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September 16, 2008— In explaining his push to restore discipline and integrity to the acquisition system, Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said it won’t be a slash-and-burn effort. In a landmark speech Sept. 16 at AFA's Air & Space Conference in Washington, D.C., Schwartz said the service will do everything possible to restore its credibility with the Pentagon, Capitol Hill, and the American people. He promised a more disciplined acquisition process that sticks to “needed performance … not excessive performance” in new systems.

Schwartz said the service won’t “confuse mistakes with misconduct,” if no wrongdoing has taken place. However, he said he recognizes that after the debacle of several high-profile protests, notably the Combat Search and Rescue Helicopter replacement program and the KC-X tanker replacement program, which has now disintegrated for a third time, success won’t come quickly or easily.

“It will take us a couple of successes to get there” he said.

The Air Force is going “back to basics” in the way it conducts business, particularly in the nuclear enterprise and in acquisition, said Schwartz. He also announced new cultural and operational directions for the service and put airmen on notice that they will be held to higher accountability at all levels.

Requirements missteps and an “emotional” debate helped derail the KC-X program, an experience “we do not want to repeat,” Schwartz observed. Not to take on a reform of the way USAF buys major systems would be a grave mistake, he said, warning, “The health of defense acquisitions is at stake.”

“Military professionals, including retired [personnel] … have a duty to refrain from taking sides in [public] debates” about military missions and weapon systems, Schwartz declared. He chided retired officers from turning up the heat in the rancorous KC-X tanker program and said the nation expects “its most senior airmen to be professional.”

In a later discussion with reporters, Schwartz said he understands that retired generals have a right “to earn a living” and may certainly work for the defense industry, but said his remarks were aimed at generals who claim to base their opinions on their “previous active duty status” and don’t disclose that they are being paid for their opinions. “What you want to avoid,” he said, “is having Americans believe their military leadership can be bought.”

Schwartz believes the Air Force must rebuild its acquisition relationship with the defense industry. Acquisitions must be “fundamentally decided on the merits” and getting needed capabilities to the field at a fair and reasonable price, asserted the new Chief of Staff.

“We must exercise caution with systems that a particular vendor wishes to build,” he said, or that satisfy “a particular constituency.” The Air Force has seen two of its highest-priority acquisition efforts hobbled by industry protests, marketing campaigns, and threats of Congressional interference.

Schwartz lambasted the “unfortunate deterioration” of the relationship between the Air Force and industry that of late has manifested itself through “insensitivity, hyperbole, and a lack of communication.”

The most recent blow to USAF’s modernization efforts was the cancellation of the KC-X program after Defense Secretary Robert Gates determined it would be politically impossible to move forward with the program in the time left before a new Administration takes charge in January.