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Deputy Secretary of Defense Nominee Emphasizes Reform, Modernization

Feb. 2, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

The overriding mission of the Defense Department is to deter adversaries and defend the United States and its citizens, the nominee for deputy secretary of defense said. 

Challengers who seek to undermine America's interests by force should never doubt America's resolve or readiness to thwart their aims, Kathleen H. Hicks told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.

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The department is most effective when it's working in concert with other tools of national power, she said. "Our military strength bolsters the work of our diplomats, reinforces our alliances and partnerships, and strengthens our prosperity."

Hicks mentioned China as the greatest challenge, as well as Russia. "Armed conflict between the United States and China is not desirable, and it is not inevitable. The U.S. military plays a critical role in preventing that outcome," she said.

Reform and modernization are among her top priorities.

"We must modernize if deterrence is to endure and, if confirmed, I would seek to increase the speed and scale of innovation in our force," she said.

Kathleen H. Hicks smiles while seated at a table.
Senate Appearance
Kathleen H. Hicks appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, Feb. 2, 2021, during a hearing to consider her nomination to be deputy secretary of defense.
Photo By: EJ Hersom, DOD
VIRIN: 210202-D-DB155-004

Hicks said she wholeheartedly supports innovation in areas that include hypersonics, quantum computing and other cutting-edge technologies to aid warfighters as priorities for the department.

To prioritize these technologies, Hicks said she'd engage members of Congress and work to expand public-private partnerships, in addition to working with allies and partners. She also mentioned working with the Commerce Department and other government agencies, as well as innovative small businesses.

In addition to new technologies, Hicks said modernization of the nuclear triad is the department's number one goal. 

"Nuclear deterrence is the cornerstone of American national security," she said, "and I think it must be modernized in order to be safe, secure, credible. And I would just add that I am worried about the state of the readiness of the nuclear triad. And, if confirmed, that's an area I would want to get my team in place and start to look at right away."

A man in uniform aims a weapon.
Target Practice
Army Capt. Joshua Donaldson, the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives officer for the 311th Signal Command, aims at simulated targets during primary marksmanship instruction at Schofield Barracks on Oahu, Hawaii, Jan. 24, 2021.
Photo By: Marc Ayalin, Army
VIRIN: 210124-A-QL164-001
A jet lands on an aircraft carrier.
Super Hornet
An F/A-18E Super Hornet from the “Flying Eagles” of Strike Fighter Squadron 122 lands on the flight deck of Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the Pacific, Jan. 19, 2021.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Aaron T. Smith
VIRIN: 210119-N-SS900-3106M

Other topics Hicks said she'd support are shipbuilding, modernizing shipyards, cybersecurity and advancing green initiatives, including electric vehicles. 

"I want to commend Congress for re-establishing the assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment," she mentioned.

Hicks said reform will be uppermost in her efforts. "We have to make every dollar that the taxpayer puts in have a return, and that return should be measured in terms of joint capability. So, that means we need to squeeze out waste and abuse and that will be a priority for me."

As for the 2018 National Defense Strategy, Hicks said it will be reviewed and perhaps revised within a year or two to address new security threats. For instance, when it was written, COVID-19 wasn't yet a threat.

An airplane is refueled in midair.
Midair Refuel
An Air Force B-52H Stratofortress assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., prepares to receive fuel from a KC-10 Extender assigned to the 305th Air Mobility Wing, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Jan. 6, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Stephanie Serrano
VIRIN: 210106-F-EX759-1112M

Hicks also discussed taking care of the troops and their families and weeding out troublemakers in the ranks as being a top priority.

"We must address suicide and mental health, housing, childcare and food insecurity," she said. "We must root out violent extremism, systemic racism, sexual assault and harassment and other inhibitors to readiness — and this is a matter of readiness. We will not be able to attract and retain the world's finest force, one that represents our democracy, if we cannot hold accountable those who threaten its viability from within."