Air Force Association forum on missile defense, nuclear deterrence, arms control, prompt global strike and the search for strategic stability in a constrainted budget environment

By General C. Robert Kehler | Washington, D.C. | June 25, 2013

MR. PETER HUESSY: I want to welcome you all here to this in our series of seminars on nuclear weapons, arms control, missile defense, space and homeland security. We are honored today to have friends from the embassies of France, Austria, Denmark, Great Britain and Russia. We're also honored to have a number of our colleagues who have spoken at our series and will be speaking, including Admiral Benedict, who's the head of SSP. Terry, thank you for being here and congratulations on your promotion.

And we also have Ken Myers who is here, as the head of DTRA. Thank you, Ken, for being here. And I want to welcome our other guests from our sponsors from NDIA, Air Force Association and the Reserve Officers Association of America.

Just a note, tomorrow we have Linton Brooks and John Harvey. And then Friday we have Larry Welch. And next week on the 19th we have Gil Klinger, who is going to talk about space issues.

And on the 20th of June we're going to have Senator Sessions. It will not be here, but over at the Reserve Officers Association. And following that, at 9:30 to 12, the Army War College from Pennsylvania will be talking about missile defense issues.

That's a freebie for you. It's sponsored by ROA. But it will be right after Senator Sessions from 9:30 to the end of the morning over at ROA. So if you'd like to sign up for that, please go to the ROA web site.

And on the 21st of June, to finish our series next week, we have Frank Rose from the State Department, and he'll be talking about EPAA and missile defense.

I'm honored today to have a very good friend of this series, someone I met when General Kehler was a major. He was in this room, I think, escorting or working with, at the time, the SAC Commander, General Chain. General Kehler, as you know, is the commander of U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

He provides the President and the Secretary of Defense with a range of strategic capabilities and options for the joint warfighter through several diverse mission areas including: combating weapons of mass destruction, integrated missile defense, ISR and global strike. He's responsible for the plans and operations for all U.S. forces conducting strategic deterrence and DoD space and cyber operations.

He has commanded at the squadron level, the wing and major command, and has a broad range of operational tours in the ICBM and space launch, space control, space and missile warning operations. So General Kehler, on behalf of our sponsors and ROA, AFA and NDIA, I want to welcome you to our series. Would you all give a very warm welcome to General Robert Kehler?


GEN. ROBERT KEHLER: Thanks, Peter, and good morning everybody. It's a real pleasure to be here. I'm listening to the lineup of speakers that you have coming, especially you've got Ambassador Brooks and John Harvey tomorrow, and then General Welch later this week. Gosh, I'm intimidated about how I'm going to proceed this morning. That crowd, and if you bring Frank Rose in as well and all the others that you mentioned, I think you've got certainly the nation's leaders on the subjects that are nearest and dearest to STRATCOM's heart.

So maybe I can help this morning and put some of these things in a combatant commander's context so that I tee them up a little bit. They've done that to me a number of times in the past, so I don't mind trying to do that with them a little bit. And then you all could say, General Kehler said when he was here – and then they can scramble like sometimes I do when somebody says, Ambassador Brooks said, or General Welch said.


It' a pleasure to be here again. I've appeared here a number of times. I think the last time was late last summer or early fall. I can't remember exactly, was it last summer?

And I want to spend some time here this morning talking about STRATCOM in a little bit broader context. But first, let me offer my thanks as well to NDIA and ROA and AFA, for sponsoring this series. And when you put that many acronyms in the same sentence, you know you're in Washington. There's probably some other acronyms here in the room, but we won't get into that.

The last time I was here I spoke about the triad, our deterrent force, and the continuing need to have a triad. I'm not going to focus on the triad, although I continue to support the triad and believe we have a continuing need to sustain it as we go into the future. But I want to take a little bit different tact this morning and talk more broadly about Strategic Command, and then we'll get into the specifics as we have questions and answers here towards the end.

So let me start by talking a little bit about the security situation as I see it today from my seat in Omaha, because there are a lot of different perspectives on the global security environment that we find ourselves in today. Everyone has a little bit different perspective. Let me give you mine.

I think first of all the events that we've seen in various places around the world since the last time I appeared here, validate and demonstrate that we are facing hybrid threats. Now, there are those who wear uniforms who talk about regular versus irregular warfare. I'm not a regular versus irregular warfare kind of a person.

I believe that what we are facing are hybrid threats, hybrid combinations of strategies, tactics, capabilities, procedures, ways of communicating. All of those come together, I think, based upon whatever the objectives are of the group or the nation at hand. And I think that this is a time of great uncertainty and great complexity. And again, I think events that have occurred since the last time I've been here validate that.

If you look, violent extremist organizations, in my view, continue to conduct or threaten to conduct action against U.S. citizens and interests, and other of our friends and allies and partners around the world. North Korea, in their cycle of provocation, I think, was another dramatic indicator of the kinds of hybrid threats that we could be facing as the future approaches. Of course, they launched a missile in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. They did, in fact, begin this cycle of provocation. And, they announced that they had conducted a third nuclear test.

And Syria remains embroiled in a very, very unfortunate, very nasty civil war. Cyber activities continue to increase in frequency and intensity. Multiple countries improve their arsenals, and many have conducted ballistic missile tests. And I think the list goes on.

Do any one of these cause me to lose sleep at night? No, I think that we understand that we live in an uncertain and complex world. But the point, as I look at this from Omaha, is that there is no single threat I think that emerges.

There is no joint solution to a single threat. We are dealing with hybrid threats of various kinds. And I think our thinking has to be more flexible, more strategic, certainly more agile. Our planning needs to be all of those things as well, because each one of these threats that we face is different. There is no way to put one wrapper around all of the issues from a national security sense that we face.

And in this environment STRATCOM's mission remains both clear and unchanged. For the longest time, STRATCOM has been about deterrence and assurance; deterring adversaries and potential adversaries, and assuring allies of our security commitments to them. In our lexicon, my job is to conduct global operations in conjunction with the other combatant commands, the services and appropriate government agencies, to deter and detect strategic attacks against the U.S. and our allies, and prepare to defend the nation as directed.

All that sounds like something that Curtis LeMay would have said 50 years ago if he was standing in this spot, and he may have said something that was a lot like that. But let me unpack that statement for just a second, because there's a lot in there that has to do with why STRATCOM has been organized the way we are organized today, and what it is we're supposed to do with the capabilities that we've been given. So if a mission statement contains the essence of who you are and what you're supposed to do, the key phrase in ours is, "deter and detect strategic attacks."

Now you notice I didn't say deter and detect nuclear attacks, and here's why. When I became the commander of Strategic Command, I did what all good commanders do. I went and I looked at the direction I had from my bosses, to make sure that I understood what it was I was supposed to do, and could make a decision on whether or not I was doing it the right way.

And as you know, our combatant commanders in the U.S. system, our command chain is pretty short. It goes from the President to the Secretary of Defense to the combatant commander. That's a pretty short chain of command. And then the direction that is given to us by our Commander-in-Chief, it doesn't say Strategic Command will do the following things or has the following responsibilities. It says, the Commander of Strategic Command has the following responsibilities.

That puts the who in it, and I noted right off the bat when I read that document, that that's what it said. It's my responsibility to do these following things. It's my responsibility to deter and detect.

I'm not supposed to do that alone, by the way. Every single combatant commander has the same words about deterring and detecting attack. But uniquely, Strategic Command is singled out with this notion of planning for strategic deterrence, and then nuclear employment as a subset of strategic deterrence.

So I think that's an interesting way to think about it. And those who continue to view Strategic Command as the nuclear command are only getting it partially right. And the reason it's only partially correct is this notion of strategic attack.

So I did the next logical step, after I read the direction that I was supposed to follow. I went off to the Department of Defense's book of definitions. I said if I'm being told to plan to conduct strategic deterrence, then I need to know what a strategic attack is. And, of course, the definition said it's an attack with strategic effect.


Tell me this isn't the government, right? I thought to myself, that's insufficient. So we put together a working definition.

There really isn't a good definition, but I think if I went around the room here and I asked all of you what a strategic attack was, we'd probably come to the same kind of conclusions. And this is not by any means finished, but our thinking on this is it's an attack that would be potentially decisive and related to a vital national security interest of ours. And I think that one is fairly obvious.

You may phrase it differently, but it's about our vital national security interests. It's about massive destruction or loss of life, we would think. It's about U.S. global power and prestige, and something that would damage that. It's those kinds of things that we believe you could wrap together in a definition of strategic attack. And I think that's fair because the next point beyond that is, if that's the case then a strategic attack can take many forms and come through any domain and be sparked by any number of reasons for why it might be carried out against us.

And it's that context, with nuclear attack being a subset of strategic attack that begins to shape why it is that Strategic Command has been built the way it has been built. Now concepts of deterrence and assurance didn't go away at the end of the Cold War. Some have suggested that the notion of deterrence, especially nuclear deterrence, is a Cold War legacy. That's not so, in my view.

Nuclear deterrence, strategic deterrence, assurance are still relevant concepts today. The question is how do we apply them? That is different than the Cold War. That has to be different than the Cold War.

The Cold War ended 20 years ago. We know that. And so the question is, how do these concepts begin to apply today?

Well what we've tried to do is begin to look more specifically at specific adversaries and what motivates them, what their decision processes are, what their value system is. Because if we're going to try to shape our deterrence approaches to specific adversaries, we're going to have to know a lot more about them. And, by the way, we're going to have to have more flexibility in the way we go about our own business.

Now some call this tailored deterrence, and I can live with that. That's very descriptive, I think, of what it is that we are trying to accomplish today, is tailored deterrence. And it does require us to know more about our adversaries.

It requires us to be better, I believe, in intelligence collection, on specific things we need to know about adversaries, because one size does not fit all here. And that gets back to hybrid threats. It isn't as easy to look at a single adversary and say, I understand you. I think I understand how to deter you.

We understand that there are rules surrounding deterrence. This is a far bigger challenge today. It's a far more difficult challenge. It also requires us to use our deterrence tools and capabilities in a different way, and in different combinations, that are aimed specifically to an actor and a scenario.

So to accomplish all of this, STRATCOM has evolved into a multi-functional command. Now no one recognizes more than I do that our heritage is nuclear. And we're never going to waiver from that heritage and what it takes to make sure that perfection remains the standard, that we have the highest vigilance, and we enforce the standards of excellence that the nuclear mission demands. But today's STRATCOM is far more diverse and far more versatile than ever before.

The missions and forces that are assigned to us allow us to gain global perspective. They allow us to create synergy from a range of capabilities, the kind of capabilities that can create decisive impact, affect large physical areas, act across great distances, persist over long periods of time, change the status quo in a fundamental way, and provide the President ready military options in extreme circumstances. These attributes are unique among the combatant commands.

Our nuclear and conventional strike, space, cyber and other capabilities remain foundational to confronting the challenges of the future. The United States can neither deter adversaries and assure allies nor prevail in a conflict without them. And our seemingly diverse missions and capabilities share commonalities. They're strategic in nature. They're global in scope. They're interdependent with the responsibilities and capabilities of the other combatant commands. And that last point, I think, is especially significant.

Strategic Command is largely a supporting command to the other combatant commands. Not exclusively, there are some pieces of what we do where we are a supported command. But when you look at our mission responsibilities in space, for example, we are doing those space operations not principally for Strategic Command, but we are doing that on behalf of the entire joint force, and in some cases on behalf of the nation, and in some cases on behalf of the world – GPS, for example.

So we understand that we are largely a supporting kind of an organization. But on critical issues, we are also supported. And this interdependence among our combatant commands has driven us to begin planning more closely together than ever before.

So with that as a backdrop, let me just take a minute and say a brief word about each of the major mission areas. And then we can talk in whatever direction you'd like. But let me start with nuclear deterrence.

I think this has become almost a standard phrase for us, but as long as nuclear weapons exist our number one priority is to deter nuclear attack with a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent force. Now some say to me, you just gave a great speech about strategic deterrence and now you're talking about nuclear attack with nuclear forces, etcetera, and etcetera. And the point is, yes the number one priority I have is to deter nuclear attack, and that will remain the number one priority as long as these weapons exist.

In my view, and here's one place where you can call me old fashioned – you can't call me that in a lot of places but you can call me that in this case – no other weapon is like nuclear weapons. And that remains true, I believe. And I see that remaining true for the foreseeable future.

They are unique in their relevance in global security affairs, I think, even though we've seen – and we're grateful for it – receding of the likelihood of their use, certainly at large levels like we could have seen in the Cold War. I think that's a great success story, and it certainly has made us more secure. We've been on a pathway, I think, to reduce the numbers of weapons that has been very successful. And if you had told me when I was a major, and Peter and I first met, that we would be heading in a direction to get to 1,550 operationally deployed warheads, I would have said that I couldn't envision that future.

And yet, we're headed there. And I think that has been very beneficial. But the weapons still exist around the world. And as long as they do, then that will remain my number one job, to make sure that we deter their use against the U.S., our allies and partners.

Now there's a lot of activity in this mission area. Getting to the New START limits – as we were mentioning the other day in another public setting – we are still above those limits. We have until February of 2018 to get there.

We have a lot of work to do between now and then. But the wheels are turning and there is much work underway to do things like eliminate what we call the phantoms, which is those launchers that have been empty – ICBM launchers that have been empty for now quite some time; bombers that are awaiting disposal at the bone-yard; and other preparatory steps to agree on a final New START force structure.

The New Start Treaty allows us to be flexible in what that force structure looks like. There are no more central limits that deal with things like throw-weight or missile size or those kinds of things. It's deployed warheads – operationally deployed warheads and operational launchers, and then deployed launchers and non-deployed launchers. Those are the numbers, and that's it.

Each party can decide how to structure their own force. And we see that as being very flexible for us and we're working our way through the decisions to get to a New START final force structure. And even then, I'm not sure we'll ever get to a final force structure because we always have flexibility to adjust it as we see, as long as we stay within the limits.

Of course there's the implementation of the Nuclear Posture Review, which was completed in 2010. The NPR was completed in 2010, and then there's been work that has gone on since then about how do we begin to take the objectives of the Nuclear Posture Review and implement those objectives? So that work continues.

There's work going on regarding sustainment and modernization of the weapons, of the infrastructure that supports the weapons, the triad and nuclear command and control and communications, and space. I'm fond of saying there's a new reality for us in space. The 3C word that had been used in our national policy: competitive, congested and contested, I think are three good words. They're over-used a bit, but the fact of the matter is we're finding ourselves in a different place in space than we have been before. Just the fact that it is more congested with the responsibilities placed on us to provide space situational awareness for the government, and then share that with others, that's a big burden on us. And we devote quite a bit of time and energy to space situational awareness, at the same time that the amount of orbital objects goes up.

Potential adversaries have watched our use of space, and will look for places to exploit vulnerabilities. We're aware of that. And so, we are looking very carefully at ways to improve our resilience, for example, improve our situational awareness, improve our plans, improve our operating concepts.

Regarding cyber space, what many describe as the newest domain, the network is our central nervous system. And it's important that we have confidence in that network all the time. So our efforts to protect our network, the DoD information network, have grown, and for good reason.

I think you've heard others stand up and talk about the theft of intellectual property that we see. This is not just a Department of Defense problem. This is a government-wide problem: roles and responsibilities; lanes in the road; the responsibilities that the Department of Homeland Security has regarding critical infrastructure and protection of the homeland; the responsibilities that law enforcement has; the responsibility that the intelligence community has; and then the responsibility that the Department of Defense has, all of these we're working our way through at the very time we are looking to improve our capacity and capabilities.

Finally, I would say a couple of words about missile defense. Forty years ago only nine nations could field any kind of a ballistic missile. Today, 31 nations possess that capability, and some of those are clearly hostile to the United States and our allies. This is one of those areas where proliferation is rapid and increasing.

So against this threat the United States has deployed a limited missile defense. And it is intended to be limited against low-end threats like that that we see emerging from North Korea. That's the orientation of the system.

It's designed to be limited in scope. It's intended to be limited in capability. And we have begun ballistic missile defense system with the notion that it could be incrementally improved over time. And so we have gone through a series of incremental improvements to sensors, interceptors, etcetera. And the latest decision, of course several months ago, was to increase the number of ground-based interceptors that are available for use given the projection of what we see from North Korea.

In ISR, I don't have assigned forces for ISR, but I've got a global responsibility or ISR, to try to coordinate and synchronize ISR activities. This is another very interesting area for us because, of course, as we are drawing down our forces in the Middle East, much of the ISR that was put in place there, we're beginning to look very hard at what do we do with it? Much of it was designed for permissive environments, by the way. And so, the question is how much of that do we need to retain as we shift our attention elsewhere in the world?

I think those are great questions, and we don't have great answers yet. But certainly the budget is forcing us to consider these issues faster than we would have. ISR is a critical piece of what the U.S. military does. And, I would argue with this uncertain and complex world, I think that it's even more important as time passes. And we're mindful of that as we're looking at the realities of the budget.

And then finally, let me just add combating or countering weapons of mass destruction. Ken Myers is here this morning and he and I share some responsibility here. He, of course, wears multiple hats.

One of the hats that he wears is as the Director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. But he also wears the hat as the Director of the STRATCOM Center for Combating WMD. Also, we have the Standing Joint Force Headquarters for Elimination, which would be done as the follow-on to some military conflict somewhere, where it would be a permissive environment that we would have to go in and help with some kind of elimination of capabilities.

And these are tough challenges. And we could make a pretty strong case, I think, that the combination of violent extremists and WMD is the greatest threat that we face. And there is a convergence here between counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation and combating WMD. And our responsibilities are to make sure that we have synchronized our global plans across the Department of Defense and the combatant commands. And we've made great progress under Ken's leadership to make sure that this is one of those trans-regional problems that all of our combatant commands need to have a common view of, and a common game plan to act from. And we've made some great strides there.

So let me just say, this is not your father's STRATCOM. Whenever somebody thinks that this is Curtis LeMay's STRATCOM and that all it's about is nuclear weapons, I invite them to come out and take a look at our morning operations and intelligence update, which wouldn't surprise Curtis LeMay, I am sure, because among other things I'm told he was a realist. So he would understand. He might even look at us and say, what took you so long to figure this out?

So, it's a different command and it's a command that I believe is capable and ready. But I'm very concerned about the impact of sequestration on our readiness as time passes. This is a little bit like I've described it in testimony appearances here. It's a little bit like watching an avalanche.

It starts small, but impacts on readiness begin to build momentum and eventually you're overtaken by the avalanche. And I'm worried about this. Today, Strategic Command can perform all of its assigned missions. I'm worried about six months from now, a year from now, 18 months from now, if the harm to the readiness accounts continues.

There are readiness impacts today that most people just can't see, and it will take some time to recover from those. STRATCOM has been the beneficiary of the services' trying as best they can to continue to support the readiness accounts for Strategic Command, at the expense of some other combatant commands. So although there is not a huge impact on us today, this is not like watching a government shutdown where you turn a switch and the lights go off. But what's happening here is that light bulbs are being unscrewed, and eventually the place goes dark if we don't address this in some way as we go to the future.

I'm also concerned about the impact of the upcoming furlough of our civilians. I've said this, again, in my testimony appearances, I'm very concerned. Our people are willing to put their personal well-being in harm's way, and put that at risk. But they're not willing to put their families financial well-being at risk.

And I think we need to be mindful of that. And our civilians do a tremendous job. Sixty percent of STRATCOM headquarters is civilian. So this isn't like in the old days when you had a handful of civilians that were in key positions that supported you.

They are us. We are them. It is all one team.

And I'm very worried about the long-term effect on our people, their morale, and their families, by what we see in the upcoming furlough. And I'm not unique in expressing that concern. I think we are all concerned about this.

But, if there's a bright side – I'm not a pessimist. I do believe that there is a way forward through all of the interesting times that we live in. And I believe that STRATCOM has taken a very prudent approach here to recognizing its mission, understanding the tools that we've been given, putting those tools to work in various ways to try to counter hybrid threats that will face today and in the future; and in so doing, effectively ensure that strategic attack does not occur, and if it does that we're ready to counter it.

And with that, I'll take whatever questions you might have.


MR. BOB MONROE: Bob Monroe, formerly Navy, now independent. I have a question about your nuclear weapons responsibility. In 1989 Jim Watkins as Secretary of Energy closed down our only pit production facility at Rocky Flatts.

DOE wandered in the wilderness for about 10 years and then Congress appointed a panel chaired by America's best guru Johnny Foster, with members like Jim Schlesinger and Harold Agnew, to guide them out of the wilderness. The Foster Panel filed four reports from 1999 to 2003, all of them recommending the number one priority for America to take in the nuclear defense world, build a modern pit facility to replace Rocky Flatts.

Nothing significant has happened. We've been through three or four years of the Modern Pit Facility before a Congressman killed it. We've been through three or four years of the CMRR before that was postponed for five years and essentially killed.

We've worked though the distributed idea, which is the current one of using stockpiled pits plus life extension programs plus the trickle that could come out of PF-4 at TA-55. My question is, America builds nuclear weapons for DoD, not for NNSA or DoE. What's it going to take? We've had 24 years now of no progress. What is it going to take for DoD to recognize that these are our nuclear weapons, not NNSA's, and that it's time to get out on the pointy end of the spear and make this a number one priority from DoD, because this is your industrial base that is disappearing?

GEN. KEHLER: Yeah, okay.

MR. MONROE: What's it going to take?

GEN. KEHLER: Well, let me back up here for a second. The first thing that I did after I took command, the first set of visits that I went on, was through the weapons complex, because I am very concerned about the state of the industrial base that supports the weapons, that supports the customer here. And by the way, I view myself as the customer.

So A.) if what it takes is for us to recognize who the customer is, you can check that box. I know I'm the customer. And I've been pretty vocal about that, about being the customer.

So B.) I went around and I looked at all the sites, because I wanted to get a first-hand look at some of these issues. And I went back and I read all of the reports that were done over the last 20 years about this, all of the Foster reports. And I met with Dr. Foster. I had a conversation with him about it.

So I understand what the issues are here. I believe, at least from a customer standpoint, I understand what the issues are. So over the last year – because there was a lot of churn in the program, the entire weapons program to include the infrastructure program – over the last year DoD and the Department of Energy, NNSA in particular, have sat down and hammered through a strategy that would restore to our planning a front-end strategic view about the weapons themselves and what we need for the weapons as they go forward, which drives the answer to, what's the infrastructure have to look like in order to support that weapons strategy?

All of the pieces to the infrastructure now are either in place, or if you count the President's budget that has gone to the Hill, the '14 President's budget request, the pieces are in place now for the strategy and to execute strategy, to include an interim plutonium direction here that would allow us to be able to handle plutonium and produce pits at a fairly low level, but at least give us the ability to do it, while DOE goes back and sorts out what I believe is the last remaining piece of the implementation plan, which is what's the right long-term solution for plutonium? That piece isn't resolved yet.

But the way it's going in this direction of a distributed kind of a way to do this, some kind of a modular approach that would allow us to expand that capability, to get it to some reasonable production capacity and allow us to do that in a way – allow DoE to do that – in a way that's affordable. So while all the pieces aren't put together yet, I am far more comfortable this year than I was a year ago when I testified in front of our friends on the Hill, our elected officials. And what I said then was, I was very concerned because we didn't have a plan that close. Now I believe we have a plan.

And the remaining piece of this is, what do we do for the long-term about plutonium while in the near-term we've got to pursue this interim strategy? So I think we've got a package of things that we can now go forward with. The wild card, of course, is the uncertainty of the budget.

So we'll have to see how that goes. There's some risk in the plan, no question about it. There's fiscal risk in this plan.

There's always fiscal risk in plans, I believe. There's risk in the plan that was laid on the Hill. But my view is that the plan that went to the Hill is pretty good, and I'd like to see that be supported.

MR. GREG THIELMANN: Greg Thielmann, Arms Control Association. Thank you, General Kehler, for your very informative presentation. The Russians continue to complain about missile defense. But at the same time, as far as I know, they still are maintaining their strategic missile defenses around Moscow, and they're developing the S-500 for the future, which presumably is directed at defending against U.S. and other systems. So my question really is, do Russian strategic defense activities concern you in terms of performing your mission, and what is your general approach to this development?

GEN. KEHLER: Well first of all, since the Cold War we don't view Russia as our enemy. Having said that, though, Russia and the United States still have the largest preponderance of nuclear weapons, and so we are engaged with Russia. We're engaged with them for New START to continue to reduce the levels as best we can.

Regarding their ballistic missile system and ballistic missile defense system, they're going to make decisions on behalf of their national security interests, just like we do. And that particular item doesn't overly concern me. I think what I get concerned about is that there are only a couple of countries in the world that could destroy the United States. I don't think they have any intent to do it. Again, we're not enemies, but the capability exists.

And so, I remain concerned about our need to ensure that day never comes. I believe that we can deter that. And I believe that our deterrent force is credible and would remain credible in the face of their defensive system. I believe it remains credible.

I'll just make the final point here that our missile defense systems in its orientation and in its capacity is not capable of threatening the Russian retaliatory force and their own deterrent. It's not capable of doing it.

MR. PAT HOST: Pat Host with Defense Daily. You told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March that DoD needs a more comprehensive and recurring way to evaluate the potential of cyber-related attacks on its nuclear C2 and weapons systems. I'm just wondering if that test has been completed and what were the results? Is there any progress that has been made on that?

GEN. KEHLER: It's not a single test, it's a series of tests. As you may know, the nuclear command and control system is made up of a lot of pieces. And we are systematically working our way through all of those pieces, because you have to work through all of those pieces, to do the appropriate vulnerability assessments.

Some of that has been done. In some cases we've discovered, especially with some of the older systems, that there aren't any vulnerabilities there because they don't work the way that newer systems work. In some cases we've found things that are a concern. I wouldn't say that they're a vulnerability, but are a concern and we're going to act to fix those.

But we're not finished, and it's going to take a while longer. And I don't know that we're ever going to be satisfied because I think you have to have some healthy view here that an adversary can be ahead of you. And I think that there's no perfect defense. There's no perfect protection in any domain, to include cyber.

So I think we've got to be realistic as we go forward and understand that this is something that will be an ongoing concern for us even when we slap the table and say that part of the system right there is not vulnerable or we've addressed its concerns. Some of this is basic network hygiene kind of stuff. Change your password.

Make sure you've got 12 characters or whatever it is you have to have these days that somebody is always yelling at me about. We've just got to make sure that we enforce some discipline on ourselves. But we're not finished.

I'm not sure we're going to be finished, I suspect next year. If I was sitting there again and they asked me, I'd say the same thing. We're not finished, and I don't know that we're ever finished – finished. In the meantime, we're working at this pretty hard.

MR. DAVE DOWLEY: Thank you for your comments, sir, Dave Dowley (Bechtel National, Inc). Question for you, appreciate your comments on deterrence and you know, this is not your father's STRATCOM. In your role as providing military advice to policymakers, it's been quite some time since this country as issued a declaratory policy that is actually part of doctrine and things like that, on what constitutes a threat to us with which we will take action. We've been very muddy on making statements like that for many, many years. In your role, would you advise policymakers, who you serve, that there is a benefit to having a clear statement on behalf of the United States and what would be some of those contingent parts of that statement?

GEN. KEHLER: Yeah, I'm not sure I agree with you that this is muddy. If I look at policies that have been issued, maybe the last five or more years, whether those were space policies, cyber policies—the NPR, I thought, laid out some pieces of this – I've never thought about whether there has to be one document that kind of pulls all the pieces together. But I think we've been pretty consistent in saying that there are certain threats to our vital national interests, certain concerns we would have related to our allies, partners and friends, that would cause the United States to respond; and that we would do so in a way and at a time and through the domain of our choice. The only thing that I would say here is I think it's important that we not segment our policies in such a way that would say – for example, we have a disagreement sometimes about whether there's such a thing as cyber deterrence or space deterrence or nuclear deterrence or conventional deterrence?

I think that you run some risk if you look at it that way, because I think we would want an adversary leader to believe that an attack through cyber space, for example, may be met some other way and they are taking great risk by doing such a thing. The same thing with space. An attack into space or through space, I think, an adversary contemplating that should believe that there is great risk in doing that; not just because there might be a space response, but because they are risking more.

So I'm not sure I take your point. I understand what you're saying, and I don't feel on a day-to-day basis in my end of this, which is translating policy into planning, that there's some deficiency. But again, reasonable people can debate that and come to a different conclusion. I understand what you're saying.

MR. ED HELMINSKI: Ed Helminski of Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor. There are two things going on right now, and some from the past, but one of the interesting things that Congress has said is we're looking at is governance of NNSA. I'm assuming that you'll be asked your view, it may be private, but in looking at the way we're structured right now, are you thinking about ways to tell this new panel, which involves a good friend of yours, General Alston, on how NNSA should be structured differently than it is now?

GEN. KEHLER: Yeah, when I'm asked I'll tell them.


MR. HELMINSKI: If I asked you now, will you –


GEN. KEHLER: Answer your own question. What do you think I'm going to say? No, because I don't know yet. Again, and I don't mean to be flip. It's a good question and it's a valid one.

I haven't quite made my own mind up, yet. I will tell you this, I've gone back, as I said earlier, to try to understand the context of why we are where we are today. And by the way, I think that over the last year I've seen a tremendous change in the way that NNSA and DoD work together, for sure. I think that what has come before the Nuclear Weapons Council has changed quite a bit in terms of the way that those two organizations are working together. So I'm encouraged by that.

Second, though, I understand that there are some significant issues about this relationship for the future. I know why we are the way we are today, all the way back to the Eisenhower administration. I understand why we did this.

I think it's a fair question about what we should do and whether this will serve us well if we make some improvements to the way we work together. And that's what I haven't quite made my mind up on yet. I just don't know yet what I think about this. So I'm going to reserve.

MR. HELMINSKI: A follow-on to that, you mentioned the nuclear weapons component and your being the customer. The customer was definitely disturbed about the growing costs that were coming out of CMRR, and you were paying for them. There was a task force report that was, I believe in my own assessment, so critical that it wasn't written. It was delivered orally by the Nuclear Weapons Council to NNSA. Do you feel now that some of those issues that raised all these costs have been resolved through the Weapons Council?

GEN. KEHLER: I think some have. I think that some of this is a fundamental lack of understanding between how – and it's within the same executive branch – how DoE budgets and assesses costs, and how DoD does it. It's different. And they look at different things.

So part of the effort was to try to reconcile how we look at these things and decide how you can get two cost estimators in the room, and if they are driven by different pieces, they will come to different conclusions, as you well know. So part of that has been coming to some common understanding about how we do this, how we go about it. And I think that has gotten a lot better.

DR. WILL CURTIS: I definitely appreciate your presentation sir. My question has to do with kind of a long term problem that I have with what I consider to be the negative effects of a couple of decades of nuclear planning and so forth (inaudible)…at the end of the Cold War, since the end we've had no thinking about the nuclear strategy and so forth. And what I'm concerned with is how do we develop strategic thinkers, not only in the military but on the academic and civilian side, to deal with these complex issues that are facing us today regarding nuclear deterrence and stability? And do you have a perspective at STRATCOM as to how we can begin to develop those types of leaders?

I was fortunate, when I came to the Naval Academy in the '90s, to have had DTRA, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, fund for my classes, a visit to STRATCOM, and that was quite helpful in motivating a couple of young midshipmen. But I'm concerned that that lost decade or two after the Cold War, that we didn't think about his issue and it's created a problem today. How do we address this long term?

GEN. KEHLER: I'm concerned about that as well. I'm concerned about the drain of talent across the board associated with the nuclear industry, and certainly the people who have done nuclear planning, nuclear policy development, nuclear strategy, all those things that go with it. There was one time, of course as you're mentioning here, that because of the Cold War circumstances we were just producing that kind of person who grew up understanding the issues and was very conversant in those issues.

Some of them moved into arms control. Some moved to DTRA. Some moved to weapons development. Some did lots of different things.

And that same setup is no longer there because of the way the entire enterprise has shrunk. And, you know, it's a good-news, bad-news story, I think. The good news is that it shrunk. The bad news is it shrunk. And so we're going to have to deal with it.

So what are we doing? Well, a couple of things. For some number of years now several of my predecessors have been instrumental in sponsoring a couple of things. Back here in town, through the sponsorship of CSIS as a matter of fact, there's an organization called the Project on Nuclear Initiatives, or PONI, which has encouraged young scholars to get involved in these kinds of issues, some writing prizes, they typically come to STRATCOM at least once a year. We just had this meeting about a month or so ago. It's a very good, well-sponsored method by which we can encourage young scholars to get involved in these issues and stay involved.

When I was at Air Force Space Command we started the same kind of a thing, actually through the Air Force Academy, for space issues, which I think is equally important. I think that we're beginning to see some benefits to that, although that effort has kind of ebbed and flowed a little bit. The other thing that we've done – again, my predecessors set the conditions to have an annual deterrence symposium sponsored us at STRATCOM.

Unfortunately, with budget pressures this year, we're going to have a webinar approach as opposed to a physical conference. But we get about 500 people. And the same thing here, we encourage the best and brightest thinkers to bring the budding best and brightest thinkers with them and to begin to write.

And we are also giving a writing award. And we're seeing some results from that, as well. I think that STRATCOM, as a consumer for these kinds of things, we get great benefit out of having scholars and policymakers engage in these issues, because people in uniforms have natural limits to where we can and should be effective, I think, in those kinds of realms.

Military advice, I'm there for you all day. Policymaking, I can help advise policymaking, but we need policymakers. And developing those people and people who can come to the Hill and serve on the staffs and those kinds of things, I think is very important.

So we're doing what we can. I think some of you have helped with this a lot. Some of you in your own personal dealings with these issues have tried to encourage various forums and other things.

The annual synchronization symposium we're doing for combating weapons of mass destruction, we're getting together twice a year, a webinar, again this year – a series of webinars actually that Kenny is running. I think that's full. The last time we got physically together it was over 700 people.

And so that's a little bit different part of the problem, but my view is that's fine. We just keep trying to gather these folks together at various times, and I believe we're having some success. So I'm with you. I think that this has got to be a shared responsibility.

By the way, I think industry has a part in this too. I think industry can help stimulate some of this. And we're going to have to take deliberate steps to make sure that that pool of talent continues. You don't grow these people overnight, and I think experience makes a difference.

This gets back to – you know, what does Terry Benedict do with his high achievers when they get ready to hang up their uniform? And I'd like them all to come work here somewhere, because I think that that's the kind of person that we'll need. So thanks for the question.

MS. ELAINE GROSSMAN: Elaine Grossman, Global Security Newswire. Can you hear me, General?

GEN. KEHLER: Yes, barely. If you step this way a couple of steps it might help.

MS. GROSSMAN: You testified last month at a HASC panel that a final determination had not yet been reached on how many SSBNXs would ultimately be needed. Could you talk us through your expectations of the process by which that determination will be made and a timeline?

GEN. KEHLER: Okay, I'll try. So let me begin by saying I remain a supporter of the triad and I believe that we need to continue to invest to sustain it as well as we need to make sure that the investment program is in place to modernize it. The two parts of the triad that are – at least budget-wise – have begun the modernization process, is the long-range strike aircraft and the one that you just asked about, which is the replacement to Ohio.

There is no question in my mind that we must replace the Ohio. Admiral Benedict, at some point, and his Navy colleagues, are going to look at my successor – well he's not going to do it. His successor is pretty removed. And my three or four are removed. Somebody is going to look at them and say, this is the day that we can no longer put those submarines at sea safely and have them operate the way they operate today. And it's a metallurgy problem that they have encouraged me to understand.

So we're going to get to a point where you must replace Ohio. That program is underway now. And my view is it is critically important.

As far as I can see into the future we are going to need a modern and capable portion of the deterrent that's at sea. So, the question is, do we have to make a decision today on how many we eventually buy, as I would say, selfishly, beyond 12? And the answer is, no.

You don't have to make a decision today about that. Programmatically, you have to make some decisions today on what the program size looks like because those are acquisition rules. But once we are replacing Ohio, once we are down that road, then I believe the nation will have a number of decision points at which the nation can decide if we need to purchase more than 12, what that number looks like, and why?

Whether that's reacting to a future world situation, whether that's reacting to other decisions that might be made along the way that is not a decision you have to make immediately. Nor do I believe we should think upfront that 12 is all we would ever purchase. I don't know what the answer to that is, and that decision is not nearby here at all.

So that's not a skimmer decision. That's not a decision – the near-term decisions will be how do we continue with the program given the significant budget pressures that everyone is under? That will get struggled with.

I don't know what the outcome of that will be, but as you've heard from the Secretary and the Chairman, all things are back on the table here to look at what the eventual budget decisions are going to affect and how they will do that. So I can't tell you today what the outcomes are going to be. Those are priority choices for the Secretary to make, and then ultimately to recommend to the President and to work through that way.

So I can't say what the outcomes are going to be. What I can tell you is from an operational standpoint we must go forward with the replacement for the Ohio. I think we have a good program underway. I am very comfortable that that program is going to deliver the way Terry and his folks have structured it. And the initial program size, which was decided 12 by '16, I think is fine with me given that you can make decisions later about whether or not you need to put more tubes at sea.

MR. HUESSY: General Kehler, thank you so much for an extraordinary presentation. Thank you.


Thank you all for being here and we'll see you tomorrow, those of you coming, to hear John Harvey and Linton Brooks, and then Friday, Larry Welch. Thank you very much.