In his final speech as the Pentagon’s top buyer, Frank Kendall warned that the congressional and Defense Department push to speed up acquisition could be fraught with danger. “The cost of speed is quality,” Kendall said in a farewell speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. In situations where the need is urgent and “people are dying,” rapid acquisition is compulsory, he said, citing the rapid introduction of the MRAP vehicle when soldiers were being killed by roadside bombs. But in other programs, especially those expected to serve a long time, things that “you sacrifice” to get speed include maintainability and cyber security. “Rapid gets you something not very reliable” in the long run, Kendall charged. The poster child for this problem is the Global Hawk, he said, which was introduced quickly but without all the associated development of a logistics train and durability testing. As a result, the program’s operating costs became “unsustainable,” and the plan became to phase out the Global Hawk and retain the manned U-2. But “Northrop Grumman got to work,” understanding that the program was going to be terminated, and managed to turn things around such that “we could keep the Global Hawk and retire the U-2. But that was the process we had to go through” to get to the current situation, he said. “There are times to do rapid, but it is not a panacea,” Kendall said. He did not address the fact that the B-21 bomber is being developed by the Rapid Capabilities Office, under orders to keep that program “streamlined.”
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.