U.S. Strategic Command

 

Speeches

Space Weapons in the 21st Century

By Vice Admiral Carl V. Mauney | Washington, D.C. | January 29, 2009

VADM Mauney: George, thank you for that, and if it's okay, I'd like to remain seated so I can read my speech. [Laughter]. I'll try to have a conversation, and I'm certainly in awe to be following Senators Bingham and Kyle. Our nation is indeed fortunate to have their leadership and the leadership of our other members of Congress and indeed this new administration as we move into this future which has been characterized as uncertain.

I'd also like to acknowledge Secretary Perry and Admiral Mies and other senior military and defense officials who are here. Again, I'm honored be able to speak to you today and I hope to do justice to the occasion and to the event.

I'd like to talk about deterrence today. I think General Chilton, my boss, has most eloquently described his views of the stockpile, the importance of the stockpile, so I want to work into a little bit of a different track, pulling on some of his themes though, to be certain.

I'd also say that he sends his regrets. He would have liked to have been here today. Again, but, I'm going to try to give a good message and help move this discussion along.

I think there are three kinds of uncertainties as we think about hedging that we ought to consider. One of them is uncertainty with respect to our competitors' intents. The second one is uncertainties as to whether our deterrent strategy will actually work. We talk about the failure of deterrence and what would happen then, that's kind of the essence of this discussion. And the third one is, and Senator Kyle mentioned this, is uncertainties regarding technological failures and/or technological surprise in the future.

How does deterrence work? At STRATCOM we've spent the last six to eight months, we've had a group doing some thinking about deterrence, Cold War deterrence, the transition through the 1990s and indeed to today, and in preparation for the QDR [Quadrennial Defense Review] and the NPR [Nuclear Posture Review] which are around the corner. I'm going to walk through some of our thinking, and again, this is thinking. But deterrence I think at its heart is about decisively influencing an adversary's decision making process or a potential adversary, by altering their perceptions of potentially benefits they would obtain by moving down a certain path. Arguably at one end of the spectrum attacking the United States, our interests or our allies; the costs they might incur through such an attack; or the benefits and costs of continued restraint. It's about adversary perceptions. And it's what adversary decisionmakers think that matters.

Those perceptions can be articulated as a function of many factors, and I'll highlight three. One is who the adversary is, and in the broadest sense of the term their identities, their values, goals, objectives, fears, aspirations, strategies, doctrine, politics, and at the end of the day capabilities.

Second, what the adversary is trying to do, trying to accomplish or not do. For example, use nuclear weapons, transfer weapons of mass destruction to terrorists, or even perhaps attack our space assets. Those are just three possibilities.

And the third is, what are the circumstances in which they're making this decision? In order to develop a sound deterrent strategy for the future we must understand who we seek to deter, what we want to deter them from doing, and under what conditions.

Our deterrence operations must be designed to convince our adversaries that if they attack our vital interests, we will deny them the benefits that they seek and we will impose costs on them they truly fear. We must also convince them that continued restraint on their part will result in an outcome that is either acceptable or they view as beneficial.

Our deterrence operation concept sounds pretty simple. It is complex in implementation as in a real world.

What does it take to wage deterrence? First, we need credible capabilities to deter the threats to our security interests that are real and of sufficient magnitude. Thinking along these lines we need to accurately have warning or intelligence to help us measure intent and action. In the case of missile attack, for example, attackers must know that we can tell when they initiate an attack.

Second, our strategic communications capabilities must yield consistency in message and accuracy in getting to the intended decisionmaker.

Third, those we seek to deter must know that our President's orders will be received rapidly and completely, reliably, by our military forces when necessary.

Fourth, once the order is received our forces – our great men and women in uniform who are trained, focused and well led – are ready to act to defend our nation. And let me tell you, today they are. In my trips out to the silos of our ICBM force, on the submarine crews, and indeed on our bomber crews, the renewed attention and focus that has been paid to this area is paying dividends already. As we move through the discussions of the nuclear deterrent, one of the imperatives is that these men and women must continue to know their mission is important, and we believe that they are important in this mission area.

Finally, the actions, in this case if our deterrence fails, must be perceived to be overwhelmingly effective and sufficient. We must be prudent and not rely on too much precision in our force-sizing calculation.

We need to develop an accurate understanding of each of the multiple potential adversaries we face, and I'll walk through some of the concerns. What's their world view of historical and cultural influences? What are their values and their perceived interests? What is their weight of war? How we think of war is probably different than how almost anyone else thinks of war. What's their decision-making process? What's their perception of the United States and other relevant actors?

Next, we need to conduct sustained proactive deterrence campaigns that are tailored to specific potential adversaries and deterrence objectives. We want to increase the range of deterrent options available. We want to avoid surprise by continuously working to deter.

Next, we need to bring all elements of American national power to bear in our tailored deterrence campaigns. Decisions we seek to influence are not only military decisions by military commanders, they're primarily political military decisions made by political leaders. Doing the required interagency collaboration is hard, but it is critical.

Next, we need to bring our friends' and allies' capabilities to bear. They offer different perspectives on the adversary frequently. They sometimes have different means of communicating with the adversary. They sometimes have other military capabilities not in our collection that are important to deterrence.

At STRATCOM, as I mentioned, we're thinking about deterrence and we're looking at what kinds of deterrent strategies we might bring to bear.

I'd like to talk just a few minutes about the role of our nuclear forces in deterrence. Some argue that the only legitimate role for our nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear weapon use by others against us or our allies, and this is probably their most important role, but the deterrence roles of U.S. nuclear forces goes well beyond deterrence of nuclear attack.

U.S. nuclear forces continue to play other roles in strategic deterrence. They cast a long shadow over the decision-making of any adversary attempting attacks on U.S. vital interests or contemplating such attacks. They make it clear that the American President always has an option of last resort for which the adversary has no effective counter. They pose what's been called the threat that leaves something to chance, the possibility in the mind of the adversary that their actions could result in unintended or uncontrolled escalation. And these are the deterrence dynamics that only nuclear weapons can provide.

If we were to decide to forego nuclear weapons altogether in the future, we'd have to reconsider the fundamentals of our deterrent strategy for it would no longer be built on the firm foundation that the nuclear arsenal provides today.

I'd like to talk about three key uncertainties in our deterrence strategy and the efforts that our hedging must account for in the 21st Century. The first is the uncertainty regarding the strategic intent of potential competitors over the next several decades. We must make critical decisions about what we want our future nuclear force structure and related infrastructure to look like without knowing who might pose significant threats in the future and what those threats might look like.

In doing so we must recognize that the decisions we make regarding our future nuclear force structure and infrastructure may themselves influence the nature of future threats we face or don't face. It's the nature of competition that the competitor has a say in the outcome of the competition.

We must consider hedging strategies that preserve or provide the ability to wisely and effectively posture our nuclear forces up or down in response to changes in competitor intent or actions signaling intent, and we must do so without creating self-fulfilling prophesies of threats that arise that we might have avoided. And as we all know, intent can change quickly.

The second uncertainty involves our confidence in whether deterrence will work against various strategic threats and the hedges we might create to both enhance deterrence of such threats and to deal with deterrence failure.

We face emerging forms of 21st Century warfare -- transnational terrorism, cyber warfare, and counter-space warfare -- which we have little experience in deterring. We need to think carefully about how deterrence will or will not apply to these threats and we need to tailor our deterrent strategy and associated capabilities accordingly. I believe deterrence does have a critical role to play in these threats.

We must also be prepared to protect our vital interests and those of our allies should deterrence of those forms of warfare also fail. We cannot rely on deterrence alone to address these threats or deterrence of them, we'll be more likely to fail. And we must accordingly explore non-traditional or perhaps indirect strategies for deterrence.

The third form of uncertainty we need to hedge against in our deterrence takes two forms. First, the potential for failures of key U.S. technologies. Senator Kyle has addressed General Chilton's comments on the stockpile, and I know there will be additional comments today, but warheads and delivery systems are aging and need to be considered.

The second form of uncertainty, the obvious one of technological surprise by a competitor that truly undermines our deterrent strategy. Hedging against these uncertainties involves many things but includes maintaining an effective scientific and industrial infrastructure and key technologies essential to deterrence.

And my personal favorite is the human capital side of this. Every submarine I've served on but one had nuclear weapons on it. That is not the case today as our SSBNs are the main Navy element of this. Additionally, in the Navy's case, our surface ships for many years, many of them had nuclear weapons as well. So in the Navy's case, as is true in the Air Force, we understand and are working to broaden that experience base as much as we can; but with the size of the stockpile, the size of the operationally deployed force, that's going to be challenging in the future.

Another point I would make along those lines, we were talking earlier during the pre-session, is the importance of our nation's education system in building scientists and engineers who will be able to take on the mantle of those who are leaving our service here in the next year or two.

The second element I'd like to highlight in hedging is preserving diversity in our deterrence capability so that a single failure or a competitor breakthrough does not undermine our effectiveness.

I'll close by saying deterrence was an essential element of our national security before the Cold War and before the introduction of nuclear weapons. States have sought to deter each other for millennia. And at USSTRATCOM we're working to lay the ground work for the NPR this year and our goal is to ensure deterrence will remain a viable and essential element of U.S. strategy and security policy in the future.

With your help we can pass the test these critical uncertainties present and continue to protect the American people for many years.

Thank you very much.