28 Jan 15. The severe, multiyear budget cuts of sequestration will have a negative impact on the Defense Department and U.S. military technological superiority, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall told a congressional panel today.
Kendall testified before the House Armed Services Committee with Air Force Lt. Gen. Mark Ramsay, director of force structure, resources and assessment for the Joint Staff. The topic was the Department of Defense and technological change.
DoD has had a short break from sequestration since Congress reached a two-year budget agreement in December 2013. The agreement offered temporary relief from sequestration until 2016 and gave the Pentagon at least short-term stability on spending for the first time in several years.
Kendall recently was asked to advise the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on areas in which Congress could help DoD improve acquisition outcomes, he said. No. 1 by a wide margin, he said, was that Congress should end the threat of sequestration.
Sequestration and Technological Superiority
“This is a huge problem for the department,” Kendall told the panel, “and not just because of the uncertainty associated with the department’s ability to plan or the inadequate resources that sequestration levels will provide.”
He added, “I am very concerned about the increasing risk of loss of U.S. military technological superiority. We’re at risk and the situation is getting worse.”
Kendall said he came back to the Pentagon in 2010 after being away for 15 years.
“The intelligence estimates when I left in 1994 were that China was not much of a problem for us but they possibly could be in 10 or 15 years, based on their economic rate of growth at that time,” he recalled.
“I became, I think it’s fair to say, alarmed as soon as I started seeing technical intelligence reports on China’s modernization programs,” Kendall said, “and I can say the same about Russia’s modernization programs.”
The American Way of Warfare
Kendall said that what he’s seeing in foreign military modernization, particularly China’s, is “a suite of capabilities that are intended — clearly, to me at least — to defeat the American way of doing power projection, the American way of warfare when we fight in an expeditionary manner far from the United States.”
U.S. military systems depend on a few high-value assets, he added.
“We start with space-based assets — satellites, which in relatively small numbers provide an important function for intelligence, targeting and communications,” Kendall said.
Other elements are aircraft carriers, the basis for naval power projection, and airfields, the basis of the Air Force’s ability to project power, mainly using fighter aircraft, he added.
Threatening High-value Assets
Kendall said China is making advances “beyond what we have done … and it’s designed to threaten largely those high-value assets. The department is recognizing this [and] doing some things to try to address the problem.” Russia is also advancing military capabilities, though to a lesser extent, he said.
He added, “But we also have global commitments. We also have readiness concerns. We also have the threat of sequestration in front of us. So this is a serious problem for the country.”
A small number of assets are carrying the bulk of U.S. military power projection capability forward, Kendall said.
“They’re either Air Force bases that are already in the region or they’re carriers and carrier strike groups that are coming forward,” he added. “If you can target those and attack them with precision missiles, then you have a significant advantage. That’s the situation we’re increasingly faced with.”
Aerospace Innovation Initiative
Kendall also discussed a program called the Aerospace Innovation Initiative, part of the broader Defense Innovation Initiative that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced last fall. The larger program seeks to streamline DoD business processes, operational concepts, training and other activities.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency initially will lead the program, which will involve the Navy and the Air Force and develop prototypes for next-generation air-dominance platforms or X-Plane experimental programs, Kendall said.
“To be competitive, the Navy and the Air Force each will have variants focused on their mission requirements. There will be a technology period leading up to development of the prototypes,” he added, and a reduction of the lead time it takes to produce next-generation capability.
“This will lead to the systems that ultimately will come after the F-35,” Kendall said.
The Next Generation’s F-35
Part of the effort is an airframe-oriented program with X-Plane prototypes, he added.
“Part of what we put under the Aerospace Innovation Initiative is a jet-engine-development program for the next generation, and competitive prototypes for next-generation propulsion,” Kendall told the panel.
Kendall said one effort designed to address economic challenges is an acquisition tool called Better Buying Power 3.0. BBP 3.0 continues core aspects of earlier versions, shifting the department’s focus toward technical excellence and innovation.
“It’s a response to the technological superiority concerns,” the acquisition chief said.
The Progress of Acquisition Reform
Answering a question from the panel on the progress of acquisition reform, Kendall said improving the professionalism of the government workforce has the greatest potential over the long term of improving acquisition outcomes.
“We need to give our people the tools and the training and the experience they need to do their jobs,” he said, “and then we need to get out of their way a lot of the things that make it harder for them to do their jobs.”
Kendall added, “Leadership and professional skills honed over decades do matter, perhaps more than any other factor that we can influence.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)