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War 'Not Time' To Change Don't Ask; Tanker RFP Out Tomorrow

UPDATED: Army COS Gen. Casey Voices Unease About Scrapping Don't Ask During Wartime The Air Force's chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, told the House Armed Services Committee today that he worries changing the current policy on gays in the military could "perturb the force" at a time when it already faces strains from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Schwartz said he is "concerned" about repealing the don't-ask, don't-tell policy. "This is not the time to perturb the force" as it faces two wars. He added that he worries there is not enough scholarly study of the issue and too few opinion polls among "airmen and their families" about the likely repeal.

Schwartz offered his personal and professional opinion in response to a question from the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon.

While the House hearing was underway, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey voiced sentiments similar to those expressed by Schwartz. “I do have serious concerns about the impact of the repeal of the law on — on a force that's fully engaged in two wars and has been at war for eight and a half years,” Casey said. While Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, have expressed support for the repeal of don't-ask, don't-tell, Gates has also expressed concern that the Pentagon should move with all deliberate speed. Given today's statements by the service chiefs it would seem Gates either rounded them up or reacted to the chiefs' unease with the speed of the policy shift.

Aside from the policy talk about don’t ask, don’t tell, lawmakers raised one program time and again during the hearing, the F136 second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has threatened to recommend a veto should the F136 be included in the defense bills this year.

The new chairman of the HASC air and land forces subcommittee, Rep. Adam Smith, asked Schwartz and Secretary Mike Donley why they were "so adamantly opposed to doing this."

Donley, after affirming the Air Force stood with Gates on the veto threat, offered a pretty lukewarm defense of the Pentagon position. "We will say upfront this has been one of the most difficult issues we have wrestled with. In some respects, it can be considered a close call," he said.

Later on, Schwartz said the Pentagon's experience with planes like the F-22 and the F-18 had left them "comfortable" with the prospect of building the entire F-35 fleet and equipping it with a single engine.

Rep. Michael Turner, ranking member of the HASC strategic forces subcommittee, raised the recent success of the Airborne Laser in shooting a target. He asked if that would lead the Air Force to increase its commitment to directed energy weapons. Schwartz poured a fair amount of cold water on the Boeing program, calling the ABL test "a magnificent technical achievement" but "this does not represent something that is operationally viable." The future "coin of the realm" is solid state lasers, Schwartz said, not the chemical laser that Boeing built.

Finally, Donley told the committee that the final tanker RFP would be released Wednesday. He said the Air Force believed its RFP created a fair competition. "Both offerors have a chance to win this competition," Donley said.

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