Q & A with Vice Admiral Michael Bucchi: On Modern Warfare and the Hoosier State
by Wesley Cate
With talk of unmanned systems and cyber-security, it’s clear that warfare has changed. What might not be as apparent, though, is how these strategic currents influence the American Midwest. A place once overlooked in national security conversations, the Midwest is beginning to catch the attention of national players in defense. Indiana, in particular, is making a name for itself. Through a unique suite of defense assets, the state provides an optimal environment for developing and testing capabilities for the 21st century war fighter. And few know the dynamics of this narrative better than Vice Admiral Mike Bucchi.
Following his commission in June 1970, Vice Admiral Mike Bucchi completed flight training and was designated a Naval Aviator on October 1971. The rest of his intense operational career was marked by significant achievements. For instance, he was the first East Coast fleet pilot to fire a Phoenix missile; he served as an instructor at Top Gun; and he was the Operations Officer for Fighter Squadron Thirty-One during its first year as an F-14 squadron.
He was assigned to Commander, Fighter Wing One with additional duties as Special Intelligence Officer to the Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet Strategic Support Team, and then served as Readiness Officer for the Commander, Tactical Wings Atlantic.
VADM Bucchi then moved on to serve as first Executive Officer, then as the thirty-fourth Commanding Officer of Fighter Squadron Thirty-Three. His command tour was followed by appointment as F-14 Fighter Readiness and Adversary Officer at Commander, Naval Air Forces, Atlantic. In 1990, he became the Deputy Commander, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) Eight, and participated in Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and Provide Comfort. During those operations he logged over thirty combat missions and more than one hundred combat flight hours. Following graduation from National War College, Vice Admiral Bucchi commanded Carrier Air Wing Three from late 1992 to mid-1994.
He has completed various Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, and Persian Gulf cruises aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67), USS America (CV 66), and USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), amassing over 6,000 total flight hours and more than 1,000 carrier arrested landings. VADM Bucchi was promoted to Flag rank in June 1994 and then assigned as the Deputy U.S. Military Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium. In June of 1996 Vice Admiral Bucchi became Commander, Carrier Group Six, homeported in Mayport, Florida. In December 1996, he assumed additional duties as Deputy Commander, Joint Task Force Southwest Asia until March 1997. Vice Admiral Bucchi then became the Chief of Naval Air Training on December 15, 1997 and received his third star en route to his assignment as Commander, U.S. Third Fleet and the Director of the Navy’s Sea Based Battle Lab. Vice Admiral Bucchi completed his last active duty tour as Commander of the United States Third Fleet on 28 May 2003.
His awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with Combat “V,” the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, three Meritorious Service Medals, three Strike/Flight awards with Combat “V,” the Joint Service Commendation Medal, five Navy Commendation Medals with Combat “V,” the Humanitarian Service Medal and various campaign and unit awards.
On June 16, 2003 Mr. Bucchi started work at Ocean Systems Engineering Corporation (OSEC), a high-tech software company whose corporate office was located in Carlsbad, CA. He joined OSEC as the Chief Operation Officer and Executive Vice President and later became President of the Company on March 1, 2005. After OSEC was acquired by Apogen Technologies, a QinetiQ North America company, Mr. Bucchi became a Senior Vice President for the Mission Solutions Group where he led the Navy Business unit in Southern California.
Mr. Bucchi is presently employed with Concurrent Technologies Corporation as Executive Technical Director with a primary focus on helping NSWC Crane grow strategically. He also serves as the Vice Chairman & Treasurer for the National Center for Complex Operations’ Board of Directors.
Sagamore Institute spoke with Vice Admiral Michael Bucchi to better understand the evolution of modern warfare and the economic potential these changes bring to Indiana.
Sagamore: Let’s start by having you introduce yourself.
Bucchi: My real name is Toney Michael Bucchi, but I’ve always gone by Mike or Michael. Shortly after I entered the Navy I received a call sign, though. As it turned out, I had a tendency to smile when people were shouting at me, so before long I had a new handle, “Smiles.” That name stayed with me throughout my military career. In fact, a lot of my acquaintances still send me notes and refer to me as Smiles instead of my real name.
Following my commission in June 1970, I completed flight training and was designated a Naval Aviator in October 1971. I instructed in advanced jets just over two years and was selected to go be a TOMCAT driver and was one of the first “new bloods” (A new guy without any fleet experience, yet) to get into the F-14 TOMCAT. It was a brand new machine when I first got my wings. I flew the F-14 TOMCAT as my primary airplane and accumulated over 3,000 hours in that particular aircraft. During my last two fleet tours of duty, I was dual qualified in both the F-14 TOMCAT and the F-18 HORNET.
I’ve done a lot of aircraft carrier work, too. Most of my deployments were east coast, although we ended up over in the Pacific in a couple of those. I’ve flown over 6,000 tactical hours and have over 1,000 arrested carrier landings. If you’re a C-130 pilot, 6,000 hours isn’t that much, but if you fly a pointed-noise, fast mover that’s a pretty good number to have.
I had command of Fighter Squadron Thirty-Three. I was the Deputy Air Wing Commander, Air Wing Eight, during Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Provide Comfort. Then after National War College I was given command of Carrier Air Wing Three. While deployed during my Air Wing tour, we supported operations off of Bosnia. I was selected for Flag (Admiral) while I was still the Air Wing Commander.
I had my first Flag Officer tour as Deputy U.S. Military Representative to the NATO Military Committee over in Brussels, Belgium. I worked for a great three star Army General named Tom Montgomery who happens to be from Indianapolis. So I’m right here at his doorstep. He actually attended IU here in Bloomington.
I left Brussels and was given command of a carrier battle group, Carrier Group Six, out of Mayport, Florida. My command ship was the USS John C. Stennis. I went on from there to be the Chief of Naval Air Training in Corpus Christi, Texas for nearly three years. I got my third star as I left there to go command the Third Fleet in San Diego. I retired June 1, 2003 out of that particular job.
Can you give us an idea of your duties as Commander of Third Fleet?
In essence, the Third Fleet Commander is responsible for anything from our West Coast to the international dateline. He gets a lot of traffic, message traffic, etc. regarding different kinds of players in and out of those particular waters. Now if we were invaded from the West, the Third Fleet Commander would be the commander of the joint task force, at least the maritime piece of that. That’s part of his job; however, I did not loose that much sleep over that particular possibility.
The main function of the Third Fleet Commander is to train the carrier battle groups and the amphibious ready groups—we call them carrier strike groups now—to prepare them for deployment.
While I was at Third Fleet I had five carrier strike groups and five amphibious ready groups that we trained on a varying deployment schedule. As I ended my time at Third Fleet, I had four of my carrier battle groups and four of my Amphibious Ready Groups deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
So basically the Third Fleet Commander has operational control of the aircraft carriers, the air wings that belonged to those aircraft carriers, the ships that belong to those strike groups and all the people that belong to those entities. Now once we deploy them, and they cross over into the operational environment of another fleet commander, then we switch reporting responsibilities from one operational commander to another. In this case, we would “chop” them from Third Fleet Commander’s operational control to either the 7th Fleet Commander or the 5th Fleet Commander, depending on what was going on.
Considering both the positives and the negatives, how has the United States military transformed since you entered the service in 1970?
The military has grown by leaps and bounds since I entered. That really should not be a surprise when you pause and just think about how technology has changed in those 42 years; it’s a pretty awesome thing.
And our military has grown accordingly. The military today is a lot more connected with technological aids that give the war fighter greater situational awareness. They can actually see a lot of stuff that we couldn’t in those early days. We now have the ability to communicate not only at strategic levels but also all the way down to the boots on the ground. Much has changed on the technological front.
But the greatest weapon we’ve got is our people. And that’s what I really want to underscore. They have never been any stronger, and they have never been anymore capable. The education level of our men and women in uniform is very high today.
As a little side note: When I was the commander of Fighter Squadron 33, I was given what had been a recruiting poster, and I had it framed and hung on the wall. It was a picture of an American sailor with an American flag flying draped in the background and the caption on that picture said, “Back home they think that I am God’s gift to man . . . and he is.” Well I would say that held true when I was the commanding officer of Fighter Squadron 33 and it still does today when we look at our young people that wear the uniform regardless of what service they are in.
How have national security needs evolved since you flew in Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Provide Comfort?
Well that’s an interesting question. Talking in particular about Desert Storm, I think we had begun to realize as a nation that we couldn’t go at it by ourselves. President Bush worked very hard to form up a great coalition. We learned that in order to do these kind of operations in the future the U.S. would have to rely on combined armed forces from other nations both from a military and political standpoint—Those two are always working side by side together.
In addition to that, we started to approach things differently from what we had in the past. Prior to Desert Storm the word “joint” had been thrown around for quite some time. People gave lip service to it, but it was not a way of life for us. Coming out of Desert Storm, we came to the realization that we all have to be truly “joint” as we approach these kinds of conflicts in the future. We cannot be out here alone and unafraid, so to speak. Our needs have evolved to include combined forces with “joint forces.”
The other significant change that came was the absolute reliance upon smart weapons. We wasted a lot of dumb ordnance during Desert Storm, which we were releasing from high altitudes. In some instances, we had winds in excess of a hundred knots. If you’re going to drop from 30,000 feet with that kind of wind it is almost impossible to hit pin-point targets. So the smart weapons made a name for themselves. Coming out of Desert Storm we all began to target pinpoint, very small and specific targets that required the use of smart weapons.
Another one that has really jumped out in the last couple years is how our nation uses Special Forces. That’s been a growth area. And I’m proud to say we have people like Adm. Bill McRaven, our SOCOM Commander, leading these forces on a daily basis. He gives us assurance that they will get the job done right the first time around.
And why do you see Special Forces becoming more relevant?
It’s because of the increase in irregular warfare we’ve been dealing with in the last 5 to 10 years. It is very difficult to fight those battles with conventional forces. The way Special Forces train really gives them the ability to take on irregular combat situations.
Normally when we think of Special Forces we think of what we in the Navy call our SEALS, “Snake Eaters.” They are the ones with black stuff all over their faces and grass all over their heads so you can’t see them in the grass. Although they do those kinds of missions very well, they also have the best nation building skills. So when you have that particular combination, they are our go to people for the irregular-type warfare.
Where do you see national security heading with the de-escalation of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom coupled with the looming budget cuts?
Well clearly the budget is on everybody’s mind for good reason. The economy is very important to the stability of the nation. The warning note is that the U.S. cannot afford to take the path the Soviet Union did in the late 1980s. They basically bankrupt their country through escalated spending, and we just cannot afford to go down that path. So clearly there are a lot of good reasons to be concerned about the budget.
As the timeline progresses, there is a lot of uncertainty with what our nation’s civilian leadership is going to expect out of their military. As our military forces pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, one thing we are going to have to do is reconstitute the force and our resources, which we have used so heavily in the last ten years. At the same time, we’re still faced with a very dangerous and unstable world so we can’t think that we’re just walking away from that type of situation. It may not be in Afghanistan and it may not be in Iraq, but rest assured it will be somewhere because the bad actors are just not going to go away on their own. The current Strategic Guidance makes it pretty clear that we have our hands full for a long time.
In order to be successful we’re going to need both a strong offense and a strong defense. What I’m really trying to say is we have to be very good at conventional warfare—the kind guys like me grew up with, trained for etc—but we also have to be very good at the irregular warfare piece at the same time. Although we’re coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq we have to realize that those things aren’t going to just go away. We have to face realities here, and we have some hard decisions to make.
But another factor that I would weave in here is that of deterrence: How do you prevent a crisis from developing? How do you keep from getting out of control so a situation doesn’t spread into a conflict? I would say you must have a credible force in order to have deterrence as an option.
I know many times, while an aircraft carrier was deployed to the Mediterranean or the Pacific Ocean, the admiral would get a command, to reposition to the coast of some particular country that was having a problem. That was to show the flag of force. Of course, often we would conduct operations off the carrier to ensure they knew that we were there.
Point being, the nation can use those carrier strike groups and those assets—diplomatic tactics really—to show force deterrence. But that only works if you have a strong force. Bottom line: the United States must keep a strong and credible military.
I was struck by what Chief of Naval Operations said when they worked up the maritime strategy for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. One of the statements that he personally made was that they believe preventing wars is as important as winning wars. You don’t have to fight wars if you can prevent them from every occurring. So deterrence is very important.
And I say all this to point back at that budget theme. We have to protect the economy and not let it fall, but at the same time, we must have a great military force that can prevent bad actors from doing the things that they want to do to this nation or any other nation.
Now these proposed budget cuts, if they happen, do you see these as temporary in nature or is this over the long-term?
Well from all indications, this is going to be for the long term. I was looking at some of the budget material that’s out there and at least until 2017 we are going to be faced with this situation. I would say it’s not going to happen overnight. We’re going to have to be in this thing for the long haul to get it under control.
And the theme that seems to emerge has to do with the resources that we have at our disposal. Better efficiency and better effectiveness of those resources—“E2”—is the new emphasis.
What programs do you think will get increased funding and which do you see experiencing cuts?
Well it’s not that easy to just pick it apart, but I would say that a sure winner is that of unmanned systems. It is listed as a winner for both the Navy and the Air Force, which includes the Marine Corps as well.
I think that is a very good thing for the state of Indiana. Right now the NCCO is working very hard with the state for Indiana to become one of the six FAA unmanned system test sites.
Another area that’s likely to gain funding is cyber warfare and cyber security. And of course that’s another one of the focal areas for the NCCO. So despite some of the cuts, all in all I’d say from an Indiana perspective, the gains in the budget for unmanned systems and cyber would probably be good for the state.
As we look out to the next ten years what do you see as the biggest threat to the United States? Are we talking a conventional threat or are we talking irregular threats?
In the next ten years I would be more worried about what could happen to us from the cyber side. But I think we need to be very careful on the conventional side too.
Let’s say we decide to take our aircraft carriers to a low number. It takes a long time to reconstitute that type of force. If the U.S. is going “down the slope” one way and a rising power is coming up the hill on the other side, the U.S. may have difficulty reversing course once that rising threat finally catches its eye. If we get too low we won’t have the time or the resources to pull ourselves back up to where we need to be. That’s one of the things I’m always worried about. I don’t want us to be so focused on the short-term piece that we let the long-term get away from us.
Turning our attention to Indiana specifically, what gives our state the edge for developing and testing unmanned systems?
Well I think it’s the three or four major assets we have in the state. We have a unique set of defense assets in Muscatatuck Urban Training Center (MUTC), which is state-of-the-art. It’s really one of the most realistic, real-world training centers in the U.S. It has all kinds of human assets. It has a full spectrum capability for testing sensors. And you have the ability to train in a very realistic way. You get nearly immediate feedback through the capabilities they have such as video taping and recording with play back capability.
We also have Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuvering Training Center right next door to the MUTC. We have Crane, the Navy’s third largest base with obvious R&D advantages and other capabilities right here. And of course over at Terre Haute we have the 181st Intelligence Wing. So we have some unique assets that pull all of this together here in the state.
As a matter of fact, the more important point is the synergy. It isn’t just any one of those assets, but it’s the synergy of all of those netted together. We are trying to do that now. That is what makes our asset base such a powerful thing for the state of Indiana and for this nation.
Can you give me a sense of how significant Crane and the WestGate is to contributing to America’s armed forces?
Crane is kind of a unique place in that if you come out to NSA Crane and look around it’s not going to be populated with a lot of individuals wearing a uniform. Many of the people that that work here have been on active duty or reserve. This is more of an R&D facility and S&T. In other words, this is where the smart work is done on items that are of interest to the war fighter.
What you have at NSWC Crane is an industry team made up of various contractors working alongside a team of government employees. The two working together provide the war fighter with increased capabilities from the Strategic Missions side to Special Operations Support to advancing our Electronic Warfare capabilities, whether that be on an airplane, a ship, or underneath the water. Crane serves not only just Navy, but also the other services including the rapid turn-around support for Special Forces.
When you look at what Crane has to offer the war fighter, it’s the ability to have a problem identified in theater that gets sent back to the States. Crane then gets to work with the government side and the industry side, and sometimes in a matter of a few days we have a solution. We can get a quick fix that we are able to push back to the war fighter. There are numerous examples of Crane executing a very fast, a very quick turnaround—where an issue that happened on the battlefield gets resolved in less than a week.
At the same time you have some things that just take a lot of time to work through. I think a good example is the next generation of jammers: that is something that doesn’t happen overnight. There are a lot of brain cells working together daily to make sure that the timeline is on schedule and that we will be able to provide to our war fighter the next-gen jammer that is going to make a tremendous difference out on the battlefield.
How does the commercial sector help to bring all these assets together?
That’s what we are trying to do with the NCCO. We are trying to be a catalyst for pulling all these things together. We call it a one-stop-shop. Another way you can think of it is as a single portal for the state and industry to use that goes down to those assets. Basically, the NCCO allows contractors to hit one single button to get what they need. It also works in reverse. Let’s say that one of these special assets wants to advertise what they have. They can come back up the line too.
Indiana is the place where we can do the things that this nation needs to get done at a lower cost with greater value added. Comparing the cost of using similar facilities on the East or West coast, we can do it for less here in Indiana. We have a much better business environment for the companies that are trying to come into the state.
For those who may not know, how does the private sector interface with those inside the fence to develop those solutions?
It can go one of two ways: Let’s say that industry, through its own research and processes, identifies a shortfall or requirement that needs to be resolved. They can actually bring those to their government counterparts, present their case, and if the government buys into it then there is a process of getting a request for proposal. The different contractors then submit a proposal. That proposal then goes through a process of review to try to get the best value. Then the contract is awarded. Usually that work is not just a contract job or a government job, but usually it is a combination of both the local government and the contractor working together then to fulfill that requirement.
Now it can be that the government knows there is an issue that needs to be resolved. They can push out a request for information for the contractors to take a look at or they can go straight to a request for proposal and get a proposal back through the same process and award based on that.
As someone who has spent time both in the private sector and the military, what challenges do you see each side facing when they interface with each other to develop those solutions?
First of all I would say both sides have to approach solutions as a team. The abilities of industry and government provide the scenario for a perfect marriage. We both need each other in order to provide the needs for the war fighter.
And having been on both sides of the fence, I think many of us on both the contractor side and those in the government wore a uniform on active duty, though many do not have that active duty or reserve experience. Either way, there is a great inner desire to make sure we equip the war fighter with what he needs in a timely fashion. For many, we have been on the other side, deployed and needed something that maybe we couldn’t have gotten our hands on. We understand the urgency, and we know that we are dealing with life and death matters.
Whenever our Special Forces pull that trigger in a split second decision, the reason he is pulling the trigger is because he needs to take the enemy out. We cannot afford failure. We cannot afford for that weapon to misfire and not accomplish its mission. We look at it as lives on the line. It’s a 24/7 thing. It used to be us out there, but now it’s ours sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters. We as a team cannot afford to fail whatsoever.
Now, are there challenges out there? Absolutely. But the key is we have a higher mission and calling, on both sides of government and industry to work together to achieve what takes precedence. Like I said, it’s really like a family affair and more like a marriage than anything else.
How does NCCO help bolster that relationship? What function does it play?
First of all we are going to try to be a matchmaker so that we can bring the various government pieces together with the private sector and vice versa. We are going to be using a portal concept so that we can strategically connect the buyer and the seller together.
The second thing is that we will also serve as a promoter for Indiana businesses and the service providers to both the government and private industry side to try to bring the two together. So we are going to be a matchmaker, and we are going to promote the services that we have available to industry and government.
What comprises Indiana’s competitive advantage in unmanned systems?
The real operating environment is what makes Indiana a center of excellence for unmanned systems. Sensors, payload development, integration, testing and training with an emphasis on the strategic, tactical and scientific utilization are the ingredients that have converged in Indiana for unmanned systems. Indiana also recognizes strategic values and can offer that to the defense, intelligence, law enforcement, homeland security, and scientific communities. So it is not just the DoD that’s interested. There are a host of communities now yearning for unmanned systems. It is definitely a booming area.
Additionally, Indiana’s assets include the only brick and mortar full-scale urban environment there is in Muscatatuck. There we can bring in the unmanned systems to operate in a full spectrum environment.
As a pilot and as an instructor at Top Gun how do you view the proliferation of unmanned aerial systems, in particular?
Well you know when I was a young lieutenant at Top Gun as an instructor, I probably would have laughed at you if you would have asked me that question. When I was a lieutenant in the mid-1970s we had not seen or been exposed to this particular technology at all. But now, as the environment has become more complex the addition of these unmanned aerial vehicles is really, truly a welcomed capability. Anything you can add to the mix to increase your probability of success, which also improves your probability of survival, is a plus. It is really looked at in a favorable fashion.
The one thing you have to remember about the fighter business is that there are no points for second place. Anything that ensures I don’t come in second, I am going to say is a good thing!
We have covered a lot of ground, but is there anything else you would like to add?
Some of the hard questions that have to be debated and resolved might be: What does constitute a credible force? What is the right mix when we look at the size of the force and the kind of force we are looking at? What are the technologies that are going to be required? What capabilities must we have? How much risk can we afford to take? And with each and every one of the risks we may list, what mitigations do we have at our disposal to rectify the situation that we see developing? So we have some tough challenges out there.
I mean look at the priorities for this 21st century, which really come out of the recently published Strategic Guidance. To have a sustaining U.S. global leadership in a challenging global security environment here are some of the missions we have to cover:
Counter terrorism and irregular warfare; deter and defeat aggression; project power despite anti-access/aerial denial challenges, counter weapons of mass destruction, operate effectively in cyber space and space, maintain a safe and secure nuclear deterrent, defend the homeland and provide support to civil authorities, provide a stabilizing presence, conduct stability and counter insurgency operations, conduct military and disaster relief.
You could probably pick two of those and have your hands full. That list, which comes out of the Strategic Guidance, basically says that our armed forces have to be very capable and very agile. Quite a significant task when you wrap that with the budget and the economy.
So as we debate all these questions that will determine what type, kind and size of military we are going to have, there must be a minimum cut off—a point where you just can’t go any leaner.
Thank you for taking the time.
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