Schwartz: Get those AF boots off the ground
By Michael Hoffman - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Mar 1, 2010 19:17:02 EST
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz wants lawmakers to give more money to the Army and Marine Corps so airmen don't have to fill in for soldiers and Marines in the combat zones. Schwartz lobbied for his fellow service chiefs at a Feb. 23 congressional hearing on the Air Force's $170.8 billion 2011 budget request. About 4,700 airmen are in Iraq or Afghanistan doing work for the Army and Marine Corps because their ranks have been stretched so thin in nine years of war.
Schwartz often holds up the Joint Expeditionary Taskings as proof of his service's contributions but made clear to the House Armed Services Committee that many warfighting roles on the ground belong to the other services. "The key thing for us is that as the Army grows its pool to its final end state, and likewise the Marines, we need to make sure that this does not become a habit. That is, they establish their combat support and combat service support in greater number, that that relieves the Air Force and the Navy of these augmentation taskings," Schwartz said.
During the three-hour hearing, Schwartz and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley also answered questions from committee members. Among the topics:
JOINT STRIKE FIGHTER
Committee members devoted a chunk of time to discussing the F-35, which is a year behind schedule. Independent reviews show the aircraft, which will make up 95 percent of the Air Force's fighter fleet in 20 years, have flown only 10 percent of the test flights scheduled for 2009. The Air Force wants to buy 23 more F-35s in fiscal 2011, which starts Oct. 1. "It seems like every year the program is slipping and slipping," committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., told the Air Force's top two leaders.
Donley acknowledged the problems but urged committee members to keep supporting the Pentagon's largest weapons systems acquisition. "We're all about getting this program on track as quickly as possible," Donley said. "There is no diminution of the importance of this program or the emphasis that we're putting on its success going forward."
Schwartz and Donley also explained that they don't support an alternative F-35 engine because of the cost, estimated at $2.5 billion to $2.9 billion. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been vocal in his opposition to an alternative engine.
Congressmen on both sides of the aisle argued an alternative engine, made by General Electric, would force Pratt & Whitney, the primary engine maker, to keep down its cost and would be an insurance policy if engine problems arise. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., drove home the point to Schwartz by using the F-16 as an example of an aircraft program that benefited from an alternative engine. "The engine competitions for F-16 saved money, improved engine performance, reliability and contractor responsiveness.
. Why wouldn't a similar program be applicable to the F-35?" Wilson asked.
Schwartz countered, citing the single-engine F-22 and F-18EF. Donley explained the benefits did not out weigh the cost in terms of both dollars and manpower. "It just looks too cloudy to us," he said.
As the Pentagon struggles to pay for both new planes and more people, Schwartz emphasized that his top priority is "human capital."
"If I lose sleep at night, it's concern over our ability to recruit and retain the kind of people that America needs to do this work," he said.
The AirBorne Laser, a Boeing 747 mounted with a chemical laser, impressed committee members with its first successful shootdown of a boosting missile target.
The lawmakers wanted to know what Donley and Schwartz thought of the Feb. 12 test, conducted by Boeing and Missile Defense Agency.
Gates cut the program from the Air Force's fiscal 2010 budget, though the service still has money to pursue the research of directed energy laser weapons.
The leaders were noncommittal at best. Schwartz described the shootdown as "a magnificent technical achievement" but told the lawmakers that the Airborne Laser still "does not reflect something that is operationally viable."
When asked by Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, about the future of directed energy lasers, Schwartz voted for solid-state not chemical lasers.
"That's the queen of the realm, sir," Schwartz said.
It looks like legislators know more about engineering design, why is it that this is hard to believe? How do they know the single jet F-35 needs a second engine? Do they have some technical insight on this matter -is it contributions to our elected leaders? Did they learn nothing from this election?