In his final appearance for Pentagon reporters as Chief of Staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz on July 24 offered up a full-throated defense of the Air Force’s next-generation long-range strike platform, and contended that the Air Force will field assets by next decade. Schwartz said the Air Force had worked hard to convince the Office of the Secretary of Defense that the capability was “needed for the nation” and the ability to place targets at risk is “an American strong suit, largely performed” by the service. Schwartz made it clear that he expects a combat-capable aircraft delivered by the middle of next decade. “We’ve talked about beginning to field the platform in the mid 20s,” he said. “There are requirements and we are going to pursue this program in a very disciplined fashion, and do it in a way that capitalizes on already proven technologies” in aircraft manufacturing, sensors, and avionics integration, he added. Any future “family of systems” long-range strike concept depends on this capability, argued Schwartz. “Extending a sense of vulnerability on others is a tool of statecraft and one we should not concede,” he said. (Schwartz transcript)
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.