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Air Force secretary: Branch focused on confronting China, must retire old platforms

Air Force secretary: Branch focused on confronting China, must retire old platforms
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall delivers remarks Monday during the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md. Photo by Wayne Clark/U.S. Air Force

Sept. 20 (UPI) -- In his first public speech Monday, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said the branch is looking toward confronting China, as well as unity in its ranks, and added that the service needs to retire older aircraft and programs -- and focus on ones that actually work.

Kendall made the remarks during the Air Force Association Air Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., as a "blueprint" for the Air and Space forces, Congress and others to follow to meet national security challenges, the U.S. Air Force said in a press release.

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During the speech, before several thousand active-duty personnel, congressional staffers and others in the defense industry, Kendall said "time is short" to address these security challenges.

"While America is still the dominant military power on the planet today, we are being more effectively challenged militarily than at any -- any -- other time in our history," he said.

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Kendall made it clear that the most pressing of those challenges was China in his speech.

"So what are my intentions now that I have this job?" he asked rhetorically. "At a breakfast on Capitol Hill shortly after I was sworn in, I was asked by Sen. Jon Tester what my priorities were. My answer was that I had three; China, China, and China."

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Altogether, Kendall mentioned "China 27 times in the speech compared to a single mention of Russia and Afghanistan three times," the Air Force said in the press release.

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The West Point graduate with over 50 years of service as an Army officer, and former top Defense Department official in the Obama administration, who was tapped in April for the position, and sworn-in a couple months ago, also focused on unity.

Kendall said his organizing principle is found in four words: "One team, one fight."

He added that it was crucial to abide by a "one team" approach by pointing out that recent history shows there has been devastating consequences otherwise.

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"There is a lesson from the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban that we as Americans, and we as Airmen and Guardians, should not miss," Kendall said.

The Air Force chief said that while historians and policy analysts will spend years working to understand why the Afghan government fell so quickly after 20 years of U.S. and allied support and training, one thing is "painfully clear."

"The Afghan government and military were not 'one team' engaged in 'one fight.' Even when faced with an existential threat to their freedom, they could not overcome their internal divisions and unite against a common enemy. As a direct result, the people of Afghanistan have lost their freedom," Kendall said.

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Kendall also noted that the Air and Space Forces need to address lingering internal problems such as diversity, sexual assault and harassment.

He referred to a "significant disparity" between members of less well represented groups and the "white male majority," and pledged to get to work on it.

"One notable perception gap is between a majority that generally thinks things are basically fine, and everyone else where there is a strong perception that it is not all fine ... My intent is to actively address each of these issues," Kendall said.

Kendall also addressed Congress in his speech, saying that with money limited and the challenge from China continuing to grow, there should be adjustments in spending -- such as retiring older, outmoded aircraft -- to free up funds for next-generation planes and other newer equipment.

"The Air Force must be allowed to have a mix of aircraft, systems and capabilities that maximize the ability to carry out any mission, anywhere, anytime," he said. "The service cannot afford to carry older and less capable equipment."

"We will not succeed against a well-resourced and strategic competitor if we insist on keeping every legacy system we have," he added in the speech. "Our one team cannot win its fight to deter China or Russia without the resources we need and a willingness to balance risk today to avoid much greater risk in the future."

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