Air Force chief tells industry to brace for budget cuts

Gen. Norton Schwartz says emerging budget crunch means contractors must produce and deliver on time.

The Air Force's top officer told an audience of defense industry representatives on Wednesday that with the emerging budget crunch they must produce the capabilities they contract for and deliver them on time.

But Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, said the services also will have to "scale back" their requirements for future systems.

"It's a simple thing to me -- deliver what you promise and don't promise what you can't deliver," Schwartz told the National Defense Industrial Association forum. He warned that there would be "little tolerance" for deviations from contractual agreements.

Asked about the effects of the expected tightening of defense budgets after nearly 10 years of sizable increases, Schwartz said slipping schedules "will be problematic for us." That is true because when they plan replacements for existing systems, "you make certain assumptions" on what the new systems will provide, he said. "If those assumptions prove faulty, you obviously have to have fallbacks, which typically are not as effective and not as economical."

He cited the Air Force's urgent "fighter recapitalization" program, which depends on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Because the Lockheed Martin program is running years late, "We might have to take some actions to extend the service life of the legacy fleet," he said. "In ideal circumstances, you wouldn't have to do that."

The Air Force is studying ways to prolong the service life of its aging F-16 and F-15s, which could burn up billions of dollars.

Schwartz said he did not want to leave the impression "that every challenge we have is industry's fault alone. It's not. The [Defense] Department has its place in fixing requirements and stabilizing assumptions."

"The bottom line is, we have to reduce the uncertainty for a little while in acquisition outcomes, and that probably will require we be more conservative." Schwartz said that means the Air Force will "have to scale back our ambitions a bit," on future requirements, which will be evident in the "effort to field a long-range strike capability." In seeking the new stealthy, nuclear-capable bomber, "we're not going to be as ambitious as we were perhaps at one time," he said.

"That will make it easier for us to manage, and less challenging for industry to keep its promises."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates stopped the Air Force's new bomber program last year, but restarted it in his Jan. 6 "efficiencies" announcement. But the Air Force will have to cut other expenses to pay for the bomber.

While noting that "being less ambitious would be a better strategy" on starting new programs, Schwartz mentioned a couple areas where the Air Force will seek to add capabilities. Speaking to a forum focusing on special operations, Schwartz said the Air Force Special Operations Command was looking to add some smaller, cheaper aircraft to help it develop and train air forces in developing countries, as it is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. He mentioned some small, commercially available transports and a "light-strike aircraft."

The later program has a competition between the Brazilian-made Tucano and the modified version of the T-6 primary training plane offered by Lockheed and Hawker-Beechcraft.

Schwartz also said he would add 600 combat air controllers, airmen who work with ground combat units to call in close air support.