Even in an age of terror groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and al-Qaida, deterrence remains at the heart of America’s security strategy, said Navy Adm. Cecil D. Haney, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command.
The key to deterrence is any adversary has to understand “that they cannot escalate their way out of a failed conflict,” he said during an interview at the Washington Navy Yard Aug. 4.
The admiral spoke following a stakeholders meeting at the Navy’s Strategic Systems Program — the folks who maintain the Navy’s submarine-launched ballistic missile program.
Any attack directed at the United States “would be very costly for them and they will not get the benefits they are trying to achieve,” he said.
Successful deterrence, he said, compels an adversary to acknowledge that “restraint is a much better option.”
Nuclear deterrence is the one aspect that most people are familiar with and that is a main concern for Haney.
“We have to be aware of the fact as long as we have countries like Russia and China that have developed this kind of nuclear capability and are deploying this kind of capability,” the admiral said.
Haney emphasized that deterrence is more than nuclear weapons or even the military. “We are not locked into one domain thinking,” he said. “If you take on the United States of America, we will use the appropriate tools out of our kit to associate with that particular business.”
Sometimes a response will be diplomatic, the admiral said. Other times it will be economic or informational. All “are backed by sufficient military capability,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it is my job to deter a strategic attack against the United States of America and its allies,” Haney said, “and to provide the president the decision space and options if deterrence fails.”
Improvements for Nuclear Enterprise
Some past issues involving the nuclear enterprise have been reviewed and improvements are being implemented, Haney said.
“We were able to identify specifically each area we needed to improve in,” the admiral said. Stratcom has been working with the Air Force and Navy in all areas, he said, to institutionalize the improvements suggested by the reviews. These run from changes in training, manning and equipping the associated forces and how the services employ them.
There is no end point to these improvements, the admiral said.
“You have to continue to assess where you are and to work on improving things, either because your adversaries are improving or because you want to do it in a more efficient and effective way,” he said.
All components and members of the nuclear enterprise will build this continuous improvement into their battle cycle, the admiral said. Since the reviews, the command has done another review of the nuclear command and control capability. That review pointed to areas that needed attention, and the command and the services are addressing them, he said.
The nuclear triad of ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and manned bombers needs attention, the admiral said. These systems need to have the right attributes and performance factors to work today and in the future, Haney said.
Looking ahead, the peak funding for the nuclear triad will be in the mid-2020s and should constitute about six to seven percent of defense total obligation authority, Haney said.
There really isn’t a choice, he said. Haney used the ballistic missile submarines as an example.
“When we decommission it, [the Ohio-class submarine] will have 42 years of service life — well beyond the 30 years it was designed for,” Haney said. “The good news is we’ve been able to extend that platform, but we can’t do it any further so it has to be replaced.”
There’s a program for the bomber and for the ICBM force, he said.
“As we work these, we still have to be thoughtful and look at our requirements to ensure we can save where we can,” he said. “One area is the commonality that we can have, and generate a synergistic effect … in looking at what things we can have that are common between the intercontinental ballistic missile and the submarine-launched ballistic missile program.”
Haney said a letter signed by himself, Navy Assistant Secretary for Research, Development and Acquisition Sean J. Stackley and Air Force Assistant Secretary for Acquisition William A. LaPlante, highlights this move to commonality and savings.
Warhead fusing components are a collaborative effort between the Air Force, Navy and Department of Energy labs, he said.
“It doesn’t mean they all look the same, but there are common parts and pieces and common methodologies so we can avoid paying bills twice,” Haney said. “Where we can have common designs that makes sense given the technological and advantages we have today.”
Visiting ‘Strategic Warriors’
Haney spends a lot of time visiting what he calls “the strategic warriors” in their foxholes — the silos, subs and planes.
“These folks are passionate about getting the mission right for the United States of America and I’m proud of each and every one of them,” he said. “I find in my frank discussions with them … that they are in there to serve our country, do the mission right and I do sense an improvement in morale.”
Haney addressed deterrence in the cyber world, saying it is much like any other realm of combat.
“Any adversary that wants to take us on in [cyber or space] domains must understand that we not only work on the defensive aspect, but our national leaders can pick what methodology they want to use, not restricted to a particular domain,” he said.
They need to understand, they won’t get the benefits they hope to achieve with a cyber or space attack, the admiral said.
“We have to be able to differentiate between working against a cybercrime that occurs rather than a strategic attack using the cyberspace domain,” he said.
The United States will not spell out what will happen to those who launch cyberattacks, the admiral said, and that is fine because some ambiguity is necessary. “The whole of government approach that our country uses has to be thoughtful and tailored to the right answer,” he said.