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SPEECH | Aug. 1, 2018

U.S. Strategic Command Deterrence Symposium Opening Remarks

General John E. Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM): Good morning, everybody. As Bob Taylor said, welcome. Secretary [Ellen] Lord, [Under Secretary of Defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics], distinguished visitors, people that came from all over the world to be here in Omaha for the next couple of days, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you taking time to come and talk about this very important topic.


We started this discussion yesterday down at Offutt [Air Force Base, Nebraska]. We started talking about deterrence at a classified setting which is where deterrence usually is discussed. We had some very interesting discussions with our allies and friends. The one thing that became clear to me is that as we sit here in the 21st century today, there is no common agreement on what deterrence means in the 21st century, which is why the discussion of what deterrence means should not be in a classified setting – it should be in a public setting. So, we’re here in a public setting with members from all walks of life, members of the media, members of the military to talk about what deterrence means in the 21st century.


Deterrence is a complicated subject and the basics go back to the original discussions in the early 1960s led by Herman Kahn at Rand and Thomas Schelling at Yale, looking at the basics of deterrence. And the basics are still the same. The ability to impose costs on an adversary, to deny benefits to that adversary, and to make sure that capability is communicated credibly to the adversary so they won’t act in interests that are a different to yours. It’s really the same thing.


But what is different in the 21st century, and we talked about it yesterday. Today, we have not just one adversary, we have many potential adversaries, and everything that we do in all parts of the world impacts everybody else. The world is very much intertwined in today’s day and age.


We have different desires and different perceptions, but the nations that are in here today have a set of common values and a desire for peace as we look out into the world and that is what we’re trying to create.


So as you look at my command, as you look at the history of our command, and it dates back to Strategic Air Command. It dates back to the days of [Gen.] Curtis LeMay. That’s the legacy that we have. And the motto of Strategic Air Command is the motto of U.S. Strategic Command, and that is Peace is Our Profession [...]. And it applies to everything that we do.


But it’s no longer just a nuclear world. We have to look at all the capabilities we have. We have to look at nuclear and space and cyber and conventional and all the pieces that come together and work with our allies to create the environment where peace can take hold in the world.


In order for that to happen, we have to have our most precious resource put out in front to make sure we do that job. That most precious resource is our sons and daughters. And under U.S. Strategic Command, not counting our allies, there are 162,000 Americans today that are doing that mission. One hundred sixty-two thousand people that aren’t here in Omaha, aren’t in this nice place, aren’t necessarily in air-conditioned rooms. Americans that are serving under the ground, under the sea, in the air, operating in space, operating in cyberspace, operating in the various elements that we have to work in to try to create this integrated deterrent element.


Because our command only has three priorities, and the three priorities are number one, above all else, we will provide a strategic deterrent for ourselves and for our allies. Priority number two is that if deterrence fails, we’ll provide a decisive response. Decisive in every way that word means. And number three, we’ll do it with a combat-ready force. Trained, resilient, equipped to do the job it has to do.


When the commander of STRATCOM stands in front of a group of people and says that, everybody goes right to the nuclear mission. That’s a good place to start. But as Bob said in his opening remarks, deterrence is a lot more than just the nuclear capabilities. It starts with the nuclear capabilities. The nuclear capabilities provide the backstop. It is the most important element of it. It is the first priority, but it can’t be the only priority. The fact that we have 1,550 deployed nuclear weapons under the New START Treaty that we have with Russia does not deter all actions on the globe, and all you have to do is pick up a newspaper and read that. It does not.


So, we have to figure out how to work together with all the commands in the United States, all our allies to create the environment. So the discussion we’re going to have the next two days is going to be about creating that environment. Using all the capabilities we have.


So, you’ll have nuclear experts up here, you’ll have space experts up here, you’ll have people from different walks of life, you’ll have some young, some not so young. Frank – sorry, but you keep sitting right in front of me and I just, sitting right there. But we will have a diversity of opinion about what it takes. And you’ll have different backgrounds, different nations that come to this problem.


But what I ask you to do is talk about deterrence from your perspective. Talk about the different elements that we have to bring to bear. How we have to work together in order to create this world.


And, I also ask you to think about what I’m going to talk about for the next 15 minutes before I turn it back to the rest of the symposium, the most important element of deterrence and that is the people that we have doing this mission every day.


The people are critically important, and for the next few minutes I’m just going to bring up a series of charts, and on those charts I ask you to just look at them. They’re really not charts, they’re pictures. Because my son, I’ve said this line way too many times but I’m going to say it again because some of you haven’t heard it. My son is a pretty neat person, our son – sorry. But he pointed out something very obvious a few years ago that upset me a lot, but then the more I thought about it over the years, the more I realized how true it was. He said, I guess it was six years ago now. He was just finishing college. We were sitting around the dinner table and he looked at me and he said “Dad, I’ve been watching you ever since you made general, and I realize you don’t do any real work anymore.” But then he said the magic words. He said, you just have people.


It upset me because I feel like I work pretty hard. But you know what? I don’t do any of the real work. None. The people of the command do the work. Every day when they come to work. That’s who does the job.


Most of the people in this room, probably two-thirds to three-quarters of the people in this room don’t do the work I’m about to talk about. We do have some people, and I got to have breakfast with some of them this morning, that actually do the job. That actually go to work every day and they climb down into the holes on the missile fields, and they climb onto a submarine and they go on alert. They fly the bombers, they go to work in the space business, they go to work and they do the real work of this command. Because deterrence is an active mission. It is not a passive mission. Deterrence does not exist just because we have capability. It has to be capability that is practiced, that is ready, that our adversaries know that it’s ready and we’re able to respond to any threat that comes at the United States of America.


So go ahead and throw up the first picture.


Bombers. We have some pretty amazing bombers. The B-2 creates a sensation wherever it goes.


The B-52 has been around forever and will be around forever. But I don’t think there’s a more fearsome system when it comes. I can tell you stories from Afghanistan about the B-52 coming over to Afghanistan for the first time and people on the northern lines when I was there not wanting to see the B-52. Wanting to see F-15s. Wanting to see fire power from fighters come over in large numbers, and then the B-52 unleashes what only the B-52 can unleash and the enemy disappears and everybody goes, I want more of those. That’s the B-52.


And the B-1. The B-1 is not a nuclear bomber. It is a conventional bomber only now, but it still has strategic effect. We can take B-52s and B-1s and interchange them and put them wherever we need to, to create the strategic message that we have to. It is the most flexible and visible piece of the triad, operated by Airmen at five bomber bases in the United States, but they travel all around the world creating the effect that we need to.


The bomber assurance and deterrence missions that we do, whether over the Pacific or over Europe, creates enormous impact because they’re visible. You can see them all the time. And, God forbid if we ever have to execute a nuclear mission, they’re also the only recallable system once the President has issued the order. So that puts flexibility in the system that we need.




ICBMs [Intercontinental ballistic missiles]. Robust, prompt response. They also create a huge targeting problem for our adversaries because there’s 400 ICBMs on alert today with officers from the United States Air Force and airmen from the United States Air Force defending them, maintaining them, taking care of them, putting them on alert, ready to go at a moment’s notice, giving us our most prompt capability to respond to a threat. It’s really a pretty remarkable thing. But for an adversary, that’s a huge challenge because there are 400 spread out all over five states and three bases in the United States.


Being able to go after them, there’s only one way, and that’s by unleashing basically everything. You can’t take a small number of weapons and eliminate that capability. So it creates a huge targeting problem for the enemy. It’s robust, it’s prompt, and if you look at some of those pictures, it also requires operations in some of the most difficult weather conditions that we face in America.


I had a boss one time that said you can’t go to Minot [Air Force Base, North Dakota] in the summer time and get credit. You actually have to go in the winter time and go out on a maintenance patrol when they go out when it’s 20 below zero, the wind is blowing, the snow is blowing, and they have to take care of a missile that has an issue to get it back on alert. And you see the defenders go out, you see the maintainers go out. They keep it safe, secure, reliable all the way and get that missile back on alert so that the STRATCOM commander always has his full complement of capability; and today as I sit here, I have a full complement of ICBMs on alert.


Now, we had an episode yesterday morning that wasn’t the way we wanted to kick off the Deterrence Symposium week, but we had a test launch out of Vandenberg [Air Force Base, California]. As far as everybody at Vandenberg knew, everything was perfect because the launch was beautiful, it came out of the hole just fine, everything worked. But somewhere in flight we saw an anomaly and the anomaly was going to create an unsafe flight condition so we destroyed the rocket before it reached its destination. That’s the smart thing to do, the safe thing to do, the right thing to do in tests, and now we have to go figure out what happened.


You’ve got to understand what a rare thing that is in the missile business. The last failure we had I think was 2011. I think it was July 27, 2011, before that. We had one in 2009. Basically it happens very, very infrequently. But this is the reason that we test. And I think we’ve lost understanding of the reason we test in this country. The reason we test is because we have to make sure that things work. And if you have something that’s 99 percent reliable, that’s pretty amazing. But that means 1 out of 100 doesn’t work, and if that 1 out of 100 doesn’t work you’ve got to make sure that it doesn’t go across the entire fleet. That’s why we test.


You learn more from failures than you do from successes, and we have instrumented that system to the Nth degree, and we have a team now that’s looking at that and we’ll figure out why, we’ll make sure, we’ll go out and make sure that the missiles are safe, secure, ready and reliable, always on alert, ready to go. That’s just part of the job that we do.


It actually tells the story of the aggressive nature we have in making sure that the systems are reliable by testing them four times a year, to make sure that we don’t have any unforeseen issues. We do the same thing on the SSBN [ballistic missile submarines] side, which is the next chart.


Go ahead, next.


The most survivable leg of the triad. When an SSBN goes out from either Kings Bay in Georgia or Bangor up in Washington state, it goes out, it’s the sixth most powerful nuclear nation in the world. One hundred and sixty sailors under the command of a Navy commander, captain of the ship, Navy commander, O5. Lieutenant colonel if you’re in the Air Force or the Army. Pretty remarkable set of responsibilities on that. And it goes, and today we have boats on alert, and I know the general area they’re in, because I give them an area to operate in, but I don’t know where they are. Really only the captain of the ship knows where they are. That means that our adversaries don’t know where they are. That makes them the most survivable leg and we can still communicate with them. But it’s the 160 sailors that are some of the most professional people you’ll ever see when they go to work every day.




As you move out from the nuclear triad into the rest of the business you have [Lt.] Gen. Jim Dickinson, [commander of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command and Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense] up here at the front table. He’s got a great saying for the folks that are serving today in the missile defense field at Fort Greely, Alaska.


Fort Greely, Alaska. How can you describe how remote Fort Greely, Alaska is? It’s really hard to do that. I guess the easiest way would be that the nearest McDonalds is a little less than two hours away, and the address of that McDonalds is North Pole, Alaska. That’s pretty far north. But we have 300 soldiers that are up there defending the citizens of this nation against the North Korea missile threat that do that every day.


I’ve tried to get there twice, and I’ll try to get there again this December. The last two times I tried to get there my plane couldn’t get into Greely because it was 50 below zero and if we landed the plane we wouldn’t be able to take off again. Unless we took the batteries out of the plane while we were on the ground.


So, it is a tough place to work. But it’s the 300 soldiers that do the job every day. Yes, they have amazing technology delivered by our industry. They have amazing capabilities. They’re capabilities I’m confident will work. But it’s the soldiers that defend this nation.


If you want to talk about deterrence, deterrence is the integration of all our capabilities. It’s not just offense. It’s offense and defense. It’s offense and defense in space. Offense, defense, space and cyber. Offense, defense, space, cyber and conventional. All those things come together to create our deterrence.




The Mighty 90’s. We were up at the 90th Wing at F.E. Warren [Air Force Base, Wyoming], Laura and I were just recently. Jumped on the Hueys [UH-1 helicopter]. We’re going to get a new helicopter in the missile fields. We’re going to get a new helicopter in the missile fields. We’re going to get a new helicopter if I have to die trying or kill somebody to do it. We’re going to get a new helicopter. It is taking way too long. But what that wing and what Global Strike Command has done to make that weapon system viable and lethal, when it wasn’t just a few years ago, is remarkable.


That Huey is now armed. That Huey can now refuel out in the missile fields. That Huey can do things that just a few years ago it couldn’t because we knew it was taking too long for us to get the helicopter. So, Gen. Robin Rand; [commander of Air Force Global Strike Command] and the folks at [Air Force] Global Strike Command, and the folks at the 90th, and the 91st, and the 341st, they went to work and they turned that into a real capable, lethal weapon system.


When they go to work every day, they’re doing remarkable things. You go down into the old launch control centers and you talk to two lieutenants, and their morale is unbelievably high. They understand the importance of their job. They understand what they’re doing every day for the nation’s security. And whether it’s Lt. McKenzie or whoever is there, as I’ve talked to them, they just want to know that the country understands what they’re doing.


I think one of the greatest questions I ever got was, I’m having a commander’s call with all the folks before they go out on alert and a lieutenant asked me, when I’m talking to people in Washington and I’m getting questions about the ability of the millennial generation to defend this nation, what do I say? I just say get on a plane and come with me. Come to F.E. Warren. Come to Malmstrom [Air Force Base, Montana]. Come to Minot. Come to Kings Bay. Come to Bangor. Come to Barksdale [Air Force Base, Louisiana]. Come and see this generation do their business because it may require different motivation, different leadership, but it’s the same passion for our country, the same passion for our nation, the same passion for the security of our allies. They love what they’re doing. It’s important. And because of that we have to make sure they have the best equipment that we can bring to bear.


That’s why the modernization programs that we have to do have to be there. For the security of this nation, yes, but when we have young people that raise their hand to serve, to go out into the missile fields, to go out in the submarines, to go out onto the bombers, they should have the best equipment and the best capabilities that the nation can bring and if we don’t do that, that’s failure.


So, the morale right now in this business is unbelievably high. You see it wherever you go. But I also say, that it’s a little bit fragile because they’re expecting these new capabilities to come and it’s our responsibility to make sure that it’s there.




Keeping order in space. Space is a big issue these days. The great news is that the President of the United States has recognized that we have threats we have to deal with in space. That space is a warfighting domain. And we’ve got to do something about it. We have a Congress that has said the same thing, that have described the problem the same way. We have an Air Force that said the same thing. We have a Secretary of Defense that said the same thing. And we’re going to do something about it. I can’t talk to you specifically about that, but I think the announcement’s going to be sometime in the next few weeks. We’ll get to that. But right now we have thousands and thousands of servicemen and women that are going to work every day to keep order in space.


The pictures you see there are the 22nd Space Operations Squadron. I like that squadron because I used to think when I was a young officer that was going to be my retirement job. It’s probably not going to work out. But they basically run the satellite control network.


The satellite control network is 15 antennas that basically hook up to our 80-plus satellites, and the National Reconnaissance Office satellites, and other satellites, and they have to figure out how to hook antennas to the satellites as they’re coming up over. It’s like a giant puzzle every day to figure out which antenna goes to which satellite at what time and how does it work. And then when you have a launch, everything changes because you have to put the launch piece in. So it’s just, we’ve tried to automate that system three times during my career, and we still haven’t got to a fully automated system. The only way we can do that job is with the people that are there because the people are smarter than even the computers we can build today and they can figure out that puzzle. We’re going to give them automated systems this year, they’re going to finally have the automated capabilities. They’re going to be delivered. But they have done an amazing job since the beginning of the space program putting that together. Whether it’s young airmen or young officers or contractors. We have about a 50 percent washout rate in the training program in that because it is just such a difficult thing to get your hand around but they do it every day when they come to work.




Here’s a cool story. The Magnificent 7. March the 25th of this year, seven women, actually it was a little more than that, but the women that you see in that picture decided that they would mark a very important anniversary, and the anniversary was March 25, 1986. March 25, 1986 at Whiteman Air Force Base, [Missouri] was the first time an all-women crew went and sat alert on a missile field. So they decided that that day, let’s basically have all women in missile fields, so we did…on March 25th this year. And they do airborne, air-launched command and control; they do missile command and control down below. They do it -- amazing. And they’ve broken down the barriers.


When I was a lieutenant the missile business was male only. In 1986 it changed. Now it just doesn’t matter, and it shouldn’t matter because they’re awesome. They’re all awesome, and that’s the way it should be. But I love the fact that they looked back in history and said to their bosses, let’s mark this day and remember what we did. So they did.




The return of the USS Nebraska. The USS Nebraska supported by the state of Nebraska, the city of Omaha, the Big Red Sub Club. You can’t believe the support that the USS Nebraska gets here. We have a new littoral combat ship, the USS Omaha. It will be unbelievably supported by this community as well. Those crews will never want for anything.


For the Nebraska, the reason it’s important is it just came back off its first patrol after a four-year refit. A four-year refit that will take it out to 2042 I think. Anyway, it’s going to be a 42-year life of that ship. It was originally a 30-year life, but they’ve gone through that, and we have to do that because the Columbia is going to start coming on in the 2030s and the Columbia-class submarine will replace the Ohio-class submarine that the USS Nebraska is, but we have to make sure we can cover it.


This goes back to the modernization challenges again, because we’re delivering the new Columbia just in time. We’ve extended the life of these submarines to 42 years, but every year if we have a slip to the Columbia program the future STRATCOM commander is going to be down a submarine. A two-year slip, we’re going to be down two submarines. We put everything that tight so we have to deliver it. Why? Because the 160 people that go to work in that submarine today deserve to have safe capabilities to operate in and they’re carrying nuclear weapons that are fearsome weapons, and they have to operate on a safe platform. It has to be there. But it’s about the sailors that do that job.




You want to know a cool story? [Gen.] Robin Rand is one of my heroes, commander of Global Strike Command. He’s getting ready to retire. I can’t even imagine an Air Force without him in it. But he recognized this four-person crew off a B-1. If you want to know a tough decision, well, the tough decision is the young person in that picture is a training weapon system officer, and they’re on a B-1 on a mission and the B-1 suffers a problem in flight. The problem is so severe that it’s an ejectable issue which means that the four crewmen have to eject. So, the pilot issues the command to eject the airplane. And the first person to eject is the training WSO [weapons system officer] and he pulls the eject lever and the sheet comes off over his head and the seat does not go anywhere. His seat does not eject from the airplane.  What’s the pilot, the copilot, the WSO going to do? Because the protocol would be to punch out because the plane is in danger. But that would mean leaving that training WSO behind. What are you going to do?


So, they decided not to punch out. They decided to fight that airplane to the ground. And they did. And they all survived and the plane survived.


Distinguished Flying Crosses. Pretty amazing stuff.


Those are the people that we support.


Next chart.


Here’s the crew of the USS West Virginia. Winner of the Arleigh Burke Trophy. The most significant ship in the Navy. An SSBN submarine won the Arleigh Burke Trophy, Adm. Jeff Jablon, a friend of ours, former Deputy J5, friend of Bob Taylor’s, a friend of all of ours, awarded the Arleigh Burke Trophy to the USS West Virginia – SSBN 736. For the ship in the United States Navy with the most improvement in operational excellence for a year. Those are the people we support.




And pretty soon we’re going to move into a new building. A new building across the street from the historic building that [Gen.] Curtis LeMay built at Offutt Air Force Base, [Nebraska]. That building will be called the Curtis LeMay Building. The building we’re in now is the Curtis LeMay Building, but USSTRATCOM can’t be in a building that’s not called the Curtis LeMay Building.


There were all kinds of recommendations of what we should name that building, and it came in and it was a complicated pros and cons, and the one name that wasn’t on the list was the Curtis LeMay Building because that was Building 500. And I just said, none of those work. That will be the Curtis LeMay Building. Thank you to Air Combat Command for agreeing to that, but it’s got to be the Curtis LeMay building. That’s our headquarters.


But it’s really a command and control facility, built to command and control all our strategic capabilities. It’s an amazing building. It’s had some challenges, but it’s going to be there. And we’re going to be able to do awesome things through that building for the rest of this century.


So, for everybody that was involved in building that, we’re almost there. Still going to be a year and a half or so before we get there, but we’re almost there and it will be an important day in the history of this command because that will allow us to take care of the people that do the job.


So, that’s who we are. That’s the United States Strategic Command, and that’s deterrence. Deterrence comes from those people and those pictures that do the job. I wish everybody in this room could go out and see those people when they go to work every day. That’s what deterrence is all about.


I look at our allies around the room, and I’ve got to come to many of your nations and visit with you and I see the same thing in your soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. We want this world to be a better place. We want our kids and grandkids to grow up in a safe and secure world. In order to do that, we have to have a powerful deterrent. Because as the current National Defense Strategy says, and has been said since Ronald Reagan, “Peace comes through strength”, and strength comes from the 162,000 in the U.S. Strategic Command.


So, welcome again to this conference. We look forward to the discussions. I look forward to the discussions. I will try to sit in on all of the discussions. That’s my plan. My plan sometimes gets broken by other people that call me, usually from Washington, D.C., but if I break out don’t worry, the world’s fine. If it’s not fine, we’ll tell you. But I’m going to be sitting right there listening to the discussion, hopefully learning from you. And thank you very much for taking the time. Good morning.