Frank Kendall, Air For secretary, speaks at the annual Air Force Association conference in Sept. 2021. (AFA)
By Michael Marrow,
Published by Breaking Defense, 6 September 2023
Department of the Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall’s letter didn’t specify what “broader and more comprehensive” changes officials are examining, though he did note the review is set to conclude by January 2024.
WASHINGTON — The Department of the Air Force is launching a “major” and “comprehensive” effort to revamp its readiness in the face of threats from peer adversaries like China, according to the service’s top civilian.
“It has become clear to the entire senior leadership team that we are not optimized for great power competition. Over more than two decades, we have optimized to support post-9/11 conflicts and demands; this is not what the nation needs for the coming decades of strategic competition,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said in an open letter to Air Force airmen and Space Force Guardians published September 5.
Kendall specifically referenced China and said Beijing is “intent on fielding a force that can conduct aggression in the Western Pacific and prevail even if the United States intervenes.” It’s also “dramatically expanding its nuclear force and military space capabilities.”
“We cannot sustain deterrence by standing still,” Kendall said in the letter, which was first reported by Air & Space Forces Magazine and obtained by Breaking Defense.
As a result, Kendall said service officials “will conduct a major initiative over the next several months to identify and implement the changes needed to meet our pacing challenge. This initiative will involve a comprehensive look at all aspects of how we organize, train, and equip the Air Force and Space Force,” he continued.
Kendall’s letter didn’t specify what “broader and more comprehensive” changes officials are examining, though he did note the review is set to conclude by January 2024. After that, the Air Force will launch an “implementation phase” to carry out new initiatives, according to Kendall.
With China rapidly expanding its military prowess, the Pentagon has sought to overhaul the US military’s posture in the Indo-Pacific to deter a possible conflict that could be prompted by a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The Air Force’s Air Mobility Command in particular just wrapped up its largest-ever readiness exercise held for the first time in the Indo-Pacific, which an Air Force official previously said showed the need for some doctrine “refresh.”
Still, other Air Force leaders have expressed concern over the service’s ability to perform critical tasks like keeping troops supplied in the event of a conflict, with one official recently remarking that there is “no good answer” yet for the problem.
Kendall has long stressed the challenge posed by a conflict with China and previously formulated seven operational imperatives to restructure the Air Force accordingly. Those imperatives “produced the new investments and programs included in the [fiscal 2024] Defense Budget,” he said in the Tuesday letter, noting that “this work isn’t finished, but it is well begun.”
More must be done to stay ahead of China, Kendall emphasized in the letter, which stated that the secretary’s all-encompassing review will be led from Department of the Air Force headquarters with input from major and field commands.
“No one wants a great power conflict, and no one can predict when one might occur, but come it may, and we must be as ready as we can be — now, tomorrow, and every day,” Kendall said.
See: Original Article