Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said he wants to focus on operational payoffs when it comes to the services programs, particularly the Air Force's contribution to Joint All Domain Command and Control called the Advanced Battle Management System.
For the Air Force, acquisitions for new technology on the battlefield can't rely solely on "cute" experiments, according to the service's secretary.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said he wants to focus on operational payoffs when it comes to the services programs, particularly the Air Force's contribution to Joint All Domain Command and Control called the Advanced Battle Management System, to make sure "requirements are consistent with the urgency" and tempered with reasonable risk.
"My mantra for programs here has been, they should be structured to get meaningful operational capability as quickly as possible. One or two cute experiments isn't a meaningful operational capability, let's figure out where we're going to go and get to where we need to be as quickly as we can," said Kendall, who spoke during at the Center for a New American Security Jan. 19.
"Another piece of it is don't go in the wrong direction. Don't start out just going in someplace that sounds good intuitively. Do the analysis…take the time at the beginning to get your direction, right. And then you'll get much more quickly towards where you really need to be."
Kendall outlined his seven "imperative" priorities for 2022 – each of which he said is led by a team of acquisition, technical, and operational experts – including developing a new space order of battle and architecture for a contested environment, sharpening the focus of ABMS, which is undergoing an internal review, and improving the service's ability to effectively transition to wartime, especially when faced with cyber and electronic threats.
"Being able to fight effectively depends upon mobilizing our force, moving it to where it needs to be, supporting it when it's there. It's a range of capabilities that include some things that can be easily subjected to cyber attacks, for example, such as our personnel system, or the systems that manage transportation for us, our logistics system. So there's a cybersecurity aspect of this one. But it's broader than just that. It's about looking at, if you will, a kill chain, as we call it. That's very large," Kendall said.
Kendall seemed to stress precision of definition and execution in his remarks, particularly when it came to ABMS. The secretary has previously criticized the program and said that while looking to more integrated capabilities was a good direction, there hasn't been enough specificity on where investments should be made.
"I think that the general move in this direction, use of more integrated capabilities, if you will -- some people call them an Internet of Things for the for the battlefield -- is the right general direction, but I don't think enough focus has been placed on figuring out exactly where to invest and in what to give us the greatest operational return," Kendall said.
"I really want to get to the overarching operational architecture" that "allows us to provide that kind of offboard support from the point of view of targeting and situational awareness, but also support the operational force at the same time," he said, explaining that the Air Force currently uses air operation centers as their fundamental command and control nodes.
For AMBS, Kendall said there should be nodes at lower levels because those at higher levels, such as the ones in air operation centers are more vulnerable to attacks. Additionally, he said the work that's been done so far on ABMS has been built on the premise of devising a "grand solution" which may not be realistically achievable.
"A fair amount of work has been done in the Air Force over the last few years…But I think it's been from a premise that we could get to a grand solution. And I don't think that that's going to be affordable or easily achievable on a timescale that's realistic and meets our needs. So this is about focusing ABMS on the things that are going to make the biggest difference that we can get in a reasonable period of time."
The former undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, has long been cautious of sweeping acquisition reforms from Congress and a proponent of substantiated analysis (with data) to support program decisions. When discussing whether the programming, planning, budget and execution process needs to be revamped to help the Air Force buy technology faster, his answer pointed to getting more resources and flexibility to reprogram up front.
"What prevents us from doing it is our own processes. And, and the unwillingness of our board of directors, to give us a latitude to do those sorts of things and make those kinds of decisions on our own," Kendall said, noting that the Air Force's requests to lawmakers to decommission or phase out some legacy platforms have not been well received.
"That would be, I think, to me, the single best thing, and the easiest thing we could do if our institutions were allowed to have them," Kendall said. He added: "So what we really need, and I've advocated for this for many years, is some flexibility and resources up front to start and get us to a point where we can make better decisions before we commit major resources."