Secretary Kendall initiates review of Department of the Air Force to ‘re-optimize’ for future conflict

“China has been re-optimizing its forces for great power competition and to prevail against the US in the western Pacific for over 20 years. We must do the same,” Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said.
Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall delivers a keynote address at the Air and Space Forces Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept 11, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Andy Morataya)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Over the next few months, the Department of the Air Force will undergo a “broad review” to better prepare for great power competition, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall announced Monday.

“The Air Force and Space Force are incredibly capable, but we need to re-optimize the department for greater power projection and for great power competition,” Kendall said during a keynote address at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber conference. “The war we need to be most ready for if we want to optimize our readiness to deter or respond to the pacing challenge is not the type of conflict we have been focused on for many years. Our need to re-optimize is widespread.”

The review kicked off last week with high-level meetings with the secretariat and the Air and Space Forces, Kendall said. The goal is to have identified and begun executing the changes needed across the department by next January, during which the effort will shift from “identification and analysis of alternatives and to execution of recommendations,” he added.

“My goal is by the time we meet at the next AFA, the changes that we need to re-optimize for great power competition and possibly for conflict will be well underway,” Kendall said.


Since taking the helm as the Air Force’s top civilian in 2021, Kendall has spearheaded a number of initiatives aimed at better preparing and modernizing the department for possible conflict in the Indo-Pacific with China, which the United States considers to be its “pacing challenge,” as well as Russia and other adversaries.

“China has been re-optimizing its forces for great power competition and to prevail against the US in the western Pacific for over 20 years. We must do the same,” Kendall said.

And although the Department of the Air Force has begun allocating funding towards Kendall’s seven operational imperatives — a list of action items necessary to counter future threats — and established three cross-cutting operational enablers to focus budget and programming decisions, more changes are needed, he said.

“As I have visited units and bases and have been exposed to our current approach to functions such as manning, training, deploying and sustaining the Air Force and Space Force, it’s become clear that change is needed in almost all areas,” Kendall said.

The latest effort will be conducted by five teams each focused on a major line of effort, he said. Those include organizing at headquarters and in the field; how the department equips the force; recruitment and talent management; readiness across both the Air and Space Forces; and the range of ways that the department supports operational units. 


“It will be an inclusive process, open to and encouraging of innovative thinking,” Kendall said. “Just as we have challenging and innovating potential adversaries, we must be open to new ways of organizing and doing business ourselves.”

At the same time, Kendall urged Congress to swiftly pass its budget on time to avoid a lengthy continuing resolution, which would force the Pentagon to operate under the previous fiscal year’s budget amounts and not begin work on new-start programs.

“Now, the ship may have sailed on this request, CRs of any length are hugely inefficient and delay much-needed modernization,” he said. Any continuing resolution that lasts past December would cause “more serious damage” to national security, he added.

He pointed to his initiative sent to Congress in April, which asks lawmakers to grant the Air Force permission to begin work on new-start programs while under a continuing resolution, as a way to buy down risk and begin new modernization efforts imminently. 

“We’ve already waited for a little over a year … to start working on modernization initiatives,” he said. “By giving the department the flexibility to kick start its most urgent programs early, this initiative will prevent us from losing ground unnecessarily to the military technological race with China.”

Mikayla Easley

Written by Mikayla Easley

Mikayla Easley reports on the Pentagon’s acquisition and use of emerging technologies. Prior to joining DefenseScoop, she covered national security and the defense industry for National Defense Magazine. She received a BA in Russian language and literature from the University of Michigan and a MA in journalism from the University of Missouri. You can follow her on Twitter @MikaylaEasley

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