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Remarks by Acting Deputy Secretary Fox at the Air War College, Montgomery, Alabama

Presenter: Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine H. Fox
April 03, 2014


And thank you, General Bishop, for hosting me today. And I'm very pleased to be here with all of you.

So I have to start at the outset today that this is a very sad day for everyone within the Department of Defense community, most especially for our service members and their families at Fort Hood.

As Secretary Hagel said last night, our thoughts and prayers and those of all of the senior leaders in the Army and across the department are with the victims and their families. The secretary is closely monitoring the situation in Fort Hood, and was in touch with the president overnight.

Now we're still learning the details of this tragedy from law enforcement personnel and investigators. But what I can say now is nothing is more important to the Defense Department as an institution than the safety and well-being of our people.

And we'll do everything that we can to support the victims and their families, and all of our people. And we're grateful, very grateful to the first responders at Fort Hood who rushed to the scene.

Now in light of these events, I have to tell you it feels a little bit awkward talking about things like budgets. But budgets and strategy really are what I am here to talk to you about today.

Because, after all, supporting our nation's strategic imperatives, that's why we exist, right? And our budget, it's our budget that supports our ability to actually meet those imperatives while still taking care of our people.

So, in some ways, it's the events at Fort Hood that provide a poignant backdrop for our discussion today.

As Manny said, I'm the acting deputy secretary of defense. And I am thinking now about leaving the department. And as I prepare to leave the department, I decided that I wanted my last set of speeches to be at our War Colleges.

You represent the future leaders of our great department and our great military. And I think that you will have the opportunity to lead through a time of profound change, challenge, but also tremendous opportunities.

And so it is from that vantage point that I ask to speak with you today. And I'm very honored to be here.

I'd like to also say thank you to our airmen, who have made tremendous sacrifices over the last 13 years. And I know many, many of you in this room have been part of our deployments over that time.

I do feel increasingly every day that our nation forgets that we're still at war. But I have great responsibility to share with you that our secretary, Secretary Hagel, and I have not forgotten. And we are very grateful for what you have done.

And while we are very grateful for what you have done, and are still doing in Afghanistan, my topic today is really about our future environment and the environment that you will be entering.

I do see tremendous opportunities for our Air Force to contribute in securing our gains in Afghanistan, but also for keeping the peace in Korea, engaging in Africa, or delivering humanitarian relief to countless nations.

I believe the demands and the opportunities will be endless going forward. But so will the challenges. And I want today to talk about both. And before I get into the specifics, I'd like to provide a little context.

Secretary Hagel recently announced the recommendations and proposals that are contained in our president's budget '15 submission. Now that is a package where there is something for everybody to hate.

And the secretary and all of the services are actively defending all of those things that somebody hates right now through a set of hearings and speeches that we've all been engaged with.

But this budget, this budget is a really, really important budget. In my view, it is one of the most important budgets that the department has submitted in a very long time.

And this budget is based on strategic imperatives that recognize a time of continued transition and uncertainty for our U.S. military in terms of its role and its missions, and its available resources.

Our last decade has been dominated by protracted land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But now our focus is on preparing to counter a variety of security threats and embracing opportunities on all points of the compass.

Recognizing that America was getting close to that historic inflection point two years ago, President Obama issued strategic guidance to the department. These priorities of the recent 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review state "reflect our strategy of protecting the American homeland, building security globally by projecting U.S. influence and deterring aggression, and remaining prepared to win decisively against an adversary should deterrence fail."

Now since they weighed very heavily in our recent budget choices, it is worth revisiting the specific tenets of our strategic guidance with you today just for a minute. I'm just going to list them.

Shifting operational focus and forces to the Asia-Pacific. Sustaining commitments to key allies in the Middle East and elsewhere. Being prepared to defeat a major adversary in one part of the world while denying victory to an opportunistic adversary elsewhere.

Reducing the force planning requirement to conduct large prolonged counterinsurgency and stability operations, but aggressively pursuing terrorist networks and countering weapons proliferation that threaten the homeland.

Enhancing capabilities in cyberspace and missile defense. Maintaining a smaller but credible nuclear deterrent. And continuing a military presence and pursuing security cooperation in multiple regions: Europe, Africa, and South America.

Phew, big breath. That's not a small list. So the world has not gotten less dangerous. It has not gotten less turbulent. And it is not in less need of American leadership. In this budget and in this drawdown there is no pretense of a peace dividend, something that has always accompanied our previous draw-downs in the past.

At the same time as we face these challenges, there is a strong possibility under the current law, most notably the return of sequester-level funding in 2016, that resources for national defense may not reach the levels and vision to fully support the president's strategy.

Leadership's stern warning about sequestration appearing to fall mostly on deaf ears in the Congress last year gave Secretary Hagel no choice but to prepare the department for an era when defense budgets could be significantly lower than expected, wanted, or needed.

But Secretary Hagel has made it very clear in his guidance to all of us that we must deal in the world as we find it, as it is, not as we would like it to be, either beyond our borders or within the Beltway.

That said, our president's budget submission would provide $115 billion, over the next five years, more than sequester-level funding would provide. The president and his secretary simply could not send a budget to the Hill that did not support the nation's strategic needs.

And the sequester-level budget does not provide a force large enough, ready enough, or modern enough to meet them. We believe that it is a realistic proposal, reflects strategic imperatives as well as the resources the department might reasonably expect to receive, albeit with strong leadership and cooperation from within the Congress.

The budget plan and associated proposals provide a sustainable path towards shaping what we call a balanced force, a force able to protect the nation and fulfill the president's strategy, albeit with some additional risk.

Now by balanced, this is very important, we seek a force that is sized such that with the available resources we can keep it ready and modern. And to achieve a balanced force with this fiscal outlook, we really have no choice but to reduce the force structure. And we need to do that starting yesterday.

Now shrinking the military contains real risks, because, note, a smaller force, no matter how ready, no matter how modern or technologically advanced, can go to fewer places and do fewer things, especially when confronted by multiple contingencies or a scenario in which mass is required.

But attempting to retain a larger force in the face of potential sequester-level cuts would create a decade-long modernization holiday on top of the program cancellations and delays that have already been made.

Now odds of a major conflict against another technologically advanced military power are relatively low. But the consequences of being unprepared for such a contingency could be catastrophic.

This budget submission is guided by our history. Our past major draw-downs, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, all of them kept more force structure than could be adequately trained, maintained, and equipped, given defense budgets at the time.

This forces the department to disproportionately cut into accounts that fund readiness and modernization, and therefore creating the hollow force.

This is why Secretary Hagel has chosen to reduce capacity, the quantity of forces available, in order to ensure those forces would be properly trained and clearly superior in arms and equipment.

The decision to be ready and the decision to maintain our technological edge over potential adversaries at the expense of size was a decision based not only on the stark lessons of history, but also on rigorous analysis.

We have done many studies over the past three years and, believe me, I can attest to that, having been involved in most of them, to prepare an answer to that question. We saw that the writing was on the wall before. And as the wars ended, we knew the sizeable funds that we had become accustomed to would also be ending.

So to determine the size of the forces needed, we used to critically important inputs: the existing operational plans to include the requirements for homeland defense, and the global force allocation -- I'm sorry, the Global Force Management Allocation Plan, the GFMAP that provided an estimate of our steady-state requirements for our forces to support the day-to-day needs of our combatant commanders.

This analysis validated what the last decade-plus of war had already shown in terms of the unique capabilities that the Air Force brings to the fight. First, you are the most technologically-driven service in the U.S. military and the world, and must remain so.

Second, as the department rebalances away from large scale stability operations toward a renewed focus on full-spectrum operations, you provide vital capabilities across the entire operational spectrum: from airlift to ISR to air superiority and precision strike to space to, at the extreme, two-thirds of the nuclear triad.

And these capabilities must, must be shielded from the harshest impacts of sequester. And we have striven to do that.

And, third, many of the capabilities I just mentioned, airlift, ISR, and space among others, enable the entire joint force to contribute to their fullest, and must be modernized and employed in innovative ways to ensure we can compete with technologically advanced adversaries.

Secretary Hagel's budget decisions are aligned with these insights. That meant protecting key modernization programs, like the new bomber, the Joint Strike Fighter, the new tanker. It meant recommending a billion dollar investment in next generation jet engine technology.

And it meant that while we're showing -- slowing the remarkable growth in our airlift -- I'm sorry, our armed unmanned systems, our UAS systems, we're still increasing the number of Predator and Reaper cap to 55, which will meet global requirements, while continuing to transition to an all-Reaper fleet.

In order to pay for these critical modernization programs, we had to make some tough decisions and cut some beloved programs. This included both the A-10 and the U-2.

Now few things give me as much satisfaction as hearing a soldier or marine telling the story about making contact with the enemy knowing that he had a Warthog flying overhead.

And no one defends the Warthog more eloquently than your chief of staff, General Welsh, who has logged many a flight hour in the A-10, and knows full well its lethal capability.

But General Welsh has been the first to say that in an era of finite resources, multi-role platforms provide more utility in a wide variety missions, ameliorating the loss of overall capacity by their inherent flexibility.

Now in the case of the U-2, a tremendous airframe with a lot of history, and still in great demand. We simply could not afford to keep two platforms with nearly identical missions and capabilities: the Global Hawk Block 30.

Now we must improve the sensors on the Block 30, but we're making great strides in reducing operating costs. And this will be the U-2's unmanned successor.

With its greater range and endurance, the Global Hawk makes a better, perhaps, high-altitude reconnaissance platform for the future. It certainly represents that future view, if we can upgrade the sensors, which we estimate that we can do.

Now keep in mind that all the changes I've detailed are contingent on Congress providing relief from sequestration from FY16 and beyond.

If sequestration returns, the department will be forced to make additional cuts that would not allow us to implement our defense strategy, and would compromise our national security in both the near and the long term.

Now for you, they would include retiring 80 more aircraft, including the entire KC-10 fleet and the Global Hawk Block 40 fleet. They would also include buying 24 fewer JSFs through FY19, and sustaining 10 fewer Predator or Reaper caps.

And they would mean deep cuts to flying hours, and thus much lowered readiness in our remaining platforms. Now this is a future we can ill afford. And we're doing all that we can to work with the Congress to ensure it's a future we and the nation don't face.

Whether sequestration returns or not, the reality is that we're counting more than ever on your leadership, your innovations to solve problems and meet new and often unfamiliar challenges to our national security.

So now I want to leave you with a sense of the challenges and opportunities each of you will face, at least according to me, as I see things going forward. So let me offer a few thoughts.

So, first, and I think this is very important, we're about to turn our backs on the recent past. It's inevitable, right? We're coming out of Afghanistan, and we're moving forward. And that's the tone of my remarks, we're moving forward.

But we learned so much in the last 13 years. We must figure out a way to institutionalize those lessons. The counterinsurgency operations we fought may be land force-heavy, but there is no doubt that air power has proven essential to everything we have accomplished, from CAS to integrated ISR to Medevac.

We need to find a way to capture the lessons from that hard-won experience. And there will be tremendous pressure against doing that. Everybody will want to move forward. The American people are already wanting to move forward, already moving forward.

So it will be a challenge, but I hope it is a challenge that you can take head-on and preserve those lessons.

But as you move forward, I'd offer that a challenge for the Air Force is simply integrating the broad range of missions you accomplish within your service, with your joint partners, and with your allies.

So think about you have six core competencies. Those six core competencies cut a huge swath of missions. In a few years' time, we'll start commemorating the centennials of various firsts accomplished by Mason Patrick and Billy Mitchell.

A hundred years on, you still brook no equal in air superiority, global attack, precision engagement. These were brought into their infancy during the First World War, and have been improved upon by all of you and your -- the others before you ever since.

Let's look at some other of your capabilities and your competencies: Rapid Global Mobility, Information Superiority, and Agile Combat Support. What a striking breadth that is. Into these six categories fall missions ranging from nuclear deterrence to ISR, from airlift to space superiority.

Now, as exciting as that is, I think there is a tension implicit in this broad a mission set. And I want to draw it out, because I think it's a key conversation you, as current and future leaders, really need to wrestle with.

More than any other service, the Air Force serves the joint force at our toothy end, but it also serves in great degree as our enabling tale, our service of service. Your mission set enables the joint force and the forces of our partners and allies in everything from airlift and refueling to space operations, from ISR to much of our cyberspace infrastructure.

And I would suggest to you that enabling is increasingly the means by which the Air Force's contribution to the future fight will be made, and that's a challenge.

It's a challenge to a service culture, not only to pride itself on being the pointy end of the proverbial spear, but also to recognize that your partners increasingly rely on the Air Force for the intel and logistics and C2 to guarantee joint mission success.

All of this raises questions I hope that you'll grapple with. How do you ensure an enabling-based orientation, which I would argue is increasingly essential to filling the nation's defense strategy while also remaining focused on your other core competencies that are no less vital?

How do you ensure that enabling capabilities are seen within your force as on par or even at times more important than your traditional roles and missions?

How do you recognize and reward innovation in enabling capabilities?

And how, at the end of the day, do you allocate finite resources to accomplish such a broad range of missions and incentivize excellence across the entire full spectrum?

To take just one example on the minds of Secretary Hagel, Secretary James, and General Welsh, how do you ensure excellence at the very edge of that spectrum, in the nuclear forces that, God forbid, we never have to use, but that provide the ultimate guarantee of American security?

So the challenge, as I see it, and the opportunity is for one service to have that breadth and spectrum in one place, in one group, in one orientation, so that you better than any other group, any other service, can pull together all of the promise going forward for our future.

Third, I've said a lot about technology today. But the truth is that we may be entering a time in when we won't enjoy the massive technological advantages over our adversaries that we've benefited from since the 1940s.

So that's the last challenge and opportunity I want to leave with you. As I mentioned, we're doing all we can, within our top line, to ensure we maintain technological superiority in critical domains.

But the fact remains that whether we're talking about cyber operations or space or unmanned platforms or A2/AD capabilities, technological gaps are closing, and asymmetric challenges are multiplying.

So, yes, we're investing in hardware and software, but we need to invest equally in thinking about new ways of doing business and new methodologies. There is tremendous room for innovation in a tech-driven and rapidly changing field. And we need to capitalize on the pace of that change.

As airmen, you think about warfare differently. You are less constrained by geographic limits than your joint partners due to the speed and range of your platforms and weapons, or the persistent stare of your unmanned vehicles.

This attribute will contribute -- continue to serve you well in the future, as we enhance our capabilities in cyberspace, or flex an ISR cockpit from a planned mission to another point on the globe due to poor weather or a real-time event.

At the same time, I think we can also fall victim to our own technological successes. And that can make us fall victim and stymied in thinking forward and being innovative.

Take one example: stealth. For the last 30 years or so, the U.S. monopoly on stealth technology has provided a near unique contribution to U.S. dominance of the skies. The Air Force drove stealth. The Air Force led stealth, and is incredibly powerful.

And the era of stealth isn't over. But the technology is proliferating, and so are our countermeasures -- or their countermeasures, excuse me. One day stealth, at least as we currently conceive of it, will cease to be the game-changer we've come to think of.

So what do we do about that? How do we think about that? And how do we prepare for that now?

Conversely, in your careers, you've witnessed the revolution in unmanned systems. And we stand at the threshold of what is sure to be an equally momentous turning into autonomous systems.

My personal view is that there is no conceivable future that doesn't include manned aircraft in systems of some kind. But I also cannot conceive of a future that doesn't include unmanned and perhaps even autonomous vehicles.

That said, this is an area in which we've only begun to see advances in those systems, not just in the hardware and software, but also in the doctrine and concepts of operation.

Who better to understand the promise of all of those together in the air domain than those of you who have been leading in that domain for a long time. You represent the innovative opportunities of combining manned, unmanned, and autonomous capabilities in our future.

So I challenge you to ask yourselves: What creative employment -- approaches have we overlooked? How should our concepts change in this changing world? How can we defeat or maybe exploit others' technological advances? How can we adopt new TTPs or defend our own?

How do we continue to pair emerging technologies with core enabling functions, like electronic warfare capabilities, so that we can gain efficiencies and create wholly new fully integrated systems? How do we better work with our allies and partners?

And, lastly, what would iconoclast and visionary airmen like George Kenney or Bernard Schriever be proselytizing today? How do we bring those voices to the fore?

Answering these questions and many more is the challenge you'll face as you take command and assume positions of increased responsibility in an uncertain, increasingly complex, and endlessly fascinating future security landscape.

So today, I would urge each of you to think about how you will lead the Air Force toward a vibrant future, a future full of peril and promise for your fellow airmen. Airmen provide the air and space superiority, and the vital enabling capabilities essential to dominating the enemy across every other domain.

That's your charge. And that's your responsibility. And that's your opportunity. And I know you'll meet it head-on. And so thank you, again, for allowing me to speak with you today. And I look forward to taking your questions.

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