The Air Force's chief of staff was careful to withhold his professional military advice until Defense Secretary Robert Gates gets it, but Gen. Norton Schwartz told reporters this morning that he would not "dispute" comments by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs late last year that the service would get an additional 60 F-22s, for a total of 243.
Schwartz then poured cold water on any hopes the Japanese and Australians might have of buying F-22s, saying some of the technologies in the plane are just too sensitive to export. However, he said "it was a possibility" that allies could pay for planes that were modified extensively enough to eliminate the export concerns. Given how expensive that would be, Schwartz has probably put the kibosh on export sales.
The Air Force chief of staff defended the decision to scale back the long sacred Air Force requirement of 381 F-22s, saying the service had performed honest and objective analysis to determine the new number of planes. "I'll be happy to defend the numbers once they become available," he told us, adding that the new fleet size offers "moderate risk" to the nation.
Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean that 60 is the exact number everyone has decided on, but Schwartz didn't try to pour cold water on it either... He did say the final decision should be out very close to the congressionally mandated date of March 1.
In addition, Schwartz hinted the service would probably find money in its own budget to pay for more F-22s if that is the decision. However, he didn't directly address the question, saying the service generally pays for what it buys.
Asked about John Young's comments last November that the F-22's mission capable rate was too low and expected enhancements too expensive for the country to afford, Schwartz said "the truth of the matter is" the F-22's rate is 60 percent including stealth issues and is "in the mid- to high-70s without low observable" issues. Looking at the system overall, the F-22's reliability "is respectable," he said.
And Schwartz reiterated a long-standing position of the military, namely that jobs are not a criteria for him and his colleagues to consider when they make decisions about which weapons to buy. However, he made clear that other parts of the government -- can you say Congress? -- do have this responsibility and he knows they will act accordingly.
On other Air Force issues, Schwartz threw a dart at John Young, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, saying that CSAR-X is a joint requirement, "notwithstanding the acquisition executive's views..." Young has questioned whether the CSAR-X requirement is valid, saying other assets such as the V-22 could do the same job.
Finally, Schwartz offered a very good line about whether the Air Force should worry about its roles in view of Gates' oft-repeated comments about balance and the right mix of forces, which many have interpreted to mean the Air Force and Navy will have to scrap systems designed during the Cold War. The service's "contribution is what we should focus on, more than the attribution..."