DoD News Briefing with Acting Secretary of the Air Force Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Schwartz from the Pentagon
MR. DONLEY: Good afternoon. I'm Mike Donley, the acting secretary of the Air Force. And I want to say it's an honor for me to be back leading the world's finest Air Force.
As many of you know, the Air Force has experienced many challenges in the last few months. Without exception, leadership and airmen at all levels are learning the appropriate lessons from these difficulties. And since my appointment, I have met with all the senior leaders of the Air Force and airmen at several bases around the country, and we've initiated actions to begin focusing our efforts in the coming months.
And part of that process is getting new leadership in place. And thanks to the secretary of Defense and the president and the United States Senate, we have a new chief of staff, General Norty Schwartz, the 19th chief of staff of the United States Air Force.
Norty and I have several issues to address together: the nuclear enterprise, of course; care for our wounded warriors; our ISR posture; acquisition process; modernization and recapitalization; and of course, number-one priority, our continued support for the global war on terror. We're undertaking efforts this month to look at those issues, and expect to address several of them, both in the immediate term and the longer term, within the next month or two.
So without further ado, let me introduce to you the 19th chief of staff of the Air Force, Norty Schwartz.
GEN. SCHWARTZ: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I appreciate it very much.
First, let me express my appreciation for the opportunity to be standing before you today as the chief of staff of truly the world's finest Air Force. And I'm grateful to the confidence of the President, Secretary Gates and the Senate to be selected at this important juncture for our Air Force.
My pledge to all today is that the Air Force will keep the promise to our teammates and to our families and to all our partners who rely on us every day. Precision and reliability is our standard regardless of job or specialty, and we will return the vigor and the rigor to all the processes and missions in which -- for which we have been entrusted.
That trust is critical, is born from expertise, respect for our joint partners, and rigorous accountability. We will work together to reinvigorate the Air Force's institutions and show ourselves completely worthy of America's trust.
The imperative is now. We are, after all, a nation at war. And the capabilities we are called upon to provide the joint team are essential to our nation's success. We've made a solemn commitment to deliver those capabilities without fail, whenever, wherever and however we are called upon to serve. The United States Air Force will deliver the best-trained and the most effective force to support the joint fight.
We have a lot of work to do. But we have a lot to be proud of as well. We are proud of what we do for all, for America, for the joint team, for our Air Force and for our airmen and our wounded warriors and our families.
As Suzie and I embark on this most important assignment of our careers, we look forward to the challenge and the opportunity to lead this great organization with acting Secretary Donley, his wife -- (name inaudible) -- and, of course, all of our great airmen. We'd be happy to take your questions at this time.
Q Secretary Donley, can you give me a sense of where acquisitions reform fits into your priorities, that list that you laid out there earlier?
MR. DONLEY: It's a very important priority for me. Obviously not getting through the tanker protest was a major blow to our acquisition process. So I supported the secretary's decision to move the next steps in that source selection over from the Air Force to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. I have circled back around with the acquisition community and the Air Force to work this issue at two levels.
The first is to make sure that we get all the lessons learned, from the KC-X and previous decisions of the GAO, which found fault with the Air Force process, that we get all the lessons out of that experience and get it rolled into the next decisions in front of us, through the remainder of this year, and make sure we get those lessons rolled into those decisions.
I won't be satisfied until we get through these major source elections and potential protests that follow with a clean bill of health for the Air Force acquisition process.
Q This is a question for both of you. Secretary Gates announced an end to Air Force personnel cuts. Is there any consideration of possibly increasing Air Force end strength?
MR. DONLEY: We are looking at the new level that the Secretary of Defense had set; 330,000 for the active duty Air Force. The schedule had been to go down to 316. So this is a pretty important change. And we're assessing that right now.
The main thing for us is not just the number, but obviously the mix, in terms of what new missions need to be covered and new requirements need to be covered in that 330. So we've been looking at that very hard.
Q If I could follow up, the recent events in Georgia, will that make the Air Force press harder to retain its conventional warfighting capability?
GEN. SCHWARTZ: I think the allocation of the additional head space will go to those things we've already articulated as priorities: the nuclear enterprise, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions and so on.
Q General, you just talked about returning to vigor and rigor of the programs you'll handle and work to reinvigorate the Air Force. I'm wondering if you could answer, what happened to the Air Force? You've had problems with the nuclear force, problems with contracting and then complaints from Secretary Gates that you folks aren't doing enough to build drones for Iraq and Afghanistan. What's going on with your service?
GEN. SCHWARTZ: All right, let me push back a little bit, because I think fundamentally our service is sound. It doesn't mean we're perfect. And we certainly have work to do, things to fix, fences to mend, but fundamentally as we just demonstrated this past weekend, you know, we know how to operate and we continue to support the joint team in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Those areas where others have found fault, we are going to work with a vengeance and we'll tidy that up. And the United States Air Force will remain the finest air force on the planet.
Q Well, talk about what things you have to fix and what fences you have to mend.
GEN. SCHWARTZ: I think fundamentally we're talking about acquisition. That is a clear area. I think the nuclear enterprise is another one, priority one, in terms of making things right.
Q Well, General, what went wrong with the nuclear enterprise? You know, since the end of World War II, it was the impression that the nuclear mission for the Air Force was sort of a dead-ender in terms of career path. Did that contribute to the problems in any way, do you think? And what needs to be done to fix it? So what went wrong and what we needs to be done?
GEN. SCHWARTZ: Back to basics. Back to basics. Precision and reliability in the execution of the mission. It is a mission where anything less than perfection is not acceptable and that is the standard. That certainly is the standard of the folks that brought that to us through the years. And we will return to that standard. And we can do that. This is -- this we will do.
Q Yeah. Yeah. After a couple of these incidents occurred, it was something far less than perfection that, in fact, appeared to be acceptable.
GEN. SCHWARTZ: And I think the bottom line is we have -- we will establish the standards, that perfection is the standard and that we will both train, organize and inspect to that standard.
And I think that bottom line is, we lost focus, we did, and that focus is coming back.
MR. DONLEY: Yeah, and I think -- if I can add, Mik, on this, in talking to commanders, there has been, for a variety of reasons, a culture of needing to manage risk and to take risk across a lot of different mission areas in the Air Force mission set that we can't always meet at a hundred percent, to meet all that the combat commanders want to do all the time, in every case.
But on the nuclear side, it's really such an important mission that we shouldn't be managing risk. We should be eliminating risk. And this is what we need to get back to.
And just to push on this a little further, for those of you that might have heard or seen the remarks this morning when Norty took over as chief of staff, from the Secretary of Defense, from me, from Norty, you heard a lot of sort of rock-bottom references to Air Force values. You heard words like "discipline" and "execution," "credibility," "trust," "integrity," "excellence," "service," "precision," "reliability." This is back-to-basics stuff to make sure we're well- grounded in our values and our real core capabilities in the Air Force.
Q Sir, to follow that up, when are we going to see the rest of the fallout from the nuclear issue? We still are waiting for the other shoe to drop. Who else is going to be fired? Who else is going to be disciplined?
MR. DONLEY: I have set in motion a review of the accountability for other officers that were discussed in Admiral Donald's report, and that's been ongoing. It delivers in the next couple of weeks, and then there will be consideration given to recommendations that come from that after. So that work is ongoing, has been set in motion.
Q Sir, both of you guys have been to Air Force bases and talked to a lot of airmen. What are they telling you? Are they prepared to embrace this back-to-basics notion?
GEN. SCHWARTZ: That's my take. Absolutely. You know, the force wants -- this is a quality force. These are young men and women and some older men and women who know what excellence is about. And this is just getting back to the blocking and tackling of excellence at every level. Everyone's a leader. It's coming back.
Q And every time that I've spoken to airmen, they all talk about the personnel being a problem, not having enough personnel. Are you -- when you go up to the 330,000, how are you going to judge what the mix -- how long are you going to take to judge what mix is correct? And at that point, going along with Jeff's question, will you ask for more if you need it?
GEN. SCHWARTZ: I can tell you that we are going to put the residual -- the balance, the 14,000 or so difference, to where we need them most. And some of that clearly, as I indicated earlier, is going to be nuclear, some in ISR, perhaps some in aircraft maintenance. These are decisions yet to be finalized. But the bottom line is, it certainly has the secretary and my personal attention.
Q Can I ask about the current situation in Georgia, which you alluded to? What state is your planning in terms of looking forward to what you may be asked to do or thinking of doing in the coming days? Possible aid flights or missions to help the embassy there? Where do things stand?
GEN. SCHWARTZ: As a general rule, we don't speculate on future mission tasking, and I don't think we'll cross that threshold here today, if that's all right.
Q May I follow up on that, General Schwartz? Since you do have quite a good deal of experience with the transportation and cargo operations, and U.S. Air Force flights did fly into Georgia, carrying Georgian peacekeepers back, what can you tell us about what U.S. Air Force C-17 pilots need to see there to feel safe from any misunderstanding, any miscalculation, from the Russians? What do U.S. Air Force pilots need to see in the way of assurances from the Russians that they won't cause you problems?
GEN. SCHWARTZ: Our crews rely on us to provide them an environment that may not be totally safe. I mean, that is what military aviation is about, at -- in the end of the day.
But the bottom line in this particular instance was the United States government attained assurances, and we are also had the right sort of reception capability on the ground at Tbilisi, and the mission went off without a hitch.
Q If there are future missions, do you feel that those assurances are still standing?
GEN. SCHWARTZ: That's not my area. As you're aware, the bottom line is, we will respond to the nation's tasking as it unfolds.
Q And could I very briefly follow up? What's your understanding of the state of the commercial and military airport there in terms of U.S. aircraft flying in? Do they have the radar capability and the ATC capability that they need there, or has that been hit by the Russians and not yet repaired to U.S. satisfaction?
GEN. SCHWARTZ: As I understand it, commercial aircraft continue to operate from Tbilisi.
Q Mr. Secretary, could you clear up some confusion? Over the past couple of days, there were reports that Boeing was going to back out of the bidding -- the renewed bidding process for the tanker contract. What is your understanding? Is Boeing still in the bidding process? And as far as you know, do they intend to stay in the bidding process?
MR. DONLEY: I'm not going to speak to that matter.
This is the responsibility of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, to carry this forward, so.
Q General Schwartz -- (off mike) -- C-17s -- (off mike) -- needed refueling. You've got an aging tanker fleet. Put your TRANSCOM hat on a second.
If this process, this new tanker process plays out with more protests, from Boeing or EADS, is there a possibility there, that this could string out long enough that you might have a catastrophic failure of one of your older tankers? Or is the tanker fleet, while old, while 46-plus years old, in relatively good shape, that a catastrophic failure is an unlikely possibility?
GEN. SCHWARTZ: I can't make a promise one way or the other.
You know, flying airplanes, machines have a way of not necessarily being completely predictable. Nonetheless, you know, we have a rigorous process in place, to make sure that our crews fly safe aircraft.
This is not only the case in the tanker business but throughout the fleet. And there's no question in my mind that we will be able to support any potential tasking that comes our way.
Q May I ask about alternative fuels? That was a big priority for General Moseley and Secretary Wynne. Do you intend to carry on with the certification, ultimately leading in 2016 to having the whole flight flying on some sort of alternative; the whole fleet flying on alternative fuels?
MR. DONLEY: We do intend to continue with the certification. I think energy is an important priority for the Air Force. And we're going to continue to work that issue.
We will take a closer look at the role of the Air Force going forward and the public-private partners that are potentially out there. But we'll take a closer look at those before we move forward.
Q (Off mike) -- major priority to get that undersecretary position filled again; undersecretary for Logistics that's handling energy issues?
MR. DONLEY: We have an acting assistant secretary, Kevin Billings, who is very strong in this area. And I think he'll continue in that role.
Q When you say you're going to take a closer look at the public-private partnerships, can you provide a little more detail about what you mean on that? Are you looking at specific ones to see whether you'd continue them or not?
MR. DONLEY: I'm still looking at the details of the Air Force's energy program and how it's expected to spin out over the next couple of years. I want to make sure that we remain in the role of a consumer and not be perceived, by other government agencies or others, as a producer of energy.
The Air Force is fundamentally a consumer. If we're going to be involved in this cooperative work going forward, we will make sure we're in partnership, with the Department of Energy and the other federal agencies and departments, that need to be involved in this, before we --
GEN. SCHWARTZ: Let's take two more questions, and then --
Q With the nuclear task force, sir, when can we expect to see some changes made dealing with that, especially with the year anniversary of what occurred over at Minot Air Force Base?
MR. DONLEY: We're just about at the 60-day point on that work. So I'm in the process. I should be getting an update on that within the next week or so.
Our intent is to take a pause at that point. We're anticipating soon the results from the Schlesinger panel, which the secretary of Defense had set in motion. So we'll be able to take input from the Schlesinger panel, then take about another 30 days to work out our roadmap.
Q Can we expect major changes? I mean, there's been speculation about possibly returning to an organization such as Strategic Command -- going back -- or not Strategic Command, but STRATCOM. Would that --
MR. DONLEY: I wouldn't want to speculate on the organizational structure that comes out of this. What I can promise you is that we're taking a comprehensive look at this issue. So this is not onesies and twosies and a handful of sixes. This is across the board --
GEN. SCHWARTZ: This is end-to-end.
MR. DONLEY: -- end-to-end review of this enterprise and how the Air Force is going to get reconnected and recommitted to this important mission.
Q Can I ask you about Cyber Command, sir, the progress with that command? What priorities do you see for it, in the future -- additional funding? Just an update on Cyber Command, sir.
MR. DONLEY: I don't really have an update or any news on that subject. The Air Force had been scheduled to stand up a cyber command on October 1st. We're looking at that more closely to understand what it -- what that means and all the administrative actions that are supposed to being trained to make that happen.
Q (Off mike) -- consideration that's under way?
MR. DONLEY: We're looking at Cyber Command. This is an important mission. It's going to go forward for the Air Force. The issue is in what context --
GEN. SCHWARTZ: What form --
MR. DONLEY: -- and what form and in what national framework. This is not just Air Force. It has to fit with Strategic Command; has to fit with the broader national security community. And we're going to look at making sure that all those pieces fit together as we proceed.
Q Are you considering a back-up plan if the tanker gets delayed indefinitely?
MR. DONLEY: I think Undersecretary Young's plan is to get this decision made by the end of the year.
Q But if it's broken, through --
Q What's your current assessment of --
Q The F-22 program --
GEN. SCHWARTZ: We'll just conclude by saying that an indefinite delay in the acquisition of the new tanker is not what the joint team requires.
Thank you very much.
MR. DONLEY: All right, thank you.
GEN. SCHWARTZ: We appreciate your time. It's great to be back.
Q Yeah, I'll say. (Laughter.)
Copyright (c) 2008 by Federal News Service, Inc., Ste. 500 1000 Vermont Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20005, USA. Federal News Service is a private firm not affiliated with the federal government. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, Inc. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's official duties. For information on subscribing to the FNS Internet Service, please visit http://www.fednews.com or call(202)347-1400