Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne, left, and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley resigned Thursday following a series of high-profile scandals and disagreements between Air Force leadership and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
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Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley and Secretary Michael W. Wynne were forced to resign Thursday during hastily arranged meetings with their Pentagon bosses.
Moseley was summoned from the Corona leadership summit at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, to an early morning meeting at the Pentagon with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to discuss a report on the Air Force's problems handling nuclear weapons.
The report, by Navy Adm. Kirkland Donald, director of naval nuclear propulsion, revealed widespread problems and convinced Defense Secretary Robert Gates that senior officials must be held accountable.
Moseley resigned in response.
Later in the morning, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England was dispatched to Wright-Patterson to ask for Wynne's resignation, sources said. Wynne resigned during the meeting.
At a Pentagon press briefing Thursday afternoon, Gates said his decision to seek their resignations was "based entirely" on the Donald report, which uncovered a "gradual erosion of nuclear standards and a lack of effective oversight by Air Force leadership."
Gates, who began his career working nuclear security issues as an Air Force intelligence officer in the 1960s, also said a "substantial" number of Air Force general officers and colonels more immediately responsible for recent lapses could still be reprimanded or fired in the wake of the report.
It is not clear how quickly Wynne and Moseley will leave their positions. Moseley has requested retirement effective Aug. 1 and will take terminal leave before that, according to a memo from Moseley, but it is not clear when he will leave his position.
"I think the honorable thing to do is to step aside," Moseley said in a http://www.militarytimes.com/static/projects/pages/080605_moseley.pdf">statement released to the press. "After consulting with my family, I intend to submit my request for retirement to Secretary Gates."
Gates is likely to recommend Michael B. Donley, the Pentagon's director of administration and management to succeed Wynne, a senior defense official said Friday.
Donley was acting secretary of the Air Force for seven months in 1993 and served as the service's top financial officer from 1989 to 1993.
Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Duncan McNabb will likely become acting chief of staff.
The stunning development follows a series of high-profile scandals and disagreements between Air Force leadership and Gates in the past year, during which both the Pentagon and congressional leadership have increasingly expressed frustration about the Air Force's top bosses.
But a senior defense official said the nuclear report was the most significant factor. "Everything that preceded that is insignificant by comparison," the official said.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a statement praising Gates' decision.
"Secretary Gates' focus on accountability is essential and had been absent from the Office of the Secretary of Defense for too long," the statement says. "The safety and security of America's nuclear weapons must receive the highest priority, just as it must in other countries. The Secretary took appropriate action following the reports of the Defense Science Board, the Air Force's own internal review, and now most recently, the report of Admiral Donald." Wynne became Air Force secretary in November 2005, and Moseley took office in September 2005. Moseley's term was to expire in September 2009, and Wynne served at the pleasure of the president.
Moseley, a former fighter pilot, has been in the Air Force since 1972. Before becoming chief, he served as commander of U.S. Central Command Air Forces and then as vice chief of staff from August 2003 until September 2005.
Wynne served as an Air Force officer from 1966 until 1973 and then began a nearly 30-year career in the aerospace industry. He rose to become president of General Dynamics' space division and general manager of space launch systems at Lockheed Martin. He re-entered government service in 2001 and served four years as principal deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics before becoming Air Force secretary.
While the simultaneous removal of a service's top civilian and uniformed leaders is unprecedented, there has been speculation for months among defense insiders that Moseley, Wynne or both could be in trouble.
The Air Force has been rocked by a series of missteps during the past year, and Moseley and Wynne's relationships with Gates, England and members of congressional defense committees have steadily eroded.
Both men are well-liked personally, but that apparently was not enough to make up for a perceived lack of leadership.
Loren Thompson, an analyst with the Lexington Institute in Fairfax, Va., said the writing has been on the wall for several months, and that Moseley's demeanor has changed noticeably during that time.
"It was clear the relationship between the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Air Force was deteriorating," Thompson said. "But it wasn't clear what that would mean for Air Force leadership. … "This [is] the final chapter in a long list of grievances between OSD and the Air Force."
Those grievances include criticism of the Air Force's nuclear weapons handling, two major acquisitions programs that have been stalled by protests, the service's inability to rush more surveillance drones to the war zones, apparent conflicts of interest of current and retired senior officials related to a $50 million contract to produce a multimedia show for the Thunderbirds, and repeated clashes with Pentagon leaders over the number of F-22s the Air Force will buy and other budget issues.
The most serious blow to the credibility of the Air Force and its leadership has been a scandal spawned by the service's accidental transfer in August of six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La.
A B-52 from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot was supposed to transfer unarmed air-launched cruise missiles to Barksdale to be decommissioned, but munitions loaders accidentally attached nuclear-armed missiles to the pylons. The missiles were flown to Barksdale and sat unguarded on the tarmac for several hours before anyone realized what happened, some 30 hours after the mistake was made.
The 5th Bomb Wing commander, two group commanders and the 5th Munitions Squadron commander were relieved of their commands.
Moseley ordered a service-wide review of the nuclear enterprise two months after the incident, resulting in 36 recommendations for improvements. The review report was presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee, members of which were highly critical of the Air Force's nuclear weapons handling.
The 5th Bomb Wing in late May failed its defense nuclear surety inspection, despite having months to prepare and being under close scrutiny since the incident. Inspectors found glaring deficiencies in the wing's ability to protect its nuclear stockpile.
Then, in March, it was discovered that the Air Force had mislabeled nuclear warhead fuses, which led to the classified components accidentally being shipped to Taiwan in 2006. Gates said the incident made him realize that problems with the Air Force's nuclear weapons handling procedures were systemic rather than isolated.
"The Taiwan incident was clearly the trigger," he said.
In response, Gates ordered a military-wide inventory of nuclear weapons and components. That report was recently submitted to Gates.
It is believed to contain damning conclusions about the Air Force's nuclear weapons handling practices.
Without naming Wynne and Moseley, Gates said "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."
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., the chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, said he agreed with Gates' decision to relieve Wynne and Moseley in the wake of the nuclear problems.
"There is nothing more important than the security of nuclear weapons, and it appeared that the Air Force investigation was not thorough," Murtha said.
http://www.militarytimes.com/static/projects/pages/080605_moseley.pdf">Memo from General T. Michael Moseley to Secretary of Defense Gates
http://www.militarytimes.com/static/projects/pages/080605_wynne.pdf">Memo from Michael W. Wynne to Secretary of Defense Gates