In a far-ranging interview a few days ago, the 19th Air Force chief of staff candidly covered a number of issues including a "loss of confidence" in the Air Force, the status of the F-22 fighter and the future of manned flight.
He said the loss of confidence is a temporary issue. It came about earlier this year after howls of protests erupted following announcement of Air National Guard cuts contained in the Air Force's proposed fiscal year 2013 budget.
Some Congressional officials have called for a national commission to determine future Air Force force structure. Schwartz thinks that would be a mistake.
"There is no institution, no mechanism that can produce a balanced program for our Air Force better than we in the Department of Defense can," Schwartz is quoted in a Pentagon transcript of the press conference. "We need to do a better job of preparing Congress and other key officials of what we have in mind and the logic behind our choices. That is a better way than a commission."
The out-going chief believes the F-22's hypoxia issues are well on the way to resolution. The problem first emerged following a fatal crash in November of 2010. Since that time, the fleet has been grounded or operated under restrictions as pilots reported hypoxia-like symptoms.
Schwartz said the problem has been localized to a malfunctioning upper pressure garment worn by pilots and a faulty hose and valve connection in the cockpit. There is a deliberate plan underway, he indicated, to modify and test that equipment to make sure problems have been resolved.
He said one underlying issue could be physiological testing.
"That expertise has diminished over time and the engineering know-how has diminished both in the Air Force and the nation," he reported.
The remedy is to test deep and continuously, the veteran airman stressed.
"This is a unique airplane," the general pointed out. "You can pull six Gs at 50,000 feet. What other airplane ever could do that? But there were physiological aspects that weren't well enough understood and we missed some things, bottom line."
A bit of engineering over confidence may have contributed as well, he feels.
"We went through a period where we thought we could design perfect airplanes or near-perfect airplanes," he said. "But there is no such thing as engineering perfection."
The F-22 problems do not signal the end of manned flight, he argues.
"As long as we'll be able to read and write, manned aviation will be part of the chemistry," he said.
He concedes that unmanned systems may one day comprise most of the systems operated by the Air Force.
"But remotely piloted aircraft capability is not for contested air space," Schwartz underscored. "It is a benign air space capability."
He believes systems such as F-22s, F-35s and B-2s will continue being prime weapons in combatting sophisticated defense systems.
"I would estimate (that to be true) for a generation and a half, 30 years probably," he said. "Maybe more, probably not less."
He said the issue is confidence and practicality.
"Would you put your grandchildren on a remotely piloted passenger-carrying aircraft?" he asked reporters. "The point is, there are some things we're not yet prepared to do."