Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz said the service will need manned aircraft for at least 30 more years. (Scott M. Ash / Air Force)
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Despite the Air Force's emphasis on unmanned drones, manned aircraft are not going away, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told reporters on Tuesday.
"Manned aviation will be part of the chemistry because at least for the near term, the Remotely Piloted Aircraft capability is not for contested airspace," Schwartz said. "It is a benign airspace capability."
The Air Force will continue to need manned aircraft, such as the F-35s, for at least 30 more years to be able to penetrate sophisticated air defense systems, Schwartz said at his final press conference as chief.
However, pilots for manned aircraft won't necessarily make up the majority of the Air Force, Schwartz said.
"We're training more RPA aviators than we are bomber and fighter pilots," he said. "Ultimately, it is conceivable that the majority of aviators in our Air Force will be Remotely Piloted Aircraft operators.
Schwartz is set to retire next month after four years as chief. Gen. Mark A. Welsh III has been nominated to replace him.
If confirmed, Welsh will have to address the service's trust issue with Congress, Schwartz sad.
The Air Force angered Congress by proposing to cut 5,100 Guard airmen next year, prompting lawmakers such as Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., to protest that the cuts would "fall disproportionately upon the Air National Guard.
"I think that the reality is that there are some who questions whether our motives for the relative reductions between the active-duty, the Guard and the Reserve — whether that was truly analytically based or whether there other motives involved," Schwartz said. "One of Mark's chores, should he be confirmed, will to be to reassure the lawmakers that we are one Air Force, that we rely on all three components of our Air Force and that the balance between these components is driven fundamentally by a concern of overuse of any one of those segments of our Air Force."
Schwartz would not venture whether future personnel cuts would come predominantly from the active-duty force.
"Clearly we have indications from Congress about what they believe is executable and that will carry forward into the [fiscal] 14 program," he said. "I'm not prepared to provide premature insight into those outcomes."