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Remarks by Secretary Carter to Troops at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico

 

      SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Hi everybody. Please sit down. Hello. So great -- look, I'm sorry you guys are staring into the sun there. I hope that's okay. If you want to put on sunglasses or go like this that'll be a --

 

      (AUDIO GAP)

 

      SEC. CARTER: Can you hear me?

 

      (AUDIO GAP)

 

      SEC. CARTER: -- (Inaudible). So let me do that?

 

      COLONEL ERIC FROEHLICH: Thank you Mr. Secretary. I am Col. Froehlich, I am the commander of the 377th Airbase Wing and the installation commander here. I want to thank all the members of Team Kirtland and the mission partners for joining us today. We have a very special guest who you just saw, is going to join us today. If you could please join me --

 

      (AUDIO GAP)

 

      COL. FROEHLICH: the Honorable Ash Carter.

 

      (APPLAUSE)

 

      SEC. CARTER: Thanks Col. Froehlich (Inaudible) and the rest of the fantastic command that I've been with here. You are blessed. We are blessed. Our country is blessed to have leaders as good as they are.

 

      And -- and this is my point for wanting to talk to you. We are blessed to have you -- you in the nuclear enterprise especially. That's why I'm here. I was up at Minot yesterday, Kirtland, Sandia, Los Alamos all that we had people from all of those with us today.

 

      And I hope that there are others there and this wonderful New Mexico community that supports our nuclear enterprise and has for many decades, and for which we're very grateful. The -- I'll return to the nuclear enterprise in a moment and its central importance to our security. But, first, I want to say something about you. What makes our military the greatest fighting force the world has ever known, is our people.

 

      Now we have great technology too. And we stand for great things. Which means that many, many -- not everybody in the world -- but many, many countries are our friends and our allies, and that is not just because we're powerful, it's because of the way we conduct ourselves in the world and the principles we stand for.

 

      So we have a lot that makes us strong and about which I am proud in this country, but the people of the Department of Defense and our larger enterprise, which includes the Department of Energy -- more on that in a moment, many of you are DOE folks -- it all rests upon good people.

 

      And I want you to know that I don't take you for granted in the sense that I'm -- I -- I think we need to -- that we can't be sure that in future generations, we are able to attract and retain people of your great technical talent and expertise. That's something we're going to need to work at.

 

      So as I look out over this audience, I look at it not only with pride but with determination that the kids who come along in the next generation feel what you have felt in your career, which is the -- that wonderful sensation of being part of something bigger than yourselves and doing the noblest thing that someone can do with their lives, which is protect their fellow citizens and make a better world for our children.

 

      There's no better thing to be part of than that, and it all starts with people. And I'm grateful to you for that.

 

      You have great leaders. I'll start with the -- with the Air Force. Now, Deb James and Dave Goldfein -- I call him fingers -- everybody calls him fingers -- right down through the fantastic folks you have here. We are blessed with very good leadership there.

 

      And I want to do a little shout-out to my colleagues in the Department of Energy as well, because it just so happens that Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz and his deputy secretary, Liz Sherwood-Randall -- both of them were here recently -- are spectacular leaders. That means a lot to us because the nuclear enterprise is something we have and will continue to need to run just like this, these two departments doing our two parts.

 

      Let me say something about the importance of a nuclear enterprise. This is the reason for my visit, and I spoke at length about it at Minot yesterday. And I'm not going to try to repeat that, but I (inaudible) to you. Take a look and see what we think of you and the importance of what you do.

 

      And I'll just tell you what the punch line of that was. The nuclear mission is the bedrock of American security. We understand that everyday. It is what is -- what everything else rests upon. And I know that and the rest of our leadership knows that and the president knows that and I think the country knows that.

 

      And it's hard to keep that perspective, even if you're a part of it, as you are, because it's not in the headlines everyday. In the headlines, you're reading about Syria, you're reading about Afghanistan or you're reading about the South China Sea or you're reading about North Korea.

 

      And my observation is we're in real trouble when what you do is in the headlines everyday, and your job is to make a deterrence so strong, so effective, so reliable, so secure and safe that no one can doubt that the American deterrent is strong. Regarding both attack upon us and attack upon our friends and allies over who we extend the nuclear umbrella as we have done for a very long time.

 

      That's becoming a more complicated task in today's world than it was decades and decades past. The type and variety of nuclear use that we are called upon to deter gets more varied, certainly more than it was during the Cold War.

 

      And for many people they have in their minds that it was the Cold War or post Cold War, this is really a different strategic era. And we need to think very carefully about it. We need to be prepared for it and take if for what it is.

 

      Which is it's not the recent past, that it's not the distant past, it is what you see in front of you. And that's going to require the same excellence we have always had, in the nuclear enterprise. It's going to require a nuclear enterprise that we continue to invest in, both in its people and all three legs of the triad.

 

      And our dual capable aircraft capability, the weapons that go with them. The new platforms, including cruise missiles, the Ohio class replacement, the B-21 aircraft, the ground base strategic deterrent -- our replacement of all of that.

 

      Plus all of the warhead programs that we have going on with our partners in DOD that support those weapon systems. And quite honestly, that is something that we underinvested in for some time. And so the honest truth is we not only have to pay attention to the year in which we live but we need to catch up a little bit on the underinvestment we have made.

 

      So we have time to carry out these programs, but we need to get on with them and that's what we're going to do. And you all are an essential part of that, so I want to commend you for that. In the spirit of constantly examining our environment and being willing to change the way we do things.

 

      You've seen me do it a lot, with respect to how we manage our talent within the department. How we manage our technology, and making sure that we continue to have technical excellence. We continue to invest in it. We continue to invest in people. We continue the vibrant relationship between our government and the scientists and engineers outside of government, who support us in industry.

 

      That's always been an American strength and it's essential. And for some of you that may be here who are not actually government employees you are part of the enterprise as well. We're grateful for that as well. I have with me today (inaudible), who helps me to understand how we can be more competitive and more innovative as an institution.

 

      And I only mention this because he's here and also your scientists, engineers, technical specialists, those are the things you like. Because you're always thinking and trying to apply new ideas.

 

      Eric Schmidt is here. Where's Eric? Right over there. Eric of Google founder fame and now Alphabet. Eric is here. And I asked Eric to be with me a (inaudible). I'm very grateful to you for doing this. Because he's one of the most innovative people in our country. And it's been a tradition, which he now falls squarely into, where America's most innovative and forward looking, and public spirited citizens help us to do what we're doing.

 

      And you call all the way back to the early days of the Manhattan Project and the way this town and this city and this area got into the nuclear weapons business. It was because some of the most talented people in our society were willing to contribute for a time to our great enterprise.

 

      Eric's doing that. He doesn't have to do this, but he is. I'm going to listen to him carefully. He's got a great bunch of stellar people he's asked to join him. Eric, I'm grateful to you for being here. So let me now, take your questions.

 

      But the thing I want you to take away is our commitment to the nuclear enterprise. It is the bedrock of American security. Its excellence is not something I take for granted. It's something I'm proud of and thankful for everyday. Our citizens, when they think about it, I think understand that.

 

      But our job is to make it so they don't have to think about it that much. They just know it's there. And that they're safe and they're protected. They are expecting that level of professionalism and performance from us and I know we get it from you and we'll get it for year, and years, and years as far into the future as I can see. Let me now. I'll take some time. We've got plenty of time.

 

      I actually, ask you, go read that speech I gave you as I'm going to try to repeat it again but it was all about you and it was to you. And I hope lots of people read it, because I want them to know that we know the importance of what you do. And it is a salute to the nuclear enterprise.

 

      Now, they've got a bunch of mikes around here. People can ask questions. Doesn't have to be a question. It can be a -- a -- a suggestion. Something that you know that you think I might not know that I ought to know. Whatever's on your mind.

 

      QUESTION: How are you doing sir? I'm Staff Sgt. Anthony Avilas, from the 377th Weapons Systems Security Squadron. My question for you sir, is, OK. I'll speak up. Are we doing enough to counter other investments being made by foreign countries that have nuclear capabilities? Particularly in infrastructure and capability and technology.

 

      SEC. CARTER: The question was are we doing enough in investments, in infrastructure, technology and so forth to keep up with other countries are doing, an excellent question. And, the -- the answer is that we haven't been and we need to. And let me a little something about what others are doing.

 

      It would be nice if we lived in a world where, when we were not making big investments in the nuclear enterprise, which to be honest, we weren't making, we were preoccupied, we have been preoccupied by Iraq, Afghanistan those have been important things.

 

      And -- and -- you know, as secretary of defense, I have, my heart has to be all into that. Because we have people at risk. But we can't take our eyes off the bedrock either.

 

      And I think the honest observation I make is, to some extent we haven't, we need to put our eye back. Because - - other countries around the world, they didn't say, well, we'll take a vacation too. That's not what happened.

 

      And so in Russia, with which we've had a complex nuclear history that goes back a long time, including some cooperation of all kinds -- non-proliferation and others with Russia.

 

      At the same time, the Russians have been doing things that are not only technologically sophisticated, which they have always been, but have gone in some novel doctrinal and technological directions.

 

      We need to pay attention to that and make sure that despite all of that, deterrence remains strong. And we can't just do that the old way. We have to look at those whom we are deterring and adjust what we're doing to take that into account.

 

      China, another nuclear power, has been, as most countries have been in the nuclear age, generally quite responsible, but they're building up also.

 

      North Korea, one can't say is responsible. They've been provocative. They have not shown the respect for the tremendous destructive nuclear -- power of nuclear weapons, that humanity owes to nuclear weapons. They don't show that at all. They brandish them in a very provocative way, and we need to deter them in a strong way. And I can keep going around the world.

 

      It is varied, it is changing, and what doesn't change is deterrence. That's our protection against nuclear attack. We have no other way of doing that. But that's a good thing, but it needs to be kept up and shaped to the changing environment. I think that we are now committed to making up for some time that we were not investing enough.

 

      We're investing in people, in the careers of people who are in the nuclear enterprise, giving them more opportunities to broaden themselves, to move around, to do other things, lots of things that people value, and particularly bright, technically oriented people like the people we have in the nuclear enterprise.

 

      We're investing technology. As I said, we're -- systems that have gotten old, we need to replace. We're replacing all of them. And we need to -- we need to think in our own deterrent strategy about how to keep deterrence strong in a changing world. That's an excellent question.

 

      QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

 

      SEC. CARTER: Thank you.

 

      If the mic doesn't work, I'll just repeat what you said.

 

      QUESTION: OK. Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. I'm Rich Tremly with the 377 Airbase Wing Plans and Programs office. My question is: What future technologies and strategies do you foresee that will allow the United States to continue to be a global power, especially with regard to asymmetric warfare?

 

      SEC. CARTER: OK. Another excellent question, big question. Let me start with the asymmetric warfare part. That's a key theme. And it goes back to what I just said about the nuclear enterprise. People are not taking on -- our potential opponents are not seeking to take us on in ways that they have sought in the past.

 

      They know they can't do it that way, so they're not looking for symmetric approaches. In many ways, they're looking for asymmetric approaches. And we need to be smart about that.

 

      And that is doctrinally the answer to your question. We're doing that in Europe. We're changing the whole way NATO operates. We do it in all our war plans, to make sure that they're taking into account, not the conflict of the past, but the conflict of now. And we're -- that is a very technology-intensive kind of adaptation to do.

 

      Make no mistake, these other country -- everybody in the -- the technology base now that used to be mostly in America and mostly associated with the United States government, we're still big. We're still the biggest. We're the most knowledgeable, but there are others who have quite good technology and a lot of dedication. It's a very competitive world.

 

      Right down to -- to terrorists, and they behave barbarously but they're shrewd when it comes to asymmetric tactics and we need to be smart and dominate them.

 

      And I'd like to tell you that -- that we could narrow down where we're going to need to stay the best in technology. I don't believe that's the case. I believe we have to stay good across the board.

 

      I'll just give you some examples. I mean, we're obviously working very hard on advanced computing, autonomy, big data applications in the “tech tech” sort of area.

 

      I believe that the biotech revolution is going to have great consequences for defense. I want to be the first to arrive at any breakthroughs of consequence to peoples' security in the area of biotechnology so that we can project our people and project our military.

 

      And also some biotechnology helps us do things like take care of wounded warriors and so forth for so there are great opportunities as well as great risks there. We have to be the best in that area.

 

      And I could go on. Hypersonics, undersea warfare, cyber. The whole deal. And that is why we spend as much as we do. We spend a -- a -- still a very large amount of money on R&D.

 

      But I am even more intent, and you have seen me do this with things like the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental -- trying to make sure we stay connected to the wider world of technology because there are those out there in our country since they've never served in the military, maybe they don't know us. Since they don't know the heritage of Sandia Base and -- and Los Alamos. They don't know -- they're not connected to that organically anymore.

 

      Their company or their technology has never been asked, what could you do for national defense. They've never had that opportunity -- that's not their fault. We need to reach out to them.

 

      So I am deliberately trying to build bridges to those who might not know us and might not know what -- that they can contribute. And I hope thereby that we get good people who understand the mission and get excited and join and be like you.

 

      I am hoping that we get new companies to say, hey, I would like to work on defense because they're working on really exciting problems that are really important for our future and you want people like that. That's what we do. We want people who are like us that want to work on things that matter in life and a lot of really innovative people out there just have never had a chance to connect with us.

 

      And when I was a physicist here -- this world was -- all my mentors, the generation above me, they all knew this very well and so they were able to explain -- that is how I got into this business in the first place.

 

      SEC. CARTER: They imbued in me the understanding that my knowledge brought with it a responsibility, and that was -- was something that mattered to me, but you can't take it for granted that everybody has that anymore.

 

      The years go by and -- and we've got to work harder to get people connected to us, so is not just the substance of science and technology in our department and -- in the Department of Energy, it's the style with which we go after talent, and go after new ideas.

 

      Yeah.

 

      QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. I'm Staff Sgt. Brown from the 377th Maintenance Group. My question is, with the involvement in the Middle East by world superpowers, what is being done to prevent another major conflict?

 

      SEC. CARTER: So with the - with the situation in the Middle East, particularly the involvement of major - - major -- other major power, you probably mean Russia, principally in Syria, that's probably a reference to that.

 

      What are we doing to keep the peace in the Middle East? Let me start -- very general point, which is the -- the Middle East is a very tumultuous and complex part of the world. I can't change that.

 

      Our interests however, American interests are very clear and so what we're not confused about is what our interests are, and our interests in that part of the world, and by the way, I -- it is just one part of the world.

 

      And I wish I had the luxury of focusing in one place or another, but we don't; we have interests in Europe, we have interests in the Asia-Pacific region, we have interests everywhere.

 

      But insofar as the Middle East is concerned, we know what our interests are. We're going to protect our country and protect our people from ISIL, especially, which is trying to attack our people and trying to attack our home, and that's out first mission there.

 

      Now, it's not our only one, I'll come back to that in a moment. We are doing that, and I'm confident we will succeed in doing that. We will destroy ISIL in Iraq and Syria. And we're in the process of doing that now.

 

      That is necessary, because it is necessary to destroy both the fact and the idea that there can be an Islamic State based upon this ideology, and the first step to destroying the idea is to destroy the fact that there on the ground. Then there are other places around world where this cancer has spread, and we're going to need to destroy it there as well.

 

      And then we need to protect ourselves here -- back here at home, and we do support law enforcement -- state and local -- intelligence community, homeland security, and protecting our people here; after all, that's what it is all about.

 

      So job one is to protect our people - and first and foremost from ISIL. We also protect our friends and allies in the region from, for example, take another important commitment of ours, malign or aggressive activity by Iran, same thing.

 

      Now you referenced the civil war in Syria, which is a terrible human tragedy for a wonderful country that's being torn apart by this civil war that goes on, and you ask about the role of the Russians.

 

      Well the Russians said that they were coming into Syria to fight terrorism and to help use their historic influence with the Syrian regime to effect a political end to the civil - well that's the only a civil war can end, is with a political solution.

 

      SEC. CARTER: And they said they'd use their leverage, which they have historically. That's not what they've done. So what they've said and what they've done have been completely different things. Instead, they have fueled the civil war, including this violence you've seen over the last few days, and also, they're not contributing -- this is the kind of thing that fuels extremism.

 

      Now, it's not affecting our war on ISIL, but it is contributing to a prolongation of the Syrian civil war, which is a tragic thing. Now obviously, you've seen the United States, and particularly Secretary of State Kerry in the last few weeks trying to reach a political resolution of this, which is the only way to end that civil war.

 

      He has tried very, very energetically to do that. It's hard to say, as we sit here right now, that that's -- things are headed in that direction. But he's done the right thing by giving it a try. But it's quite clear that the Russians are doing the wrong thing.

 

      QUESTION: Afternoon, Mr. Secretary. Staff Sgt. Johnson from Explosive Ordinance Disposal. Sir, the Air Force is undergoing some significant changes with the recapitalization of the nuclear enterprise and taking some risks in infrastructure and manpower. Do you foresee any changes in the upcoming future with improving funding for infrastructure and manpower?

 

      SEC. CARTER: Well I do, because I think that has to be part of the plan. So as you talk about the program, which we are embarked upon, which we have mapped out, to sustain a nuclear triad at the highest quality and the strongest deterrent potential, which is going to require us to replace things that we now have -- that's not just the stuff.

 

      It is also to sustain the excellence of the work force, the professionals who do it, including the scientists and technologists who support this uniquely dangerous, but also uniquely complicated technology of nuclear weapons systems. And people like yourselves who know how to maintain them and keep them -- all of that is part of our plan going forward.

 

      Are we going to spend more money on it? Yes. We are. Are we going to spend more money than we have been spending in the last decade and a half or two decades? Yes. We are going to. That's part of our plan. It's in our defense budget planning for the future.

 

      It still remains a relatively -- given its primary importance, a relatively small part of the overall defense budget. So this is a very affordable thing to do. We really need to just get on with it. But I just want to hasten to say, you ask about infrastructure and people, to me, they're not a separate thing. They're part of it.

 

      QUESTION: Good afternoon, Secretary Carter. Thank you for visiting us. I'm Col. Brenda Cartier, the Commander of the 58 Special Operations Wing. My question is a little bit theoretical. As military members, we realize the destructive power of nuclear weapons and how those are clearly used to deter other nations.

 

      My question is this: Is there a deeper theoretical way by which we use nuclear weapons as a currency of power? And you've mentioned that other nations brandish these weapons or the technology or the capabilities to maybe get to them in ways to affect our behavior and other nations' behavior.

 

      Do you believe that we, as the United States can use them as a currency of power as a subset of deterrence, and how might we do that?

 

      SEC. CARTER: It's a good question, and I think, for the United States, we have always, and our leaders as long as I can remember, and as long as I've read about, in the nuclear age, have always conducted themselves with tremendous respect for the awesome destructive power of these weapons. I think that's appropriate.

 

      I think that, that continues to be the American approach. It's not the American approach to brandish. It's not the American approach to intimidate. We have used nuclear weapons to deter and to reassure by extending deterrence.

 

      That's our doctrine now. We don't have any intention on changing that doctrine. But, are there others who conduct themselves in a way that is inconsistent with that history, of which I'm very proud of our country. I'm very proud of what it's done technologically. And I'm very proud of the way it's conducted itself also with respect to this. I don't expect ours to change.

 

      But I don't observe that everywhere I look around the world. You mentioned North Korea as just one example of that. By the way, I will say something about -- you know -- deterrence. As I said, they're, no one has found an effective defense against nuclear weapons. So the way we protect ourselves it through deterrence.

 

      That is a simple concept, but it's complicated to apply. And that is why I said we need to be aware that others are thinking differently about nuclear weapons than we would wish them to.

 

      And that, the nature and character of the - - their nuclear arsenals and plans is different from the way it was in the past. And we're going to have to adapt our approach to deterrence accordingly. There is a new institute here, and maybe some that are associated with it right here. I'm going to be meeting with them later today.

 

      Which you have very, your leadership here is very, very insightfully established called SANS. Which is intended to make sure that the strategic intellectual work is of the highest quality is being done here at the heart of the nuclear enterprise, even as the highest quality scientific and technological work is being done. That's a very smart thing.

 

      And that will, I think, help us enrich our understanding on how to keep deterrence strong. But I'm proud of America's behavior with respect to nuclear weapons. And it is an appropriate human treatment of a very complicated problem. And I think that our leaders, we have been blessed. Every single one, all the way back to the very beginning of the nuclear age at the way they have conducted themselves.

 

      OK. Now we get a chance -- sorry Andrew -- for me to look each of you in the eye individually. And repeat what I just said which is thank you for what you do for our country. And we'll get a picture of you to and then we'll send you the picture. Thanks again.

 

 

--END--