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Senate committee reviews Air Force nominees

by Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

7/22/2008 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Senate Armed Services Committee members presented a number of questions and challenges to Air Force civilian and military leader nominees July 22 on Capitol Hill.

Michael Donley, the acting secretary of the Air Force, and Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, nominated to become the next chief of staff of the Air Force, presented their vision for leading the service if they are confirmed to the new positions.

Also joining the panel was Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, who was nominated to succeed General Schwartz as the commander of U.S. Transportation Command.

If the committee approves, the nominations will go before the full Senate for a final vote. If the president then concurs, he'll offer official appointments to the nominees in the coming weeks, at which time they'll assume their new positions.

Several senators challenged the panel to work to restore the reputation of the service, citing various reports released earlier this year that described a "lack of focus" when it came to certain Air Force missions.

In his official statement, Mr. Donley said that, if approved as the new service secretary, his immediate challenges are to "restore confidence in the Air Force among those to whom we are responsible, build personal and institutional relationships with Congress and the national security community, and undertake actions to address the issues ... that brought us to this point."

Mr. Donley also pointed out that several Air Force officers already had been held accountable for two separate nuclear-related incidents. Some had been relieved of their commands or transferred out of key positions, while others received administrative punishment.

"Airmen at all levels are ready to put the difficulties of the past few months behind them, to learn the appropriate lessons from these experiences and to move forward," he said.

Committee members asked about the Air Force's way ahead when it comes to acquisition efforts, particularly the KC-X refueling tanker as well as the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II, commonly called the Joint Strike Fighter.

"The F-22 is an essential part of the Air Force," General Schwartz said.

The fifth-generation fighter is designed to work with the F-35 in establishing air superiority as the current fleet of legacy fighters continues to age. In response to the number of F-22s needed, General Schwartz said that the 183 currently budgeted won't be enough, but that the 381Raptors some have reported the Air Force will need may be too many.

"More analysis is needed," the general said.

The main priority, however, is to expedite the procurement of a tanker to replace the Eisenhower-era KC-135 Stratotanker, the panel and committee agreed.

"The Air Force needs a new tanker, the joint warfighters need a new tanker," Mr. Donley said. "This is a critical capability that facilitates the projection of U.S. influence around the globe."

Lessons learned from the most recent Government Accountability Office report will help in the acquisition process for the future, Mr. Donley said.

To that end, several senators asked about prospective Air Force acquisition plans, including a long-range strike bomber by 2018, as well as more unmanned aircraft systems.

UASs account for 50 percent of Air Force acquisitions for this year, General Schwartz said.

"As our (UASs) have more capability, there is more demand," he said.

General Schwartz said that Air Force UASs do more than reconnaissance or intelligence missions and the first MQ-9 Reaper mission in Iraq was flown July 21. The Reaper is the first UAS designed specifically to fill an attack role.

Several committee members lauded the Air Force's efforts in supporting alternative fuels options for its inventory. General Schwartz pointed out that the B-52 Stratofortress, B-1 Lancer and C-17 Globemaster III have all been certified to fly with a synthetic fuel blend. He also said the goal is to have every Air Force aircraft certified by 2011.

The senators said they were looking forward to working with Mr. Donley and Generals Schwartz and McNabb if they are approved for their new positions.

"I especially appreciate your steadfast support to the nearly 700,000 total force Airmen -- regular, Reserve, Guard and civilians -- who continue to distinguish themselves in joint operations around the world," Mr. Donley said. "In the 15 years since I last served as acting secretary of the Air Force, our nation's Airmen have been continuously deployed and in the joint fight.

"If confirmed, it will be an honor and a privilege to once again serve with these dedicated men and women."

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