It is the duty of each Secretary of the U.S. Air Force to survey the state of the world and, coupled with advice from leadership, decide where the branch must grow. Frank Kendall, the 26th Secretary of the Air Force, is no different. Confronted by unique challenges facing the United States and the world, Kendall took to the stage at the AFA’s Air, Space, Cyber Expo to share his vision of a more air-dominant future.
Kendall began by noting, “America and its allies are faced with a less direct or immediate, but equally serious, competitor.” Without mincing words, Kendall identified this competitor as The People’s Republic of China. “[The PRC’s] military modernization program is a threat to the ability of the United States to project power into the Indo Pacific.”
Whether intentional or not, the PRC has developed or is currently developing capabilities that can directly impinge U.S. operations abroad, and Kendall expressed his commitment to maintaining U.S. tactical superiority and modernizing the entire service. “Only the Air and Space Forces have the ability to control the global high ground,” Kendall added. “Only we have the ability to confront and defeat aggression immediately.” Reiterating his self-described glib remark before the U.S. Senate Armed Services committee, Kendall noted that his top three priorities are China, China, China.
“My most fundamental priority is to improve the ability of the Air and Space forces to deter and defeat our pacing threats,” he said. This improvement has to come from strengthening areas that adversaries have worked to exploit. “To be stronger we have to change.”
Kendall wants to bring a sense of urgency back to the branch and its industry partners when it comes to delivering next-generation capabilities. “We live in an era of dramatically technical knowledge,” he stated. “We must improve our ability to analyze and understand operational possibilities that technology is providing.” Top-of-mind for the Secretary are autonomy, artificial intelligence, advanced microelectronics, and data analytics, among others.
Highlighting one program, Kendall pointed to the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) program within the larger Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) as a key area that he wants the force to expend more energy on. “This program has not been adequately focused on achieving and fielding specific measurable improvements in operational outcomes.” Kendall added that to meet his first priority, he wants to see both sides of the public-private partnership focus more on the real military capabilities.
Among those capabilities that Kendall wants to see prioritized include next-generation air dominance which is “more than just a next-generation tactical aircraft,” it is a “coordinated system-of-systems approach.” The future of the service will be connected, and Kendall noted that the service, along with its industry partners are already working in an environment that utilizes this mentality. It’s just a matter of making it the standard.
“I will be looking for other opportunities to rapidly and effectively move the applications of advanced technology, from any source, down the field as quickly as possible,” Kendall added. From surveillance and control of the air-to-air mobility, Kendall’s goal is to make the Air Force an advanced, modern branch, that can match and exceed capabilities for adversaries and empower the other branches to do the same. What matters now is how industry partners will work to help make that vision become reality.