The Air Force must rebuild its acquisition relationship with the defense industry, Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said Sept. 16. Acquisitions must be “fundamentally decided on the merits” and getting needed capabilities to the field at a fair and reasonable price, the new Chief of Staff asserted at AFA’s Air & Space Conferences. “We must exercise caution with systems that a particular vendor wishes to build,” he said, or that satisfy “a particular constituency.” The Air Force has seen two of its highest-priority acquisition efforts hobbled by industry protests, marketing campaigns, and threats of Congressional interference. Schwartz lambasted the “unfortunate deterioration” of the relationship between the Air Force and industry that of late has manifested itself through “insensitivity, hyperbole, and a lack of communication.” Even though the operators desperately need a new CSAR-X combat search and rescue helicopter and KC-X tanker, USAF has been unable to move forward with either program. Schwartz said his personal opinion is that military professionals, including those who have retired, have a duty to avoid taking sides in public debates over key acquisition programs. The most recent blow to USAF’s modernization efforts was the cancellation of the KC-X program after Defense Secretary Robert Gates determined it would be politically impossible to move forward with the program in the time left before a new Administration takes charge in January.
The F-35 Joint Program Office has officially announced plans to issue multiple sole-source contracts to Pratt & Whitney to upgrade the fighter’s F135 engine—a widely expected move after Pentagon officials indicated they would do so earlier this year instead of developing an entirely new engine.