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May 25, 2021

ICYMI: Inhofe Questions Top Pentagon Civilian Nominees about Key Defense Capabilities at SASC Hearing

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), lead Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), today questioned witnesses at a committee hearing to consider the nominations of Susanna Blume to be Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, Frank Kendall to be Secretary of the Air Force and Heidi Shyu to be Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. 

Inhofe: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Kendall, it's been said that the Air Force is too small and too old to do what the nation asks it to do, and sending a fourth-generation aircraft to do a fifth-generation’s work is something that is not going to work. I know that the F-35 has been criticized by a lot of very prominent people, and this has concerned me for some time now.  The F-35, I believe, is the most capable and cost-effective fighter that's available out there today. But it's had problems, but there is no other aircraft that offers that capability and capacity of the F-35. Now, at least, that's what we hear from the people who fly them. So I'd asked you this, for beginners here, do you agree with General Brown that the F-35 is a cornerstone of the Air Force fighter fleet, for the future?

Kendall: Ranking Member, the F-35 is the best tactical aircraft of its type in the world and will be so for quite some time. It's a complex, expensive weapon, unfortunately, but it is a dominant weapon when it goes up against earlier-generation aircraft.

Inhofe: Well, the concern I have is that the complaints still come, and they're out there, and I remember — I've been around here long enough — I remember back in 1997 when we did we cut the F-22. At that time, that was the first and only fifth-generation fighter we had. And we started out with these over 700, I think, and they ended up with 187. Now we watched this happen, and my concern right now is, what kind of actions could we take to ensure that we're fielding the number of F-35s needed to fight against Russia and China? It's a different game out there altogether now, we all understand that, but we are going to have to be dealing with the numbers. What strategy can you have to try to do come down to the right numbers?

Kendall: Ranking Member, we have to get to [an] affordable mix that meets our needs as driven by the National Defense Strategy. That's what should guide those investments. 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. Ms. Shyu mentioned those, talked about those a little bit. 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. 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. So, there are one thing that I think will drive costs down overall, it’s continue to buy. I know there's an issue with the total number that's been on the table for some years, what the requirement is. My own view at this point in time is that we're well short of that number, and that they should — we should be working on most — is getting the cost down and keeping the procurement at a rate that makes sense.

Inhofe: Yeah, I know the chairman covered that, and that's a concern that we all have. Now, Heidi Shyu. Do you remember McAlester, Oklahoma?

Shyu: I sure do.

Inhofe: They remembered you too. I was in McAlester — you got to hear this now — I was in McAlester on Saturday, and I mentioned that Heidi Shyu — because I knew that they knew you — was coming back, and they said “Heidi Shyu is coming back?” The only uniformed officer there was all excited about that, and he wasn't even there at the time that you were. So, I have to say that last Saturday was Heidi Shyu Appreciation Day in McAlester, Oklahoma, OK?

Shyu: Thank you.

Inhofe: All right. Let me just ask you because you have a background that you could answer the hard question to answer and that would be, in which specific emerging technology areas are we behind or falling behind China and Russia?

Shyu: Senator Inhofe, it's certainly been a huge concern of mine to see how rapidly China has advanced its technology, especially in the area of hypersonics, in space, in AI, in microelectronics. I firmly believe that we as a nation need to work collaboratively together across our entire R&E enterprise to solve our toughest challenges moving ahead. I firmly believe we can once again become a leader in these technology areas. It would put a focus on disruptive technologies, and with Congress' help to protect our funding, we will be able to get there.

Inhofe: Well, thank you very much. I agree with that comment, and so, Mr. Kendall did on this document [the National Defense Strategy Commission Report], and it’s still worth a lot to us. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Click here to watch Sen. Inhofe’s opening remarks.

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