The audio file for this briefing is available here.
MODERATOR: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Asia Pacific Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from the Asia Pacific region and around the world for this on-the-record briefing with Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall. Secretary Kendall is joining us from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, near the beginning of an 11-day trip to the Indo-Pacific. During the call, Secretary Kendall will discuss his outlook on the role of the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Space Force in preserving the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region. Secretary Kendall will take questions from participating journalists after his opening remarks.
I’ll now turn it over to Secretary Kendall for his opening remarks. Sir, the floor is yours.
SECRETARY KENDALL: Thank you, Kate. I’ve been the Secretary of the Air Force for just over a year now, and my very first trip was to the Pacific region to meet with the Pacific Air Force commander and his airmen and the guardians that serve in the Pacific air forces. This is my second trip, and this time I’m going to be visiting with some of our closest partners in the region as well as visiting some of our key locations where we have airmen and guardians.
My role as Secretary is to organize, train, and equip the Air Force and the Space Force of the United States, and I’m focused particularly on what we call our pacing challenge, which is, of course, China, and concerns about preserving peace and stability and an open and free region.
The work that I’ve been doing over the past year or so is to help identify and begin the effort to modernize in response to that threat. The general approach we’re taking to the region is one of integrated deterrence, as Secretary Austin has articulated, and it is about protecting our interests in the region, certainly, but also working with our friends and allies to ensure that the Pacific remains peaceful, open, and secure.
The trip is going to be several days, starting in Hawaii, the Pacific Air Forces headquarters. I’m currently in Guam, and I’m moving from here on to Australia, then to Japan, and then back to our bases in Alaska, which are part of the Pacific Air Forces. I’m having a really good time, actually, talking to airmen and guardians, and I’m looking forward to meeting with some of our closest partners in the further legs of the trip.
So that’s essentially what I’m all about, and it’s a role that I take very, very seriously and that I think we are living in a dangerous time. Some of the behaviors that we’ve seen, including most recently in response to the Speaker of the House’s trip out here, suggest that we do have a ways to go in terms of ensuring that we don’t take unnecessary risks and have confrontations that could lead to a conflict that no one wants to have. But we also want to ensure that the region remains stable and secure and that all of the participants in it are playing by the rules, if you will, in terms of what nations interact with each other. And it’s a great strength of the United States to have such good friends in the region. I’m looking forward to visiting with those as I go on about the rest of my trip.
I’ll stop there and take your questions. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Secretary Kendall. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. Our first question was submitted in advance by Nga Pham of Radio Free Asia Taiwan, who asks if the Secretary could please provide any update on Thailand’s request to purchase F-35 fighter jets from the United States.
SECRETARY KENDALL: I’ve had a long involvement with the F-35s. My previous position in acquisition, for several years I was involved with it. The program has been quite successful, although it had struggled at one time, and it’s interesting how many nations are interested in, and the club that is operating F-35s keeps expanding. I don’t know the current status of the Thailand request and I’m not able until we go through our process of considering that both in the Defense Department and the State Department, and then going to the Congress with it, to really provide any update. But I think it’s evidence of the success of that program that Thailand is interested.
MODERATOR: Great. The next question goes to Tingting Liu of TVBS News, Taiwan, and if Tingting Liu’s line could please be opened.
QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon. Can you hear me?
SECRETARY KENDALL: Yes, I can.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you so much. I have a couple of questions for you. I will keep it really short. So with the mention of the F-35 possible sale to Thailand, I’m just wondering whether we could ask is – for Taiwan, do you actually expect that the F-35 might be useful for Taiwan due to the activity of (inaudible) requirements? And in terms of that, I want to ask about aerial refueling aircraft. Taiwan does not have any of those, but if there comes some sort of time where such assistance might be required from U.S. Air Force, will the U.S. assist Taiwan in that given the increasing tensions in this region? Thank you.
SECRETARY KENDALL: So I didn’t quite understand the question. Could you repeat the actual question?
QUESTION: Okay. So the question is to ask about F-35s. Taiwan actually really wants to acquire them, but what is the assessment on whether Taiwan requires such a (inaudible) of vertical-landing aircraft? And as for the aerial refueling aircraft, which Taiwan doesn’t have, that if there’s a need in the future for assistance from the U.S. Air Force given increasing tension in this region, will the United States Air Force assist Taiwanese air force in terms of that?
SECRETARY KENDALL: Okay. I’m not able to speculate on Taiwan and acquiring the F-35. I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that. I’d be outside of my area of responsibility and I’d be speculating.
As far as Air Force assistance is concerned, the Air Force has assisted Taiwan in some of the things that it’s doing. But as I think you’re very well aware, that’s a relationship that we try to be very balanced in how we approach it.
MODERATOR: Great. The next question will go to Ben Blanchard from Reuters. Operator, please open his line.
QUESTION: Thanks very much, Secretary. Another question on Taiwan. With the current tensions that are going on at the moment, could you – are you able to share any information about how much (inaudible) intelligence sharing is going on at the moment between the Taiwanese and U.S. air forces, especially considering that Taiwan’s F-16 pilots are training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona? And just also if I may, the Chinese flights across the median line of the Taiwan Strait, which is very rare, are now happening on a daily basis. Do you consider this to be very provocative behavior by the PLA air force? Thank you.
SECRETARY KENDALL: Yeah, I think that the United States Government has been pretty clear on that. Again, my responsibility is to organize, train, and equip the Air Force and the Space Force. So I don’t want to get into the area that’s better for the President himself or the Secretary of State. But yes, I think it’s quite understood that some of the things that China has done recently have been very provocative, and I think that they’re of great concern. They’re increasing the risk of a mistake in the region, in which something unfortunate could happen, and they’re not creating the kind of environment in which we all want to live.
MODERATOR: The next question will go to Rachel Thompson from Sky News. Operator, please open Rachel’s line.
QUESTION: Hello, Secretary Kendall. Just picking up on what Ben was saying there, do you consider that since the PLA are still crossing the median line on what appears to be a daily basis that we are no longer looking at Chinese exercises but in fact something resembling a new normal of behavior by the PLA?
SECRETARY KENDALL: I’m not in a position to be able to speculate on that. I have not received any direct information about what they’re doing on a daily basis. And so – and I’m really not the right person to be asking about that.
MODERATOR: Okay, the next question – and the next question will go to Philip Heijmans from Bloomberg News.
QUESTION: Hi there. Thank you very much for doing this. Sorry to keep pounding on the median line, but, again, it is happening every day. I wonder if you would kind of consider the idea of the median line being a buffer, which it had been. Is that concept now just gone given the fact that these crossings are now happening every day?
And the second question is maybe – I don’t know if you’re able to answer or not, but Speaker Pelosi’s flight to Taiwan, which took a very kind of indirect route around the South China Sea, I wonder if that’s at all suggestive of China’s kind of military weight in the South China Sea. Thank you.
SECRETARY KENDALL: Let me just say this: that the activities that – military activities that China engaged in during the time of the Speaker’s visit were increasing the level of risk, and they violated a number of norms. Crossing the line was one; firing into the exclusive economic zone of Japan was another; and firing over Taiwan itself was another. These are not actions that are designed to promote peace and stability in the region. They are very provocative and they increase the level of risk.
The visit by the Speaker of the House was not an unusual visit by a member of our legislature. So I think China overreacted, would be the word I would use, to her visit. And I would hope that their behaviors return to the norms that were established before.
MODERATOR: Okay. The next question goes to Dzirhan Mahadzir from the United States Naval Institute News. Operator, please open the line.
QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary Kendall. Could you tell us where you’re at in this region for the USA Air and Space Force in regard to training, equipping, and organizing? What do you see as the priority? And in a similar sense, where are you at in joint cooperation with the U.S. Navy now and what is the way ahead you see on this in the region? Thank you.
SECRETARY KENDALL: We cooperate with the Navy in a number of areas. I’m currently on a joint base, actually, that the Navy operates for the – in which the Air Force is essentially a tenant. The – one of the areas that we cooperate in closely is command and control, and we’re expanding our capabilities to do something called joint all-domain command and control.
As far as my priorities, I have articulated a number of times what I call operational imperatives, which are capabilities that need to be enhanced for the Air Force and the Space Force, and there is a list of several of those. And I spent a good part of my first year in office identifying the things we need to do to modernize in those areas. All of these are driven by the developments that we’ve observed, particularly by China.
MODERATOR: All right. And now, Secretary Kendall, if you have any closing remarks I’ll turn it back over to you.
SECRETARY KENDALL: All right. I appreciate the questions. There – I regret that I couldn’t be more forthcoming on some of them simply because I’m not the right person to be asking those questions about, some of the policy matters. I am concerned. I think it’s clear to say that the United States is concerned about China’s modernization programs, and we’re also concerned about its behavior in the region. And we’re very pleased to have such strong partners here, and I think we have a shared interest in preserving peace in the region, ensuring that it is open and that we all can live here by well-established international norms. And I’m hopeful that we can move in a direction collectively that restores those norms where they’ve been broken, and continue to seek peace that benefits all of us.
So thank you for your questions. It’s been a pleasure to be with you.
MODERATOR: That concludes today’s call. I would like to thank Secretary Kendall for joining us and thank all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you can contact the Asia Pacific Media Hub at AsiaPacMedia@state.gov. Information on how to access the recording of this call will be provided by AT&T shortly. Thank you and have a great day.
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