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SPEECH | Aug. 1, 2018

U.S. Strategic Command Deterrence Symposium Media Roundtable

Colin Clark, Breaking Defense: Let’s stick with the context of the deterrence conference. A year ago, Markus Garlauskas, the DNI [Director of National Intelligence] North Korea officer said that it was his assessment that North Korea would not give up its nukes at any price. We’ve had the Singapore meeting. Is it your assessment that this is still the state of things? Or are we seeing changes in North Korea?

General John E. Hyten, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM): I can tell you from a STRATCOM perspective, any time politicians are talking I’m much happier. And I can tell you that 2017 was a whole lot busier year in STRATCOM with North Korea than 2018 has been.


So when politicians are talking – and they’re talking not just the United States and North Korea, but the Republic of Korea and the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]– when people are talking, things are moving forward and that’s good.


Nonetheless, my responsibility is to always be ready, so we will always be ready. I talked about the readiness of our force this morning. The force is fully ready, fully postured to deal with any threat that comes out of North Korea. The missile defense capabilities in Alaska, fully prepared; California, fully prepared. And our deterrent force is on alert fully prepared right now. That will continue to be the case. But I think military people, as much as anybody, hope the peace process works, but we stand ready to respond if it goes another direction. But right now, 2018 is a better year than 2017.


Clark: But is it your understanding that baseline, you said that was the consensus. Has that consensus changed?

Hyten: Well, I’m not a politician. From my perspective, the belief of a potential denuclearization of North Korea has changed. I think there is that potential that’s out there. You’d have to ask the statesmen, the Department of State folks about the timeline for that, but the direction that things are moving is a positive direction. I don’t think anybody can deny that.

Moderator: Next up will be Elaine Grossman, a freelance journalist.

Elaine Grossman: Thank you very much. I had a little bit of trouble hearing you, so if there’s any way to increase your volume or get a little closer to the mic, that would be really helpful for us on the line here.

Hyten: I’m right on top of the microphone now. Is this any better?

Grossman: That’s already better, so thank you very much.

Nuclear experts widely agree that for deterrence to be credible the United States must have a robust response plan, as you were just alluding to, ready in the event that our nation is ever attacked with nuclear weapons. And as part of that, it’s generally believed that there must be high confidence that order could be preserved even after an attack and that the American people would carry on.

So about that latter point, could you describe for us in the event of a surprise nuclear attack were to result in say a catastrophic loss of key members of the National Command Authority, perhaps even the President or other political leaders, what plans are in place to maintain societal order and to reassure the American public?

Hyten: I can’t answer that question for clear classification reasons, but I can tell you that we have those plans and if you want to know what U.S. Strategic Command is really good at, what we’re really good at is executing those plans. We practice those plans every day, all the way up to the worst possible day you can possibly imagine. Why do we practice those every day? We practice those to make sure that we are ready for the worst day our country would ever face and to make sure our adversaries know that we’re ready. And we practice with our national leadership in Washington, we practice with broader peoples. We have continuity of government plans. We have all the plans that we look at, but we do not share any of the detailed information of what’s in those plans. All I can say is that we practice them, we’re ready, and fully prepared to respond to any situation that comes up.

The one thing about the United States is that I think we’re the most resilient nation in the world when it comes to challenges that we face. We may fight like brothers and sisters and cousins, but when somebody attacks us, holy cow, we come together in a hurry. And I have no doubt that this nation would do that even on the worst possible day you can imagine.

Grossman: Can you describe, I understand how –

Moderator: I’m sorry, we have to keep it to one question so we can get to more people.

Grossman: Can I ask just a quick follow-up to make certain that –

Hyten: Go ahead.

Grossman: -- addressing the question that I asked.

I’m not really talking about response in terms of a nuclear response, but just that reassurance and societal order aspect.

Hyten: That’s part of the overall plan. We don’t just have a plan to respond to an attack and then okay, everybody’s done, we just go home. We have a plan that goes all the way through. It goes all the way through every scenario you can possibly imagine that we track through. What happens if this happens? What happens if that happens?

You can come up with pretty much any scenario that you can imagine and we have a way to walk through that.

Almost all of that is very, very classified, for good reasons, because we don’t want our adversaries to know how they could possibly impact our ability to recover, respond, all those kind of pieces. That’s some of the most sensitive issues we have in the country. So we don’t go into that.

But it’s not just the nuclear response plan, it’s the entire plan for the nation of the United States.

Moderator: Next we have Dan Leone from Defense Daily and Exchange Monitor.

Dan Leone: Hi, General. I mostly cover the Department of Energy, so I’ll give you a bit of whiplash here because they also are involved with modernization. Just one question. Do you think that the Department of Energy’s plan to produce plutonium pits and both [South] Carolina and New Mexico will allow them to meet the goal of producing at last 80 of those cores a year?

Hyten: The plan that they have stated, the Nuclear Weapons Council has met and gone through that plan. I’m a member of that council. We all agree that the plan will work if it’s executed this year.

Right now, there’s a whole bunch of legal issues about the Savannah River site – legal issues and congressional issues and political issues inside the state of South Carolina. Those are going to have to be dealt with in the very near future for us to be able to make 2030, because we have to be on a plan early next year to get to where we need to be by the year 2030, with 30 plutonium pits. So I think the plan that the Department of Energy presented to the Department of Defense pulls together, but we have to start executing it right away. And right now we’re not executing it right away. That’s what causes me concern. But I’m fine with the plan that exists right now, the problem is we’re not executing it.

Leone: Can you clarify fiscal or calendar year when you say if it’s executed this year?

Hyten: Calendar year is what I was talking about there.

The real issue is by about next spring we have to be on a path to building them. So, the work has to be underway.

Now, we can do certain things, and we’re working with the Department of Energy to do certain things about planning and that kind of structure, but we have to have a facility to build them in.

The key is actually not Savannah River right now. The first key is Los Alamos. The first 30 of the 80 will come from Los Alamos, no matter what ultimate decision is made.

So, right now from a STRATCOM perspective, we’re all in on making sure we can get to the first 30 by 2026 at Los Alamos. That’s the key piece of the puzzle. Then the next 50, the plan is to have a full-up plant at Savannah River in order to do that. That will give us two capabilities. Two capabilities are always better than one. That’s why we believe, the Nuclear Weapons Council believes it’s a good plan. But we have to be going that direction by next spring.

Moderator: Next we have Takahiro Kinoshita from TV Asahi.

Takahiro Kinoshita: No questions.

Moderator: That will put you next, Steve Liewer from the Omaha World-Herald.

Steve Liewer: Sir, I was wondering about the restructuring that’s going to be taking place involving the command and control structure, the NC3. And I was wondering if you could explain how exactly that is going to change things, and will it cause any changes regarding personnel or procedures here at Offutt?

Hyten: It will create some changes. I can’t give you the specifics of those changes now, because the implementation plan that the secretary of defense has asked me for is due at the end of August. So, I will submit that plan to him at the end of August.

We’re going through final coordination on that plan now. We still have issues that we have to work out, but the fundamental principles is the commander of STRATCOM will be responsible for the operations, requirements, and system engineering and integration for everything that is nuclear command and control and communications.

The undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment will be responsible for budget and acquisition. That was very important to me because I’m a combatant commander. I’m not an acquisition person. I want an acquisition person responsible for those kind of pieces. I don’t want to expand that in here. But we will have new functions and new responsibilities here at Offutt Air Force Base. That means we’ll have additional capabilities. Some of it will be virtual, some of it will be here in Omaha. Those things will be specifically defined and has to be approved by the secretary of defense. So, until he approves that final plan, I can’t give you the specifics. But that’s where we’re going.

Liewer: Do you expect to see more personnel at STRATCOM?

Hyten: There will be more personnel at STRATCOM because that’s a new mission for us. So we will have new people focused on that. But I won’t get into the specifics. Whether that’s a small number or a large number depends on your perspective, but there has to be additional resources when you have a new mission.

Moderator: Next we have Dmitry Kirsanov from TASS.

Dmitry Kirsanov: Thank you, General. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March, you mentioned that there were disagreements between the U.S. and Russia over certain elements of the bomber force, as you put it.

I wanted to ask if those disagreements have been resolved by now or not. If not, when do you expect to resolve those?

And since we’re discussing this, sir, Secretary [Mike] Pompeo [U.S. Secretary of State] mentioned a couple of days ago that the present administration is taking sort of a holistic look at the INF [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty], the New START [Treaty], the deterrence and defensive capabilities. When do you expect this review to be over?

Hyten: Those are questions not for the military commander of STRATCOM. Those are questions for the State Department.

Even the bomber question is a question for the State Department. Because what I’ve told our diplomats is that I believe bombers and the submarine launched ballistic missiles meet the intent of the New START Treaty. The diplomats on both sides, both the Russian side and the U.S. side, are discussing those issues. And when they get to resolution you’ll probably find out about the same time I do, because those are being handled through diplomatic channels as they should.

I don’t sit down and negotiate with my Russian counterparts. That’s the job of the United States State Department.

And Secretary Pompeo has said that he wants to take a holistic look at arms control with Russia. I support that. I’ve also stated publicly that I support the New START Treaty. I support the limits of 1,550 deployed nuclear weapons that we have under that treaty. I think that provides a top level strategic stability, but we have challenges with the INF Treaty. We have challenges in a number of different areas. We believe that Russia’s not in compliance with those treaties. I’ve stated that in that same hearing in front of Congress. And because of that, I think it’s prudent for the United States Department of State and the administration to take a holistic view at where we are in arms control.

But any more details, you’d have to ask Secretary Pompeo and the State Department.

Moderator: Next we have Alex Nickol from Yomiuri Shimbun.

Alex Nickol: No questions, thank you.

Moderator: Next we have Jen DiMascio from Aviation Week Network.

Jen DiMascio: Thanks for putting this together.

I wanted to check in with you about missile warning sensors. Something that you had talked about maybe early this year or late last year, about the need for missile warning sensors to address the hypersonic threat. Have you seen any change in urgency around that within the department? And are people responding to your concerns about that?

Hyten: I see response both in the department and I think Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Mike Griffin, has kind of taken that under his portfolio. I also see the Missile Defense Agency stepping up and looking at those capabilities. And then Congress, in the pending National Defense Authorization Act that the Senate is going to vote on sometime very soon, talks about increasing funding to get after the sensor capabilities for those threats.

So, I very much appreciate the response to those concerns. I’m not the only one that had those concerns. Those are certainly broad concerns across the entire military as well as the government. But I did advocate for increased emphasis on that, and I see responses both in the Department of Defense and in the Congress, and I’m very appreciative of that.

Moderator: Next we have Justin Doubleday from Inside the Pentagon.

Justin Doubleday: Thanks for doing this.

I just wanted to ask about space-based missile defense. If you can just say where the requirements stand for the missile defense tracking system and whether you think those are solid, and whether this requirement in the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] to look at space-based interceptors could interfere with the sensor layer.

Hyten: The interference with the sensor layer is pretty much an irrelevant issue. You’ve got to realize, space is very big. Very big. And being able to discriminate what’s there with sensors is very easy to do. We’ve done that for a long time.

The most important thing to me, though, is not the interceptor technology, it’s the sensor technology. I’ve testified before that, I think Mike Griffin has also testified, and our common message is that if you can’t see a threat, you can’t deal with a threat. So, the first thing that you have to do is see the threat.

So, before we decide on how to respond to it, how to defend against it, et cetera, we have to make sure we can see and characterize not only the threat but where it comes from, who it comes from, and where it comes from. All of those things have to be characterized. That will create a new requirement.

On the requirement side of the question that you asked, the mission need has been clearly stated. So there’s a broad-based approach for how we do requirements in the Department of Defense, and you start with a mission need, and our mission need is clear and that’s out there. Now, we’ll go through a detailed analysis process to define the real requirements that we have to go build to, and I hope to do that very rapidly with the other combatant commands, and with the services, to define where we have to go so we can quickly achieve what Congress has asked for, what the department has asked for, what I’ve asked for, and that is building a capability to see and assess the threat. That’s the mid-course tracking system or whatever system is built according to that.

But we have very good mission needs required. Now we have to just break out the detailed requirements.

Moderator: Next we have Sarah Ampolsk from Kyoto News.

Sarah Ampolsk: Hi, General. Thank you so much for doing this.

I have a question about Iran. Since the United States withdraw from the nuclear deal, what are you seeing in terms of that picture from Iran? Has your assessment changed?

And also you mentioned that you like it when leaders talk and engage in diplomacy. The President recently said a couple of days ago that he’d be willing to meet with the Iranian leadership without preconditions. I wanted to get your thoughts on that, please.

Hyten: I’ll be very consistent. I’m always happier when politicians are talking.

It’s as important to talk to potential adversaries as it is to talk to your allies. I like it when people that have different opinions and different views of the world and they happen to be the leaders of their nations get together and have that conversation. So, I think that’s tremendous.

Now, as for the situation with Iran, if you want to know what’s going on in Iran on the ground, that’s a different commander, that’s Gen. Joe Votel, the Commander of U.S. Central Command.

What I watch is, I watch their missile and their ability to reach out beyond their borders and to threaten either allies in the region, allies in Europe or even potentially someday the United States. And, I haven’t seen any change in their missile development program. The President was clear in the decision when he decided to withdraw from JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] that he’s concerned about the continuing Iranian missile development programs and their continued global support for terrorism, as the leading nation state supporter of terrorism. And he has to look at all of those things in unison. That’s why when you put that all together and he offers to meet with Iran, I as a military officer, I look at that as a good thing.

Moderator: Next we have Rachel Karas from Inside the Air Force.

Rachel Karas: I’d like to follow up on something that you discussed in your speech in Georgia a few weeks ago.

You mentioned that with the nuclear modernization programs if industry comes to you and says, you know, to meet schedule we need some flexibility on these requirements. And I know that you can’t talk about requirements, but could you give me some more clarity on what those work-arounds might be and kind of the situation in which you might need them? And is that something that you’re newly empowered to do? Or is that something that you would take advantage of because of where in the modernization process?

Hyten: I’ll give you a notional but specific example, okay? And these will be fake numbers that I throw out. But fake or real, the message will be the same.

So, if we have put a requirement for the accuracy of the weapon system onto the contractor, that requirement was based on our engineering analysis of basically what we need in order to accomplish our mission and what the state of the art technology is in the world today. That’s how we think about it.

So, let’s say that just to make up a number, that number is 5,000 meters. Okay? That’s not anywhere close to the real number, but let’s just say it’s 5,000 meters. So we laid that down on the contractor. The contractor goes off and he comes back and he tells me, you know, if you make that 6,000 meters, I can save you a year of schedule because I don’t have to build this fancy guidance system in order to do that. So, if you make it 6,000 meters, you know, I can save you a year and I can save you $300 million. I’ll trade that requirement off right now.

Now, if it doesn’t meet my military requirements, I’ll say too bad. You’ve got to do 5,000 meters and we’ll spend the money and we’ll go for a year.

But I want to have a voice in that requirements trade as it comes through so that if our engineering analysis proved to be just a little bit off, then just come tell me and we’ll adjust it and we can save time, money, schedule, and we can deliver the capability the nation needs sooner.

That’s the message I was trying to transmit at Kings Bay, [Georgia]. I appreciate the question because it allows me to give a little more specific example. But, those are the kinds of things I’d be willing to trade off as long as I can do my mission.

And remember, we’re talking about a nuclear weapon. Accuracy is a very interesting requirement when you’re talking about nuclear weapons. So, I’m willing to look at different options. I just want contractors to come and tell me here’s where your expenses are going to be. And that’s why we’re going to stay --

Rachel Karas: Is that a new thing that you’re empowered to do? Or no?

Hyten: Well, the interesting thing is that we, when I was a young officer that’s what we did all the time. And we changed about 20 years ago to the concept where operators just defined requirements and you turn it over to developers and they deliver the capabilities, and the term was, a requirement is a requirement. Just meet the requirement.

But when I was a young officer, we sat down with the operators, the developers, and we figured out where the knees in the curve were for all these capabilities to say what is the best bang for the buck? How fast can we go? All those kind of things.

So, it’s actually nothing new, it’s actually quite old. But we just went away from it for well over a decade, and I’m just trying to bring that kind of piece back into it. But it’s not changing authorities, it’s just inserting the operator back in the process. Secretary Ellen Lord, the Under Secretary for [Defense] Acquisition, [Technology, and Logistics] was here, we talked about this. She agrees with that. Everybody agrees with this. It’s not complicated. But it’s just a little bit different because we haven’t had that close operator acquisition partnership for a while, and we’re going to have it.

Moderator: This will be our last question. This will go to Jennifer White from NHK Japan Broadcasting.

Jennifer White: Thank you. What are your thoughts on the Russian concern about Japan’s plan to deploy the Aegis Ashore Ballistic Missile Defense System?

Hyten: I find it pretty interesting that Russia would be concerned about Aegis Ashore in Japan. What an interesting thing to observe, because I don’t care who comes and looks at the Aegis Ashore, it’s a missile defense system. If you look in any of those tombs you’re going to find missile defense weapons. Come on over and take a look, I really don’t care. And oh by the way, it’s not a U.S. weapon, it’s a Japanese weapon. They’re buying that capability. To me, it’s just political messaging that is consistent with what Russia has been doing for the last little while. But I think it’s a very smart move on behalf of the Japanese government to improve their defensive systems against a North Korean threat. It’s got nothing to do with Russia. Nothing to do with Russia. But that’s just my observation of the whole issue.

But, Japan, I think, is doing a very smart thing. I think that’s a very good purchase, and Russia’s just making noise because Russia makes noise.

Moderator: General, if you don’t mind we’ll extend a couple of minutes.

Hyten: We’ll extend a couple of minutes.

Moderator: That puts Jason Sherman, Inside Defense.

Jason Sherman: Thank you, General. I have a question about maneuvering, the maneuvering hypersonic threat. China reportedly conducted two tests flights last November of an operational prototype of the hypersonic weapon. Bob Work, NSA [National Security Agency] earlier this year said that these tests were, “demonstrated that China had successfully mastered the hypersonic boost glide vehicle technology.”

Can you confirm that China conducted these tests and say anything about their ranges? I’m wondering if you agree with Work’s assessment that China has, “successfully mastered” the hypersonic glide vehicle technology and what are the implications do these present to Strategic Command?

Hyten: The one-word answer to your question is, no. I can’t confirm it. The only way I could confirm it would be to reveal intelligence information, and I can’t do that. So, I can’t confirm it, but I can tell you that from open source information, the Chinese government and the Chinese military are conducting very aggressive testing of hypersonic glide capabilities. They have announced in many cases what they’re doing. They’re being very aggressive at doing that. We’re being aggressive as well. And what I’ve said in public before is as far as I can go today. In some areas in hypersonics, I would say that the United States is ahead of China and Russia; in other areas, Russia and China are ahead of where we are.

The important point is, this is just, again, a return to great power competition. That is defined in our National Defense Strategy. And because we have a return to great power competition, that means we have to be able to go faster than our adversaries. We’ve always done that in the past. We have to do this again. This is just part of that competition. So, that competition will continue. I appreciate Secretary Work jumping in and pointing that out. I don’t know what his sources were, but I cannot confirm that information.

Sherman: Thank you.

Moderator: Next we have Ashley Roque from Shepherd Media.

Ashley Roque: Hi, General. I wanted to follow up Jen DiMascio’s question about the space sensor layer. You have been pushing, you testified before Congress, but also fairly cautions that the sticker shock could be too much coming down the line. Are you seeing a change in that?

And then I also wanted to ask if you see in any changes in North Korea’s missile development program.

Hyten: I’ll answer the second question first, and then the first question second.

The second question first is have I seen a change in the North Korea missile development program? They haven’t launched this year. Their missile development program was aggressive. Launch, test, launch, test, launch, test program all the way up to November 2017. And they haven’t launched since. I can tell you from a variety of sources we continue to watch very closely, but when you don’t launch, you don’t learn.

We launched a Minuteman yesterday out of California. It didn’t work quite like it was supposed to so we command destructed that vehicle. We’re going through learning right now. That’s why you test.

So, I have seen a change in their missile development program because they’re not testing.

Now go back to the first question. Say the first question again? About the missile --

Roque: The space sensor layer, and --

Hyten: Sticker shock.

Roque: -- asking to go ahead and look at options for that. But you’ve been pretty vocal about that sticker shock could hinder it. Are you seeing a change?

Hyten: I am seeing a change, and I think the change is driven by both [Lt. Gen.] Sam Greaves [commander] at the Missile Defense Agency and Mike Griffin in the Pentagon, because we’re looking at the technology and I’ve never believed that that system will cost as much as the cost estimate showed.

Now, I’ve been proven wrong before, and the folks in cost analysis and program evaluation, the key folks in the Pentagon will point out the cases I’ve been wrong before. But I fully believe that that technology is not complicated. And we have commercial elements now that we can take advantage of that will drive that cost down to a very affordable way to do the business.

I also compare it to, if you try to do that business from a global ground-based capability. So what’s the easiest way to see global missile threats that could come from anywhere? By building radars at every island in the Pacific that cost a billion dollars each? Pretty soon you run out of money.

So, the space-based layer is the only way to go and I think we’ve reached a point now where that is quite affordable. But again, we’re going to have to prove it to the world, because we have not built that kind of affordable system yet. But I’m very optimistic that that will happen because of [Lt.] Gen. Greaves and Dr. Griffin and the work that they’re doing to come up with an affordable construct.

Moderator: This will be the last question, from Phillip Stewart from Reuters.

Phillip Stewart: Greetings. Thank you for taking my question.

The first thing I wanted to ask about was on North Korea. You said that you haven’t tested and you can’t learn. There have been reports that there is some continued development, technological development at certain sites.

So, I’m wondering, did you mean to say there was no learning going on whatsoever? Do you expect the North Koreans are still pursuing some advances in their capability even if they have a testing freeze going on?

And then real quick, do you have anything to say about the reporting about this Russian Poseidon warhead? Thanks.

Hyten: I’ll go back. The specific question was have I seen any change to the North Korean missile development program. The answer is yes, they’re not flight testing.

I didn’t say anything about what they’re doing on the ground, and I won’t say anything about what they’re doing on the ground because that would cause me to reveal intelligence sources. But the direct answer to the question is yes, you have a program that has only had a certain number of tests and a certain number of successes and you stop flight testing. That is a significant change in the missile development program. You can’t deny that. But, I didn’t say anything about what was going on on the ground and I won’t say anything about what’s going on on the ground.

As far as the Russian warhead goes, I’ll just say that I would hate to be the Russian operator that has to operate those capabilities. That was a pretty frightening capability to keep safe, secure, reliable going through.

And when you talk about deterrence. Deterrent comes from the ability to effectively impose a cost on our adversary or to deny benefit to the adversary. And the interesting thing for me is the Russians have the ability to do that against us right today with their current force structure. We have the ability to do that to them with our current force structure. And these new capabilities don’t change that equation at all.

So, you’d have to ask the Russians why they’re going down that path, but I’m just glad I’m not a Russian operator trying to operate that system.

All right, I’m out of time. I have to run back. Thank you guys very much for the time today. I very much appreciate it. And hopefully we’ll get a chance to talk again sometime down the road. Thank you guys.

Colin Clark, Breaking Defense: Sir, the social media question, messaging. How concerned are you in your job about how effective the Russians in particular seem to have been? And does it change your ability to exercise deterrence well?

Hyten: I actually got that question from our public affairs guys. All the STRATCOM public affairs guys came in yesterday and asked me that question. And I gave them two answers, and I’ll give you the two answers.

Answer number one is just be aggressive with the truth. Just publish the truth. In every source you can. Just tell the truth. The truth is the most powerful thing in the world, and the truth always comes out at some point. So, just tell the truth over and over again through whatever you can.

The second piece is that we don’t really understand the use of social media yet these days, so we’re going to have to experiment with different ways to do it. And sometimes it will work, and sometimes it will fail. But we need to learn how to use social media better. And you can see STRATCOM has a Twitter feed, STRATCOM has a Facebook site. I have multiple fake Facebook sites. I’ve been up over 100 fake Facebook sites, so people trying to scam people using my name and et cetera. I have eight Linked In accounts. I have I don’t know how many Twitter accounts. But they’re all fake, because I don’t have one of those.

But that’s a challenge for us. Because how do you battle these fake accounts that are set up in my own name?

So, we don’t know all the issues to do with social media. But we’re learning, and our public affairs guys are doing good work, experimenting with things that work, and I told them, I’ll have to accept some failure sometime, but we’ve got to just push out with the truth. Everywhere we can.

Good talking to you guys.