Wednesday, September 21, 2011

TOP STORY >> Air Force faces spending cuts

Leader executive editor

Even as major military operations continue around the world, the nation’s armed forces are being asked to do more and could see higher health-insurance costs and lower pension benefits.

The Air Force, like other services, will see its budget shrink and benefits for service members squeezed if Congress goes through with plans to cut spending across the board.

The spending cuts are required under a debt agreement that calls for trimming $900 billion in defense spending over the next decade. Items on the chopping block are weapons procurement, higher health-insurance premiums and reduced pension benefits. Those last two items cost the military about $100 billion a year.

But top Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz says the service can get the job done and predicted there would be no deep cuts in its manpower.

The challenge facing the Air Force is how to do more with fewer resources, including fewer new planes already in the planning stages that may not get built.

The Air Force has 330,000 service members, down from 600,000 in 1996.

Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, said recently a belt tightening is inevitable.

The Air Force budget of $119.6 billion is down $4.5 billion.

“We have been through episodes of declining resources and rebounding from those periods,” Schwartz said in a recent interview with Air Force Times. “I think I have been through three of those in my tenure. This is not a temporary thing. It is not a six-month thing, for sure. My sense is that this period of austerity is likely going to last five years. That is sort of what we are planning for. That is one of those things. If it turns out that things are better, that will be a delightful outcome.”

“The truth is that we will probably have to curtail our ambition some here for a period of time,” the general said. “That is just the facts. That is just the nature of the current environment.”

Schwartz emphasized the importance of keeping spending down. “The need to manage personnel costs going forward clearly is something we are going to have to do,” he told Air Force Times. “It started this year with the proposals on modest increases in co-pays for Tricare (insurance). There will have to be more of this.”

Schwartz, who became chief of staff in 2008, served two tours at Little Rock Air Force Base.
Schwartz received his C-130 pilot training at LRAFB in 1974-75 and was a C-130H flight examiner here with the 61st Tactical Airlift Squadron from 1977-1979.

Soon after Schwartz’s appointment, Brig. Gen. Rowayne A. Schatz Jr., commander of the 314th Airlift Wing, transferred to the Pentagon. He was recently promoted to major general. Schatz is the director of strategic plans, requirements and programs at Air Mobility Command.

“It is preferable to have a smaller, superb force than a larger, hollow one,” Schwartz said in the Air Force Times interview. “Those of us who have been around a while remember what it was like to schedule three airplanes to make one, or walk down the line and see airplanes with no engines, or fewer engines than they were supposed to have. We do not want to go back to those days. A smaller, superb force is the right formula for our Air Force and, I think, for the armed forces.
He predicted a much smaller role for U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The principal role we would be fulfilling is training,” Schwartz explained. “We have at the moment about 350 air advisers in Iraq doing everything from training on airspace control to obviously operating and maintaining aircraft and so on — and trainers, as well. If there is a request, if our government decides to do that, that will be the primary mission.

“The Iraqi air force, within the capabilities that they possess and the assets at their disposal, they are pretty competent. Certainly, that level of competence will improve over time.

“They will undoubtedly acquire additional assets than they currently possess, which are transport-focused right now, some attack helicopter capability, and that sort of thing. Over time, that clearly will improve. These are technically oriented, educated people. I think they will do fine.”

Schwartz said airmen often fall in battle without enough recognition from the media, such as a recent helicopter crash that also claimed the lives of Navy Seals, who received most of the publicity.
Still, it’s not publicity he’s after but success in the field, he said.

“I want to celebrate heroism. I want to celebrate valor. I want to celebrate the extraordinary performance. We will do that, but we will not do it in order to sell a program.”

Meanwhile, the Air Force continues to spend on C-130 trainers. Lockheed Martin last week received a contract worth $84.3 million to supply four C-130J maintenance and aircrew trainers and program management and engineering services.

The trainers are expected to be used for the Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operations Command in 2014.

Aircrew and maintenance personnel undergo extensive ground-based training before actual aircraft training.

Lockheed Martin Corp. was also awarded a $791 million contract to provide a range of other services to the Air Force.

Lockheed will support the integration of software and components for the Air Force’s combat support automated information systems.