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Air Force Chief Predicts Fewer ‘Exquisite’ Acquisition Programs

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2009 – The Air Force is taking a more critical eye in weighing the technological capabilities of new systems against their corresponding cost, the Air Force’s top military officer said here yesterday.

“We have had a temptation to design and try to build the most exquisite systems, and we’ve proven we can do that,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz said during remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here.

Ultra-capable, sophisticated –- and correspondingly expensive –- weapons and other military-related systems “may have a place in certain instances,” Schwartz said. But building “too much capability” onto some military platforms may be unnecessary and drives up procurement costs, he added.

“My observation is we went way over,” Schwartz said of some military procurement programs, “on trying to build too many things on the same ‘bus,’” or platform.

President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates are seeking to rein in rising defense procurement costs. Some proposed fixes include more supervision of the acquisition process, including better definitions of exactly what capabilities are needed, with an eye toward controlling cost-overruns when a project is predicated on new, but untested and expensive, emerging technologies.

For example, Schwartz said, the Air Force’s sophisticated, multi-billion dollar Transformational Satellite Program, or TSAT, was cancelled because of its exorbitant cost. Instead, the Air Force decided to purchase two existing, proven, and less-expensive satellite systems to do the job.

“But the truth is that TSAT was a $20 billion program,” Schwartz said. The axed satellite system offered “an exquisite platform,” he said, but it was simply too expensive.

The less-costly legacy satellites won’t be as technologically “nifty” as the TSAT, Schwartz acknowledged, but on the other hand, they’re “not bad” and will perform the mission.

And “there’s going to be a lot more of ‘not bad,’ than there is of ‘wow,’” Schwartz predicted, regarding the Air Force’s acquisition process.

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Biographies:
Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz

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