Just-Retired USAF Head Honcho Joins Board of Big Defense Contractor

General Mark Welsh, who ended his 40-year military career this summer as the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, has joined the board of one of America’s largest defense contractors, Northrop Grumman. Of course, this is the same company that was selected to build America’s next stealth bomber—a contract that could be worth upwards of $100 billion, and one that was awarded under Welsh’s purview. The contract was seen as absolutely critical to the survival of Northrop Grumman as a prime combat aircraft manufacturer.

Originally, it seemed as if Welsh was going to take the high road, accepting the position of dean at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service months before his official retirement from the USAF. Now, less than six months into that job, it appears that the general has decided to expand his professional career, and his income. It is not clear if Welsh will continue with his position as dean while he sits on Northrop Grumman’s board.

Northrop Grumman’s CEO Wes Bush stated the following regarding Welsh’s new gig:

“We are delighted that Mark Welsh has joined our board of directors. His extensive leadership experience and deep understanding of global security are a great fit to our board, and we are excited about the contributions he will make as Northrop Grumman employees around the globe work to create value for our customers and shareholders.”

Northrop Grumman is not alone when it comes to slotting recently retired top commanders on their boards. All the other big defense contractors do it, too. And that is just a small sample of what happens on a program and department level far below a corporation’s board-level hierarchy.  

Taking a job that likely pays very well and has lucrative stock options right after you were in a position to greatly benefit the same company hiring you doesn’t mean your are crooked—but the fact that this type of thing is allowed only invites mass corruption and sows skepticism as to the Pentagon’s ability to make the right procurement decisions for America’s armed forces. Don’t hate the player, hate the game, as they say.

The thing is, this made news because Welsh was the top officer in the Air Force just months ago. Yet this happens virtually every day throughout the middle and upper command structure of America’s defense apparatus. Reform is desperately needed to create a clear and continuous separation between defense industry and those in uniform, as well as civilian leadership tasked with making key military procurement and strategic decisions.  

An abysmal example of the revolving door within the defense-industrial complex was the general who had a lot to do with keeping the miserable JLENS aerostat-mounted radar program alive even though pretty much everyone wanted to kill it. Eventually, it killed itself, but that’s another story for another time.

The LA Times wrote:

“Army leaders tried to kill JLENS in 2010, The Times learned. What happened next illustrates the difficulty of extinguishing even a deeply troubled defense program. Raytheon mobilized its congressional lobbyists. Within the Pentagon, Marine Corps Gen. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright, then vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came to JLENS’ defense, arguing that it held promise for enhancing the nation’s air defenses.

At Cartwright’s urging, money was found in 2011 for a trial run of the technology—officially, an “operational exercise”—in the skies above Washington, D.C. Cartwright retired the same year—and joined Raytheon’s board of directors five months later. As of the end of 2014, Raytheon had paid him more than $828,000 in cash and stock for serving as a director, Securities and Exchange Commission records show.”

Demand massive systemic reform within the Pentagon now. The system is broken and it is not just wasteful of American treasure, it is producing chronically ineffective weapons for our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airman.

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com

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Tyler Rogoway


Tyler’s passion is the study of military technology, strategy, and foreign policy and he has fostered a dominant voice on those topics in the defense media space. He was the creator of the hugely popular defense site Foxtrot Alpha before developing The War Zone.