11/23/08 — AF chief: F-15 here for a while

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AF chief: F-15 here for a while

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on November 23, 2008 2:00 AM

Submitted photo

Gen. Norton Schwartz

WASHINGTON -- Gen. Norton Schwartz knows the F-15E is aging.

But the Air Force chief of staff insists that despite a stressful workload, the Strike Eagle likely still has at least a decade of service left in it.

The future of the airframe was among the topics discussed by the nation's top Air Force official Tuesday at the Pentagon.

"I think when you have got a scenario where you are dealing with a high-performance aircraft, 25 years, maybe 30, is the length of time these machines are viable," Schwartz said. "With the F-15E, I think an indication of the viability of that platform is that others are still procuring them. We have Singapore F-15s and Korean F-15s. ... That shows us this is still certainly a capable machine."

So does its service record.

Since receiving initial operational capability at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in September 1989, the aircraft has played a key role in Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield, was used to patrol no-fly zones and drop ordnance during conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo, and, lately, has been instrumental in eliminating al-Qaeda and Taliban threats in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It can deliver with precision, and it happens in any number of ways," Schwartz said. "The typical one we think of is delivering munitions, but it could well be in a non-traditional surveillance and reconnaissance role. It could well be in terms of just making noise. ... It's a versatile machine, and our folks have been doing extremely well in it."

But what has impressed Schwartz the most about the jet is that from the moment it came off the line, its reputation as one of the world's premier dual-role fighters has been put to the test nearly every day -- and it always seems to answer the call -- even now, in tough desert conditions, more than 20 years after its first flight.

"I have an appreciation for what happens in that airplane and admiration as well. It's a great bird and those kids are using it to great effect," he said. "It has all the qualities you would want in an advanced platform."

The general's comments were not limited to the F-15E.

He also discussed his obligation to the men and women at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base who have made the aircraft's success possible in Afghanistan.

"One of our most profound obligations as leaders is to provide our kids with the training they need to get the job done -- whether that is flying airplanes or maintaining airplanes, driving trucks or providing medical evacuation capability," Schwartz said. "We have an obligation to make sure those folks are well-trained."

That is one reason members of the 4th Fighter Wing's 335th Fighter Squadron recently deployed to Combat Archer and Red Flag, the general said -- to prepare them for more missions over the desert.

The opportunity to work with Allied forces is another.

"In today's environment, it is less and less likely that we will do things that are U.S. only," he said. "Generally speaking, we are going to do things with partners. So I think these exercises also provide a chance to partner, to build relationships ... that will last a career."

Schwartz has other obligations, too.

Like taking care of those left behind when a loved one is sent to war -- a task, the general said, that is made easier by "strong, supportive communities" like the one that surrounds Seymour Johnson.

"The bottom line is Seymour Johnson is an installation with an important mission, an enduring mission," Schwartz said. "Our Air Force is very fortunate to have places where families feel safe, secure and welcome, and clearly, that is the case for Seymour Johnson and its surrounding area. That is critical for our youngsters in Afghanistan to know."

Or instilling in every airmen the attitude of self-sacrifice it takes to serve a nation at war.

"It's not rocket science but it requires focus. It requires commitment," Schwartz said. "In that sense, with the nation at war, my feeling is that people may be on multiple tours and so on ... but nonetheless, we are serving the national interest in a time of war. I don't know what anyone else does when they wear the country's uniform."

So don't talk to the general about how much has been asked of airmen like those who have served in the 4th Fighter Wing since Operation Desert Storm.

Don't mention the term "in lieu of tasking" -- using Air Force personnel in other capacities in other branches of service.

"We are airmen. We serve. And the truth is, I take issue with the notion that what our youngsters are doing out there is in lieu of anything," he said. "What they are doing out there is needed. Now, it might be a non-traditional role for some, but again, our obligation is to make sure that people are trained to do what they are doing. And the truth is, we are at war. We are needed. And the Air Force is all in."

But he won't gloat about the success stories.

Nor will he dwell on the notion that, somehow, airmen are forgotten heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"When we complete these tasks, we will be proud of it, but we don't have to get any credit for it. We just do our jobs, and I think that is the right approach," Schwartz said. "This is not a question of who gets the credit. If we are successful as a country, there is plenty of credit to go around. I think at the moment, because of the circumstances on the ground, the ground forces get more attention, but that doesn't make me the least bit uneasy."

Not when he knows those stories will never fade within the units in which they were forged.

"It's important to realize that there is a legacy. You know, I carry a coin from a wing that I belonged to because that is where I grew up. That's who we are, and we're proud of that. It's no different for people who have served in the 4th," Schwartz said. "The 4th Fighter Wing has a history, it has a wonderful mission, it has a magnificent weapon system and has had good leadership for as long as I can remember. And that is not atypical of our wings. I don't know how it gets any better than that."