Former Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz made a “conscious choice” during his tenure to discourage airmen from advocating for the Air Force’s unique capabilities and missions. “I don’t apologize for making the best use of Air Force resources to see American objectives attained in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Schwartz asserted.
It is time for the service to once again speak up for itself, he added in a late July exit interview. Gen. Mark A. Welsh III took over the reins as the uniformed chief of the Air Force in August.
Schwartz, who was brought in as Chief in 2008 after the firing of Gen. T. Michael Moseley and Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne, said in an exit interview that over his four years as Chief he made a priority of supporting the ground services, deep in the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan, where air supremacy was never an issue.
He suggested it wasn’t necessary for USAF to do any self-promotion at the time, saying, “There is still wisdom … in your performance speaking for your institution. False bravado serves no useful purpose.”
Asked in a later press conference why the Air Force has seen two of its last eight Chiefs fired, one reprimanded publicly, and one resign early, Schwartz chalked it up to the unique circumstances in each case.
In none of those incidents, Schwartz said, was there any “malfeasance” or suggestion of criminal wrongdoing.
“We work for civilian masters in this country, and that’s the way it works,” he said. “All I can do is tell you what my own experience has been, in that there are lots of reasons for leaving a position … and not all of them … are what they appear to be.”
Schwartz offered high praise for Welsh and said the succession will be smooth because “Mark … has been at the table for much of my tenure. And so he has insight in terms of what has occurred, what the substance of the decisions were, what the thought processes were, what the debates entailed.” Welsh has “a good sense of what ground truth is,” Schwartz asserted.
Times have changed since Schwartz took command and Welsh will face a different set of challenges. Among those will be securing adequate resources to fulfill the Air Force’s multiplying “no-fail” missions.
“This is a competitive environment,” in the budgetary realm, and “it’s important for decision-makers, both on the policy and on the resourcing side, to appreciate the contributions of their Air Force,” said Schwartz. The case may be easier to make because the new national military strategy, which shifts focus to the Pacific, demands USAF’s strengths of ” ‘global reach, power, and vigilance’ going forward.”
Welsh will have an opportunity to “change the formula” of how USAF presents itself to national leaders and the American people, Schwartz said.
Former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates fired Moseley and Wynne ostensibly for neglecting the nuclear enterprise. But Wynne has since said the real reason was their unwillingness to publicly support Gates’ wish to truncate the F-22 fighter buy, among other pieces of Gates’ agenda.
Schwartz said he and Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley pushed back against Gates’ wish to terminate the F-22 at 187 aircraft.
“We in the Air Force took the position to the [Defense] Department’s leadership that the right number of F-22s was 243,” Schwartz said in his July interview. That figure was still well below a long-established requirement of 381, but was one that Schwartz defended as “analytically based.”
Gates would have none of it, though, and Schwartz and Donley concluded there was nothing to be gained from continued argument.
“It was our feeling that the Air Force had invested all the capital it could afford to invest in that program at that time. And it was time to move on,” Schwartz said. Given today’s extreme budget austerity, he sees “no chance of revisiting that decision.”
It was not a waste to retain the F-22’s tooling, however, Schwartz said. At a fleet size of 185 aircraft, “you need each and every one” and it made sense to retain the tooling against the need to fabricate replacement wings or other large structures damaged in accidents. While “anything is possible,” Schwartz said an F-22 restart down the road is “not a likely outcome,” unless there is a national emergency. The good thing about the decision to retain the tooling is that it’s one “which everyone agrees with,” he said.
Gates also publicly rebuked the Air Force, charging the service was withholding its full effort in supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While USAF rebutted this charge as much as it could without seeming insubordinate, Schwartz believes part of his legacy as Chief is the demonstration of the Air Force’s commitment.
“There was a time when … folks doubted whether we were ‘all in’ in the fights that were under way” in Iraq and Afghanistan, Schwartz observed. Now, he said, “there’s little doubt, at least in the joint team, that our Air Force is ‘all in’ in any given dimension.” He claims the Air Force’s “warrior spirit has always been there” but is now beyond question.
Other aspects of his legacy, Schwartz said, include revitalizing the nuclear enterprise and re-establishing its “standard of excellence.”
“I think we did that, and that will certainly continue” under Welsh’s leadership. Schwartz declined to say whether the nuclear enterprise was in such a bad state that it required nothing less than the firing of the uniformed and civilian leaders of the Air Force to set it right.
Creating a “path for institutionalizing” remotely piloted aircraft in the force and a career track for those who operate and maintain them is another part of Schwartz’s legacy, he said. These foundations will “serve the Air Force and the joint team well going forward.”
Schwartz also noted an emphasis on USAF families during his tenure, ranging from a focus on dependent child education to recognizing spousal contributions to the service.
He also counts getting the new Long-Range Strike Bomber project launched as a modernization highlight of his four-year tour. “We succeeded in persuading [Gates] that this is a capability the country must have,” he said in a July press conference. “Extending a sense of vulnerability [to] others is a tool of statecraft, and one we should not concede.”
However, in the field of acquisition, Schwartz regrets he “didn’t apply enough attention.” While Schwartz counts the KC-46 tanker project a success, albeit after several false starts, he was bothered by USAF’s failure in the Light Air Support program and in other procurement efforts. Welsh, Schwartz said, possesses an acquisition background that Schwartz himself lacked, and he expects Welsh will “lead the uniformed part of the acquisition community in a more direct and material way than, perhaps, I did.”
The outgoing Chief said he “underperformed” in the sense that he was too deferential to “those who have statutory authority in the acquisition realm”—specifically to the “service acquisition executive.”
Schwartz even felt he was overly deferential to Donley, “who ultimately is responsible” for these programs. Schwartz thinks he should have been more assertive in presenting the “uniformed perspective” with regard to acquisition and taken a more direct leadership role of the acquisition career field and workforce. These professionals “need to know” the Chief is “attentive to their needs and represents their role in maintaining a ready and effective Air Force.”
Schwartz, in the press conference, said USAF has struggled to improve “the skills and the expertise of the [acquisition] workforce, whether it be in contracting, … cost estimation, or program management.” These skills, “frankly, defensewide, are in short supply,” and all the services are trying to build their “bench” of experts “who can run major programs [and] … tell the difference between a good deal and … good advertising.”
With the Light Air Support program, Schwartz thinks maybe the service felt that success on the KC-46 meant it had solved its procurement problems and could relax. “In this business, there can be no relaxing,” he said.
Likewise, Schwartz said in the interview that the Air Force was so focused on the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan that it may have become too complacent and lost its tradition of constant self-reinvention.
During his tenure, Schwartz allowed, “I think that we … maybe became too ‘status quo.’ “
Under Moseley and Wynne, the Air Force was pursuing a project called Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, or AFSO21. While it was appropriate to set that program aside given the “other priorities” of combat in two theaters, Welsh should make a renewed effort to “encourage and incentivize innovation” and renew an innovation culture in the Air Force.
Many Questions, Few Answers
One place where innovation is needed will be in keeping a proper balance between the capability and manpower it retains in its Active, Guard, and Reserve forces.
“There will continue to be a place” for all three components in the future Air Force, Schwartz asserted, because of the unique lifestyle demands of one versus the others. Active Duty airmen accept a lifestyle that involves “frequent relocations and near-instantaneous demand on one’s availability,” while their comrades in the Air Reserve Components have chosen a “more stable” lifestyle that still offers the chance for volunteerism.
The Air Force ran afoul of Congress in its 2013 budget offering which sought to make deeper cuts in the Air Reserve Components than in the Active Duty—after years of reductions in the Active force. He acknowledged that Congress’ trust of the Air Force has “eroded a bit” as a result, and that in the future the service should be more careful to give Congress long warning of such moves to avoid surprises.
The trust issue Schwartz considers “a temporary condition. … We know what the cause was, and we know essentially what the remedy is, although satisfying everybody will be a tall order.” He added, “Making force structure reductions is … not for the faint of heart.”
In the interview, Schwartz said, “We will have to continue to make the argument that we cannot have 50 air forces. We are one Air Force.”
When “emotions subside a bit, and we’re able to approach this in a more dispassionate way, we’ll have the opportunity to collectively, collaboratively, collegially adjust our force mix in both traditional … and imaginative ways.”
Among those imaginative ways, he said, may be “Sponsored Reserves” in which personnel work for a contractor providing an essential service. The UK uses Sponsored Reserves in aerial refueling—but activates the airmen to uniformed service in wartime.
Schwartz oversaw a steep drop in the size of his service’s force structure, totaling more than 700 aircraft, but that was not driven by an ability to accomplish with cyber weapons what has always been done with kinetic ones, he said.
The rise of cyber warfare is “not like major transitions in weaponry in the past,” such as the shift from horse-drawn to mechanized artillery or the change from piston engines to jets, Schwartz said.
“There is a transition under way,” he observed, but “it is not yet clear, I don’t think, even to those who are most knowledgeable, where the cyber capabilities will ultimately end up.” Kinetic and cyber weapons will operate side by side for “an indefinite period,” he forecast, “because there are advantages and disadvantages to both,” as well as “complications in terms of employment of both.”
While the consequences of using kinetic weapons are well-understood, cyber is “still nascent in that regard.” In any case, “we’re far from a point where we’re going to rely on cyber as a principal means of securing US national interests.”