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Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper Message to the Force on Accomplishments in Implementation of the National Defense Strategy

Hello everyone. I am Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. As my one-year anniversary as Defense Secretary nears, I want to take a look back over the past 12 months and thank you for all that we accomplished together.

During my confirmation hearing last July, I made clear that my top priority would be implementing the National Defense Strategy, which informs us that we are now in an era of Great Power Competition; and that China, then Russia, constitute our top strategic competitors. 

To be successful in this new global environment, we must work along three lines of effort: first, improve the lethality and readiness of the force; second, strengthen allies and build partners; and third, reform the Department for greater efficiency and accountability. I also made a personal priority of taking care of our service members and their families.

Soon after I came into office, civilian and uniformed leaders across the Department and I met to develop detailed plans to implement these lines of effort.  We created a list of ten targeted goals, each with sub tasks, and we set out to accomplish most of these by the end of 2020. They are as follows:

  1. Review, update, and approve all China and Russia plans;
  2. Implement the Immediate Response Force, Contingency Response Force, and Dynamic Force Employment enhanced readiness concepts;
  3. Reallocate, reassign, and redeploy forces in accordance with the NDS;
  4. Achieve a higher level of sustainable readiness;
  5. Develop a coordinated plan to strengthen allies and build partners;
  6. Reform and manage the 4th Estate and DOD;
  7. Focus the Department on China;
  8. Modernize the force—invest in game changing technologies;
  9. Establish realistic joint war games, exercises, and training plans; and,
  10. Develop a modern joint warfighting concept, and ultimately, doctrine.

I am proud to report that we’ve made real progress on these goals, with most on track to be accomplished on time. I will soon be posting an extended list of what we’ve achieved over the past year on the DOD website, but today I want to highlight several standouts, and celebrate what we have accomplished together.

First, one of our top ten goals – the priority that drives and underlies many of our efforts today – is to focus the Department on China. To do this, we established a China Strategy Management Group to push that agenda forward. I also directed the National Defense University to refocus its curriculum by dedicating 50 percent of the coursework to the PRC, and I tasked the Military Departments and Services to make China the pacing threat in all of our schools, programs, and training.

Another major goal among our top ten is to modernize the force, to include investing in game-changing technologies as we transition from a legacy military to a more capable future force. We have successfully secured funding for our top 11 modernization initiatives, including hypersonics, artificial intelligence, quantum science, biotechnology, directed energy, microelectronics, and 5G networks, with the largest research and development budget in the Department’s history. We are also recapitalizing the strategic nuclear triad.

Among our top ten goals is the development of a modern Joint Warfighting Concept and, ultimately, doctrine, to enable our transition to All-Domain Operations by aligning our personnel, equipment, organizations, training, and doctrine. Additionally, to enhance lethality, the Department is updating key war plans for the first time in years, and working to achieve a higher level of sustainable readiness. Good examples of the latter include our adoption of the Bomber Task Force operational concept to improve readiness and strategic flexibility, testing our sealift readiness, and conducting dynamic force employments to assess our alert posture.

Furthermore, we established U.S. Space Command last August and the U.S. Space Force in December, creating the newest Combatant Command and first new branch of the military since 1947. Both initiatives recognize the growing importance of space as a warfighting domain that we must continue to dominate.

Another priority is to develop a coordinated strategy for our allies and partners, recognizing that these like-minded nations are an unmatched advantage that China and Russia do not have. We launched a whole-of-DOD integrated approach that includes senior leader engagements with key countries and security cooperation programs, and our OSD Policy staff now runs the Department’s first-ever detailed campaign plan to improve our alliances and partnerships worldwide.

I have also personally conducted over 200 meetings with foreign partners from over 60 countries, and engaged world leaders during more than a dozen conferences to reaffirm the United States’ role as the global security partner of choice.

Among the results, we have enhanced NATO’s readiness by securing increases in the defense spending of NATO allies by more than $130 billion, and doubling the number of countries that will spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense by 2021. We are also on path to increase the participation of key countries in International Military Education and Training (IMET) by 50 percent over the next five years.

Many of you are familiar with our ongoing efforts to fulfill another top ten priority: reform and manage the DOD’s 4th Estate, and the entire Department. In our Defense-Wide Review last year, we identified $5.7 billion in defense reforms and efficiencies across the 4th Estate, and this year we are on track to identify billions more in additional savings from reforms.

We also completed our second Department-wide financial statement audit, improving the quality of our enterprise data used to drive decision-making, and ensuring we remain good stewards of government resources – and accountable to the American people. And for the first time ever, we have a senior defense official responsible for the administration and management of the 4th Estate.

As part of our reforms, we are working toward reallocating, reassigning, and redeploying our forces in accordance with the NDS. Each Combatant Command is going through a clean-sheet review to consolidate and reduce legacy missions, tasks, and posture, in order to optimize our operational footprint. We are in the middle of this process now—with ongoing reviews and adjustments happening in AFRICOM, SOUTHCOM, CENTCOM, and EUCOM, among others.

These reviews have already generated savings in time, money, and manpower that we are realigning toward higher-priority NDS requirements, while also improving the posture, readiness, and flexibility of U.S. military forces globally.

Moving on to our Service members and their families, we recognize that our people are our greatest resource. To ensure we continue to attract and retain the best warfighters, this past year we secured robust pay and benefits packages, worked to improve childcare availability for our uniformed personnel, made spousal license reciprocity a factor in basing decisions, and are implementing much-needed improvements to on-base housing.

And just recently, we launched three major initiatives to promote equal opportunity, diversity, and inclusion in our ranks, and to ensure all of our personnel are given every opportunity to succeed in our military, and become tomorrow’s leaders.

Finally, the success of the NDS requires more than a strategic shift in the Department’s approach to today’s issues; it requires process and cultural shifts as well. When I came into office last July, I believed it important to ensure civilian control of the military, while also building a cohesive team of military and civilian leaders to move the Department forward. I made immediate changes in our weekly and quarterly battle rhythm to foster shared accountability for NDS outcomes. DOD’s organizations are now becoming aligned more quickly and effectively than ever before.

In addition to our NDS accomplishments, we have also responded to countless world events. Over the past year, the Department conducted or supported international counterterrorism operations that removed dozens of key terrorists from the battlefield; maintained our leadership role in the Defeat-ISIS coalition, whose work resulted in the destruction of ISIS’s physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria; preserved the freedom of navigation and commerce in contested waters, from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea; and deterred aggressive activities perpetrated by rogue states such as North Korea and Iran, as well as near-peers such as Russia and China.

At the same time, I am tremendously proud of the more than 60,000 uniformed and civilian personnel who have been engaged in the Nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic from day one back in January, including over 47,000 National Guard members and roughly 4,200 medical personnel who often risked their own lives to help their fellow Americans. And even now, U.S. military personnel are working hard with the private sector to develop a vaccine and therapeutic for COVID-19.

As you can see, we have accomplished a great deal over the past 12 months, despite a global pandemic and external events that demanded our time and attention. And when you have a chance to see the full list of achievements on the DOD website, you should feel proud of all that we have done to keep America safe.

Thank you once again for your great efforts, and for your steadfast commitment to supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States. I look forward to working with you over the next year, building upon the tremendous progress we made together this past year. Our collective efforts will ensure the irreversible implementation of the NDS in defense of our great nation.

Thank you.