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Adm. Richard Discusses USSTRATCOM Operations With Reporters

STAFF: With us today is Admiral Chas Richard from U.S. Strategic Command. He'll be speaking about his mission set and the COVID virus. This is on the record.

And with that, sir, over to you.

ADMIRAL CHARLES A. "CHAS" RICHARD: Right. So good morning, everyone, and – I’ll go ahead, I think I'm properly socially distanced here. The -- it is -- for those of you that don't know me, I'm Admiral Chas Richard. I'm the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, and I have the privilege of leading 150,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, civilians.

It's actually nice to see everybody's faces this time. Last time I had a chance to talk to you all, I was on a phone bridge. In fact, we didn't realize it was on television. And so it is, I think, a much better opportunity when I can actually see you.

I appreciate taking some time to have a conversation this morning. Before we get to the questions, though, let me offer you a few updates on how we're doing inside U.S. Strategic Command.

First, I'm very pleased to report that throughout the challenge that was presented to us by COVID-19, U.S. Strategic Command has and continues to be fully mission capable. And I'd like to thank my department's leadership in terms of giving us authorities, resources, and understanding of what we were up against. And that was a key in terms of our ability to be able to respond to this unprecedented threat.

The conditions in Omaha are favorable. We're adjusting workforce inside the new LeMay Command and Control Facility to adapt to local conditions. I'm at about 75 percent throttle with the rest on telework, and we're ready to go up or down as conditions dictate.

Very pleased with my component commanders, Admiral Chris Grady, General Tom Ray and -- or Tim Ray, and Dan Karbler at SMDC for the Army, who provided great leadership to adapt to their local conditions and maintain all their forces fully mission-capable.

Bottom line here is we're ready. And why is that important? I think it's important for us to remember that throughout this challenge of COVID-19, no threats went away, right? Nothing else changed, no one gave up a single nuclear weapon based on the fact of COVID-19. In fact, it's going in the other direction.

Our competitors have continued to develop both nonstrategic and strategic capabilities in an effort to outpace us. And we are going into a very different world. The -- we are on a trajectory for the first time in our nation's history to face two peer nuclear-capable competitors who have to be deterred differently, and we're working very hard to meet that challenge.

I think we all know the threat that Russia poses to us, modernizing strategic, conventional, space, counter-space, cyber, they're developing hypersonics, and their gray zone actions. And it's not only what they're developing, it's what they're doing.

China's similar, right? I think you all have seen the recent China military report, I think it's an excellent explanation in terms of what China's overall strategy is, and explains the why behind the things that we see them doing, particularly in my mission sets. Again, looking to -- we like talking about the fact that they're going to double their stockpile by the end of the decade.

 I'd ask you to consider that just measuring a nation's stockpile is a relatively crude measure of their capabilities. You have to look at the totality of it, the delivery systems, what they're capable of, what their readiness is. And China in particular is developing a stack of capabilities that, to my mind, is increasingly inconsistent with a stated no-first-use policy.

We're ready. I think one visible demonstration of that is the bomber task force missions that we've been operating worldwide. We're pleased to be able to support U.S. European Command and Indo-Pacific Command in providing forces that they use to accomplish our objectives. My I.C. wings, my SSBN groups are also continuing to mitigate risk from COVID-19 operations, and again they're fully mission-capable.

The -- I'm also pleased to report that the department has made tremendous progress in its nuclear command and control capabilities. It was a wise decision to establish the NC3 Enterprise Center and we are moving out and making great strides in making sure that the NC3 systems that we have will continue to pace the threat. They're certainly fully mission-capable today, I have absolute confidence in them. And I'm also pleased that we're going to be able to say that going into the future.

We do see future NC3 fitting hand-in-glove into the broader department's Command and Control JADC2, if you will, framework. And we are able to present to the secretary and the chairman an overall view of their NC3 in a way we haven't been able to do in many years.

So bottom line here, as I close and get ready for some questions, we're ready but we'll continue to have to work to maintain our -- in a world with changing threats on us. I'm very proud of the men and women of U.S. Strategic Command.

And I want to leave you with one last thought. The way we have put the strategic forces and capabilities of this nation together from day one, we were always very humble in our ability to anticipate threats -- we always built in margin, we always built in hedge, not only for the risks that we could foresee but the risks that we might not be able to foresee.

And so a big piece of why I can stand in front of you and tell you that we're fully mission capable is because of wise decisions made by my predecessors to give me capability, flexibility and everything I needed to be able to respond to the thing that we didn't see coming, and that's an important thing I -- I -- an important attribute I think we need to keep in mind as we think about the recapitalization of these systems.

And with that, I'd be happy to take questions.

STAFF: Thank you, sir. We'll start on the phone line with Bob Burns.

Q: Thank you. This is -- this is Bob.

Admiral Richard, you mentioned the bomber task force missions of recent months -- excuse me. There have been a number of incidents lately that the Russians have characterized much differently -- for example, just a few days ago, the head of the Russian Air Force was saying that a number of times in August and September that B-52 bombers have flown close to Russian borders and that he saw this as both hostile and provocative action by the United States.

I'm wondering if you could say whether, you know, you have concerns about the escalation of tensions with Russia, you know, that could lead to actual conflict? Thank you.

ADM. RICHARD: I -- so, Bob, thank you for the question and it's nice to hear from you again, sir.

I think the bomber task forces are a -- a iconic example of how we're executing the National Defense Strategy in terms of us being strategically predictable yet tactically unpredictable.

I'm very pleased in the support that we're providing to the other combatant commands and I think that they have done a very good job of showing that the United States is capable of operating anywhere in international air space and is ready to meet any challenge that is presented to us.

STAFF: Okay. We'll come back to the room with Barbara with CNN.

Q: Two quick things, if I may.

On COVID, first of all, could you just walk us back to this past winter when Strategic Command, because it's so critical, really began to understand -- when did you know the severity of the potential COVID threat?

But my other question perhaps first is you referenced China and no-first-use policy. What's your thinking on this? Can you talk about that a little more? Do you believe that China either is rejecting the notion of first-use, is moving towards a no-first-use? What's your assessment of that and what does that mean for the United States?

ADM. RICHARD: So, ma'am, I would start with, as a military commander, what I look at more is another nation's capabilities, less about what their stated intentions are, and I see China developing a stack of capabilities that would be inconsistent with a no-first-use policy. It's not my place to judge whether they intend to honor that or not.

What I can tell you is -- is that they certainly have the capabilities to execute any number of deterrent or employment strategies that are seemingly inconsistent with a -- and a no-first-use policy really drives you back quickly to a minimum deterrent strategy and it just looks inconsistent to me and it's my responsibility to make sure that I have thought through what we have to do to deter what they're capable of doing as opposed to what they say they're going to do.

Q: So an outright offensive attack is what you're saying?

ADM. RICHARD: No, ma'am, I didn't say anything about offensive attack. I'm talking about deterring what they're capable of doing.

Q: And on COVID this past winter, when did you -- when did you really know and told by your people that it was a -- a -- a serious threat?

ADM. RICHARD: Ma'am, we are constantly looking at any number of threats and we take all of them seriously. That -- you know, it's one thing -- I believe the Department of Defense has a plan for just about everything. We had a plan in place for a pandemic infectious disease and we simply, very early on, December time frame, started looking through "what if" scenarios and started devising mechanisms, strategies to address that and that -- that process served us very well.

Q: Okay.

STAFF: Okay, we'll stay here in the room with Lucas from Fox.

Q: Lucas Tomlinson, Fox News.

Admiral, why do you need a low-yield nuclear warhead on your ballistic missile submarines?

ADM. RICHARD: Well, I think the justification for the low-yield ballistic missile was very well laid out in the Nuclear Posture Review and then captured inside our National Defense Strategy. In order to deter, you know, the basic equation of that has not changed over time, right? For any action that your opponent considers, can you deny an aim or impose a cost that is considered greater?

And so as we're opening up a possibility -- and this was looked at basically by the capabilities that were being developed in terms of the thought that someone might think that a small, limited use of a nuclear weapon might drive the U.S. into a situation where any response that we would consider would be considered disproportionate and therefore not credible.

The low-yield ballistic missile submarine closes that perception and enhances security, enhances deterrence.

Q: Is that the new nuclear warhead that the president was referring to recently?

ADM. RICHARD: The -- again, I -- I think you're referring to something that is going to come out in this Bob Woodward book, which I've not seen. In fact, I'm not even sure that it's available to be seen. So I'm not in a good position to help you address that question.

But I will say, look, as the commander of Strategic Command, I have any number of classified capabilities, that if you had my responsibilities to defend the nation, you would find that they're actually quite useful in that, but beyond that I'm -- I'm not in a position to -- to really help you with that.

STAFF: Okay, we'll go out to the phone lines to Idrees Ali with Reuters.

Q: Great, thanks, Tom. Two quick questions.

Firstly, in terms of COVID, what's the timeline you're looking at in terms of when things may go back to -- to the way they were? They -- you know, is it the end of the year, is it indefinite?

And second question, part of your job is to look at the strategic force of other countries. So what are you seeing in terms of the missile forces of Iran and North Korea and the impacts COVID is having on them?

ADM. RICHARD: Well, first, to your -- to your first question in terms of -- I'm not sure that we're ever going to go back to a -- the way we were before. There's any number of things that -- as -- we understand the disease better, the potential for a vaccine. There's a -- any number of things and so we're very well postured to operate for a long period of time, indefinitely in this.

But actually we've learned some things along the way that I -- I don't want to go back on, right? So our ability to operate distributed and remotely, particularly administratively, has been greatly enhanced. We have finally crossed the bridge in terms of being able to do some teleworking.

And in fact, from my -- one small example, my personnel shop, we're never bringing them all in again. I was telling Congressman Thornberry, "I'm going to take 70 cars off the entrance to the base in the morning because we're just more efficient when we operate in a distributed fashion."

So one, I -- no, I don't think we're going back to the way that we used to do business before. In some cases, I don't think we want to.

STAFF: Okay. We'll stay on the phone lines and go to Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg.

Q: Hi, sir. I -- I have a quick follow-up to the -- to the earlier question from Lucas.

At some point, will you be able to discuss what weapon the president was referring to when he told Woodward about this new secret nuclear weapon? And I have a China follow-up.

ADM. RICHARD: Well, I'd be happy to take the China follow-up.

And again, on a question about the Woodward book, I just should make -- not really in a good position to help you. I would refer your question either to the White House or to the Secretary of Defense -- but would enjoy that China follow-up.

Q: Among their new capabilities, are the Jin-class submarines -- are those Jin-class submarines now starting strategic patrols near Hawaii? The China report mentions that their -- their JL-2 missiles could range the United States but they need to be in western Pacific waters near Hawaii. Are you seeing that threat emanate?

ADM. RICHARD: Well, what I would offer is to not shoot behind the duck and I would actually pay more attention to their JL-3 missiles that they're working on, which give them a greatly expanded range. And again, I -- I think this is -- I get apprehensive that we are not fully conscious as a nation of the threats that we face, right? China now has the capability -- and we can get into the specifics -- to directly threaten our homeland from a ballistic missile submarine.

That's a pretty watershed moment and that's why, when I come up here and say that we need to maintain the forces to give us a deterrent capability against that, why we have to go recapitalize our strategic triad, why I say that there's no margin left and why that's the most important mission in the Department of Defense, it is -- you're giving me a great example of why we have to go do that.

The -- it is -- it -- it's important, I think, to remember I say the department frequently says that strategic deterrence is most important mission in the department, it is foundational to everything we do but maybe a way to operationalize that is, I and my forces set the conditions necessary for the rest of the Department of Defense to execute its mission.

If strategic deterrence fails, the complexion and the character of the competition just changed dramatically and it is in everybody's best interest for that not to happen. But to do that, I have to have sufficient force to execute our strategy and you see -- from -- say -- a great example of what other nations are doing to threaten that.

STAFF: Okay. We'll come back in the room to Lara Seligman, Politico.

Q: Hi, sir. Two questions.

One, I wanted to follow up on Barb's question about the China report, just to ask you to clarify a little bit more what you mean when you say you think they are in -- you know, that they have -- are moving forward the no -- no first use nuclear policy.

I mean, the -- the 200 missile figure that was in that report is a fraction of the size of the arsenals of both the U.S. and Russia. So I'm just wondering again what you're basing this -- this conclusion on? And then I also wanted to ask --

ADM. RICHARD: Well, let me address that first, right?

Again, don't shoot behind the duck, right? It's not where they are, it's where they're going, right? And when China sets its mind to something, they are very impressive in their ability to go accomplish it.

They're -- and you've got to be careful about mirror imaging. They're not put together the same way that we are. But one of my favorite examples, and I think I have it here because it -- I want to get the numbers right -- you know, China just established a Coast Guard in 2013, right? And again, they've had other forces but they -- they decided they wanted a Coast Guard and in 2013 -- they have 255 ships today -- or I'm sorry, 255. In seven years, they go build 255, on -- on top of all of the other ships they're building. I just think that their strategic forces are next on their to-do list, right, and I'm trying to posture us for the threat that we're going to face, not the one that we have today.

Q: And then on a different subject, I wanted to ask you about the GBSD contract that was recently awarded from Northrop. Are you concerned at all about the lack of competition on this contract and what that means going forward?

ADM. RICHARD: The -- the short answer -- and I -- I do need to clarify, I'm a combatant commander, so in some respects I'm the customer for the capability, that your question might be better asked to the Air Force. That said, I am fully confident in the Air Force's ability to deliver the requirements and capabilities that I ask for on time, in the budget that they say that they're going to need.

In fact, I was just out at Hill Air Force Base myself doing some reviews with both the program manager for GBSD as well as the contractor that you're talking about, and I have to tell you I walked away very impressed with the cutting edge ways that the GBSD program is not only going about accomplishing the acquisition tasks that they've been handed but actually -- I mean, we talk about it -- you -- you all haven't gotten to it yet but if you ask me what keeps me up at night, it is our ability to move fast.

I just gave you an example of how China can move fast and in the end, we're going to have to move equally as fast in order to pace that threat. In the end, it is time for us to start getting some of our bureaucracy out of our way, and I think that is the fundamental thing that slows us down.

I’d point to the GBSD program as a -- a pathfinder in terms of how to achieve the old standard by a new way.

STAFF: Okay. We'll go back to the phone lines to Sangmin Lee with Radio Free Asia.

Q: Yeah. I have a question on Operation Plan 5027, which is a military operation plan made by U.S. and South Korea for the defense against a possible North Korean invasion. Does this plan include the use of nuclear weapon?

ADM. RICHARD: Well, one, obviously I can't go into any specifics of any operational plan but what I will say is -- is that we maintain a very close alliance and partnership with South Korea. Longstanding, it's formally documented, proud that the United States extends extended deterrence and assurance commitments to South Korea, which has been beneficial to both nations, and I'll tell you that whatever the situation is or whatever OPLAN needs to be considered, my forces will be ready to support what they'll be asked to do.

STAFF: And we'll stay on the phone lines and go to Jeff Schogol with Task & Purpose.

Q: -- deterrence threats against North Korea after a five B-52s deployed in Guam from U.S. homeland?

ADM. RICHARD: Oh, I'm sorry, sir, I don't think I understood the question.

Q: Okay. Is there any change in nuclear deterrence strategy against North Korea ever since B-52 deployed in Guam or returned to U.S. homeland?

ADM. RICHARD: Well, I -- I go back to I think the decision to employ dynamic force employment, which I think is what you're referring to as opposed to a continuous bomber presence on Guam, has actually enhanced deterrence by being strategically predictable, tactically unpredictable.

It has given us a good opportunity to improve both short term and long term readiness and is a great example of the wisdom in the way that the National Defense Strategy has been put together.

STAFF: Okay, now we'll go to the phone line to Jeff Schogol, Task and Purpose?

Q: Thank you.

Admiral, I have a question about the W76-2. Is it STRATCOM's belief that if the United States explodes a low-yield nuclear weapon over Russia or China, that Russia or China will not retaliate with strategic weapons?

ADM. RICHARD: Well, the first part is, is remember that the whole idea is to prevent any of that from happening in the first place. The mission is deterrence, and it's sometimes a hard thing to wrap your head around, that in my mission set, victory looks like nothing happened, right? And we have been successful in that inside of -- for over 70 years.

And so where I think the particular value is, is the deterrent effect that the 76-2 provides, to see to it that we never go down the path that you're describing to begin with.

Q: My question is, can you limit a nuclear exchange to tactical weapons or is there no such thing as tactical nuclear weapons?

ADM. RICHARD: Sir, you're asking one of the greatest unanswered questions in military theory -- deterrence theory -- of all time, right? The answer is nobody knows if that's the case. But I do think it's an obligation for the United States to do everything in its power should a nuclear weapon be used by somebody else to stop the exchange as soon as possible, to limit damage to the U.S. to the maximum extent possible, and to end it on terms favorable to the United States.

The short answer to your question is, is that nobody knows. Fortunately we don't have any real-world experience in that, and I would just as soon keep it that way.

STAFF: We'll come back in the room to Lucas?

Q: Admiral, the Pentagon recently stood up a UFO task force. Has that given you something that you have to plan for as the head of America's strategic arsenal?

ADM. RICHARD: I -- Lucas, I can't go into a lot of detail on any number of things that we're working on. I'll just offer that Strategic Command looks at a wide range of threats. In fact, I've probably let this conversation get too narrowly focused on nuclear capabilities, right?

I think the 2000 -- the last NPR wisely acknowledged that you can have a strategic attack that is non-nuclear in nature. That is something that has changed in the current environment. So we're looking at any number of threats, not just nuclear, to make sure we understand them, understand what might happen to us, and do we have a strategy in place, tailored to deter that?

Q: And that includes UFOs?

ADM. RICHARD: That includes any number of threats.

STAFF: We'll go to Kris Anderson.

Q: AWPS News. So, New York Times has an article this morning about the risk -- legal risks to the United States from the use of -- supporting Saudi Arabia using -- and other countries, but Saudi Arabia in this case -- using weapons against civilians.

So my question is, does it also bring up the question of the risk that increases as we proliferate arms sales to countries around the world? And is that something that we should look at as a strategic risk?

ADM. RICHARD: So, ma'am, I have no direct responsibility in the area that you're talking about, and I would defer your question back to the secretary of defense, who's better positioned to answer it.

STAFF: And we have time for one last question, so we'll go to Barbara with CNN.

Q: Can I ask you to go back and just explain a little more about one thing that you said. And you said, "We are not fully conscious of the threats that we face." I think that's pretty close to what you exactly said, we are not -- you're worried that we're not fully conscious of the threats we face.

What -- tell us what you mean by that. I mean, is -- is the military not conscious, is the American --

ADM. RICHARD: It’s -- it's the American people, Barbara. I think we've had a little conversation about this. I think you and I have done duck-and-cover drills back when we were a kid, right? If you remember that. I certainly have. So we knew that there was a threat to us that might require us to respond strategically.

We don't even think about that any more. We take strategic deterrence for granted in a lot of cases, not acknowledging the fact that we have never had a nuclear attack on the nation, haven't had a great power war in 70 years, was not just some accidental fate in history or event in history, it was a lot of hard work by a lot of people to maintain systems ready to go such that we deterred that from happening, that's what I'm talking about.

Q: Okay, thank you.

STAFF: All right, thank you, ladies and gentlemen. If you have any other questions, I'll be in the press office area.

ADM. RICHARD: Thank you all very much.