Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz delivered an hour-long address to the Air Force Association today that will probably be remembered as a landmark in the remaking of the service.
The most enduring comments for the service will probably be those addressing the issue of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in which Schwartz called for a shift from the fighter pilot-centric service to one that treats unmanned aircraft pilots with equal respect, "not as a leper community."
In a passionate address, Schwartz also criticized industry for going too far during the tanker competition and criticized former general officers who came out in favor of particular programs. What did the blue suiters think of Schwartz's speech? They gave him a 35-second standing ovation.
One thing sure to send shudders through the defense industry was the general's comments about former generals working for industry and touting specific weapons. After the speech he told reporters that "taking public positions in major acquisition programs and indicating you are doing so on the basis of your prior active duty service" was not acceptable. "What I think we need to avoid is having the American public believe is that their military leadership can be bought," he told us.
Throughout the speech the difficulty of Schwartz's balancing act between pointing out the flaws of the service when he took it over and the changes he hopes to implement grew more and more obvious. "We find the Air Force is at a critical point," he said, adding that he needed "everyone's help, especially the folks who are in this room."
Just a few sentences later, he veered to admonish those who might feel that the service -- beset by the tanker fiasco, the CSAR-X debacle, the nuclear miscues, the firing of the service's two top leaders -- is in a tailspin. "But don't let anyone see your head hanging in despair," he said. Then he went on to relate tales of heroism and competence by airmen. Interestingly, the two examples he detailed involved special operations personnel. He did not mention any pilots.
He noted that the service faces "some significant institutional obstacles" in terms of acquisition and, he said, "we must deal with them in short order." Relations between industry and the service are crucial, he pointed out. But there has been an "unfortunate deterioration of the relationship between the Air Force and the industry that of late manifests hyperbole, insensitivity and a lack of proper communication."
He asked if acquisition decisions should be "excessively influenced by interests other than military requirements inside and outside of government." Instead, "we must exercise caution with systems that a particular vendor wishes to build or those programs which satisfy a particular constituency." This, he said, is "a matter of trust." How important is this? "The health of Department of Defense acquisition is at stake."
Schwartz went on at some length during his speech to tell his audience that the fighter mafia was no longer in charge of the Air Force. He announced during his speech that that the service would create a new program training pilots for unmanned aerial systems.
"We are going to transform our culture," Brig. Gen. Lyn Sherlock, director of air operations for the directorate of operations, told reporters at a briefing held after Schwartz's speech. The service plans to train up to 1,100 UAS pilots by 2012, starting with a pilot program of 10 pilots, Sherlock said. The program should start in January.
In his remarks, Schwartz made clear that the Air Force was no longer run by the fighter mafia, saying that being close to the target conferred no special status on someone. After his speech I asked him if he was trying to create an unmanned mafia. His response, sure to be long remembered by fighter pilots everywhere: "I don't believe in tribes."