U.S. Strategic Command



63rd Annual West Coast NDIA

By General C. Robert Kehler | February 22, 2013

General Kehler: Take a look at the picture up there. Everybody will notice there's a difference. About three weeks ago I had that laser surgery done, and to tell you the truth, I can't see a damn thing. [Laughter].

I had this really nice speech that my staff worked on I'm sure for probably a couple of weeks. I got on the airplane today, and I can't read it. I'm not sure what's going to happen here for the next 20 minutes, but -- [Laughter]. I've got these reading glasses. They look at little funny because you have to pull them down the nose so I can see anything beyond like 10 meters.

Now let's see. I've got these notes. Nope. I can't see those. [Laughter].

My chore here is to stop speaking at the exact moment you stop listening. In conclusion -- [Laughter].

Let me start by saying thanks, General [Ball], I appreciate your invitation to come and speak tonight. Bob Conger. Bob and I have a little bit of a history some interesting conversations over the years. I was out here speaking at an event that Bob was sponsoring several years ago, and I was the Deputy Commander of Strategic Command at the time. Bob met me at the airport. We were running late, we were trying to hurry and get to the event. I'm trying to remember if it was a restroom in a gas station where I changed clothes or what happened, but anyway, we got there. What I do know is that any event that's partially sponsored by Bob Conger is going to be a high speed kind of event. So Bob, thanks for inviting me to come out to speak.

Let me also say with all seriousness, those of us who are privileged to lead America's men and women in uniform can't thank the USO enough. We thank you for everything that you do. And for those who travel through LAX periodically, it's been a long time since I've been in the USO there, but I have been in. As I was mentioning a little bit earlier tonight, I try to make it a point if I'm traveling through one of our airports in particular that has a USO, if I have a few minutes I'll go visit it -- especially since I've become a general officer. What I like to do is just go in and look around. Not say anything, not say anything to anybody about who I am, but I just like to go in and watch. And every time, what I find are our young men and women are in there. Somebody's giving them something to eat, somebody's tapping them on the shoulder when it's time for them to leave, somebody is making them feel like they're at home and that they are welcome. In particular over the last ten years with so many of our warriors transiting these airports, I cannot thank you enough for what you do on behalf of those young men and women. So thank you. [Applause.]

The history of the organization here goes back to the Hollywood Canteen and all the things that Hollywood used to do. There was a time that we called the Air Force out here the Hollywood Air Force. I know they still like to call themselves that. In fact from General Pawlikowski's office you can see the Hollywood sign, but you can't pull that crap with me. [Laughter]. This isn't the Hollywood Air Force. At least it's not supposed to be. So get back to work. [Laughter].

On the occasion of her fifth birthday a young girl -- I told you, I don't really have a speech in front of me. On the case of her fifth birthday a young girl convinced her mother and father to take her to Disneyland. When they got there they went to the Space Mountain ride. If you've been there, it's got signs everywhere that say don't go on here if you have a weak heart, you have to be this tall, all kinds of warning, caution and for people like us those things usually mean something. Her father said, are you sure you want to do this? Yes, I am. You're positive you want to do this? Yes, I am. So they go on the ride. She loved it. In fact she loved it so much that she went twice.

On her sixth birthday they went back. They get to the Space Mountain ride. Same deal. You're sure you want to go? Yes. You're positive? Yes. She loved it. They go twice and she loved it.

On her seventh birthday they go back, they get to the front of the line. And you know at Disneyland how those crowd control things are, the little chain things. And she grabbed hold of that thing and she would not let go. Her father said I don't understand. Last year you loved it, the year before you loved it. What's wrong? She said this year I can read. [Laughter].

So tonight I can read. I even have the glasses on to prove it.

In April of this year I will have served for 38 years in the uniform. [Applause]. That sounded like a retirement thing. [Laughter]. I didn't say it for that. That's my wife clapping. [Laughter]. That's my wife, whose favorite expression is, "Don't pull that general crap with me." [Laughter].

Anyway, I don't even know what I was going to say now. It wasn't terribly important, I don't think.

I mentioned 38 years because, I will tell you, over the last 38 years I thought I had seen it all. I entered the Air Force like many of you, some of you who we have been friends, and some of you have preceded me to hang the uniform up. But we have seen the post-Vietnam era in our military with the hollow force and lingering problems of race and drugs. We've seen the Cold War end and what we thought was a peace dividend hurt, but it was replaced pretty quickly by a different world. If you've read anything about the return of history and the end of [dreams] you know what that's about.

I thought that we had seen it all when we saw Desert Shield and Desert Storm. I thought we had really seen it all when we saw 9/11. I thought that we had seen it all when we've seen progress in our armed forces in integrating certain things. I think we did a good job in integrating race, but that's not over. It took us too long to do it by the way. I think we've done a pretty good job in integrating gender. Another step was taken here recently, but we're not finished with that either. But I think we've now crossed the threshold of integrating sexual orientation. I say all of this because, again, I thought that over 38 years I'd probably seen and done most everything you can do.

We've seen budgets go up and down. But I have never in my career seen this level of uncertainty. Never. If I can stand here saying that, in year 38, what are they saying in year one and year two?

I think that we are in for some very challenging days ahead. I think that all of us need to be mindful of those challenges as we go forward.

There's an old saying. No matter how much things change, they stay the same. I would say that no matter how much things change, they change. They don't stay the same. Nothing today is the same as it was when I joined the United States Air Force 38 years ago. Especially this era of uncertainty.

Now I am not a pessimist. We are going to come through and there will still be a United States military on the other side. But we are going to go through some very interesting times, I believe, to get there. And I am also optimistic because I am nothing but encouraged and impressed by those young men and women who we are fortunate enough to have serving in our military today. Because they are the ones who endure. They are the ones who are able to handle whatever we send in their direction.

But I have some concerns. One of my concerns is that in uncertainty we must make sure that we're taking care of them because there is another old saying that says, may you live in interesting times. Well, those of us in uniform and those of us in Strategic Command and all the other combatant commands, don't have the luxury of living in interesting times. We get to deal with interesting times. That's going to be the huge challenge as we go forward.

Because not only have we never seen uncertainty like we're facing today, but I would offer we have never seen an operating environment like the one that we have today. It is different today in terms of time and distance and boundaries and symmetry and ambiguity.

If you listen carefully to some of our combatant commanders, and I do. I listen pretty carefully when my colleagues speak. They'll remind you pretty quickly that warfare really hasn't changed over centuries. It's still an ugly business between human beings for political purposes. But I would argue that the characteristics of it have changed significantly. That's the interesting times that we have to try to deal with. Time and distance and boundaries and symmetry and ambiguity.

Several thousand years ago time and distance and boundaries for military purposes were defined by how far and fast human beings could walk and what barriers they encountered as they walked. When navies came along, time and distance and boundaries changed. Now as opposed to maybe months or years, maybe we were talking weeks and months. When air power came along, another fundamental change occurred. Now we were talking about minutes maybe if air is close by, to hours, maybe days. With the advent of space and space capabilities, I would argue that time and distance and boundaries changed again. Now we're talking about times in seconds perhaps in a spacecraft, to maybe minutes, maybe hours at the extreme outside. And the boundaries were redefined. Those spacecraft don't care about the geographic boundaries we draw on the map. With the advent of cyberspace we're now talking about time and distance and boundaries in terms of milliseconds. Being able to span global distances in milliseconds, and to deliver militarily significant effects when you get there.

By the way, the Army has a wonderful saying. If the enemy's in range, so are you. [Laughter]. They have another good one. If you're running low on ammo, you're unimportant. [Laughter].

Some other things have changed that are going to give us some really interesting challenges as we go forward. Old weapons are still there. Ballistic missiles are there and proliferated. New weapons are also there. Cyber weapons are there. Who are the good guys and the bad guys today? Who are the freedom fighters? Who are the rebels? Who are the violent extremists? There's a great deal of ambiguity about the multiple actors that we will face, that we are facing today and will continue to face as we go to the future.

Our adversaries have gone to school on us. For the last 20 years since Desert Shield they have watched United States military forces project power almost anywhere we wanted to on the face of the planet, and to do so in a way that had decisive results. Ask Saddam Hussein. We did it to him twice. We have been able to wage the American style of warfare almost unrestricted when and where we chose, and our adversaries have watched. We are not going to be afforded that luxury in the future if we have anything to say about it. That's where anti-access and area denial strategies come from. That's where we're going to be challenged in the future as we look to continue to deliver space power, for example.

I think some of the most interesting places where we look at what the adversaries are trying to do, what's the adversary key to success? Their key to success will be, take away the American way of warfare. Get us out of our fancy vehicles, put us on the ground and go after us with improvised explosives where we are just as vulnerable as everyone else.

Threaten us with ballistic missiles that perhaps can challenge us at intercontinental ranges that maybe don't have high reliability by our standards, but will force us to go invest in missile defenses.

These are the kind of challenges that we will see more and more, I believe, as time passes.

Some of the most interesting challenges that we will see involve our space assets, and some of the equally interesting challenges involve cyberspace.

For space I would offer that space is no longer an operational sanctuary for the United States. Adversaries are developing the means to take away our asymmetric advantage in space and they're moving fast.

So regarding space, what are our keys to success? Where do I see us having to go in order to be relevant as we go to the future in these challenging times?

First, as always, our first key to success is our people. We need to make sure we are still recruiting and retaining the right kind of people, particularly those related to our space assets. That requires unique training.

I've always said that space requires an interesting blend of technical and tactical skill. We need to make sure that our youngsters are being trained the right way so that they can wield these space capabilities in ways that don't just enhance the capabilities of our terrestrial forces, which is what we spent the last 20 years working to do. But recognize that space is going to be a contested domain and can harken back to the John Paul Jones saying. "Give me a fast ship for I intend to go in harm's way." That doesn't quite fit, but it's close. Give me a fast spacecraft for I intend to -- You get my point. We're going to have to look at ourselves differently.

I spent the afternoon at SMC today with General Pawlikowski and her team. I'm reassured by what I'm hearing out of that team in this regard.

Second, our key to success in space is industry. That's you. You're going to have to provide us the tools that can go into harm's way where we recognize that this is a contested domain. And then to continue to use space to shape the American way of warfare we're going to have to have spacecraft that are probably more self-aware. We're going to have to have spacecraft that are smarter. We're definitely going to have to have spacecraft that are cheaper.

We need better situational awareness, and that's both the technical way of getting better situational awareness, and I believe going with that we need rules of the road. I've argued that on Capitol Hill before. Someone said to me one day, you know, General, speed limits don't stop speeders. I said you're right, but they let you know who they are. That's the point about rules of the road for space. I know it's not going to stop bad behavior, but it's going to make it easier to find out who the bad actors are. It's time for some rules. It's time for us to understand that there are certain ways of behaving.

How are we going to pass one another in space? Those have been worked out on the ocean centuries ago. How are we going to approach one another in space? What's threatening? What isn't threatening? It's time for us to help ourselves with situational awareness. Part of that is we've got to go to our industry partners and say, and to our civil and commercial partners and say why do I have to go find you? Why don't you just tell me where you are?

I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but that seems like something we ought to be able to do, and I think we can.

We need better recognition of what's happening. We need better plans. We need better operating concepts. We need better tactics, techniques and procedures. We need to do better in warfighting skills as they relate to space. I'm not talking about weapons in space here. I'm talking about taking a warfighting approach, making sure that we are protecting our assets in space.

We need better partnerships. We need to begin coalition operations in space just like we use coalition operations at sea and in the air. Coalition space operations is where we need to be, and whenever I say that and our friends in the intelligence community are there I have to hand out paper bags so they can blow in them. [Laughter]. That's how you provide hyperventilation, for those of you who don't know what I'm talking about. Everybody starts to hyperventilate.

These are different days and different times that we find ourselves in today and it's time for us to begin to do something different with our allies. It's also a way to resiliency. It's also a way to safety in numbers and deterrence. That's what we need to be thinking about regarding space.

We need more resilience. I know people are working on that.

Finally, we need lower costs.

Cyberspace is going to be an equal challenge, maybe even a bigger challenge as we go to the future, and cyberspace and space are inextricably linked. It's not the same, but it's not different either. We're going to have to go sort out operationally how those interact and where those intersections really are. It's a 21st Century issue if ever there has been one because the nation's critical infrastructure is at risk through cyberspace. And most of cyberspace domain is in the public sector.

You've got to think about cyberspace, I believe, like any other densely crowded urban area. It's just like walking down the street in Los Angeles. Walking down the street in cyberspace you have people shopping, people are going to movies, people are traveling, people are visiting their relatives in cyberspace, people are going to school in cyberspace, they're going to the bank in cyberspace. So this domain is conceptually not really any different than walking down the street. And I would offer if you're walking down the street here in Los Angeles and you've just gone to the bank and you've withdrawn a thousand dollars and you put it in your pocket and it's hanging out of your pockets and you walk through a bad neighborhood and you get mugged, whose problem is that? Because that's a problem.

But for some reason if somebody does that in cyberspace we call that an attack. So what is that really? How about if somebody knocks off a bank in cyberspace? And they're doing that. Whose problem is that? How about if they drop a bomb on the bank? Whose problem is that? So we have some work to do to sort out rules and responsibilities. And by the way, the -- We know the role of the Department of Homeland Security day in cyberspace. We know the role of the FBI and law enforcement in cyberspace. We know the role of the U.S. military in cyberspace, to defend the nation. Just like it is in every other domain. Defining when defend the nation kicks in is going to be an interesting challenge and that's part of the challenge that we have.

Cyberspace links everything together. It's pervasive. We need to understand that there are things that we have to do in order to take care of ourselves in cyberspace.

What are our keys to success here? First I would tell you we've got to enhance our network protection and our resilience.

Second, we've got to increase our capability and our capacity. We need offensive tools in cyberspace as well. Nobody ever won a war by defending. We're going to have to have offensive tools and capabilities.

Third, we've got to establish some standards.

Fourth, we've got to share more.

If you look at the Executive Order the President just signed a week ago, those features are in it. Establishing some standards and sharing more. They're done in a way to make sure we don't have to pass out more paper bags. But those elements are there because that's what we're going to need to do as we go to the future.

Industry is going to have to help in both space and in cyberspace. In fact go back to my hundred dollar bill analogy here for just a minute. If you're walking through the annual meeting of the Fellowship of Muggers International with hundred dollar bills hanging out of your pockets and you get mugged, shame on you.

What's my point? My point is you've got responsibility here. If I build a better mousetrap -- that's another old saying. The world will beat a path to your door. If I'm going to build a better mousetrap, I'm not going to take the plans and make a thousand Xerox copies of them, walk around and hand them out.

Why would I do that on the unprotected internet? Why do I put my proprietary secrets on the unprotected internet, and then when somebody conducts cyber espionage or cyber theft, I then stand up and say what happened to me? Why didn't somebody protect me?

This is a shared responsibility, no question about it. But I think that industry has a responsibility here as well. Espionage has been around for a long time. That's why you lock your doors, right? Yet somehow people think that if your computer is in your house, that it's somehow protected when you lock your door at night. That's not the cyber road to beat the thieves. They're not coming through your front door. But there's a front door there for your computer. You better close it. You better lock it. You better put some controls on it. You better get an alarm system. Because that's the nature of all of this. You tend to feel safe as you're sitting inside your house. It's not safe.

By the way, it's not safe sitting on your desk at work either. Those of us that have been sort of suffering through the effect of intellectual property, I think we've got some responsibility here to go do more and do it and do it faster.

Cyber security requires a whole of government approach. No question about that. And it requires a strong and a real time partnership with industry. That's where we come into this together. No question.

These are uncertain times. But cooperation and collaboration between the government and industry, the military and industry, the warfighters and industry is going to remain important. I think it's going to get more important as we go forward.

People ask me what keeps me awake at night. I tell them two things. I used to say one thing. The thing that keeps me awake at night is weapons of mass destruction in the hands of violent extremists. That keeps me awake at night. That's one of STRATCOM's responsibilities is to lead planning across all the combatant commands to try to deal with that problem. That one keeps me awake at night.

Now I would add a second one to what keeps me awake at night because increasingly the long-term impact of uncertainty keeps me awake at night.

I'll give you an example. At STRATCOM my predecessors started a very successful intern program where we would go get local college students, we'd offer them internships in the summer time. They'd come in and do some work for us. Then what we'd try to do is entice them to beginning a career in government service. We've had great success with that. In fact the brain drain as it gets to the 38 year point, and [beginners in] year one. Industry across the board suffers as the aerospace industry in particular has had this problem. Our nuclear industry has the same kind of a problem. This is not new.

So this is pretty successful. We're bringing these youngsters in, they become college graduates, and we're able to put them to work at STRATCOM and hopefully what we're able to do is entice them to make government service a career. That's what we would like to see happen. Begin to replace those that are coming out the other end.

Over the last couple of weeks several of them have approached their supervisors at STRATCOM Headquarters and said what's going to happen to us? Is there a future for me? Should I be looking somewhere else?

The answer that we've given them is no, you don't have to look somewhere else, you can count on us. We do believe firmly that there is another side to this and that uncertainty will fade. We will come through this.

I have far greater confidence in us than to say to some youngster no, I think you should go find something else to do. But the fact that they're asking I think is of grave concern.

So we have our work cut out for us in the leadership of our armed forces. You have your work cut out for you in the leadership of your industries, because your people are asking the same questions. What's going to happen to us?

All I can tell you is, although I do see us coming out at the other end, and I do see that we will look back on this and kind of shake our heads someday and say well, we kind of all went through that together and we came through. I believe we have the elements to be able to come through this but it is going to take all of us together, I believe, to help our young people in particular make sure that they've come through.

Those critical pieces that are in place to weather any kind of uncertainty I believe are there. We've got a new defense strategy. We have a way forward. We are expressing our concerns. You read in the papers the concerns of the Chief, concerns of the Secretary of Defense, concerns of the Deputy Secretary of Defense and the combatant commanders. You'll hear more of this I think as the hearing cycle unfolds here starting the next couple of weeks.

We all have an obligation to state our concerns. But we also have an obligation, I think, to lead our people through this. This is why we have to work together. This is why we have to remain committed to our fundamental purpose of national security. I will look forward to continuing that relationship with all of you as we work through these uncertain times.

Thank you for the invitation. I very very deeply appreciate all that you do. Thank you very much.

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