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Near-Peer Threats at Highest Point Since Cold War, DOD Official Says

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The United States faces an array of threats from near-peer competitors China and Russia that have not been seen since before the fall of the Berlin Wall, a DOD official said today.

Matthew P. Donovan, who is performing the duties of the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said the character of warfare has evolved at the same time, with grave threats now appearing in previously unknown or uncontested domains, such as cyber and space. He testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is considering his nomination for undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

A rocket soars across a dark blue sky leaving a fiery trail behind it.
Launch Arch
An Atlas V rocket launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Aug. 8, 2019.
Photo By: Walter Scriptunas, United Launch Alliance
VIRIN: 190808-D-D0441-9991C
Two uniformed military personnel, one with the U.S. Navy, and one with the U.S. Army, operate computers.
Cyber Exercise
U.S. service members and civilians, as well as partner nation military personnel, participated in the Cyber Flag 19-1 exercise, June 21-28, in Suffolk, Virginia. The tactical-level exercise focused on the continued building of a community of defensive cyber operators and the improvement of the overall capability of the U.S. and partner nations.
Photo By: U.S. Cyber Command Public Affairs
VIRIN: 190627-N-JP302-3654

Donovan said the Defense Department must also evolve to successfully meet these threats. "We must attract and retain people with the right skills to prevail in this environment, properly manage them and meet their expectations using 21st century talent management practices, and ensure all are always treated with dignity and respect."

The department must also provide its warriors with the cutting-edge tools of the trade that they need to be successful, state-of-the-art training technologies, and techniques to best hone their skills, he added.

Service members looking at computer screen.
Marine Corps Cyber
Marines with Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command pose for photos in the cyber operations center at Lasswell Hall aboard Fort Meade, Maryland, Feb. 5, 2020. MARFORCYBER Marines conduct offensive and defensive cyber operations in support of United States Cyber Command and operate, secure and defend the Marine Corps Enterprise Network.
Photo By: Staff Sgt. Jacob Osborne
VIRIN: 200205-M-VG714-0054

Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and DOD civilians deserve the best leadership, the best policies, the best equipment, the best education and training, and our service members and their families deserve the best health care, best support systems, and best quality of life we can possibly provide, for the sacrifices we ask them to endure, Donovan added.

One senator mentioned that a study showed only 29% of American youth are eligible to serve.

Donovan replied that he's seen those studies. "I think it's a problem that extends well beyond the Department of Defense. It’s a national issue."

Part of the problem, he said, is the lack of sports and physical fitness activities among the nation's youth.

"Kids are not getting the physical activity that they need to help prepare them for the rigors of military duty," he said.

People dressed in black pants and long-sleeve shirts with a yellow “V” on top, race one another.
Foot Race
Soldiers participate in a foot race as part of their physical training, March 4, 2020, at Hohenfels Training Area, Germany.
Photo By: Army Sgt. 1st Class Garrick W. Morgenweck
VIRIN: 200304-A-YY256-1727Y
A soldier dressed in fatigues carries another soldier over his shoulders.
Vilseck Carry
A soldier carries another over his shoulders as part of their physical fitness training at Vilseck, Germany, Jan. 14, 2020.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Timothy Hamlin
VIRIN: 200114-A-LY216-1644Y

That said, Donovan noted that DOD isn't yet having a problem filling its ranks with qualified and quality service members.

"But as we look toward the future, toward the imperatives of the National Defense Strategy, then we're seeing that we're going to need to attract those skills that are in so much demand on the outside as well," he said, adding that a good example is cyber.

One step the department is taking is partnering with universities and industry to see if there's some way to share the load on this, he said.

Also testifying today were: William Jordan Gillis, nominated for assistant secretary of defense for sustainment, and Victorino G. Mercado, nominated for assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities.

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