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SPEECH | Sept. 13, 2010

"Challenges to Nuclear Deterrence" Air & Space Conference

General Chilton: Thank you, Jim. Don't worry, I'm stillintroduced on occasion in Omaha as the Commander of SAC, and SACwent away in 1991 but you know, I don't take umbrage at that, infact I think that's a compliment.

It's great to be here with you here today. Special thanksto the Air Force Association for inviting me back. I alwaysappreciate the opportunity to come to this forum to talk a littlebit about U.S. Strategic Command and today's particular topicwhich I think is one of interest to all of us today and certainlywill be one that is of interest to all of us in the future.

Today I've been asked to address the topic of challenges tonuclear deterrence. It's a pretty sobering topic when you stopto think about it. I notice that I've been scheduled to deliverthese remarks right before Happy Hour. It seems like a bit of anoxymoron as we go forward, but if nothing else it tells me thatthe agenda writers certainly have a sense of humor.

Before I address the challenges, and I've chronicled a few.I don't suspect they're the total challenges, but before I getinto the ones that I've come up with to address I think it'sprobably a good idea to first review the basic principles ofstrategic deterrence.

As I go through this I'll readily admit I've plagiarizedquite a bit of this from some great thinkers, not the least ofwhich is General Larry Welch who has done a lot of talking onthis particular subject and paid a lot of attention to it overthe last decade and a half when others perhaps weren't payingquite as close attention, so I compliment him and steal from himliberally.

The purpose of a deterrence force is to create a set ofconditions that would cause an adversary to conclude that thecost of any particular act against the United States of Americaor her allies is far higher, far far higher than the potentialbenefit of that act.

Let me read that again because it sounds so simple. Thepurpose of the force is to create a set of conditions that wouldcause any potential adversary to conclude that the cost of aparticular act against the United States or one of her allies isfar higher than the potential benefit from that act.

Since we ask a potential adversary to draw a conclusion asthey examine our forces, clearly deterrence is focused on themind of the adversary. Indeed, it's ultimately focused on thedecision-maker. In addition, in the area of strategic nucleardeterrence, the deterrence not only weighs on the mind of thepotential adversary, but also on the minds of the leaders of ourallies who depend on the U.S. nuclear umbrella, and just asimportantly, the deterrent weighs on the minds of U.S. leadershipas well. Any doubt in the deterrent by an ally who is dependentupon that deterrence could incentivize them to develop their ownweapons. We would call this proliferation. Should thatproliferation ever happen, I think we would see proliferation ona scale that we can only imagine today. Or should they loseconfidence in that deterrent, they could decide to no longer bealigned with U.S. national interests, and that certainly wouldnot be to our benefit.

Further, any doubt in the deterrent by our own leadershipcould lead to circumstances where the U.S. could be coerced intotaking actions not in concert with our own best interests.And of course doubt in the deterrent by a potentialadversary could lead to catastrophic miscalculation.

History bears out that the lack of doubt in the minds of theSoviets, our NATO allies, and our own U.S. leadership effectivelyaccomplished what the nuclear deterrent was meant for in the ColdWar. That was not just to deter a nuclear exchange between thetwo major super powers but also, and just as importantly, todeter a conventional aggression by the Soviet and Warsaw Pactagainst the Western Alliance. That fact is often forgotten.We should be grateful certainly as airmen for those who wereso clear in their understanding of the strategy and steadfast intheir duty throughout the entire period of the Cold War. We owethem great thanks.

As I consider today's challenges to nuclear deterrence, I'llbreak them into two categories. First is those that we cannotdirectly control; and the second set are those that we can. Letme begin by discussing those that we cannot directly control.When I talk about these, this is not to imply that we shouldnot concern ourselves with things we cannot directly control.For most certainly we or other elements of our government, canshape and influence that. But we must also recognize ourlimitations to do so.

First and foremost, we cannot directly control thegeopolitical environment in which we operate. It has changedsince the Cold War, clearly. I guess saying it in thevernacular, the reason we can't is because the other guy gets avote. The other guy being other nations around the world.The number of actors today with a nuclear capability hasmost certainly changed since the start of the Cold War, and thathas changed the geopolitical [inaudible] significantly.

During the Cold War changes in Soviet leadership were asignificant challenge to the United States' strategy indeterrence. Changing decision-makers imposed a changing dynamicto the deterrence equation. There was a difference betweenKhrushchev and Brezhnev and Stalin and you can go down the list.That change in decision-makers, and remember what deterrence isfocused on -- it's focused on what they will conclude about ourforces, cost and benefits -- is clearly important.

Consequently during the Cold War we spent a tremendousamount of effort attempting to discern any change in the valuesor fears of the Soviet leadership as it changed. All the whilenever assuming to know the answer so precisely that we didn'thedge our strategy.

Today in dealing with multiple nations with nuclearcapabilities we find ourselves faced with multiple decisionmakersthat may each have very different fears and very differentvalues. This, of course, complicates the cost/benefit calculusin each individual equation and compounds the complexity of ourown decision-making. Therefore, it is just as imperative todayto study these differences and to study these potentialadversaries as it was to study the single adversary we facedduring the Cold War.

Add to that today there are cases of unequal states in thegame. During the Cold War the U.S. and the Soviets had similarstakes in the game -- national survival. That and the fact thatwe both valued that national survival brought some balance to thedeterrent equation. Today there are may be some actors, andthere certainly are, who are more willing to use nuclear weaponsin a given circumstance given the imbalance of what is at stakewhen they consider conflict with the United States of America.We may not be facing a regime's survival decision. They maybe. And in that context they may be more willing to use anuclear weapon in a conflict with the United States.

So in the current geopolitical environment when we askourselves whom do we want to deter, what do we want to deter themfrom doing, and under what circumstances do we want to conductdeterrence, the answers can be far more complicated than those wehad to address during the Cold War. So these realities challengethose of us in the deterrence business. And oh by the way, thatwould be all of you. Because if you're in the United States AirForce, you're in the deterrence business.

The challenge is to do several things. First, I think wemust conduct more analysis of our potential adversaries todetermine as best we can their calculus of their decision-makingprocess. What is it that they value? What is it that they fear?How do they behave in Phase 0? How do they behave in Phase 2 asa crisis arises? What does that mean for us with regard to howwe posture a position, conduct diplomatic exchanges, et cetera,our deterrent forces?

Secondly, we must develop strategies that will achieve thedesired deterrent effect, and we must develop these strategieswith some sense of humility and knowing that we cannot accuratelyand completely predict how a particular adversary will react. Wemust study and do our best to understand, but on the other handwe must hedge with humility at our ability to completelyunderstand.

Third, we need to recommend fielding and appropriateposturing of strategic forces to support those strategies, withthe realization that the signals we send or that we intend tosend to one particular nation may be interpreted in a mostunhelpful fashion by a third nation who also has nuclear weapons.Finally, we must conduct close consultation with all of ourallies to better understand their views on the assurance aspectof our extended deterrence role on this day where there aremultiple actors with nuclear capability.

Let me shift to the challenges that are within our control.I would like to address two.

First, when it comes to discussions on the nuclear deterrentthere always seems to be, well, there always seems to arise, Ishould say, this temptation to develop a numbers-led strategy asopposed to what I believe is the correct way to address thetopic, which is just the opposite. Numbers should followstrategy. Strategy should not be built around numbers.

When contemplating the appropriate size and posture of thenuclear deterrent force, whether contemplating reductions or evengrowth, one should never begin with numbers. Rather, we shouldalways begin with a clear-eyed examination of the geopoliticalreality of the day and even more importantly, the geopoliticaluncertainty of the future. From this should flow a strategy toaddress our deterrent needs, and this strategy, with appropriatehedges for our documented inability to precisely predict thefuture, should drive the size and the posture of our forces andthe size of our nuclear stockpile. The latter approach, that isthe correct approach, an assessment then strategy-driven approachis what STRATCOM advocated for and was adopted by the departmentin both the development of the Nuclear Posture Review and in thesupport we provided for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treatynegotiations. That's the good news.

But you can bet that in the future the temptation to takethe alternative approach, whether that be for political orfinancial or ideological expedience, should be rejected. This issomething we can control and we must be on the alert for as wemove forward.

The second great challenge to our nuclear deterrent that iswithin our control to address is quite simply neglect. Whetherbenign or purposeful, neglect can result in serious and ofteninsidious effects to the nuclear deterrent of the United Statesof America.

Now significant steps have been taken by the department toreverse a 15-plus year trend of benign neglect, fromorganizational adjustments to include the standup of Air ForceGlobal Strike Command, which I think is having palpable andpositive effects in changing the way we address our nucleardeterrent; to increased investments in our equipment and in ourtraining. But there's much more work yet to be done.Fundamentally there are two things required to support ournuclear deterrent -- capability and will. Will is provided byour elected leaders. WE provide the capability. Our job is todefine the required capabilities that are needed, field them,operate them in a fashion that will absolutely leave zero doubt,I repeat, zero doubt in any potential adversary's minds of ourreadiness and our ability to execute the orders we might receivefrom the President of the United States.

So what are the elements of this capability that we mustprovide to the deterrent? I think there are four things that weneed to do to effectively deter.

The first element is we must be able to warn the Presidentand our forces of an impending or actual attack on the UnitedStates of America. And we must be able to answer the first andmost obvious questions. Who is attacking us? What are theyattacking us with? What are they targeting?

Today we answer these questions with a combination of DSPsatellites and geosynchronous orbits and highly elliptical orbitsthat provide the answer to the first two questions, and groundbasedradars that confirm those two and answer the third.

Now in 2008, give the delays in the SBIRS program which isdesigned to replace today's DSP constellation, I raised concern Ibelieve at this podium over the sustainment of the on-orbitcapability. That was in the fall of 2008. I was told not toworry, it would launch in the fall of 2009.

The fall of 2009 I raised the same concerns and pointed outthat we were quickly approaching a point where we required 100percent launch success of our first two satellites in order tosustain the capability and meet the requirements of the UnitedStates Strategic Command to provide this element of the strategicdeterrent.

We did nothing. I was told that we would launch in the fallof 2010.

It's now the fall of 2010 and SBIRS GEO-1 is not scheduledto launch before next summer. In sum, it has slipped two and ahalf years in two years.

I spoke of 100 percent launch success in the past. It is noless true that we need that today. And although we are verygood, and in fact the ELD has not failed us yet, I know from pastexperience as humans when it comes to the business of launch,being perfect is a challenge. It is past time to mitigate therisk to our deterrent posture in this first critical element ofmissile warning and attribution. It's not only essential to ourstrategic deterrence, it's essential theater missile warning andballistic missile defense of both the United States and ourtroops forward.

The second essential element of our capability is assuredand survivable nuclear command and control. Today we do thiseffectively through redundant satellite, airborne, and groundbasedcommunication networks, and though effective todayinvestments clearly need to be made to sustain that assured link between the President of the United States and his advisors andthe force in the future.

Of all the things that we do in the nuclear deterrentbusiness, this is probably the least sexy of them all, but it isas fundamental as our missile warning capability and the othercapabilities I will talk about in the future, to plant that seedof absolute certainty in the minds of a potential adversary, thatknowledge that we will be able to most assuredly respond to anyattack they would launch against this country.

The third element that of course is essential. Now itstarts getting easier to guess these, are our delivery vehicles.Our Minuteman III ICBMs, land-based strategic deterrent; oursubmarines, our submarine-launched missiles, the Trident D5; andour bombers with their gravity and nuclear cruise missilecapabilities.

NPR validated the need for the nuclear triad today, so withthat validated need I think it's appropriate that we move forwardand continue, since it's in our control, to advocate for and makethe appropriate investments in sustaining these capabilities,these delivery platforms. Congress has directed that theMinuteman III be sustained through 2030. Tremendous steps havebeen taken by the Air Force to improve that particular weaponsystem to include the safety enhanced reentry vehicle, thepropulsion replacement program, the guidance replacement program.A great amount of work has been done also to effect and increasesafety and security for operations of this system.

But there is more that needs to be done. I take goodcounsel and comfort in knowing that the Air Force is makinginvestments in this particular area to address some of these oddsand ends, if you will, that turn out to be pretty essential andimportant for the sustainment of the force, whether they be toolsets and test equipment and wires and cables that are required inthe weapon storage areas, to allow our troops to be able todeliver the capability they know how to deliver, on time, whenthis combatant commander needs them, and not be frustrated byaging and failing equipment.

It's also time for us to step out and start studying whatwill be the replacement to the land-based deterrent. Actuallythere are two questions to ask. Should there be a replacementpost 2030? And two, if so, what should it look like?Now you might say 2030. Golly, that's a long time away.Why would we start studying it now?

If the decision is that we're going to replace it, we shouldprobably start replacing the missiles in about the 2025 timeperiod. That's 15 years from now. Now let's examine our normalacquisition time cycle. Probably 10 years, and that would bemaybe optimistic. Maybe 12. Now let's study how long it takesus to complete an AOA, and oh by the way, the redo of thathomework assignment that we're usually given. It's time to startthinking about this. It's time to start writing about it andexamining it and putting some options on the table.

And by the way, there's a whole corpus of work that was doneback in the 1990s on this that we got to leverage and takeforward as we consider the future of the land-based deterrent.For our submarines, the Navy is starting to move out withthe design and development. They tried to follow on to the OhioClass submarines, the Trident replacement. And also to sustainthe Trident D5 missile. They don't plan to field the firstsubmarine until 2027, and already they are off in the preliminarydesign phases and making the hard choices on trades on the numberof tubes, speed, size of the vessel that will be required in thepost 2030, 2040, 2050, 2060, 2070 time period to provide thedeterrent for the United States of America and the assuredresponse fashion and survivable fashion that our submarine forcedoes.

There's a common piece though here that I think we need tokeep our eye on. The D5 and the solid rocket motor of theMinuteman III.

Solid rocket motors sound pretty easy. No pumps, not a lotof moving parts except the nozzle. But in fact solid rocketmotor technology, if it was so easy we would see a lot ofcountries around the world building large solid rocket motors.We don't, because it is difficult. And as we look to the future,as we look to what might follow the Minuteman III, and certainlysomeday what might follow the Trident D5, I think we need toconsider carefully how we sustain the technology, know-how andindustrial base of the large solid rocket motor capability thatwe possess in this country, almost uniquely that give us acritical edge, both in our deterrent and our access to space.The third, of course, element of the triad, the bombers andthe gravity weapons and cruise missiles which they carry. Thebombers are the most flexible element of the leg. We talk aboutthat quite often. But we often forget that bombers can also bean incredibly survivable leg of the triad should we elect to put them on alert. And in that sense they provide a tremendousbackup to the submarine force which with a single broad technicalfailure can find itself in port, hopefully not; or a technicalfailure to the Trident D5 system that might render all of itsfleet of missiles unable to perform their duty; or technicalproblems with the warheads that might be on top of thosemissiles.

In fact, the bombers and their cruise missiles are anessential part of our hedging strategy when we hedge againsttechnical failure, but in the submarine force and the Minutemanforce, and as we hedge against geopolitical change whichcertainly is possible as we look to an uncertain future. Thatpoint is often forgotten. It's one that airmen should remindothers of frequently.

The cruise missile is a cost-imposing weapon. That means ifit costs you $10 to field a cruise missile it costs the adversary$100 to try to defend against it, and in fact they can't. Itjust doesn't scale.

Twenty cruise missiles coming off a B-52 are not easy todefend against as they cruise in at low altitude againstdifferent target sets. So there's a tremendous level ofassurance that should they ever be called on they will do theirmission and that is the essence of deterrence.

Our last but not least essential element are the nuclearweapons themselves. In this area a lot of investment isrequired, and this is an area again that we can control.Investment in the infrastructure at Los Alamos and Oak RidgeNational Laboratories. Someone once said, and I believe it'scompletely accurate, if you're going to have a nuclear weaponsprogram you must have a first-class plutonium and a first-classuranium facility to do that. That's just absolutely fundamental.There are other pieces you need to have as well, but you need atleast that.

You would be appalled if you visited Oak Ridge, Tennesseeand saw our uranium facility which was built during the ManhattanProject. That's how old it is.

I'm a student of General Wilbur Creech. He said if youreally want people to perform and do their job right, take careof them in their workplace. You give them quality spaces to workand do their work. And when you think about the work we requirepeople to do on elements of nuclear weapons, of course you wouldimmediately think if you were an airman that they are working in very pristine and state of the art facilities. They are not.And our country needs to fix that problem and make theappropriate investments in both those facilities.

Life extension programs for our weapons that were designedto be replaced but we have decided to retain are absolutelyessential to sustaining the deterrent for the United States ofAmerica.

On top of that, we have a great opportunity to not onlyextend the life of our weapons, which is technically feasible,but also to add increased safety, security and reliability oreffectiveness into those weapons for the future generations whowill depend on them for the deterrence and survival of the UnitedStates and an uncertain future.

Finally, recruitment and retention of our nuclear expertise.It's the same kind of problem that I worry about a little bit inthe solid rocket motor business. If you let the expertise andthe knowledge go away and all that's left are the books that theywrote, when you go back and look at those books you'll find outthey weren't written very well. Because a lot of what they didwas in their head. They passed that on and they passed thatlegacy and knowledge and know-how on to the next generation who,by the way, in this domain will not be allowed to do testing, Iprecise, through their interaction and recruitment and retentionof the skill sets that are required to provide the deterrent ofthe future. This is something else we can do something about.We can do it by providing them quality places to work and givingthem challenging work to accomplish in those places.

If all we do is hire people -- Imagine this. You're anaeronautical engineer. Here are the job opportunities for you inthe future. When you graduate, we will hire you to come andwatch our Air Force airplanes rust. We're not going to let youdo any design work. We're not going to let you build newairplanes. We're not going to let you increase their safety orenhance their security or increase the mission effectiveness. Wejust want you to watch, and every now and then let me know if youthink they'll still fly. How many would want to be aeronauticalengineers? Zero.

It's the same in the nuclear weapons business. We not onlyneed to provide future scientists and engineers with great placesto work and do research, we need to give them meaningful work todo while they're there.

There's a lot of good news here, folks. I don't want tosound like it's all gloom and doom.

First of all, if we take a look at the Nuclear PostureReview, I think that was a tremendously good-news story. Itreaffirmed the need for the deterrent. It reaffirmed the needfor a nuclear triad. The NPR also committed us to a stockpilemanagement program that will be essential to the sustainment ofthe weapons we need to provide the deterrent today and in thefuture for generations to come.

It calls for improvements in safety, security andeffectiveness, and it takes no options off the table forconsideration by future engineers and scientists in providingwhat this country needs for future nuclear weapons in ourinventory.

New START. The new START was negotiated from a strategybasedapproach. I know that because we were part of the teamthat did it. Our current strategy and assessment of today'sgeopolitical world were foundational to the numbers negotiated inthe START treaty. But just as importantly, the preservation ofour ability to hedge against technical failure or dramaticgeopolitical change was also retained. I might note, again, thekey to that hedge, the ultimate key to that hedge is today's B-52force with its cruise missile capability.

This year's President's budget was a good news story for thenuclear deterrent business. It plussed up the Department ofEnergy's budget to put us back on a path -- It actually put us ona path to fix some of our infrastructure problems at Los Alamosand at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and it kick-started Congress'Stockpile Management Plan which is a congressional initiative,and the President funded it and so there's a marriage here thatgives us hope that going forward we'll be able to achieve some ofthe visions we have for sustainment of the stockpile.

The Congress approved study funding to study the lifeextension options for the nuclear and non-nuclear components ofthe B-61 bomb which holds the promise in this process ofimplementing for the first time the vision that the scientistshave for enhancing safety, for enhancing security and improvingthe reliability of this particular weapon. This will be ourfirst opportunity to get it right. The administration's behindit, the Congress is behind it, and this is a good news story aswe start to go forward and look at the future of the stockpile.

It's not only good news for us, the B-61 modernization, I shouldsay sustainment, life extension, is good news for our allies because we not only depend on this weapon for an element of thestrategic deterrent on the B-2, but our allies depend on it aspart of the nuclear umbrella.

This is accomplished all the while with the possibility, andthis is the win/win, if we do this correctly, if we achieve whatis envisioned by the scientists, we can actually reduce thenumber of variants in the B-61 and reduce the total inventory ofnuclear weapons in our stockpile.

So in summary, when I reflect on the question on thechallenges to our nuclear deterrence, I see some that we are lessable to control, but nonetheless, require action on our part; andothers that we can absolutely control and advocate for andlikewise, require action.

Though much has been done over the past three years toaddress these challenges, there is much more work to be done, andthat's not a bad thing particularly when I consider the folks whowill be charged to address these challenges in the future.The great airmen of our storied Air Force history nevershied away from the most difficult or challenging circumstances.In short, those we read about in the history books never failedto do their duty and I have every confidence in today'sgeneration of airmen, that they will rise to the challenges thatI've listed and they will be successful in assuring theeffectiveness of the nuclear deterrent of the United States ofAmerica for generations to come. Because above all else, thegreatest service we provide when we wear this uniform is notwinning our nation's wars, but preventing them from everhappening.

God bless you all, and thank you very much for thisopportunity to address you on this subject.


Moderator: The first question. You testified earlier thissummer that the U.S. is in a good position even if the Russianstreated on the START treaty. In an unclassified environment, canyou elaborate at all on that?

General Chilton: There are a couple of points to be made.The first question is, does it matter if the Russians cheat?The answer is of course it matters, and I would hope it mattersto the Russians. When you consider a treaty as important as this one, and when you put ink on it to say that you're going to abideby it, if you don't abide by that treaty the implications in theinternational community of your word and the desire of otherpeople in the world to do business with you, I can only imaginewould be greatly diminished.

But my job is to look at it through the lens of militarysignificant cheating. My assessment is that the Russians wouldbe, should they decide to cheat, unable to cheat in a militarilysignificant fashion.

There are a couple of reasons for that. One is theverification element to the treaty, which I believe if they wereto attempt to do so in a significant fashion, they would be foundout.

The second area is also -- It's hard for me to imagine thatthey could ever cheat to a point at which they would get to thatpoint in the deterrence decision calculus to believe that theleast worst choice they could make in a crisis would be to attackthe United States with nuclear weapons because of the assuredresponse capability of our deterrent. Of our ICBM force whichthey cannot know we would not launch under attack; and because ofour missile forces that are deployed daily. With those we have adevastating and assured response that will continue to exist.

Moderator: There was a question about the aging retiringnuclear workforce, but I think you answered that fairly well inyour comments. I'm going to skip that one.

A couple of questions about CYBERCOM. The Barry Hadleyreport on the QDR suggested that NSA or perhaps really CYBERCOMtake over the mission of defending the U.S. from cyber attacks.Can you comment on that?

General Chilton: The mission for defending the criticalinfrastructure of the United States belongs to the Department ofHomeland Security. What we need to be prepared to do in theUnited States Strategic Command and the defense support to civilauthorities, be prepared to support them should we be calledupon. We consider that an important part of our mission set, tonot only operate, defend the military networks; be prepared toattack and when directed attack in support of military war plans;but if called upon by some other element of the government, to beable to provide our expertise to assist them.

Moderator: The final question, the last time you spoke hereat AFA you mentioned that the U.S. was the only major nuclear power which did not have the capacity to produce more than ahandful of weapons per year. You did talk about that topic. Isthere anything you can add to that? The comments that you madelast year, has that changed at all or are we in the same positionwe were?

General Chilton: That's accurate today. There are othergreat nuclear powers that have the ability to produce a largenumber of new, and they are producing new nuclear weapons, unlikeus, who are constrained to, and I don't think I have a problemwith this at all, constrained to sustaining our current stockpilethrough life extension programs.

What's important is that we be allowed to sustain thatstockpile and add the appropriate safety and security andeffectiveness features that the President of the United Statescalls for, and I think we're on the path to do that as Idescribed with the Stockpile Management Program and the greatsupport we're getting from the administration to move forward inthese areas.

Moderator: General Chilton, thank you very much.