Gates Forces Out Air Force Chiefs

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has obtained the resignations of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley and Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne. The move follows a series of embarrassments.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host.

A big shake-up today in the Air Force - both the top military officer and the top civilian official lost their jobs after a series of embarrassing episodes over the past year. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced those resignations in a statement this afternoon.

And joining me now from the Pentagon is NPR's Tom Bowman. Hi, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN: Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: Let's start with the two men who are now out of a job. Who are they?

BOWMAN: Well, General Mike Moseley, widely known as Buzz Moseley, is a former fighter pilot. He's been in the Air Force about 36 years. And before becoming the Air Force's top officer, he was commander of the U.S. Central Command at the Air Force - meaning he ran the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's been Chief of Staff of the Air Force for the past three years.

Michael Wynne, the secretary, was an Air Force officer in the '60s, then he went into the defense industry. For a number of years he was president of General Dynamics' Space Division, then went to Lockheed Martin.

SIEGEL: And what did Secretary Gates say about why General Moseley and Secretary Wynne are losing their jobs?

BOWMAN: Well, the secretary hasn't gone out yet. What we know he will say is that a recently completed report by a Navy admiral sharply criticized how the Air Force maintains its nuclear weapons. One source I talked with called it pretty damning. And it apparently convinced Gates that these senior officials would have to go. We're also told that other generals are sharply criticized in the report, but no sense yet on what's going to happen to them. Now, the report's classified but what we do know is that it complained that no one senior person in the Air Force is in charge of the nuclear arsenal. They'd pushed it down to a lower level. And also, since the end of the Cold War, the report says, the Air Force really has lost focus on maintaining its nuclear weapons.

SIEGEL: So the issue of the security of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is a big reason here. Are there other reasons?

BOWMAN: Yes, there are. You know, Gates has been critical of the Air Force for not building enough unmanned drone aircraft. They're considered crucial to the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now these drones take pictures and also video. They can also have the ability to drop bombs. And Gates said that getting the Air Force creating more of these, building more of these, he said it was like pulling teeth. The other thing is, a lot of officers in the Air Force are pressing harder for more F-22s, that's the Air Force's newest stealth aircraft. Officers say they need a lot more of these. Gates doesn't agree.

SIEGEL: Now, Michael Wynne is the second civilian head of one of the services to be removed by Secretary Gates in the past year. What does all this say about Gates' management style at the Pentagon?

BOWMAN: Well, from what we see, Gates is demanding accountability. You know, a lot of people in Washington talk about that, but from what we've seen, Gates really means it. Last year, he fired the Army secretary, Francis Harvey, for not taking seriously enough the problems uncovered at Walter Reed Army Hospital. And he basically told him to resign and Harvey was gone within days. So again, it's a sense from Gates that people have to be held accountable for their actions.

SIEGEL: Okay, thanks Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

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