Stratcom Chief: Fiscal Uncertainty Threatens Readiness
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 12, 2013 – Declaring U.S. Strategic Command mission-ready for its global missions, its commander warned Congress today that given the specter of fiscal uncertainty and declining resources, he’s concerned he “may not be able to say the same in six months or a year.”
Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler painted a picture of an uncertain, complex national security landscape during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, even as the United States transitions from more than a decade of conflict.
These factors make the transition “unlike any we have experienced in the past,” he said, with increasing volatility in many of the world’s regions and the global interconnections that can quickly cause regional issues to go global.
Kehler cited examples over the past year alone: actions by violent extremists, increasing cyber activity, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, North Korea’s nuclear activities, the civil war in Syria and the rise in Russian and Chinese strategic capabilities among them.
Fiscal uncertainty adds to these challenges, he said, threatening already-overdue modernization efforts and, ultimately, readiness.
Kehler emphasized that this point is not lost on those intent on doing harm to the United States and its interests. “Our enemies and potential enemies are watching,” he told the Senate panel.
Meanwhile, Stratcom remains focused on the missions critical to the nation’s core national security interests, he said.
“To do this, our men and women wield a range of complimentary capabilities to create the tailored effects the nation needs,” he said. “Our primary objective is to prevent conflict by influencing in advance the perceptions, assessments and decisions of those who would consider threatening our vital national interests.”
This, Kehler said, demands continuing credibility of the United States’ military capabilities, working in concert with other elements of U.S. national power.
The general emphasized the importance of Statcom’s historic mission -- nuclear deterrence -- and the need to ensure the readiness of the nuclear triad of strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles into the future for as long as nuclear weapons exist.
He recognized the need to modernize the command-and-control systems that ensure nuclear deterrence, and to replace the current fleet of Ohio-class submarines that is approaching the end of its service life.
Asked about the viability of the U.S. missile defense deterrent in light of North Korean activities, Kehler said he is confident the United States could defeat an attack from North Korea today. But he signaled that additional steps could be necessary in the future if North Korea continues to boost its own capabilities.
Sequestration and other budget uncertainties threaten these and other aspects of deterrence, he said, and ultimately, the command’s readiness to defend the United States and assure its allies and partners.
It also puts the brakes on growth in essential areas such as cyber defense, he said, and ultimately could degrade the nuclear deterrent, global strike, missile warning and e-defense and situational awareness in space and cyberspace capabilities.
That will have a direct impact on Stratcom’s support to warfighters around the globe, he said.
Kehler said he’s also concerned about the impact on Stratcom’s workforce, particularly civilians who are “integral to everything we do.” They serve in some of the command’s senior leadership positions and contribute specialized expertise to the mission, he said.
“There will be impacts across the board,” he said, telling the committee the true extent of that impact won’t be totally understood while the budget remains in flux.
"This will be like watching something in slow motion," Kehler said. "It will occur. It is happening now. It's just we do not see the effect yet. We will see that effect as the months progress."
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