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U.S. Military Adapting in Complex Environment, Mattis Says

By Lisa Ferdinando DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 9, 2017 — The U.S. military is adapting to remain the most lethal joint force on the planet and to respond to evolving global security challenges, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said here today.

Soldier in battle gear participates in ceremony to open conference.
Soldiers assigned to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment -- The Old Guard -- perform during the opening ceremony of the Association of the United States Army's annual meeting and exposition in Washington, Oct. 9, 2017. In the keynote address, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said U.S. military is adapting to remain the most lethal joint force on the planet and to respond to evolving global security challenges. Army photo by Spc. Gabriel Silva
Soldier in battle gear participates in ceremony to open conference. AUSA 2017 Opening Ceremony
Soldiers assigned to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment -- The Old Guard -- perform during the opening ceremony of the Association of the United States Army's annual meeting and exposition in Washington, Oct. 9, 2017. In the keynote address, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said U.S. military is adapting to remain the most lethal joint force on the planet and to respond to evolving global security challenges. Army photo by Spc. Gabriel Silva

"The international situation is the most complex and demanding that I have seen in all my years of service -- and that's over four decades," Mattis said in the keynote address at the Association of the United States Army's annual meeting and exposition.

Terrorists in the Middle East continue to conduct murder and mayhem despite significant and accelerating losses, Mattis said. And "one state sponsor of terror in the Mideast cannot hide behind its nation-state status while, in effect, it is actually a destabilizing revolutionary regime," he added.

In Europe, for the first time since World War II, national borders have been changed by the force of arms, Mattis told the audience. "One country proved willing to ignore international law to exercise a veto authority over its neighbors' rights to make decisions in the economic, diplomatic and security domain," he said.

Meanwhile in the Pacific, North Korean provocations are "threatening regional and even global peace despite universal condemnation by the United Nations," the secretary said.

"This is the reality that faces our Department of Defense and our like-minded allies," he said. "We must have militaries fit for their purpose, fit for their time in these days of emerging challenges."

In addition, Mattis described challenges in new domains of conflict in space and in cyberspace, including "deniable attacks even on our democratic processes."

First Line of Effort: Increasing Lethality

Mattis highlighted three lines of efforts to "maintain a safe and secure nuclear deterrent and maintain a decisive conventional force that can also fight irregular warfare."

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First, the Defense Department must ensure that everything it does contributes to the lethality of the force, he said. "We must never lose sight of the fact that we have no God-given right to victory on the battlefield," he added.

Acting Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley are examining personnel policy, training time, the organization and more "to ensure they contribute to make us the most lethal joint force in the world," Mattis said.

The secretary warned against automatic budget cuts under sequestration.

"I want the Congress back in the driver's seat of budget decisions, not in the spectator's seat of automatic cuts," he said. "I have great confidence in the U.S. Congress, but I have no confidence in automatic mathematical budget cuts."

Second Line of Effort: Strengthening Alliances

The second line of effort is to build or strengthen alliances, as was done after World War II, Mattis said. That effort includes relationships at NATO, in the defeat-ISIS coalition, in Afghanistan, and in expanding friend and partner bonds in the Indo-Pacific region, he said.

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The retired Marine Corps general said he had the honor of fighting many times for America. "I never once fought in an all-American or solely American formation. It was always alongside allies," he said. "I will just tell you from NATO in Europe and to the Pacific, the message to our allies is: we are with you."

Third Line of Effort: Reforming Business Practices

Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan is responsible for most of the continued effort for the third line of effort, reworking business practices to gain full benefit from every dollar spent on defense, Mattis said.

"We are taking aggressive action to reform the way we do business," he said, adding that those efforts include gaining and holding the trust of Congress and the American people.

The effort will show "that we are responsible stewards of the money allocated to us and that it translates directly every dollar into the defense of our country and what we stand for," Mattis said.

Mattis Lauds 'Greatest, Most Trusted Army on Earth'

The AUSA annual meeting and exposition is a multiday event attended by thousands of people, including current and retired military personnel. In his address, Mattis praised the Army for setting the standard for the last 242 years.

"I'm grateful to serve once again alongside soldiers of the greatest army, the most trusted army, on earth," he said, adding that the Army's members are "among the disciplined, ethical, capable high-spirited soldiers whose character I have seen rise to every occasion in the worst possible circumstances."

Today's Army is filled with willing, high-quality patriots -- all volunteers, he said, and he commended the contributions of the soldiers of wars past.

"To all the veterans in the room: you set an uncompromising bar that every one of us on duty today must live up to," he said.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)