Dempsey: Joint Force Must Be Versatile, Affordable

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2011 — Work ahead for the U.S. mil­i­tary includes com­plet­ing cur­rent con­flicts and prepar­ing for an uncer­tain future, Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey told mem­bers of the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee today.

Dempsey, Army chief of staff, answered ques­tions dur­ing a con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing as Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s choice to serve as chair­man of the Joints Chiefs of Staff when Navy Adm. Mike Mullen retires at the end of September. 

If con­firmed, I will work with the Joint Chiefs to ensure that this nation has the mil­i­tary it needs,” Dempsey said. “Our work must result in a joint force that is respon­sive, deci­sive, ver­sa­tile, inter­de­pen­dent and afford­able, and we must keep faith with [ser­vice mem­bers], their fam­i­lies and our veterans.” 

The sen­a­tors sought Dempsey’s views on a range of issues, includ­ing U.S. mil­i­tary rela­tions with Pak­istan, cyber­se­cu­ri­ty, acqui­si­tion reform, and espe­cial­ly defense bud­get cuts and how they will affect the nation’s mil­i­tary strength. 

Reflect­ing on his ser­vice as act­ing com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand after Army Gen. David H. Petraeus was tapped to com­mand NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Dempsey char­ac­ter­ized the “intel­lec­tu­al dis­agree­ment” between the U.S. and Pak­istani militaries. 

It’s always been a mat­ter of dis­cus­sion between us and our Pak­istan coun­ter­parts about what threats are most seri­ous to them and to us,” he said. “The Pak­ista­nis per­sist in the idea that India pos­es an exis­ten­tial threat to their exis­tence, while the ter­ror­ists that oper­ate with some impuni­ty in the North­west Fron­tier province and in the [fed­er­al­ly admin­is­tered trib­al areas] are less of a threat.” 

The Unit­ed States has been work­ing to con­vince Pak­istani mil­i­tary lead­ers that the extrem­ist threat to their west is prob­a­bly greater than any threat India might pose, the gen­er­al said. 

It’s just one of those things we have to con­tin­ue to work through,” he added. 

If dete­ri­o­rat­ing U.S‑Pakistani rela­tions prompt the Pak­ista­nis to cut off sup­ply routes across their coun­try to troops in Afghanistan, Dempsey said, “we would have to rely more on what we describe as the north­ern sup­ply route, … and that would be more expensive.” 

In response to a ques­tion about news reports of mas­sive spend­ing loss­es since 1996 on can­celled Army pro­grams, Dempsey said it would be impos­si­ble to jus­ti­fy the cur­rent process, “giv­en that it has not deliv­ered the capa­bil­i­ties we’ve required with­in the resources avail­able to do so.” 

The Defense Depart­ment is at a point, he added, “where we absolute­ly have to seek acqui­si­tion reform.” 

Dempsey not­ed that Ash­ton B. Carter, under­sec­re­tary of defense for acqui­si­tion, tech­nol­o­gy and logis­tics, is under­tak­ing such efforts, and the 2009 Weapon Sys­tems Acqui­si­tion Reform Act is improv­ing acqui­si­tion processes. 

There’s prob­a­bly a rea­son to con­sid­er a dif­fer­ent role for the ser­vice chiefs in acqui­si­tion,” the gen­er­al said. “Right now, it’s kind of bifur­cat­ed: ser­vice chiefs do require­ments, [and] acqui­si­tion does the materiel solu­tion. That has­n’t worked, and I think it has to be revisited. 

Nev­er­the­less,” he added, “we need capabilities.” 

Dempsey said his role as chair­man, if con­firmed, “will be to argue for that fifth-gen­er­a­tion [jet] fight­er, but a fifth-gen­er­a­tion fight­er that the nation can afford. And … the way to that is through acqui­si­tion reform.” 

Acknowl­edg­ing the many and grow­ing threats to cyber­se­cu­ri­ty for the nation and its allies, the gen­er­al said he is edu­cat­ing him­self about the Pentagon’s first uni­fied strat­e­gy for cyber­space, launched July 14. 

Asked about how the Unit­ed States should respond to a major cyber attack, Dempsey said the deter­mi­na­tion that an attack is an act of war is a polit­i­cal decision. 

It’s the role of the depart­ment and, if con­firmed, with my advice as chair­man, on how to respond to it,” he told the Sen­ate pan­el. “At this point, my greater inter­est is in deter­min­ing what capa­bil­i­ties we must pro­vide the nation to be pre­pared to respond should we be attacked and should the deter­mi­na­tion be made that it was a hos­tile act or an act of war.” 

Dempsey added that he is study­ing the ques­tion and has a series of meet­ings sched­uled, if con­firmed as chair­man, “with those who are deliv­er­ing that capa­bil­i­ty today, to bet­ter under­stand it.” 

In response to many ques­tions about the ongo­ing reduc­tion in defense spend­ing, Dempsey said the Defense Depart­ment is respond­ing to a pro­posed reduc­tion of $400 bil­lion over 12 years. At the same time, he said, the Pen­ta­gon is work­ing to com­plete a com­pre­hen­sive pro­gram review by late Sep­tem­ber or ear­ly Octo­ber that will deter­mine the impact on the Defense Depart­ment of meet­ing the $400 bil­lion target. 

If the pro­posed cut were to increase to $800 bil­lion, as one sen­a­tor sug­gest­ed, Dempsey not­ed that find­ing $400 bil­lion to cut while main­tain­ing ade­quate capa­bil­i­ty has been a seri­ous chal­lenge. “Based on the dif­fi­cul­ty of achiev­ing the $400 bil­lion cut,” he said, “I believe [$800 bil­lion] would be extra­or­di­nar­i­ly dif­fi­cult and very high-risk.” 

Dempsey said an impor­tant point in the need to absorb cuts in the defense bud­get reduc­tions is that such cuts must touch all areas — force struc­ture, equip­ment pro­cure­ment and oper­a­tions and training. 

That includes pay, com­pen­sa­tion, retire­ment and health care,” the gen­er­al added, “because it’s impor­tant that we place every­thing on the table, assess the impact, and then request the time to do it in a delib­er­ate fash­ion so that we can main­tain bal­ance” wher­ev­er the bud­get ends up. 

It’s impor­tant to main­tain an open dia­logue with all parts of the total force — active, Guard, Reserve, fam­i­lies, retirees — to help them under­stand the chal­lenge, Dempsey said. 

Speak­ing just for the Army, he said, “right now our man­pow­er costs con­sume approx­i­mate­ly 42 per­cent of our bud­get. Left unad­dressed, … that will rise to approx­i­mate­ly 47 or 48 per­cent by 2017. That is not sustainable.” 

When ques­tioned about bud­get details, Dempsey told the sen­a­tors that he’s “not a man of num­bers, nec­es­sar­i­ly, or charts and wiring diagrams.” 

Instead, the gen­er­al passed around an image show­ing a sol­dier in com­bat on a radio, call­ing in for some­thing he needs, with a fel­low sol­dier pro­tect­ing his flank. 

What makes us unique is that that non­com­mis­sioned offi­cer believes he’s going to get what he asks for,” Dempsey said. “We are the only army on the face of the Earth that believes that when you ask for some­thing because you need it to pre­vail in the envi­ron­ment we place you, you’re actu­al­ly going to get it.” 

As the Defense Depart­ment does what­ev­er is nec­es­sary with today’s fight­ing force based on avail­able resources, he said, the rela­tion­ship of trust is one thing it can­not lose. “That’s what car­ries us through,” he said. 

In answer to the ques­tion about bud­get num­bers, the gen­er­al said, “I don’t know. But what I do know is that I will not allow that rela­tion­ship of trust to be violated.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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