Air Force

Senate panel advances Air Force secretary nominee

The Senate Armed Services Committee has advanced President Biden’s nominee to lead the Air Force.

The panel approved Frank Kendall to be Air Force secretary in a voice vote Thursday that also included six other Pentagon nominees, sending all seven to the Senate floor for approval.

Kendall previously served in the Pentagon as its top weapons buyer during the Obama administration.

In that job, Kendall had some harsh words for the F-35 fighter jet program, saying in 2012 that the decision to put it into production before flight tests was “acquisition malpractice.” However, later on in his tenure in 2016, Kendall said there had been “continuing progress in all aspects” of the program.

At his confirmation hearing to be Air Force secretary last month, Kendall walked a fine line on the F-35 program, expressing concern about sustainment costs and future upgrades but also calling the jet the “best tactical aircraft of its type in the world.”

“The F-35 is the best tactical aircraft of its type in the world and will be so for quite some time,” Kendall told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It’s a complex, expensive weapon, unfortunately, but it is a dominant weapon when it goes up against earlier-generation aircraft.”

Kendall also said he believes the Air Force needs an “affordable mix” of aircraft to meet the National Defense Strategy but further suggested he believes buying more F-35s will help drive down sustainment costs.

“I have a long history with the F-35. It has struggled, certainly, and since I left government four years ago, I understand the sustainment costs are a concern,” he said. 

“Also, there is concern with the upgrade to the most recent version, and it’s having trouble there, which I’ve heard about through press accounts only and I’ll have to take a look at if I’m confirmed,” he added. “The key to keeping the cost down in an air fleet is getting the numbers up. There’s a very strong correlation between the size of the fleet and the cost to sustain that fleet.”

In addition to Kendall, the Armed Services Committee on Thursday advanced Heidi Shyu to be under secretary of Defense for research and engineering; Susanna Blume to be director of the cost assessment and program evaluation office; Jill Hruby to be administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA); Frank Rose to be NNSA’s principal deputy administrator; Deborah Rosenblum to be assistant secretary of Defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs; and Christopher Maier to be assistant secretary of Defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict.

Air Force