The U.S. military service chiefs discuss U.S. defense priorities around the world and the state of the American armed forces.
The Robert B. McKeon Endowed Series on Military Strategy and Leadership features prominent individuals from the military and intelligence communities.
HAASS: Well, good evening and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. And this is the Robert B. McKeon Endowed Series on Military Strategy and Leadership, and as you can see it is with none other than the six service chiefs.
I’m Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and I will be presiding over today’s discussion with the chiefs, in my case for the last time. And it’s one of my chances to say thank you for all sorts of things: for being here tonight, for your support of this organization, and most of all for your service and all you’ve contributed to this country of ours. So thank you for that.
We’re joined today by members in person, as you can see, and we’ve also got several hundred people in Zoom land.
This series is—features prominent individuals from the military and intel communities. It was made possible by a generous gift from Bob McKeon, who was founder and president of Veritas Capital. The series was inaugurated some fifteen years ago, and since Bob’s death just over a decade ago we continue this series in his honor. And I’m pleased that Claire McKeon and other friends and family are with us.
Tonight, as you can see, we have six individuals who need very little introduction: General Dave Berger, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps—don’t have my glasses all that—glasses on; General Jim McConville, chief of staff of the Army; we have CNO Admiral Michael Gilday, head of the Navy, obviously; CQ Brown, General Brown, chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force; General B. Chance Saltzman, chief of staff—chief of space operations of U.S. Space Command, very cool uniform—(laughter)—and—sorry—and Admiral Linda Fagan, who is commandant of the—of the Coast Guard. Again, thank you so much for being here.
I do want to thank the chiefs for their support of the Military Fellows Program. Each year we get officers from the different service branches to the Council for a year of study and professional development. We established this program about half a century ago. People always think of institutions like this as being in the ideas business. We are, but we’re also in the people business. And what the services have been great at doing over the decades is identifying people at the O6 level—roughly captain/colonel depending on the service, mid-career—senior mid-career. They give them to us for a year. Our job is not to get too much in the way of their development, to give them some chance out of the day-to-day responsibilities to give them some exposure. More than half of them have gone on to admiral or general, and I think it’s less of a compliment to us than it is to the services themselves who they—who they select.
Tonight’s meeting could hardly come at a more demanding moment. I mean, just think about it.
As a—as a consequence of Russian aggression, war has returned to Europe some thirty years after the end of the Cold War. And while the United States is not a direct combatant, we are very much a participant.
Chinese conventional and nuclear capabilities are increasing steadily. And given China’s stated ambitions, what it will take for the United States to deter any Chinese adventurism or, if need be, defend against it has similarly increased.
The United States retains a much-reduced military presence in the greater Middle East, but what is not reduced is the region’s potential for instability. And I could say much the same about parts of Africa and Latin America.
And as if all this were not enough, ours is an era of profound technological innovation from AI to robotics to computing, and this will affect how and where wars of the future are conducted.
And then just one more thing: All this takes place against a backdrop of what is going on here in an increasingly divided United States. We’re divided politically, socially. Economic inequality is greater than it was. And our domestic situation raises questions about resource availability, human and financial, for what these individuals are responsible for. It also raises questions about domestic disarray, both its potential to divide the military but also to add to its missions.
All of which is to say you all do not lack for challenges and we do not lack for things to talk about tonight.
Let’s start, though, if I may, with the issue du jour, which is the debt ceiling. So to what extent are you preparing or need to prepare for this? And what sort of an impact—if the debt ceiling—over the next few weeks, if a compromise does not emerge, if the United States defaults on its debt, what sort of an impact would that have on the armed forces? What sort of an impact would it have on what you can do day in, day out starting the first day it were to happen, the morning after? Want to start, Commandant?
FAGAN: Sure. (Laughter.) Sure.
HAASS: You never want to sit next to the person—
FAGAN: Yeah. Thank you, Rich. (Laughter.)
I would characterize it in the—in the terms of readiness, right? It would have an immediate and dramatic impact on readiness. Having reliable/predictable budget access is critical to building the kind of frontline readiness that the nation expects from our military. Everything from paying troops, of which the Coast Guard is the only service that had experienced two missed paychecks back a couple of years ago, to the kind of certainty on investments that you need, whether it’s acquisitions and the longer-term investments. So anything that creates uncertainty around that immediately begins to impact certainly our ability as a Coast Guard to provide that national security for the nation and creates uncertainty in the force that’s challenging from a leadership perspective.
SALTZMAN: Yeah. I think, you know, financial stability is still stability, and that is really the coin of the realm when you’re thinking about national security matters. We ache for a stable global environment. And you know, even more to the point, financial stability increases credibility, your ability to provide assurances that things are going to be OK. I think all of that instability that might be created causes problems on a global scale with our allies, with our partners.
We have to remember that in this era of great-power competition it’s a battle for the narrative. You know, who controls the narrative? What does a rules-based order look like? What are the alternatives? And the ability to provide stability in a, you know, relatively dangerous global environment I think helps preserve the kind of narrative that supports U.S. interests.
BROWN: I’d build on the two comments previously, because I’m really—(inaudible). You know, it’s readiness, credibility, and morale.
And there’s an aspect of, you know, the overall readiness for us to be able to handle whatever national security challenges that might come our way.
There is the morale piece because as—you know, Coast Guard is the only service that actually was impacted a couple times, but all of DOD could be impact from—a paycheck would actually impact morale, impact our servicemembers and their families.
And then the aspect of credibility. And as Salty just kind of highlighted, the credibility with our allies and partners. It impacts our credibility from a deterrence aspect with our adversaries.
And all three of those are key factors that will impact us in the long run. And it’s something we’ve got to think about since we have not gone down this path before.
HAASS: Let me just follow up on one thing. Have you had a chance to make exactly these points in testimony on the Hill?
SALTZMAN: I mean, we certainly talk about the continuing resolution piece of this. And I think, again, it’s about financial stability, and it plays out more—we traditionally see it in the CR standpoint, but this is going to be that much more—
BROWN: Less on the debt ceiling, but it is all roughly the same when you talk about not getting funding. Whether it’s on time or debt ceiling, it just impacts our ability to make sure we stay ahead of our pacing challenge.
GILDAY: Yes. I think the lack of stability and predictability, particularly with the debt-ceiling issue, it’s a place that we’ve never been before. So even predicting those second- and third-order effects is very difficult.
But of course this impacts on sailors, servicemembers and their families, but also on the arsenal of democracy across America that supports everything that we do would be dramatically affected. I think the confidence piece is absolutely critical here—not just allies and partners as they look at the United States, but also our own confidence in ourselves, which is so important in a fighting force. And so I think that the potential here could be catastrophic for us, and I don’t say that lightly.
HAASS: When you say “catastrophic,” let me just press you a little bit. What’s the time that would have to pass before we’d go from a default to where words like “catastrophic” would not be an exaggeration? Are we talking days, weeks, months?
GILDAY: Well, that’s tough to predict. If people can’t depend on a paycheck; if industry can’t depend on, you know, flow of funds to pay their people; you know, it probably wouldn’t take long.
MCCONVILLE: Yeah, I—you know, what they said. But you know, I kind of look at it, we need resources to do our job. And you know, probably one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard was from a young specialist’s wife in the 101st Airborne Division when the—when government, there was no paychecks. And they said, hey, they say that we’ll get paid retroactively, and what she said is my kids can’t eat retroactively. So we start to think about what we’re asking people to do. And you know, we’ve got to make sure that our troops get paid. We’ve got to make sure that we have the resources to do our job or it’s going to affect national security.
HAASS: Dave, you get the last word.
BERGER: We don’t know. But from our understanding, the office of monetary budget—OMB has to balance what they take in and what they spend out. So we won’t know how long away until they pay bills and count the revenues. Then they have to set the priorities across all of government. So it’s very difficult for the six of us because we don’t know.
But all the rest I couldn’t agree more with. If you—if you believe that there is still a place for global leadership and that global leadership is the United States, this is one of those moments.
HAASS: Can we take a step back? Let’s put aside the debt ceiling for a second. Let’s assume that isn’t a crisis, one way or another things get resolved. Let’s just talk about readiness more broadly. You know, most Americans look at the scale of resources we’re spending on defense in absolute terms. It’s, obviously, a lot of money. As a percentage of GDP, though, it’s considerably below the Cold War average. And now we’ve got six services here. I once had someone of your rank describe to me the Ukraine war as the seventh service. So say something about our readiness, which is—for as much as we’re spending, but given the fact that we now face a world of, shall we say, multiple geographies which we have to think about, plus everything from big wars to littler things, give a sense of the adequacy of resources and where readiness is in your service. Dave, why don’t we start with you this time?
BERGER: I think we—all of us look at readiness every month, if not more frequently. We’re in very good shape. I think all of us are. We have the resources that we need if we get a budget on time and predictability that comes along with it. But the readiness that we review among the Joint Chiefs collectively and individually the service, really strong right now. That could start to deteriorate if the resources stop. But from the people part to the equipment part, we’re in very good shape.
MCCONVILLE: Yeah. I think—from the Army standpoint, I think, you know, as far as—I agree with Dave as far as readiness. We’re ready to fight tonight, and I think we’ve demonstrated that. But we also have to be ready to fight tomorrow. And you know, I think a lot of chiefs wrestle with that, is you want to invest in the force today but you also have to invest in modernization. And trying to find that balance where you’re taking care of troops and their families is really where, you know, kind of the tension comes in.
HAASS: Since a lot of the material going to Ukraine I would think comes out of inventories that are near and dear to your heart, does that put you in a difficult position?
MCCONVILLE: Well, you know, what we’re trying to do—and so far we’ve received the support—is we need to replenish the ammunition that we’re giving, we need to replenish the weapons that we’re giving. And you know, the intent is to replenish those weapons systems with modernized equipment, so if we’re giving up armored personnel carriers the ones we’re going to buy are new AMPVs. If we’re giving up artillery systems, we’re buying HIMARS. So we want to transform the Army while we’re providing this support.
GILDAY: We’re extremely well-resourced, and I think that the leadership within the department does a really good job at balancing today’s readiness against investments we have to make in the future force. But I think for any one of us you always have the question in the back of your head: Are we ever ready enough? And so it’s never something that you’re quite satisfied with in terms of the state of—the state of where you are and where maybe you should be. You never want to be overconfident.
BROWN: I feel that we’re ready, but I also think about the—as Mike just kind of highlighted, the balance between our readiness today as I also look at the advancing threat, which means we cannot rest on our laurels. We got to continue to invest to provide those capabilities.
You talked about the debt ceiling in your first question. You know, if you go back to what happened during sequestration, I mean, we shut down flying, which really did impact our readiness. And we dug ourselves out of a hole, which is why we don’t want to go back to that, because it’s going to really impact our readiness, potentially. We don’t know how the OMB’s going to pay the bills, but I would expect that everybody’s going to get their fair share of bills in some form or fashion, which will impact our readiness. So I want to make sure that we continue to balance our readiness between what we’re doing today supporting combatant commands, but also how we modernize to ensure we have future readiness as well.
HAASS: Can I ask a question that may be awkward, which is: Is it your sense that readiness concerns here have in any way influenced decisions about what to provide Ukraine? Or have all the decisions about what to provide Ukraine simply been on the basis of what we thought was most appropriate for them and what they needed in terms of their battle?
BROWN: Yeah. My sense is, you know, it’s been most appropriate. You know, we do pay attention to the impact that it has to our forces as we go through this. And as Jim highlighted, as we provide we’re also looking at how we go back and resource ourselves in certain areas. It’s probably less of an impact to the Air Force, but we do pay attention as part of the joint team.
SALTZMAN: You know, the question on readiness is always very nuanced. First you say: Well, ready for what, and when? You know, those—the answer to those two questions are going to dramatically affect the answer to whether or not you’re ready.
And the other thing I’ve learned over the years is readiness is not static. You don’t achieve a level of readiness and then let it ride. Readiness today starts eroding the minute you establish readiness, and so it’s a constant battle to make sure you have the resources, have the capabilities.
And I’ll just add that with the—from a Space Force perspective, we’re in—we’re in a little bit of a different spot in that we are now contesting a domain that just ten years earlier, fifteen years earlier wasn’t the case. And so we’re really trying to build for a different what on a different timeline, and that’s caused us to look at readiness slightly differently.
FAGAN: So I’m the only military service not in the Department of Defense. We are absolutely in the right department, the Department of Homeland Security. As you know, the budget basically is defense/nondefense, and so Coast Guard competes for our budget dollars on the—on the nondefense side.
I think it’s also important to point out that your Coast Guard, the nation’s Coast Guard, we are not a garrison force. We operate every day in and around the homeland, in fact globally, in that competitive space that is so, you know, important now as we look at some of the emerging global challenges. And so, you know, for me the readiness context, it is literally an everyday. We are operating, providing national security, homeland security every day in a way that’s relevant to the nation, whether it’s protecting the marine transportation system or, you know, countering narcotics, pick the host of things. And so, you know, reliable access to budget, the kind of regular growth in our operating budgets are then critical to ensuring that we remain ready as an organization.
HAASS: Let me ask about the Ukraine war in a different way. We’re now, what, fifteen months into this—what you might call this phase of the Ukraine war since the Russian invasion of February of last year, so a lot has happened. I’d be curious to hear from any or all of you on what you’ve learned. What are the lessons about modern warfare? Because what we’re seeing in Europe, what lessons do you see that are—just full stop, or lessons that have real potential relevance for us that you say, hey, because of that I now need to think somewhat differently about that? I’m just curious. This has been quite a—quite an educational, I expect, experience for you and the people with you. You know, any and all.
BERGER: The obvious one, I would say right off the bat, is coalitions/alliances matter, because there were some people who had written off organizations like NATO as being old, no longer relevant. But they sure were relevant February/March last year. Without them, I’m not—you know, the outcome would have been radically different. So I think the effort or the underpinning of our strategy to rely pretty heavily on allies and partners as a key part of the strategy, borne out in the last fifteen months without a doubt.
HAASS: Do you feel that is—what’s the word I’d use—replicable in other theaters of the world against other—in other scenarios? Do you think it’s something unique about Russia and Europe and NATO as a formal alliance? Do you think—would you be prepared to say a similar thing about the Indo-Pacific?
BERGER: Not in terms of the framework, because one framework, one template, not universally applicable. But the value—you see it, those of us who were talking before we walked in here—you travel—like Jim and I were talking, you travel to the Indo-Pacific now, there’s a very different tone there in terms of working with the U.S. and working bilaterally with each other, three and quad. These are things that you couldn’t even talk—you couldn’t have a conversation a couple years ago.
BROWN: I would add that part of it is the aspect of information and how the sharing of information going into this helped bring allies and partners together, the international community together. I say there’s some applicability, as the commandant just highlighted, in the Indo-Pacific as well because of the greater dialogue. You get more awareness of the threat. It does, you know, bring nations together, and you have those dialogues that you probably hadn’t had before that are much deeper. I see that with our partners in the Indo-Pacific in the meetings that I’ve had, that they see things a bit differently than they did probably several years ago.
HAASS: One of the features, though—to sort of pursue this a little more—of—the U.S. military has over the decades become a smaller number of highly capable platforms. And are we seeing things in the Ukraine theater that are making us say we made that bet right, or are we seeing things which say, hey, maybe we want to have a larger number of perhaps less-capable platforms?
SALTZMAN: Well, I saw one example where capacity on the military side in terms of satellite communications was suddenly jeopardized, and we saw very rapidly commercial augmentation in Ukraine start to fill in some of those gaps and create some additional utility for command and control. So I think that’s one of the things that we’re looking at, is making sure we have robust enough capabilities and the ability to rapidly expand into hybrid architectures across a number of platforms and domains if we need to, because capacity is—you know, quantity is its own kind of quality to some degree.
HAASS: Let me ask you a specific question, if I may, General, which is: A lot of observers of the war are surprised by the apparent lack of prominence of cyber. Before this, you know, Russia’s cyber capabilities were pretty vaunted, and we don’t see it. So either—is it that their capabilities are less than we thought? Is it that Ukraine’s defenses are better than perhaps many thought? Is it that cyber is not as central to modern warfare as a lot of analysts had predicted? What’s the takeaway on this?
SALTZMAN: Well, my initial thought is, one, we did see a lot of attempts to use cyber. They had less effect, I think, than we’ve seen in other conflicts or crises. And I would give the Ukrainians credit. I think they recognized what I’ll say is a vulnerability. They recognized what could be a soft underbelly for your national security and I think they worked hard to address it.
GILDAY: Well, I think—I think the Russians have the capability. There’s no question about that. I think there is a question about whether or not they applied it as they should have against the right targets at the right time. Infrastructure might be a very good example of that, where they likely had the capability but didn’t use it as effectively as they should have. So they’ve probably learned from this. I wouldn’t count them out.
MCCONVILLE: I was going to add I think, you know, at least from where we sit, one of the first—recent examples we’ve seen of multidomain operations contested in all domains, if you will, where, I mean, you know, we’ve seen ships sunk, so the sea, there is—there is—you know, I mean, it’s certainly contested on land. And it is a brutal, vicious fight if you see what happens on land. But also contested in the air, contested in the sea, contested in cyber, and contested quite frankly in space. And we’re seeing all that come together. And the lessons learned, if you want to be successful in this fight you need to be able to work across all the domains. You have to work very carefully.
The other thing I would—takeaway for me, which is really important for the Ukrainians, is their will to fight. That, to me, is a big deal. You know, we’re helping them with capabilities, weapons systems. We can talk though tactically how, you know, fires has helped. And we can have the discussion on, you know, do you need
tanks, you know; not unless you want to win; you know, those discussions, and combined arms, and everything else. But we’ve helped them with capabilities. We’ve helped them with capacity. They train extremely well when it comes to competence, I mean how quickly they’re able to use the systems. But to me, the key factor is their will to fight. And that has changed the dynamics and, quite frankly, I would argue the support of the world in their endeavors.
HAASS: Does the poor Russian performance up to now allow us to—when we take a step back and look at the globe and multiple theaters, does it basically say we have the luxury of slightly dialing down there if want to dial up, say, in the Indo-Pacific? Is that—is that too big of a lesson to learn, or is that—is that sort of thing possible?
BROWN: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know that you can dial down because of—because of their nuclear capability. I mean, it’s kind of hard just to say we’re going to dial down and walk away.
From a conventional standpoint, I think it’s a bit different. They’ve proven a lack of capability in certain areas, but I still think we can’t just, you know, dial down. I really believe that collectively we’ve got to look across the world. And this is why I think, you know, in the Indo-Pacific there’s greater focus, because we look at the risk of a potential conflict, whether it’s in the Indo-Pacific, whether it’s in Europe, or any other place in the world, that things that are happening right now in Ukraine are things that we probably all thought, you know, in our lifetime may not happen. And look where we are today.
SALTZMAN: I agree with CQ. If you think about the asymmetric side of this between nuclear weapons and between cyber capabilities that we know are still there, the counter-space capabilities that are still there. And to Jim’s point, they can attack from multiple domains at a given place and time of their choosing. That means we’ve got to continue to pay attention.
HAASS: You mentioned nuclear, so let me just pursue that. You have the Russian threats of nuclear, obviously, their capabilities. China seems to be learning a lesson that one of the reasons we’re not involved directly but indirectly is because of the large Russian nuclear force, so they’re ramping up their ability to produce and weaponize enriched material as fast as they can. North Korea’s been doing it for some time. Does this—does this make us rethink or lead us to rethink our nuclear capabilities, their adequacy?
BERGER: It leads us to have a different discussion of deterrence, I would argue, meaning not in silos, conventional nuclear, strategic, but holistically a different view of deterrence—a more complicated view of deterrence.
HAASS: So the old, if you will, firebreaks that a lot of civilian analysts introduced, we’re beginning to see that perhaps eroded somewhat?
BERGER: I don’t know about eroded. It’s just a different discussion. It’s a higher-level discussion instead of just where do we stack up in those three areas. Holistically vis-à-vis the competition, the threats out there, how do we look at deterrence and what are we trying to deter? Is it an all-out hot war or is it something less than that? What is—what is the nation’s goals?
HAASS: For all you doctoral candidates in the room here, there’s potential work to be done by the—(laughter)—by the analytical community with the changing weaponry and how does—what does it take for deterrence to be robust at this moment as opposed to fifty years ago.
GILDAY: I do think it’s more complicated than it once was. You not only have case one of Russia or case two of China individually, but you also have case three that there’s some kind of collusion there. And thinking about that with respect of the force that you invest in and how you posture that force, how you message, is important in the future and perhaps a problem set that we haven’t faced before.
HAASS: Since we’ve mentioned case two, which is China, can we talk about case two, which is China—(laughter)—which, in reading your documents, is increasingly case one—and about the gap between where we are and where we need to be, given that it’s hardly a static threat or challenge we’re facing, and your own sense about how we have to prioritize the Indo-Pacific? And more granularly, what is it—where do we need to be that we’re not yet? Like, what makes you slightly uncomfortable or, put it more positively, what would make you more comfortable over time if we were to do it in the Indo-Pacific, given above all China but also North Korea?
MCCONVILLE: Yeah, one of the things I’d just—you know, we’re talking a little about deterrence and, you know, as I’ve traveled around both Europe and the Indo-Pacific, is I think a lot of people are realizing that these regional conflicts have global implications, and serious global implications. And, you know, a lot of these leaders are very concerned about their economies and, you know, what happens, and—you know, at least as I’ve seen. I’ve talked to chiefs from far away from Ukraine, and their people are having trouble with food security because of this war. They’re having trouble with energy security so, you know, trying to—we talk about, you know, a whole government or a whole world, you know, of—deterrence, that starts to play into it.
And I think, you know, sometimes the military seems like it’s the first option, but there’s a lot of other levers that can be used to get to deterrence, and are you prepared to accept the fact that, you know, you’re going to get—your economy is going to go down the drain. Are you prepared to accept all these things that are going to happen?
And I think that raises the costs for these type of operations. And I think the fact that people have looked at Ukraine and learned those type of lessons is going to change how people look at future conflicts. It also changes how a lot of allies and partners look around the world when it comes to do they have the capabilities, do they have the capacity, do they have the competence required to defend their countries. And I think they are taking a hard look at that.
FAGAN: Yeah, I think about our role in the Indo-Pacific an opportunity that is there for the kind of ally and partner engagement and conversations that the U.S. Coast Guard brings to the region and whether it’s ships or mobile training team, bilaterals—the problem set is not exclusively a maritime problem set, but there maritime governance plays in a way that challenges many of the nations, and so, you know, I’ll use illegal fishing as an—(inaudible). On the one hand, it’s like, well, it’s illegal fishing, IUU fishing. It is theft, and it’s challenging the sovereignty of small—you know, of nations, and so creating capacity within a country to enforce their own sovereignty is a—you know, is a good starting point.
And, you know, for us, creating persistence—you know, not an infrequent large gesture, but of, you know, more impactful, persistent kind of engagements across the region is where we’re focused, but mindful that we’ve got a pretty significant home responsibility as well.
HAASS: I’m going to return to the Indo-Pacific and the China issue a little bit, which is do we have sense of what lessons China might be taking on board from Ukraine, and as a result, they are integrating that into their military capabilities and planning, and that we therefore have to respond to it? Do we sense that the threat is not just growing, but changing—or the challenge, whatever word one wants to use there?
BROWN: I don’t think—well, I think it’s beyond just a military capability. It’s the aspect of, you know, how quickly, you know, the international community came together, and they realized those aspects.
I could also say that even when you think a conflict might be easy and quick, it’s not. I mean, those are probably two key factors I would highlight that—not only for them, but for all of us to learn—that you can bring people together fairly quickly with information, and that, you know, whatever you think—you know, whatever time you think it’s going to take, it’s probably going to take longer because there are many things you may be, you know, underestimating. That was, you know, as Jim said, the will to fight.
HAASS: But that second lesson is clearly a welcome lesson. If the Chinese take from this that war never is quite as predictable or as neat as you think it is, particularly when you haven’t fought one for over forty years, that ought to be a somewhat reassuring message, I would think.
Let me just raise a few other issues and then we’ll open it up. One is AI. A lot is being said about it and so forth.
When you all look at it now, to what extent do you see—well, how do you look at it? Is it seen as sort of opportunity in certain ways? If so, how? Is it seen as a problem, or a risk, or a threat? And if so, how? So what is—I mean, this conversation, particularly with the generative AI, has moved very fast, and I find that people—you know, the analytical community is having trouble keeping up, quite honestly. The technology is outpacing the thinking, to put it bluntly, not to mention the regulation and everything else. But it’s coming at you, like it or not. I’m just curious, what is your—in some ways, your early takes on the emerging technologies and what it might mean for what it is you all do?
David, do you want to start, and we’ll—
BERGER: Yeah, it clearly is potentially—some people say game-changing, but that’s sort of hyperbolic. But it has a potential for changing the character of how conflicts go, how the world goes, for sure. We need to learn fast. We need to embrace it. We need to experiment with it, try it, and not be fearful of the ethical parts of it, and just say we’re not going to deal with it for right now.
It can absolutely enhance decision making—it already is right now. You know, the more we learn about it faster is a good thing because you can bet that the competition is doing the same.
HAASS: Where do you—just so I—just so I understand because I’m not an expert in this—where do you see it having the biggest difference potentially, or already are you seeing it? What are the—where are the areas of most obvious applicability?
BERGER: For tactical commanders, we all knew some years ago that you were becoming saturated with so much information that the ability to make decisions was actually getting slower—not because you didn’t have enough awareness; because you had too much. You couldn’t sort through it.
So the ability to sort through that quickly and get to the key elements, figure out what they are, look at the options that make sense, those are things that, for tactical units, make absolute sense.
MCCONVILLE: Yeah, I see a lot of the ability to assist, not necessarily replace, and you stop to look at things—even like, you know, from logistics. You know, we do a lot of stuff with maintenance—predictive maintenance that artificial intelligence could take a lot of data then kind of take a look at, you know, when parts need to be done in an assistance way.
You know, we talk about, you know, targeting capabilities, and again, I think, you know, as the commandant said, there’s a lot of information coming into operation centers, and, you know, the future is going to be, you know, multiple systems coming at you. We’ll have multiple sensors out there, and the ability to take all that information, you know, with swarms of enemy systems coming at you, and they use algorithms to help us sort that out and then get through it an integrated battle command system, and pick the right arrow, if you will, to engage those systems, that is where I think artificial intelligence—we’re working it right now—is going to help, and it’s going to converge.
But I still see having a person in the loop, in most cases, making those type decisions. The difference is that it won’t be that person having to work all the way through the data. They will get a solution, they will be able to take a look at it and go, yes, we want to do that, or no, we don’t want to do that.
And even to aircraft and some of the things we do where you can start to get to a pilot’s associate or a driver’s associate where you’re no longer doing all the work to either fly, drive, or target the system, but you still have a person in the loop to make those type decisions.
HAASS: So some of the conversation about the loop becoming totally automated, if you will, and no longer a person loop, is that just—is that a little bit sci-fi and exaggerated? Or that something that—it’s possible, but maybe not desirable?
MCCONVILLE: I mean, it can be. I mean, we can do that stuff right now. We have systems that we can fire and forget.
SALTZMAN: There’s—you’re highlighting the two parts.
SALTZMAN: There’s the speed of decision making, but there’s also the quality of it—two different aspects.
MCCONVILLE: And then we’ll get into algorithm fights, you know, and so you will have to have people that can code on the edge of the battlefield. As you know, attack has a certain signature, and if it’s being attacked by algorithm, we’ll have to figure out how do we defeat the algorithm. We used to do that with camouflage; now we’ll have to do it with—oh, stick a pole a certain way, and then we’ll—we could go into that, so—(laughter)—it’s going to be interesting in the future.
GILDAY: So in the applications that we’ve use in the Navy—whether it has been business systems, or manpower, or logistics, or operationally, particularly with unmanned most recently, the bottom line for us has been the issue of trust. And so understanding how those algorithms work, what might be the potential downfalls, I think—and some of the recent conversations from people that have been on the business side of things who have been dealing with AI and are, in some cases, frightened by the possibilities, I think we’re going to need more governance inside—whether it’s the U.S. government or certainly within DOD in terms of making decisions, how we apply those capabilities, what kind of risk we’re assuming. And that’s a—I think a worthwhile approach.
BROWN: I see the two sides—yeah, it’s a two-sided coin because there’s opportunity but there is also areas I have concerns with. But the opportunities that were just highlighted—to be able to make decisions much faster, or at least cull through the data so you can actually—where do you need to prioritize, you know, as an individual to make decisions or employ weapons.
The flipside is—to what the CNO just said—you know, there’s the aspect of trust, there’s the aspect of those that might use it for, you know, nefarious purposes, and the fact of some type of norm of how we use AI. You know, I think about when we first started doing cyber, and we put cyber in a PowerPoint slide, and everybody talked about it. It was going to be the panacea for everything. But it took us about ten to fifteen years to really understand it.
For AI? It’s been on PowerPoint slides probably a lot less time, but it’s moving so quickly today that, you know, where’s it going to go? And that’s the thing I think we’ve got to be concerned about—of how it can be used against us, or how our AI—if you don’t trust it, how it could give you a, you know, bad vector on an area, and then you’re—and now you’re doing—you’re kind of damage control after the fact because you trusted the AI, which then will take you a step backwards because now you’ve started to lose trust. So there are some good things about it, but I think there’s a lot of unknowns as well.
HAASS: Are you working from the assumption that it’s going to basically remain unrestricted or unregulated, so if actors out there who do not have our best interests at heart wanted to tap into or exploit AI, they’re pretty
much going to be able to? This is not going to be an international environment where you are going to have—how would I put it?—significant AI arms control that’s going to restrain anybody.
BROWN: That’s one of the concerns; that it’s going to get where it’s not going to have a, you know, norms of behavior. And the other aspect of being able to—forgot—what is actual, you know, valid, real data versus something that is, you know, designed to send you on a bad vector.
SALTZMAN: Yeah, I mean, that’s the coin of the realm, is not just the ability to process data and make decisions in speed, but to be able to sort good data from bad data at speed. And I—that’s going to be one of those essential tasks that we put back into our checklist just—there’s going to have to be analog solutions to overcome digital camouflage, I think. (Laughter.)
MCCONVILLE (?): That’s good.
HAASS: Go ahead.
FAGAN: So we are in the process of—you know, we set up an office of data and analytics, so one, just getting our own internal data sort of warehoused and into a government structure where AI, machine learning, predictive analytics, and we’re able to use tools that are out there for the decision space that everyone has just spoken of.
The other thing that’s become apparent in, you know, each of the perspectives, data is moving from point to point, and so ensuring that the adequacy of the transport pipeline, and the integrity of the transport piece of it is going to be key so that you’ve got some certainty around, again, you know, integrity of that information. And really, at the end of the day, it’s about creating decision space at the speed of need—whatever that looks like—for the problem sets. Some problem sets are literally hypersonic; others you’ve got a little more time and space to work through.
HAASS: Two last questions. One is about the troops, which I wanted to make sure we put on our—on the record here, which is problems with recruiting and retention. And let’s again put aside the specifics of a default, but just in lots of stories out there in the press that the services are not getting—meeting their numbers; that the educational system isn’t up to where it is, physical fitness isn’t there, drug issues, what have you.
Say something about it, which is to what extent is this now affecting readiness and what you think needs to be done from where you sit to address this.
FAGAN: So I want to start on a high note. On Wednesday, we graduated over 240 new ensigns from the Coast Guard Academy: a Fulbright Scholar—the talent that is coming into the organization and moving through, and I can say the same thing about our enlisted force at Cape May. The talent is there, exceptional.
It is a numbers challenge for us, and primarily on the enlisted side. And so some of it is, I think we all need to talk more directly about what it means to serve, that it is an honorable profession to join the military or serve your government. What we offer is priceless in many regards, right—that sense of community and belonging, work that’s valuable and directly contributes to national security. And I think there’s probably narrative there for all of us.
My largest challenge is there are—shockingly—a large number of Americans that really have no idea what the United States Coast Guard is, that we are a global Coast Guard, what the opportunity is that I offer as an employer, so for me there is a significant marketing aspect to it to increase awareness.
Once the organization has eliminated people it’s generally easy—pretty easy sort of seller offer to get folks in, but inspiring the young generation into service is a challenge that’s here for all of us.
SALTZMAN: Well said, and I think that’s the key—is there’s a greater gulf separating those that serve from the maybe more traditional American public. There’s not as many people that are veterans as there were in the past, and that gulf is widening. And that creates lack of understanding, lack of familiarity, and if we can’t talk about government service in positive terms, if we can’t talk about the values of military service, I think that gulf is just going to get larger. And as it gets larger, then the recruiting and certainly retention even will be that much more difficult in the future. So that’s really the challenge for us, I think.
HAASS: Let me just follow up so I understand it more, and it may be an impossible or difficult question for you to answer. You know, is it that people see—because on the right a lot of the times one hears phrases “the deep state,” government is mistrusted; and on the left you hear the argument that the government is pursuing agendas that are inimicable to various interests on that side of the spectrum. What is it—and you’re running into both—what is it when you—what is it you are encountering that discouraging this form of national service?
SALTZMAN: I think the numbers—and these guys are dealing with a tougher challenge in terms of those numbers, but once you start taking the percentage of the population that’s in the age bracket, and then you cull it down to the percentage of that population that is qualified to serve, and then a subset of that, that has a desire to serve, you’re in a very small section of the population.
We can figure out why that’s true, but the point is I think we have to provide a value statement—you know, a value—here’s the value proposition of military service, and expand that into the most—everybody that’s qualified should want to serve. And we should be beating them off with a stick, I think. That’s the real goal. And I don’t know about the root causes for why that’s the case, but I think it’s certainly the data bears out that it is the case that we need to address.
BROWN: I believe that young people only aspire to be what they see. And if they don’t have a chance to see the opportunities in serving in the military, then they’re not inclined. And they have a lot of options these days. I think they have a lot of options, and the problem they’re in, and getting bombarded with opportunities.
I have often thought about that, you know, after 9/11, our bases have become fortresses. It’s very hard to get on base, and so one of the areas I’ve focused on with our leadership across the Air Force is to get engaged in your community so that young people—not only young people, but their influencers—whether it’s their—you know, a relative, it’s their coach, it’s their guidance counselors, and their teachers—to say you may have an aptitude to join our military.
And you don’t have to serve for long. I mean—I’ll speak for myself. Four years was my plan—(laughter)—obviously that screwed up—(laughter)—but the aspect and the reason I stayed is because of the opportunities I’ve had. And that’s where not only us up here in uniform, but for all of you who care about our nation to, you know, encourage young people to at least consider it, yeah. Not everybody is going to want to do this, but, you know, there’s plenty of opportunities in different skill sets, and that’s what inspires me when I go out and visit our bases. I was just at a base last week, and you get a chance to talk to young airmen and ask them questions: why did you join? And it’s because, you know, someone pointed them in a direction and shared with them, here was an opportunity. And then, you know, once again, they figure out it’s not all bad, and it’s actually a lot of good things about serving in the military. And I think that’s something we collectively have to focus on, really get the word out, and market a bit more than we have in the past.
GILDAY: You mentioned information or misinformation a few moments ago, and I would tie that directly to a decline in trust in institutions, in the government. And I think that has affected us in the recruiting world.
So how do you get after that? And so I think—to General Brown’s point—you really want to talk about the opportunities that the services provide young people, and that story is best told not by us, but by service members themselves in authentic ways and in social media.
I also think that the point that was made about influencers is also key, and so we backed off the television to a certain degree during COVID and relied more on social media only to discover that we were missing a segment of key influencers who do watch TV, and so we began to reverse those investments.
In any case, we’re trying—just as the Ukrainians are learning war as they are fighting war, we are trying to be just as agile in terms of how we get to people and how we get our message out.
MCCONVILLE: Yeah, you mentioned retention and recruitment. In the Army right now, retention is actually at almost an all-time high, which is, you know, kind of—you know, so people would come in and want to stay, we would argue the leadership we have coming up is probably the best I’ve seen in forty-two years in the Army. It’s absolutely the best. You know, these are battle-hardened leaders that have been there.
Recruiting is a challenge but, you know, the interesting part about recruiting is 83 percent of the young men and women that come into the Army come from military families. And so we are a military family business; we really need to be an American family business.
And the other interesting factoid is 44 percent of the young men and women that come into the Army come from high schools that have JROTC—not necessarily in there—even though it’s 10 percent of the high schools. So I agree with, you know, what fellow chiefs said, is we’ve got to expose more people to what the military is all about and show that, you know, someday—and I was just down in Fort Campbell, 101st Airborne Division for the eightieth anniversary, and you’ve got the band of brothers type people, and you talk about, you know, serving one, two, or three years, that was the most important thing they did in their life besides, you know, their wife and kids—or spouse and kids. And we’ve got to give everyone the opportunity to serve.
And what we’re doing—very similar to the other chiefs—is we’ve got to get outside of our gated communities, show people the value of service. And I believe in the this country there used to be a call to service—not just in the Army, not just in the military, but really across all our institutions. And we need to bring that back in and get more people asking, you know, what they can do for their country. And that would be a good thing.
BERGER: I think it’s an opportunity, as they pointed out. There were a lot of folks who thought the all-volunteer force was sort of on auto-pilot, and not something they had to worry about. So I think the discussion in the past year is actually pretty good. I’m glad that elected representatives and other people are paying attention because those of us who have been on recruiting duty know it’s not an all-volunteer force; it’s an all-recruited force, and we—(laughter)—it just is, but if you sit in a two- or a three-hour hearing, and the whole portion of the two or three hours is about the, you know, 0.5 percent of problems, and you wonder—you guys really need to see the other 99.8, you know, whatever percent of soldiers and airmen that are doing like great jobs, but they’re not—that doesn’t come up.
So this is an opportunity. But it’s—recruiting is hard work, no question about it.
HAASS: I’ve been traveling around the country talking about some of these issues, and I—one of the things I am detecting is a much greater openness to public service—military being part of the menu.
HAASS: We’re now seeing several states—California being one of them—piloting all sorts of public service programs, incentivizing young people to do it. I think there’s a role for just like employers offer things—preferences to vets. I could see public service being rewarded. I could see universities offering preferential admissions, but to break down some of these barriers and so forth, there’s a growing openness to it. So I think the times they are a changin’ there.
OK. This is on the record. If anyone here has a question, please raise your hand. We’ll do our best—I’ll probably go back—I’ll ping-pong between people in the room and people in Zoom land.
All the way in the back against the wall—
Q: I’m Kori Schake from the American Enterprise Institute.
We’re nearly forty years into the Goldwater-Nichols legislation. Are there service chief responsibilities that have been taken to other places that impede your ability to recruit, train, and equip the force? Anything you’d like to see rebalanced in the future?
HAASS: Thank you, Kori.
(Pause.) Anyone want to—Goldwater-Nichols 2.0? (Laughter.)
SALTZMAN: Well, let me start just because I may have a unique challenge in the sense that I’m the only service created after Goldwater-Nichols, and so, while a lot of the services had decades or centuries to kind of hone their craft, and get combat feedback, and figure out exactly how they wanted to fight, and how they wanted to add value to national security, you know, we had to do that with the joint structures laid on top of us to start with. That’s one aspect of it.
The second one is that U.S. Space Command was six months in front of us, and at the time of its founding, there wasn’t going to be a Space Force. And so they gave it a lot of, what I’ll say, service-like responsibilities to try to take care of what a space cadre would look like, and to focus on training and tactics. A lot of the special operations model went into the development of U.S. Space Command.
Well, and then Space Force stands up, and everything is up in the air. So I—
HAASS: So to speak.
SALTZMAN: So to speak. (Laughter.) Way up in the air. (Laughter.)
HAASS: Yeah, ba-dum-bum.
SALTZMAN: Thank you.
So it’s just a—we’ve got to sort through it, and the things that service chiefs are worried about—training, and readiness, and equipping—and when you have the demand signal from a very dangerous globe with the combatant commanders out there trying to solve real, current ops issues, there’s a tension that occurs there. And so I don’t know that I have a 2.0 version that’s any better, but we have to recognize that that tension exists, that our modernization and readiness problems don’t negate the fact that there’s problems in Europe, and there’s problems in the Western Pacific that have to be addressed. And it just comes down to wise people with experience trying to sort out the best way to balance those.
And so the biggest—the last thing I’ll say, passing on, is the seams that made sense with the combatant commands are tougher and tougher to see as we look at our future challenges. The difference between the threat that INDOPACOM faces and the fact that that also will play out in Africa, and South America, and Europe if that were to come to fruition, changes the nature of how we might see UCP lines on a map, if you will, with the combatant commands. And that’s something that we have to struggle with in terms of resourcing, in terms of how we balance requirements, and priorities, and readiness across the globe.
HAASS: Does that mean—can I ask the question—does that mean that in the future we probably need to resurrect some version of STRICOM—basically having a domestic pool of resources that could go anywhere anytime because we don’t have the luxury anymore of geographic specification?
SALTZMAN: You know, I think you’re just shifting one seam for another. I think this is the real tough part—is I’m not convinced that just because you put everything in Strike Command that that doesn’t just create a different kind of seam that has to be managed across there.
So this is about, hey, there’s no easy answers. We have to just think our way through individual problems and make good decisions along the way.
HAASS: Great. Carrie, you want to get somebody from Zoom land?
OPERATOR: We will take—
HAASS: (Inaudible.) (Laughs.)
OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Michael Poznansky.
Q: Thanks. Mike Poznansky. I’m a professor at the Naval War College in the Cyber and Innovation Policy Institute—really appreciate this discussion.
My question is about the challenge of China’s enormous productive capacity and potential. This has come up a lot when it comes to shipbuilding capacity. Obviously, numbers aren’t the only relevant factor; there’s technology, and training, and doctrine, allies, partners.
But how are you all thinking about those challenges across the joint force? Thanks very much.
HAASS: That’s kind of a question from a ringer, but we’ll let it stand. (Laughter.) Anyone want to take it?
BROWN: Well, I guess one of the—one of the areas I think about is—I mean, their capacity as a nation, but I also think about our capacity as a nation, and the capacity with our allies and partners. One of the things I’ve been thinking through recently is, you know, when we talk allies and partners, often those of us in the military think about the military capability. I also think about the capability that they have from an industrial base and, you know, what you look from a geo-economic aspect, and how we can work together to provide capabilities to one another, and how we can work closely on that capacity.
That requires, you know, a bit of dialogue. It requires how we look at our import-export, and how we share capabilities because that, in some cases, can be one of the challenges. We know we want to share, but then we have our own policies that prevent us from being able to do things. And those are the things I think we collectively have to take a look at to see if there are some barriers that are preventing us from providing capabilities to ourselves because of things we did in the past. I do believe that we have to review periodically to say is that—is that still the right answer based on the world we’re in today, and how we would adjust to ensure that we, you know, increase our overall industrial capacity.
HAASS: General Brown, when I listen to you and some of your colleagues here, I hear a slightly different message than I remember from when I worked in the Pentagon about allies. I remember when we did a lot of the force planning back when—I see Dov Zakheim here—there was always real debates about how much you could really count on allies, and how much we had to have, if you will, a unilateral capability because we couldn’t assume they’d be there.
And what I hear you all suggesting maybe is that our reliance on allies is either—we’re more confident with it, or it’s more unavoidable, or it’s somehow more integrated into our force planning. Am I hearing you right?
BROWN: Well, I mean, you can’t guarantee that they’re going to be there one way or another, but you can guarantee they’re not going to be there if you don’t work with them, OK? (Laughter.) So, I mean, at least you have options, and they can—you know, the answer is going to be no if you never ask, if you never give them the opportunity to be part of, you know, part of the conversation.
You know, that’s why, you know—it was about—almost a year ago when I was in U.K., I talk about integrated by design. Start at the beginning with the end in mind. If you want allies and partners to be part of it, then you need to start at the very beginning. Don’t do U.S. only first or do secret NOFORN first, and then try to figure out how to bring in allies and partners. How about we start at the very beginning and go: We have an opportunity to work together. We have a common vision. We may not—depending on the situation, we may not commit to each other completely, but at least we know it’s way to actually help lay out options and, in some cases, deterrence, because our adversaries have to think about the aspect that we do have a relationship, we do things together. And that can provide some uncertainty for them as well, just like you kind of highlight for us, potentially.
GILDAY: I would just say, for some of our allies and partners, for a group of them, that they aspire not to just be interoperable, but interchangeable. And it’s an important distinction. There are examples where in the Middle East where now that is—those high priorities that used to be in the defense strategy, our posture is not as great as it once was. And so the French, as an example, have a carrier strike group that they place under the tactical control of a U.S. commander. And that’s not rare for them to do that these days. And it’s important that we do that. And so I think to CQ’s point, it provides us with more options. And they’re hungry for that kind of interaction.
Yes, ma’am. Next to last.
Q: Good evening. Thank you so much for sharing your time and insights with us.
HAASS: Don’t forget to introduce yourself.
Q: My name is Jenny Mallamo. I am a term member at the Council. I am also the proud wife of a U.S. Marine.
This evening we’ve heard a little bit about recruitment. My question is about retention, specifically your thoughts on the retention of diverse talent and of service members who want to devote time to family as well as to family. Thank you so much.
SALTZMAN: And you mind if I hit that real quick? Because we’re looking at retention is one of our biggest challenges. As we bring people in, they’re really excited to be part of the Space Force, we give them a lot of lucrative skills, and then they want to go cash in on some of those. We’re not seeing it in large numbers, but it’s something I’m thinking about. And one of the ways that we’re trying to appeal to this next, younger generation is to provide more flexibility in career paths, so that as life unfolds to a young person, they have options that aren’t binary. Meaning, I’m either in active duty in the Space Force or I’m out.
And so we have a current legislative proposal to establish part-time billets inside the Space Force. It kind of sounds like Reserves, but it’s really different. It’s managed inside the Space Force. You have full-time and part-time billets, so that at some point in your life you say, hey, I need a couple of years for whatever reason—take
care of sick parents or I’ve got something else I need to do, I still want to be connected to the force. Maybe we can put you in a part-time billet and then return you seamlessly a couple of years later. So what we’re trying to focus on is recognizing that the diverse talent has diverse requirements, and try to provide them as flexible an opportunity as possible in their career paths.
HAASS: Interesting. Dov, you had a question?
Q: Yes. Dov Zakheim—
HAASS: Wait for a microphone, Dov.
Q: Dov Zakheim, CSIS. Already mentioned in dispatches by the president here.
I want to ask you, gentlemen and lady, about acquisition. Language just went up to the Hill that actually spoke of the valley of death. The last time I saw that was in Psalms. (Laughter.) And so I would like to know from each of you, or any of you who want to answer, if you had one thing that you wanted to change to get past the valley of death, what would that be?
BROWN: Well, I would start with an on-time budget. That’s one. (Laughter.)
I think the other part is: How do we get to new starts a bit sooner, particularly if you have a small company that is—has an innovative product, and then we got to figure out how to keep them alive for two years until we get them into the budget? And so we have to look at some options. And you know, I’ve talked to members of Congress that they want to go faster, but then in actuality we do what we do. I think that’s an area that we’ve got to look at. How do you get a new start without having gone through, you know, a laborious process and waiting two years?
And that’s—we actually—the Department of the Air Force has a legislative proposal on to be able—to try to be able to do that, which will help us. It won’t solve the problem, but I think, you know, what I believe, success breeds success. We saw some success here. We can maybe broaden that. And you’re not going to be able to do it for everything, but I think there’s some opportunities with certain technologies, certain companies to, you know, quit leaving so many people in the valley and bring them across.
GILDAY: If I could add real quick—
GILDAY: —to your point, I don’t think you’re using the same path that you use for aircraft, for ships, for tanks. You need to—you need to use a parallel path. And the way that path, I think, is optimized, is if the technology that you want to get to the field quickly. Think about MRAPs back in 2007 as the exemplar, where you’ve proven it, you’ve driven down risk, it’s dual-use technology in many cases that’s already being used in a commercial application. We pivot. We put it towards the military problem set. We’ve proved that it works. Then the risk that you’re assuming for something that the technical risk has burned down is low. And so you can go to production quickly. But it’s a parallel path, and not necessarily using the same path that exists right now for the big stuff.
MCCONVILLE: Yeah, one of the things that, you know, we’re trying to do is rather than telling, you know, the way it historically does—huge requirements, spend five, seven years trying to get the requirements, lay them out to industry. There’s only a few that can even compete with that. In five to seven years, you have something come out the other end. And we’re trying to get to, and we got to retrain our people, train industry, but you put out a problem. Hey, we want something that looks like this, characteristics. Come back with white papers.
You got a lot of different companies that can compete. Give them a little more money. Let them come back with initial design. You kind of figure out—you know, update the characteristics, go to a detailed design. Each way along you’re giving people money and you can bring some of the—you know, the non-traditional partners along. And then you get to a prototype, and you make them build it, or fly it, drive it. And now you start to get to requirements. And along the way, some of these smaller companies either can get—you know, get into it, or get bought up, or give them that insight.
The valley of death that I see a lot of times is people doing research development on something we really didn’t need. You know, they come up and they go: Hey, we got this great program. Well, that wasn’t what—we never really needed that. And how do you want us to get into production? So that’s where I think the challenge is.
OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Heidi Hardt.
Q: Hi. My name is Professor Heidi Hardt. I’m calling in from University of California, Irvine.
And I was hoping, given that the summer’s coming up and I imagine there’s going to be quite a hot summer, in particular, if you could talk a little bit about how the services are adapting to current climate threats. But I’m particularly thinking about these climate threats and their applications for deterrence. You know, there was a little bit of talk earlier about deterrence particularly related to, you know, risks related to Russian aggression. Thank you.
HAASS: Anybody want to talk about climate and how it’s affecting what it is you do or how you do it?
FAGAN: Yeah, I’ll touch on the climate aspect of this. We’ve published a climate framework. You know, as a maritime organization, right, every Coast Guard operation starts and ends at a piece of infrastructure. And by its very nature, that infrastructure sits right in the coastal zone, in areas where we’ve got risk associated with operations as climate change continues to accelerate. So, you know, the framework is designed to keep us focused organizationally on the kinds of changing thinking and investments we need to make as we continue to, particularly, invest in infrastructure.
For example, you know, we’ve got small boat stations throughout the Gulf Coast. You know, pick a year, a hurricane goes through and significantly damages stations. We’ve rebuilt stations with considerable resiliency and we’ve also changed operating structures where the families are inland a bit, we just send the operating folks forward. But, you know, the pace of that change continues to accelerate.
I think where I look then in the future is around some of the net carbon—you know, zero net carbon alternate fuels. Those conversations are here with us now and will challenge us as we move forward, you know, as we’re fielding the largest acquisition we have since World War II, those ships that are coming online now will not see the end of their service life likely in their current configuration and working through some of that.
HAASS: But I assume for you and the CNO, climate change also has opened up the Arctic in significant ways.
FAGAN: It has absolutely opened up the Arctic. The level—pre-COVID, the number of cruise ships that were set to operate in the high latitudes, Arctic—you know, in the United States, we are an Arctic nation. It’s important to remember that. It was, like, three to four times the pace of previous years. COVID dampened that for a bit, but on pace again to see just significant increases in human activity around the Arctic. And so whether it’s energy exploration, or cruise ship activity, or just the conversations around, you know, an ice-free Northwest Passage where you could potentially bring large commercial vessels. All that will be a changed pattern of behavior in the context of climate change. And, oh by the way, the fish don’t care. They just follow the water temperature. And so they too have migrated into different patterns that will challenge us.
HAASS: I like that, the fish don’t care. We got a headline. (Laughter.) Yes, sir.
Q: Thank you. Steve Flanagan from RAND and Georgetown University.
Integrated deterrence was a major focus of the defense strategy, and a number of you have alluded to it this evening. And I wondered if you could give us some perspectives on where you see we are in achieving that goal of a better and more integrated deterrent posture in the United States, working across services and across domains.
HAASS: Who wants to take a stab at that?
BROWN: I’ll start, I guess. I do, in the aspect of integrated deterrence, because it’s not—it’s across all domains, across all services, greater engagement interagency, greater engagement with our allies and partners. And I do sense or feel that we are making progress in that regard. Because I do believe we have to deepen our understanding about the—because the world is much more complex today and much more intertwined, in order to be able to deter, we got to understand not just from a military perspective but we also have to have a better understanding from our allies and partners, from the interagency here within the—but also across the services, so we operate much more jointly. So I think it’s highlighted our capabilities. Because we have the capabilities, it’s how do we make sure we stitch them together much better than we have in the past.
SALTZMAN: And I’ll just amplify that by saying, remember that deterrence is in the mind of any adversary that is contemplating an action that you don’t want them to take. And so having an understanding of exactly what the conditions are that affect that adversary, both in terms of the benefits and the costs associated with pursuing those benefits. And if we don’t have a comprehensive understanding of that context and the adversary themselves, then it’s almost impossible to apply deterrence from any of the aspects that CQ’s talking about.
MCCONVILLE: Yeah, I think—I just want to add, I think, you know, on the cost side of the house, you know, a lot of times in the military it’s a military solution or we need to use a hammer, and that’s the military. I think as we take a look at what’s happened around the world, there’s some other, you know, capabilities or factors, like economic, that are going to play much more strongly. And when you bring together what I see, a lot of these allies and partners, it’s not just the military side of the house where the strength comes from.
The strength comes from the economic, the strength comes from the diplomatic, the information operations. We saw in, you know, Ukraine how that played out as far as the opening. You know, I would argue they won the initial information battle, and that’s why they got the rest of the world around them. So I think all those factors, not just from us but from a global community, are going to get to the type of deterrence we need in the world.
BERGER: There’s pretty strong evidence, I think, over the past year that it works. If you think about the enhanced defense cooperation sites in Philippines, the decisions that Japan’s made in the past six months, AUKUS, these are all things that required all of our government to get our gears together and work with other governments. I’m not sure we would have pulled any of those three off independently. They took a lot of coordinated action. The action that’s going on in Papua New Guinea right now. These are, to me, integrated deterrence. That’s our government getting the gears meshed together. It’s not all military, at all. And allies and partners in different domains, like Jim said. Pretty good evidence that it’s working.
GILDAY: I think an important distinction from the past is that we are dealing with—the PRC is a global problem set. And so, back to the question about Goldwater-Nichols and the unified command plan, we are not necessarily—the framework that we operate within is not necessarily designed against a global problem set, but more of a regional problem set. And so it’s adapting to that. That does force you to become more integrated, particularly with allies, partners, and across the instruments of national power.
HAASS: So what I think you’ve seen here tonight is a demonstration of why we’re so fortunate in this country with this extraordinary set of organizations and institutions known as the U.S. military. It is stunningly well-led, and we are safer and better for it. So I want to thank these six individuals for sharing their time with us tonight. I want to thank you, again, for supporting the training and education of some of your best younger people. And, again, I want to thank you for what, on average, I would guess, the four decades, might be some more now, of service to our country. We are much better off for it. So thank you very much. (Applause.)
BERGER: Just one other thought from us, because he mentioned to us before we walked in here, this is his last session after twenty years. So thank you, sir. (Applause.)