It’s great to be with you here today as I come to a close in my career in the United States Air Force and my time in command of United States Strategic Command. But before I pass this great command off to General Bob Kehler and go out the door in a few weeks, I want to thank you in person for all that you do, not only for STRA TCOM, but for the United States of America. You provide an essential leg to our nation’s strategic triad and a key element of our deterrent mission.
STRA TCOM and the Submarine Force have a relationship that is different from relationships between other combatant commanders and assigned forces. What you do for STRA TCOM, how you train to do that mission, how you maintain the equipment to do that mission, where you are and what you are doing when you are at sea for STRATCOM are on my radar scope every day. Every day, I check the health and status of the SSBN fleet. I review weekly the maintenance status and any issues that Admiral Bruner or any of the other senior task force commanders would want to bring to my attention. Very few other combatant commands have that kind of relationship with assigned forces. It is an important relationship, and it is one that is absolutely essential.
We are called a functional combatant command at STRA TCOM because we don’t have a particular geographic region assigned to us; instead, our focus is on the global problem set, that is, missions defined by their global nature. Our lines of operations are specific missions that we perform every day. Additionally, we prepare to execute beyond those missions in a time of conflict.
Let me give you a couple of examples. Every day we operate and defend our military satellites, our missile warning satellites, our weather satellites, our GPS satellites, and our global communications satellites with which we do nuclear command and control. In a sense, our operational tempo for space is the same as if we were at war every day. If nothing else, every day in space we are at war with debris that we dodge to keep our satellites viable. We also have a mission set in cyberspace, where we operate and defend the military computer networks. Cyberspace has become a war-fighting domain that is every bit as important as air, land, sea, and space. It is a domain that we must be prepared to defend and a domain in and through which we can expect to be called to execute offensive combat operations.
But STRA TCOM’s first and most important line of operation is the mission we have to deter attacks on the United States and our allies. The deterrence mission is where you all fit in, every single day. Unlike other mission sets, deterrence is about day-to-day operations and focusing on and preparing for a day we hope will never come-a day when we engage in combat against a threat to the existence of our nation. In your case, these two activities, day-to-day operations and preparation for combat, are inextricably linked. That firm link is the nature of deterrence.
A lot of people-too many, in fact-don’t understand what deterrence is all about. Let me tell you the one question that frustrates me to no end. I want you to be able to answer this question if you ever hear it asked. It is unfortunate when people say, “Why do we have nuclear weapons anyway since we are never going to use them?” I don’t blame the asker; I blame myself for not educating our populace on why it is such an unfortunate question. The simple fact that we use our nuclear deterrent every second of every day is just not understood. Indeed, we used our SSBNs eve1y single day of the Cold War, and we use them every single day today. Not only did they help to prevent nuclear war during the Cold War, they helped to prevent the Soviet Union from forcefully and brutally expanding its empire into Western Europe. What your SSBN forebears did and what you do every day is inextricably linked to a worst case scenario-the outbreak of war on a global scale-and one of your key roles remains to prevent that kind of war.
As even the Cold War example shows, you serve more than the singular purpose of deterring nuclear warfare. In fact, your deterrence mission underpins our entire Department of Defense operations. It’s no coincidence in my mind, no coincidence at all, that conventional world war has not occurred on this planet since August of 1945, even though history, all the way back to the earliest recorded days, is filled with never-ending conventional wars on the scale of the globe as the combatants knew it. But suddenly in August of 1945, the thought of having another war like World War I or World War II started to fade away from people’s minds. What you do goes beyond preventing a nuclear war, it goes far beyond that.
Now consider present-day nuclear-armed threats to our nation. Let us never forget that countries exist in the world today that pose an existential threat to the United States of America. That is, they have the capability to destroy our form of government, to destroy our society, and to take America back to a stone-age lifestyle. We must not be lulled into the notion that deterrence has no purpose today or in the future. Your work is important today, and when we look to the future, which we are very poor at predicting, I’m sure it will be equally important tomorrow. Indeed, the future could be even more dangerous than today, considering the possibility that even more countries, some hostile to us and our allies today, could field nuclear weapons. Consequently, we should not put at risk, today or in the future, the security and the existence of our nation by not paying attention to what you do every day and appropriately resourcing and supporting your mission.
The world is more complex today than it was in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. We have multiple potential adversaries, and multiple threats confront our nation. And, as I said earlier, our nuclear deterrent underpins everything we do. How, you might ask? Let me paint a scenario for you. How many of you were alive in 1981 when Ronald Reagan became our president? We were coming out of a period of inadequate investment in our military force structure. President Reagan determined to tum this around and, as he increased the budget for the Department of Defense, he didn’t just throw money at the Navy, Air Force, and Army. He had a vision: he would grow the United States Air Force to forty combat wings. To give you a perspective, we have the greatest Air Force in the world today with fewer than twenty combat wings. He would grow the United States Army to eighteen combat divisions. Today we have the equivalent of ten, and we still have the greatest Army in the world. For our United States Navy, the vision was a 600-ship fleet. Today we have fewer than 300, yet we are the greatest Navy in the world.
So here’s the scenario: tomorrow, I will give the U.S. military the Reagan buildup. I am going to give you forty combat wings, eighteen Army divisions, 600 naval combatants, and all of the personnel and resources required to keep that force fully trained and ready to perform any mission our commander-in-chief may direct. But I am also going to take away our nuclear deterrent forces while I give twenty nuclear weapons to a small-time thug of a dictator along with the delivery system to target twenty different cities in the United States of America. Now you tell me, who would the world fear more? Who do you think would kowtow to whom? This is the power of strategic deterrence, the power of nuclear weapons, that so many people tend to forget or ignore.
Our strategic forces underpin our conventional might. They provide the backbone and the foundation for our political leaders to stand toe to toe with potential adversaries and stare them down for the better interest of the United States and to prevent wars from happening. The long shadow of our strategic deterrent spreads around the globe, and it supports the defense and the security of this nation today every bit as much as it did during the Cold War. And our nuclear forces will most certainly remain vital to the security of our nation and our allies for the foreseeable future.
Let me discuss what is required for deterrence, two things fundamentally: capability and will. Our political leaders provide the will, and our job is to provide the capability. The capability is provided not simply by buying submarines, 05 missiles, and the warheads that go on them. The capability we need for effective deterrence includes what you do every day, which is to provide credibility to the deterrent force. Without your demonstrated credibility, we cannot deter anyone. I don’t care if you are the biggest kid on the block, if nobody thinks you are ready to fight, then you cannot deter a fight. Adversaries have got to believe that you are not only properly equipped, but also that you are ready in all regards to do what our leaders say you can do. You demonstrate that credibility in day-to-day operations, in exercises, in the way you train, in the shipyards and maintenance facilities as you get your ships ready for sea, and every time you go to sea. And you demonstrate it in the high standards you maintain in literally everything you do.
At STRATCOM we have a lot of missions. Beyond what I described earlier, we are deeply involved in missile defense, combating weapons of mass destruction, and JSR. We have so many things to keep us busy in Omaha, we often joke that we feel like the circus act who juggles eight balls at one time. But we constantly remind ourselves that seven of the balls are made of rubber while one of them is made of crystal. If we drop a rubber ball, we will be embarrassed but it will bounce. We’ll pick it up and keep juggling. But if we ever drop the crystal ball of nuclear deterrence, it won’t bounce, and the world will take notice. The failure will damage the credibility of our capability, which will damage our deterrence … and the safety of this nation.
As you know, the triad consists of our air-breathing deterrent, our land-based intercontinental ballistic missile deterrent, and our submarine-launched ballistic missile deterrent. You are an absolutely essential part of the triad, the vital leg of the three-legged stool that provides security for the United States of America and underpins our Department of Defense. The world understands your strength, readiness, professionalism, and stealth. The result: potential adversaries acknowledge that if they cross the line, they can be absolutely certain that you are on station, ready, willing, and able to conduct your mission. That certainty strikes fear into their heart and makes them pause. Your iron-clad credibility is the greatest strength that you bring to our deterrent forces. And you do it so well.
Today, as I mentioned at the start, I came to thank you. Let me also encourage you to continue moving forward, to never be satisfied with where you are, to look for ways to sharpen yourself both personally and as a team. We demand perfection from you, and yet as humans we know we cannot achieve perfection alone, which is why we have teams. We must work together and have each other’s back. Your job requires a team to deliver the perfection that is required for this deterrent. Take care of your shipmates when you are at sea and follow the procedures that are so strict and demanding that someone not as steeped in your business may wonder why they must be so precisely followed. In short, you as part of the team need to commit yourself to nothing less than perfection because perfection everyday means credibility in the deterrence mission.
Let me conclude with this: as I watch you and depend on you to deliver perfection, I am really bothered that we never have a parade for you guys We take you guys and put you under water for months at a time. We never see you marching down Main Street, and we never see a flyby for our SSBN force on Armed Forces Day or Memorial Day. In fact, we are not allowed to talk much about what you do. But along with that comes, I hope, a sense of pride within the Silent Service, a sense of pride that when you look at yourself in the mirror, you know you are something special because you are part of something bigger than yourself. You do something incredibly important for this nation, and the fact that not many people know about what you do is 1101 okay with me. But it needs to be okay with you in your heart. Too often we can come to work without remembering why we put on the uniform. But every once in a while I want you to pause and look in the mirror and remind yourself just how important you and what you do every day of the year are to this great land of ours. Pause and reflect on why you do what you do-feel the sense of pride I want you to have. And know in your heart that there is a commander at STRA TCOM who will replace me and a former commander sitting on a rocking chair someplace who is just so proud of each and every one of you.
Some people think the highest calling of a military person is to fight the nation’s wars and win. I do not believe that. I believe the highest calling of any military person is to work in such a way that prevents any adversary from challenging our nation to a fight. The greatest calling is to prevent war from happening, to prevent American blood from being spilled, not by accommodation, but through strength. Deterrence is the highest calling. Deterrence is your calling. I salute you, and I thank you for what you do. God bless you all.