Defense leader praises Air Force as backbone of global reach

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  • By Cheryl Pellerin
  • DoD News, Defense Media Activity
The Air Force's dominance in the skies, space and cyberspace is the backbone of the military's global reach and U.S. commitments around the world, a senior Defense Department official said here Sept. 17.

Frank Kendall, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, delivered this morning's keynote address for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Air Force Association's 2014 Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition. Hagel was scheduled to speak, but was called to attend a meeting with President Barack Obama and other administration officials at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

The under secretary had read Hagel's prepared speech before the event and said he was moved to pass the secretary's message along. As he did so, at times he added his own thoughts.

And before beginning the presentation, Kendall told the audience that Hagel wanted to recognize the sacrifice and achievements of all Airmen and women in ongoing and recent military operations.

Broader spectrum of conflict

"Today our military as a whole, and the Air Force in particular, are being tested by protracted budget uncertainty, technological and commercial transformations, and the changing character of war," Kendall said. At the same time, he added, the nation continues to call on its Airmen and women to respond rapidly to new sources of instability across the globe while preparing for a broader spectrum of conflict than they faced over the past 13 years of counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The Air Force's charge today," the under secretary said, "is to ensure that America's air power is unrivaled for the next generation, and to do so with fewer resources but more numerous and more sophisticated competitors."

The Air Force is the military service most closely associated with cutting-edge technology, he added, but all Airmen know that the ability to recruit and retain exceptional people is the foundation of the Air Force's extraordinary capabilities, Kendall said.

Vanguard programs

To compete with commercial competitors, especially in space, cyber and other high-technology areas, the Air Force is working on vanguard programs that other services should strongly consider, the under secretary said, such as encouraging breaks in service that let Airmen gain diverse work experience, establishing specialized career tracks that allow for promotion, and education and training that span a lifetime of service.

"The Air Force must also continue to move beyond tribal cycles of promotion, moving beyond bomber or fighter generals and instead just promoting generals -- leaders who are also world-class strategists, managers, innovators and problem solvers," Kendall said.

The Air Force also must continue taking steps to expand and diversify its international partnerships.

International partnerships

"The United States and the U.S. Air Force do not fight alone," Kendall noted. "In space, the Air Force is operating a military satellite program with Australia, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and New Zealand. And it maintains a joint strategic airlift capability in Hungary with 10 NATO allies and two NATO partners."

The Air Force also has established a NATO MQ-9 Reaper Users Group to enhance alliance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, capabilities.

"In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan last year, decades of Air Force-led training and exercising enabled the coordinated response of C-130s from countries that included Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand, along with other aircraft from 24 nations," Kendall said.

Especially in times of constrained resources, he added, such partnership initiatives are vital and should deepen and broaden going forward.

Foundation of U.S. national security

Addressing Air Force capabilities, Kendall said the nuclear deterrent is the foundation of U.S. national security.

"Earlier this year, following revelations about troubling lapses and poor morale, Secretary Hagel traveled to see missileers at F.E. Warren (Air Force Base in Wyoming) and talked to launch control officers underground at Malmstrom (Air Force Base in Montana)," Kendall told the audience. Hagel also ordered comprehensive internal and external reviews of the nuclear enterprise spanning the Air Force ground- and air-based nuclear deterrent and the Navy's submarine-based systems, he said.

Today, Hagel is in full agreement with DOD senior leaders that America's nuclear deterrent is a safe, secure, effective and reliable force, Kendall said. But it has become clear to Hagel and the leadership that a consistent, long-term lack of investment in and support for the nuclear forces "has left us with little margin to cope with mounting stresses," he added.

Support for the nuclear forces

"The fundamental problem has not been a lack of rhetoric or top-to-bottom reviews," Kendall said. "It has been a lack of focus, attention and resources, and it has been a pervasive sense that a career in the nuclear enterprise offers too few opportunities for growth or advancement."

Kendall said that is something Hagel knows well from his conversations with personnel within the nuclear enterprise.

"We will fix this," he said. "DOD will ensure that our joint nuclear enterprise attracts the best people and that it is coherent, integrated, synchronized and on a sustainable path to modernization." Under the leadership of Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, he added, the Air Force already has taken significant steps in the right direction.

"I was with Secretary Hagel when he visited Kirtland (Air Force Base in New Mexico), and I was with him when he went to F.E. Warren, and I will tell you that he takes this very seriously," Kendall said. "I've had enough experience in the Pentagon I'm speaking for myself now to know how seriously your national leadership takes the nuclear mission.

"I had a chance to have dinner with Secretary Hagel in a small Mexican restaurant in Albuquerque after we visited the site at Kirtland," the undersecretary continued. "We talked a little about the emotional impact of seeing that vast amount of power in such a small confined space, and what it meant to the nation to have responsibility for that enormous destructive power."

Absolute commitment

"It's not a small thing to our national political leadership," Kendall said. "It's not a small thing to the Air Force, and there is absolute commitment to this. It is our most important mission. ... I want to reinforce that message on Secretary Hagel's behalf this morning. He is very serious about this. We will do what needs to be done."

Beyond the nuclear enterprise, he added, the Air Force is responsible for maintaining America's air superiority in any operation, now and in the future. Preparing for the decades ahead requires careful planning and investments and hard choices, he said.

Cutting-edge technology

Savings achieved by retiring older platforms will help the Air Force maintain and acquire more cutting-edge technology and weapon systems, Kendall said.

"That is why the president's budget protects investments in next-generation jet engine technology," the under secretary said, "as well as priority modernization programs including the new long-range strike bomber, the KC-46 tanker and the F-35 joint strike fighter."

High-end platforms like the F-22 and F-35 have a vital role in the fleet, he added, and the F-22 will underwrite America's air dominance for a generation.

"The F-35, with its unique networking capabilities coupled with its electronic warfare, advanced sensors, stealth and advanced weapons systems, will enable the United States and its closest partners and allies to dominate in the air and conduct joint operations more effectively than ever before," Kendall said.

A primary mission of fighter squadrons is to open the door for the rest of the air fleet and the military to enable less sophisticated platforms such as the Air Force's remotely piloted aircraft, to operate freely and successfully, Kendall noted. The demand for remotely piloted aircraft has grown from around 7,000 flying hours in 2001 to more than 300,000 last year, he said, adding that this year they will account for 15 percent of all Air Force flying hours, and that the number would only increase.

In space, the under secretary said, the Air Force must adapt to a new environment in which space is no longer a sanctuary, but instead is contested by other nations, an environment in which next-generation space architecture is being deployed by the private sector rather than by governments, and an environment in which resilience is becoming as critical as capability.

"We can't predict the direction of technological change," Kendall said, "but imagination and vision and the innovation, operationally and technically, that must accompany them are what Secretary Hagel calls on the next generation of Airmen and women to reach for in the years ahead."