Washington Watch

Feb. 1, 2009

Schwartz Looks Ahead

The new Air Force Chief of Staff says he believes common sense, cooperation, and less confrontation will win arguments for the Air Force as it recasts its role for the near- and long-term future.

Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, in a late December interview with Air Force Magazine, waved off the notion of refighting battles to win the service executive agency for unmanned aircraft or for retrieving that status in space systems.

He conceded that the Air Force may have to live with a smaller force structure, that it probably has enough C-17s, and that the Army has a legitimate need for some fixed wing transports.

However, Schwartz also said that the Air Force needs more than the currently approved number of F-22 fighters, that the Pentagon should accelerate the current planned F-35 fighter production rate, and that the Air Force can and must build a new long-range bomber soon.

Schwartz provided a sneak peek at some of the Air Force’s newly blessed roles and missions, and offered his forecast of key issues for this year’s upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review.

Heated battles for supervision of the UAV enterprise, fought under Schwartz’ two predecessors, have created tensions that get in the way of cooperation, he said.

“I think we are at a point where executive agency is an emotional issue that interferes with what we really want to do, which is strive for common requirements [and] common equipment,” Schwartz said.

That cooperation is happening anyway, in the form of close collaboration with the Navy on Global Hawk and with the Army on Predator variants, and in the creation of joint concepts of UAV operation, Schwartz explained.

Schwartz added, “We are proceeding along a path [that] is producing the right kinds of outcomes without these contests over ownership. If someone wants to ask questions about ownership, fine, but … frankly, I do not see value … in those kinds of contests. There’s much more to be gained with just common sense cooperation.”

Space “is different,” Schwartz asserted. Most of the expertise in space system design, operations, and development resides in USAF, he said, adding, “I think that’s going to remain the case.”

Still, the Chief continued, “whether we’re the executive agent for the department or not is frankly less of an issue for me than our ability, No. 1, to support the combatant commanders … and, … No. 2, to deliver [space systems] on time, on schedule, at the cost predicted.”

The Air Force’s executive agency role for space was rescinded in 2005 by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, in the wake of several high-profile failures in space procurement. Pentagon acquisition chief John J. Young Jr. has resisted restoring that authority to the Air Force.

Schwartz said he was satisfied with the outcome of the Pentagon’s in-house roles and missions review, which concluded in December.

The review, he said, was useful in that it helped “crystallize, really, our thinking about what the Air Force core functions are” and created a “coherent position across the Air Force” on what the service’s priorities should be. This will be important as USAF heads into the 2009 QDR.

The Air Force has been handed 12 core missions. Among them are air, space, and cyber superiority, special operations, rapid global lift, and agile combat support.

Schwartz said these 12 core missions will form the basis of how “we organize ourselves … [and how] we manage portfolios—not a small thing.” In the review, disputes were minimal, Schwartz continued, noting, “I think the issues related to lift and particularly the C-27 have been resolved, certainly to my satisfaction.”

The Air Force and the QDR

Among key questions for the QDR, raised by the roles and missions review, will be deterrence, but “not just nuclear. It’s more sophisticated” than that, Schwartz said, suggesting that some conventional capabilities may also deter enemies from starting fights they know they can’t win. Other QDR issues will be workforce, training, and whether the services possess the expertise in-house to do cost estimation and other essential acquisition skills. The QDR should set the stage for acquisition success “as we go down the road.”

In the roles and missions review, there had been some concerns that Army acquisition of a fixed wing airlifter larger than it had previously operated was poaching on USAF’s traditional mission in fixed wing lift, but Schwartz said he agrees that “there is a place” for the C-27 in meeting the Army’s need for time-critical resupply.

He said that, as long as both the theater commander and US Transportation Command know what the aircraft are carrying, where they are operating, and when they are operating—and as long as they contribute to the overall theater lift task—”I’m comfortable that this arrangement will work efficiently.”

The Air Force and Army are working to streamline the program to avoid duplication of effort, he said.

There’s no doubt, though, that any future airlifters are strictly the province of the Air Force, Schwartz insisted.

“Rapid global mobility is a core mission,” he asserted. The Army has its own way of doing things, and he said the Air Force will learn to adapt to how the Army wants to do what it calls “direct support” in the future. But for now, “we certainly have no problem … with the current division of labor.”

Force Structure Cuts Coming

The Air Force is likely to shave force structure in order to pay its bills, Schwartz said. He acknowledged press reports that the service has proposed cutting more than 300 fighters from its inventory, but said reductions would not come “exclusively” from the fighter force. He did not elaborate.

“The question is, is there some way to tailor the force structure in a way that … will serve the needs of the national security strategy?” The proposed cuts, he said, had “not yet been approved” by defense higher-ups.

The force reduction is “not a risk-free proposal, but it is a manageable risk proposal,” Schwartz said, in view of the prevalent near-term threat from Gen 4 and 4+ fighters in foreign service. For the longer term, however, the Air Force will need more F-22s and a faster ramp-up rate to 110 or more F-35s a year.

Schwartz noted in his confirmation hearing that the Air Force would re-examine its long-held requirement for 381 F-22s, and that has been done. He declined to give the new number, but it is less than 381, which he described as a “low-risk” figure. The new number is a “moderate-risk” inventory of F-22s.

Schwartz did allow that Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael G. Mullen was close to the mark when he suggested the Air Force wants 60 more F-22s. He didn’t want to be more specific because the Air Force has yet to “make [its] case” to the new defense leadership team.

The mix of new and old fighters, and taking into account a new bomber, will provide a moderate-risk “balance” of capabilities, Schwartz said.

“Getting this balance right is a technical and analytical matter, and some military judgment [is] involved as well.”

Separate and Unequal

Schwartz disputed the contention that the F-22 and F-35 are essentially similar aircraft, and that the F-22 can safely be terminated in favor of the cheaper F-35.

“They are different machines,” he said. “They are complementary aircraft, to be sure, but clearly the F-22 was designed for the high-threat air-to-air mission” as well as the toughest air defenses. The F-35, by contrast, “is more of a multirole machine with good qualities in those same areas,” but not with the F-22’s level of mastery.

“Will the F-35 be able to do air-to-air? Sure, just like the F-15E can now. Would you want to put the F-35 up front against a Gen 5 adversary? Probably not.” The F-35 can do what it needs to do, Schwartz said, “in some mix with the F-22 … and with standoff munitions.”

Schwartz noted it’s important to realize that, in the current fight, American airpower hasn’t been challenged, but the service has to be prepared for other threats, as well. “We cannot ignore the future,” Schwartz asserted. “And so, we’re doing our best to be loyal partners in today’s fight, while still keeping an eye on needs for the future. I don’t think that’s controversial.”

If the Obama Administration decides that maintaining F-22 production “for a couple more years” is what it wants to do, said Schwartz, then “I think there’s good rationale for that.”

Schwartz believes there is “general agreement” that a new bomber is needed, given that the B-52 is old, and the B-1 is “no spring chicken, either.”

Recent and ongoing upgrades are multiplying the uses of the bombers, he said. However, range, persistence, and payload will all rise in importance in the future, especially as access to overseas bases comes into question.

The Air Force can make a deadline of 2018 to have a new bomber flying, but it will be a developmental version, and not yet fully operational, Schwartz said. He said he remains confident that the Air Force can do it in 10 years or less because of classified development work under way for some time.

“Let me put it this way,” Schwartz said. “John Young’s guidance has been to make maximum use of ‘mature’ or nearly mature technologies. We intend to be loyal to that guidance.” The new bomber, he said, will make use of technology largely in hand. “We are not breaking new ground. … This is not Buck Rogers,” he added.

It’s 316 Tails

Schwartz restated a long-held opinion that an inventory of 205 C-17s is sufficient for the airlift fleet, in conjunction with 111 C-5s, of which 52 have been modified with both the Avionics Modernization Program upgrade and the Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program—better known as AMP and RERP.

“I still believe that’s the case,” Schwartz said, adding that too many airlifters would reduce the work available for the Civil Reserve Air Fleet and endanger the continued industry participation in that program, which Schwartz said is critical to the overall lift equation.

The end of C-17 production for the Air Force is “in sight,” he said, but he expressed confidence that Boeing will win more international orders to keep the line open a while longer. Should Congress provide more C-17s to the Air Force, Schwartz said it’s likely that the oldest C-5As would then be retired to preserve an inventory of about “316 total tails,” which he said seems to be “the sweet spot” for strategic lift.

He understands that ending production of a strategic airlifter before its successor program is under way is troublesome for some, but said both TRANSCOM and Air Mobility Command are making the “intellectual effort” now to define what a next airlifter should be. They are thinking beyond traditional airlifters, he said, to include “vertical lift or airships or any number of things,” especially ideas that “are less hydrocarbon-intensive, like lifting bodies.”

Schwartz, formerly the commander of TRANSCOM, said it’s important to note that not all cargo goes by air, and the proper amount of airlift must be considered in context with sealift and pre-positioning.

Two mobility studies are under way which should set the course for lift. One, by the Institute for Defense Analyses, will report early in the year, and will focus just on the right airlift mix, Schwartz said. The broader Mobility Capabilities/Requirements Study-2016 will report late in the spring or early summer and will look at the overall lift equation.

The MCRS “will be more comprehensive, and presumably, more decisive,” Schwartz predicted.

Schwartz also believes there is probably excess infrastructure in the Air Force, but doesn’t think “there’s the will” to conduct another round of base realignment and closure just now.