Frank Kendall is US undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics. (Staff)
WASHINGTON — China poses an increasing challenge to the US military’s technological edge while budget pressures are hampering Washington’s effort to stay ahead, a senior defense official warned on Tuesday.
Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, told lawmakers that when it comes to “technological superiority, the Department of Defense is being challenged in ways that I have not seen for decades, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Citing China’s major investments in anti-ship missiles, stealth fighter jets, hypersonic vehicles and other hi-tech weaponry, Kendall said the United States could lose its dominant position if it failed to respond to the altered strategic landscape.
“Technological superiority is not assured and we cannot be complacent about our posture,” he told the House Armed Services Committee.
Asked to assess what one lawmaker called an arms race between the two countries, Kendall said there was cause for concern as China dramatically increases its military spending.
“Their budget is far smaller than ours, but their personnel costs are also far smaller than ours,” said Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.
“Our budgets are going in the opposite direction. So just by that metric alone, it’s not positive.”
Lawmakers and defense analysts say China is making strides in modernizing its military, particularly in the area of so-called “anti-access” weapons — such as missiles and electronic jamming systems — that could potentially limit the reach of US aircraft carriers or warplanes.
Kendall said when he returned to the Pentagon after being away for 15 years, he was “struck immediately by the nature, scope and quality of the investments that are being made in A2AD, as we call it, anti-access area denial capabilities.”
As a result, the Pentagon is “looking very carefully at Pacific Command’s requirements and what they need for the operations in that area,” he said.
Kendall added that Washington was concerned about China exporting its newer weapons abroad.
Echoing Kendall’s wider concerns, Admiral Samuel Locklear, head of US Pacific Command, said last week that the American military’s “relative dominance” is declining as other countries invest in sophisticated weapons.
The admiral, however, said it was “not something to be afraid of” and that the US had to be “pragmatic” as it plans for the future.
Kendall, however, said that mandatory budget cuts adopted by Congress were tying the Pentagon’s hands as it tries to maintain America’s military power.
“Our ability within the department to respond to that challenge is severely limited by the current budget situation,” he cautioned.
While the department grapples with the uncertainty triggered by the automatic budget cuts, “we are losing time, an asset that we can never recover,” he said.