Frank Kendall, Secretary of the United States Air Force (USAF), says local politics threaten to weaken the service by cluttering it up with obsolete planes.
Kendall, who was sworn in in August, lamented the US Department of Defense’s perpetual struggle: to convince lawmakers to give the green light to the scrapping of old equipment and unimportant military bases – assets that bring economic benefits to their districts.
“It was common during my confirmation process that a senator would agree with me on the importance of the Chinese threat,” [yet] in the same breath, tell me that under no circumstances could the – take your pick – C-130, A-10, KC-10, MQ-9 in that senator’s state be withdrawn. Likewise, no base in his state could ever be closed or lose manpower, which would have an impact on the local economy. “
The USAF wants to modernize its fleet by developing and purchasing newer, better quality aircraft. However, without much growth in its budget, it must withdraw older aircraft to free up funds for modernization.
Examples of aircraft the USAF wants to focus on include the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters, the Northrop Grumman B-21 stealth bombers and the next-generation Air Dominance aircraft, a sixth-generation fighter in top secret development. Due to their stealth characteristics, the service believes these planes would have a better chance of surviving in battles against sophisticated opponents.
Older planes would not only take resources away from the best planes, but would likely be shot down by China in a conflict, Kendall argues. Beijing has invested heavily in building a modern air force and commissioning sophisticated surface-to-air missile batteries over the past decade.
âWe will not be successful in the face of a strategic and resourced competitor if we insist on keeping all the existing systems we have,â he says.
Recognizing that the USAF is unlikely to get everything it wants, Kendall says he’s ready to negotiate.
âI am happy to be working with Congress to find a better mechanism to make the changes we need,â he said. “But we have to move on.”
Kendell, who was USAF Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics from 2012 to 2017 during Barack Obama’s presidency, said the military might of the United States over China s ‘had deteriorated over the past four years.
“When you see the [classified] details, I think that will make you open your eyes, âhe says. âSeveral years ago my message to members of Congress and anyone who wanted to listen was that we were running out of time. Today we are running out of time.