General John E. Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM): Good morning, everybody. First of all, thanks very much, Jim [U.S. Army Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, commander of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command SMDC/ARSTRAT)]. Thanks for leading the soldiers, for you and [your wife] Angie leading the soldiers and families of SMDC/ARSTRAT. You do a great job and you’re a great friend. So thanks very much.
Gen. [ret. Carter] Ham, thank you very much for inviting me to be here. You guys are very lucky that you have somebody like Gen. Carter Ham and [his wife] Christi that are still ambassadors for the United States Army. Somebody that grew up from private to four star, from platoon to geographic combatant commander. Somebody that has seen it and done it, and still serves to this day. That’s pretty amazing. Thank you, Gen. Ham.
It’s kind of strange to look out on an Army audience, and I am the only -- no, there’s another blue suit. Oh, he’s on my staff. And to see so many friends. And it reminds me how much the Army has formed me in my life. Barry Pike [U.S. Army program executive officer for missiles and space] and I were stationed together on the Army KE ASAT [Kinetic Energy Anti-satellite] program way back when, working for [ret. Brig.] Gen. [James] Morgan Jellett in Huntsville in what, 1989, 1990? That was an amazing period in my life as an Air Force captain, being assigned to the United States Army. I always say, “Man, I learned more about leadership in that year I worked for Gen. Jellett than probably any other single year in my career.” And that’s a good and a bad thing. Because the Army does things different than the United States Air Force. But it was important to see that, and important to be part of that. I made great friends that stuck with me all the way through time.
And then you look around here and you see [ret. U.S. Army Lt. Gen.] Dick Formica and [ret. U.S. Army Lt. Gen.] Kevin Campbell and [ret. U.S. Army Lt. Gen.] Dave Mann and Jim Dickinson and folks that have been my partners, working through significant challenges in space and missile defense all the way through.
It is a great partnership because it is a joint problem, it is a significant problem, and I’m going to talk to you today about STRATCOM, the joint missions of STRATCOM. I’m going to end with a detailed discussion of missile defense and the way that we’re going forward in the future. I’ll talk for about 20-25 minutes, and then I’ll open it up for Q&A and you can ask me whatever the heck you want. You can ask me what I talked about, what I didn’t talk about. I won’t go classified, but I’ll go pretty much anywhere else you want to go.
So let’s talk about STRATCOM, United States Strategic Command. If you read the Unified Command Plan, what you’ll find is you’ll find STRATCOM listed as a functional combatant command. I actually chafe every time I read that. That is not the way I perceive my command, it’s not the way the people in my command perceive ourselves. We see ourselves as a global warfighting command. And if you look at the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that operate in that command – 184,000 of them today – they don’t see themselves as a functional combatant command. They see themselves as a warfighting command that shows up every day to do a warfighting mission. That is what we do. And we have that mission with three priorities. I’ll tell you the three priorities right up front. I ask you to just listen to the words and then frame in your mind what you think those words mean.
So our first priority: Above all else, we will provide a strategic deterrent.
Priority number two: If deterrence fails, we will provide a decisive response, and decisive in every way that word can mean.
And priority number three: We will do that with a combat-ready force – trained, equipped and resilient to any threat that they face.
That’s who we are.
When you hear those words, most people – probably even most people in this room – go right to the nuclear mission; and that is priority number one. The nuclear deterrent is priority number one. If you are in a command that has all the global nuclear capabilities of our nation, that better be priority number one.
But that is not the only thing that provides our strategic deterrent. That’s not the only thing that provides a decisive response. And that’s not the only thing that we have to be combat ready for.
Those priorities apply to every one of the missions. You heard Gen. Dickinson just a few minutes ago start walking through those missions. Nukes, space, cyber, missile defense, analysis and targeting, EW [electronic warfare], global strike. Seven different missions. But all those missions have those priorities. I don’t want to ever face a nuclear weapon in combat, nobody should. We have to deter that. But if it happens, we have to be ready to respond.
I don’t want to face war that extends into space. If war extends into space, we have to figure out how to fight and win that conflict. But real quick, there’s no such thing as war in space, it’s just war. It’s not war against space, it’s war against an adversary. And if somebody extends war into space, the problem is with the adversary, it’s not with the place, and we have to figure out how to fight the adversary using everything the United States can bring to bear against the problem.
And if you want to look at the missile defenders, the missile defenders that are sitting alert right now at [Fort] Greeley in Alaska, the missile defenders that are sitting alert in Colorado Springs, the missile defenders that are sitting in California, they are doing those three priorities. Priority number one: Above all else they will provide a strategic deterrent, because the fact that they are there provides a deterrent to the adversary that we’re facing in North Korea. A significant deterrent, because what are the elements of deterrence? The elements of deterrence go all the way back to Herman Kahn and Thomas Schelling in the 1960s. The elements of deterrence haven’t changed. The elements of deterrence are you have to have the ability to deny benefit to an adversary, impose costs on an adversary and communicate that credibly to the adversary. Those are the three elements of deterrence. And what do you think those soldiers are doing every day on alert? They’re doing the same fundamental mission that the missileers that are at F.E. Warren [Air Force Base, Wyoming], Minot [Air Force Base, North Dakota] and Malmstrom [Air Force Base, Montana] are doing every day. Their first mission is to prevent that missile from being fired against us. Their second mission is to make sure if that missile is fired, they can shoot it down. And the third piece of that puzzle is they have to be combat ready every day in order to do that.
So when you hear the priorities of U.S. Strategic Command – strategic deterrence, decisive response and combat ready – that applies to every element of our force.
So don’t just think about nukes when you think about U.S. Strategic Command. You have to think about all those pieces coming together.
But the thing you have to remember is strategic deterrence in the 21st century is wholly different than it was in the 20th century, and as a nation we struggle making that connection. We struggle in many ways understanding what 21st century deterrence really means.
Somehow, many people think that under the New START treaty we have 1,550 deployed nuclear weapons around the world and that deters all of our adversaries. That is not true. That is not true. It is the starting point for the deterrence, but everything else has to be laid on top in order to provide an effective deterrent. We have to figure out how to integrate all those things.
Look at the world. The world is wholly different. The world when Barry and I were looking at it, the threat was the Soviet Union. That’s what we were building those capabilities for. It was all about the Soviet Union. That program went away when the [Berlin] Wall came down. A lot of programs went away when the wall came down. But we were focused on a single adversary and the primary threat was nukes. They were going into space, we were going to have to figure out how to deal with that, but it was really primarily a nuclear threat and that’s what we were going to have to do.
President [Ronald] Reagan started to change that in a speech in 1983 where he announced the Strategic Defense Initiative. He announced going after it a different way, trying to change the structure, trying to bring in another element to the deterrent equation. And he did. And that capability, combined with everything else we were doing, helped us win the Cold War, but did not end the threat from missiles or nuclear weapons. And our adversaries have been watching us as time has been going on.
It’s really interesting when you look at the history of how our country looks at the world and what we’ve been doing over the last 25-30 years. Since we left that office together, Barry, it’s just interesting where the world has gone. Because we went through a period from 1990 to 2000 where we were struggling with what is the threat, where is the threat? And then in 2000, we came up with a concept called Capability Based Development and Planning. And most people in this room are old enough to remember Capability Based Development and Planning because that became the mantra. And it was really based on a functional analysis of requirements and it was based because there was no identifiable threat. Russia was our friend; China was not an adversary; North Korea was not a threat. We actually said those words. But the adversaries were watching us at the same time and they did not look at it the same way. We started this Capability Based Planning process and the first problem with Capability Based Planning was during that entire period, there was still a threat. And if you start at the nuclear piece, the nuclear piece was there the entire time. And why did people have nuclear weapons still in their inventory? Because they were our friends? That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. No. They still had nuclear weapons because they were there to threaten the United States of America.
And you can go all the way back to 1999, 2000. Vladimir Putin was elected President of Russia in 2000. Four months into his term he makes a speech, and in that speech he announced a fundamental change to Russian doctrine. That Russian doctrine now changes to say that the Russians now believe that in response to a conventional battlefield situation that is not going well, Russia will consider the use of low-yield nuclear weapons on a battlefield in order to change the equation.
That is not a new piece of information. That was announced by Putin in 2000 and has been consistent for the next 18 years. That is part of the Russian doctrine today.
2006, he announced that we’re going to modernize, we’re, the Russians, are going to modernize 70 percent of their nuclear strategic force by the year 2020, and then in 2015, [Dmitry] Rogozin, [deputy Prime Minister of Russia in charge of defense industry of Russia], announces we’re actually doing better than that. We’re going to get to 100 percent modernized by 2020.
Where are we as the United States? Very close to zero percent modernized, although we’re starting down that path. Over the last three years we put the modernization plans in place.
But when we look at deterrence and we look at the whole, the threat has always been there.
The second problem with Capability Based Planning is that we announced our capabilities to the world. We told them exactly what we were doing, exactly what we were building, and then we showed them on the battlefield for the last 15 years how those things worked. We demonstrated exactly what our concepts were, what our operations were and they watched.
So why are the Chinese building significant counter-space capabilities? Ground-based, space-based, jamming. Why are they building those capabilities? Because they’re our friends? No. They’re building those capabilities to threaten the United States of America. They’re building those capabilities because they watch what we’ve done for the last few years. They are creating a significant concern for us.
That is not a concern today. Today we are still the most powerful, dominant military force on the planet, and there’s no doubt that in any conflict today we would be superior in that conflict. But everybody in this room should be worried about 10 years from now. Will we still be in that place? Will we still be in the place where we can control any kind of escalation, control any kind of military conflict?
That should be the goal of this country. We should never get into a place where we’re in an even fight, we’re in a fair fight. We should always be in a dominant position because that allows us and our nation to reach out to our allies and do the things that we need to do in this world.
So Capability Based Planning was really bankrupt at the beginning. We just didn’t see it coming. Because the threat is there and our adversaries have been watching. And when you put those pieces together, that means we have to respond, and we have to respond quickly.
Strategic deterrence is how do I integrate all of the elements in the new threat environment that we have in the world? It is a threat-based problem and we have to have threat-based planning and threat-based answers to how we’re going to do that business. And we’re walking down that path now. We’ve gone back.
If you look at the recent Nuclear Posture Review, what you’ll see is a threat-based view of nuclear weapons. And I look at the nuclear posture, and I had a significant hand in writing the Nuclear Posture [Review] that comes out, and I think it’s a very good document. I think it addresses the nuclear threat exactly right. I think it’s the way a strategy should be written, with the ends, ways and means all the way through. It has very specific recommendations based on the threat, because as a combatant commander, I can’t look at the world the way I wish it was. I have to look at the world the way it is and deal with that threat that is out there, and the Nuclear Posture Review does just that.
But I do have some concerns with the Nuclear Posture Review, but it’s actually to do with nothing that’s in the document. Everything that’s in the document I support. The only problem I have with the Nuclear Posture Review is that the Missile Defense Review is a separate document. And when I look at strategic deterrence in the 21st century, it’s a combination of all our capabilities, and right up front is offense and defense.
If you look at deterrence, it’s the integration of offense and defense. And we’re taking our time right now to get the Missile Defense Review right, to make sure it’s aligned with the Nuclear Posture Review. And I’m confident now that [Under] Secretary [of Defense for Policy, John] Rood and Secretary [of Defense James] Mattis and [Deputy] Secretary [of Defense Patrick] Shanahan looking at it, that we’re going to be aligned with those things coming through. But the fact that we kept those two pieces separate going on tells you that our nation doesn’t fully embrace what 21st century deterrence really means. Because if we did, it would not only be offense and defense, but it would be space and cyber. It would be all the strategic elements of our national power to deter strategic conflict on our adversaries.
Every time we do a major-scale exercise, whether we – STRATCOM – exercise with EUCOM [U.S. European Command] or PACOM [U.S. Pacific Command] or the Joint Staff or whoever it is, there’s a couple of things that should be important findings to everybody in this room.
The first piece is that when we exercise, we realize we get to a certain point, especially if you’re exercising against what would be a peer competitor, you get to a point where you don’t want to escalate, and you have to ask yourself, “What are our priorities?” And the number one priority for our nation’s defense, and the Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford] said it as we walked through an exercise almost exactly a year ago now. It was a Global Lightning exercise. He looked at what was going on and he said, “Everybody take a step back. Everybody’s worried about the conventional fight and all this kind of stuff. What is our number one priority? Our number one priority is deter the use of nuclear weapons. To prevent the use of nuclear weapons on ourselves or our allies, and prevent catastrophic space or cyberspace activity that would damage this nation. That’s our number one priority.”
If that’s our number one priority, then we have to be structured in order to do that. We have to make sure that we work together with EUCOM and together with PACOM to make sure we deter, we respond, and we’re combat ready all the time. It has to be all of us working together. That is global integration in a nutshell.
The second thing that comes out every time we do this exercise is that as soon as you get into any kind of fight with somebody who’s a near peer or peer competitor, you run out of missile defense assets like that. Just like that.
So how are we going to deal with those issues? The first issue is, we better figure out how to integrate our global capabilities together. The Chairman is convinced that global integration is the key. All the combatant commanders agree with that. We’re moving down the path to global integration and we’re working towards as soon as late this year to have a fully integrated global exercise where all of those stress points are established. It’s not just the missile defense things that become a challenge, tankers become a challenge. There are so many global assets that become a challenge in this kind of environment, and most everybody that wears the uniform today, over 90 percent of the people that wear a uniform today, never had to think about a strategic peer adversary. They’ve never had to think about losing air superiority. They’ve never had to think about losing space superiority. That has never been part of their equation. And when you actually have to think about those things, those things are really, really hard to do. And the air and missile defense elements that we’re going to talk about today, that you’re going to talk about in the panels, are key to moving that forward in the future.
So what do we have to do in missile defense? Well, missile defense, we need to improve a number of things. From a global missile defense capability, I think the highest priority in my opinion is improved sensors. We’re going to build a new radar in Alaska, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is building the LRDR, the long-range discrimination radar in Alaska. That’s a critical piece of the puzzle.
Continue to improve radars across the board. Radars are a critical element of our architecture, but I’ll tell you what. There’s not enough ships, there’s not enough islands in the Pacific that radars can answer all your sensor questions. We’re going to have to go to space to actually do the mid-course discrimination element of this mission. The Missile Defense Agency knows how to do that. They have a plan to do that. We’re struggling to get started with it. It’s taken way too long. It’s called the Mid-Course Tracking Sensor. The great thing about the Mid-Course Tracking Sensor is that it will be able to discriminate the mid-course phase of the problem. But the other thing it will be able to do is, because of that sensor technology going to be able to look down and see some of the new emerging threats like hypersonics that are challenging to us because we’ve built an architecture that is primarily focused on the ballistic missile characterization of the threat.
Our adversaries have been watching that again, and that’s why they’re going down hypersonics and maneuvering reentry vehicles and all the other pieces. Those are counters to us, and we have to counter them.
We need better kill vehicles. We need more reliable kill vehicles on the front end. We need multi-object kill vehicles on the front end of our interceptors. We need more capacity in the interceptors.
But we need to work all those things in unison, and those are the priorities that I have. Sensors, better kill vehicles and then capacity. That’s how we should go down that path and build it in the future.
The interesting thing about the missile defense piece is that we’ve had fits and starts. Certain areas, we’ve gone unbelievably fast. You look at C-RAM, counter rocket artillery mortar system. Basically the threat was there in 2005. The requirement was developed three months. A year later the Navy Phalanx and some Army sensors integrated into a system with integrated command and control deployed. Twelve months, basically, from start to finish in theater with a new weapon system. Since then, over 7,000 warns; 375 actual engagements. That’s a remarkable capability and that’s going fast. We have to be able to go fast.
My biggest concern about this entire structure is that in so many places we’ve kind of lost the ability to go fast. Oh my gosh, we take forever to do anything anymore. And our adversaries are not suffering the same problem. That’s why even though we are dominant today, and I expect to be dominant for at least a decade, if we don’t figure out how to go fast again, our adversaries will catch up.
There’s five areas where we have to go fast. Gen. Ham talked about one of them awhile ago. That’s the budget. We’ve got to have a budget on the first of the year. If we don’t have a budget the first of the year in not too long our nation, and I can’t think of another way to put it, we will be screwed. It’s just that straight-forward.
I like to tell strategic stories since I’m Strategic Command, and I like to tell the story of [ret. Adm. Hyman] Rickover in the Navy, [ret. Gen. Bernard] Schriever in the Air Force, and how fast they went. Schriever built the new ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile]. Five years, $2.14 billion, 800 three-stage solid rocket ICBMs, 800 new missile holes in five states across the country, five Air Force bases that didn’t exist when he started. From square one to deployed and operational in five years.
Rickover took a reactor that was the size of this building and put it on a 28-foot submarine and deployed it in five years.
If you take that $2.14 billion that Schriever had and you mark it forward into the future, that’s $17 billion in today’s money. The new Minuteman replacement, the GBSD [ground-base strategic deterrent], current estimate -- 400 missiles, IOC [initial operational capability] 2029, FOC [full operational capability] 2035, and current estimate is roughly $84 billion. That’s not going fast. That is not going fast.
You look at all the capabilities we have, we have to figure out how to go fast and it starts with the budget. But then it goes into requirements. I just talked about the C-RAM [counter rocket, artillery, and mortar] requirements. Three months.
I can sit down with three subject matter experts in any one of my areas from nuke to missile defense and if I sit down with them, I can get you a good requirements document inside three months. Did it with C-RAM. Everything should be that urgent. It shouldn’t take longer than three months to get a requirement for anything, and it should be threat-based to counter that threat and build it against that threat. But we take sometimes three years in the requirements process to get the requirements done. And I’ve talked to the Vice Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Air Force Gen. Paul Selva]. He’s a good friend of mine, the Vice Chairman, he’ll get it through inside three months every time. All you have to do is get through the process and ask him. But it takes our attention. We can’t just let the process work.
Then the acquisition business. It used to be the acquisition business was run by colonels. And the colonels were given the authorities and responsibilities to go fast. And they took risk. Sometimes they failed, and sometimes they were fired. They don’t have those responsibilities anymore. All the responsibilities have moved to the Pentagon. The good news is Secretary Shanahan, [Under] Secretary [of Defense for acquisition and sustainment, Ellen] Lord, they’re moving stuff back out to the field. They’re moving back out and putting authorities in the hands, but we have to allow them to really take risk and move out. Because those are the last two.
You know, when we test, we don’t have any risk assessment anymore. There’s an Army example of THAAD [Terminal High Altitude Area Defense]. If you look back at the history of THAAD and the history of THAAD is pretty old, actually. A lot of people in the room think THAAD is a brand new weapon system, but THAAD actually went through development in 1995-1999. And during that period, 1995 to 1999, six failures. Six failures in a row. That’s pretty significant. Gen. Schriever, the hero of the Air Force space and missile business, the first time he tried to build the first spy satellite – Discovery, Corona – failed 13 times in a row. Sometimes he’s a hero. But 13 times in a row he failed. The program director for THAAD back in the ‘90s was Col. Lou Dieter. He had a great quote at the end. As he went through those failures and he finally got to the place where he finished, he looked and he said, “We knew where we were going, we just had to be allowed to complete the journey.”
I ask you today, if you had a program that went four years with six failures, do you think everybody would say yep, keep going. Imagine a world without THAAD today. Imagine where we had a world where we couldn’t put THAAD on the Korean Peninsula to defend our southern bases and ports. Imagine a world where we couldn’t put THAAD on Guam to defend the critical assets that are there on Guam. Imagine a world where that didn’t exist. That’s a world I don’t want to be part of. But we have to get back to where we allow our program directors to take risk. We have to get back to where we allow failure in the right way. And each of those failures, if you look back at it, there was component failures, there was process failures, but each one was a learning experience. To fix the weapon system so the weapon system when it came on line, it would work.
Rickover had a great quote. I’ve shared it with a number of folks over the years, but Rickover’s quote was, “Success teaches nothing. Failure teaches everything.”
And it’s true, if you do it the right way. It’s not to take risk that’s foolish, it’s not just a test to fail. You don’t try to test to fail. But you try to test to push the envelope. You try to test – because if you actually get in a threat situation and you’re on the peninsula and THAAD is brought to bear, or the GBIs [ground-based interceptors] are brought to bear, they have to work. And in order to work you have to push the envelopes and test, and that means that you will suffer failures in tests, and each one of those failures would be a learning experience that you can bring to bear on an adversary. That’s how you get to a capability that will work, and we have to do that. We have to go back to understanding risk, understanding how to test, understanding acquisition, understanding requirements, getting a budget and moving fast. That’s what our nation is calling us to do. But holy cow, the missile defense business is an exciting business. And more than any other element in our country, the missile defense business can look at programs and find examples of exactly those five things. So you know that it works. You know that it’s there.
The way Jim ended his remarks is perfect, because it’s really all about the soldiers. We should never put a soldier in the field with equivalent or less capabilities to our adversaries. The equipment that they’re given when they deploy, and oh by the way, the soldiers in Alaska are deployed right now. When they’re deployed, that equipment should be the best that the United States can bring to bear. Not good enough, not equal – superior and dominant. They’re our sons and daughters. It’s criminal if we don’t give them the best. That’s what we have to do.
I’ve been a general a long time now. I never expected to be a general to begin with, but I sure as hell never expected to be a four star. But my son about five years ago, he looked at me and said, “Dad, I’ve been watching you ever since you made general. I realized you don’t do any real work anymore.”
It kind of torqued me off when he said it, because man, I feel like I work hard. But the more I thought about it, he’s exactly right. I don’t do any of the real work anymore. The soldiers on the pictures that Gen. Dickinson put up, they do the real work. The airmen, sailors and Marines. The sailors that are underway on the [ballistic missile submarine USS] Alabama today, underway on the [ballistic missile submarine USS] Tennessee, underway on the [ballistic missile submarine USS] Pennsylvania, they do the real work. The airmen that are under the ground in the missile fields, they do the real work. The soldiers that sit on alert in Colorado Springs, reaching out to the missile defense guys in Alaska and California, they do the real work. Our job is to make sure that we lead them effectively, we make sure they have the right stuff, we train them so that they are combat ready when our nation calls. And if we do the job right, we will deter every adversary on the planet, and if we do it wrong we’ll have to bring a decisive response to bear. And if we bring a decisive response to bear, it better be decisive.
That’s who we are. That’s USSTRATCOM, and that’s the missile defense business.
So I thank you for your time this morning. I’ll be glad to take questions.
Question: General, Sydney Freedberg, Breaking Defense. Hi.
General Hyten: Hi, how are you?
Question: I want to pull a thread that you mentioned. The concern that there’s not enough capacity, and given that interceptors are going to cost more than the things they’re intercepting, we tend to fire two of them, it may not be currently possible to get enough capacity.
How do you deal with that in that near peer scenario? Is there some how do you square that circle of the fact that they can fire lots more cheap missiles that we can never afford to counter with our current architecture?
General Hyten: The thing about our current architecture is our current architecture is focused on North Korea. Our current architecture is not focused on China and Russia. So the structure that we have right now with the interceptors, look at where they’re based, look at the numbers. They’re focused on the Korean threat. Because the Korea threat is the most uncertain threat because we don’t know how that’s going to play out. So what we have to have is we have to make sure that those capabilities always stay ahead of the Korean threat.
Russia and China are a different problem. It’s interesting that our adversaries are concerned about threats from THAAD or threats from Aegis Ashore. Those capabilities are not built against their capabilities. They’re not. The way that we deter Russia and China are with other elements of the capabilities under my command. That’s why it’s not one answer fits all. That’s why you have to look at deterrence in the 21st century in a multi-polar way and a multi-domain way.
The Korea problem is different than the China problem is different than the Russia problem. Each one requires different assets. But it’s not just the nuclear weapons of the United States of America that we bring to bear. Against Korea, we bring defense. Against Russia and China we bring space, cyber and a number of different other elements. We have to look at each adversary differently and separately, and then we have to look at the impact of what we do as a whole.
That’s the other piece we struggle with, because everything we do with respect to Korea impacts China. Everything we do with China impacts Russia. Everything we do with Russia impacts everybody else. We have to make sure we understand the multi-polar nature of everything that we do, and we have to understand the multi-domain nature of what we’re bringing to bear on the problem. There’s no one single answer that fits all. That’s why we want to have a broad spectrum of capabilities. The seven mission areas under STRATCOM right now, soon to be six when [U.S.] Cyber Command elevates. That will be an interesting dynamic in how the United States deals with that. If you want to talk about that, we can do it in the future. But you bring to bear the specific capabilities you have against those threats, but it’s not one size fits all. And we keep, as a nation, trying to make it one size fits all, and it doesn’t work that way.
I think we have to do a better job also explaining to our nation as well as our adversaries, which pieces are surrounding their threat to the United States, and they are threats.
Question: Thanks, sir, for joining us today. Jeff Wood from Northrop Grumman.
How will the proliferation of adversary DE [directed energy] weapons change the deterrence frame?
General Hyten: I’m sorry. You broke up in the middle.
Question: How will the proliferation of adversary DE weapons change the deterrence framework? And then when do you think it will begin to significantly affect that framework?
General Hyten: So directed energy is an interesting challenge. I think directed energy has a huge potential on the missile defense side. By its very nature, though, if you get to a directed energy capability that can reach out into space, it could change the space dynamic as well.
I had a boss once who was the Secretary of the Air Force, but I went into a meeting with him and it was on directed energy. The person that was briefing him started briefing on the specific directed energy technology and, I’ll just say he was selling it real hard, and the Secretary said, “Stop, wait a second. I want you to look me in the eye. Imagine a neon sign on my head that says in the entire history of the Department of Defense there’s never been a directed energy system that worked. Now start again.”
But we’re getting close. We’re getting close to where that technology is going to be and it’s going to work. And I think it is going to change the defensive structure a lot. It’s going to change the defensive structure because I think it’s going to move the opportunity to intercept further to the left. If you look at Patriot, that’s very terminal. THAAD, first word is terminal. If you look at GBI. GBIs still are kind of in the latter half at best of the mission. The further you can push it back, the better you are, and the day you can actually shoot a missile down over somebody’s head and have that thing drop back on their head, that will be a good day, because as soon as you drop it back on their head that’s the last one they’re going to launch, especially if there’s something nasty on top of it. And I think directed energy brings that to bear. But we have to worry about what that means to our capabilities as well.
So any time a new technology comes online, you have to look at the pros and the cons. I believe the pros in this case very much outweigh the cons because of how our systems are structured, how they’re deployed and where they work. But there’s a lot of work to be done in directed energy to make sure we understand what the threat is going to be, how to respond to that threat, and then on how you use that capability to our advantage. I think we can do that, and we can do that in a way that can keep us ahead of our adversaries.
But again, it goes back to the threat-based approach to looking at it. If you look at a capabilities-based approach, we’re going to be looking at directed energy and doing all kinds of fancy stuff. Let’s look at it from a threat. What is the threat? And that threat requires a certain capability to respond to it. Part of that threat is a missile threat against us that we can use directed energy against, but part of that is a directed energy capability that’s going to be used against us so we have to figure out how to counter both of those. And a threat-based approach to analysis is so needed right now. We’ve got to get away from a little bit of the capabilities will always dominate every answer.
Question: General, Tom Karako from CSIS.
You mentioned three priorities for missile defense in this order: sensors, more reliable kill vehicles, and then capacity. When I look at the 2019 budget for MDA and the services, I see in the first instance a capacity budget, buying a lot more, procuring a lot more stuff. And you mentioned the radars, in a sense we’re getting more capacity of radars. And in terms of space sensors that you spoke so emphatically about, it seems to still be kind of in the study phase. It’s not going that fast.
So is there a prospect to bring that to the left, to get that back in the first place where it needs to be?
General Hyten: There is. I’ll just hopefully point out the obvious. I did that intentionally. I think that when you look at – you know, the funny part is, one of the reasons I came to Huntsville back in 1990 is I was the systems engineer on the Air Force element of SDI [Strategic Defense Initiative]. I was the missile defense guy that was basically, if you remember back in the 1980s, at that point the Air Force was the sensor piece. The Army was the shooter piece. So I was the sensor guy.
Back then we recognized right away that the ground-based element from a sensor perspective would always be deficient and we had to go to space. And we actually developed a concept for how to do that in 1988 and 1989, and it was right there, and it was actually affordable. Affordable, it was going to cost a few billion dollars. But look how much money we’ve spent on radars; look how much money we’ve spent on ground-based sensors; look how much money we’ve spent on all those things, and then we still have exploitable holes. We have to get past that.
So this is a concept that has been out there for 30 years. It’s 30 years since 1988 and the nation has not stepped forward.
We always get afraid of the budget in space. We always get afraid of the sticker. But as we’re arguing about the sticker in space, we’re spending billions other ways, and we’re not getting to the ultimate answer that we need.
It’s not that we don’t need ground-based radars. You have to have ground-based radars. Ideally, those ground-based radars are tied to the shooter that you’re going to do so you can get that, wherever you’re shooting you have that tight shooter sensor connectivity. But you have to move that thing forward, back towards the enemy, and in order to do that you need the space-based sensor.
So MDA has the concept right now, MTS [missile defense targeting system]. It’s right there. The Air Force has worked with MDA. They agree on what that concept is. It’s still in the conceptual phases. You’re right, when you look at the budget you see that. I want that move to the left. So I believe that the threat demands that we move it to the left, and so I’m advocating for it. It’s up to the nation now to decide how we’re going to do that. But that’s why I put the priorities there. Because I think in order for us to take full advantage of every shooter we have, we need to make sure you have the best sensors you can have so you can shoot early, and the best interceptors on top so you can shoot effectively. And then the capacity problem becomes less of a burden.
Question: Hi, Amanda Macias from CNBC.
Of the three adversaries that you mentioned between Russia, China and North Korea, you used uncertain for North Korea, but I’m wondering who’s progressing quicker and which of the three you’re most concerned about.
General Hyten: Well it’s, again, three different problems. So I think Russia is the most significant threat, just because they pose the only existential threat to the country right now. So you have to look at that from that perspective.
I think Korea is the most uncertain threat. The most dangerous near-term threat because you’re not sure how that’s going to play out this year. There seems to be good things going on, on the [Korean] Peninsula right now. We’ll have to wait and see now that the Olympics is over exactly where that goes.
I always remain hopeful. Anybody that wears a uniform does not want war. Goodness knows, you don’t want war on that peninsula. If you’ve been there, you know that you don’t want to go down that path. But our job is to provide basically maneuver room for our diplomats to try to get to an answer. That’s what we’re doing right now. The whole campaign we’re in is to provide that.
Then if you talk about moving fast, there’s nobody moving faster now in the world than China. China is the adversary that’s moving fast. They’re moving fastest in space, they’re moving fastest in hypersonics. They still trail the United States of America in most categories, and certainly in capacity. But holy cow, they are moving fast.
So we have to make sure that we deal with the pace of the threat the existential threat, and the dangerous threat. And we have to deal with them all at the same time.
And, like I said, I wish I could look at them as friends and partners. But when you have weapons that are built – that are clearly built for you – as a military officer, as a combatant commander, I don’t get a choice. I have to figure out how to counter those threats, and I have to look at them as threats.
Moderator: Sir, thank you. I think that’s all we have for you today.
General Hyten: All right.