Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz on budget, personnel and tough operational challenges.
In October, Government Executive Editor at Large Timothy B. Clark and Senior Correspondent Katherine McIntire Peters sat down with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz to talk about challenges the service faces. The following is an edited transcript of the discussion, part of Government Executive's ongoing leadership briefing series.
On budget pressures confronting the Air Force:
Our focus at the moment is to squeeze more value out of each dollar. We are expecting modest increases in budget authority, if any. That reality makes us certainly scrutinize everything that we are doing. Without a doubt we are becoming more cost conscious. I think you have seen that clearly in the statements and in the approaches that the secretary of Defense has required all in the department to adopt. I think that is entirely appropriate under the circumstances.
On rising personnel costs specifically:
It is a serious issue. The reason is simply that we have seen what runaway personnel expenses have done to some of America's best companies. If you are in a situation where our recruiting is satisfactory, where our retention is better actually than we had forecast, as a basic business approach you have to look at compensation and so on as a way to manage the cost of operation.
On becoming more efficient:
Among the things that we are looking at as an Air Force is how to thin out management headquarters. We are looking at what functions we might centralize, which offers the promise of fewer resources and perhaps fewer people devoted to those undertakings.
On operations in Iraq and Afghanistan:
We flew 500,000 hours in support of Iraq and Afghanistan this past year, a very significant commitment. We have done everything from train Iraqi and Afghani air force folks to providing aero-medical evacuation; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for our joint teammates; [and] the most precise and calibrated strike capabilities for our teammates operating on the ground.
On what counterinsurgency means for Air Force training and equipping:
This is a question of balance. We have adapted to this fight pretty spectacularly actually. Five years ago we had five orbits of remotely piloted aircraft. Today we have 44. That will grow to 50 at the end of 2011, and maybe up to 65 at the end of 2013. These are 24-7 orbits. And by the way, the reason we changed the name of this capability from unmanned aerial systems to remotely piloted aircraft was in part because they are hardly unmanned. These systems in orbit, a 24-7 orbit, require roughly 150 or more people as operators, for maintenance and then those who process the back-end data stream.
That is an area clearly where adaptation was required. We've moved over 4,000 people in a fixed manpower top line from other Air Force missions into the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance area because that is what is required. We put targeting pods on B-1s and B-52s. You know, [Air Force Gen.] Curtis LeMay is probably turning over in his grave.
On whether the Air Force will continue to require officers to operate remotely piloted aircraft, even though the Army uses enlisted personnel to operate them:
For the time being, I think yes. The reality is the Army operates RPA platforms in a very tactical mode: close in, relatively small platforms. These are not strategic. We just delivered two Global Hawks from Beale Air Force Base in California to their respective bed-down locations on Guam and at Sigonella in Italy. I would argue that there isn't an Army remotely piloted aircraft operator who has a clue about how to operate in international airspace. This is not a pejorative comment; I am just saying what the reality is.
On addressing past failures in nuclear stewardship:
We have largely stabilized the nuclear enterprise. That is manifested by a number of initiatives that we took some two years ago that on Oct. 1 came to full fruition-the Global Strike Command achieving full operational capability [and] the establishment of the Nuclear Weapons Center at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico to be the sustainment focal point for that enterprise. It is the most demanding work we do. The standards are high. The margins of error are zero. There is a level of scrutiny that is not shared by many other disciplines in our Air Force, so this is tough work for folks. It was important to articulate that what they were doing [is] truly valued, and what they will continue to do is truly valued.
On the eventual replacement of the National Security Personnel System:
There is merit in performance-based systems for employees at every level, including mine, by the way. Although there were lots of other things involved, I think that was the fundamental notion behind NSPS.
On 'don't ask, don't tell':
The factual basis [for changing the law] in my view was lacking. We completed a survey of 400,000 active-duty service members recently. The survey for family members closed out just a couple of days ago. That data is being assessed by a respected firm, and we will have access to that data here shortly. Then the process will unfold.