WASHINGTON — The head of U.S. Strategic Command made the case this morning that STRATCOM cannot be viewed simply as the nuclear arm of the Pentagon.
“This is not your father’s STRATCOM,” Gen. Robert Kehler said at a speech hosted at the Capitol Hill Club here. “Those who continue to view Strategic Command as ‘the nuclear command’ are only getting it partially right.”
Instead, Kehler laid out his view of STRATCOM and its modern role as a multifunctional command that is largely a support team to the other commands. As part of its portfolio, Kehler highlighted cyber, space, missile defense and coordination of ISR assets.
Rather than regular vs irregular warfare, the U.S. now faces “hybrid” threats, requiring an overall strategic view of enemies regardless of if they are extremist groups like al-Qaida or nations like North Korea. STRATCOM should be the place where that information is collected to form a strategic plan for handling these threats, Kehler argued.
“[STRATCOM] attributes are unique among the combatant commands,” Kehler said. “Our nuclear and conventional strike, space, cyber and other capabilities remain foundational to confronting the challenges of the future. The United States can neither deter adversaries nor assure allies, nor prevail in a conflict, without them.”
It was hard to miss the subtext to the general’s comments — STRATCOM’s wide portfolio, which supports DoD operations around the globe, are all vital and need funding. The general’s comments were made across the street from the House office buildings, where members of Congress are debating the Pentagon’s funding.
“I’m very concerned about the impact on readiness from sequestration,” Kehler said. “Today, STRATCOM can perform all of its assigned missions. I’m worried about six months from now, a year from now, 18 months from now if the harm to the readiness accounts continue.”
Kehler also pointed out that 60 percent of STRATCOMs force are civilian workers, who now face furloughs due to sequestration. “They are us, we are them, and I am very worried about the long-term effect on our people, their morale and their families.”
While emphasizing STRATCOM’s non-nuclear areas, Kehler made it clear that managing the U.S. nuclear arsenal is still a major responsibility.
“The weapons still exist around the world, and as long as they do, that will remain my No. 1 job: to make sure to deter their use against the US or its allies and partners,” Kehler said.
Responding to a question from the audience, Kehler said he was “very concerned” about the future of the domestic industrial base for nuclear weapons as the US looks to draw down its arsenal. While praising the reduction in nuclear weapons, Kehler called it a good news/bad news situation.
“The good news is [the arsenal] shrunk. The bad news is, it shrunk” — leaving a drain of talent across the nuclear industry, including strategists and planners.
To help counter that brain drain, the Pentagon and industry need to work together to train the next generation of nuclear experts, Kehler said. In recent years, STRATCOM has held an annual symposium on nuclear matters with about 500 people to discuss these issues. But due to sequestration, the event will be held as a webinar.