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Army War College Strategy Conference

It’s great to be here this beautiful Susquehanna Valley – and visiting Carlisle Barracks, which is the cradle, in my view, of Army strategic thought, the Army War College.

Now, the theme of this year's conference is exactly the right one, "First Principles for 21st Century Defense."  It's especially apt.  That's exactly what the entire Department right now is trying to do.  We're wrestling to try to figure out what the future shape and structure of our Joint Force is going to be because we want to make sure that we get those principles right that will shape what our force will look like.

And one of the first principles of successful innovation for any military organization is correctly identifying those specific future challenges that demand solving today, and then making the right adjustments and changes to get after it.  Hopefully, he's right.  Sometimes, he'll choose wrong.  But if we do choose right, then you've set yourselves up to be among the best competitors in the future landscape.

 So I want to begin today by discussing some of the trends we're seeing on today's battlefield.  And I'd like to focus my comments this morning, especially as they pertain to our ground forces.  Because as we go about developing new operational concepts and new capabilities, it's important to understand what our future ground forces may be up against.

Now, it's also important for everyone in this room to know and everyone in the Department of Defense to know that the pace of strategic change that we see right now, which Gen. Odierno calls the velocity of instability, and the pace of technological innovation that's going on, primarily in the commercial sector, will not allow us to simply graft incremental changes upon our existing operational and organizational constructs with which we are familiar and comfortable with.

I cannot overstate the sense of urgency that our new Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, has right now.  There is a clock in his head.  It's ticking down.  And he shares the sense of urgency, and he is determined to really try to make some significant and lasting changes over the next two years.  And he is intent on talking about the big strategic issues that face us and make the big changes necessary to prepare ourselves for them.

Now, one of the big strategic issues facing us is going to be the nature and character of future ground warfare.  Now, as you all know too well, in the last 13 years, the United States military has focused intensely on fighting an irregular warfare campaign and counterterrorism operation in both Iraq and Afghanistan and now back to Iraq and Syria.

And our ground forces undoubtedly have honed their skills in these two particular areas.  And it's important that all of us retain these skills because it is certainly possible, as has just been demonstrated in Iraq and Syria, and even probable that we are going to fight similar campaigns in the future.

But if the streets of Baghdad and the valleys of Afghanistan were a laboratory for irregular warfare, I believe that ground forces will increasingly need to prepare for future hybrid war, which my good friend Frank Hoffman, who I see in the audience today, defines as combat operations characterized by the simultaneous and adaptive employment of a complex combination of conventional weapons, irregular warfare, terrorism and criminal behavior to achieve political objectives.

Now, we all caught a vivid glimpse of what hybrid warfare is all about in 2006, when the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) battled Hezbollah.  Now, Hezbollah had gone to school on the IDF, without question.  They transformed themselves from a purely guerrilla organization to a formidable quasi-conventional righting force that for a short period of time was able to fight the IDF to a standstill.

In earlier wars, the IDF had demonstrated their mastery of high-tempo combined arms operations.  In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in the face of swarms of anti-tank guided munitions and advanced air defenses, they countered those threats by combining artillery suppression with mechanized infantry and armored forces, and they unhinged the entire Egyptian integrated air defense system through combined arms maneuvers.

But as many of you know, especially here in the Army in our heavy forces, in our mechanized forces, these skills are very perishable.  And over the course of the Second Intifada which lasted from 2000 to 2006, the Israeli army started to focus almost exclusively on irregular warfare.  Dave Johnson from RAND in a study, estimated that in the years leading up to the 2006 Lebanese war, the IDF trained for high-intensity combat only about 25 percent of the time.  The remainder of their time, they focused on irregular warfare and counterterrorism operations.

As a result, when the IDF crossed swords with Hezbollah, they were caught by surprise.  Hezbollah – fighters were armed with advanced anti-tank missiles, thousands of long-range rockets, Chinese-made Silkworm anti-ship missiles, advanced man-portable anti-air missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).  They had very simplistic, but very effective battle networks to employ them.  They practiced irregular warfare, but at the same time maneuvered effectively against Israeli armored columns, proved proficient in indirect fire, and they used swarms of heavy anti-tank missiles to great effect.

In the future, without question, hybrid adversaries will pose a qualitative and quantitative challenge.  But they probably will be smaller, but like Hezbollah, they will be disciplined, organized, have effective command and control, and will be equipped with standoff weapons with large quantities.  As Gen. McMaster has described it, “These state-sponsored adversaries are small in number, moderately trained, and often decentralized.  But what they lack in manpower, they make up for in fire power.”  Hezbollah showed us that defeating hybrid adversaries will demand entirely different skills than those needed for counterinsurgency.  It is important that we do not forget that.

Now, being prepped for irregular warfare and hybrid warfare will be challenging enough for our nation's ground forces.  But there is no rest for the weary, I fear, because our land warriors must now also consider the operational and organizational constructs to fight wars like we have seen in Crimea and Ukraine.

In both places, the Russians have unleashed what their chief of the general staff called "non-linear warfare,” which evolves from covert actions by special operations forces, to sustained unconventional combat waged under an umbrella of denial.  And then ultimately escalating to high-end force-on-force proxy warfare with the state actively involved in combat operations.

What's so challenging about this type of war is that in a straight up conventional fight that we all are kind of familiar with, the avenues of approach are often very well understood.  Think of the Fulda Gap on the inter-German border.  By contrast, non-linear adversaries make those avenues harder to detect, using agents, paramilitaries, deception, infiltration, and persistent denial to make those avenues of approach very hard to detect, operating in what some people have called "the gray zone."

Now, that's the zone in which our ground forces have not traditionally had to operate, but one in which they must now become more proficient.  But as difficult and challenging as the gray zone will be, it will pale in comparison when that type of conflict then escalates from the shadowy actions of “fifth-columnists” and “little green men,” to state-sponsored and state-directed hybrid proxy war.

Now, as we saw in Ukraine, the state-backed proxy separatists have access to advanced capabilities, provided in some cases by the state to the separatists, and in some cases operated by the state itself, can quickly ratchet up a conflict's intensity to a point that is largely indistinguishable from high end warfare.  Today in Ukraine, Russian-backed separatists resemble Hezbollah on steroids.  They're backed by modern fire and counter-fire capability that the Army and the Marine Corps simply has not had to consider since the end of the Cold War.

Historically, as you all know, artillery has been the biggest killer on the battlefield, and that is proving once again to be the case in Ukraine.  Separatist forces use advanced counter-battery radar to accurately pinpoint Ukrainian fires capability and command and control.  They use UAVs to identify targets  Ukrainian commanders are telling us that within minutes of coming up on the radio, they were targeted by precise artillery strikes.  As Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe, told an Army audience last week, none of us have ever been under -- as massive as a Russian artillery attack in the way that Ukraine -- the Ukrainians have.

Now, making matters much worse.  In addition to this new era of precision and guided fires, Russian-backed separatists and their state sponsors were very definitely using advanced electronic warfare equipment, which we were just trying to understand how effective they were in jamming GPS frequencies, command and control networks.  And these technologies are proliferating as widely as conventional guided munitions.

So in the future, U.S. Army and U.S. Marine forces and our allies that fight with us, are going to have to fight on a battlefield that is swept by precision-guided munitions, but also one that is swept by persistent and effective cyber and electronic warfare attacks.

So how’s that for a daunting list of challenges?  Irregular warfare, hybrid warfare, non-linear warfare, state-sponsored hybrid warfare, and high-end combined arms warfare, like we might see on the Korean peninsula.

But how do we best prepare for all of these threats?  Well, first thing is to get down first principles.  Now, one is in my view that future ground warfare, regardless of type, is going to see a proliferation of guided munitions and advanced weaponry.  We should just assume that is the case.

If we're wrong – so much the better. If we're right, we better be prepared for it.  And this proliferation of precision will continue because we see it continuing today.  So our ground forces are going to be faced with what many people call G-RAMM -- guided rockets, artillery, mortars and missiles, with GPS and laser guidance, infrared homing, anti-radiation weapons and fire-and-forget anti-armor weapons.

We're not too far away from guided .50 caliber rounds – we’re not too far away from a sensor-fused weapon, and instead of going after tanks, we'll go after the biometric signature of human beings.  Now, our air and naval forces have been faced with fighting and a guided-munitions regime for decades.  Our ground forces will now have their chance to do so, and it is a formidable challenge that we have to prepare for.

Second principle of the future as a ground combat on the front lines is going to have to contend with what the Chinese call “informationalized warfare”.  This is the combination of cyber, electronic warfare, information ops, deception and denial to disrupt our command and control to give the enemy an advantage in the decision cycle.

At the National Training Center (NTC), if our decisive-action rotations are not being faced by a sophisticated EW and cyber threat, then we are shortchanging the men and women that are going to have to fight on future battlefields.

So the third principle, this is the combination of guided munitions and informationalized warfare, will span all types of ground combat, a regular, hybrid, nonlinear, state proxy and high-end combined-arms warfare.  And that means, like the Israelis found out, that the foundation for ground force excellence is going to be combined-arms operational skill.  It's no wonder right now that the IDF has flipped the script, and 80 percent of their training time is now spent on combined-arms warfare, because it is proven to be effective against all the different types of adversaries that the IDF has had to face.

 It's also why we applaud the fact that the U.S. Army will not declare its BCTs full-spectrum combat-ready until they have completed two decisive-action rotations at the National Training Center.  Now, I believe that the threats that we portray to our forces going through the NTC rotations has to change and has to more reflect what we think they might see on the battlefield.  But as the IDF experience tells us, we simply cannot let our excellence and combined-arms operations slip away.

Now, training is only going to take us so far, using the operational and organizational constructs that we are familiar with.  We are going to have to go about identifying these new operational and organizational constructs and technological capabilities in a deliberate fashion.  And that is what the Defense Innovation Initiative is all about.  Now, although it was announced in November, Secretary Carter has expanded it, and he wants the Department focused on three things.

He wants us to focus on increasing our competitiveness by attracting talent.  And this is a broad idea, talking about the future of the all-volunteer force, the way we train our people, the way we train our leaders, as well as the future civilian and contractor force that supports us.  He wants to improve our competitiveness through technological superiority and operational excellence.  And that's what we're talking about primarily here today.  And the third thing he wants to do is increase our competitiveness through accountability and efficiency throughout the Department and the way we going about doing our business, finding new technologies, fielding them and using them.

And a key part of the DII, the Defense Innovation Initiative, is what you might've heard a lot of people talking about:  the Third Offset Strategy.  It's probably even more accurate to say Third Offset Strategies, because unlike in the past when we were faced with a single monolithic competitor, like the Soviet Union, we're going to be faced with a plethora of different types of competitors, and each of the strategies that we pursue against them might be different.

But they will be -- the whole purpose of the Third Offset Strategy or Strategies is to identify the technologies, identify the operational and organizational constructs, the new operational concepts to fight our future adversaries.  Now, unquestionably, a big part of this is going to be identifying, developing and fielding breakthrough technologies, in addition to using the capabilities we have now in a different way.  So we just demonstrated firing the Tomahawk land attack cruise missile against a ship, without changing its seeker-head, completely doing it by off-board sensing.  Well, now we have 2,000 potential thousand-mile range anti-ship missiles.

It is using the weapons that we have differently, as well as looking for these breakthrough technologies that are going to provide our troops with a competitive advantage.  And one of the things that places like the Army War College can do is to think about this in a strategic way, and how we ought to approach looking after these technologies and the technologies we field that will provide us with an enduring advantage.

Now, I am often accused of being too technologically oriented.  Well, the only thing I can say is that since World War II, American military strategy and our entire national defense strategy has been built upon an assumption of technological superiority, and the better-trained individual -- individuals, men and women, organized to employ these technologies in an innovative way.  I like the way Dwight Eisenhower explained it after World War II.  He said, “While some of our allies were compelled to throw up a wall of flesh and blood as their chief defense against the aggressor's onslaught, we were able to use machines and technology to save lives.”

Now, during the Cold War, we pursued two broad technological offset strategies to counter Soviet conventional authority.  The first one was laid on top of a conscript force.  It relied upon nuclear weapons.  We did not want to conscript enough people to numerically match 175 Soviet divisions, so we explicitly decided to rely upon tactical nuclear weapons as an offset for numbers.  In the 1970s, when the Soviets achieved strategic nuclear parity with the United States and the threat of tactical nuclear warfare was too great, was no longer an effective deterrent, we changed sites and we went after what was then called conventional weapons with near-zero CEP, or conventional error probability -- what everybody knows today as smart guided munitions.

That was on top of an all-volunteer force in which we said we will explicitly choose a smaller, all-volunteer, highly trained professional force using advanced technologies to offset Soviet conventional advantage.  But please don't confuse my attention to technology with my inattention to the human domain of combat.  I was commissioned in 1974, the year before we introduced the all-volunteer force.  So when I arrived in Okinawa in July of 1975, the last conscript had washed out of the U.S. military and we were an all-volunteer force.

Between 1975 and 1981, I can tell you, and anyone who was on active duty at that time can tell you, moving to the all-volunteer force was not a sure thing.  Quite frankly, three years in, I wasn't certain it was going to work.  And it was because of the people dimension.  Sure, we were getting the M1A1 tank.  We were buying the F-15.  We were buying the F-117 Stealth Fighter.  We were doing all sorts of things technologically sound.

But I've got to tell you, I went to sleep at night not knowing if we were going to be able to swing it because the quality of the people that we had between 1975 and 1981 was nowhere near where we needed to be to make the all-volunteer force and the second technological offset strategy work.

So after 40 years, I assume and I am confident in my assumption that we have an enduring advantage in our people, that I will stack this all-volunteer force up against any potential opponent and especially those that are authoritarian in nature, because they will never, ever be able to match the creativity, the initiative, the mission drive that our people have.  So I assume that superiority. 

But I'm telling you right now our technological superiority is slipping.  We see it every day.  And that is why I talk about it so much.  But please do not think that my time and attention on technology in any way, shape, or form keeps me not focused on making sure we retain the best people that we can possibly get.  The fact is we want to achieve an over-match over any adversary from the operational theater level, all the way down to the fighter plane, Navy ship or infantry squad.  As General Dempsey has often said, we never, ever want to send our troops into a fair fight.

So it's all about innovation, it's all about staying ahead of potential adversaries.  It's all about questioning our comfortable assumptions and asking whether things that have worked in the past for us are going to work in the future.  And if we say they won’t we have better have the courage to do something about it.

So this is all about trying to find new ways of fighting.  It's all about to find new ways of training.  It's all about trying to find new organizational constructs.  The American way of war that we've grown accustomed to over the past three decades -- and believe me, we have had three decades of relative bounty.

All of the potential regional conventional adversaries we've had to think about were generally far inferior to our own capabilities.  But in the same time, just like Hezbollah, our enemies have gone to school on us at least since 1991 Desert Storm.  And they have adapted with a vengeance.  They spent the past few decades investing heavily in capabilities that counter our own.  And you hear a lot about anti-access area denial at the theater level, but they have been investing as heavily has Hezbollah did at the tactical level.

Now as any good student of Clausewitz knows, the fundamental nature of war is an interactive clash of wills.  It's a two-sided dual.  Any action we take is going to cause a reaction to the enemy, which will cause our reaction to that reaction.  Battlefield advantages in the future are going to be very short-lived, because the amount of technology that is going out there right now is unbelievable.  And different adversaries will pick technologies in ways that will surprise us.  Without question, we have to be very, very adaptable.

As Professor Conrad Crane of the Education and Heritage Center has famously said, there are two ways our enemies will fight us, asymmetrically or stupidly.  And we can rest assured, that they will not choose stupidly.

And since our potential adversaries have adapted, we have to do the same.  And that's what the Defense Innovation Initiative and the Third Offset Strategy is all about.  We want to confront our adversaries with multiple dilemmas and relying on one service or two services or mastering one domain, operational domain, is destined to fail because of this range of threats that we see, because a thinking adversary is always going to develop a counter.

And what don't want to cede any domain.  And that last point is important, because I don't want the enemies to think that we are overly focused on one domain or one type of way of fighting that they will be able to block us.  So the real essence of the third offset strategy is to find multiple different attacks against opponents across all domains so they can't adapt or they adjust to just one, and they died before they can adapt again.

 Now, that's, kind of, at the strategic level.  Let me just give you three examples.

The thing that's kicked off the second offset strategy was an ACTD -- an advance capability and technology demonstration called Assault Breaker.  The United States Army had adopted active defense.  After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, active defense was going to be a guided munitions fight right on the FEBA -- the forward edge of the battle area.

And we were going to try to stop the penetration of Soviet forces by out-missiling them; by using TOWs, Copperheads, and Apaches.  Well, the Soviets fought in echelons, and that wasn't going to work.  Active defense was a failure.  And luckily enough, leaders in the Army recognized it.  And they said, "We are going to have to start to go after the second and the third echelon before it reaches the FEBA or we will lose."

And the Assault Breaker technology demonstration was designed to show that sensors, coupled with long-range guided munitions, conventional guided munitions, would be able to break up the assault and therefore make the guided munition exchange at the FLOT, forward line of troops, we were going to win.

And sure enough, the Soviets cranked their models after seeing this demonstration, and they said, "You know what?  Conventional weapons with near-zero miss will achieve the tactical effectiveness of tactical nuclear weapons."  And the game was over for them.  And they could not compete in that domain. 

Well, now a whole lot of our enemies have guided munitions also.  And they are going to be able to throw guided munition salvos as dense as our own and sometimes over long range.  So what we need to be thinking about right now is raid breaker because the competitor who can demonstrate the ability to defeat the guided munitions salvo competition is going to have a unique advantage at the operational level of war.

Now, you're saying:  Why are you telling me this?  We always think about THAAD and PAC-3 missiles.  That's all going to be great.  But now what we need to be thinking about is electromagnetic railguns and powder guns.  Right now, every Paladin that the Army owns might be a very effective counter-swarm weapon by combining the smart projectiles with our hyper-velocity guns, our electromagnetic railguns, using the exact same rounds, and advance computing.  All of the modeling right now is telling us that every single Army artillery piece using powder guns, using these advanced guided munitions, will be able to knock down heavy missile raids.

Now, what that means for us is the electromagnetic railgun is going to provide us deep magazines and high volumes of shots.  It's going to change the cost-imposing strategy on its head.  Right now, we're firing $14 million missiles to go after a $50,000 missile.  It doesn't make sense.  But when you have electromagnetic railguns and powder guns, using the same smart projectiles, now you can start to break the raid.

 And what Paladin will provide the Joint Force is a mobile raid-breaking capability.  We’ve already demonstrated this on the Navy's five-inch guns.  This summer, we're going to demonstrate it on the Paladins.  It's something the Army needs to think about.  The Army, with its THAAD and its PAC-3s and potentially Paladins in the future will be the mobile raid-breaker for the Joint Force.

Now, a lot of this is talking about A2/AD, because enemies will try to keep us out of theater.  But the thing that you all have to realize is in many instances, we will take the first salvo simply because we will not initiate combat.  So Raid-Breaker for the Army is as important for the Army as it's important for the Navy and the Air Force.

But once we break into theater, we're going to have to think about AirLand Battle 2.0.  We are going to have to think about fighting against enemies which have lots of guided rockets, artillery, mortars and missiles, and are using informationalized warfare to completely disrupt our heavily netted force.  So what does AirLand Battle 2.0 look like?  I don't know.  The Army needs to figure this out.

And they need to be having experiments, like they had on the Louisiana Maneuvers, and then they have to transport it over to the National Training Center, and then they have to inculcate it into the force.  Here is what I believe.  It is a hypothesis.

Tyler Cowen wrote a book called "Average is Over."  He's an avid chess player.  What he said was, "It used to be a matter of faith that a machine would never beat a human," because a machine would not have the intuitive cognition.  You know, it just wouldn't be able to have the intuitive spark to think through an interactive dual like chess.  That proved to be wrong.  Now machines consistently beat grandmasters.  And what he found out in a thing called three-play chess is the combination of a man and a machine always beats the machine and always beats the man.

I believe that what the Third Offset Strategy will revolve around will be three-play combat in each dimension.  And three-play combat will be much different in each dimension, and it will be up for the people who live and fight in that dimension to figure out the rules.

 We will have autonomy at rest, our smart systems, being able to go through big data to help at the campaign level and to be able to go through big data at the tactical level.  So autonomy at rest and autonomy in motion.  And I will tell you right that autonomy in motion on the human domain is the hardest nut to crack.  Just getting robots to move over terrain is one of the most difficult things that you can imagine.  Much, much more difficult than either in space, in air or on the sea or under the sea.

So how far do we take three-play combat in AirLand Battle 2.0?  How does it affect our command and control?  Where are we comfortable having autonomous decision-making?  Where are you going to have man in the loop?  How will you net all of this together to give you a decisive, enduring advantage on the battlefield?  This, I think, is the fundamental challenge for organizations like the Army War College to think this through and to give us some ideas.

I talked about the kind of strategy level, this whole idea of having to go against guided munitions, and I talked about AirLand Battle.  But it will come all the way down to the squad level, and the squads are going to be operating far more disaggregated than they've had in the past.

When I went to Afghanistan to visit Marine units, I asked General Joe Dunford, "Fighting Joe" Dunford, "What is the record for the disaggregation of a single infantry battalion across the battlefield"?  And he told me that the record was a single battalion disaggregating itself into 77 discreet units spread over a wide area.  That's astounding to me.  A single-infantry battalion disaggregating to 77 different units.  That means, in some cases we’ll have to go to smaller than squads.  But that has a big, big implication for leadership, command and control, especially in an informationalized warfare environment in which the enemy is constantly trying to get into your networks and disrupt your command and control.

So the key to ensuring that these aggregated small units have overmatch by providing support in fires, intelligence and logistics.  And if we combine them into well-trained, cohesive combat teams with new advances in robotics and autonomy and unmanned systems, three-play combat at the squad level, we can create super-empowered squads, super-empowered small units with enhanced situational awareness and lethality.

DARPA's Squad X program, among others, is working on a number of ideas right now to increase human and machine collaboration at the lowest tactical level, including ground robots, small micro-drones, and trying to figure out how to push the squad situational awareness and lethality out to a large, large battlespace area.

And this is not as far away as you might think.  The Army is -- right now is kind of leading the way in manned and unmanned teaming with the Apache in the shadows, which is going on in the Army's Aviation Restructure Initiative, which we think is exciting and kind of a leading indicator of where we need to go.

Automated driving seemed like the work of fiction not long ago, but there's a race going on between big-tech companies and some of the larger auto makers who are looking to develop self-driving cars.  So, in the not-too-distant future, squads are going to operate with robotic support, sapper robots, counter-mine robots, counter-sniper robots.  And much of this technology is going to come from the commercial sector.

This is an exciting time for the force.  We spend far too much time worrying about sequestration.  Now, do I think sequestration is stupid?  I absolutely do.  Do I think there's a 50/50 chance we might see sequestration?  Unfortunately, I would say yeah.  Maybe even a little better than 50/50.  Because I'm not certain that Congress is going to figure out how to de-trigger it.

There are positive signs.  But we spend far too much time worrying about that, and not enough time worrying about this.  Because it doesn't matter how much money we have.  This problem requires thinking.  And we need to tackle it together, and not worry so much about the resources as the intellectual capital that we need to put in the bank to allow our joint force to be so successful in the future.

You know, I tell everybody -- you've heard -- probably many of you have heard me say this.  In fact, I've said it so many times, I went to a speech and somebody else said it.  You know, I sleep like a baby every night.  I wake up crying every two hours.

But the thing that always allows me to go back to bed is, one, the incredible advantage we have in our people.  That is the thing that I'm most confident -- I am most confident saying that we have an enduring competitive advantage.  We can screw it up.  We better not.  But that is a place that always says we're going to be able to figure this out.  And I know with people like you in this room, and all of the people that you represent -- whether it's in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard or our allies, we can figure this out, but we have to get after it.  And I look forward to doing that with you over the next couple of years.

Thank you.