Space Symposium Keynote

By General C. Robert Kehler | Colorado Springs, Colo | April 19, 2012

General Kehler: Good morning everybody, and Elliott, thanks very much for that introduction. I'd like to thank the hosts for the annual Space Foundation of course, in particular Marty Faga, who I just said hello to, who is the Chairman of the Space Foundation Board and of course the former Chairman, Tom Moorman. Let me just depart from the script for a second.

My last two jobs I've been really fortunate in that I get to stand on the shoulders of both outstanding military people and tremendous visionaries. I feel that sense when I go to work every day, Building 500 at Offutt. Obviously the names that preceded me there are legendary. I felt the same thing when I went to work every day in Building 1 here at Peterson because those names are equally legendary. There's one common thread between those two places and that's Tom Moorman. I will tell you that the impact that he has on all of us still resonates throughout our daily space operations. So Tom, thanks for everything you've done for us. Let me just ask for a round of applause. [Applause].

Once again the Foundation has succeeded in putting on a spectacular symposium. General Schwartz, sir, it's always a pleasure to follow you on any agenda, and it seems as though I do this more often than not. I was listening from the back of the room to your comments, and I will try to echo many of those because one thing that I can say about our Chief of Staff, he has been a tireless supporter of all of the assets of the United States Air Force, and one of his favorite expressions, of course, is that we are all in. Something he said the first day that we had him as Chief of Staff and continues to say today. And that everyone operates inside this great big tent we call the United States Air Force. I think you hear that in his remarks. For that, we're very appreciative as well.

I have to tell you, spring came early in Omaha this year. I was in the flower section of one of the grocery stores not so long ago and I overheard this conversation. A very harried looking man came rushing up to the flowers part of the grocery store and said, "Quick, I need some flowers." The clerk said, "Certainly, what do you have in mind?" The man began to stutter and stammer, I'm not sure if the clerk held his hand like this and said, "Well, it would help if you explain exactly what you have done." [Laughter]. It fits. That's me, that's for sure.

So let me explain to you this morning exactly what we have done at Strategic Command over about the last year or so, and what we have left to do as we talk about in particular the subject that's most on everybody's mind this morning, space. Although as you heard Elliott mention, I wasn't sure when he was talking about the jars, but I would agree with you, that the job jar that has U.S. Strategic Command associated with it is a very large job jar. So I'm going to talk a little bit about the entire jar before I get down to some of the specific jobs that are in it.

When I spoke at this conference last April I shared my views on the current dynamic operational environment we find ourselves in today and how we have to evolve to manage and deal with the challenges that are in that environment. As the year unfolded events proved just how rapidly the operational environment changes.

Think for a minute about what has happened since we got together in this room last year. We've had the Arab Spring. We've had the successful conclusion of Operation Odyssey Dawn. We've gone through the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. We've seen the bold operation that killed Osama bin Laden. We've seen the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq. We saw the death of Kim Jong-il and the succession of his son, Kim Jong-un and the latest in North Korea's attempts to become a spacefaring nation. We've seen rising tensions with Iran. We've seen continued violence at some level in Syria. We've seen the passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011. We've seen the adoption of new strategic guidance from the Department of Defense.

Here's the interesting part. I could go on with additional things that have happened since the last time we all sat here. I would argue that's complexity and that's change and that's uncertainty. So in January this year the Department of Defense released new strategic guidance that establishes our way ahead to deal with these and other challenges like these.

I know many of you in the audience, in particular in this audience, have read it, but let me remind you of a few points that are contained in it. I think they're important.

The Secretary of Defense recently noted that our priorities for the 21st Century must sustain global leadership, but we must do so with a joint force that's smaller, but agile, flexible, ready, and technologically advanced. Space is a key to this objective. We will have a global presence, but emphasizing the Asia Pacific and the Middle East while maintaining our defense commitments elsewhere will be important. Again, I believe space, because it doesn't respect geographical boundaries, is crucial to that part of our new defense strategy. You will preserve our ability to conduct primary missions to protect our forward national interests, and among those primary interests, of course, are defeating al-Qaida and its affiliates, succeeding in the current conflicts, deterring and defeating aggression including those seeking to deny our power projection -- and I'll say more about that in a moment -- countering weapons of mass destruction, effectively operating in cyberspace, space and across all other domains, maintaining a safe and effective nuclear deterrent, and protecting the home front.

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

The first mission area that grabs my attention is counterterrorism and irregular warfare. No doubt about it, STRATCOM contributes to this mission in many ways. From space forward to ISR to precision strike to network connectivity to cyber and the list goes on. And by the way, I am one of those who has a little trouble categorizing warfare as regular or irregular. I think we are in an era of hybrid warfare and it will be a combination of strategies and tactics and capabilities and techniques and procedures that we will have to protect.

The second main mission area is deter and defeat aggression. Of course we're talking here about 21st Century deterrence, not 20th Century deterrence. It has to be shaped to specific adversaries. One size does not fit all. And it will be based on our ability to wield military power with a combined arms action across all domains.

The third is to project power despite anti-access area of 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 to counter weapons of mass destruction. Here again, STRATCOM plays a central role in this mission as we execute our responsibility to synchronize planning, identify and advocate for capabilities, and ensure we can provide standing joint headquarters and other supporting expertise for the regional combatant commanders.

The next is to 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 maintaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. This is STRATCOM's bread and butter, has been for over 50 years. But it's not the only bread we eat, nor is it the only butter that we wield. But in this case it says very specifically that as long as nuclear weapons exist, and here I'm going to 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, and of course our ability to operate effectively in space and cyberspace contributes immeasurably to that mission.

The final one that catches my eye is to defend the homeland and provide support to civil authorities. Now it may not seem particularly obvious how STRATCOM fits in there, but we contribute much to this area in terms of the missile defense capabilities that you provide to NORTHCOM for air operational control. The support to civil authorities that we provide as part of DoD and part of the homeland security memorandum regarding cyberspace in particular.

Now these are not the only primary embedded missions mentioned in the new strategy. Providing stabilizing presence, conducting stability and counterinsurgency operations, conducting humanitarian and disaster relief, and other operations round out the list.

I certainly am not diminishing the importance of any of these, but those first set or so that I recited I see STRATCOM specifically attached to those.

Now you won't find any combatant commander nor any service specifically tied to this strategic guidance, but I will tell you that if you read it carefully I believe STRATCOM and by extension the U.S. Air Force are all over that guidance.

So we contribute to much of those mission areas, but the first ones that I read in particular are foremost in my mind.

The Secretary's guidance is clear. We're to recalibrate our capabilities and make selective additional investments, 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 and effective nuclear deterrent, and defending the homeland while supporting civil authorities. There's a priority scheme inherent in this defense strategy as well. This is not going to be easy, but we have to carefully field the right capabilities, preserve our capability to conduct these critical missions, while we protect our core national interests.

To meet these challenges we at STRATCOM are dedicated to supporting the DoD-wide effort to make smart operationally oriented choices. And on that area let me get more specific with the interests of this audience among them.

Operating in space is a core, discreet mission of the U.S. armed forces. It underpins all the other military missions as well, and it is critically reliant on the increasingly important cyber domain. In fact the Secretary's new guidance specifically calls out the requirement, and I'm going to quote here again, "to enhance the resiliency and effectiveness of space-based capabilities" and support projecting power despite anti-access and anti-denial challenges.

If I had to define for you the one major advantage the United States military has today I would tell you it is the ability to project power. That is really all of our bread and butter. So maintaining this linkage between space and cyberspace capabilities and projecting power will be critical as we execute our strategy.

The people gathered here at this symposium are some of the key leaders who have to deliver that resilient effective capability that will ensure we can project power. For more than 50 years the United States has gained an important strategic and operational advantage by operating freely in space. Space operations underpin U.S. national security objectives and enhance the combat capability and effectiveness of the joint force. Today, however, as I know you've heard from other speakers to include the Chief, we no longer have a sanctuary in space. More space-faring nations, private industry, and academia and a growing number of on-orbit objects and increased demand on the electromagnetic spectrum have all brought a new level of complexity to space operations. Today our space capabilities face natural, unintentional and purposeful threats to mission success. Our competitive edge is also eroding as other nations improve their space capabilities and increase their access to militarily significant commercial capabilities. We simply must reduce our strategic risks and enhance our military advantage in order to ensure our ability to protect our nation and assure our allies.

We need solutions to these problems that we all know are there. The solutions must in this time of constrained budget and increasing competition produce enhances resilience and effectiveness. Our overarching operational goal must be mission assurance. We must understand the combatant commander's highest priority missions and tasks, identify the space capabilities that are essential to accomplishing those missions and tasks, and carefully assess the availability and effectiveness of non-space alternatives to them as well.

At STRATCOM we are working on solutions but we cannot do it alone. We need other parts of the Department of Defense. We need the support of our service components. We need the rest of the government. We need industry. We need academia. And we need our international partners. We simply must have the ability to operate our spacecraft, collect vital national interest information, communicate and control our forces globally and give our decision-makers time to react and decide the best course of action during a crisis or conflict.

Mission assurance means having the ability to do these critical things no matter the challenges or obstacles placed in our way, either natural or manmade.

First, we need to understand the dynamically changing space environment. Space situational awareness is both harder to acquire and increasingly important to have in the progressively congested orbital environments. If a space asset is the best way to go, then the design of not only the hardware but the ground processing and dissemination elements to include terminals must be flexible, robust, and resilient. In an already harsh operating environment, these and other safeguards must be included in the requirements phase and not traded off or looked at as add-ons.

This assurance must also be cost-effective. Those requirements must be part of a continued reformation in our acquisition processes. We must assess the space capabilities we require, and decide how best to meet that need to include non-space alternatives. We will integrate resilience and mission assurance into the development and design of the space architecture. We must emphasize increased cross-service and cross-organization solutions to field the capabilities. And of course, this also includes our allied partners.

Space borders every geographic domain, making multinational collaboration a requirement. I remind my combatant commander colleagues, I say this boldly, when I'm with them, nothing that goes on in the combatant command areas of responsibility isn't touched by space. And at first you get a little pushback on that until you start to talk about specifics. Who among you doesn't rely on GPS and it goes from there.

Not the multinational effort that we are exploring, of course, is looking very carefully at how we can better input, collaborate, and cooperate in space operations to include things like space object identification, space launch, re-entry assessment and warning and executing contingency operations. The initial partners in what we are calling combined space operations, a new concept that we're modeling on our other combined operations in other domains, envisions expanding to other space-faring nations as we progress past our initial efforts.

On the operational front we're moving to improve our planet and to improve our tactics, techniques and procedures to account for the changing environment. All of these while we pursue increased partnerships and greater resilience across the entire enterprise

These are but a few of the substantial changes in how we operate in space. I could go on and on about the other things that we are trying to do, and I believe the other changes that we will make as we remain an operational space force. But for now let me just emphasize again how the new defense strategy mentioned in my opening forms the basis of our way ahead. It is with you, it is with a vitally important, space-oriented industrial base, it is with our allied partners, that we have to meet today's challenges and not just be ready but already in front of tomorrow's challenges.

So as we look ahead there's no question that we face significant challenges in space and cyberspace. We face illusive asymmetric threats that require unprecedented agility, flexibility, coordination and innovation to counter. But challenge brings opportunity. As your discussions of the past few days show, we have improved our mutual understanding of the nature and gravity of the threat we face and it's a threat that is not confined to our nation alone as our allies and partners can attest. I remain confident that we can and will succeed. We have the will, we have the talent and we have the ability to solve problems that are facing us. I know that all of you will rise to the challenge. That's why I remain confident with complete faith in our ability and our will to overcome the threat.

Thanks for your service. Thanks for your hard work. Thanks for everything you do to protect America and the global community. I wish you all the best, and I look forward to taking some of your questions. Thank you very much.