Arlington, Va. -
General John E. Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM): Good morning, everybody.
So one reason I showed up early this morning, one was so I could see some old friends, which was nice. But also, I always need to hear Gen. [Paul] Selva [10th Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] speaking because we grew up in the same Air Force. We grew up in the same time. And if I walked in here and spoke right after him, not hearing him, I would sound just like him because the message would be the same across the board.
If you wonder why that is, it’s because we grew up the same time, the same place. But we grew up completely different in the Air Force. He was a pilot, a mobility pilot. I was an engineer. I was in Communications Command, then Space Command. He was in Mobility Command most of the time. But the interesting thing about our history is that when you were a lieutenant in the Air Force in the early 1980s, it didn’t matter what element you were in, you talked about deterrence all the time. You talked about nuclear weapons. You talked about the role of nuclear weapons. That’s what you did. You even talked about it in the officer’s club on Friday nights. You would think you would talk about more interesting things, but actually, there was not a whole lot more interesting than talking about the role of nuclear weapons and how we were going to defeat the Soviet Union because we were in the middle of the Cold War.
And for those of you who grew up in the 1980s, you remember that was the structure. So if I come in and just stand up and speak and Gen. Selva’s spoken before me, we’re going to sound exactly the same. So I want to kind of focus on a couple of different things, but the message is going to be very similar. It has to be similar, because that is the importance of strategic deterrence as we go along.
So thanks, Mark, for the introduction. Thanks for Task Force 21 and what you do to support the ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] community. There are some folks in this room that have a long history, some have a shorter history in the ICBM world. It is an amazing community that has done amazing things, so thanks for supporting that.
As the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, I have the honor and privilege of leading 184,000 of the finest men and women of the United States of America, accomplishing the missions for strategic deterrence. Think on that number – 184,000. So if you want to know where some amazing young people are, come out into U.S. Strategic Command and go out in U.S. Strategic Command and visit F.E. Warren or Minot or Malmstrom or Kings Bay or Bangor, or Pearl Harbor or Barksdale. You will find just amazing, amazing people.
I’ll tell you the story of some of the amazing people so you understand that there are some 25-year-old folks and younger that actually care deeply about this business.
So I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama. I’m proud to be from Alabama. I actually was down giving the commencement address at Auburn University Montgomery, but I grew up an Alabama fan – “Roll Tide.” And when you’re in Alabama, when you’re in first grade, you have to declare, that’s just the way it works. So I declared for the University of Alabama. And even though my MBA [Master of Business Administration] is from Auburn University Montgomery, and I’m very proud of having been down there, some folks in this audience were actually there Saturday at the commencement address, but I talked about the role of nuclear weapons, and I talked about the young people and what they do.
But here’s the story that is entertaining and insightful all at once.
I have a pretty deep background in every element of this command except one. If you look at that picture, you see the rest – it’s not just nukes. It’s nukes, space, cyber, missile defense, electronic warfare, target and analysis, missile defense. It is a broad spectrum of capabilities. But the one I don’t have much background in is that one on the bottom of the chart – submarine. So I made an effort early on to go out and get up to speed so I could have at least an initial depth of understanding of what the submarine force does and what the sea element of our triad really is about.
So starting here with Navy nuclear, Adm. [James] Caldwell [director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program]. And you’ll see [Vice Adm.] Terry Benedict from SSP [Strategic Systems Programs] this afternoon. And I got down deep because I am a technical guy at heart, and I like to get into the technical piece of the business. I spend a lot of time in national labs and when I go to the national labs even if I was doing space stuff, I was always a little excited. My dad worked nukes. He also worked Apollo and Saturn V. So I always walk down deep in those areas to kind of understand what they were. I wanted to understand the nuclear side and the Navy side.
So after Washington, I went down to Norfolk. I spent time with Fleet Forces Command and the task force that’s headquartered there in Norfolk, commanded by Vice Adm. Joe Tofalo. And then I went down to Kings Bay. Kings Bay, Georgia, kind of the Atlantic element of the Navy nuclear submarine force, and saw the process, all the weapons, walked in, you know, looked at the weapons, looked at the processing of the weapons, looked at all those kinds of pieces.
But then I went out and got underway on a nuclear submarine because I needed to understand what underwater was. My deputy, Vice Adm. Chas Richard, he spent seven years of his life under the water. If you think about, you know deployments and you think about deployments up at Minot, you think of deployments overseas, but he has been under the water for seven years. That’s an amazing thing. So I wanted to experience what that was like, to understand what the sailors did every day when they come to work. So I went down. And as you go down, the 160 folks that are on that nuclear submarine, that single nuclear submarine, the USS Tennessee, is the 6th largest nuclear nation in the world all by itself. It’s commanded by a Navy O-5, a Navy commander is in command of that boat, 160 sailors on board. As you walk through, those 160 sailors, they’re training people up, but it was an experienced crew and they knew what they were doing. The boat was amazing. The sailors were amazing. The young sailors were incredible. When you walk around and you’re meeting those folks and they’re telling you what they do, and they tell you how they cover for each other for every mission that they do, and it’s truly, truly remarkable.
My wife was actually along, as well. My wife was under the ocean on a nuclear submarine, with 20 live sea-launched ballistic missiles with nuclear weapons on top. And when we do the nuclear exercise, we go forward and she goes aft to see the security deal, and then we come back together. And in the afternoon, I’m just walking the boat talking to sailors.
And I come up and I’m just talking to a sailor and I looked at the sailor and said, so how are you? Good. What do you do? And he tells me what he does. And it’s just amazing. And this is his first assignment in the Navy. He’s underwater, he’s nuclear-qualified, already got his dolphins, truly a remarkable sailor. Then I go, the typical general officer question, so, tell me sailor, where are you from? He says, sir, I’m from Monroe, Louisiana. Now he doesn’t know me from Adam except I’ve got four stars on my shoulder and he’s scared to death. But he says, Monroe, Louisiana. I said, Monroe, Louisiana, are you an LSU [Louisiana State University] fan? He goes, yes, sir, I’m an LSU fan. I live and breathe LSU football. My brother goes to LSU, my dad went to LSU. LSU is everything for me. And I looked at him and said, so how does it feel to be stationed on the USS Tennessee? Because on the Tennessee there’s Phil Fulmer stuff, Peyton Manning stuff all over the stinking boat. I said how does it feel to be on the USS Tennessee? And without blinking he looks up and he goes, well, sir, at least it’s not the Alabama.
You know, the amazing part about that story is that’s when my experience on the boat changed, too. Because everybody behind me cracked up the same way you were. My wife cracked up, my staff cracked up. The sailor had no idea I was from Alabama. Now he’s in a panic. He said, what did I do? What did I do? I said it’s okay, that’s all right. I’m from Alabama. He goes, oh my gosh, [inaudible]. I said no you’re not. You’re from Louisiana, if you said anything else that would have been wrong. That’s where you grew up, that’s who you are, that’s what we do. And from that moment on, everybody started talking to me like a human being, instead of a four-star general.
And from that moment on, I started to learn the details, what it really takes to operate, and details of how the sailors live and what they do. That’s what it’s all about, and that’s just one sailor of the 184,000 men and women that we have across this entire enterprise. It is remarkable. And we are so ready for anything that comes today.
When I left – when the ICBM business left Space Command in 2009, I can tell you that it was broken. It was absolutely broken. The morale was low. The reason I know it was broken is that one of the things, I was the Director of Requirements for the Air Force Space Command, and one of my jobs was to actually put the requirements together for the next generation ICBM because clearly we had to have one and we needed to start it right then. We needed to start it in the late 2000s. We didn’t need to start it in the late 2010s. We needed to start it 10 years ago. So we wrote the requirements document. I also wrote the requirements document for the replacement helicopter, the replacement for the UH-1, the Huey that’s been in the missile fields forever. It’s ancient, it’s falling apart. We need to have those.
I took those requirements documents to the Pentagon and I died a miserable death quickly. There was no interest in carrying those programs forward. No funding, no support, no anything. And I knew that we fundamentally had lost what was the most important element of our business and that’s the nuclear enterprise, and I was unbelievably concerned. And we raised as big a stink as we could. Both Gen. [Kevin] Chilton [commander, U.S. Strategic Command] and Gen. [C. Robert] Kehler [commander, Air Force Space Command] were raising the same. But we lost. We lost unbelievably. And then we started having problems. We had the weapon fly from Minot to Barksdale. We had the parts go from Utah to the Far East. And we realized that we’d lost it. We needed to put things back in place.
But if you go into the force now you will find a force that is unbelievably motivated and ready. On holidays I like to just call out to the launch control centers and talk to the lieutenants, because it’s almost always lieutenants that are on crew at the time, just to see what they’re up to. And I call on Christmas or Thanksgiving or whatever it is, and to a person, I have not yet run across anybody that wasn’t motivated, excited and understanding the importance of what they’re doing. And as I go to Warren and start visiting people, it’s the same way. You go to Kings Bay and visit people, it’s the same way. The nuclear force is ready. No nation in the world should doubt in any way that if called upon, everybody is ready to operate.
But it’s also a little bit fragile because they understand the importance now, and that work has to be followed up with funding that will deliver them the capability they need so that they can do their job, that in the future lieutenants of the world and future ensigns of the world can do their job. We have to follow through with that funding. If we don’t follow through with that funding, that’s where it becomes fragile and it changes, and it goes back to the way it was a decade ago. And we can never let that happen.
So people ask me, what keeps me awake at night? That seems to be the favorite question for a four-star general, for a combatant commander. What keeps you awake at night? And a lot of people think I’m going to answer right away, Russia, North Korea. North Korea keeps me awake sometimes. That’s because, for some reason Kim Jong Un likes to launch on Sunday morning in Korea, which is Saturday night in Omaha, so I get to spend evenings thinking about what we’re going to do there. But in reality none of that bothers me, because if somebody wants to threaten the United States we will respond. We’re ready to respond, we know how to respond, we practice it every day. We’ll be able to do that.
My biggest concern is, can the United States of America, the country that I grew up in, the country that I love, the country that is the most powerful nation in the world, can we, in today’s day and age, go fast enough to stay ahead of our adversaries? That scares the heck out of me.
I look at what Kim Jong Un is doing, and the press has somehow painted him as crazy or incompetent, and I look at what’s been going on the last few years, and he’s been launching and failing, and launching and failing, and launching and failing, and launching and succeeding, and launching and learning every time. And people say, look at all the failures.
Well, I grew up in the space and missile business in the United States Air Force. That’s how we learned. A lot of people forget that Gen. [Bernie] Schriever, the first 13 Discovery missions failed. Thirteen in a row were failure. Over 13 before one worked. Can you imagine that today?
We put so much pressure on [Vice] Adm. Syring [director of the Missile Defense Agency] and the folks at the Missile Defense Agency for every missile defense test to work. So we only test every year, year and a half, because it’s got to work every time. And I’m as much to blame as anybody, because as soon as that test goes off, I’m calling Jim Syring. Did it work? Did it work? And that’s actually the wrong question. The right question is, was it a good test? Did you learn what you wanted to out of that test? Did you learn enough to make changes? Can we make those changes? Can we go fast?
So I dug out some interesting pieces of history. I’ve been reading this history a lot the last couple of weeks. It goes back to the same time that Gen. Selva was talking about the [USS] Triton [radar picket nuclear submarine], the Triton was 1960. Following Magellan’s path around the world. That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment because the Triton did it underwater without coming up.
But at the same time when you think about that time in our history, that was the amazing time for space and missile defense. Because in 1957, before Sputnik, a group of Air Force officers at a little red schoolhouse in Inglewood, California, came up with the idea for the Minuteman, a three-stage solid rocket missile that could fundamentally close the missile gap that would eventually develop with the Soviet Union and provide the United States a significant advantage. And in 1958, they got approval to proceed with that program, and the Congress funded the program with $140 million in 1958. Then from 1959 to 1964, the Congress gave the Air Force $2.14 billion for the entire program.
When you do the math that turns into $17 billion in today’s terms. So the entire Minuteman I program was done for, in today’s dollars, $17 billion.
With that, we got 800 deployed missiles; 800 deployed three-stage solid missiles at five bases, not three. At Malmstrom first, then Warren, then Minot, Whiteman, and Ellsworth. Five bases, each with 160 missiles. Eight hundred missiles and the command and control system to operate those missiles. Everything for $2.14 billion, or $17 billion in today’s terms. It was deployed, completed before 1965, and that was on a system that we had never built before. A system that nobody had built before. We didn’t know how to do it. And we figured out how to go from zero to fully deployed. Just think about it. A program initiated in 1958, first test launch 1961, first deployment at Malmstrom in 1962, all 800 deployed by 1965.
And now, the GBSD [ground-based strategic deterrent] program. Many of you here are involved in the GBSD program. Think about what we’re spending on the GBSD program. The public number we put out last year in current year dollars, $84 billion. Total number of missiles, 400. IOC [initial operational capability] projected 2029. FOC [full operational capability] sometime in the 2030s. Fifteen years away before we get to FOC, for 400 missiles that are three-stage solid missiles and an infrastructure that already exists. Where did we lose the ability to go fast?
Now, it is on both sides of the equation because we have been fighting about the requirements in the Pentagon for the last 10 years. The requirements for that missile for the last 10 years, just arguing about it. And now we’re finally getting started. Now we’re slowly going through it. And fundamentally, you know why that dollar amount is so huge? Because the people that do the cost estimates know that we won’t be given fixed budgets at the beginning of every year like we did in the 1960s. Because when I tell you that Gen. Schriever and the folks that came up with it got $2.14 billion, that means at the beginning of every year they had their full budget and they knew exactly what to do. And when they needed a little bit more money or whatever it was, they went back and they got a little bit more money and the money was given to them. The money was there. They had a partnership, a tight partnership with industry. But more importantly, I think they gave authority to a small number of people, one person in particular to go execute that program. And this is a great part of our history – going back to Gen. Selva’s comment about history teaching us.
So who is the father of the ICBM? It is Gen. Bernie Schriever. Everyone knows that. Who was the program manager for the Minuteman? Anybody know that? It was [U.S. Air Force] Col. Sam Phillips. Col. Sam Phillips was given the authority and responsibility by Gen. Schriever to execute that program. Why is Col. Sam Phillips also famous?
So who is the father of the Saturn V? Who was the father of Apollo? Wernher von Braun. Some people say George Meuller, the associate administrator of NASA. But who was the program manager that was given responsibility for executing the Apollo program? Sam Phillips, Brig. Gen. Sam Phillips.
And in 1960 when NASA came to Gen. Schriever and said we need Sam Phillips to come run Apollo, I can tell you what, Gen. Schriever’s quote I think was, “it was like somebody pulled out all of my teeth. Not my front tooth, but all of my teeth. Because I needed him to run Minuteman.” It was the most important program in the United States Air Force, maybe the most important program in the DOD. He said Poseidon maybe, might have been just as important, but fundamentally, Poseidon and Minuteman, those were the two important programs, and “I needed Sam Phillips.” But the country needed him because we needed that capability. And once the President said go, to the end of the decade, everybody knew that Sam Phillips had to be doing it. Sam Phillips retired as a four-star general.
So he was the guy, he was given the authority and responsibility to execute Minuteman; he was given the authority and responsibility to execute Apollo. And the interesting thing that he brought to Apollo that Wernher von Braun did not think about, was integrated testing, and it became critical in the Apollo program when Saturn I, the Saturn IB failed in 1967, and we had to make a decision about where to go. The decision was, they were going to go away from the Saturn 1B and go right to the Saturn V. And think about that. January of 67, failure. July of 69, new rocket, new everything, bigger than a rocket that had ever been built by man, we’re walking on the moon. We gave the authority and responsibility to somebody.
And what Sam Phillips understood was the value of integrated, all-stage testing. Not one at a time. The way von Braun tested, it was first stage, make sure it works, then add the second stage, make sure it works, then add the third stage, make sure it works. That’s not the way Sam Phillips did things. Sam Phillips put all three stages together and said that’s the rocket. We’ll test it together because we’ll learn it. And that’s the reason we got to the moon by 1969. Because if we’d have done one stage at a time, we’d have never gotten there.
Authority and responsibility to one person, stable budgets, funding that’s needed. It’s really not a very complicated issue, but that’s not the way we do business today and that’s why I’m afraid that the United States will not be able to go fast enough to stay ahead of our adversaries.
Somehow we have to get back to the basics and back to the way we did business. Somehow we have to get back to energizing Americans to think about that.
And oh by the way, I’m in the Air Force today not because I was excited about nuclear weapons or the ICBM. I’m in the Air Force today because I was excited about Apollo and I loved what Apollo was doing, and I needed somebody to pay for college and the Air Force offered to pay for college. So I came in. But I was going to get out and go into the space program. But then, because in 1981 the Air Force had no space command. But then in 1982, the Space Command was started and all of a sudden I started walking in and I realized that there was an entire new way to do business. And a whole generation grew up and looked at things a fundamentally different way. And that’s how I learned the business. That’s how I learned to grow.
It’s just amazing when you think about it, it is not complicated but we have got to get out of our own way and we’ve got to get back to structured programs with authority and responsibility outside of Washington, in the fields, for us to be able to execute and go fast enough and stay ahead of our adversaries. And oh by the way, that applies to every element of the nuclear triad, the nuclear command and control, to the nuclear weapons side, to our space capabilities, to our cyber capabilities, to every element of our missile defense structure. All U.S. Strategic Command requires that piece in order to be successful against the threats that we have in the future. We fundamentally have to change.
To expand a little bit on what Gen. Selva was talking about, when he was talking about needing to energize America’s youth and energize the discussions about strategic deterrence. One of the reasons it was such an interesting thing to discuss in the early 1980s is there was so much written about it.
Google has a product now called Ngram, and if you type something into Ngram it will tell you over the years how that term has been in vogue or out vogue. And in typing nuclear deterrence into that, you’ll see it started building in the ‘60s, growing in the ‘70s, peaked in the early ‘80s, then started to decline and it continues to decline all the way to this point. People just don’t like talking about nuclear deterrence anymore. We don’t like talking about strategic deterrence.
Back in the ‘60s there was Herman Kahn and Thomas Schelling and Bernard Brodie, and all the – all the folks that created the academic debate. That’s one of the reasons STRATCOM is starting an academic alliance. We have 35 universities and think tanks that are involved in the academic alliance right now. We’ll have 36 this afternoon, because I’m going from here down to Georgia Tech and we’ll bring the Nuclear Threat Institute that was founded by Senator Sam Nunn, we’ll bring that to 36 members, and I’ll talk to the students down there. I’m making an effort to go out and talk to students.
There is an interest in that capability, an interest in that discussion, but we have to push it. One of the things that this community has to do – young and old alike, male, female, all of us, we have to get out and talk to people about these capabilities. Every time you get a chance to stand up and talk to somebody about them. Talk about the role of nuclear weapons. Talk about what the world was like. Take Gen. Chilton’s speech that he gave a couple of years ago at Barksdale, which is the best speech I’ve ever heard about nuclear weapons, and he talks about what the world was like before nuclear weapons. That’s the world of 1939 to 1945, when the world killed somewhere between 60 and 80 million people, when there was no strategic deterrent. Somewhere between 60 and 80 million. Think about that number. It was a million people a month, that’s 33,000 people a day. As horrible an experience that this country was in Vietnam, as tragic as the loss of 58,000 Americans – that’s how many we lost during our entire effort in Vietnam. That’s less than two days in World War II. That’s a world without strategic deterrence.
We have to talk about that. We have to broaden the debate into the 21st century because 21st century deterrence is different than it was last century. When Schelling and Kahn and Brodie, they all came up with their construct, they were looking at one threat. It was the Soviet Union, it was a massive threat. That’s why we ended up having tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, and they had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. It’s not just Russia today, though. It’s Russia and China, North Korea, Iran.
Any nation that has nuclear weapons is part of this discussion, but it’s broader than that. It is a strategic deterrent discussion. Because if you read about what our adversaries in China are writing about when they talk about strategic deterrence, they don’t just talk about nuclear weapons. They talk about nuclear, conventional, space and cyber. All integrated to provide a strategic deterrent capability against the United States of America. That’s what they write. You don’t have to go into the classified world, you don’t have to go get intelligence, just look at what they write. That’s how they think about it.
Everybody thinks about it differently, but somehow we think that under New START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty], when we get down to 1,550 deployed nuclear weapons that that is the deterrent structure that will deter the entire world. It’s magic and we don’t have to think about it. Well, it’s not magic and we have to think about it. We have to broaden the discussion. It’s a multi-polar world now, that we have to think about deterrence in a multi-polar world. It’s a multi-domain problem that we have to think about deterrence in all domains. Because the United States can be critically damaged by an attack in space. It can be critically damaged by attack in cyber. We have to deter those actions as well. It is not just a singular problem, but it does start with our nuclear weapons. It starts with our triad and we have to modernize those capabilities.
Right now all the modernization plans show a capability of delivering just in time. Just in time in the 2030s, and we’re starting the programs right now.
You know in today’s day, today, if every program’s delivering just in time in the 2030s, it’s already broken. We just don’t know where.
We cannot let that happen. It is the foundation, it is the bedrock of our national security and we can never let that fail.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, I just ask you every chance you get, stand up and talk about it. Stand up and talk about the role of nuclear weapons. Stand up and talk about the 184,000 men and women of our country who volunteered to serve, who stand the watch every minute of every day, who run the operations and do things that in many ways are the most invisible part of our enterprise but the most important part of our enterprise, and they do that so that we as a nation can enjoy life. That’s why they do it. Why is that something we don’t want to talk about anymore? We should be proud of that. We should celebrate that. We should point out and tell the stories of each and every one of those. And you can tell funny stories like the USS Alabama, or you can tell serious stories like watching somebody load an ALCM [air-launched cruise missile] on a B-52 at Minot in February when it’s 25-below and the wind is blowing like crazy and it is just amazing what our young American men and women can do.
We’ve got to tell that story. We’ve got to tell it with pride. And we ought to talk about strategic deterrence in the 21st century, and we ought to push the world forward in those areas.
That’s the message I wanted to give to you today. I thank you for the time. I thank you for allowing me to be here.
I do have time for questions, so I’ll take any questions that you have. Thank you very much.
Question: Thank you, General. John Harper with National Defense Magazine.
You mentioned the North Korea threat and other threats as well. Do you see any value in having missile interceptors based in space? Is that technically feasible and is that being considered as part of the ongoing ballistic missile defense review?
General Hyten: My early days, I was the chief system engineer for the Air Force SDI program, the Strategic Defense Initiative program in the late 1980s. There were two programs. One was called Brilliant Eyes, which were sensors to actually characterize and midcourse. The other was Brilliant Pebbles space-based interceptors to do that. The reason you needed space-based interceptors was because of the size of the threat that was going to be there. But the challenge with that is that it really is focused on large-scale attacks, because the thing about space that you have to realize is that space is everywhere. Just the earth, the geosynchronous orbit is 73 trillion cubic miles around the surface of the earth. So it’s very difficult to be everywhere all the time.
So if you’re just focusing on a singular threat from North Korea, we actually just want to put the interceptors in the right place. It’s the most efficient, most effective way to go after that problem.
But as we look at different options, the one thing that becomes clear to me is that there’s not enough islands in the Pacific Ocean to put radars on to protect every element of the threat and to characterize it. Now we can have interceptors based in Alaska that can reach out, but we have to characterize where the threat is and provide a targeting solution with the weapons.
So I believe in the near future we have to go into space to provide that characterization. The fact that I was working on that concept 30 years ago and we’re still not there today, tells you that we haven’t quite figured out how to do that. Because the best way to do sensing is from space because you can see the entire planet from space. You can only see a certain element of the planet from any particular ground-based radar site. So I think we’re going to move quickly into the space-based element from a sensor perspective and the weapon perspective will be depending on the threat. And if it’s the North Korea threat we’re looking about, space is not the right way to go with interceptors.
Question: Gen. Hyten I listened to your testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee a couple of weeks ago. Could you explain to this group what you told them with respect to the threat from North Korea, and in particular, whether or not, as you said, North Korea can reach the United States with ballistic missiles?
General Hyten: So, where did our space program come from? Where did our ICBM program come from? It’s the same place. Why is that? Because once you build a rocket that can deliver a satellite in space, you’ve inherently built an ICBM. It’s the same technology. You have the range. If you can launch a payload into space and deploy into space, you have built an intercontinental ballistic missile range. Now you haven’t demonstrated the ability to deliver a payload. You haven’t demonstrated the ability to build a reentry vehicle that survives the atmosphere, but you have built a rocket that has intercontinental range because you can put it into space.
We did that, so why is it somehow that the North Koreans have built a space-launch vehicle that can deploy a satellite into space successfully, but we don’t characterize that as an intercontinental ballistic missile. It is. It’s just math. I guess we’ve all forgotten how to do math, but if you have the range that’s on that capability today, you inherently have the capability to have an intercontinental range ballistic missile. It is just that simple.
It’s the same thing about a nuclear weapon. A nuclear weapon is what? It’s just physics. Gen. Selva joked about Einstein figuring it out a while ago. And yes, there’s all kinds of things we don’t know about them. There’s all kinds of things that we can put the physicists and engineers work it trying to figure it out. And oh by the way, this is about the basic building blocks of life. And why is it about the basic building blocks of life? Because it’s just science. It’s physics. And that’s why I would like to see a world that doesn’t have nuclear weapons. But that just means that we’re just science away from building nuclear weapons again. Anybody that has the right kind of material can actually build that capability. So it’s a very difficult thing to just completely eliminate from the planet.
All they’re doing is what we did. On February the 11th, that’s when things changed from my perspective. February 11th is the key critical day when you look at North Korea. Why space? Because up until then, they had been really focused on liquid-capable rockets. And the nice thing about liquid rockets from an adversary perspective is that when you fire a liquid rocket you have to fuel a liquid rocket, and those things take time, you have to build them on a pad, you’ve got to fuel it. That can take time. It kind of looks like a space-launch vehicle, son of a gun. Well, on February 11th they launched from a place we’d never seen before, on a transporter erector launch we hadn’t seen before, and we know that because they took pictures and sent it out to the world. Unclassified, for everybody to see. A new two-stage solid ballistic missile. It’s just math. What happens when you put a third stage on top of a two-stage solid ballistic missile?
I just told you what the Minuteman I was. The Minuteman I is a three-stage solid rocket motor, so now you have a two-stage solid rocket motor that works. What happens when they put the third stage on? When you do that, you put it on a transporter erector launcher, and it can run out from a cave, from a tunnel, from anywhere. You’ve fundamentally changed the problem for the United States of America in a very difficult way.
So why are we surprised that they went there? The surprise from the community that they went there is huge. They did the same thing we did. Because if you remember the stories, we used to put liquid-fueled missiles on alert as well. Have you read the book “Command and Control”? Liquid-fueled missiles, not a good thing to put on alert. Why did we go to solids? A good thing to put on alert. And they’re ready to go at a moment’s notice. They’re going the same way we did.
But somehow, because of our hubris or whatever it is, we just assumed that they don’t understand. All they’re doing is just what we did. It’s kind of concerning. But there’s nothing new there. It’s just science and engineering.
Question: General, Will Gordon, retired C-130 pilot.
You mentioned Minuteman I and Apollo and the pace at which they were fielded. It makes me think of Gemini, which in some respects was even more impressive than Apollo, the pace at which it was fielded and the accomplishments.
Aside from giving the man at the top the authority and responsibility, which you mentioned, can you suggest any other changes today which would help us return to or at least approach that pace again?
General Hyten: So this is not even Gen. John Hyten speaking now. This is just John Hyten. The kid that grew up in Huntsville.
If you want to fundamentally change how American youth look at things, we should go to Mars. If you want to go to Mars, I guarantee you that the first time we take off from this planet and we put astronauts in a vehicle that’s going to Mars, the entire world will be holding their breath for six months or a year, however long it takes to get there. They’ll be holding their breath. And when they walk on the planet, the entire world – Russia, China, the United States, everybody will stop. And during that entire period, kids will be excited and dreaming again about looking up to the heavens and thinking about what could be and what we could do.
And when you have a group of people that get excited about those, some people will then go into science and math just because they want to learn that. And then some people will just randomly end up in the United States Air Force. And some blind kid from Alabama will grow up and actually be a general in the Air Force – which is impossible, by the way. It’s impossible for me to be where I am today. I’m 20/900 vision without my glasses. I can’t see a thing. The Air Force wouldn’t let me in today if I was applying. Could not get in. But when you have a passion, and all of a sudden the passion starts opening up and the world is out there, all kinds of amazing things happen and you create an energy in the world. In many cases, that energy does not come from just the United States Air Force.
But every American, in every American there is a certain pride in this country. It ebbs and flows as things go on, but deep seated in every one of us is a pride in being able to grow up in a free nation and make decisions on what we want to do. And every one of us wants to protect that for our future kids and grandkids so they can do what they want to do. And somehow we need a dream to energize us, to go, you know, do the hard work that is engineering and science and math, and schools to allow us to do that.
So I think we need to have that broad dream out there, and I would put that out there. And then, every one of us needs to go out and spend time in elementary schools. There’s great programs, programs like Star Base, that are in many places around the schools. You walk in and you talk to 5th and 6th graders that maybe haven’t had a good chance, and you just talk to them about what it would take to get to space, what it would take to build a missile, what it would take to build a rocket. And then you end up talking about protecting this country with what you learned. And you put those two things together, and now you’ve got magic. Protect this country and get excited about science and math. That’s when magic happens.
But we have to do that because most everybody in this room, well not everybody because there are some younger folks over here. But almost everybody in this room is old. Sorry Ruby, you too. Frank Gorenc [Gen. U.S. Air Force retired], commander of USAFE [U.S. Air Forces in Europe], used to say all four stars have two things in common. One, we’re all circling the drain. And number two, we all wish we could go back and do it all over again.
So the only way you can actually energize people to go back and do it all over again is go talk to the kids. Because when you talk to the kids, man, it’s like being back there again. You feel what it was like back in 5th and 6th grade. You can energize them. You can talk to them and tell them why it’s important to know what math is.
I was at a Star Base one time talking to kids and so I brought a whole bunch of balls, gave every kid a ball and said you know if you throw this ball fast enough you can throw it into space. So try it. All the kids were laughing, throwing for all it’s worth, you know, it goes 30 feet in the air and then comes back down. So I said so how fast do you think you need to throw that? The first kid goes, I don’t know 100 miles an hour? I said well, the best pitcher in baseball throws a baseball 100 miles an hour. Do you think he could throw it into space? Yeah. No. The next kid, 200 miles an hour. No. Five hundred miles an hour. No. Next kid, out of nowhere, 17,000 miles an hour. That’s right. How did you know that? He said, I don’t know. I could see the teacher in the back whispering in his ear or something. But the kids were all of a sudden excited about how to figure out the math. You put the math on the board, and the math is actually really simple, but it’s really fun. And people get excited.
Then you translate that into GPS, or strategic deterrence, or what we do in the United States military, what those 184,000 people do. And you can tell that story. But you can’t do it just sitting in this room. You can’t do it just listening to me. I think every one of us has a responsibility to go out and talk to the young men and women of America and when we do that, good things are going to happen.
Remember, 103 years ago today the president of the United States created Mother’s Day, so this weekend is Mother’s Day, don’t forget to call her.