2012 Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium

By General C. Robert Kehler | Orlando, Fla. | Feb. 23, 2012

General Kehler:

Good afternoon. It's really good to be here. Thanks to the Air Force Association for the invitation to speak today, particularly Mike Dunn and Sandy Schlitt. Mike, let me add my personal thanks to your service as well. I think the Air Force Association has advanced a great deal over your leadership, so thanks for everything that you've done.

Chief, General Stafford, distinguished colleagues from the general officer corps, others who are here today. I must admit that it's a little bit daunting to speak right after lunch. In fact I stopped off in the restroom on my way over here to make sure my necktie was okay and that my uniform parts were all together. You don't make a lot of eye contact in there. The guy standing next to me said boy, it's after lunch. I hope this guest speaker's good. I said I do too. [Laughter].

It's always nice to see familiar faces, friendly faces in the audience. And certainly the Air Force Association always makes all of us feel at home, and it's great to be with you at all these events.

Last year when I spoke I spoke about the importance of dealing effectively with an operational environment marked by constant change, enormous complexity and profound uncertainty. A mission where we faced a challenging new reality, and we had to keep pace.

Over the last year the new reality presented us with more than our fair share of change, complexity and uncertainty. Just think for a minute what's happened since we met last in Orlando.

The Arab Spring; Operation Odyssey Dawn; the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan; the bold operation that killed Osama bin Laden; the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq; the death of Kim Jong Il and the succession of his son, Kim Jong Un; rising tensions with Iran; growing violence in Syria; the passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011; the adoption of new strategic guidance from the Department of Defense; and I could go on. That's complexity, that's change, and that's uncertainty.

Some of these events were positive, some were not. And for some, the outcome remains uncertain. In a few cases like the Arab Spring we were surprised, and surprise, in my humble opinion, is one of the greatest dangers that we face.

Through this extraordinary period of change, complexity and uncertainty STRATCOM's focus has remained constant. To partner with the other combatant commands and agencies to deter, detect and prevent attacks; and to employ force and capabilities when needed to achieve U.S. national security objectives.

To keep our focus we've spent much of the last year revising our plans and enhancing our capabilities to meet today's challenges. Our goal is to anticipate and prevent strategic attacks and to ensure we maintain freedom of action in domains like space and cyberspace that give to the United States decisive strategic and operational advantages.

I also believe our success will hinge on the quality of our response to a new national security reality that continues to test our agility, our flexibility and our resolve. This new reality includes an operating environment unlike any we have seen before, a restrained fiscal climate and dramatic shifts in the geopolitical environment. Dealing effectively with these challenges and identifying and pursuing our opportunities that result will require all the imagination, innovation and discipline we can muster.

Although conflict remains a fundamentally human enterprise, the means and methods have changed and continue to shift at an ever-increasing pace. From my seat at STRATCOM I see technology and ideology pushing conflict in an evolutionary maybe even a revolutionary -- no pun intended -- direction. As a result, in my humble opinion future conflict will very likely have these characteristics.

First, conflict will encompass all five domains -- air, land, sea, space and cyberspace. We see the possibilities of this future today as space and cyberspace increasingly become contested environments.

Second, conflict will cross our traditional geographic boundaries. We see possibilities of this future today with the emergence of new weapons like cyber weapons and proliferation of familiar weapons like ballistic missiles. I believe future conflicts will not be confined to a single combatant commander's area of responsibility.

Third, conflict will involve multiple participants. A wider range of actors will have access to advanced capabilities and much lower entry costs and they will seek to remain anonymous or ambiguous and to operate in shadows. Combatants, non-combatants, nation states and non-nation states may all be involved to varying degrees. Just look at the news channels today and try to determine who are the good guys, who are the bad guys, who are the rebels, who are the freedom fighters, who are the terrorists, who are the loyalists, who are the soldiers? I could go on and on.

Fourth, in my view conflict will be hybrid. I do not see a future neatly categorized as regular or irregular warfare. I see a future where adversaries wield a tighter combination of capabilities, strategies and tactics, and maybe weapons of mass destruction if they can get their hands on them. And where adversaries will work hard to deny or disrupt those U.S. capabilities that allow us to project power or to maintain global awareness and warning.

I think it's important to note the same interconnected networks that enable global commerce, navigation and communication also present tremendous opportunities for disruption. Cyber tools in particular may have surpassed the threat posed by more traditional means of espionage, posing particularly glaring economic as well as national security challenges.

Okay, so I could stop here and say so in conclusion, have a nice day. And walk off. [Laughter]. I'm tempted to do that. But many of you have heard me refer to an old proverb before. The old proverb, and I think it's an old Chinese proverb appropriately, maybe, "May you live in interesting times." But most of us who wear the uniform don't have the luxury of living in interesting times. We get paid to try to deal with interesting times. So how are we going to deal with the challenges that we face?

Just last month the Department of Defense released a new strategic guidance document that establishes our way ahead to deal with these challenges. Now I know many of you in this audience in particular have read it, so just let me remind you of a few points.

Secretary Panetta recently noted our priorities for the 21st Century must sustain global leadership, but we must do so with a joint force that is smaller but agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced. We will have global presence, but will emphasize the Asia Pacific and the Middle East while maintaining our defense commitments elsewhere. We will preserve our ability to conduct primary missions to protect our core national interests and among those primary interests of course are defeating al-Qaeda and its affiliates, succeeding in current conflicts, deterring and defeating aggression including those seeking to deny our power projection, countering weapons of mass destruction, effectively operating in cyberspace, space, and across all other domains, maintaining a safe and effective nuclear deterrent, protecting the home front.

Now I don't intend to quote the entire document to you, but I do want to highlight some portions of this new strategic direction that I believe are especially relevant to United States Strategic Command's assigned responsibilities, and in particular, I would call your attention to the section entitled Primary Missions of the U.S. Armed Forces, because in there several items certainly catch my eye as the Commander of STRATCOM.

The first mission area that catches my eye is counterterrorism and irregular warfare. No doubt about it. STRATCOM contributes to this mission in many many ways from space support to ISR to precision strike to network connectivity to cyber efforts, and the list goes on.

The second mission area that catches my eye is to deter and defeat aggression. And we are talking here about 21st Century deterrence, not 20th Century deterrence. Shape to specific adversaries, not one size fits all. And based on our ability to wield military power with combined arms action across all domains.

The third that caught my eye is project power despite anti-access and area denial challenges. Our ability to do this, by the way, creates its own deterrent value. The strategy acknowledged that we must develop a new stealth bomber, improve our missile defenses, and continue our efforts to enhance the resilience and effectiveness of critical space-based capabilities as some of the most important contributors to this mission.

The fourth is counter weapons of mass destruction. STRATCOM plays a central role in this mission as well as we execute our responsibility to synchronize planning, identify and advocate capabilities, and ensure we can provide standing joint headquarters and other supporting expertise to the regional combatants.

The next is operate effectively in cyberspace and space. No doubt about it, today we face real threats to our systems and networks and those threats are growing. We're working hard to improve our capabilities, defenses and resilience and response.

The next one that catches my eye is maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. This is STRATCOM's bread and butter. And here I'll paraphrase, the strategy just a bit. It says very specifically as long as nuclear weapons exist, and here I would quote, "we will field nuclear forces that can under any circumstances confront an adversary with the prospect of unacceptable damage both to deter potential adversaries and to assure U.S. allies and other security partners that they can count on America's security commitments." We do this every day at STRATCOM.

The next one is defend the homeland and provide support to civil authorities. Now while it may not seem intuitively obvious, STRATCOM contributes much to this mission area via our missile defense work and via our support to civil authorities as part of the DoD and Department of Homeland Security memorandum regarding cyberspace.

These are not the only primary missions mentioned in the new strategy. Providing a stabilizing presence, conducting stability and counterinsurgency operations and conducting humanitarian disaster relief and other operations round out the list. I'm certainly not diminishing the importance of any of these. In fact STRATCOM contributes to those missions as well as a supporting command to the geographic combatant commanders. But those first ones that I read in particular caught my eye. And as General Schwartz said this morning, although the new document doesn't mention the services by name, nor does it mention the combatant commands by name, the Air Force and Strategic Command are all over this document in just about every corner of it as critical pieces to make it come true.

Now this new guidance from the Secretary of Defense is clear. We are to recalibrate our capabilities and make selective additional investments to succeed in these mission areas with our overall capacity based on requirements that are associated with countering terrorism, deterring and defeating aggression, maintaining a safe, secure, effective nuclear deterrent, and defending the homeland while supporting civil authorities. There are priorities in the new strategy.

These are tall orders. Our job is to make the difficult choices to implement this strategy in a period of interesting fiscal constraints, and maybe I will get a chance to live in interesting times after all. But I remain cautiously optimistic. No doubt about it, there are real risks involved in the scenarios we find ourselves in today. And in the midst of the fiscal challenges it's my job to continue to advocate strongly to sustain our force and to modernize our force, particularly the nuclear deterrent force. But not exclusively the nuclear deterrent force.

We need to improve our planning and better integrate our efforts to counter weapons of mass destruction. We need to proceed with a replacement for the Ohio Class ballistic missile submarine. We need to proceed with the new long range bomber that is capable of delivering conventional and nuclear weapons. We need to proceed with the replacement tanker. We need to proceed with the analysis of alternatives for a land-based ballistic missile. We need to proceed with life extension programs for our nuclear weapons and invest and modernize the weapons complex. We need to upgrade our command, control and communication systems. We need to improve the resilience of our space and cyberspace capabilities, our situational awareness in these newest domains, and our ability to defend our critical infrastructure. We need to enhance our ISR capabilities and need to better manage and synchronize the supporting, processing, exploitation and dissemination capabilities. It's time to bring the data to the analysts and to federate their efforts. We need to leverage our sensors more effectively with more effective networking and data sharing. We need to do all that before lunch. [Laughter]. I was just seeing if you all were paying attention here. Maybe we even need to do all that a little bit past lunch.

We also need to get better electronic warfare. We need to practice how to operate in a degraded space and cyberspace environment. We need to improve our understanding of our adversaries and our mission context. We need to review our plans and improve our decision processes and command relations.

In short, the new national security reality calls for a new strategic approach that promotes agile, decentralized action from fully integrated, I would say fully interdependent and resilient joint forces. In fact I believe not only have our joint forces become interdependent, but I believe our joint commands have also become interdependent. We cannot afford to get this wrong. We know that fiscal security is national security. The United States won the Cold War for many reasons, but at least in part we know the Soviet Union could not compete with the United States economically. I don't want to be on that side of the equation in the future.

Now it's easy for a combatant commander to lay out a list of needs like I just gave. It's harder for a service chief to deliver on the list. But I would offer that virtually everything I've listed is already in the budget. No question we have to make hard choices and programmatic adjustments have been made. More will have to be made. But the essentials of STRATCOM's portfolio remain in place in the fiscal year '13 budget request. In some cases the needs I mentioned can be addressed without adding to the budget at all. Better plans and processes are cases in point.

The challenges will be keep the investment in place and to avoid a hollow force as we go forward. This will not be easy, but the new defense strategy does in fact lay out a way ahead. It's about priorities.

I'm privileged to lead a command that's seen a significant evolution in its mission responsibilities and capabilities. Essentially today STRATCOM is brought together to do two things. First and foremost, to deter attack and assure our allies with a combination of capabilities that goes far beyond the highest end nuclear deterrent. But second is to employ that force if deterrence fails.

We find ourselves applying many of STRATCOM's formidable capabilities every day, but usually as a supporting command and usually supporting multiple commands simultaneously. As I tell many of the folks who come to visit us in Omaha, this is not your father's Strategic Command, nor is it your grandfather's Strategic Air Command. In fact some of our visitors say that the whirring sound you hear in Omaha is Curtis LeMay spinning in his grave. I never had the opportunity to meet General LeMay, but I would think that if he's spinning, I don't think it's because he's dissatisfied. I think he might be a little impatient that it's taken us this long to get to the point where we're addressing some of these new challenges.

I think General LeMay understood something. I think he understood you had to deal with today's problems and prepare for tomorrow's problems, not remember yesterday's.

I think he would also recognize that success breeds success.

The old SAC, his companion organization, the Joint Strategic Partner Planning Staff, and the original United States Strategic Command that was formed in 1992 were extraordinarily successful. Despite the dire possibility of nuclear holocaust or maybe because of it, deterrence worked. We've seen our nuclear arsenal shrink from over 30,000 warheads at the height of the Cold War to the 1,550 operationally deployed nuclear weapons we will have once the New START Treaty is fully implemented. That's an extraordinary achievement. It's a tremendous success.

The Cold War ended 20 years ago. Things are different today and we know it. We realize deterrence is about much more than one weapon system, no matter how powerful it is. It is about what the United States and our allies as a whole can bring to bear. Tailored to specific actors and particular threats. Further, we know we have many tools in our deterrence and warfighting tool kit. Wielding them as an integrated whole is what we need to do. Among the most important of our tools is a continued, strong conventional force. Achieving success and facing determined and capable opposition will require a greater degree of joint integration than ever before.

The threats we will face in the future will not be divisible by geography or domain, so we must meet them with a similarly indivisible joint force. The strength of our joint force is not in its parts but in the sum of its parts. Successful solutions we characterize by strategic thinking, unity of action, joint interdependence, commander focus, flexibility, decentralized execution and innovation. And in this audience, in a room full of a group of airmen, each one of those terms should resonate with each one of you.

We also need to develop our younger members with robust, strategic imagination that allows us to expect the unexpected and react to surprise in stride when, not if, it occurs.

We also need to develop the means to shape activity away from conflict. Expand our decision space and protect our access to freedom of action across the global commons.

One constant that has remained from SAC in today's STRATCOM is the unbelievable professionalism and dedication of our country's soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen. Every day I see some tangible reminder of the outstanding people we are fortunate to have in our armed forces. They are smart, brave, dedicated and the envy of the world, and we must do everything we can to preserve our most important military advantage, our people. This also means caring for their family members as well. Resilient systems can only be properly employed by resilient people.

So clearly the security environment we face today and that we expect to face tomorrow are filled with sobering new challenges. Hybrid, technologically advanced and multi-dimensional attacks can traverse traditional boundaries, reach our doorstep in seconds, and threaten our access to capabilities and infrastructure that are vital to our security and prosperity. Conflicts of the future will not be characterized by large numbers of troops marching to the docks singing "Over There" because "over there" in the future will be over here.

The geopolitical landscape is constantly shifting and its pace is increasing. At the same time fiscal constraint is upon us. This new reality calls for a new strategy and in conjunction with our partners and the other combatant commands and services, STRATCOM is an important element of this new strategy. We view our challenges as opportunities -- a chance to forge a better, smarter and faster joint force. We remain committed to work with the Air Force and the other services to provide the flexible, agile and reliable strategic deterrence and mission assurance capabilities that our nation and our friends need in an increasingly uncertain world.

Thanks again for inviting me to speak with you today, and good luck for the rest of the conference. If we have a few minutes I'm happy to take questions. Thank you.


Thank you, General Kehler. I'm going to start off with some things that have been in the news most recently, and that is the balloon that the administration has thrown up that discusses the reduction in the nuclear arsenal. Any thoughts, reducing the weapon systems down to as much as 300.

General Kehler:

Geez, look at the time. It's a shame I'm out of time. [Laughter].

I would say a couple of things about where I think we stand.

First of all as I said in my speech, I think we've had an extraordinarily positive run that began prior to the end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and then with Russia where we have dramatically reduced the size of our nuclear arsenals, but we've done that in a way that has preserve deterrence and met our deterrence objectives -- theirs too, I believe, and it's preserved stability, particularly stability that may need to become more prominent if we ever get to a crisis with them.

I believe that we are more secure today as a nation because of the pathway that we have developed, the deliberate pathway that we have developed. The number that concerns me the most as I stand here today is 1,550. That is the agreed-to New START upper limit between the United States and Russia. And we are above it. And so my objective and what is consuming our activity at this point in time is completing the plans to get us to the agreed limit.

The next question though to ask is what happens after that? The conversations that have been going on, some of which have been reported in the press, are really addressing that. The answer to the question what happens next is, it depends. It depends on what the world situation is. It depends on what we believe needs to be included in further negotiations. It includes and depends on what's our strategy as we look to the future? Then you get to the numbers, and that's the way we've certainly been treating it.


Sequestration. We've heard about the salami slice and the potential. Are you concerned about how that would affect our investments in the nuclear enterprise?

General Kehler:

Yeah, I'm concerned how sequestration could potentially impact everything, not just the nuclear enterprise. As I said, STRATCOM is a far different STRATCOM that we're talking about today. Clearly I have responsibilities for the nuclear deterrent force so therefore that remains our number one priority, by the way. As long as we have those weapons it will remain our number one priority. But I am as concerned about the new dual-capable bomber. I'm as concerned about a tanker. I'm as concerned about ISR platforms. I'm as concerned about command and control. I'm as concerned about our networks. I'm as concerned about space. So the potential with sequestration is that all of those things are impacted. I think General Schwartz said it exactly right this morning. I think the summary here is if we have to go to sequestration all bets are off. I think we start over at that point in time. I see the potential for catastrophic impacts if we go there.


Sir, we've heard discussions over the last year, finally I think, about offensive and defensive cyber. Some speak to the lack of proper authorities, to be able to shutdown part of the civilian community should it be necessary. Can you share with us your thoughts on that in terms of critical infrastructure?

General Kehler:

I don't think the President or the armed forces lack any authority to defend the country, and certainly if we were directed to perform offensive cyber operations we would have all the authority we needed that would come with the direction to do that. So for offensive operations I don't think we have an authority issue. And I believe we are viewing offensive operations and cyber operations as another tool in the tool kit for offensive operations. I think to view it separately is a mistake.

I think that it is out achieving some objective, or for those of you who have gone to War College it's about effects. What do you want to create? What objective is the President telling us to fulfil? How does that create certain effects that we need to achieve? And then, how do offensive cyber tools fit into that mixture? And if we are in that situation and if we determine that a cyber tool is the right component to a mixture, then I believe that we will get all the authority we need to employ it.


Help us understand the relationship between NORAD and Strategic Command in countering the threat cruise missiles, etc.?

General Kehler:

Let me back up for a second and tell you where STRATCOM's responsibilities are in the area of integrated ballistic missile defense.

Some years ago STRATCOM was issued a letter from the Secretary of Defense that said we needed to take on some responsibility for integrated air and missile defense. So I have some synchronization responsibilities to perform in that regard.

The fact of the matter is, though, I am far less comfortable in the entire subject of cruise missiles and cruise missile defense than I am about ballistic missile defense, and for good reason. We spend more time paying attention to the ballistic missile defense threat. It was the emergent threat, the immediate threat that we found we were dealing with not only at a national level but once that was satisfied with the limited missile defense system, it was certainly a much greater feeder threat, and we see that continuing to grow today.

But I know that we are also very concerned about cruise missiles and it's time for us to turn up the gain, if you will, on this entire discussion, integrated air and missile defense.


Countering weapons of mass destruction, clearly a mission element, shaped for specific adversaries as well. But many today look at the terrorism issues as they relate to the individual destruction [inaudible] atomic weapon [inaudible]. How does STRATCOM relate to that? What are the responsibilities of STRATCOM?

General Kehler:

First of all I think we remind ourselves, and I don't have to remind us at STRATCOM anymore, but I spent the first couple of months reminding everybody that if you look at the current National Security Strategy, not the new defense strategy that was issued here in January, but the National Security Strategy says that the greatest threat the country faces is weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons in the hands of violent extremists. It's that nexus of proliferation of WMD and terrorism. The number one threat that the country is facing.

If that's the case, you should be able to walk into every combatant command headquarters and say show me your planning that has been done to deal with the number one threat facing the country. And that's what we're in the process of doing. It's our job at STRATCOM to build the overarching plan which is working its way towards being finished, and then to make sure that all of the geographic combatants have their pieces complete. At the same time we have some responsibility across the government to try to make sure that we're both representing the combatant commanders' needs which is largely situational awareness as you might expect, and integrated action. And making sure that those voices are being represented across the government.

I think a lot of progress has been made in the entire counterproliferation, nonproliferation and consequence management areas. In all three of those areas, I think we've made great progress. But this is about a sense of urgency in my book. We've got to go faster to bring the pieces to closure so that we can deter with this readiness as well as offer readiness.


So then in relation to our responsibilities to allies in protecting the nuclear environment, and their responsibilities to us, can you share with us your thoughts on that?

General Kehler:

I think that relationship spans all of STRATCOM's mission areas. Certainly there's a key role to play in intelligence sharing and in operational activities related to counterproliferation, nonproliferation, consequence management. The relationships that the geographics have established with their host nations and their military to military contacts I think have gone a long way to help us with our allies.

But STRATCOM's view about allies and assurance to allies extends beyond that, of course. We still take very seriously our commitment to assure our allies with our commitment to nuclear deterrence. With extended deterrence we are working very hard with our allies to begin to shift from joint space operations to perhaps a point in the future where we have combined space operations. I think there is a wonderful linkage there for us between our traditional allies and others who are space-faring nations.

As I look at integrated missile defense, that's another area where of course we're working that very carefully with our allies.

I think in terms of work with allies and friends and partners around the world, a hallmark of the new defense guidance by the way, a continued hallmark of the new defense guidance, I think it's something that we certainly embrace in STRATCOM.


General Kehler, thank you so much for a great presentation.