Jack of All Trades, Master of None

According to the Associated Press, the Air Force will change the way bomber crews organize for their nuclear training missions.  B-52 crews will train exclusively for nuclear missions for 6-months at a time, maybe even 12 months.

This is supposed to be the solution to fix part of the process that resulted in some serious mistakes in the handling of nuclear weapons back in August.  However, the Air Force had better be careful when it comes to executing this strategy.

A reader of the Feb 29 news story could be led into believing that B-52 crews will begin some kind of cycle where they transition between nukes and non-nuclear training missions.  Let’s consider the flow.

One scenario might be, the crews begin a 6-month cycle of nuke training.  At first the crews will be astonished at how little they really know about nukes.  Then about the time the cycle is completed, they will finally be comfortable with the mission.  

But then they have to go back to the C-mission only to discover that they’ve forgotten a lot of things.  Without a doubt, they will have lost their edge.  After a month or so, they will build their proficiency and almost be ready to deploy, which they will.  They’ll live the C-mission once again, while they support the ground operations of the Global War of Attrition on Terrorism.  But eventually the party will end.

They’ll start another N-mission cycle, only to discover they’ve forgotten a lot of things.  After a  few months, they’ll be as good as new.  Rinse and reapply.

In the end, we’ll have a process where the B-52 crews are uncomfortable with their mission about 1/3 of the time.  There has to be a better way.  Here it is:

Assign a B-52 squadron a nuke mission.  Keep the others units conventional.  This way, the Air Force will always have a fully competent, capable, and confident nuclear B-52 force.  Meanwhile the conventional tasked B-52 units will be able to concentrate on the knowledge and skills required to support the AEF missions.

Some folks might argue that the nuke squadron will at a disadvantage when it comes to promotions because they won’t be logging combat hours.   However, all but the most junior B-52 crewmembers have logged plenty of combat sorties since the GWOT began.  Veteran aircrews could be assigned to the nuke squadron.  Their previous combat time should be sufficient to satisfy any combat squares that need checking to demonstrate their leadership potential.  

Following the First Gulf War, six months worth of combat sorties carried many aviators from captain up to colonel and even beyond for some, all without additional combat time.  Besides, if the officers sitting on promotions boards can’t understand the leadership potential of qualified nuclear crews even if they haven’t orbited over Asia for long hours, the Air Force has already promoted the wrong people.  Finally, the purpose of military service isn’t for promotion.  The core values are declared to be integrity first, service before self, and excellence in everything they do.

Just as the decathlon champion does not take the Olympic gold medal in each of the separate events, or as the medical general practitioner does not replace a neurologist, we live in an age of specialists.  We need a cadre of heavy bomber nuclear experts.

It just makes sense.

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