U.S. Strategic Command



National Space Symposium Keynote

By General C. Robert Kehler | Colorado Springs, Colo. | April 13, 2011

General Kehler:

Thanks Elliot, that's a very flattering introduction. I do appreciate that.

It's great to be back here again. I tell people, there are human years, there are computer years, there are dog years, and there are command years, and being gone from Omaha for three years, that was command years, there's a little more going on in there than three human years, and I've been gone from here about 90 days. It's the same thing. It seems like a lot longer, but it certainly is nice to be back and to talk to Bill Balhouse and Marty Faga. Thanks, as both the Chairman of the Board and the Vice Chairman of the Board of the Space Foundation, thank you for having me here as well.

I've been working on this speech for a while. This morning my staff brought me the final version and they laid it humbly at my desk, and said, "Boss, the speech is done." I looked at it, it's 25 pages long. I said, "How much time do I have to speak?" They said 20 minutes. I said, "How long is the speech?" They said 20 minutes. Okay, we'll see. [Laughter]. I know that all of you have a busy agenda this afternoon, but I did want to talk about Strategic Command, give you some perceptions and perspectives that I have, and I will tell you that I've learned much in my return to Strategic Command, and I would like to share some of that with you.

I took command there just about three months ago. A little over three years ago I finished my tour as the Deputy Commander. As I say, three years in command time is unlike three years in human being time. A lot has changed. But mostly I would say that the world has moved forward at a very extraordinary pace and through a phenomenal period of change. I want to talk about those changes with you for a couple of minutes, because those changes shape and determine our national security landscape. In addition, by extension, every operational commander's operational environment.This landscape that we find ourselves with today is marked by protracted conflict, constant change, enormous complexity, and increased uncertainty. While the fundamental nature of military conflict has not changed, today's operating environment is unlike any we have ever seen. The number and type of actors are changing and the distinction between combatants and non-combatants is less clear. Rapid technological evolution and the wide civil availability of formerly advanced military capabilities have reduced entry costs. That means that completely new weapons and enabling concepts are there for actors to access capabilities that would not have been available to them in the past without some significant investment.

Today's fiscal environment poses additional challenges and as our Chairman, Admiral Mullen said recently, our financial security is our national security. And it's likely that resources will shrink, even as our challenges expand and grow more complex. Therefore, one of the challenges that combatant commanders have today is to balance mission needs with investment values.

But of all the threats we face, weapons of mass destruction clearly represent the greatest threat to the American people, particularly when pursued or possessed by violent extremists or state proliferators. The asymmetric type of threat that can be posed by rogue states or previously insignificant non-state actors is a sobering challenge. A challenge with consequences that defy the imagination.

Driven largely by technological advances, today's operating environment has several characteristics of particular significance for STRATCOM. First is time and distance. Today friend and foe alike can span global distances in milliseconds through space and cyberspace, compressing decision-making and impacting our operational concepts. In boundaries, technological advances in space and cyberspace and the proliferation of ballistic missiles allow adversaries to cross traditional geographic and military boundaries with ease, causing us to revise how we conduct operations where the battlespace is potentially broader than any single joint operating area.

Today we are facing a different battle space where the domains of space and cyberspace are increasingly intertwined with the traditional domains of land, sea and air.

In STRATCOM's case that means a battlespace which surrounds the globe and extends from beneath the sea where we have ballistic missile submarines on deterrent patrol, to geosynchronous orbit where we have other nationally important capabilities some 22,000 miles above the earth.

That's the environment of today. The context of our time, and this environment has been playing out in the ultimate reality show, and that's the real real world.

So let me outline for you how STRATCOM is posturing itself to deal with the challenges of this operating environment, and let me start with a brief reminder of STRATCOM's mission. Simply put, the mission of the United States Strategic Command is to detect, deter, and prevent attacks against the United States and our allies, and to join with the other combatant commands to defend the nation should deterrence fail.

I've established five priorities at Strategic Command to help us accomplish this significant mission.

First, we have to deter nuclear attack with a safe, secure, effective nuclear deterrent force.

Second, we need to partner with the other combatant commands to win today.

Third, we have to respond to the new challenges in space.

Fourth, we need to build cyberspace capability and capacity.

Fifth, we have to prepare for uncertainty.

These are all important priorities for us but it's the last one, prepare for uncertainty, that I want to spend some time describing. Because preparing for uncertainty will do much to help us deal with our complex operating environment and will help us prepare for the inevitable surprises that could be strategically decisive, particularly in STRATCOM's three major operating areas of nuclear deterrence, space and cyberspace.

There are certain things we at STRATCOM must do across the board to address and adapt to this environment and the uncertainty that comes with it. Here's what I think we need to do in order to cope.

First, we need to have faster and more comprehensive awareness. We need strategic thinking. We need flexible planning. We need decentralized execution. We need rapid innovation. And we need unprecedented information sharing.

So let me spend a minute and talk about how I think STRATCOM is doing in each of these areas, because I've spent the first three months of command assessing how we're doing across the entire command. In general, I found that we're in great shape. I believe that certainly my two most immediate predecessors did a lot to reorient Strategic Command in a direction that is proving to be very valuable today, and also to bring operational process back into that command so that we can wield those capabilities that we have across many mission areas to do the nation's national security business.

I have been impressed with the successes we've accomplished. However, as my mother would have said, there's always room for improvement. So let me just provide a quick overview on a couple of points regarding the goals I just mentioned.

For the goal of faster and more comprehensive awareness, I believe we have room for improvement. Situational awareness is an essential component to the ability to assess the situation and make good decisions. This is particularly important to a commander of multiple inter-related global mission areas. What I have found is that the awareness architecture has been designed with a tendency to stovepipe awareness by region or by actor or by mission area or in some cases by domain. However, the mission areas we are responsible for have no respect for borders or regions. Therefore, we have a great need for awareness that integrates the total picture in a coherent way, that allows us to build a complete view of the situation and enable understanding and operations that move the seams. Again, we have to remove those arbitrary seams and build awareness and understanding across multiple global mission areas to make sure that we position ourselves to make the best decisions we can make.

As to the goal of strategic thinking, USSTRATCOM has a strategic mindset that has always been an integral part of our culture. This was fundamental to the decision almost ten years ago to give our command multiple global mission areas. However, the inherent culture of the command has been a construction of strategic plans to confront standard planning scenarios. Given the rapid changes in the environment and the certainty of uncertainty and surprise, we have to maintain a global view. But we must also increase our ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment and alternative futures in order to increase the relevance and resilience of our plans and operations. Our ability to think about alternative futures and credible alternative scenarios will be critical to our ability to continue with our long tradition of strategic thinking.

Regarding the goal of flexible planning, similar to the goal of strategic thinking, our command was founded on the ability to build expansive plans to prepare to respond in a crisis. However, while this was appropriate for the mission at the time, limiting our operations to response cedes the initiative to the adversary, potentially allows the situation to worsen and eliminates the opportunity to shape the environment in ways that would have been easier and perhaps more effective. And by the way, our ultimate deterrence mission demands flexible planning.

So it's important that we move this command toward a culture of anticipation, mitigation and shaping events, rather than managing options and operations in a crisis. And I believe from my perspective as the commander of Strategic Command that flexible planning is one of those mission areas and one of those supporting areas that will help us to deal with uncertainty.

Decentralized execution is essential to responsive operations as well, and of course STRATCOM was specifically organized for decentralized operations. The establishment of Joint Functional Component Command construct has enabled STRATCOM to leverage the centers of excellence that already existed. JFCCs are excellent at decentralized operations due to their very nature. However, the next step in our evolution as a command is to increase the integration and synchronization across these mission areas. It is important to maintain a culture and organizational construct that enables decentralized execution. Yet as these mission areas are also interrelated, it's important to enable cross-functional information flow to enable cross-functional operations. This will allow us to anticipate and respond to any situation.

Another area where STRATCOM can still use some work is rapid innovation. The culture of innovation is vital to maintain our superiority across all of our mission areas. It's never good enough to be as good tomorrow as we were yesterday. We have to be better tomorrow. This is particularly important in space and cyberspace. The challenging innovation apparent in these operating environments form individuals, non-state actors, competitor state actors and bad actors is astonishing.

In order to maintain our edge across all of the domains and leverage our space and cyberspace capabilities, we must out-compete and out-innovate our adversaries and competitors. The challenge that we have is that innovation takes real effort, an acceptance of risk and time, and investment. All of these are going to be difficult to balance within today's environment and certainly when we are all as busy with real world operations as we are today.

However, as rapid innovation is important to our long-term success, we must take the time, provide the resources, and encourage the intellectual pursuit of innovation.

Finally in the area of unprecedented information sharing, I think we need to do more work here as well. In order to enable most of the previous goals, we need to build a culture of information sharing. There is no way a global command with multiple inter-related mission areas that must also be fully integrated with other combatant commanders, with allies and other partners, and with the interagency can be successful if we limit information sharing. Still, in a world in which some actors are intent on eliminating our ability and desire to share information, there are significant questions regarding the balance between the need to limit access to information in order to protect national security and the need to share information to ensure national security.

Now here's an example that I've been thinking about quite a bit lately. If you talk with most of our ground force commanders, especially those that are farther along in tenure maybe than the others, they will tell you that they grew up in an environment where decentralized operations was a very difficult thing for them to want to embrace. There was always the need, I think, for our commanders to want to control operations. And what they would tell you over the last eight or nine years is they have had to delegate authority and decentralize operations to the point of being extremely uncomfortable, but they've gotten over it. Today this notion of distributed operations is not something that our forward commanders fears. In fact they know they need to rely on it.

So why would it not also be true that we should share information to the point of being uncomfortable so that we get a broader benefit here from just that kind of sharing?

Where does all this lead us? How do we go about getting better and adapting to this environment that we find ourselves in and overcoming the challenges we face? My first 60-plus days I went around the command, validated some of the assumptions that I had walking in the door, and laid out a couple of near term objectives -- five meter targets, if you will -- in order to turn these challenges into opportunities. So let me just conclude by walking through a couple of near-term objectives that I've laid out for the command.

First, we have to expand our understanding of the battlespace. We've got to orient our intelligence structures and our processes to provide more comprehensive information about our adversaries, about our operating environment, and about our mission context. This is not about determining order of battle or reporting on activities that have occurred, although both of those are important. This is about understanding context and intent.

We also have to implement the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review because what we really have to do is align our strategic planning with our current strategic concepts.

The third thing I think we have to go do is improve the combat effectiveness of our trans-regional capabilities. Now trans-regional capabilities is a way of saying global capabilities if you would prefer that, but those things that we have mission responsibilities for in terms of planning and synchronization, for example; missile defense; ISR; countering weapons of mass destruction. In full partnership with the other combatant commands we're going to have to go out and create the architectures, the plans, the operating concepts, the tactics, techniques and procedures to fully leverage and synchronize our unique trans-regional capabilities.

Next we need to implement the new National Space Policy and the new National Security Space Strategy. You heard, I'm sure, General Willy Shelton say earlier today about how much we need to improve our situational awareness. I know he said that about space. I didn't have the benefit of hearing his speech, but I know he said that, and he probably said the same thing about cyberspace, and I would echo his comments in both of those areas. We have to significantly increase our SA while at the same time we increase our resilience because I think our biggest mission challenge in both of these areas is mission assurance.

We also have to increase our space integration across all our operational phases, from phase zero through phase four and five and expand our partnership opportunities. We're going to have to resolve our impediments in cyberspace. Here we have to work both within the Department of Defense and with other partners as appropriate to refine our roles, our responsibilities, the appropriate authorities, and oversight.

We're going to have to grow the cyber forces we need to execute the ever-increasing mission demands we find related to cyberspace. We're going to have to institutionalize as well, the design and alternative futures phases of our planning processes. I would call those planning bookends. On the front end we have to do a better job at framing the problem which our current planning process would have us hold solid, but first we have to frame it and there we have to get a lot better, and that's commander business, in my view.

At the other end we have to be able to do real time alternative evaluation and scenario assessment so that we can see not only the planning problem at hand, but what planning problems might emerge so we try to be out of the react mode and into the shape and anticipate mode.

Finally, we're going to have to exercise our plans with greater realism. We have to improve our exercises. We have to institutionalize the use of Red and Blue teaming. We have to promote adaptability and prepare for uncertainty.

Finally we have to synchronize our investment with our intent. That's easy to say as a combatant commander and much harder to do as a service component. I've now had the chance to see both sides of that. There are advantages to being on both sides, but I will tell you I can be a pretty big demander on my side of the ledger right now. The difference is that as financial security, as national security, I've got to be more mindful as the commander of what demands I am placing on the system.

So finally to conclude, STRATCOM operates in a complex, dynamic, uncertain environment that demands focused effort, flexible approaches, and innovative responses. Priorities and objectives that we have laid out will help us shape and employ capabilities that meet our mission requirements while we minimize the chance of being surprised. We must prepare for the future, account for uncertainty, recognize our fiscal realities, and respond with speed and flexibility.

This is a tall order, but our nation deserves no less. Thank you so much for inviting me. I appreciate being able to come back and speak at the Space Symposium, and I ask you to please continue and have a great conference. Thank you very much.