The Honorable Robert M. Gates
U.S. Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington , DC 20301
Dear Secretary Gates:
As you well know, in a time of war, it is critical for senior officials to visibly prioritize the needs of the men and women on the frontline because it is the right thing to do and for reasons of morale. Yet an egregious failure of leadership has come to our attention that involves breathtaking extravagance when every dollar needs to be wisely spent in a time of war.
At a cost of millions of dollars, the highest levels of the Air Force have emphasized two little-known programs to build “world-class” luxury aircraft accommodations for military and senior civilian leaders under the justification of a “deficiency gap.” These accommodations do not provide any additional operational capabilities (e.g. communications advantages) beyond those currently existing, according to contract documents. Funding for these programs was requested in the recently passed Global War On Terrorism (GWOT) supplemental.
A draft proposal for these accommodations tellingly states that these accommodations were even at one point called “Senior Leader In-Transit Comfort Capsules” (italics added) or SLICCs. “Comfort” was dropped in favor of “Conference,” as you can see from the track changes in a print out of the Word document. [Appendix A]
SLICCs are two connected chambers with first class amenities on a pallet that can be loaded onto a C-17, KC-10, C-130 and KC-X aircraft. These SLICCs are modeled on two existing “Steel Eagles” which are currently used for the most senior Pentagon officials (and are replacing the previous two “Silver Bullets” which are customized Airstream trailers). A related program is the Senior Leader Intransit Pallet” (SLIP). [Appendix B]
While General Duncan McNabb was head of the Air Mobility Command, he presided over a decision to extend the Steel Eagle-style privileges to a far-wider range of military and senior civilian leaders and intended to purchase up to ten SLICCs – a substantial expansion of high-end transport accommodations. The first prototype SLICC has been funded. Although Gen. McNabb created an initial requirement for 10 SLICCs, the requirement has been reduced to two to three SLICCs. The Air Force requested $16 million in the recently passed GWOT supplemental to fund the additional SLICCs, according to a June 2008 Air Force briefing on the program. Of course, the Global War On Terror (GWOT) supplemental is meant to be directly used to fund troops involved in the current conflicts abroad. [Appendix B]
Gen. McNabb not only was the commander of Air Mobility Command when the SLICC and SLIP program were initiated, but was involved in the original leather and carpet color and material choices. [Appendix C]
Internal Air Force emails make it clear that the SLICC’s level of luxury is the overriding concern of much of the Air Force leadership.
For example, in one email it states, “Gen [Robert H.] McMahon’s concern is so significant that we need assurance by the end of the week from AFRL [Air Force Research Laboratory] that the SLICC will be ‘World class’ inside. While we know the requirements document says ‘business class’, we all know there are levels of that.” [Appendix D]
This emphasis on luxury drew disagreement within the Air Mobility Command. “In Mar 07, Gen McMahon requested A4 [Air Mobility Command’s Logistics Directorate] take over the acquisition effort when he could not get support from A5 [AMC’s Plans and Programs Directorate] for updates and cooperation on making the equipment ‘world class’ which was one of his goals,” according to an Air Force email. [Appendix C]
The “world class” emphasis entailed the costly aesthetic redesign of the interior of an already existing system known as Steel Eagle. Even before the redesign, the capabilities document for the SLICC (known also as the “Senior Official Work and Rest Capsule” and the “DV Capsule”) contains a detailed list of amenities required such as:
- “The wall mounted flat screen/flat panel monitor must have a diagonal measurement of at least 37 inches”;
- “A full length mirror”;
- “Aesthetically pleasing wall-to-wall carpeting”;
- “Aesthetically pleasing wall treatments/coverings”;
- “Aesthetically pleasing ceiling treatments/coverings”;
- “Internal illumination level will automatically adjust to ambient lighting levels”;
- “A single remote control unit which controls operation and all functions of the video playback devices as well as the wall mounted flat screen/flat panel monitor”; [Appendix E]
According to another email this was all known at the highest levels of the Air Force: “the SLICC was briefed again this weekend to CSAF [Chief of Staff of the Air Force] and that the expectation was high.” As you know, at the time, the Chief of Staff was T. Michael Buzz Moseley. [Appendix D]
The estimated cost of the first prototype SLICC is currently $2.735 million – and it is based on the already existing Steel Eagle design. Originally the SLICC was estimated to cost $1.743 million in November of 2006. There has been about 64% cost growth in less than two years. [Appendix F]
As mentioned before, another related program is the “Senior Leader Intransit Pallet” (SLIP), which contain four leather business class chairs with tables that fit on a pallet that can be loaded on a cargo plane. The SLIPs are also intended to provide luxury accommodations to senior Air Force leaders. Four SLIPs are being funded. Up to four SLIPs and one SLICC can fit on a C-17 at a time. The four SLIPs are currently estimated to cost $1.66 million, up from the original cost estimate of $1.1 million in March of 2007 – a 66% increase. [Appendix F]
The current dollar figure for the four SLIPs and one SLICC is approximately $4.4 million. [Appendix F]
After the first SLIP was procured, General Robert McMahon expressed dissatisfaction with the color of the seat leather and type of wood used. He directed that the leather be reupholstered from brown to Air Force blue leather and to replace the wood originally used to cherry. [Appendix C]
The cost alone to reupholster the seats on the first SLIP is about $21,000 – one estimate of the total cost of wood and leather changes to all the first four SLIPs (16 chairs total) was about $113,000. The cost was so appalling to General Kenneth Merchant that he wrote, “How’d we get to $113K for 4 pallets? Pls tell me this is for all 4 pallets…I could carpet and upholster a couple of houses for $113K…” [ellipses in original; Appendix C]
As of March this year, the total cost increase for retrofit and further customization –which goes beyond wood and leather – for the SLIPs, directed by Air Mobility Command headquarters, is $493,000. [Appendix F]
Cost increases in the program “have virtually all been in the area of materials and other non-labor costs due to the expense of SLICC/SLIP components and costs incurred by changing design details that were previously finalized” such as the leather and wood, according to an Air Force financial update. [Appendix F]
Meanwhile, the conventional seat pallets used to transport soldiers are in a deplorable state. The program to refurbish existing seats has not been given the same emphasis and oversight as SLICC and SLIP. Movement of new and refurbished seat pallets to the field has been extremely slow and convoluted.
The SLICC and SLIP programs are a gross misuse of millions of taxpayer dollars that could otherwise be used to train and equip soldiers.
This case is just the latest in a long string of examples which illustrate a disconnect between the senior leadership of the Air Force from the increasingly pressing needs of servicemen and women (including those inside the Air Force) in the current and likely near term conflicts our country faces.
Please do not hesitate to contact me or POGO’s national security investigator Nick Schwellenbach at (202) 347-1122 if we can be of assistance.
Project On Government Oversight (POGO)
Appendix A: Draft “Senior Leader In-Transit Comfort Conference Capsule (SLICC) Proposal for Air Mobility Command,” November 15, 2006.
Appendix B: Air Force SLICC and SLIP PowerPoint, June 26, 2008.
Appendix C: Emails Regarding SLIP Update.
Appendix D: Emails Regarding “World Class” SLICC.
Appendix E: SLIP Modification Proposal.
Appendix F: SLICC/SLIP Financial Update.