BREAKING: Despite Russian Aggression, Kendall Names China as No. 1 Threat (UPDATED)

By Mikayla Easley

Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Armando A. Schwier-Morales

ORLANDO, Fla. — While Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine poses a threat to U.S. allies in Europe, China remains the top concern for the Defense Department, the secretary of the Air Force said March 3.

An emphasis on thwarting China and its advanced military capabilities will be a part of the Biden administration’s coming National Security and National Defense strategies, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said during a keynote speech at the Air Force Association’s annual Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida.

“Russia and other threats will not be discounted. But China, with both regional and global ambitions, the resources to pursue them, and a repressive authoritarian system of government, will be our greatest strategic national security challenge,” he said.

To match and outpace these threats, Kendall stressed the importance of having adequate capabilities and adapting quickly. His highest goal for the Air and Space Forces is to instill an urgency to modernize the service, he said.

“The most important thing we owe our airmen and guardians are the resources they need — and the systems and equipment they need — to perform their missions,” Kendall said.

Kendall pointed to seven “operational imperatives” he believes are necessary for the forces to address possible conflicts — such as an attack on U.S. allies in Europe or an invasion of Taiwan.

At the top of Kendall’s list is having its space architecture achieve the maximum level of resiliency so that the support that it provides the military — from communications, intelligence, targeting and more — are protected.

Chief of Space Operations Air Force Gen. John “Jay” Raymond said during a panel that improving the strength of space-based infrastructure will be a focus area for the service for the next 10 years.

“The capabilities that we have in space are exquisite. They’re small in numbers and they’re not easily defendable,” Raymond said. “Our joint and coalition forces require the space capabilities that we provide. They can’t be treated as a given anymore.”

Better defining the Advanced Battle Management System is also one of the Air Force’s imperatives, Kendall said. The program is the Air Force’s version of a Pentagon-wide goal to link sensors and shooters at the tactical edge known as joint all-domain command and control, or JADC2.

However, Kendall emphasized that the service needs to focus on investments that have the highest operational payoff.

Modernizing the service’s global strike capabilities with continued development of the B-21 bomber family of systems is another top goal for the Air Force, Kendall said. This also includes other components, such as incorporating unmanned combat aircraft that can operate alongside the B-21 to exchange information with sensors and command-and-control systems.

Kendall also listed the Air Force’s secretive aircraft effort known as the Next-Generation Air Dominance program. The initiative aims to pair multiple drones with manned aircraft such as the F-35 joint strike fighter.

Alongside these imperatives, the other action items part of Kendall’s focus are: the ability to find, identify and evaluate target acquisition at scale; updating the Air Force’s concept of resilient basing to include constellations of smaller, more agile facilities; and improving overall readiness.

“As current events show, they are the types of problems we must be organized, equipped and ready for. Not sometime in the future, but now,” Kendall said.

While acknowledging that there is uncertainty regarding what will come next in terms of the strategic environment, Kendall emphasized that at the end of the day the top priority is delivering meaningful operational capabilities to warfighters on time.

“Change is hard, but losing is unacceptable,” he said.

Achieving these goals have been difficult due to budget restrictions and difficulties navigating bureaucracy in the Defense Department, he added.

“We’re stretched thin,” Kendall said. “We’re still limited in our ability to shift resources away from legacy platforms that we need to retire to free up costs for modernization.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr. also acknowledged during a panel that the current budget is limiting the service’s ability to accomplish its goals. Lawmakers have not passed a full-year defense appropriations bill for fiscal year 2022, forcing federal agencies to operate under a continuing resolution.

Brown called the circumstances “frustrating.”

“It impacts our ability to warfight, impacts our ability to do … foundational work,” he said. “It impacts our industrial base and our ability to commit to moving things forward.”

This story has been updated to correctly identify Gen. John “Jay” Raymond as a Space Force general.

Topics: Air Force News

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