On-line Opinion Magazine…OK, it's a blog
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Page One Ignorance

I realize that there aren’t very many reporters with actual military experience anymore. When there was a draft it was sort of a given that you would put in your two years and gain some insight, as well as expand your vocabulary. These days you’re lucky if a journalist can recognize US military equipment and uniforms.

The front page of the Washington Post had an article on Senior Leader Intransit Conference Capsules [SLICC] which shows a total detachment from a military reality

The Air Force’s top leadership sought for three years to spend counterterrorism funds on “comfort capsules” to be installed on military planes that ferry senior officers and civilian leaders around the world, with at least four top generals involved in design details such as the color of the capsules’ carpet and leather chairs, according to internal e-mails and budget documents.

They thought that “comfort capsules” had more zing than “conference capsules”, it went along with the fairly general misunderstanding of what was going on, and why these things were proposed.

They seemed fascinated with this part of the specifications:

The seats are to swivel such that “the longitudinal axis of the seat is parallel to the longitudinal axis of the aircraft” regardless of where the capsules are facing, the document specified.

That sounds weird because it is an extract from a flight safety requirement that whenever possible everyone on the aircraft except the pilot and copilot will be sitting facing to the rear during take-off and landing. From personal experience, it is much better way of sitting if there’s an accident.

Sharon Weinberger at Danger Room looked at the SLICC article, and at the sources for the article and noticed that the Post article strayed from its source material on many points. She was also fascinated by a change in the color of the chairs from brown to blue. After being snarky about it she discovered that the change was to match the interiors of Air Force aircraft.

Courtney Kube, NBC News wrote about the military response to the Post’s story in Air Force defends ‘luxury’ travel capsules.

OK, I’ve had a lot of problems with the way the current Air Force does a lot things, and have written to complain about them, but this isn’t an Air Force screw-up or boondoggle, this is a problem created by the War On Terror™.

Senior Air Force generals are almost all rated fighter pilots. They don’t have to wait for an aircraft, they can check out a F-15 and get there themselves with a lot less wasted time than sitting in the belly of a C-5.

The Air Force has an aging fleet of VIP aircraft and many are not defensively equipped. There has been an major upswing in idiots Congresscritters wanting to visit war zones, so they need rides in combat support aircraft. Senior bureaucrats don’t want to spend hours in the sling seats in most transport aircraft. Commercial airliners are silent compared to military aircraft, and military aircraft do not have air conditioning.

Rather than spending money on VIP aircraft with defensive systems, they want to build a roll-on VIP module that will fit in any cargo aircraft. The initial module was a converted Airstream trailer that the Secretary of Defense and Darth have used, but those things are too expensive. This allows the Air Force to save money.

Of course, they could really save money if the bureaucrats would stay home, but that isn’t going to happen.  Congress writes the checks, so Congress gets a ride.

I would note the Prince Charles just rides with the troops in British transports when he visits war zones, but he just does that to annoy Republicans.


1 Michael { 07.19.08 at 8:20 am }

It still looks wasteful, though. And historically, that’s been a bad thing in what we’re constantly being told is “wartime.” If they’ve gotta fly bigwigs around, then let them buy a couple of beefed-up aircraft–and let them be functional but not luxurious. If that level of comfort and convenience was good enough for the “Greatest Generation” during WWII, surely the present batch of gasbags can accommodate themselves to it.

And “comfort capsule” brings back a lot of less-than-pleasant word associations that I really would have thought DoD was smart enough to avoid.

2 mapaghimagsik { 07.19.08 at 11:28 am }

Thanks for the clarification on this. It makes somewhat more sense now that you’ve explained how this would save money and what the need is for.

At the same time, I do have these thoughts.
1) Sure, Congress gets a ride, but if they wanna play solder adventurer/ they should ride in the cheaper seats, just like everyone else.
2) I realize that some of our congress critters are not hale enough to be riding gonzo like regular folks. At the same time, they should consider sending a surrogate.

It seems to me, that a no frills version of what they are trying to do could be created. I can see the need for VIPs to have access to communications and be protected in the event something goes wrong in flight. I also think that bucket seats and rich corinthean leather are a bit much 😉

This really does go back to the fact that while we want to claim we are treating our leaders like CEOs, we’re treating them like royalty, which is just odd. However, I’ve noticed that our C and even D level folks are getting treated more like royalty and less like people with a job to do.

3 Bryan { 07.19.08 at 12:42 pm }

The Air Force generally bought second-hand airliners to use as VIP aircraft and trainers, especially the C-137 version of the Boeing 707. The conversion costs are absurd to add the defensive systems.

Personnel transport was out sourced to commercial airlines to avoid having to buy and maintain airliners. The Air Force has concentrated on cargo aircraft, and that’s what they have for intercontinental distances.

You can’t just buy one, you need at least two, and you need crews to fly and maintain them. The parts are not identical to the military cargo versions of the same aircraft, so there’s more expense. This is why the Air Force wanted out of the airliner business.

The problem is the defensive gear and secure communications.

This started with the airlift guys, who really don’t want to be in the passenger business, but when the Department of Defense tells them to do it, they don’t have much choice. They are already stuck with the two Presidential aircraft, and the 737s used by the VP and Secretary of State – that’s a lot of resources for no military value – and now they have to deal with Congress.

Some of this was the sense of entitlement of the Rumsfeld era, when even minor Pentagon officials were using first class tickets instead of the coach that they were supposed to be using. CEOs don’t want to travel with “the lower classes” and the military doesn’t have a lot of options.

For what it’s worth, some the biggest complainers in Congress about military waste, are the same people who don’t want to ride in the cheap seats.

As for the leather, the seats are built for the airline industry, and leather is the norm. Getting a cloth or vinyl seat would probably be more expensive as it would require a break in the line.

4 Michael { 07.19.08 at 2:40 pm }

So, given that they already have them, why can’t they use the VP’s and the Secretary of State’s aircraft for these VIP trips? Or do what all the other bigwigs do and charter a commercial plane, which would then be provided with a military escort for security? I have to think the latter would be a far cheaper option than these farkin’ capsule thingies.

5 Bryan { 07.19.08 at 3:05 pm }

They do when they are available, but Cheney has had to use the Airstream in the cargo plane because they weren’t available.

For insurance reasons, charter airlines don’t want to fly into war zones, which is why people have to be taken to and from Kuwait for troop rotations. The VIPs get to Kuwait on their own, but then the military takes over.

The modules make sense, because you can load cargo into the rest of the space rather than wasting all of the fuel on a few people. Fuel is a major concern these days, and fighters burn a lot of it.