Air Force Secretary Kendall sees China, budget delays as top threats

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall described the top three threats faces by the Air Force and Space Force troops under his department with three familiar words.

“China, China, China,” Kendall told an audience at the 39th Space Symposium. “You knew it was coming.”

Air Force Secretary Kendall sees China as a top rival in orbit, noting China had put 900 satellites aloft through January.

“It is possible based on sheer numbers alone to argue that China has achieved space superiority,” Kendall said.

The secretary also warned of Russian threats, including emerging antisatellite technology.

Kendall is no newcomer to great power competition. He served 25 years in uniform during the Cold War and has held Pentagon posts for five administrations. He sees a single avenue to keep the United States ahead of its rivals.

“Because of these threats, my top priority is modernization,” Kendall said.

After two decades of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States is in a time of transition as tensions rise in Europe and the Pacific.

“We must reoptimize and reorient all aspects of the department to the changed strategic landscape,” Kendall said.

In addition to changing the satellites used by the Space Force, eschewing large spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit for constellations of small satellites in low Earth orbit, Kendall said he wants to update training for Space Force troops to prepare them for new threats.

Air Force Secretary Kendall said a major challenge he faces comes from Congress, where gridlock has delayed Pentagon budgets. The 2024 plan, which was due Oct. 1, came in six months late.

“It’s tough to win a race when you give the adversary such an advantage,” he said.