By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 23, 2010 - Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz today said it is "significant" that the South Korean air force, rather than the United States, is leading its country's air defenses at a time when North Korea has become increasingly provocative.
Schwartz spoke here at a Defense Writers Group meeting hours after North Korea launched an artillery attack against the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. North Korea reportedly fired dozens of artillery shells at the island, killing two South Korean marines and wounding at least 16 other people.
U.S. Forces Korea is monitoring the situation closely, Schwartz said.
"It is significant that the [South Korean air force] is in the lead" and launched eight F15 fighter jets in response, he said.
The attack came within days of revelations that North Korea has secretly built a large uranium enrichment facility, raising longstanding concerns about its nuclear intentions. And, in March, North Korea torpedoed and sank the South Korean navy ship Cheonan, killing 46 sailors.
South Korea and its allies have considerable air power in the North Pacific region that North Korea should be mindful of, Schwartz said. "Today, at this moment, there is no question that there is very substantial air power in the North Pacific and that is something North Korea needs to be respectful of," he said.
Schwartz made the comments during a wide-ranging discussion with reporters that included the ongoing Air Force tanker bid, the budget, and the lifespan of the C-17 cargo plane.
The general acknowledged that Air Force personnel inadvertently provided information to competitors Boeing and EADS about each company's bid on the tanker. But, he said, the information was one page of data that was not proprietary, as some media reported, but rather included technical information related to analysis of the aircraft.
The Air Force reviewed the mistake, Schwartz said, and had two people responsible removed from the service's program review office.
The mistake does not give either company an advantage on the bid because both companies received the same type of information, the general said.
Addressing the budget, Schwartz said the Air Force has found $28 billion in response to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' directive that the department find $100 billion in savings during the next five years to re-invest in high-priority needs.
The Air Force savings will be redirected to weapons system modernization including improved long-range strike capability, Schwartz said. In other weapons and equipment needs, he said, the Air Force is fitting new engines in 52 of its C-5 transport aircraft. The Air Force, he added, also will eventually need to replace its aging C-17 transport planes.
Turning to Afghanistan, Schwartz said the Air Force fully understands the strategy of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, to apply effective air power while minimizing civilian casualties.
"We get that," Schwartz said. "I'm not suggesting we're perfect, but 80 percent of civilian casualties" are caused by the enemy and confirmed by human rights organizations.
"What we're doing is, I would argue, is the most precise application of force in history," he said.
Schwartz also was asked about the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law, which forbids gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. The law is under scrutiny by the Obama administration, Congress and the federal appeals courts, which are considering whether to overturn the law..
Schwartz said he has reviewed the draft report that the department has scheduled to be released on Nov. 30, and has offered his edits. He said it is important that the report's contents and discussions about it remain confidential until its release.
Schwartz called a recent leak of information on the report "unfortunate," and said it "makes the candid exchange of views more difficult."
The Joint Chiefs are prepared to give their best military advice to President Barack Obama about the potential impact of the law's repeal on the military, Schwartz said.
"If the law is changed, the U.S. Air Force will pursue its implementation professionally, thoroughly, and with conviction," he said.
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