Congressmen, senators, federal officials, industry executives and senior military commanders have heard from Frank Kendall, Secretary of the US Air Force (USAF), that "the greatest strategic threat" to the United States and the Biden Administration "is China, not Russia".
Speaking at the opening session of the Air Warfare Symposium that closed on Friday, 4 March, in Orlando, Florida, Kendall cautioned the nation's taxpayers. Although Vladimir Putin is keeping the invasion of Ukraine on track and Russia represents "a serious danger to our European allies", China remains "the primary concern and cause for mistrust" for the Department of Defense, he told the forum organised by the Air Force Association (AFA).
The fact that the Kremlin is not America's first and foremost strategic threat "does not mean that it has been ruled out as such" in the new National Security and Defence Strategy that the Biden Administration is in the process of drafting, Kendall stressed.
Unlike Moscow, Beijing possesses great economic power, has significant financial resources and has been investing heavily in new space and defence capabilities for the past three decades. It has far greater regional and global ambitions than Russia, it has the resources to achieve its goals, and its system of government is authoritarian and repressive. It is for all these reasons that Frank Kendall insists that "our greatest strategic threat is China, China and China".
At the age of 73 and at the helm of the USAF since August 2021, the veteran Democratic politician has told the large professional audience in Orlando and via telematics that his personal goal is to "instil a sense of urgency" in efforts to "ensure the modernisation and improvement" of the Air Force in all its aspects. To achieve this, his team has developed a roadmap he calls "the 7 operational imperatives", which by 2022 have a federal budget of more than $168 billion.
Each of the 7 lines of action is intended to generate the thinking and culture with which to obtain the most urgent new technologies to achieve an Air and Space Force "capable of deterring, preventing our adversaries from operating with impunity and, if necessary, defeating them". Kendall wants to achieve an aviation and space force capable of "emerging victorious from potential armed conflict, such as an attack on our European allies or an invasion of Taiwan", he said.
China is the United States' "main competitor in space", he confirmed. With a large family of space launchers, more than a hundred intercontinental ballistic missile systems with ranges between 5,000 and 10,000 kilometres fired from ground and submarine silos, hypersonic weapons under development and significant progress in the use of anti-satellite systems, "Beijing threatens the security of US civilian and military space infrastructure and that of our allies", he stressed.
At the top of the Top Seven list is the definition and construction of a space architecture and order of battle. Kendall has convinced the White House and Capitol Hill that it is imperative to erect a global outer space umbrella to armour the US Armed Forces and provide them with the highest degree of resilience and efficiency in terms of secure communications, targeting, intelligence, command and control.
To implement his plans, the Air Force chief has the full support of Space Force Operations chief Lieutenant General John "Jay" Raymond, who is about to turn 60. And with the guidance of Google's executive chairman from 2001 to 2011, Eric Schmidt, 66, who advocates that the application of AI in weapons systems and decision-making will have such a multiplier effect that "it will have a seismic impact on future wars".
But who is the current USAF Secretary and what is his role in the Biden Administration? Frank Kendall is one of the Pentagon's strongmen and a figure in the full confidence of the Secretary of State for Defence, retired Lieutenant General Lloyd James Austin, 68, under whose guidance he operates. He is no newcomer to Washington's security and defence establishment, as none of the people chosen to assume senior responsibilities in the defence department, whether in a Democratic or Republican administration, have been for decades.
With responsibility for organising, training, arming and equipping the US Air and Space Forces, Kendall already served as Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics during the second Obama Administration (2012-2017). During those years, he had the courage to shut down production of the F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighter for two years and to halt production of the advanced GPS III satellites until their manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, was able to resolve anomalies in both projects.
Before taking up such an important post, Kendall had already managed major military projects between 1988 and 1994 under Presidents Donald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton, thus winning the confidence of both Republicans and Democrats.
To complete his professional profile, he is a retired lieutenant colonel of the US Army, where he trained at the West Point Military Academy and served for 11 years. A law graduate and engineer, he has also held a number of senior positions in private industry, including Vice President of Engineering at Raytheon Corporation, the world's leading manufacturer of missiles, radars and air defence systems. In short, he is a veteran with half a century of experience in the senior management of US defence matters.