Speech

AFA 2014 Conference and Exposition (Delivered by USD Frank Kendall)


Well, good morning.  It's great to be with you.  Secretary James, General Welsh, General McKinley, my old friend, George, who I haven't seen for some time, leadership of the Air Force, friends of the Air Force, partners from industry, it's great to be here.

I want to convey the regrets of the Secretary of Defense.  He was supposed to be here this morning, and I'm pinch-hitting for him.  I think you've figured out by now that I'm not Secretary Hagel.  He's in Florida.  He's in Tampa with the President and General Austin for obvious reasons.  And he sends his deep regrets for not being here.

He and I share a couple of things.  One is that we're both men in our 60’s, and we're both big fans of the Air Force.  We're both Army veterans, and we know how important and critical the Air Force is to everything we do.  I have not been in a position where the Air Force could actually save my life, but Secretary Hagel has been in that position.  And he wants to convey his special regards to you today.

And I'm - I was faced with a dilemma when I was asked to pinch-hit today.  I had two or three things I could do.  The first one was to deliver essentially Secretary Hagel's remarks.  I really hate to read speeches; I never do that.  So I was reluctant to do that.

Another option was to give my customary rant about sequestration, talk about our eroding technological superiority, and about Better Buying Power and what we're doing to improve acquisition.

And the third option was to talk about my own experiences over time with the Air Force and how I've seen the Air Force evolve as sort of an inside-outsider.  And I was trying to decide which or what combination of those things to do, but then I read Secretary Hagel's speech.  And it was quite clear to me that the right thing to do was to read to you - to give you essentially his remarks, because I think they are something that [is] important.  He worked on them personally.  He spent a lot of time on them.  And I think they convey a lot of messages that it's important for me to deliver on his behalf this morning.  So that's the course of action I chose, so let me begin with that.

Secretary Hagel certainly appreciates the opportunity to share his thoughts with you, not only to this conference, but the 690,000 men and women of the United States Air force, the active-duty, the Air Force Reserve, the Air National Guard, who are serving around the world.

Secretary Hagel also would like to thank all of you here today representing the Air Force's indispensable partners from Congress, industry, allied and partner nations.

First things first.  In about 13 hours, the Air Force will celebrate 67 years, so happy birthday to the world's greatest Air Force.

So it turns out that all three of us are in our 60’s, I guess.

For the United States, our Air Force's dominance in the skies, space, and cyberspace has been the backbone of our military's global reach and our commitments around the world.  But today, our military as a whole, and the Air Force in particular, is being tested by protracted budget uncertainty, technological and commercial transformations, and the changing character of war.

At the same time, America continues to call on its airmen and women [sic] to respond rapidly to new sources of instability across the globe – while also preparing for the possibility of a much wider spectrum of conflict in the last 13 years of counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Air Force's charge today is to ensure that America's airpower is unrivaled for the next generation, and to do so with fewer resources, but more numerous and more sophisticated competitors. 

Technology alone will not solve the problem.  As Harold Brown, one of Secretary Hagel's predecessors and a former Air Force secretary, once said, technology is just “Greek for a bag of tools.”  The true ingenuity of the U.S. military that will sustain our advantage over any potential adversary is how we shape and deploy those tools to serve our strategic objectives.

So today, Secretary Hagel wants to issue a challenge to a new generation of airmen and women to renew the Air Force's founding ethos as a military service committed to mission success and innovation across all of its resources, its people, its partners, and its capabilities.

First, Secretary Hagel wanted to recognize the sacrifice and achievements of our airmen in ongoing and recent military operations.  As many of you know, the United States Air Force has been involved in active military operations continuously since 1990, from Iraq to the Balkans to Afghanistan – in the air and on the ground.

Since 9/11, hundreds of thousands of airmen and women have answered the call to service and deployed around the world.  More than 140 airmen have made the ultimate sacrifice.

In both Afghanistan and Iraq, airmen have provided much more than close air support and mobility. 

Since 2001, nearly 2 million flying hours of Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions have provided critical combat information.  Air Force cyber capabilities helped disrupt untold numbers of IED attacks and have been crucial across mission sets, from combat to rescue operations.  And the Air Force has transported more than 180,000 patients, and its Air Mobility Command has flown over 22 million passengers and 8 million tons of cargo. 

Behind all these numbers are not only operational crews, but also engineers, scientists, maintainers, medics, logisticians, and security personnel, just to name a few, without whom our military operations would screech to a halt.

Secretary Hagel probably does not need to remind this audience that it's been more than six decades since a U.S. soldier or Marine has been killed on the ground from an enemy air attack.  Six decades.  Give yourselves a hand.

As an Army officer, I certainly appreciate that statistic.  And as a former Army sergeant and infantryman, Secretary Hagel would do so - even more so.

When called upon, the Air Force continues to respond on a moment's notice to new and emerging threats.  In response to Russian aggression in Ukraine in March, President Obama and Secretary Hagel ordered a series of steps to reassure and reinforce our NATO allies.  In less than 24 hours, living up to the motto of “forward, ready, now,” the 493rd Fighter Squadron more than doubled the F-15 fleet in the Baltic air policing mission and has intercepted more than 30 Russian aircraft…intruding on allied airspace.  The President of Lithuania, by the way, insisted on personally welcoming the American airmen to his nation.  The Air Force took similar steps in Poland, augmenting a detachment of F-16s and C-130s. 

In ongoing operations in Iraq, Air Force platforms, ranging from remotely piloted aircraft to AC-130s and B-1 bombers, have provided two-thirds of our joint force sorties and airstrikes.  Air Force C-17s and C-130s have dropped nearly 46,000 gallons of water and more than 121,000 meals, over 1 million pounds of supplies.  This has been a total force effort, including units like the Air Force Reserve's 910th Airlift out of Youngstown, Ohio.

And thanks to the U.S. Air Force's longstanding partnership with the Iraq Air Force, Iraqi planes have flown alongside American aircraft in transporting relief supplies, delivering arms and reinforcements to Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces, and even ferrying American citizens out of harm's way.

As President Obama announced last week, the United States is committed to leading a coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL in Iraq and Syria.  And the Air Force will play a central role in ensuring our campaign's success.

The Air Force's critical role in the fight against ISIL is a reminder that America's airmen and women will continue to be called upon to confront terrorist insurgents for many years to come.  But the Air Force must also play a leading role in defending our interests against a much wider spectrum of potential adversaries – because today the predominance that our military has enjoyed for decades confronts powerful headwinds, and is being challenged in a way that we have not seen for decades.

Taking advantage of the globalization of advanced technologies and the security vulnerabilities of information accessible from the Internet, from…global networks, China and Russia are making long-term investments strategically focused on military modernization programs.  They are investing an anti-ship, anti-air, and counter-space weapons.  They are developing advanced cyber, electronic warfare, and special operations capabilities.

Combined, these investments appear tailored to counter the air, space, and cyber superiority that the Air Force provides, and that enables America to project power across the globe, power that defends our nation and our friends and allies, that upholds a stable international order.

Meanwhile, growing stocks of long-range precision strike weapons are making our air bases, our aircraft carriers, and our logistics nodes increasingly vulnerable.  A new generation of counter-space technology could enable potential adversaries to negate the unique advantage space systems provide to our military, and that the Air Force has provided for decades.

Our competitors' advanced integrated air defenses are also holding our airpower at risk because of the Air Force's rapidly aging fleet.  In 1955, the Air Force's average aircraft was less than 10 years old.  The fleet in the 1990s wasn't much older.  But today, our fighters and bombers are on average about twice as old as they were in 1995, just as the pace of technological change has accelerated.  We now have the oldest Air Force fleet in history, subsisting on capital investments that were made in much earlier administrations. 

Taken together, these mounting challenges strike at the heart of America's airpower. 

When Secretary of Defense Bob Gates addressed this audience five years ago, he noted many of these same challenges.  The ground truth is we have yet to fully resolve many of them. 

Part of the reason is the damaging defense budget cuts imposed under sequestration. 

Now you can see why I was willing to give up my normal speech, right?

Yeah, go ahead.  Let's get rid of that thing…cuts that continue to take a toll on our military's readiness and moderation need. 

While the budget agreement reached last year has provided temporary relief for fiscal years 2014 and '15, sequestration remains the law of the land, and 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.  Last year, the Air Force was forced to ground 13 squadrons and strip away tens of thousands of planned flying hours. 

Today, even with temporary relief from sequestration, a constrained budget leads most of our fighter pilots flying an average of 160 training hours per year, about half the hours they flew…a decade ago.  Their Chinese and Russian counterparts, meanwhile, are moving to the opposite direction, some averaging more than 100 hours of training per year, and elite squadrons flying up to 200.  This is a traditional advantage we have enjoyed - you have enjoyed - that is eroding. 

The men and women of the United States Air Force have coped with all these challenges with remarkable grit, ingenuity, and dedication.  But there are limits to what we can ask airmen and women to do with quick fixes and stop-gap measures.  They deserve better.  You deserve better.

The Air Force and our military as a whole needs Congress to be a partner in responsible, long-term planning and budgeting.  DOD understands that we must do more with less, and we will do so through programs like our Better Buying Power initiative - I like that part, too.  Secretary Hagel and I will continue to implore Congress to remove the dangling sword of sequestration from [over] our national security…it must be removed.

Secretary Hagel is grateful for the Air Force Association's support for ending sequestration and also for its support for many of our hard choices and tradeoffs.  We must continue to press Congress to join us in making these tough decisions, because they are only going to get tougher down the road.

While Congress must do its part, the Air Force must adapt to the new reality of shrinking resources, increasing demands, and more competitive strategic environment.  Secretary Hagel wants to commend Secretary James and General Welsh for taking critical first steps in this direction, including the important vision that they outlined this summer called The Call to the Future.  Deb, thank you.

Secretary James and General Welsh are the leaders the Air Force needs at a defining moment, leaders bold enough to make tough decisions that will put their service on a strong and sustained path for decades to come. 

Secretary Hagel will continue to work closely with them to build the Air Force of the future, and to do that, we must renew the Air Force's commitment to excellence and innovation across all of its resources - its people, its partnerships, and its capabilities.

The Air Force is our military service most closely associated with cutting-edge technology, and rightly so.  But all airmen and women know that the ability to recruit and retain exceptional people is the foundation of the Air Force's extraordinary capabilities. 

That is why the Air Force talent initiative is so critical.  To compete with commercial competitors, especially in space and cyber and other high-technology areas, the Air Force is working on vanguard programs that our other services should also strongly consider. 

For example, allowing, if not encouraging, breaks in service to allow airmen and women to gain diverse work experience; establishing specialized career tracks that still allow for promotion; and education and training that span a lifetime of service.

The Air Force must also continue to move beyond tribal cycles of promotion, moving beyond bomber or fighter generals, and instead just promoting generals: leaders who are also world-class strategists, managers, innovators, and problem-solvers.

Like our military as a whole, the Air Force is becoming smaller, but because further personnel cuts would impose unacceptable risk in defending the nation, some personnel savings must come from some modest adjustments that slow [compensation] growth – slow…but do not cut it.

Our partners: The Air Force must continue taking steps to expand and diversify its international partnerships.  The United States and the U.S. Air Force do not fight alone.  In space, the Air Force is operating a military satellite program with Australia, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.  The Air Force is maintaining a joint strategic airlift capability in Hungary, with 10 NATO allies and two NATO partners.

We have also established a NATO MQ-9 Reaper Users Group to enhance the allies' ISR - alliance's ISR capabilities.  In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan last year, decades of U.S. Air Force-led training and exercising enabled a coordinated response of C-130s from countries that included Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand, along with other aircraft from 24 nations. 

Especially in times of constrained resources, these and other partnership initiatives are vital, and they should deepen and broaden going forward. 

Capabilities:  Let me turn to capabilities, beginning with our nuclear deterrent.  This is the very foundation of U.S. national security.  No capability we maintain is more important than our nuclear deterrent.  No capability we maintain is more important than our nuclear deterrent.  As many of you know, earlier this year, following the revelations about troubling lapses and poor morale, Secretary Hagel traveled to see missileers at F.E. Warren and talked to launch control officers underground at Malmstrom.

Secretary Hagel also ordered comprehensive internal and external reviews of our entire nuclear enterprise, spanning the Air Force's ground- and air- based nuclear deterrent, as well as the Navy's submarine-based systems.  Today, Secretary Hagel is in full agreement with DOD's senior leaders that America's nuclear deterrent remains a safe, secure, effective, and reliable force.

However, it has become clear to Secretary Hagel and DOD's senior leadership that a consistent lack of investment and support for our nuclear forces for far too many years has left us with little margin to cope with mounting stresses. 

The fundamental problem has not been a lack of rhetoric or top-to-bottom reviews.  It has been a lack of focus, attention, and resources.  It has been a pervasive sense that a career in the nuclear enterprise offers too few opportunities for growth or advancement.

That is something that Secretary Hagel knows too well from his conversations with personnel within the nuclear enterprise. 

We will fix this.  DOD will ensure that our joint nuclear enterprise attracts the best people and that it's coherent, integrated, synchronized, on a sustainable path to modernization.

Under Secretary James' and General Welsh's leadership, the Air Force has already taken significant steps in the right direction by excepting 4,000 nuclear force airmen and women [from] manpower…reductions and adding new billets to the Global Strike Command; by reshaping nuclear force training, evaluation, and management; by increasing its ICBM force budget over $100 million over fiscal years '14 and '15; and as Secretary James announced here on Monday, by offering special investment pay for critical nuclear assignments.

The Navy is pursuing important steps, as well.  Both services are moving to elevate and reinforce the nuclear mission, including in the program budgets they are preparing for fiscal year 2016.  There is much more we need to do leading up to our modernization program in the next decade.  We will do what needs to be done.

As we do so, Secretary Hagel wants to speak directly to the Air Force's nuclear enterprise - bomber crews, missileers, and their support teams - some of you here today, some of whom Secretary Hagel has met over the last years…units like the distinguished 898th Munitions Squadron at Kirtland Air Force Base.

I was with Secretary Hagel when he visited Kirtland, and I was with him when he went to F.E. Warren.  And I will tell you that he takes this very, very seriously.  And I've had enough experience in the Pentagon - I'm speaking for myself now - to know how seriously your national leadership takes the nuclear mission.  That starts with a President, and it runs through the Secretary of Defense.

I had the chance to have dinner with Secretary Hagel in a small Mexican restaurant in Albuquerque after we visited the site at Kirtland, and we talked a little bit about the emotional impact of seeing that vast amount of power in such a small, confined space, and what it meant to the nation to have responsibility for that enormous destructive power. 

It is not a small thing to our national leadership, to our national political leadership.  It is not a small thing to the Air Force.  And there is absolute commitment to this.  It is our most important mission, period, just because of the sheer destructive power that's involved and because of the criticality of it to our national security.

And I want to just reinforce that message on Secretary Hagel's behalf this morning.  He is very, very serious about this.  We will do what needs to be done. 

For too long, our leaders have not [done] enough to support the missileers and the others involved in this enterprise – overlooking career paths, compensation, decaying infrastructure, and small unit leadership that are mission-critical.  That is changing.  It will continue to change.  Know that what you do every day is foundational to America's national security and the top priority of the Department of Defense - the top priority of the Department of Defense.

Secretary Hagel wants you and our entire military to know that comes from him personally. 

Beyond the nuclear enterprise, we have a responsibility to maintain America's air superiority in any operation now and in the future.  Preparing for the decades ahead requires careful planning and investments now – and hard choices also.

To meet our modernization requirements, we will need Congress's support in retiring venerable platforms that have outlived their cost and mission effectiveness. 

The A-10 has saved many lives, including those of some fellow Army officers and some fellow enlisted men for Secretary Hagel.  Today it has become unaffordable within our available budgets.  We also need to retire the aging decades-old U-2 in favor of the remotely piloted Global Hawk.  The Global Hawk, incidentally, earned its way back into our budget by successfully reducing sustainment costs.  For industry people here, please take that to note.

The savings achieved through retiring these platforms will help the Air Force maintain and acquire more cutting-edge technology and weapons systems.  That is why the President's budget protects investments in next-generation jet engine technology, as well as priority modernization programs, including the new long-range strike bomber, the KC-46 tanker, and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. 

High-end platforms like the F-22 and the F-35 will always have a vital role in our fleet.  The F-22 will continue to underwrite America's air dominance for a generation.  The F-35, with its unique networking capabilities, coupled with its electronic warfare, advanced sensors, stealth, and advanced weapon systems will enable the United States and its closest partners and allies to dominate in the air, and conduct joint operations more effectively than ever before.

A primary mission of the F-35 and our fighter squadrons is to open the door for the rest of the air fleet and the military – to enable less sophisticated platforms such as the Air Force's remotely-piloted aircraft to operate freely and successfully.  And the demand for remotely-piloted aircraft has grown.  It has grown exponentially from around 7,000 flying hours in 2001 to over 300,000 last year.  This year, they will account for 15 percent of all Air Force flying hours.  That number will only increase.

Given today's fiscal environment and the developments mentioned earlier, competitors' anti-access and area-denial strategies, the proliferation of advanced missiles and precision-guided munitions, and challenges in the air, space, and cyberspace, air dominance will not be won through tactical supremacy alone.  This has long-term implications for Air Force acquisition and for our budget.

In space, for example, the Air Force must adapt to a new environment in which space is no longer a sanctuary, but instead contested by other nations, an environment in which next-generation space architecture is being deployed by the private sector instead of by governments – an environment in which resilience is becoming as critical, if not more critical, than capability.

We can't completely predict the direction of technological change, but imagination and vision – and the innovation, both operationally and technically, that must accompany them – are what Secretary Hagel calls on the next generation of airmen and women to reach for in the years ahead. 

Secretary Hagel is confident that you will, because the 20,578 recruits who signed up to join the Air Force this year will join the ranks [of] extraordinary airmen and women who are already serving, people represented today by the Air Force Association's Airmen of the Year. 

And I'm just going to mention a couple of the people that were recognized, just to give you a sample of what these people are like. 

Senior Airman Shabree Heasell, an imagery analyst who until recently was based out of the 603rd Air and Space Operations Center at Ramstein: Senior Airman Heasell helped take down a dozen terrorist workshops and 20 IEDs.  She coauthored a training tool which was so good it was adopted by four major commands.  In her spare time, Senior Airman Heasell is a passionate advocate for victims of sexual assault.

People like Technical Sergeant Doug Matthews: a combat controller who was injured and blown from his vehicle when his team was ambushed in Afghanistan, but refused to medevac, insisted on staying in the fight, and providing cover for his team so they could escape.  After a year of intense recovery, Sergeant Matthews has returned to duty with the Air National Guard.

Our airmen also include people like Master Sergeant Delorean Sheridan, a static line and freefall jumpmaster who has deployed to Kosovo, Korea, Japan, the Philippines...and also to Afghanistan – four times to Afghanistan.  Master Sergeant Sheridan is not here today, because he's on orders in the Middle East, but his wife, Angela, is, and I'd like for all of us to recognize her on behalf of all the Air Force spouses and families who have worked - who serve alongside their airmen.

Angela, thank you.

And I'd like to recognize all of this year's outstanding airmen and women. Please stand.

Now, no Air Force speech is complete, I'm told, without quoting General Hap Arnold.  So let me close by quoting his memoirs, which came out not just before he passed away in 1950. 

Arnold wrote, "There is only one question that should be asked about the things we are doing in the military.  Did they fit into the modern way of war, the war of the future?  If they don't," he wrote, "we should be ruthless and throw them out.  We must think in terms of tomorrow.” 

“We must think in terms of tomorrow."

Hap Arnold's charge to America's airmen and women, like his legacy, endures.  It is yours to preserve and protect, and Secretary Hagel knows that you will.  Thank you very much.