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The Nation

A different type of Air Force leader

Gen. Norton Schwartz was never a fighter or bomber pilot. His nomination is seen as the start of a new era.

June 10, 2008|Julian E. Barnes and Peter Spiegel | Times Staff Writers

Some of Gates' advisors see the plane as expensive and of limited value in fighting unconventional wars like those in Iraq or Afghanistan. But many in the Air Force's fighter community think it is crucial because of the proliferation of sophisticated anti-aircraft systems in countries such as Iran and China.

The controversy surrounding Moseley's leadership has divided the Air Force, with some current and former officers lamenting his demise and fretting that his departure could spell the end of the F-22. Its production contract runs out next year.

On the other hand, an increasing number of Air Force officers have begun to argue for sacrificing the F-22, saying the fight has weakened the service in the eyes of the Pentagon's civilian leadership. To this group, the Joint Strike Fighter, a smaller and cheaper fighter under development, will provide adequate air superiority and allow the dispute to end.

In his remarks Monday, Gates said he was trying to minimize the anxiety the firings had caused. He praised the efforts of airmen in Iraq and Afghanistan, and said that although their role got little attention, it was deeply valued.

"Put simply, without your contributions in the skies, and in many cases on the ground, America's war effort would grind to a halt," Gates said.

Gates also said he would end further cuts in the size of the Air Force, which is in the middle of eliminating 40,000 positions. Halting the cuts would leave the Air Force with about 330,000 personnel, down from 356,000 in 2006.

Schwartz's new role is seen as the key move in a broader shuffle that Gates announced Monday. He also recommended that a veteran Pentagon official, Michael B. Donley, replace Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne, who is leaving at the end of the month.

The White House said that Bush intended to nominate Donley and to designate him acting secretary until he is confirmed.

In addition, Gates said he recommended that Bush nominate Lt. Gen. William M. Fraser III as the Air Force's vice chief of staff and Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, the current vice chief, as Schwartz's replacement at U.S. Transportation Command.

All of the nominations require Senate confirmation.

The confirmations of Schwartz and Fraser, a veteran of the service's bomber community, would mean that no officer with a fighter background would be in either of the Air Force's top two spots.


Barnes reported from Langley Air Force Base and Spiegel from Washington.

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