A Conversation with Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall


Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall was kind enough to spend some time with Ryan talking about the reorganization of the Department of the Air Force and modernization. They also discussed the challenges new entrants have breaking into working with the Defense Department. And they closed with a brief discussion about resistance to plans to move some Air National Guard members from six states into the Space Force.

Image: Air Force photo by Eric R. Dietrich




Ryan Evans:

You are listening to the War on the Rocks podcast on strategy, defense, and foreign affairs. My name is Ryan Evans. I’m the founder of War on the Rocks and in this episode, I sat down with the Secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall. We talked about the reorganization of the department of the Air Force that he’s leading, as well as modernization issues. Enjoy the episode. So, how does one become Secretary of the Air Force? Is there going to be a job opening soon? Is this something I might be eligible for?

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall (00:36):

As far as I know there won’t be a job opening soon, but you never know. It was not a job that I had anticipated I would have, I’ll put it that way. I’m a technocrat basically, I’m a program management, engineering, intersectional technology, and operations technical person basically, and had spent most of my time working in research and development of new products for the Defense Department, either in government or in industry. The last position in government before this one was undersecretary for acquisition technology and logistics, which really fit well with my background, but I had an opportunity to come back and if I was going to get one of the service military department roles, this was the one I wanted. I’m an aerospace engineer. I’m an Army officer, but I’m also an aerospace engineer and spent my career working on a lot of both space and air programs and I felt I could make the greatest contribution here. By some miracle, I guess that’s how I ended up here.

Evans (01:30):

Let’s go back to the beginning. Where’d you grow up?

Kendall (01:32):

I grew up in Western Massachusetts on a small apple farm, Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts, Ethan Frome country, if you’re familiar with that. Small town of 1,000 people, one of four children. My father passed away when I was 10 and we had a half-built house. We had sold the farm and we were moving into… Kept about 10 acres and my father was in the process of building the house we were going to live in when he died and the people from the town came and finished the house for us. It was a real example of New England, tight community. Everybody took care of everybody else and grew up there and then went off to college eventually and haven’t been back much since, frankly.

Evans (02:13):

When did you join the Army and why?

Kendall (02:15):

I went to West Point and I was very interested in the military. My father had been in the Navy. I became kind of a military history buff as a kid and I had bad eyes. I think if I’d had good eyes, I might’ve followed my father and gone into the Navy, but Annapolis wouldn’t take people didn’t have 20/20 vision at the time. It was during Vietnam and I knew I couldn’t fly, so the Air Force, although I loved aviation, I was an aviation buff, I couldn’t be a pilot, so I couldn’t see going into the Air Force and not being able to fly, so I ended up at West Point because of that.

Evans (02:45):

So, the Army was sort of your third choice in a way.

Kendall (02:48):

I don’t tell my classmates that and it was the accessible option and I was interested in all three, so that was the one that I was able to realize.

Evans (02:58):

What was your time in the Army like? What’d you do?

Kendall (03:00):

I did some troop leading. I spent three years in Germany as a battery commander most of that time. During the height of the Cold War, I was commanded a HAWK air-defense battery there, but I also spent time in grad school as an engineer, aerospace engineering, taught engineering at West Point, and then spent a year as a general’s aide program manager for ballistic missile defense at the time for the Army. And then I did Army project management basically as an engineer, left after almost 11 years in the Army.

Evans (03:27):

What was the decision to sort of pull the plug on that part of your life and move on to civilian life?

Kendall (03:31):

It’s a combination of factors, but I had done things that I really enjoyed and found very interesting in the Army, and when I called my detail, this is almost funny, it is funny, I guess, I asked him what I was likely to do next. I was up for promotion to major and I was going to go to the Command & General Staff College were my next steps, and I was at a point where doing that would’ve incurred an obligation. It would’ve made it kind of ridiculous not to stay at least till 20. And I asked what job I would have next and I was told they wouldn’t tell me. I had to go take the commitment, take the promotion in school, but I was most likely going to be an action officer in the Pentagon and I had no desire to work in the Pentagon at the time.

Evans (04:08):

Wow, the irony.

Kendall (04:09):

I know, there was a little irony there.

Evans (04:12):

Just for the listeners at home, the staff is giggling right now.

Kendall (04:15):

I have now spent 20 years at the Pentagon.

Evans (04:18):

That’s great. Well, what’d you do as a civilian? What was your first civilian job?

Kendall (04:22):

I started out in civil service doing system engineering basically on missile defense programs. Then after a couple of years of that, I transitioned to operational analysis, running operational analysis for missile defense. President Reagan started the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983 and I became the Army’s lead analyst on the Army’s ground-based part of the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Evans (04:43):

Who was the best boss you had in the Army? Tell me about that person.

Kendall (04:47):

Oh wow, it was actually a civilian that I worked for in the Ballistic Missile Defense Program Office who I think helped me get opportunities to grow and put me in positions where I could learn more and expand the range of things I was able and ready to do.

Evans (05:07):

Do you know whatever happened to that person?

Kendall (05:09):

He passed away. He’s been gone for a while now. I remember him very fondly. Jim Katechis.

Evans (05:15):

What is a book that meant a lot to you at that time in your life while you were either in the Army or early in your civilian life after the Army sort of in the ’80s?

Kendall (05:25):

That’s a hard question. The first thing that came to mind was possibly The Best and Brightest. The account for the decision-making process, and mostly the Johnson administration during Vietnam, and how we got ourselves into Vietnam and how hard it was for us to extract ourselves, because that was sort of the formative part of my… I was at West Point for the last few years of Vietnam and people that were serving with me there who I’d been with as a cadet didn’t come back in some cases. My class had a half a dozen people volunteer and spent six months there. I didn’t go to Vietnam myself, but I lived that. That was a formative experience for me.

Evans (06:01):

So, I guess we should start talking about Air Force stuff and Space Force stuff.

Kendall (06:05):


Evans (06:06):

Do you have a favorite? Do you play favorites?

Kendall (06:08):

No, I have, I wear cufflinks, one for each. I’ve got a Space Force cufflink on one arm, and an Air Force on the other, and they end up on random sides every morning.

Evans (06:18):

So, you’ve announced what I think is anyway, as an extremely ambitious reform and reorganization for the Department of the Air Force. What motivated that?

Kendall (06:28):

It was not an original intent that I came into office almost three years ago. The thing that I came into office really focused on was modernization, and that was partly because of the experience I’d had when I was undersecretary for acquisition. But as I got to know the Air Force better over the first couple of years I was here and talked to service chiefs and a number of leaders at all levels throughout both the Air and Space Forces, it became… And then I bring to the table my Cold War experience, 20 years as a Cold War… So those years, those two decades were a time when we were very focused on great power competition. So, I know what that looks like, what that is. People serving today for 30 years, we haven’t been in that environment, so they don’t have that kind of visceral feel for what it’s like and what it should be like, and an observation that we were not doing the things we needed to do to the extent we should at least to be competitive.

I had to do ad hoc things. I had to form ad hoc organizations to attack certain problems. I didn’t have an organization that had a mission of doing some of the modernization things that we needed to do. I had to put together an organization to manage all of our integrated command and control battle management work, which we didn’t have. And once upon a time we would’ve had system centers, which would’ve naturally done that sort of work. We didn’t have futures-focused organizations, we didn’t have units we don’t have. We’re working on getting all these. We don’t have units that are as ready as they need to be to deploy as a unit and fight without any notice, something we routinely practiced and stressed during the Cold War. So, as I started having conversations with people at all levels, it became more apparent to me, and one of the things I discovered was that I wasn’t alone in this.

A lot of the leadership within the Air Force and the Space Force recognized the need to do this, and once we started talking about it, became much more self-evident that we needed to make some major changes. And this started when Gen. Brown was still chief of staff. It continued obviously with Gen. Allvin, so we launched an effort to identify the changes we needed to make. It took about four or five months to do that and came out of that with a number of decisions that are going to posture the department, I think, to be much more competitive going forward.

Evans (08:29):

So, I like a lot of the ideas and I believe in what you’re trying to do. The big concern that I have is timing and the politics of it. So starting with the first one, this might be the last year of the Biden administration. We have an election coming up and the American people will decide what happens next. What are your thoughts on the feasibility of getting any of this done, frankly, before the end of this, what might be the first term or might be the end of the presidency?

Kendall (08:52):

Frankly, I’m not worried about that for two reasons, but the principal reason is that the uniform leadership is a hundred percent behind what we’re doing. Gen. Allvin, Gen. Saltzman of both for the Air and Space Force both made that very clear and I just had a conversation with Gen. Alvin this morning about it, where he’s telling people that my next 3.5 years are going to be about this. This is what I’m going to do in my tour here. The second reason is that I think we’re off to a really good start and I think we’ve got widespread institutional support to keep going. We’re going to have a lot of things either done or well underway before the end of this calendar year, so I’m not terribly worried about that.

I would like to stay and continue the work. I think it’s important work and I’m happy to be part of it, but I think we’ll be in a pretty good posture to go ahead. When I initially proposed this to Secretary Austin, told him I wanted to do it. He asked that same question and this was about a year ago and I said, “Okay, two things. We’re going to have a quick decision-making process to get to the answers we need, and then we’re going to start executing with about a year left in the administration so that’ll get the momentum side and I’m going to absolutely be sure that I have full support from the chiefs.” So that’s the path that we’re on.

Evans (09:58):

So walk me through some of the big muscle movements, big changes that you’re working on.

Kendall (10:03):

They fall in different categories. One of them is about creating organizations whose mission is to keep us competitive in the future, keep us continuously competitive. We’re in a long-term strategic competition, so there’s a part of that that’s about maximizing current readiness and there’s a part of it that’s about staying ahead over time. So the new organizations tend to be about the latter of those two, the Integrated Capabilities Command on the Air Force side and the Space Futures Command on the Space Force side. We’re doing some other things to posture ourselves to be competitive, both on the operational side and the acquisition side. Competitive, again, over time. So that’s one piece of it. We’re going to focus our readiness generating units on generating readiness. And for the Air Force, that’s largely Air Combat Command, Global Strike Command, Air Mobility Command.

Evans (10:50):

Does that mean they weren’t focused on that?

Kendall (10:51):

They had multiple jobs, they were focused on that, but that was one of several things they were asked to do. Over time, we had to be more efficient in the headquarters, given a lot more responsibility to individual major commands throughout the Air Force, and so they were very deluded in the things that they were trying to do simultaneously. So the responsibility for an integrated future capability, we’re going to put in one place in both the Air and Space Force.

And we’re going to have those operational commands focus on the readiness of the forces that they have and be committed to doing that and generate as much capability as possible for any contingency to mobilize at any time. Then the other thing of course is there’s a people piece of this, which is about the skill sets and how we develop people and so on. We’re creating warrant officers in cyber and IT because we need that kind of technical expertise with master tradesmen, if you will, who stay current in those fields and keep us competitive there.

We’re doing more integrated training on our Space Force officers so that they have a mix of capabilities and skill sets and can work better as a team because of that. And then in the Air Force we’re trying to broaden, we’re trying to improve our scientific and engineering depth and we’re also trying to give people more broadening experiences that help with their careers and are related to the pacing challenge that we face and preparing us for the kind of conflict that we might have to go into. So those are sort of the big pieces of what we’re trying to do.

Evans (12:12):

Some of these things sound familiar from the Army experience, warrant officers, futures command. How much of that was directly informed by what you observed the Army doing?

Kendall (12:21):

It was informed by that and other things too. It was partly informed by what the Air Force had been doing during the Cold War and what I’d gotten familiar with in the first 20 years of my career. I worked with the Air Force a lot. I mentioned I was doing missile defense, which was largely… Initially it was defense ICBMs. So the Air Force trained me in program management basically, but I had a lot of experience when I was in the Pentagon. I was director of tactical warfare program for OSD, so I had air, ground and navy and space. I had all that.

So I got a lot of exposure to what all the services were doing during that period of competition, but the Army’s Futures Command is not exactly what we’re doing, the two organizations we’re creating, but there is some similarities. Warrant officers, that was a direct impact because I had worked with warrant officers when I was in a troop leadership position. We had two maintenance in that case. Warrant officers in my unit who were the, again, master tradesmen at that, keeping the Hawk radars and missile system and battle command and everything operational.

And they knew that system inside out and they were 45, 50-year-old people and that was what they did and that’s what they liked doing and they were great at it. We need that kind of expertise. And we need it in areas where technology is changing quickly and people need to stay current, stay in the field and stay current. So that was a direct experience I brought over from the army that motivated me in part anyway. On the issue of recreating, if you will, warrant officers in the Air Force.

Evans (13:47):

You obviously spent about a year socializing this within the Air Force, I would imagine.

Kendall (13:52):

A few months as we went through the four- or five-month period of trying to figure out what to do, there was a lot of conversations. Gen. Alvin, Gen. Saltzman had a lot of conversations and members of the team had a lot and that’s continuing. Communications is probably one of the most important things that we do.

Evans (14:08):

Can you give me an example of something that you were planning on doing as a part of this or tentatively where you received feedback from the force in some way and changed direction on it?

Kendall (14:18):

I don’t think there was much of that. There was not much resistance to what we were doing. There were two things that we had some trouble with. One was the warrant officer thing, which I think there was… The Army uses warrant officers for pilots and I think that there was concern we might do that here. We don’t intend to do that and we’re not going to [inaudible 00:14:35]

Evans (14:35):

Probably scared of a lot of people with funny names.

Kendall (14:39):

The other one that was some discussion about was how we have the structure for command of our bases set up. Right now we have a lot of bases, larger bases where there’s a base wing commanded by someone who’s in charge of all the support functions on the base, and then there’s an operational wing where you have the airplanes that you would actually take into a fight. What we realized was that if we’re going to have a deployable wing that is ready to go and has trained together, everybody knows what their job is, everybody understands what everybody else’s job is, and you’re used to working together in an organization and you have trust of each other and your skill capabilities, you want that to be a coherent single unit that’s ready to go. And to inform those units, we’re going to have to take a lot of the stuff that’s might be in a base wing and put it into the operational wing. And so the question then became what do you do about that base wing commander? Because now he doesn’t have the access to the same amount of things.

So we looked at two or three different ways to do that and we’re still working our way through the details there. So that one is still under discussion to some degree.

Evans (15:39):

A big part of this is you mentioned communications is change management, is whenever you make a major change to a large organization, there are people at all levels, lowest level to the highest level that are thinking quietly or out loud or both. How is this going to affect my autonomy, my ability to do my job, my resources? How are you thinking through that aspect of this?

Kendall (16:02):

Well, I have all those years now in the Pentagon that we talked about earlier, so I understand how the bureaucracy works and how hard it is to get things done in this bureaucracy. I’ve also worked a lot of different levels, so I understand how resistance to change can manifest itself. And I knew going in and the chiefs and I are all together on this and the Undersecretary, that if we let the normal processes take control of this, we’ll never get it done. So what we’re doing is we’re actively managing, we’re meeting monthly roughly to get progress assessments from people.

Having those meetings with senior leadership focuses the mind remarkably, and it makes people do things so that they’re moving forward and it also gives you an opportunity to resolve any differences where people are resisting a change that for whatever reason, good or bad, they don’t like you can overcome that. So hands-on management, frequent touch points, consistent messaging, tenacity and persistence are all part of the equation.

Evans (16:57):

So that’s a perfect transition into modernization because you said if we do this through the normal process, it’ll never get done. This is your bread and butter, very familiar with the work you did in your last job during the Obama administration. Big admirer of a lot of stuff that you accomplished and tried to accomplish. On modernization, and this is not just specific to the department of the Air Force, but it’s really across the whole force. Senior leaders talk a big game and I think want to do the right thing and want to make changes.

And it gets stuck because the bureaucracy, and this is not to denigrate professionals who are dedicated and mission-driven and all that, but there are a lot of people that are just comfortable in the old way of doing things and have a million reasons to say no and no reasons to say yes. And we just are stuck with the old way of doing things. I’ve experienced this myself with my other company, which is a dual-use technology company.

I talk to founders of defense tech companies all the time who are banging their heads against the wall trying to work with the defense department because they’ve answered the call that’s been laid out there by senior leaders.

How do we bridge the gap between the soaring rhetoric of senior leaders like you and Secretary Austin about how we need to get new entrants into the defense marketplace, we need to modernize the force and get new innovative tech, and the reality of a system that is still stuck with the old way of doing things?

Kendall (18:18):

I have a different answer to that than most people do. Most people have, as you kind of alluded, blame the bureaucracy. There’s something to that. The contracting process can be cumbersome. It’s a difficult market to break into if you’re not used to doing business with it. We’ve got a number of things in place, other transaction authorities and so on, commercial solutions offerings, things like that that can make it easier for people.

Evans (18:40):

But they aren’t used. You’re right.

Kendall (18:41):

They’re not used as much as they could be, but we actually have a bigger problem. It’s one that doesn’t get much attention. I had somebody walk in my office when I was in the acquisition job. What they said to me was, “We understand you have a problem with innovation.” And my answer was, “No, I don’t have a problem with innovation. I have a problem with money.” The reason things don’t get across the valley of death is because there’s not enough money to buy them. It’s cheap to start things.

It’s hard to buy them at scale and quantity and field them into the force. And we have a tendency, and I’ve seen a lot of this, to start a lot of things that we will never be able to afford. And for a variety of reasons…I have right now, before I mentioned, resourcing…As I look at my budget, and this has been many years of doing this now, there’s a long list of things I’d like to be able to afford and buy, particularly in the modernization side of the house, that I don’t have enough money for.

Evans (19:33):

Like what?

Kendall (19:34):

I’ll give you one example. I would like to move forward much more quickly on counter space capabilities than I can. And I’ve said this to the Congress this year. Under the operational imperative work that we did, we identified about $100 billion of the FYDP, five years of things we wanted to buy for $100 billion as what we needed. We divided that up into three categories. The first one was essential. There was about 40 billion in that. And the other two roughly equally were high leverage, really worth doing, and good to have if you have enough money. We basically got the essential things funded, but all the rest of those things we don’t have enough money for.

And it’s a pretty long list. So when some new idea is brought forward, it’s got to compete with all those things we already can’t afford and the things that are above the line. There are any number of areas we could move more quickly on. Munitions. We’d like to have more munitions in the stockpile than we have. So, the reason that more doesn’t get bought and brought in is two-fold,. There’s not enough money to buy it or it’s something that sounded attractive, but it just didn’t get high enough on the priority list. It didn’t turn out to be cost-effective at the end of the day when set up against all the other things that one could buy.

Evans (20:45):

So I agree with you to an extent, but I think you’re wrong fundamentally, and here’s why, and I’m saying this knowing that I’m arguing with someone who has forgotten more about acquisitions than I’ll ever know, but I agree that there needs to be more money on procurement, especially for certain things. So to take another service as an illustrative example and to make it a little easier to talk candidly about it. So, Secretary Del Toro got beat up the other day on the hill about shipbuilding. And I think to a certain extent it was unfair because, yes, it’s true, the administration should be taking a much more aggressive position in terms of the budget it submitted on shipbuilding accounts, but Congress also had the Shipyards Act and didn’t move on it, and that would’ve been 25 billion for more maritime infrastructure and it didn’t go anywhere.

So, we know we need more money for certain things in the Navy like ships and shipyards and things like that, and it doesn’t happen. So I know there’s things like that in the Air Force too, and we don’t need to name specific systems and specific companies. And I know that lots of things get funded initially on the RDT&E stuff through AFWERX that don’t cross the valley of death. But only part of the reason is money. Part of the reason is there’s no champions in the bureaucracy who care about these companies going anywhere. You can give these companies phase one, phase two SBIRs and no one gives a crap what happens to them next in the Air Force because it’s no one’s job to care.

Kendall (22:02):

Let me react to that. We care about our mission. We care about the capabilities we provide our airmen and guardians. We want a robust, strong industrial base.

Evans (22:10):

I think a lot of these companies care about the mission too. I think a lot of them-

Kendall (22:13):

I agree with that. I absolutely do. I think there are a lot of patriotic people out there trying to do the right thing, but it’s a limited set of assets and what we do divert for strengthening the industrial base needs to be things that are very high priority and are connected to our needs. I was just talking to Bill LaPlante yesterday about some of this. He’s done a great job of responding to the needs for the Ukrainian conflict, in particular where he’s increasing our capacity to build artillery shells, for example. We do have small amounts of money and you mentioned a couple of them, AFWERX, places like that where we can do early-stage SBIRs. Early phases are very inexpensive. And even doing a prototyping, those are 5 or 10% at most of the cost of a product, to bring the product in. If you haven’t got the other 90%, you’re basically not going to go anywhere. And we can’t just give money to companies because we think the companies have a lot of talent and are useful. We’ve got to give it to something that we’re going to actually get to provide mission capability. One of the things we’re trying to do in the Air Force and Space Force is discipline ourselves to not start things that we’re never going to field. And in many cases, we have started things which sounds attractive for some reason, whatever feature they might have, but when you think through the operational implications of actually putting them into the inventory and doing them at scale, it becomes clear pretty quickly that this isn’t going to make any sense. We’re not going to be able to do this. And I think we do a disservice to the companies and to ourselves by diverting money into those things unless there’s a reasonable expectation that they’re going to go into production and actually be fielded.

Again, we have a number of organizations now, DARPA, SCO, DIU, AFWERX to some degree, even the lab, that have a pile of money, of some size, that they can allocate out to move technology forward. But those piles of money are not necessarily connected to the needs. One of the main things we’re trying to do with re-optimizing with these new organizations is have organizations whose responsibility it is to field a pipeline of new products over time. And that’ll get at what you asked about because it’ll ensure, to a greater extent than we do now, certainly, that we start things that have a reasonable shot at getting into the inventory and don’t start things that have no shot at getting into the inventory. And I think that’ll benefit everybody, quite frankly. That’s basically wasted money when we’re spending it on things that will never be produced.

Evans (24:34):

So I agree with everything you just said, but if you just focus on the problem is, “We need more money,” so you’re either going to get it, which-

Kendall (24:42):

That’s one piece of the problem, but it’s-

Evans (24:45):

-but as the main problem. You’re either going to get it, which is great, and I hope you do, but then you’re going to be stuck with the defense industrial base you already have because new entrants are still going to be boxed out I think, or you’re not going to get it, and then you’re going to be stuck with the problems that you have now.

Kendall (24:59):

We just awarded two uncrewed collaborative combat aircraft contracts, one to Anduril and one to General Atomics, and the three big primes lost. So we’re putting our money where our mouth is on that. If you’ve got an innovative idea and you can demonstrate your capacity to do it, you can win a contract.

Evans (25:12):

So not to belabor this, and I want to move on to another question after this, but part of this is sometimes there’s money. And I’ve talked to companies where I’ve heard about this happening. They bring money to major commands from other places and they won’t do an OTA. They think they’re not allowed to or they think it’ll take too long or they think-

Kendall (25:31):

That’s a problem we should fix. That should not be the case. And be careful about that too. One of the things that people who are not used to dealing with the Pentagon tend to do is they go around and look for a customer. And you can find people who have some money but actually aren’t responsible for and may not even have authorities for doing something at scale and bringing it in the inventory. But they do have some money, then often it’s O&M money, operations and maintenance, where they can go pay for a little bit of activity and prototyping.

And I’ve got a lot of examples in my head of people who have done this and it’s very frustrating for industry because you’ve got somebody you think is a customer, they’ve got some money, they’re trying to help you along, and yet you get to this dead end where you’re not plugged into the system the way it works. Now, that’s probably our fault. We need to educate industry. We need to provide pathways that people understand so that they don’t waste their time doing things that might temporarily give them a shot in the arm but aren’t really going to get them where they want to go.

Evans (26:25):

I think that’s very fair. So walk me through your big modernization priorities. You mentioned counter space is something that-

Kendall (26:31):

We basically started out with seven operational imperatives. I wrote these down as a list of, “Okay, these are the problems we got to solve to be competitive.” And we put teams together to attack each of them. They were co-led by operational people and technologists, basically. And then I’ll walk you through those. And then there’s some other things we’ve added to the list over time that we needed to emphasize. So the seven are, first of all, space order of battle. Getting our space order of battle right. The analogy we use is we’re a country that had a merchant marine and woke up one day and decided it needed a Navy. We’re building the Navy. And in our case, that takes the form of resilient, survivable assets that provide services from space; missile warning, for example, communications, et cetera.

And it also takes the form of some counter-space capabilities to deny the other side what it uses space for, which is to target our joint force. So we have to do both. We have to field resilient capabilities to get the services we need, and we have to deny similar services to our adversaries by going after the things that they’re putting in space, China in particular. The second thing on the list is to make integrated joint command and control, C3 battle management, a reality and do that in an integrated fashion structure that actually gets us products fielded. That was partly organizational, partly ensuring that we were doing all the pieces there.

The analogy I use there is that we had a vision of a grand palace and people were building bricks, and what we needed was a blueprint for a house we’re going to actually build and to get that house built and make sure all the parts of it were being built. So that’s what we transition to there. The next thing is targeting, moving target indication. Our job is to defeat aggression. That means somebody’s attacking somebody either on the ground mostly or on the surface of the sea, and we’ve got to be able to take care of target air assets and surface assets, whether they’re ground or maritime, and prosecute those targets. And so we’re moving more to space to do that, but we’re also acquiring some systems to get to a next generation of airborne capabilities as well.

Next thing on the list, number four is control the air, Next Generation Air Dominance family of systems. It’s not just about another next generation fighter. It’s about a mix of things that you have to have to do that mission. And then after that is resiliency of our forward bases.

The Air Force depends upon a small number of forward bases. We have a concept called Agile Combat Employment, which is: you go to different bases. You don’t operate from just one, you move around and make it harder to target your force and implementing that in reality. And that’s something we can do a lot about very quickly.

And then the last thing on the list, the next thing on the list was long… There are two more. The next thing on the list was global strike of the family of systems to provide long range strike with the bomber force and the things associated with it. And all of these cases we’re talking about integrated capabilities.

And then finally the dependencies we have. What do we depend upon when we go to war? All of our information systems, our logistics nodes, things like that, making sure they’re resilient enough to support us if we actually have to mobilize and deploy.

Those seven were the original list and that’s what we spent a lot of my first several months here working on. As we got into that, we realized that because of threat changes and other things that there were some other things we needed to do. One of them was to… and we called those cross-cutting, operational enablers, mobility.

One of the things that China in particular is doing is reaching out to increasingly long ranges to engage our aircraft, including the ranges at which we tend to want to tank our fighters. So we’ve got to do something about the survivability of the tanker fleet and our mobility assets in general.

So mobility was next on the list. Control the electromagnetic spectrum. Electronic warfare was another one we had to put more emphasis into. Munitions, the mix of munitions that we have, so making sure we had that right.

And then finally the last one we added was training and test. We had a huge advantage in the Cold War and the quality of our training that we gave our people and China’s emulating the sort of things we’ve been doing for decades now, we’ve got to move to a next generation of that as well. So those are sort of… That’s the list of things we’re attacking from a modernization perspective.

Evans (30:26):

One thing I wanted to ask you about the reorg is: how much do you need from Congress to get any of this done in terms of authority, resources?

Kendall (30:35):

Very little, if anything. We’re not creating any new four-star commands that they would’ve to approve. We are going to create some new three-star positions, which will have to be approved within the administration, and then the Congress has to approve individuals going into those positions so they don’t have to actually create the position for us. We have the authority to do that.

Where we’re going to need some help from Congress at some point is funding some of the things that we’re doing, and we’re trying to do all of these things with minimal impact in terms of moving people around, which would change numbers of people we have in bases in different locations and minimizing the cost. Both of those things, the disruption from either of those.

We talked earlier, I’ve got a lot of things I need money for. So we’re trying to minimize what we do here and we can do a lot more with virtual organizations now than we could have once upon a time.

So we’re working our way through all the detailed planning. We’re trying to keep very closely coupled with the Congress to make sure they fully understand what we’re doing. They’ve asked for information, we’re happy to provide that, and there are no fund requests in ’25, and our ’25 request for this.

If we need anything there, we’ll do it through reprogramming and we’re looking at ’26 to see if there’s some funding things that we’re going to need in ’26. Again, we’re trying to minimize that. We’ve got a lot of other things we need money for besides reorganization.

Evans (31:45):

So this Space National Guard issue is getting a lot of blowback. My friend Todd Harrison wrote in Defense One yesterday or today, I forget which day it came out, that the administration should just drop it. Can you give us any insight into how…

Kendall (31:57):

This has been an interesting thing for me to be watch and be part of. The reality of this is we’re talking about cleaning up the battlefield from the creation of the Space Force, which left a handful of people, about a thousand in the reserves and about 600 in the Air National Guard who are really space people but are not in the Space Force. So what we’re trying to do is put them in the Space Force.

Just the last year the Congress passed the Space Force Personnel Management Act, which allows the Space Force to manage its people on a part-time or full-time basis, which is unique. We don’t have that other places.

And right now, the Space Force is bringing the Reserve people, that thousand people, over the next few years into the Space Force. Most of them will be part-time people. Nothing will really change for them except that they’ll have a different relationship with the Space Force and they’ll have more flexibility.

We need to do the same with the 600 people or so that are in the Air Guard. It’s a trivial part of the Air Guard. I’m not diminishing that. Those are important people in their jobs are important.

Evans (32:57):

You mean in terms of peer numbers, is what you’re saying?

Kendall (32:58):

In terms of peer numbers. So the most it is in any given state, there are only six states that are affected. The highest percentage in any state is just over 2% of the Air Guard people they have. So it really shouldn’t be the big cause célèbre that it has become, but there’s been a reaction from the Guard, which I find astonishing and how disproportionate it is to what we’re actually talking about doing.

And there’s a lot of confusion out there about this and there’s some assertions that we’re breaking the law, that this is unconstitutional. None of that is true. It would require change in the law to allow this to happen, and it’s in the hands of the Congress now. The Armed Services and committees on both sides of the hill have it, and they’re going to do whatever they’re going to do.

We can live with any result that comes out. We would prefer to have these people integrated fully into the Space Force, and that’s, I think, something that once they understand what their options really are, they’ll be happy to do. But that’s the experience we’re having with the Reserves right now.

If they stay in the Air Guard, we’ll make that work. That’s what we’ve had for the last four years. If the Congress chooses, and this is the least desirable outcome, to create a new organization, a Space Guard for 600 people, we’ll live with that and we’ll make it work.

All of these are feasible outcomes, but our preference is to have it just bring these people into the Space Force. Then we’ll see how it comes out. I mean, the Congress understands the choices. They’re going to do whatever they’re going to do, and we’re going to move forward from there. I have other problems that I’ve got, that are much, much higher priority to me than sorting this out, quite frankly.

Evans (34:26):

That’s fair. I asked you earlier about a book that meant a lot to you earlier in your life. What’s the last book that you read that you loved?

Kendall (34:32):

Well, Jen Pahlka’s book, which I’ve been getting people to read here on how to buy software for the government and how we screw it up. Recoding America, I thought was a good book. I do a mix of reading for diversion and for value, but that’s one of the ones I’ve read recently that I thought had a lot of merit.

Evans (34:49):

Well, thanks for coming on the show.

Kendall (34:50):

Thank you. It’s a pleasure. Good to see you, Ryan.

Evans (34:54):

Thanks for listening to this episode of the War on the Rocks podcast. Don’t forget to check out our membership program at warontherocks.com/membership. Thanks for listening. Stay safe and stay healthy.