Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall outlined his increasingly urgent roadmap March 3, 2022, for successfully bringing about the new technologies, thinking, and cultures the Air and Space Forces must have to deter and, if necessary, defeat modern day adversaries.
The particulars of Kendall’s keynote to Air Force Association’s Warfare Symposium weren’t necessarily new since they echoed main themes he’s voiced since becoming the Department’s highest ranking civilian leader. But the circumstances surrounding his appearance before an influential crowd of Airmen, Guardians, and industry officials were dramatically different, coming days after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Kendall used the invasion to buttress his larger assertion that the Air and Space Forces must modernize to meet new and emerging threats and challenges. The path to achieving those goals are embodied in what Kendall has dubbed the Department of the Air Force’s “seven operational imperatives.”
“My highest personal goal as Secretary has been to instill a sense of urgency about our efforts to modernize and to ensure that we improve our operational posture relative to our pacing challenge; China, China, China,” 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.”
“To achieve this goal, I’ve commissioned work on seven operational imperatives. These imperatives are just that; if we don’t get them right, we will have unacceptable operational risk,” he said.
Kendall spent the balance of his address discussing each of the seven imperatives. But he also noted that, given recent events, the threats are not abstract.
“In my view President Putin made a very, very, serious miscalculation. He severely underestimated the global reaction the invasion of Ukraine would provoke, he severely underestimated the will and courage of the Ukrainian people, and he overestimated the capability of his own military,” Kendall said.
“Perhaps most of all, he severely underestimated the reaction from both the U.S. and from our friends and allies,” he said.
The world’s mostly united response to Ukraine should not divert attention from the distance the Air and Space Forces must cover to adequately upgrade and change to face current threats.
“We’re stretched thin as we meet Combatant Commanders’ needs around the globe,” Kendall said, repeating a frequent refrain. “We have an aging and costly-to-maintain capital structure with average aircraft ages of approximately 30 years and operational availability rates that are lower than we desire.”
Kendall added, “While I applaud the assistance the Congress has provided this year, we are still limited in our ability to shift resources away from legacy platforms we need to retire to free up funds for modernization … We have a Space Force that inherited a set of systems designed for an era when we could operate in space with impunity.”
Those realities, he said, triggered establishing the Department’s seven operational imperatives. They are:
- Defining Resilient and Effective Space Order of Battle and Architectures;
- Achieving Operationally Optimized Advanced Battle Management Systems (ABMS) / Air Force Joint All-Domain Command & Control (AF JADC2);
- Defining the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) System-of-Systems;
- Achieving Moving Target Engagement at Scale in a Challenging Operational Environment;
- Defining optimized resilient basing, sustainment, and communications in a contested environment;
- Defining the B-21 Long Range Strike Family-of-Systems;
- Readiness of the Department of the Air Force to transition to a wartime posture against a peer competitor.
The first imperative, he said, is aimed at ensuring capabilities in space. “Of all the imperatives, this is perhaps the broadest and the one with the most potential impact,” he said.
“The simple fact is that the U.S. cannot project power successfully unless our space-based services are resilient enough to endure while under attack,” he said. “Equally true, our terrestrial forces, Joint and Combined, cannot survive and perform their missions if our adversary’s space-based operational support systems, especially targeting systems, are allowed to operate with impunity.”
The second of Kendall’s seven imperatives is to modernize command and control, speed decision-making and linking seamlessly multi-domain forces. In short he wants continued development of defense-wide effort known as Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) and the Air Force component of that effort known as ABMS or Advanced Battle Management System.
“This imperative is the Department of the Air Force component of Joint All Domain Command and Control. It is intended to better define and focus DAF efforts to improve how we collect, analyze, and share information and make operational decisions more effectively than our potential adversaries,” Kendall said.
At the same time, that effort demands discipline. In this regard, Kendall was blunt, saying “we can’t invest in everything and we shouldn’t invest in improvements that don’t have clear operational benefit. We must be more focused on specific improvements with measurable value and operational impact.”
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