Kendall Cautions Against Complacency in U.S. Tech Superiority
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2014 The United States has been strategically dominant since the end of the Cold War, but complacency and distractions could lead to a loss of technology superiority, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official said today.
Speaking during the Defense Programs Conference here, Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, emphasized there is no guarantee the United States will remain technologically superior in future years.
“Technological superiority is not assured,” he said. “You have to work to keep yourself there. It isn’t free. It isn’t guaranteed.”
Coming out of the Cold War in a very dominant position may have contributed to complacency, Kendall said. “We demonstrated that dominance in the first Gulf War [and] Serbia, and when we went into Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “It’s been a long time since the end of the Cold War, and a lot of the capabilities we have are the capabilities we had at that point in time.”
Kendall said the United States has been “distracted” by counterinsurgency campaigns over the last 12-plus years. “So that is taking up most of our attention,” he added. “So you put those two things together -- lack of focus and our lack of investments in modernization to a certain extent -- and the third ingredient, of course, is what others are doing.”
Technology doesn’t stand still, Kendall said, adding that the United States was observed very closely during the first Gulf War.
“We shocked the world [with] how low our casualties were and how quick our victory was in the first Gulf War,” he said. “In terms of counting conventional forces, Saddam had a pretty significant conventional military to confront us -- particularly on the ground. And we went through it like a knife through butter in just a very, very short period of time.”
Demonstrating capabilities such as stealth, precision munitions and networked forces, Kendall said, the United States dominated the battlefield “in a way no one had done before.” Nations such as China and Russia paid close attention to that, he added.
The Pentagon’s acquisition chief said the specific areas he is worried about are control of space, precision missiles such as cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and electronic warfare capabilities.
“We’re dominant in some areas, clearly, like stealth and high performance engines,” he said. “But those are only two ingredients in what’s a much more complicated picture. So as I watch all these things, I get a bit nervous.”
Kendall said he is focusing on the ability to sustain technological superiority over the long term -- the next 10 to 20 years.
“The investments that we are making now in technology are going to give us the forces we have in the future,” he said. “The forces we have now came out of investments that were made, to some extent, in the ’80s and ’90s, … particularly the investment procurements. So I don’t think we can be complacent about this. I think we’ve got to pay much closer attention to this.”
Kendall noted the importance of continuing to conduct research and development. “[It] is not a variable cost,” he said. “R&D drives our rate of modernization. It has nothing to do with the size of the force structure. So when you cut R&D, you are cutting your ability to modernize on a certain time scale, no matter how big your force structure is.”
Time is critical to the process and cannot be recovered, the undersecretary said.
“If you give up the lead time it takes to get a capability, you are not going to get that back,” Kendall said. “I can buy back readiness -- it takes a little time to do it, but I can buy back readiness. I can increase the size of the force structure. I can only do so much to shorten the time it takes to get a new product into the field.”
The United States fought World War II with equipment that was in research and development before the war started, for the most part, Kendall said.
“If we hadn’t done that R&D, we would have had much, much less capability to fight that war,” he added. “I don’t want us to be a position where we haven’t done the R&D necessary to support us in the next conflict.”
(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)