, with dead pilots.
bobbymike at 1/10/2014 11:50 AM

Re: Gates vs. Air Force Round Two

Gates and Mosley never agreed on which threat the USAF needed to train and equip to defeat for the next 50 years. Gates was and is convinced that the USAF needed to fight the COIN war, Mosley found that shortsighted and believed we needed to train for the High intensity fight. The mistake they both made was arguing over solutions before coming to agreement on the problem. Ultimatly history will decide who was right but the idea that the USAF is unable to counter the high intensity threat in 10 years is tragic.
Jason Wilson at 1/10/2014 12:29 PM

Re: Gates vs. Air Force Round Two

I like how Gates is cut, but his F-22 decision is baffling on so many levels.

We need a minimum of 5 more active squadrons of F-22s, along with spares and a proportional number of training craft.

The F-35 is a remarkable piece of machinery but relying on it requires a number of calculated gambles.  Is it stealthy enough now and will it enjoy its current level of stealthiness through its service life?  Will Its mediocre flight performance be successfully offset with helmet cuing, high off bore sight weaponry and situational awareness?

Not only is the F-22 is considerably stealthier than the F-35, it  can fly circles around it and most anything else on the planet.  Sure would be nice to know that if the F-35 tech doesn't pan out sometime in the future, that we had plenty of our world beating, dog fighters, the F-22.       
Paul at 1/10/2014 6:08 PM

Re: Gates vs. Air Force Round Two

I think that these days things are different than they were around the time the decision to cut the F-22 was made. Russia and China were quicker to build their 5th gen planes than Gates had thought (you'd actually almost think it a strategy to make the US think there were little advancements in those countries). With China being more aggressive and Russia more assertive, there would have been a clearer need for the F-22.

How much would have been enough though? I don't see Russia and China buying way more than 187 of their 5th gen planes.

Perhaps if they had exported them to Japan after all, the production lines could have remained open, allowing the US to resume production if necessary.

$85 million per plane sounds cheap though - I wonder whether there are any LockMart shenanigans involved there. Does that include the engines? And what about the upgrades the F-22 had?

As a final note, I do believe LockMart deserves at least part of the blame by going way over budget... Or otherwise the guys at the DoD that allowed them to without consequence. It's sad to see the F-35 going down the same path, no lessons learnt there whatsoever, it seems.
Ed at 1/11/2014 7:19 PM

Re: Gates vs. Air Force Round Two

We spent trillions of dollars in the 70's and 80's to fight the soviets.  Unfortunately it only found proper service in a 100 hour war.

The air force (as per their SOP) wants planes to fight the ultimate enemy.  Too bad no one will be polite enough to square off with us in order to fully exercise those platforms.

I yield to the wisdom of General Aderholt.  Buy the weapons you need to fight the wars you have.  Quit trying to pound square aircraft into round holes.

Without gates we would not have had the MC-12W.  The air force would have continued to deploy F-16's in the ISR mode.  Fighter pilots are like surgeons.  You only go to a surgeon if you want to have surgery.  You only need a fighter pilot when the enemy has an air force.

The china threat is a far worse paper dragon than the soviet union ever was.
Joe at 1/11/2014 7:20 PM

Re: Gates vs. Air Force Round Two

Gates made so many bad decisions during his tour that I came to the conclusions that Bush had appointed an idiot worse than Les Aspin as SecDef. He definitely was biased against the USAF and it may have been the results of his time spent on active duty in the AF. He probably did not get his way during his AF time and ended up like a spoiled brat pitching a tantrum against the USAF. I do not remember a thing that I agreed with while he was SecDef and some accused me of being too cynical, but after the news about his book have agreed that I was correct in my beliefs about him as the worst since Louis F. Johnson under Harry Truman.
Walter H. Polk at 1/13/2014 9:16 AM

Re: Gates vs. Air Force Round Two

Both those programs (run by Lockheed Martin) are a mess.

The best course is to build more legacy fighters, and push for a new aircraft that doesn't push the technology as far as the F-22 or F-35 to keeps costs down, so we can make more aircraft without going broke.
moebius22 at 1/13/2014 10:32 AM

Re: Gates vs. Air Force Round Two

We have plans that define our acquisition strategy (QDR, etc.).  I'm not for sure what it was back then, but I gotta believe we struck a balance.  I constantly see struggles in the military and politics of passionate advocacy for the minority instead of applying a business case for the majority.  I've actually been in a room and seen AF pilots irate over the use of RPAs regardless if it's a strike or ISR mission.  I don't have enough information nor anyone has enough history to know whether Gates or Moseley were right.  However, I do know that a crisis will define and reshape strategy.  It always has and always will. 
breakingbad at 1/13/2014 10:59 AM

Re: Gates vs. Air Force Round Two

“The money was there. … We spent $50 billion on MRAPs [mine resistant ambush protected] trucks. We spent a large amount on unmanned aerial vehicles for every private first class and corporal,”

Are we supposed to infer from GEN Moseley’s comments that the MRAP investment was a frivolous one? That the PFCs and Corporals who were dying every day in insufficiently-armored vehicles during the peak of Operation Iraqi Freedom was something that he views as acceptable? GEN Moseley’s comments reek of detachment and illustrate why he was not fit for command.  Terminating Moseley was one of many prudent moves that Sec. Gates made during his brilliant tenure.
Chris at 1/13/2014 4:12 PM

Re: Gates vs. Air Force Round Two

We could have started building airframes in 1986 and had them ready for software. Instead of accruing 25 years of administrative overhead money thus greatly multiplying total costs, COIN warfare is not a national threat - defense of the USA is a priority, Gates ignored the key mission of DOD. No doughnut for him.,
Walt BJ Bjorneby at 1/16/2014 11:51 PM

Add Comment

Items on this list require content approval. Your submission will not appear in public views until approved by someone with proper rights. More information on content approval.

Name: *

eMail *

Comment *



Name: *

eMail *

Comment *


Please enter the text displayed in the image.
The picture contains 6 characters.

Characters *


Legal Notice *

NDIA is not responsible for screening, policing, editing, or monitoring your or another user's postings and encourages all of its users to use reasonable discretion and caution in evaluating or reviewing any posting. Moreover, and except as provided below with respect to NDIA's right and ability to delete or remove a posting (or any part thereof), NDIA does not endorse, oppose, or edit any opinion or information provided by you or another user and does not make any representation with respect to, nor does it endorse the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement, or other material displayed, uploaded, or distributed by you or any other user. Nevertheless, NDIA reserves the right to delete or take other action with respect to postings (or parts thereof) that NDIA believes in good faith violate this Legal Notice and/or are potentially harmful or unlawful. If you violate this Legal Notice, NDIA may, in its sole discretion, delete the unacceptable content from your posting, remove or delete the posting in its entirety, issue you a warning, and/or terminate your use of the NDIA site. Moreover, it is a policy of NDIA to take appropriate actions under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and other applicable intellectual property laws. If you become aware of postings that violate these rules regarding acceptable behavior or content, you may contact NDIA at 703.522.1820.



Bookmark and Share