New Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz has vowed to restore the credibility of his service by returning "precision and reliability" to its handling of nuclear weapons, a mission it has bungled in recent years.
"We lost focus," he said Tuesday afternoon, referring to the nuclear mishaps that included losing track of a planeload of nuclear weapons that were being flown across the country, “but that focus is coming back." Anything less than perfect is unacceptable, Schwartz told reporters today, and the service will undertake a "back-to-basics" approach to its handling of the nuclear enterprise, what he called "priority one" for the service.
The nuclear mishaps and mounting tension between the Air Force leadership and Defense Secretary Gates who said the service was too focused on preparing for unlikely future large scale conventional wars instead of adequately resourcing the current wars led to the dismissal of Schwartz’s predecessor, Gen. Michael Moseley and former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne.
Acting Air Force Secretary Michael Donley implied that further dismissals and reprimands are coming once the service finishes an accountability review of those officers involved in the nuclear weapons handling mishaps. The service will then put in place a roadmap intended to prevent further mishaps.
Schwartz said both the nuclear enterprise and the aerial drone mission will be allocated additional personnel as the Air Force halts end strength cuts that were intended to save the service money that then could be directed to buying new aircraft. The original plan was for the active duty Air Force to drop to 316,000 personnel. The leadership now plans on maintaining the current total of 330,000 airmen, and may add personnel following an examination of new missions that have arisen in recent years as the service provides support to an Army and Marine Corps stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Donley said.
In recent days, U.S. Air Force C-17 transport aircraft carried Georgian troops who had been serving in Iraq back to their country’s capital city that has been under attack in the last week by the Russian military. Schwartz said before the flights were undertaken that the U.S. government had “attained assurances” from the Russian government that the C-17s operating in Georgian airspace would be safe. He said the mission went off without a hitch.
Schwartz’s previous assignment was as commander of Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.