ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
It's been a tough time for the Air Force. Today, the two men picked to take over the service appeared before a Senate committee for confirmation hearings. NPR's Guy Raz reports.
GUY RAZ: General Norton Schwartz, or Nortie as he's known, is about as unlikely an Air Force chief there ever was. If confirmed, he'll be the first chief who's neither a fighter nor a bomber pilot. He's not brash like Curtis LeMay, the legendary Air Force chief who inspired the trigger-happy General Buck Turgidson in Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove."
(Soundbite of film, "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb")
Mr. GEORGE C. SCOTT (Actor): (As General Buck Turgidson) Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed, but I do say no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops, depending on the breaks.
RAZ: In a culture that's historically preferred tough-talking, air-power machismo at the top, Schwartz is a soft-spoken, quiet technocrat.
General NORTON SCHWARTZ (U.S. Air Force): Together, we will recommit ourselves to our core values and uphold the highest standards of excellence that have made our Air Force the best in the world.
RAZ: Schwartz is set to take over the Air Force in the midst of an historic low point. Some of the recent highlights, or rather lowlights, include a mishap last year when a nuclear-armed B-52 bomber was mistakenly flown over the United States. Then there was the accidental shipment to Taiwan of fuses used to build ballistic missile nuclear warheads. Several recent contracting scandals and mismanagement have only made things worse. It's why Defense Secretary Robert Gates ousted the previous chief of staff, Michael Moseley, and the civilian secretary, Michael Wynne.
The man set to replace Wynne is Michael Donley, a career Pentagon executive and number-cruncher. In his testimony today, Donley clearly alluded to the problems at hand.
Mr. MICHAEL DONLEY (Pentagon): I believe the most urgent tasks for the new leadership are to steady this great institution, restore its inner confidence, and rebuilt our external credibility.
RAZ: But credibility is just the beginning. The Air Force faces potentially huge budget cuts as it grapples with trying to pay for cost overruns on its signature programs, like the new fighter jets known as the Joint Strike Fighter and the F-22; at $350 million apiece, the most expensive fighter jet by far in history. Guy Raz, NPR News, Washington.
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