Transcript

Admiral Charles A. Richard, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, Holds a Press Briefing

April 22, 2021
Admiral Charles A. Richard (USN), commander, U.S. Strategic Command

STAFF:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  Thanks for being here.  I want to go ahead and welcome you to today's morning -- morning press conference and introduce to you the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, Admiral Chas Richard.

And sir, we'll just turn this right over to you.

We'll do Q&A after his opening remarks.

ADMIRAL CHARLES A. RICHARD:  Well, all right.

Good morning, everyone.  And as Brook just said, I'm Admiral Chas Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command; have the privilege of leading 150,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Guardians and civilians.  I appreciate y'all taking some time, have a conversation, answer a few questions.

I do understand that this afternoon General McKenzie from Central Command will also be doing one of these, and perhaps it's -- y'all probably see him, and -- and I don't think I'm going to get the opportunity.  If y'all could pass him a "Roll tide" on my behalf, right, I'd appreciate that.

The -- I do want to report that STRATCOM remains ready to accomplish all of our assigned missions.  That has not been easy, given the COVID environment and other things, but we're fully mission-capable.

So as you know, I just spent a couple of days, along with another combatant commander testifying to the House and Senate about my responsibilities, my command's responsibilities, how well we're doing those.  And I -- I feel very privileged to have had that opportunity.  The -- as you know, we're responsible for maintaining strategic deterrence and in doing so, enabling the rest of the Joint Force to accomplish their missions.

I testified in some detail to the threats that we currently face.  I want you to know that we're fully ready for that challenge, including the challenge of deterring two peer competitors at the same time.  And I did want to start off by saying I applaud the secretary's leadership in all areas, but in particular, in our efforts to do a series of reviews, to include a strategic deterrence review, and the way we're approaching that because I think it's important to remember that nuclear deterrence is not separate from strategic deterrence, is not separate from conventional deterrence or space or cyber.  Those must be all looked at together in order to accomplish a strategic deterrence mission, and so I applaud where we're going and the way we are approaching that.

So with that, I'll stop, and I'm happy to take your questions.

STAFF:  Thank you, sir.

First, we'll start with Bob Burns, AP

Q:  Thank you, Admiral Richard.

I wanted to ask you about a couple comments you made yesterday during your -- your testimony. When you were talking about the issues with the Minuteman III, and the question about possibly life extending it.  You said that there's a long list of parts that are in very short supply, and you give an example of lock switches that you said there's only two at the moment.  And then you went on to say, "I'm afraid there's a point where they won't -- they won't be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat and the system won't work."  I'm wondering if you could elaborate on what sounds to me like an unreliable aspect of the system.

ADM. RICHARD:  Okay, so the -- the Minuteman III system is -- is fully reliable today; right.  The question is both in terms of the future, in terms of the system performance, as well as its ability to pace the threat.  You know, in the end, I defer to the U.S. Air Force in terms of their ability to do that.  They have assured me they can do that.  But it is getting increasingly harder, and I do want to have an understanding of just what it's taking to keep that weapon system up to the standards that we expect of it.

Q:  But you said the system -- you're afraid the system won't work on any given day.  It doesn't sound like -- that sounds like a definition of unreliable to me.

ADM. RICHARD:  Again, today it works fine.  Air Force -- I'm confident in their ability to get it to the points where GBSD [Ground Based Strategic Deterrent] is expected to come in.  But this is another example of no more margin; right.  So can you keep going with that?  I want us to recognize that you can't indefinitely life-extend anything.  That's the point, right?  You can't take stuff that you got back at the end of the Cold War and to think somehow forever you can continue to make it work, right?  There's a point where it becomes not cost-effective to do that, and there's another point out there, where it's not possible at all.  And I want to make sure that as we think through these decisions, we recognize that those points exist and look for them.  I wanted to give a specific example of the detail that is necessary to make sure we know where those points are.

STAFF:  Very good.

Okay.  I'll still go here in the room.  We'll to go Meghann Myers.

Q:  So, the other day in front of Congress you testified that you are confident that there is zero extremists within Strategic Command, and one of the reasons you offered that is because security clearances are required for the entire organization.  Do you want to clarify or expand upon those comments?

ADM. RICHARD:  I do, actually.  I welcome the opportunity to do that.

Look, the standard is really clear:  We don't tolerate extremism. My forces live up to an even higher standard based on their responsibility.  This is not new; right.  The Department of Defense has never tolerated extremism.  I think the secretary's leadership is on point for us to remember, this is a continuing effort, right?  The stand-down, which my command has completed, was a great opportunity to remind ourselves what is the standard, and to make sure that we're upholding that standard.

So we're not done.  And I'm not naive, and I don't think I'm immune to this.  So this is just the -- the -- a step in a longer process; right.  We are making sure that those procedures, security clearance being one of them, are being rigorously executed, rigorous execution of the Personnel Reliability Program.  And I'll go back to what I said -- also said, which is if you're there, then you're hiding it very well, and it is just a matter of time before I get to you.  You are either on Team Constitution or you are not, and if you are not, you have no place in my forces.

Q:  So just to clarify, you're confident that it's zero, but that's not based on any data or surveying or --

ADM. RICHARD:  I know of none, right, and I'm looking really hard.  So that was one of the outcomes of the stand down, right, is we didn't find anything. So yes, I know of none and I'm doing my best to make sure that I haven't missed anybody.

STAFF:  Okay.

Let's go to the phone.  We're going to go to Sangmin Lee, Radio Free Asia.

Q:  Yes, I have two questions.

It is known that deterrence and escalation came in the exercise had it been made last week.  So can you tell me, North Korea nuclear threat is also included as a target to deter for this exercise?

And second question is, North Korea continues to develop and deploy a more capable ICBM [Intercontinental Ballistic Missile] and sea-based launch ballistic missile, so how do assess North Korea this capability?  And do you think that currently your strategic capability is capable to deter North Korea nuclear threat?

ADM. RICHARD:  Missed the -- the second half of the first question.  I think you were referring to what we call the DEGRE [Deterrence and Escalation Game and Review] war game that was recently conducted.  But what was your question about that?

Q:  So what is for this exercise?  The North Korean nuclear threat is targeted for this exercise?

ADM. RICHARD:  So the actual work specifics inside of DEGRE are classified.  And so I -- I'm not -- not really able to answer that question.  I will tell you that I am very confident in my ability to deter -- we're very familiar with North Korea's capabilities and I'm very confident in our ability to deter that.

STAFF:  Okay.

And back in the room, Jenny?

Q:  Thank you.

I ask about North Korea again.  As you know that North Korea continues to develop in nuclear weapon and WMD, weapons of mass destruction, and recently North Korea has joined forces with China and Russia.

It's, kind of, very dangerous to Korean Peninsula (inaudible).  And what are the strategic goals of the United States to protect the alliance -- you know, from North Korea's for anything, you know, biological weapons -- you know, weapons.

ADM. RICHARD:  And so -- so the short answer is, first, I think that situation is ripe for a diplomatic resolution.  That that is the best path to resolve issues with North Korea is using diplomacy first; right.  I will say that the United States -- and certainly my command -- are fully ready to honor our security commitments and alliance promises that we have made to South Korea.

Q:  And you are Strategic Commander, so do you have any -- you know, best (inaudible) in strategic goals for the -- this North Korean --

ADM. RICHARD:  Look, my goal is to fundamentally uphold my piece of the responsibility in the assurances and commitments that we have made to South Korea.  And I'm fully ready to do that.

STAFF:  Okay.

And now to -- let's go to here in the room.  Mike Glenn?

Q:  Yes, sir, can you tell me how well do you think Congress appreciated your concerns during your testimony?  Are you -- are you optimistic about it or pessimistic, I mean, after spending the last couple of days up there on the Hill?

ADM. RICHARD:  Look, to be honest, I think you would have to ask them how well I did.  What I appreciate was the fact that I had the opportunity to do it and to lay out the mission, both in an open and closed hearing, the way I see it in a very frank manner.  I think I upheld my obligations to Congress to do that.

STAFF:  Very good.

Also here in the room, Barb?

Q:  Admiral, to follow up on some of Bob's questions, can you -- starting with the Minuteman III.  Can you put some framework around it?  Are we talking months, years before it becomes unreliable and unable to sustain?  Is there any kind of framework on that?

ADM. RICHARD:  Well, the framework is the Air Force has made a commitment that they will be able to present me a Minuteman III operating system to the IOC [Initial Operational Capability] and FOC [Full Operational Capability] dates on GBSD, and I am fully confident that they are able to go do that.

What I'm trying to point is that if you want to push that further, right, you are going into uncharted territory.  We may be able to chart that territory, but there is an enormous amount of detail that has to go into that, and the only organization that I know who is capable of working through all of that detail is the United States Air Force.

That's my point.  I'm trying to point out it is not simply a matter of saying, "Well, the rocket'll work," and a couple of other things.  It's -- it's a weapon system --

Q:  What year is that in your mind?

ADM. RICHARD:  The IOC of GBSD is 2029.

Q:  And Senator Warren yesterday, obviously, expressed a lot of concern that, while you were giving your best military advice, she raised the prospect that you were ahead of the reviews that are being done about strategic policies, strategic reviews, nuclear reviews.  Do you worry that this candid advice you're giving is boxing in the president before their reviews are done or even the budget is done?

ADM. RICHARD:  Barbara, I tell you, I tried very -- I felt like yesterday putting a sign beside my name that said "This is best military advice."

I am a military officer, a military commander.  I will do exactly what the president tells me to do or not do.  The advice I was giving was not new; right.  I have said that many times in the past, and in fact, you could probably trace the lineage back to other Strategic Command commanders.

So, I absolutely understand my place inside the chain of command.  And so, I'm absolutely ready to do whatever the nation asks me to do.

STAFF:  Okay, let's go to the phones.  We're going to go to Brian Everstine from the Air Force Magazine.

Q:  Admiral, thank you for taking the time.

I was hoping to go back to your statement from a couple days ago on the -- if somehow the ICBM leg of the triad is cut, you recommend returning bombers to alert.

If -- looking at the current state of the Air Force's bomber fleet and the bomber roadmap, is this something that could be hostile beyond just a few days it has been exercised?  And would that in turn cause the recommendation to increase the B-21 buy?

ADM. RICHARD:  Hey, so, one, thank you for the question.

And two, I was using that as specific example of the challenges the nation would fact, right?

Remember, I -- I am unique among the combatant commands that I don't get to decide or offer to the secretary what my objectives are; right.  Most other combatant commands execute their missions that way.  Mine are directed by the president as interpreted by the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  And so, I take those and then look at the threat and then ask for the forces to accomplish it.

It's a very analytic process.  And that results in -- and the nation has repeatedly validated that given -- and those objectives that I'm talking about are very consistent.  I can trace their lineage back to the Kennedy administration.  And we've repeatedly decided the triad is the best way to do that.

Doesn't mean that that's the decision that we'll come to in the future, right?  That's what these reviews are going to go show, and we'll be ready to execute whatever decisions that the nation makes.

My point was given what I'm responsible for now, given the standards that we have historically held this mission set to, which is specifically, if any piece of it fails, right -- we assume we can fail an entire people – for whatever reason, we can still do what we were assigned to do with what remains.  That -- I gave you the day-to-day example of what I would ask for.  That's only a subset.  I'd still have to figure out some other pieces.

And so that was only one subset of a larger class of stuff that I'd be responsible for figuring out an answer to.

STAFF:  Okay, and also on the phone, we'll go to Frank Wolfe with Defense Daily.

Q:  Yeah, good morning, Admiral.

I just had a question.  I wondered if I could get your insights on the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, which stated that the SSBN force, presumably, the existing Ohio-class SSBNs and the future Columbia class will -- are virtually undetectable, and there's no near-term threat to their survivability.  So when we talk about the ground-based leg of the triad being necessary, could you just explain that?  If -- if, in fact, you modernize the NC3 [Nuclear Command, Control and Communications] command and control system so that the command authority could still get in touch with the SSBNs, what -- what -- why is the triad -- why is the ground leg necessary?  Why is -- why is GBSD data or -- or the service life extension of the Minuteman III necessary?

ADM. RICHARD:  Hey, so first, there is a total amount of capability and capacity that's required to execute the responsibilities that I have been given.  I need the -- the forces that we have, to include the intercontinental ballistic missiles, to be able to accomplish all of that.  We don't have capacity in any to -- to start to change that unless we change the guidance, right?  And we can always do that.

Then the second piece is there -- there are things that we all take as givens nowadays.  One of them is bolt out of blue, right?  I'm referring to an unwarned large attack, right?  I think we would all agree that that is highly unlikely.  We'd be the first to tell you that it's highly unlikely because we look at it every day.

But we forget how we got here, in some cases.  We made bolt out of the blue unlikely.  Ballistic missile submarines, the -- the responsiveness of the intercontinental leg, our postures, our policies, the way we execute.  The reason bolt out of the blue is unlikely is because it's probably not going to work; right.  And so we have to be careful when we make future decisions that we don't forget how we got here, lest we return ourselves to a world we don't want to be in.

STAFF:  And do we have any other questions here in the room?  Kris Anderson?

Q:  Thank you for taking my question.

I'm wondering if -- if you could talk a little bit about the capabilities that Space Command has brought, having the Guardians under your command.

ADM. RICHARD:  One, I -- I applaud the decision to establish Space Command.  I think it has been a -- a great benefit to my mission sets.  As you know, we still think of ourselves as the proud parents of Space Command because the responsibilities were transferred out of STRATCOM to Space Command.  And the -- of many things that I could point to in terms of how General Dickinson helps me accomplish my mission better, the one I'd point to is his role and responsibility as the sensor manager. So now, we are looking across three different mission sets.  I'm specifically referring to them: missile warning missile defense and space situational awareness, and we are able to take the nation's total collection of capability and sensors, in this case, and use them much more effectively such that all three missions actually benefited from that.  This is a good specific example of some of the ways we need to think about command and control moving into the future.

STAFF:  Very good.  And one final?

Q:  Yeah.  Do you have any information about the North Korea -- prepared for the SLBM [Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile] launch or ICBM pretty soon?

ADM. RICHARD:  So ma'am, look, we are ready for just about anything North Korea can do. So I am fully confident that we're prepared for whatever they might decide to do.  All right.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  Very good, very good.

Okay, and with that -- oh, actually, one final question from Lucas.

Q:  Admiral, Lucas Tomlinson, Fox News.

Can you talk about the growing Chinese ballistic missile threat?  And why is China putting ICBMs into the ground?

ADM. RICHARD:  So one, as I testified, they have hit some kind of inflection point.  They're rapidly expanding.  I think I covered that in some detail in testimony, right?  As to why they are doing that, remember, they're very opaque.  In -- in fact, Lucas, I -- I'd almost ask you to ask them.  And I was just -- I was getting ready for this.  I was, like, trying to think of other countries' admirals and generals who are willing to get up in front of their press or are willing to go testify in front of their congress or other legislative body, and -- and I think it's something as Americans we should be proud of, that -- that your military is willing to come and answer your questions.  And I can't ask them that question, right?  But you can. And I would love for some of these questions y'all asked me, if you would ask them the same things.  I -- I would like to know the answer myself.

Q:  And then, talk about their growing stockpile.

ADM. RICHARD:  Look, again, I covered that in a lot of detail, and -- and I would offer just one point, maybe, to -- to reemphasize.  Measuring a stockpile is -- is a very crude way to describe what a nation can and can't do.  There's much more to it.  It's delivery systems, command-and-control, readiness training.  And I don't have the luxury of deterring one country at a time, right?  I have to deter all countries, all the time, in order to accomplish my mission sets.

And so I'd ask just to -- to consider that, right, as we think through the security challenges that we have.

STAFF:  Okay, sir, thank you very much.

ADM. RICHARD:  All right.

STAFF:  Do you have any final comments?

ADM. RICHARD:  No.  It's just a -- a privilege to -- to talk to y'all, and again, remember:  McKenzie, "Roll tide," right?

(Laughter.)

Thanks.

STAFF:  Thank y'all very much.