Air Wars: the Air Force Takes Heat for its PR

FACT: A heated online debate is erupting about a particular photo posted online, and the brouhaha around it focuses on whether or not classified details are contained therein, thus revealing them. 

ANALYSIS: Given that others are even now writing extensively about this photo and its controversy I thought I would add a couple of thoughts.  Don’t bother blaming me for linking to the photo, by the way; given the attention and reposting/rehosting it has already received, the glare of publicity can only serve to prod better security practices. 

I expect to see parody versions on Flickr soon, with “Area 51” touches.

And so to my related thoughts: recently, an active-duty USAF officer and regular reader emailed me about one of my posts concerning Rod Beckstrom and the new National Cyber Security Center, which he had not previously heard of.  He wrote that in discussing it with a colleague, the response was “I thought the Air Force Cyber Command already had the mission to coordinate all cyber security efforts.”

After all, as evidence one can cite the Air Force’s new media campaign for Cyber Command — if you’re not familiar with it (meaning you never watch one of the Sunday morning talking-head shows), check out the glitzy and impressive PR hub at http://www.airforce.com/achangingworld/.

One can understand that mistake, as the ads do appear to give the impression that the Air Force is responsible for all cyber security efforts; even a close listener can barely parse that the implication is only for protecting DoD, but even that’s quite broad.  One commercial has a doom-voiced narrator intoning over a dramatic aerial view of the Pentagon:

This building will be attacked 3 million times today. Who is going to protect it? Meet Staff Sergeant Lee Jones, Air Force Cyber Command, a member of America’s only cyber command, protecting us from millions of cyber threats every day. It takes Air Force technology to defend America in a changing world.

My email correspondent asked, “Do you think these ads are a bit misleading?”  I’ve seen that commercial myself, and while I don’t think it’s misleading, I was struck with how “service-chauvinistic” it is; not very joint-minded or “purple.”  I got used to trying to think purple at DIA, which of course supports all services and defense elements.  My first month at the DIAC I was told that my group had to change its new marketing scheme from the green I had chosen to purple (we wound up using black instead, just to be cool).

There’s been quite a bit of buzz lately about the overall aggressiveness of Air Force in marketing itself, particularly to those inside the Beltway.  No one begrudges the Thunderbird tours; my father and brother (both USAF retired) and I have always loved those.  That effort and many others like it (base tours, local ceremonies and publicity, overseas community visits) serve both recruiting and goodwill purposes.  But what grabs notice are the kind of service-centric chauvinism that each of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force succumb to periodically where big dollars are concerned, and recent commentary seems to focused on the Air Force “above all.” (That’s actually one of their new marketing slogans, as a matter fact: Above All.)

Nothing new in government: when there are big bucks at stake, people get, shall we say, motivated.  Here’s another relevant example: the latest battles in the “Tanker Wars”, which are being fought on the Web via competitive sites like globaltanker.com (Boeing) and americasnewtanker.com (Northrop Grumman).

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5 Responses

  1. Being a Marine Corps family, we obiviously don’t mind the occasional jab at the overblown air force ads… we think the Corps are way “cooler”, and the best..🙂

  2. found your article after being shocked by the “vigilance” Air Force add. One wonders what kind of message they want to give – doesn’t it lean a bit too much toward “big brother is watching you?” – and the logo looks very gothic as well… Do we want the kids excited by these adds to be the ones in our air force? (i’m not anti-air force btw) I think they need to change the focus of their adds. Their reinforcing an already established “American Imperialism” by the tone. I have to admit the adds are very slick… but again, I’m confused about the message – this is a recruiting add?

  3. In the wake of 5 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the globaly important startup of the new Africa Command how can the USAF justify creating new command. It seems the USAF is taking advantage of the US Army, Navy, and Marines being overstretched by two wars and multiple Global missions. Any sort of DoD Cyber Command should be a Joint Service effort and not a single service effort. Flying, fighting and winning in the air has very little to do with cyberspace, which is really Information Assurance and already being accomplished by all DoD services. The US Cyberspace Command is nothing more than an inside trick by the USAF to take on a new mission that is not in line with their actual air and space mission.

    The USAF has a long and proud heritage of dominating the air. They should stick to that mission.

  4. “Cyberspace critic” – I think you’ll note that the top-level personnel changes in USAF leadership announced today are signs that Sec. Gates also has his eye on improving the Air Force’s focus…

  5. […] Click here to see a blog post from about a year ago. Although it doesn’t question the figure, it does believe the Air Force ad is misleading. The ad gives the impression only the Air Force is involved in cyber warfare, and that is not true. […]

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