Air Force chief to contractors: 'Don’t blow smoke up my ass'

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz on Wednesday delivered some tough talk to defense contractors, saying the Pentagon will have “no patience” for exaggerated sales pitches as budgets shrink.

“If industry makes a commitment, you will have to deliver,” Schwartz said during an industry-sponsored conference in Washington. With annual defense budgets expected to flatten or decline over the next few years, “there will be less tolerance … for not delivering,” he added.

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Contractors often build their proposals for the Pentagon on platforms and subsystems that cannot realistically be developed, tested and delivered on the budget and schedule. The results are program delays and cost overruns that force the military to buy fewer models or cancel a program.

Schwartz told contractors it’s time to abandon wishful thinking and “deliver what you promise.”

“Don’t blow smoke up my ass” about what a platform can do and when it will be ready, said Schwartz, considered by many defense insiders as a contender to become the next Joint Chiefs chairman.

“There’s no time for it,” the air chief said to a nearly silent and tense ballroom. “There’s no patience for it. OK?”

With smaller budgets, the Air Force will likely have to "scale back our ambitions" for new platforms. That means it will select technology that requires less development time and funding.

"Lower risk is the better strategy for this time" of smaller budgets, said Schwartz. One example is a new bomber aircraft program the service soon will start. To keep costs down, the specs for that airframe will be less complex than initially planned.

But "I think it will make it easier for industry to deliver," he said.

"Cost-control will be an issue in everything we do," from weapon programs to healthcare, the air chief said.

Schwartz said improving weapons program performance means both industry and the Pentagon will have to change.

"I'm ensuring the Air Force is doing its part," he told The Hill. "Industry has to do better."