WASHINGTON, March 30, 2011 — U.S. Strategic Command’s priority is to deter nuclear attack on the United States and its allies, but broader responsibilities in the 21st century include cybersecurity and missile defense, the organization’s top officer said here yesterday.
Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee for the first time since he assumed command of Stratcom in January.
“Of the threats we face, weapons of mass destruction clearly represent the greatest threat to the American people, particularly when they are pursued or possessed by violent extremists or state proliferators,” Kehler said.
While nuclear deterrence is Stratcom’s No. 1 priority, the general added, the command also has broader responsibilities in the 21st century, such as supporting U.S. Africa Command, he said.
“We provided B‑2s early in [Operation Odyssey Dawn] for Africom’s use,” Kehler said. “We are also taking steps … to make sure they have the space capabilities they need, to make sure the networks there are operational and have sufficient capacity and are secured.”
Stratcom also has long-term engagement in other regions of the world in support of other combatant commanders, the general added. Such activities, he said, “are primarily synchronizing — synchronizing planning and capabilities for things like missile defense; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; electronic warfare; and combating weapons of mass destruction.”
Another priority is to improve capabilities and operating concepts in the civil and national security areas of space and cyberspace, he added.
“Space is increasingly contested, congested and competitive,” Kehler said, “and its importance to the United States goes far beyond national security.”
Essential objectives include ensuring uninterrupted access to space and space-based capabilities, improving awareness of objects and activities in space, and enhancing the protection and resilience of critical systems, the general said. Achieving those objectives, he said, demands continued investments to improve space situational awareness and to sustain critical space capabilities while pursuing increased opportunities with allies and commercial partners.
Stratcom and its subunified command U.S. Cyber Command, he said, “are working hard to improve our organizations and relationships, enhance our network situational awareness and protection, increase our technical capacity, and develop the human capital we need as we look to the future.”
Cyber threats include a range of sources, he said, from nuisance hackers and cybercrime to denial of services and potentially destructive activities. “Our greatest challenge in cyberspace is to improve our ability to operate and defend the DOD network at network speed,” Kehler said, “and to make sure our critical activities can continue, even in the face of adversary attempts to deny or disrupt them.”
In every one of those cases as the roles of government, Defense Department and industry are defined, the top issue is “making sure we’ve put in place the right relationships, the right roles and responsibilities and in some cases making sure we have the right authorities in place so that we can act at what our cyber experts would call network speed, which is a very tough challenge for us,” Kehler said.
The memorandum of agreement on cyberspace signed in October between the Defense and Homeland Security departments, the general added, is “a very, very good start.” The next steps include improving situational cyber awareness among the combatant commands and into the public domain, he added.
Stratcom also must recruit and retain the best cyber experts and resolve the question of authorities, Kehler said, “so we have properly sorted out this balance between our constitutional protections and our need to act on behalf of the nation, with the appropriate civil authorities in the lead.”
Kehler said the services are helping to bolster cyber recruitment, and he noted that at least one service has put cyber awareness training into place from basic training on up. “Almost like every Marine is a rifleman [and] every sailor is a firefighter, every service member, certainly every airman, … is going to be a cyber defender,” he said.
Another front for Stratcom, Kehler said, is the phased, adaptive approach for missile defense in Europe. Missile defense for the United States has been based on two major objectives, he said.
“Objective No. 1 has been to make sure that our homeland is protected against a limited ballistic-missile attack from North Korea and to extend that if events warrant and Iran develops similar capacity,” he said.
The second objective that has emerged, Kehler said, has been to ensure Stratcom is responding to rapidly growing regional threats. The phased, adaptive approach is intended to put resources into the combatant command theaters to bolster the defenses of U.S. troops and allies in such a way that is adaptable to the threat, he said.
“I support that,” he added. “I think that’s the right way to go forward.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)