OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. —
Following the conclusion of Exercise Global Thunder 2018, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Daniel Fillion, director of global operations for U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), and U.S. Navy Rear Adm. William Houston, deputy director for strategic targeting and nuclear mission planning, sat down to share their insights on mission rehearsals, the command’s global reach and strategic deterrence in the 21st century.
EXERCISE GLOBAL THUNDER 2018
Exercise Global Thunder 2018 ended Nov. 7, 2017, and marked the first USSTRATCOM mission rehearsal for Fillion and Houston, both of whom have been in their current positions for less than a year.
“Everybody came in with the right mindset,” said Fillion, “From the minute we [kicked off] the exercise, we started talking about how this is not an exercise, this is a mission rehearsal.”
Fillion went on to explain the difference between an exercise and a mission rehearsal.
“With an exercise mindset, there is ‘ok, we were supposed to have this working or not working, so let’s stop and make it work,’” he said. “That kind of attitude does not train anybody for the strategic deterrence, decisive response and combat-ready force we maintain here 24 hours a day. When it’s a mission rehearsal, you don’t stop. You figure out how to get past that, you fight through it.
“We had several things, equipment-wise and process-wise, that didn’t work as advertised or anticipated, and we didn’t stop anything. We fought through it,” he added. “We rehearse the mission we’re doing right now, 24 hours a day, with 184,000 people worldwide.”
Houston said the biggest take away from his first Global Thunder was the amount of forethought and activity involved, as well as the complexity of the situation and how prepared USSTRATCOM is to execute its missions.
“I’ve operated through Global Thunder exercises during my previous positions with SSBNs (ballistic missile submarines),” he said. “But [it was] amazing to see the whole-of-government effort and be surrounded by so many talented and dedicated people – the personnel manning the ICBM wings, seeing our bomber crews in action, seeing our space and cyber capabilities – and to see how each element plays an immensely important role in strategic deterrence.
“Exercises like this are absolutely necessary because we need to prove at all times that we are 100 percent ready,” added Houston.
PEACE IS OUR PROFESSION …
Shortly after assuming command of USSTRATCOM, U.S. Air Force Gen. John Hyten introduced the command’s current motto, “Peace is our Profession …,” which he adopted from the days of Strategic Air Command, to reinforce his three priorities.
“When [Gen.] Curtis LeMay approved the motto, the legend has it that he also said there’s a dot-dot-dot at the end,” Hyten said at the 2017 USSTRATCOM Deterrence Symposium. “That means if you cross the line, the United States and our allies will be there with a very, very large response.
“When you think about ‘Peace is our Profession,’ think about the dot-dot-dot at the end,” Hyten continued. “Think about the three priorities of this command: 1) Above all else, we’ll provide strategic deterrence, 2) If deterrence fails, we’ll provide decisive response, and 3) we’ll do it with a combat-ready force, because Peace is our Profession …”
Houston offered his perspective on Hyten’s priorities and what it takes to achieve them.
“Those three priorities mean to me that we are the nation’s no-fail mission,” he said. “We are constantly around the globe providing, against all potential adversaries, our nation’s foundational capability that enables all of our other military efforts.
“If it comes to action, we are ready to unleash the most overwhelming response necessary. To do that, you absolutely have to have a combat-ready force, and we are constantly training at the component level and the headquarters level. As you walk into this building, Peace is our Profession, but there are several dots after that.”
Fillion called strategic deterrence “a team sport” that requires integration and described it as “the most sobering job I’ve ever had in my life.”
“This is not a game,” Fillion said. “We’ve got to do deterrence better than anyone on the planet 24-7 every day of the week so that we don’t get to where we have to use that decisive response.”
He also noted his belief that deterrence works, because there has been no nuclear conflict since 1945.
“We know what the world looks like before nuclear war, and we know what the world looks like after nuclear war. Because of that, we haven’t had anybody challenge us,” Fillion said. “But people are starting to close that gap, and it’s up to us to maintain the posture that we do for nuclear deterrence 24-7.
“Quite frankly, if we ever come to a strategic exchange, nobody wins. We are not looking for a fight by any stretch of the imagination, but everybody has to understand that if pressed, we will deliver a fight and it will be very short and we will come out victorious.”
MORE THAN NUCLEAR
While Houston’s position at USSTRATCOM deals primarily with the nuclear enterprise, he asserted that effective strategic deterrence in the 21st century requires more than nuclear capabilities, citing USSTRATCOM’s space, cyberspace and electronic warfare missions as examples.
“There are significant challenges we face in multiple domains: integrating space, cyber and our strategic weapons into the overall strategic deterrence we’re trying to achieve,” Houston said. “Those are key elements because any one of those areas could lead to a strategic imbalance between potential adversaries. What we are trying to ensure is that we never get to the point where we ever have to use the nuclear component, but we are absolutely ready if we have to.”
A GLOBAL COMBATANT COMMAND
While the Unified Command Plan (UCP) identifies USSTRATCOM as a functional combatant command, Houston suggested the level of integration and capabilities of the command are more than that.
“We are fully integrated with the geographic combatant commands,” said Houston. “As General Hyten would say, we serve as a foundational force across all geographic combatant commands, but we are a warfighting command. We’re really a global combatant command because we enable all of the geographic combatant commanders to focus on their geographic area and ensure strategic stability.”
He also noted how the command’s success is directly tied to its close working relationships with other government agencies, as well as the international community.
“Strategic deterrence [requires] a whole-of-government approach,” he said. “It’s not just our government, it’s our allies like the United Kingdom. During this exercise, they played a key role along with Canada and Australia.”
“There is no finer strategic force on the planet than the one the United States of America brings to bear, and we bring it to bear with our allies and partners,” added Fillion. “We couldn’t get it done without them.”
Both leaders also praised the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians who support USSTRATCOM at the command’s headquarters and across the globe.
“We’re talking about a command that’s over 180,000 people throughout the Department of Defense (DOD) who are really the foundational part of national security,” said Houston. “It’s a tremendous team, superbly talented and absolutely 100 percent prepared to execute.”
“I take a lot of pride in the men and women I get to work with here because they are really good at what they do,” added Fillion. “We don’t have to be reminded, but we stress it every day: this is not a staff job, this is a combatant command with a combatant mission that we may have to do at the drop of a hat.
“What’s really impressive about United States Strategic Command is that [those of us] in uniform represent 40 percent of the population of this command. The other 60 percent are a lot of veterans, but a lot of men and women are not. They have just served this country their entire adult life, but they are just as much warfighters as you and I are. We cannot get it done without our civilian warriors.”
Fillion arrived at USSTRATCOM headquarters in January 2017 after serving as commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3.
Houston became USSTRATCOM’s first deputy director for strategic targeting and nuclear mission planning in October 2017 after the inactivation of the Joint Functional Component Command for Global Strike (JFCC GS). He previously served as the JFCC GS deputy commander.
One of nine DOD unified combatant commands, USSTRATCOM has global responsibilities assigned through the Unified Command Plan that include strategic deterrence, space operations, cyberspace operations, joint electronic warfare, global strike, missile defense and intelligence.
For more information, contact the USSTRATCOM Public Affairs Office at 402-294-4130 or USSTRATCOMPA@mail.mil or visit www.stratcom.mil.