Mike Griffin

For Secretary of Defense?

I agree that we need someone who understands the technology threat at the helm of the Pentagon. But I wonder how familiar Goldman is with Griffin’s actual record when I read “praise” like this:

The overriding strategic risk to the United States is the loss of our technological edge, and the Defense Department needs a leader with the vision and expertise to restore it. Michael Griffin would be an excellent choice. A first-rate physicist, Dr. Griffin headed NASA under the Bush 41 administration.

First, Mike knows physics, but I wouldn’t call him a “physicist.” He’s first and foremost an aerospace engineer (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The problem is that, during his tenure at NASA, he devastated the space R&D budgets and promoted Constellation, an attempt not to develop needed new technology, but to repeat Apollo (except this time “on steroids”) with decades-old technology based on Saturn and the Space Shuttle.

At the time he left the agency (unwillingly) in 2009, all that was being developed to get back to the moon was a rocket designed to carry a capsule into low earth orbit, with no serious plans for things like a lunar lander, and those items were far over budget, and slipping more than a year per year (one of the reasons that, almost a decade later, we remain dependent on the Russians for access to our own space station). Even if they’d succeeded, the planned flight rate would be very low, at ridiculously high cost.

Now, in theory, he could argue that he is now older and wiser, and learned his lesson from that, but that’s negated by the fact that he continues to support their successors, the SLS and Orion. So, if we need someone to restore our technological edge, it’s hard to make the case that he’s the right guy for the job.

[Update a while later]

OK, if Mike Griffin were SecDef, just what would he do, going on past performance? Would he propose a giant expendable combat aircraft, based on parts from F-15s and F-16s, that would fly once a year, and each service could take a turn?

7 thoughts on “Mike Griffin”

  1. agree that we need someone who understands the technology threat at the helm of the Pentagon.

    We also need to understand that part of the technology threat is the tendency to prioritize technology development over winning wars. Mike Griffin reminds me of Professor-General Norden from this story.

    We were skeptical. There was a bombastic tone in Norden’s voice that made us suspicious of his claims. We did not know, then, that he never promised anything that he had not already almost perfected in the laboratory. In the laboratory – that was the operative phrase.

    The Constellation screw up indicates to me that Griffin is ignorant of a key technology threat, and willing to go to lengths to bulldoze rational argument and planning for his favored toys.

  2. Would he propose a giant expendable combat aircraft, based on parts from F-15s and F-16s F-18s

    Close, but Boeing would love for the military to buy it’s “advanced” F-15 and Super F-18. And while Boeing lost Orion to Lockheed Martin, Boeing had STS and ISS under Griffin.

    Unfortunately, we can’t say Griffin would come up with a new Destroyer class of ships with only 3 being made that can’t afford to fire their main guns. The military already did that without Griffin.

  3. Just because somebody has worked with technology doesn’t necessarily mean they understand broader implications of that technology.

    In fact, I would say that for a SecDef who can lead on the technology-threat front, the Pentagon actually needs someone who has a good track record of dealing with broader implications.

  4. I have been thinking about engineers and scientists as leaders for some time. Yes, I have made a career out of science and technology (think computers) but I am much more open minded than the typical engineer or scientist. For instance there is my artistic side. My Science Fiction Art gives a quick introduction to that side of me. There is growing evidence that scientists and engineers with an artistic side actually do better at science and engineering than those who do not have that side. Mike Griffin seems like a good man but on the narrow, possibly rigid side. That suggests that he would not be a good Secretary of Defense. There has been criticism of his leadership at NASA.

    Some years ago I wrote a piece for my blog I titled Interesting Correlation. It goes into this with a bit more detail.

    1. I know that the plural of anecdote is not data, but.

      In my first-year Physics class at the University of Alberta, one of the first classes of the semester the prof asked for a show of hands: “How many people here play a musical instrument? OK, that’s too hard to count, so how many here don’t play a musical instrument?”

      Out of a class of 150 first-year Physics majors, only four didn’t play a musical instrument.

  5. The Sec Def does not have to thoroughly understand technology. But the Sec Def must have a subordinate who does.

    But tech isn’t the only thing..the Sec Def must also

    Identify/quantify the military threats from other countries.

    Come up with an acquisition, manpower and training plan to meet the top set of threats.

    Push that plan through Congress.

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