Maj. Gen. Heidi V. Brown, U.S. Strategic Command Director of Global Operations: Good morning and thank you for that warm introduction. It is indeed an honor and privilege to be here with you this morning. I usually don’t get to venture very far from U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), so thank you for the break this morning. I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about U.S. Strategic Command and innovation.
When I was preparing my remarks for today, I focused on the theme of the conference, driving innovation, describing a landscape in which leading women in national defense and security are leveraging innovation to grow every aspect of their business. I thought, “How do I relate to this topic? Am I leveraging innovation at U.S. Strategic Command?”
So naturally the first thing I did was look up the word innovation. When I asked Siri on my iPhone, she said, “Innovation is the action or process of innovating.” I know that when I was growing up, you weren’t supposed to use the word you were looking up as part of the definition! I guess Siri didn’t learn that lesson. Anyway, the rest of the definition is “a new method, idea, or product.” The definition resonated with me. After all, I believe I am the great experiment at USSTRATCOM being the first Army officer to serve as the J3, director for global operations. I am also the first woman to serve as a J3 in any combatant command. Now that is innovation!
But before I discuss how I am leveraging innovation at U.S. Strategic Command, let me go back in time with how I got here.
Being in the second class of women admitted to the United States Military Academy at West Point had both its positives and negatives. The negatives, as I believed them back then, come to mind right away: not many of us versus the number of upperclassmen, easy targets, initially not accepted by the upperclassmen, etc. The positives? I don’t think I thought of any as a cadet, but I certainly do now as I look back. I learned to survive. No, I learned to thrive even when I wasn’t accepted merely because of my gender. I learned to be strong when I had no strength. I learned to persevere and to never give up even though quitting would have been easy. I learned who my true friends were and that those bonds of friendship would stay with me even now, nearly 35 years later. Some of those friendships would be critical on the battlefield.
I look back on those four years as influential in shaping my character and instilling the commitment to the nation that I have today. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not credit my parents for their love of all six of us and instilling in each one of us that we have a purpose in this life and it is up to us to find that purpose. My father served in both World War II and Korea, and my mother was a Red Cross volunteer in China before World War II and served with special services in Nuremberg, Germany, after the war where she met my father. So you see, serving our nation is a family tradition. Did I mention that five out of the six of us kids have served our nation?
Ultimately, West Point toughened me, in my opinion. I was challenged to not only do things I had never tried before but to get to the point where I would try things on my own with the thought that if you don’t at least try, you’ll never know if you could.
Upon graduation, I was branched into the Air Defense Artillery, one of very few combat arms branches open to women at that time. It was a choice I wasn’t initially happy with and had every intention of branch transferring as quickly as possible. I also thought that I would serve my five-year commitment and get out of the Army and get on with the rest of my life. I often joke that I stand before you as a failure having not accomplished either of those two goals.
I fell in love with my branch and again believe it was the West Point experience that most likely prepared me to serve and thrive in not only a male-dominated career, but also a male-dominated branch of the Army.
I have been blessed and lucky these nearly 35 years in that I had bosses who saw something in me, and perhaps they were innovative in their own right to allow me to serve in positions heretofore closed to women. The most recent example of this is Adm. Haney and the opportunity to serve as his director for global operations.
This opportunity presented itself in a telephone call the day after Thanksgiving in 2014 when I was called by the USSTRATCOM chief of staff. I knew him and thought it was odd that I would get a call out of the blue from him and on a day off. This could not be good.
He told me that I was nominated by the Army for the J3 position at USSTRATCOM, and I promptly told him that he was mistaken. I was told by the Army that I was going to go to the Pentagon the summer of 2015. No, he said, he was sure I was nominated for the job, and interviews with Adm. Haney were going to be the following week. To say I was shocked was an understatement. I had to look up USSTRATCOM’s website to review what the command, and especially the J3, are responsible for. I knew about the nuclear mission, but there must be more than that since I had exactly zero experience or knowledge of the nuclear mission.
Well, you know the rest of the story because here I am, one year and two weeks into the job.
If innovation is a new idea, method or product, then I submit to you that every single day I personally bring innovation to what I do. I came into this job with an air defense artillery background, no nuclear experience, limited space expertise and could barely spell cyberspace. We actually have nine missions under the Unified Command Plan, and as I read through them that day in November, I knew that the learning curve would be a straight vertical line, no curve whatsoever! Actually, Adm. Haney asked me during my interview how I would handle the people who might challenge me, knowing that I didn’t have the background that they did especially in the nuclear arena. I told him that I knew how to lead, I knew how to listen and I knew how to learn. I would challenge my subordinates to make me knowledgeable so that I could do my job so that they didn’t have to. I’ve told my subordinates that I came into the job with no preconceived ideas of how things should be. That’s easy when something is brand new! The other thing that I experienced is that for the first time in many years, my subordinates had a voice and an advocate in me. I asked them to give to me changes that may have either fallen on deaf ears or fell on the floor previously. Let me try new ways of doing things. Let me take a swing at innovating the way we do our jobs.
So that brings me to the rest of what I would like to discuss with you today.
When I graduated from West Point in 1981, the Cold War was the only war we were fighting. We knew who our adversary was and warfighting was “easy.” Having served in combat, let me say that there is nothing easy about war, but when you seemingly have one adversary, it is easier and simpler.
Today’s landscape is so different. The world is more complex than it has ever been. Violent extremist organizations, nation-states and several major powers continue to paint the landscape. The world is like a chess game where we need “chess players” who can operate in a multi-dimensional environment, with multiple activities taking place simultaneously, on a board where they may not fully understand the rules by which multiple adversaries are playing. I would submit to you that to “win” on this chessboard is all about innovation.
In my opinion, and not because I am the J3 but because I really know what we focus on at U.S. Strategic Command, the combatant command who does the best job in really focusing on and looking at the world through a strategic and global lens is U.S. Strategic Command. It is one of three functional combatant commands, and there are six geographical combatant commands.
I mentioned earlier that we have nine Unified Command Plan responsibilities, and I will discuss a little about some of these as well as our focus areas for 2016.
Deterring our adversaries from strategic attack against the United States while assuring our allies is our number one priority.
Deterrence is about conducting integrated and combined operations and activities. It requires a comprehensive understanding and perception of the strategic environment from an adversary’s point of view.
It is about communicating capability and intent. Whether we are deterring aggression in space, cyberspace or nuclear, and no matter the foe, our actions and capabilities must convince any adversary that they cannot escalate their way out of a failed conflict and that restraint is always the better option.
Our adversaries must appreciate that we are not limited to a single domain or axis; they must understand that we will respond in a time, place and a domain of our choosing.
So how do we ensure that we continue to deter our adversaries in a world where deterrence depends on the situation, and one size never fits all?
How do we convince adversaries and potential adversaries that our actions are aligned with our peacetime plans so that they don’t perceive actions as escalatory?
This requires us to have a deep understanding of our adversaries and to be able to rapidly connect to and digest traditional and non-traditional reams of information, integrating it together into historical and cultural models to create timely options for national security decision-makers.
This strategic deterrence solution set also includes maintaining a robust missile defense system that is integrated and coordinated across the globe. It is critical to have a command that integrates efforts across geographical combatant command boundaries, applying the warfighting focus, looking for gaps and seams and making recommendations on how best to employ these limited operational assets.
Part of that decision calculus involves understanding what our adversaries value that we can hold at risk, ensuring they understand the actions from which they must restrain and the unacceptable cost of non-restraint. That is deterrence at the most fundamental, foundational level. It is influencing an adversary’s decision making so that they do not take undesirable actions.
One purpose of missile defense is to strengthen deterrence and provide options for decision makers. It provides a presence and decreases any incentive for an adversary to use ballistic missiles against the United States and allies. It increases incentives for countries to seek diplomatic solutions and for allies and partners to work together. Of course, if deterrence fails, missile defense makes it increasingly difficult for adversaries to achieve their objectives.
Maintaining such a robust and diverse strategic deterrent, however, isn’t without challenges, so how do we address them? As you know, technological advances have increased at an unprecedented rate, and weapons and defensive capabilities continue to proliferate around the globe. Couple that with a considerably smaller defense budget in a global geo-political environment that is dealing with constant and rapid change. To counter this increased uncertainty, we must continue to work with our allies and partners to maintain a flexible approach in maximizing our current capabilities, as well as developing future capabilities that will provide both a technical hedge against future threats and provide increased capabilities.
So how will we do that? First, we must continue to strengthen our relationships across the globe by using innovative solutions to meet emerging security threats.
Second, it will be incumbent upon us to continue to press for technology and associated development. Part of this solution will be to focus on technologies that will maximize effects, increase accuracy and improve our capability to identify and engage targets. It is this kind of forward thinking that will increase our battle space awareness, better provide integrated coverage and allow us to maintain our weapons inventory more effectively.
In the last few years we’ve made significant progress in how we view space as a critical capability, and I am not just talking about watching Star Wars and The Martian.
It’s interesting to think back to the early 1990s and how we thought about space. In fact, when asked about his area of responsibility, a former combatant commander for space is oft reported to have responded, “Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely mind-bogglingly big it is.” That sounds like something I would say!
Today, this characterization of space from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy seems to be amiss. The truth is, in relative terms, earth-centric space is quite small.
Once thought of as a sanctuary, space is more congested, contested and competitive than ever, and it is becoming increasingly vulnerable. Other nations understand our reliance on space and the advantages we have reaped in defense and commercial sectors.
Adversaries and potential adversaries want to exploit those dependencies by turning them into vulnerabilities. Simply put, the threats are real and are evolving faster than we probably ever imagined. Irresponsible acts in space can have damaging consequences for all space-faring and space-dependent nations.
The ability of adversaries to conduct hostile operations in space presents a multifaceted space challenge and potentially threatens national sovereignty and survival. This is a particular concern to Adm. Haney as the combatant commander responsible for space, to include how critical our space capabilities are to our foundational nuclear deterrent mission, in addition to our other assigned missions.
Therefore, building capability, capacity and resilience in our space assets and architecture is a top priority, particularly as we consider how deeply integrated space is in our everyday lives.
Today, there are more than 60 nations operating in space, and we can only expect that number to continue growing. Similarly, we can expect the number of nations who may wish to deny the peaceful use of space to also increase.
Adversaries and potential adversaries are developing, and in some cases demonstrating, disruptive and destructive counterspace capabilities. Furthermore, they are exploiting what they perceive as space vulnerabilities, threatening the vital national, civil, scientific and economic benefits to the United States and the global community.
More specifically, Russia’s 2010 military doctrine emphasized space as a crucial component of its defense strategy, and Russia has publicly stated they are researching and developing counterspace capabilities to degrade, disrupt and deny other users of space. Russia’s leaders also openly assert that Russian armed forces have anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, conduct ASAT research and employ satellite jammers.
Last year, The Washington Times reported Russian President Putin as saying that Russia, following the Chinese military, is building a state-of-the-art weapon that would “guarantee [for] Russia the fulfillment of space defense tasks for the period until 2020.”
China, like Russia, has advanced “directed energy” capabilities that could be used to track or blind satellites, and like Russia, has demonstrated the ability to perform complex maneuvers in space.
In November, China conducted its sixth test of a hypersonic strike vehicle, and several news sources reported an ASAT the previous month. Of course, many of us are still dealing with China’s 2007 ASAT test, which created more than 3,000 pieces of debris, adding significantly to the congested space environment. Well over 80 percent of this debris, which litters one of the most utilized areas of space, will affect space flight for many decades to come.
North Korea has obviously demonstrated their ability to conduct nuclear tests and upgraded their launch facilities, conducting a satellite space launch last month.
It’s not just these nation states. The increasing globalization of space also provides opportunities to violent extremist organizations: from the ability to access, use and encrypt communications to leveraging global navigation aids for their benefit.
Clearly, these trends are of importance to the international community, space-faring nations and the United States at large.
While I won’t go through the many other security concerns, the reality is that the strategic environment I just described is much more complicated. In addition to planning for space operations in a contested, degraded and operationally limited environment, we must consider the integrated nature of space in conventional, cyber and nuclear operations.
As our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Dunford, has said, we must view today’s threats in the context of trans-regional, multi-domain and multi-functional.
We must be able to maintain situational awareness of it all, act where necessary, and as stated in the 2010 space policy, preserve the space environment.
To effectively deter adversaries and potential adversaries from threatening our space capabilities, we must view deterrence holistically. Threats must be surveyed across the “spectrum of conflict,” where escalation may occur with more than one adversary and in multiple domains.
Whether we are deterring aggression in space, cyberspace or nuclear, our actions and capabilities must make clear that no adversary will gain the advantage they seek in space or in any domain; that they cannot escalate their way out of a failed conflict; and that restraint is always the better option.
If I were to pick one innovative thing we do at USSTRATCOM, I would pick escalation control and how we view a nuclear armed adversary. Let me explain this concept for a few minutes. Escalation control is complex and can occur at any point, at varying degrees of intensity and with more than one adversary in multiple domains.
In peacetime, this starts with friction, tensions and misconceptions that can result in a conventional conflict that may include hybrid warfare, counter-space and cyberspace attacks. Once a conflict starts, though, it gets messy. Please envision webs and lattices of vertical and horizontal escalation. With adversaries who have nuclear weapons capabilities, this might also include nuclear provocations and demonstrations. To prevent extreme circumstances, I would argue we must deter in peacetime, and our peacetime activities have to shape the environment before crisis and conflict. They must dissuade our adversaries from considering the use of cyber, outer space or counterspace or nuclear utilization resulting in a strategic attack.
So we must consider deterrence activities to be part of a continuum requiring diligence throughout the spectrum. To do so requires us to have a deeper understanding of our adversaries such that working with our whole of government and international community at large we can successfully develop off-ramps to de-escalate friction points and or de-escalate a conflict at the lowest intensity level.
De-escalation of course is not easy. It requires us to not only work closely with our allies and partners but it also requires a full whole of government approach that includes diplomatic, informational and economic considerations alongside military options.
So how do we think about this? How do we develop the appropriate off-ramps to deter further violent, egregious activity by influencing the adversaries’ decision making so that we de-escalate in our favor? Are we thinking about our actions from the perception of the adversary? How do we know our intent is understood?
In the end, the adversary must understand they cannot escalate their way out of a failed conflict, and they will not receive the benefits they desire. Restraint is a better option.
So to address complex deterrence in the 21st century, first we must address the threat environment holistically and take tailored approaches. We must, I repeat it again, have a deeper understanding of our adversaries and potential adversaries and this requires investment in foundational intelligence. We must know the range of strategic threats each pose to the United States and to our allies and partners so that we can better anticipate new threats and developing situations.
Second, our actions must ensure that our adversaries and potential adversaries do not doubt our resolve and our readiness. Yes, the United States is committed to maintaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent force. We have seen this emphasized in a number of our strategic documents. The Quadrennial Defense Review, the Nuclear Employment Strategy and the president’s budget that was submitted for 2016 support many of the necessary improvements. We also retain the right to respond to an attack in space in a manner of our choosing as spelled out in the 2011 National Security Space Strategy. We are committed to resilient networks that defend against cyber-attack, as spelled out in the 2015 Department of Defense Cyber Strategy and as Secretary Carter said in his speech at Stanford, we will “provide offensive cyber options that, if directed by the president, can augment our military systems.”
U.S. Strategic Command personnel are executing our deterrence and assurance campaign plan 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, seeking to reinforce the cost and benefit of action versus restraint. Furthermore, at U.S. Strategic Command, we are working diligently to maintain and update corresponding plans that are keeping pace with emerging threats and synchronizing those plans with other combatant commands. We are also working hard to foster strong relationships with interagency partners and with our allies through a number of exchanges including participation in tabletop exercises and other training opportunities.
Finally, as we grow more into our understanding here, we have to also grow the next generation of strategic thinkers. These complex issues require talented people, whether serving in our all-volunteer force, in our government, as an industry partner or within academia, and as leaders, we must ensure we are developing the talent that will assume the mantle. They are our next Brodies and Kissingers. We are relying on their innovative approaches, their forward thinking, their ability to comprehend and dissect difficult problems and their questioning attitudes to get at this now and in the future. This is required to preserve not just our democratic way of life, but the foundational aspects of international norms.
Ultimately, our future is dependent on those who provide meaningful thought, to include the unthinkable − to consider the effects of a major cyber-attack that can have a significant impact on our country’s or an ally’s critical infrastructure; or attacks in space that prevent use of our space-enabled capabilities and all that we depend on from space; or the use of nuclear weapons.
And all of this, I submit to you, requires innovation.
I hope that I have given you some things to think about today and an appreciation of how we view the world at U.S. Strategic Command.
I’ve learned a great deal over the last year and two weeks, but I assure you that I learn something new every single day from the men and women who serve at USSTRATCOM.