Frank Kendall: Pentagon FY 2017 Focus on Research and Development Designed to Keep U.S. Military Edge

May 17, 2016 11:29 AM
Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall in 2012. Department of Defense Photo
Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall in 2012. Department of Defense Photo

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The Pentagon’s top weapons’ buyer said the Fiscal Year 2017 president’s budget paid in the research and development projects to “buy some options” for the U.S. to retain its military technological superiority.

Speaking Tuesday at a breakfast seminar at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space 2016 Exposition, Frank Kendall said it was “threat-based submission,” taking into account gains made by China and Russia in military technology, as well as Iran and North Korea and threats from violent Islamic extremists.

Research “is not a variable cost,” he said. “You’ve got to have it.” The price in the submission were cuts in procurement.

Kendall said, “Time is not recoverable,” explaining why the Pentagon invested in the demonstration projects that, if successful, can move more quickly into development. He said the history of defense’s low rate of investment at this stage “would be something I would not feel good about” if he were a senior executive in industry.

The problem in the future for these projects, “there is nothing behind them.”

He said in his six years in office defense spending in science and technology, “the force after next” in Kendall’s terms, has been steady. “We’ve done a very good job of protecting S&T.”

Although he has not seen the full version of the Senate defense authorization bill, Kendall said in answer to a question the press release from the Armed Services Committee indicated it would “essentially gut our senior people” in the senior executive service and general and flag officers. His position as under secretary of acquisition, technology and logistics would be split into two jobs. In his address, he joked one thing he learned was “to keep your sense of humor” in holding an acquisition post in government.

“My big problem is not innovation,” a point the release cited in describing why his position was being split, “it’s resources.”

Kendall said he welcomed the increased involvement of the service chiefs in acquisition.

The competition for resources will grow more intense in coming years as the recapitalization of the nuclear triad – Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine replacement (ORP), the new U.S. Air Force B-21 long-range strike bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile and weapons system – come on line, he said.

“We have a structural problem we need to address,” specifically do these programs remain in the regular defense budget or are funded under a separate set of strategic programs.

The administration has threatened to veto the authorization bill if the final version moves funds from the overseas contingency accounts into current weapons and recapitalization programs.
“The big problem with the House bill is what it does with the Budget Control Act” and the agreement reached between Congress and the administration for spending in FY 2016 and 2017.

In his address, Kendall said the “F-35 is very much an outlier” in terms of escalating costs and delays.

Noting that in tough budget times, industry is more aggressive in its bidding to win the contract and the government is more optimistic in its projections of program costs and schedule leading to overruns and delays.

“Acquisition is complicated you have to do a lot of things to do it right,” he said.

Kendall said that when he was asked whether he considered himself an evolutionary or revolutionary practitioner in acquisition he called himself “evolutionary.” But “incremental improvements on a lot of fronts” is a course that is followed, “you’ll have a revolution.”

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense,,,, Government Executive and USNI News.

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