The forced resignation of U.S. Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne likely will have a big impact of the service’s
transition to the next U.S. presidential administration in 2009, something Wynne had made a priority, according to Robbin Laird, a defense analyst who has done work for Wynne.


Laird said in a June 6 interview that Wynne
was managing a host of issues critical to the service’s
future, including integrating the operations of
the newest generations of military space systems, planes and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Laird said the transition to a new administration was a top priority for Wynne and that his unique background – a West Point graduate, who also had a long successful career in the aerospace industry – made him well-suited for the many technological challenges the Air Force is facing today.


“It’s going to be hard for anyone who comes in,” Laird said. “A lot of things will depend on who replaces Wynne. The questions are, what kind of background do they have, and what kind of continuity and transition will this make for? But the next secretary will be very constrained, essentially a caretaker.”


Loren Thompson, chief operating officer at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., said
Wynne “understood aerospace technology better than most political appointees.” Thompson lamented that it could take more than a year before Wynne is replaced with someone other than an acting secretary.
“We could be without an Air Force secretary for as long as a year, and that is definitely a negative. Because the process takes so long, I think that there would be very few people willing to take the job this late in an administration,” Thompson said.


Because of the numerous problems affecting Air Force space programs Wynne had taken on the role of executive agent for space, a job that in previous years had been taken on by a lower ranking civilian official in the service.


The next Air Force secretary will retain the responsibilities of executive agent for space, Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Dayan Araujo confirmed June 6.

Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael “Buzz” Moseley, the top Air Force official in uniform, resigned under pressure June 5 following a report that concluded the service’s leadership failed to recognize and address systemic problems that led to the accidental shipment of sensitive U.S. nuclear missile components to Taiwan in 2006.


U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in a June 5 press briefing that the
findings of the report, coupled with the accidental transport
of missiles armed with nuclear warheads inside the continental United States in August 2007, were the sole grounds for the changes in leadership.

“The incident represents a significant failure to ensure the security of sensitive military components, and more troubling, it depicts a pattern of poor performance that was highlighted to us following last year’s incident involving the improper movement of nuclear weapons between Minot Air Force Base and Barksdale Air Force Base,” Gates said.


The investigation found that the failures that led to the unintentional shipment of nuclear triggers to Taiwan could have been prevented had the Air Force’s inspection and oversight programs been functioning effectively. It also confirmed a declining trend in Air Force nuclear expertise, similar to findings in other reports, Gates said.


Gates said the report makes clear that “these problems and mistakes have their roots in decisions made over a period of at least 10 years … Individuals in command and leadership positions not only fell short in terms of specific actions, they failed to recognize systemic problems, to address those problems, or – where beyond their authority to act – to call the attention of superiors to those problems.”


Gates said
the security of the nation’s nuclear assets is the service’s top priority, and that action was required to both ensure accountability and fix the structural, procedural and cultural problems that precipitated the two events.


In announcing his resignation, Wynne issue a statement that said in part: “Recent events convince me that it is now time for a new leader to take the stick and for me to move on …
Therefore I plan to tender my resignation. … Even as I do, my heart, my thoughts, and prayers remain with America’s Airmen who will continue to do magnificent things for this great country.”


In his press release, Moseley said: “Recent events have heightened a loss of focus on certain critical matters within the Air Force … As the Air Force’s senior uniformed leader, I take full responsibility for events which may have hurt the Air Force’s reputation or raised a question of every Airman’s commitment to our core values. … I think the honorable thing to do is to step aside.”


One defense analyst also disputed Gates’ contention that the resignations were related only to the nuclear issues. To the contrary, the sacking of Wynne and Moseley had as much to do with their disagreements with Gates over the upcoming budget supplemental for the Air Force – specifically his desire to take money from the Air Force so it can be used for ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan – than it did with nuclear custody issues. “The near-term pressure point was the supplementals,” the analyst said. “Gates was really preoccupied with raiding the supplementals.”


There were other issues as well, the analyst said, noting that Wynne and Moseley also did not see eye to eye with Gates about the priorities that will be set in the budget request the Pentagon prepares for the next U.S. president.


Another point of contention between Wynne and Gates, the analyst said, was Wynne’s refusal to fire Moseley over a controversy that arose about Moseley’s social connections to some of the officials of a company that won a sole source contract to provide multi
media presentations at air shows where the Air Force’s acrobatic Thunderbird aircraft were performing.


The weekly newspaper Air Force Times reported in April that a report by the Defense Department Inspector General raised questions about the propriety of Moseley’s contacts with partners in Strategic Message Solutions, the company that won the five-year $49.9 million contract in 2005. The report did not accuse Moseley personally of steering the contract to Strategic Message Solutions, but stated that his social contacts create an appearance of impropriety.


“Wynne refused to fire Moseley over the Thunderbird issue,” the analyst said. “He did not feel it was important enough.”


Comments: tbrinton@space.com