Hagel: China, Russia Nipping at Heels of U.S. Air Power Dominance

By Sarah Sicard

The Air Force's continued budgetary constraints are limiting its ability to maintain dominance over competitors such as China and Russia, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall said Sept. 17.

"Today, the predominance that our military has enjoyed for decades confronts powerful enemies," Kendall said at the Air Force Association's annual conference at National Harbor, Maryland. Kendall was pinch-hitting for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who could not make it to the keynote address. Rather than deliver his own speech, Kendall read from Hagel's prepared remarks.

The Air Force is tasked with being the greatest air power in the world, he said, but is being asked to maintain its edge with fewer resources. And the reason it has fewer resources is the current budget environment, he said.

"While the budget agreement reached last year has provided temporary relief for fiscal years 2014 and 15, sequestration remains the law of the land," Kendall said. "It will return in 2016 if it is not repealed."

"Continued sequestration would further erode the Air Force's readiness, which has taken too many blows already," he added.

Last year, the Air Force was forced to ground 13 squadrons, losing tens of thousands of planned flying hours. Concerns over budget cuts prove detrimental in a time where competitors are ramping up spending and capabilities, said Kendall.

"China and Russia are making long-term investments strategically focused on military modernization programs," Kendall said. "They are investing in anti-ship, anti-air, and counter space weapons."

The U.S. Air Force's mission is to dominate the skies, space and cyber space, all areas that may be compromised by continued sequestration, he added. Today, the current average for training hours per year is 160, roughly half of what it was just a decade ago, he said.

"Chinese and Russian counterparts meanwhile, are moving to the opposite direction, some averaging more than a hundred hours of training per year, with lead squadrons flying up to 200," Kendall said.

Not only is the Air Force flying fewer hours, the fleet itself is aging, he said.

"Today, our fighters and bombers are, on average, about twice as old as they were in 1995," Kendall said. "We now have the oldest Air Force fleet in history."

Countries like China and Russia continue to bolster their air power efforts, causing further concern.

"They are developing advanced electronic warfare and special operations capabilities," said Kendall. "Combined, these investments are tailored to counter the air, space and cyber superiority that the [U.S.] Air Force provides."

Kendall cited Hagel as doing everything in his power to prevent the Air Force from sliding back from where it is today.

"Our military as a whole, and the Air Force in particular is being tested by protracted uncertainty, technological and commercial transformations, and the changing character of war," he said.

Though impressed by the Air Force's handling of continued adversity, Kendall decried sequestration as dangerous to international peace and security.

"The Air Force, and our military as a whole, needs Congress to be a partner in responsible and long-term planning and budgeting," Kendall said.

Hagel, who could not attend the conference because of a commitment with U.S. Central Command, requested that Kendall assure those in attendance that he and his administration would continue advocating on behalf of the military in the interest of global stability.

Topics: Aviation, Defense Department, DOD Budget, DOD Leadership

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