WASHINGTON, July 21, 2011 — The U.S. military must be ready to address a broad range of potential future conflicts, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.
Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., who now commands U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee during a confirmation hearing for his nomination to succeed Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, who is retiring.
“As we look out ahead in the strategic environment, we’re going to have to be ready for a very broad spectrum of potential conflicts,” the admiral said.
“If you look at what a conflict might be like in a place like [the Korean peninsula], as opposed to other places,” he added, “we’re going to need to be prepared for that full spectrum of operations.”
Reorganizing troops and equipment for such an effort will be a big challenge, he said, as will “making sure that we don’t myopically focus on one type of conflict over another, but that we’re prepared as well as we can be for whatever comes across the plate.”
In his current position, Winnefeld is responsible for defense of the homeland, military support to civil authorities for domestic emergencies and aerospace warning and control for North America.
As Northcom commander, he is responsible for the ground-based midcourse missile defense system, an element of the ballistic missile defense system that allows combatant commanders to engage and destroy limited intermediate- and long-range ballistic missiles.
If confirmed, Winnefeld will act as chairman of the Joint Chiefs in the chairman’s absence, and also will have key responsibilities related to requirements for future acquisition programs and efforts related to cybersecurity, the next-generation nuclear deterrent and more.
Winnefeld said the services must continue to address and prepare for future challenges, “even as we resolve the conflicts we have going on today.”
“This is a big ship in terms of the acquisition programs and processes and the embedded requirements process that we need to turn into a much more favorable direction for the taxpayers,” the admiral said.
A confluence of tools will work for the department, he added.
One is the Weapons System Acquisition Reform Act, signed into law in May 2009 to reform the way the Pentagon contracts for and buys major weapons systems.
The legislation is good, Winnefeld said, but will take time to have its effect.
The admiral attributed another tool to Ashton B. Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.
“Undersecretary Carter has a very good approach in better buying power,” he said, “that he’s imposing on the department to get more cost efficiencies, to provide incentives for industry, to provide more for competition and the like.”
If he is confirmed, Winnefeld said, Cartwright has set him up for success to further improve the requirements process. The current vice chairman has been an active proponent of Pentagon efficiency efforts initiated last year by then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
Those three things working together, the admiral said, “are going to get this ship turned in the right direction,” even in a challenging budget environment.
Winnefeld said upcoming cuts in the defense budget should be applied “in a strategy-based manner.”
As proposed defense cuts increase, he said, “the strategies we currently have are going to reach inflection points where we’re just going to have to stop doing some of the things we are currently able to do.” The nation, he added, can’t afford to have defense cuts result in a hollow military force or irreversible damage to the industrial base.
“We’ve got to make sure that the all-volunteer force remains viable and that we take care of these young men and women,” the admiral said.
In response to a question about whether the United States still is engaged in a “war on terror,” Winnefeld said the term may be out of fashion, but the reality hasn’t changed.
“We are still so much in a fight with al-Qaida and … related extremist groups that it sure feels like a war,” he said.
Describing the status of that war, Winnefeld echoed Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s recent statement that the United States is close to being able to strategically defeat al-Qaida.
The group’s lack of financial support and leadership crisis will “ultimately [cause] them to unravel from their internal contradictions, much the same way the Soviet Union did,” the admiral said.
Still, he added, al-Qaida is morphing from a centrally controlled organization to a collection of homegrown terrorists.
“So this is not yet over,” the admiral said. “It’s not even close.”
Addressing the Pentagon’s role in cyberdefense, Winnefeld said one component involves defense of its own networks within the “dot-mil” domain.
“We also have a role in supporting the Department of Homeland Security in their role of helping defend the rest of government and the rest of the country,” he added.
That’s a complex relationship, he said, noting that Gates and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano struck a good agreement in October to work together to better protect against threats to military and civilian computer networks and systems.
Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander, commander of U.S. Cyber Command, is doing a good job of working with Homeland Security to construct how that support would work, Winnefeld said.
One of several elements of cyber deterrence, he said, is the ability to respond to an attack and to make that attack so costly for an attacker that they’re unwilling to conduct it. The United States must consider the full range of potential responses to an attack, including military and diplomatic responses, the admiral added.
“But I would never want to rule anything out in responding to a serious cyber attack on this country offensively,” he said, “and it could be a cyber response or a kinetic response, depending on the nature of the attack and the circumstances that surround it.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)