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Gen. Selva's Remarks and Q&A at the McAleese Defense Programs Conference

By General Paul J. Selva

MODERATOR:  Throughout the day – we started this morning with the Air Force, at kind of a 40,000-foot level.  We then moved into the Army, right, both from an acquisition perspective and also from a resourcing perspective.  We’ve had a very, very substantive, rich discussion from the Navy perspective, both from Admiral Richardson and also our resourcing front Admiral Malloy.  And of course, General Walsh from the Marine Corps.  So each of those really was a military service.  And I really wanted to end the day with something really special, OK? 

I wanted to end with a rich discussion of the Third Offset, right, some of the operational challenges, some of the senior-types of thinking at his level, and also Chairman Dunford’s level, what are the types of things we might see in terms of Goldwater-Nichols changes in the 2017 NDAA, and last by not least, how to really squeeze the most out of the force in terms of the emerging threats with respect to the – China in terms of AAAD (ph), and particularly in terms of a great-power competition in terms of Russia as well, with a little taste of Korea, Iran and also ISIL, how to break the back of ISIL, and retake Mosul probably over the next six months.  And so with that, please welcome General Selva.  (Applause.)

GENERAL PAUL J. SELVA:  Sir.  Wow.  So I’m going to step off the stage for a second, because even with the bright lights in my face where I can’t see anybody, I recognize that there’s at least one of my classmates sitting back here.  So I wanted to say hello.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Actually, there is another classmate.

GEN. SELVA:  There is another one.  Doggone it.  (Laughter.)  I got them sprinkled out here.  So they’re going to help defend me.  So if I get it – yeah, it’s a little trade school in the foothills of the Rockies.  So if I get in over my head, I’m calling on you guys. 

Let me open with just a really brief view from my perspective of what Deputy Secretary Work and I are talking about when we talk about the Third Offset.  We have been advised that that is a really cumbersome name.  We’ve been advised that it’s not flashy.  We’ve been advised that it’s hard to understand.  And we acknowledge and accept all of the above.  But it’s actually a pretty simple concept.  What we’re talking about is the great power competition between the United States of America, our allies, and today Russia and China.  And if were to catalogue the offset that we draw the Third Offset title from, they are offsets against the Soviet Army, specifically the Soviets. 

So the first offset happened in the early ’60s.  So on the heels of our first development of miniaturized nuclear weapons, we came to the conclusion that we could not outspend the Russians, then the Soviets, and build the kind of combat power in Europe that they had right across the border in the Warsaw Pact.  And so we made a choice to substitute explosive power for manpower.  They had 91 divisions, if I’ve got the numbers anywhere close.  And we were not going to deploy 91 divisions of the United States Army to the European continent.  And so our first offset in this context was the organization of our Army around the deployment of tactical battlefield nuclear weapons.  We had them as small as a football.  It as a mortar called the Davy Crockett. 

So think about who the release authority for a mortar in an Army pentomic division was going to be.  Probably Captain Sixpack.  And he was going to make the choice because he was in a nuclear fight, and if he didn’t fight at the nuclear level he was going to be overrun.  That offset held for nearly 30 years because the Russians didn’t develop nuclear parity with us at the strategic level for almost 30 years.  But at the end of the ’60s and into the early ’70s, we started thinking about what that would mean, if they got nuclear parity, and where that would leave us.  And we started thinking about conventional weapons precise enough to have near-nuclear effects on the conventional battlefield.

And that allowed us to pull most of our tactical nuclear weapons out of the battlefield.  It allowed us to change the way we operate, because we could build a defensive and offensive grid of sensors, C2 and the associated weapons that would let us do a thing we called air-land battle, and get at the follow-on echelons that made the Russian so powerful.  So once again, firepower offset manpower on the modern battlefield.  Firepower offsets manpower.  And we have lived on that legacy since the early ’90s.  We unleashed air-land battle in the mid-’80s, second offset.  We demonstrated it in the First Gulf War, offensive use of what was essentially an operational defense.  And precision, stealth, and speed, sensors, C2 and precise weapons were what made that work.

So here we are, 35 years later.  And we have a real conversation we have to have with ourselves, which is:  Given the asymmetric approaches of China and Russia, what do we change that allows us to apply technology, operational concepts, and organizational structures to defeat their advantage in offensive, long-range, precise-strike systems, which we have all come to call A2AD, anti-access and area denial.  So the third offset is about figuring out what we do differently that unhinges their advantages, with the goal of maintaining conventional deterrence. 

So in the first offset we chose nuclear weapons to strengthen conventional deterrence.  They didn’t go away, strategic deterrence still has to attach to this question, but we substituted the low end of those weapons – low end, tactical battlefield weapons – with rather elegant, conventional long-range precision strike.  Our competitors have now started to approach us in that capability.  They may have bested us in range.  They have not yet bested us in precision or in the ability to integrate effects.  But they’re not far behind us.  So what do we change next?

So what we have arrived at is a series of initiatives that experiment with the what we might do next.  And I think all of the speakers earlier today kind of gave you hints about how individual services and even the joint team might apply some of the concepts we’re looking at.  I’m happy to join in that conversation.  But I spend a substantial amount of my time working with the team that’s trying to move this issue farther along.  And it’s a pretty extensive team.  We have the intelligence community, DepSecDef and myself who chair a committee that attempts to drive all of these issues into some sense of resolution so we can move forward with experimentation and operational design. 

As we speak today, there’s a two-star wargame that’s going on that’s looking at some of the recommendations that have been thrown into that bin.  In about three weeks, we’re going to advance that wargame to the four-start level.  We’re going to pull the service chiefs and vices and some of the COCOMs into the room, and we’re going to let them argue about whether they think the concepts that the two-stars and the colonels have come up with are useful.  That is an effort to move this process to a higher level of debate, and not be discussing whether the name is cool or not.  So that’s one of part of what consumes my life. 

The other piece, which I’m happy to talk about, I alluded to already, and that’s an interest of strategic nuclear deterrence.  And I use those three words together on purpose, because it is my belief that our capacity to deter nuclear foes adds credibility to our conventional force, and that if we are ever threatened by a nuclear foe that’s our equal or our better, that our conventional force loses relevance quickly.  So we have a bill to pay to modernize our nuclear force in all three legs of the triad.  And we need to figure out how to do that and how to talk about it in a way that everybody understands why each leg of the triad is so important. 

For many of you, that’s old hat.  You could actually give the textbook answers.  But as a nation, we have to have the discussion about how much we value that capability, why it is important, why it keeps us a great power, and why each leg of the triad makes each of the other legs that much more credible.  Those are important questions that we need to be able to ask and answer, and be convincing. 

So with that I’m going to open the floor for questions and I’m going to turn myself over to the great mercies of Rob and Jim.  And I’m happy to spend the balance of the next hour with all of you.  And I know I’m the only thing between you and happy hour, so good luck.  (Laughter.)

MODERATOR:  OK.  I hate to say it, sir.  That was perfect.  I’m out of questions.

GEN. SELVA:  Good.

MODERATOR:  I didn’t think we’d get that far, sir.

GEN. SELVA:  You had a pretty big menu of stuff I’m trying to solve.

MODERATOR:  Could we just spend maybe just 30 seconds, and just a thought, I don’t want to take you into a rabbit hole, but I just wanted to touch on the ISIL issue because I thought – you know, just for 30 seconds – I’m going to come right back to the Third Offset.  I know that’s where you want to be.  But is it just my understanding, or are we literally on the verge of being at the point where we’re potentially winning?

GEN. SELVA:  That’s a great question.  So a lot of people have the last couple of weeks an inflection point.  I grew up a pessimist.  Everything’s always going to go badly.  And that way, when it goes modestly well I’m happy, but when it goes badly I’m not surprised.  I think the attributes that we have to remember about ISIL are they are an incredibly flexible opponent. They are highly decentralized and incredibly resilient.  So you lay those things across the environment they’ve chosen to exist inside of, which is one of violent extremism, and that is a difficult recipe within which to decide that you’ve reached an inflection point and you’re actually winning.

But if you look at the metrics, if you look at what has been happening in Syria and Iraq – similarly in places like Libya, where they tried to poke their head up, and when we could find them we could react – what you find is they’ve lost more territory than they ever took.  Their leadership is not on the run, but they are hiding.  We have done a terrific amount of work in breaking down their economic model, which is one of exploitation.  They will exploit natural resources.  They will exploit human populations.  They do despicable things like sell women for money, and then tax men, extortion, to run their enterprise.  And they force people to smuggle and steal to bring money into their coffers.

Without attacking the human dynamic of that model, we have been able to take apart big hunks of their economic engine, which means we have attacked banks, we have attacked money changing housing, we’ve taken out gas-oil separators, we’ve destroyed oil wells, we’ve hit rat lines where they smuggle their crude oil.  We’ve been relatively careful about signaling to the truck drivers to abandon their trucks in the parking areas, and then summarily destroy the trucks and the oil on them, all of those aimed at taking revenue away from ISIL. 

So without talking at the classified level, BBC this morning reported that we have destroyed or eliminated 30 percent of ISIL’s economic power.  The same article said that they’re having trouble buying food for their fighters.  They’re having trouble paying salaries.  They’re having trouble coercing doctors for a fee to take care of soldiers injured in the field.  So all of those accrue as a net positive.  The Iraqi Army did a fairly decent job in Ramadi.  They’re working on their next objective.  Some of our partner forces in northern Syria have made pretty good advances against ISIL, particularly in the east.  We’re seeing some progress in the west.  All of those, again, accrue to a net positive. 

But remember how I started, I few up a pessimist.  So while all those things are good, the glass is still only half-full.  So I would argue we are not quite yet at an inflection point, but there are positive signs.  All of the things I just talked about, add to those the cessation of hostilities agreement that was crafted in Geneva four weeks ago which, while being contested, is holding.  And that allows us to focus all of the fighting in Syria on ISIL, as opposed to focusing on the individual parts of the Syrian civil war.  So again, those all accrue as net positives.  But I’m not willing to say we’re at an inflection point yet.  But we have increased the pressure on ISIL.  We have concentrated the pressure on ISIL.  And the momentum is moving in a positive direction.

MODERATOR:  And most importantly, from my perspective, the concept of the – just people saying – being recruited to this belief, this ideology, it’s almost like in Iraq, where you can see from the daily casualty rates the turn, in a positive sense, for our forces.  And I can sense that ideologically that even though we’re not at a combat – an inflection point yet, I can sense ideologically we’re at the point where the favor is turning our – shifting in our favor.

GEN. SELVA:  I have yet to read an article, by the way, of an ISIL fighter that’s been interviewed and is proud of being an ISIL fighter, because when the international press get hold of them, they’re ready to leave ISIL.  Their propagandists are fantastic.  But the people that have left ISIL, or the people that have been scooped up on the battlefield, have no desire to go back.  That ought to tell us about how the organization keeps itself together.

MODERATOR:  Yes, sir. 

MODERATOR:  As you eradicate them, and I don’t know at what level we can talk about this, because I imagine it’s mostly classified, but have you see anybody merge into the vacuum?

GEN. SELVA:  That’s an interesting question.  What we see is a very decentralized and resilient organization.  And so it’s not unreasonable to expect that as you break down the leadership of the organization that for a period of time juniors will step up.  The population of juniors is getting pretty lean.  And the population of qualified battlefield commanders is getting pretty lean.  So we are not seeing the replacement in a one-for-one fashion.  But I caution everybody yin that space that what we have is this extremely decentralized organization.  So predicting accurately where the next leader – I put that in quotes – where the next leader will emerge to replace a leader that’s been removed from the battlefield is a really difficult metric to try and measure success by.

What I am more inclined to look at is how quickly in places that have been liberated, particularly in northeast Syria, how quickly the populations are willing to come back when believe that a group that will honor their humanity has taken control of the city.  And they’re very quick to come back.  So I think that’s a measure of how despicable ISIL is.  And it’s going to be the combination of loss of leadership and loss of population that they can subjugate that’s ultimately going to undo them.

MODERATOR:  Our weakness – as a follow-on to that – are we better at dealing with unintended consequences now after, I guess, 12, 13 years of being in an environment that was somewhat unfamiliar for this generation, being over there?  And what I mean by that, is while we’re now focused – or to some extend focused on Syria and Iraq, are things maybe coming up in Afghanistan and other areas while we’re focused – you know, are those enemies gaining strength?

GEN. SELVA:  I think it’s fair to say they’re willing to exploit what they view as weakness.  So what we have to be careful of, is not to show weakness in any other area while we’re dealing with ISIL in Iraq and Syria.  It’s instructive that when we first starting dealing with ISIL we saw it as an Iraq fight with a Syria adjunct.  And that meant that we were allowing ISIL essentially a sanctuary from which to operate.  So while we could put pressure on them in Iraq working with the Iraqi Army, and with the Kurds and the Peshmerga in the north, they go across the border to a relative sanctuary. 

When we redefined that fight as a fight against ISIL core against the whole of Iraq and Syria, it changed the game.  So I think we are getting better at understanding the relationship and the consequences of what we’re doing in the battlespace.  I don’t think you ever get really good at unintended consequences.  So what we have to be careful of is that we’re looking at the context of the entire battlespace, not at individual pieces of the battlespace.

MODERATOR:  Segueing for a minute to the Third Offset.  The Army touched on it briefly this morning, it was fascinating.  When you look at kind of the emerging lessons from Ukraine or even Syria, what is it – what are the – what are the specific anti-access area denial threats that we need to be tailoring our activities to, for example, with respect to the Army, going forward?

GEN. SELVA:  The actual capability of an opponent – and the case we’re talking about, we have to be really specific, are Russia and China.  As you look – I’ll do the hierarchy first, because I think it’s important.  We have four relatively large threats we have to deal with, and then something that I and Secretary Carter have chosen – he chose it, I like to use it – is this notion of a persistent condition.

So if you look at Russia, China, Iran and North Korea as the major threats, conventional and nuclear – take Iran to the side for the moment based on the joint agreement that they won’t produce nuclear weapons – but those four are still the four largest threats to the United States and to our allies, partners and friends.  We have to address those.  The Third Offset does a fairly good job at addressing those great power competitions. 

There will be a persistent requirement for us to get at ISIL and whatever the successor of ISIL is, should there be one.  And we have to honor that requirement.  And it’s just something we’re going to have to pay attention to.  And if you think about where the Third Offset might put us relative to specifically China and Russia, the experience in Ukraine, specifically Crimea and the Donbass, is instructive.  So what we saw there is a very, very capable army that brought to the tactical level rapid C2, electronic warfare, and an attempt to control the timing and pace of the battle. 

And what that ought to tell us about the future is at the very least – at the very least in a ground formation we’re going to have to have very resilient tactical electronic warfare capabilities.  We’re going to have to have very, very tight navigation and timing criteria that will allow for rapid command and control.  You can’t have one without the other.  And then the third thing we’re going to have to have is the ability counter precision fighters. 

And if you have all those three things in that formation, however you build the formation, then you have the capacity to counter the sorts of things that we saw happen, particularly in the Donbass where the Russian-sponsored separatists – I’ll pick my words carefully because that’s what we choose to call them – the Russian-influenced, Ukrainian separatists had all of those tools at their disposal and were trained on how to use them.  So it’s reasonable to suspect that we’re going to see those on a future battlespace.

If you fast-forward to what’s happening in Syria today, we see all of those components in the ground force that’s been deployed.  And we see similar components in the air forces that are being deployed to support that ground force.  So I think it’s reasonable to predict that our ground force at least has to have those three components embedded in whatever organizational structure we put in the battlespace.

MODERATOR:  And am I – hopefully – if I’m out of line, correct me, sir.  Am I – initially my thinking was that the army – conventional army would be primarily targeted at the European theater, and the initial nuclear triad recap was really designed strategically to deter the Russians.  Am I thinking about that in the right –

GEN. SELVA:  No, I – and I would never correct you, but I would argue an opposite point, which is that the strategic nuclear modernization program is aimed at Russia, China, and anyone else who aspires to threaten us in the domain of nuclear weapons.  And as long as we have a triad, as long we’re capable of deploying weapons across all three legs of the triad, it is highly unlikely that any opponent will get the edge on us in a way that they could defeat us in the nuclear game.  And a lot of that has to do with whether or not, having written out a first attack, you have the residual capacity to strike back at an opponent, theory of the case being the only thing that deters an opponent from attacking you with nuclear weapons is your ability to respond in kind.  And the triad assures that we have the capacity to do that.

Having said that, to get at what the forces look like underneath that nuclear threshold, I would submit to you that our Army has significance not only in the European theater, but equally significant in Korea against a potential Iranian threat, and also against threats by the Chinese to their neighbors who share land borders.  And I say that on purpose, because if it’s a naval battle we’re talking about is principally going to be air and naval forces, but there are large swaths of China that are not bounded by the Pacific Ocean.  And we have to address the capacity of the Chinese to subjugate their neighbors to get what they want. 

And so our Army, designed around the new capabilities that will be in it, is relevant in all of those challenges.  It has specific significance in the European theater, where the Russians enjoy significant advantages in interior lines.  So how we organize that Army around the capabilities it’s going to need to push the Russians back or restore status quo ante will probably be the big drivers in what the organization of our Army looks like over time, and what capabilities are in that Army.

MODERATOR:  And am I wrong, sir, just to close that thought – I’m very optimistic about the ERI.  I could just see General Breedlove jumping up and down – I’m sure you know him much better than I do – but I could see the aggressiveness of his demand signals publicly growing, and then all of a sudden that kind of ceased as soon as the new 3.4 billion (dollars) ERI came out.  I almost had the impression – just me speculating, sir – I almost had the impression that he was basically saying, I would rather have the stronger Army presence, particularly the heavy capability, to have the deterrent effect, to make sure that there’s never – to make sure that deterrence is never tested, as opposed to have to come back later and attempt to enter a theater that has already been shut off to us.

GEN. SELVA:  The European Reassurance Initiative does several things, as you already know.  One is that it prepositions equipment sets forward, which is a way of chipping away at the Russian advantage of interior lines.  So if you have the equipment forward, and the necessity to move all that equipment is taken off the table, then what you have is the capacity to bring the units in to fall in on the equipment the more immediately counter Russian adventurism.  If that is complemented by the capacity of our NATO allies to up their game at about the same level, to bring to the table roughly 2 percent of GDP as part of their guarantee of participation in the alliance, and to actually avoid duplication and overlap across that set of investments – those are all pretty tall asks, by the way.  But if all those things come to pass, what you get then is systematically across the Euro-Atlantic alliance, we are chipping away at Russia’s capacity to exploit interior lines.

Part of that has to be rapid access and rapid reaction.  So the European contribution is landing places to bring the soldiers that are going to man that equipment, and stepping up their game and being able to rapidly deploy their forces to wherever we have to go defend against an incursion into NATO territory.  I would argue, by the way, that reacting after the fact is the least-effective way to employ military force in this case.  So the value of indications and warning, the value of understanding the Russian strategic plans, the value of understanding how Russians build war plans, the value of understanding the old Russian dialectic, which we used to study a lot when we called them the Red Army, those things are increasing in value. 

So our ability to invest in the intelligence and indications and warning side of the equation actually pays huge dividends because we stay out of the business of reacting to the Russians and we get into the business of anticipating and countering moves they’re trying to make.  And I think ERI falls in that category.  We’ve seen them become more aggressive.  Action actually means something to them.  So by bringing the $3.1 billion investment into European infrastructure and forward-stationed equipment, and rotational forces, we being to build that anticipatory action into our day-to-day operations in Europe.  I think that’s what has value against the Russians.  And I can see Phil Breedlove doing the happy dance in his basement.

MODERATOR:  He did.  I wasn’t the only one who saw this, right?  He looked – I can assume that when General Dunford showed up for that set of meetings like a month or so, or two months, is when this deal must have occurred, because I could – there seemed to be – there were a significant number of Breedlove sightings.

GEN. SELVA:  I think, again, it would be the combination of the two things – the ERI, and commitments by our NATO partners to get at this problem from the European side of the equation as well.  Those two things come together to send a clear message that the NATO alliance is strong and still stands together.

MODERATOR:  Yes, sir.

MODERATOR:  One of the – speaking as a layman, I think one of the things over the last decade since this war started that a lot of us laymen discovered was the importance of ground forces, or the relevant importance.  And when I’m hearing you speak, and a lot of the folks who spoke earlier today, I’m hearing fighting or countering their ground forces with our more agile, better-equipped, higher technology ground force, that that’s – you know, the ISR and all of that is critical.  Where might we see it elevate beyond that?  And one thing that comes to mind is space.

GEN. SELVA:  The point I would make is entirely opposite the point you just made, which is while it’s important to have a ground Army, it is not sufficient.  The joint force is what made air-land battle work.  The joint force is what made the introduction of long-range precision munitions and the sensor networks, the C2 networks, and the strike networks that go with them successful.  So the focus just for the last few minutes on the ground force was specific to Jim’s question.

MODERATOR:  Right.  And I’m not even suggesting –

GEN. SELVA:  No, no.

MODERATOR:  But thank you for disagreeing as much with Rob as you disagreed with me, sir.

GEN. SELVA:  Because I try to be an equal opportunity disagreer.  But the point I would make is we have become a truly integrated joint force.  So the Army ground force that I just talked about depends on the capacity of the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps to bring the complementary pieces to the fight that they need to be able to maneuver freely in the battlespace, to operate freely in the battlespace, from the surface of the Earth to geosynchronous orbit.  And everybody in that space contributes. 

It’s not just the soldier on the ground.  It’s the airman or the naval aviator that supports him.  It’s the surface action group and the battle groups that are defending their flanks and making sure that their supplies get to them and they can get home.  It’s the space architecture and the cyber-architecture within which they operate, and all of us operate in that architecture.  So it’s not unique to the Army, the Air Force, the Navy or the Marine Corps.  It’s fairly ubiquitous. 

So when we say space, if every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine doesn’t go, aha, yeah, I understand why space is important, then we have missed something.  Similarly, if we say cyber, we all live in that architecture.  We all operate in that architecture.  It is the sum and substance of how we communicate, navigate, and sense the world around us.  So I think – my personal and professional opinion is that it is the integrated joint force that is more powerful than any one of its parts.  We can talk specifically about the composition of those parts, but we should never do it in absolute exclusion from the other contributors to the joint fight.

MODERATOR:  Right.  Where I’m going with this, and it is in the context – I’m thinking about it in the context of a joint force – is a non-kinetic weapon from space.

GEN. SELVA:  I will pick my words carefully. 


GEN. SELVA:  If we’re going to destroy something, it is not non-kinetic.

MODERATOR:  Fair enough, but you –

GEN. SELVA:  So I have the – I mean, I pick this fight a lot, by the way.  And I’m happy to have this argument with any one of you, that we talk about cyber weapons as if cyber weapons do no damage.  Cyber weapons do actual damage.  Cyber weapons can do unspeakable physical damage.  Yet, we chose to call them non-kinetic.  A non-kinetic strike from space that causes no damage on the planet, can cause unspeakable damage in the constellation.  So I’m very careful to call weapons, weapons.  The effects they have can be debated.

We don’t build benign things to use in the military, except to take care of the health and welfare of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.  Everything else we try to design and employ is meant to inflict pain on an adversary.  So I’m not trying to be argumentative, but cyber’s not a non-kinetic space.

MODERATOR:  No, and that’s brilliant too, because that segues into how the Chinese think –

GEN. SELVA:  Nobody’s ever called my brilliant, just for the record.

MODERATOR:  I’m sorry, sir.  (Laughter.)  I was referring to Rob’s thinking, I apologize.  (Laughter.)


MODERATOR:  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  But it segues naturally into how the Chinese seem to think, right?  And so, I mean, I hate to say it, but they seem to use cyberespionage and various types of activities against us almost as if they’re thinking that it will not eventually trigger – there were not effectively acts of war.

GEN. SELVA:  So the debate about casus belli in cyber will go on for long after this discussion is over, but it is actually quite germane to our relationship with a variety of actors in the world that believe they can operate below the waterline, below our threshold of pain in the cyber domain.  I’m fond of asking the question, was the attack on Sony an act of cyberterrorism, cybercrime or cyberwar?  And I can argue that round or flat, by the way.

MODERATOR:  What do you think, though?

GEN. SELVA:  Well, I’ll give you the example that’s my favorite, the strike on the – the exfiltration of data from OPM.  Was that a criminal act?  Was that an act of espionage?  Were they just sniffing around to figure out who people were?  Or is it a very deliberate way to get at the personally identifiable information that can make senior leaders in our department and in our government vulnerable?  I’m just going to pose the question.  If it’s that one, it’s as close to an act of war in cyber as any one I might be able to define.  Again, I can argue Sony flat or round.  When you start talking about intrusion into the federal government for the purpose of stealing specific information which can then be used to target members of our government, that’s an entirely different kettle of fish.

So again, defining what is an act of war in cyber is one lawyers will debate for a very, very long time.  And I neither am one nor aspire to be one.  That’s not meant as an insult.  It’s just reality.  That is – it’s just a tough legal problem.  But we have to accept those activities for what they are.  They’re deliberate intrusions into our data systems for the purposes of either stealing or changing the data, neither of which are benign acts.

MODERATOR:  I could not agree more.

MODERATOR:  You know, this conference is always about acquisition, in general.  You know, we’ve done this for a few years.  And there’s a constant tension between resources and means.  And we see that all the time.  Is there – when you think about this at a very high level, do you think we continue to evolve with this – maintain this tension where we always need a little bit more resource than we have to do what we’d like to do?  Or is there a big overhaul that we can do that solves the problem?

GEN. SELVA:  There’s a part of me that says if we don’t always wish we had more than we have now, you know, if I’m not under a little bit of fiscal pressure the I’m probably wasting your money.  So I’m a taxpayer too. 

And I know the budget that we would like to have is bigger than the budget we have.  But if you let me buy everything I wanted, what motivation would I have to efficient with the things I buy?  I don’t think there’s a silver bullet out there, by the way.  I visited any number of commercial companies who will make really broad statements like, in an organization as big as the department there must be at least 10 percent waste.  So we’ll just, in the absence of a plan to actually reorganize and find a way – so we’ll just take 10 percent away and you’ll be OK, because there must be 10 percent waste. 

We’ve had that experience.  It’s not truthful, because the money comes out of the budget as an assumption that we can find 10 percent.  If the reality is we can only find 5 (percent), the money doesn’t come back.  We do 5 percent less.  We either buy 5 percent less equipment and gear.  We pull 5 percent out of the real requirements that are required to defend the nation.  We take 5 percent of our manpower.  Or we do some combination of those that allows us to come up with the money.

I am more fond of the idea that looking for the duplication of effort in the department.  And this gets to the illusion you made earlier, Jim, to the Goldwater-Nichols reforms that some have proposed over the course of the next few years, and getting serious about them.  There are any number of tasks in the department that are legislated by the Congress or built into policy that cause duplication of effort.  And we actually have mirrored staffs to be able to deal with those requirements for duplication of effort. 

There might be 10 percent in that.  And if there is, it’s 10 percent we can put towards our manpower pool, our readiness bill, our modernization bill, or the war fight of today.  But I have some history with trying to find the 10 percent.  I’ve actually pulled people together into meetings, not unlike this one, and asked them to volunteer to tell me what in their job jar was in somebody else’s job jar.  By the way, I’d already done the math.  I knew the answer.  Do you think I could get a single person to volunteer that they were doing somebody else’s job because it was cooler? 

So I have a proposition for you.  There are things we must do, things we can do, and things we like to do.  And if I gave you a random selection of those things, you would all organize them this way:  The things I like to do, the things I can do, and the things I must do.  Things you must do are you job.  And I would argue, in the department, by virtue of a whole variety of circumstances, we have overlap in the things we like to do and the things we can do.  You’ll find much less overlap in the things we must do. 

So I’m a fan of saying, let’s attack the overlap, because when we duplicate effort, we don’t bring value.  If we need layers to bring value to the organization, I would not dispute that.  But I go after the I like to do stuff first.  And we ought to dispense with most of that.  That might find us the 10 percent, if the 10 percent exists.  That’s the kind of – if there’s waste, that’s where we’ll find it.  I doubt we will find it in large acquisition systems or fielded forces, or headquarters that are tied to warfighting.  But we will likely find it in the institutional structures of the department that do work that doesn’t affect warfighting every day, because we all prioritize our work in exactly those three categories, because we’re all human and we all do it that way.

MODERATOR:  Interesting.  I’m really –

GEN. SELVA:  I left you speechless.  I can’t believe it.

MODERATOR:  No, no, that’s impossible.

MODERATOR:  I think it was a bad decision for me to invite him, sir.

MODERATOR:  Yes.  (Laughter.)  Is it too late to rescind the invitation?  There we are.  He’s smarter than we are.

MODERATOR:  Should we see if there’s a hand in the audience.

MODERATOR:  Yes, sir.  As we do that is there anything else, just because I know your time is critical, before we jump to the audience is there anything else that you think, you know, we’ve got to take out of today just in terms of things that you care about, things that – you know, I couldn’t help by notice Dr. Carter was right there.  I couldn’t help but notice he came back with deals, he came back with –

GEN. SELVA:  Yes, so, without getting into the individual technologies, I think there are a couple things we need to do that will put us in a different place.  I spend a fair amount of my time in – trying to encourage innovative thinking about the department and about how we do our work.  And by that, I mean the work of warfighting, not the work of administration.  And it strikes me, I made several trips out to Silicon Valley.  I’ve made several trips to labs.  I’ve talked to – over the course of my career, I’ve spent a lot of time in industry talking to industry leaders about how they – how they encourage innovation.  And several things strike me.

One is a culture of innovation means you have to be able to – you have to be willing to accept that you won’t always be right.  So in warfighting, we’re not wired to be accept that we might not be right.  When it comes to fielding multi-billion-dollar weapon systems that we’re going to use to inflict pain on an enemy, there’s not a hell of a lot of tolerance for not being right.  But there’s a lot of what we do that do not fall into either one of those bins.  And that’s the place where if we could open ourselves up to some of the things that new technologies might bring into the department, and accept that we will occasionally make a bet that fails, we could bring our propensity to innovate much further than we are today. 

And I’m struck by what happens in places like Silicon Valley, where the best engineers in the country get together and try to answer the hardest problems they can find.  They don’t go for the easy problems.  Give them an easy problem and they’re done.  They’ll actually move to another company that has a harder problem because what motivates them is the ability to try 100 or 1,000 different variations of a solution over a short period of time and come up with step changes in how you solve the problem.  That’s not the way we organize ourselves.  In fact, I would describe what happens in the commercial sector in innovation as sort of like a grassfire.  If somebody doesn’t stamp it out, it’s always burning.  And it’s going to consume an awful lot of territory, but it happens slowly, and then it jumps.

I would describe innovation in the Defense Department as a forest fire.  Holy shit, we’re on fire, let’s put it out.  (Laughter.)  So we go through these periods in the department, and all the services have experienced this.  We go through these short periods of time when one leader or two says innovation is important.  We have to figure out a different way to do what we’re doing.  We have to get better at this.  And we get a step change.  And the next leader comes in and says:  Stop.  What you’re doing scares me.  I don’t understand it.  I don’t like it.  It doesn’t comport with my view of how military organizations are led, and they put out the forest fire. 

There’s not a single company in industry that comes in and see that kind of ferment and stamps it out, because they are most risk tolerant than we are, they tend to think about their problem sets in a different way than we think about ours, and they want to make everything better.  So if we can instill that in our young officers and our mid-grade NCOs across all of the services, and say it’s OK if you have a good idea to bring it forward.  And by the way, no is an OK answer.  I’m not going to kill you for bringing a new idea forward.  We can make – we can make ourselves more effective.  Notice, I didn’t say efficient.  Effective.

Combat effectiveness is the first thing we should always think about.  The accumulation of combat effectiveness over time is a degree of efficiency and force application for size, and force distribution.  It brings efficiency after the fact.  Those that argue that we should become more efficient to become more effective have the equation tipped on its head. 

And that’s why you’ll hear me talk a lot about innovation, but you’ll also hear me in the same sentences talk about assuring readiness, assuring the training and education of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, making sure that they are effective in the battlespace, that they bring the joint team to the fight, they make everybody on the joint team better, and eventually you get some efficiency out if it.  You can’t help it.  You can’t help it.  But if you try to do it the other way, you do efficiency at – efficiency at the expense of effectiveness.  And we can’t have that.

Sorry, very long answer to a very short question.

MODERATOR:  No, that’s a brilliant idea, because that’s – I want to close this and let’s go to the floor, but that’s a brilliant idea, because when I look at, like –

GEN. SELVA:  You only get to do that to me one more time and I’m leaving.

MODERATOR:  Yes, sir.  It won’t happen again.  (Laughter.)  But just – I mean, you know, the Silicon Valley guys are bringing 30 percent R&D and CAPEX.  They’re hiring entire – they are hiring entire classes of software engineers –

GEN. SELVA:  But they will review – this is the fascinating part.  They will review 300 proposals, to pick 30, to fund 10, to make three. 

MODERATOR:  Like a giant B&P cycle.

GEN. SELVA:  Think about that for a minute.  How many – how many ideas do we have for how to organize the military?  How many ideas do we have to do our job better, different, faster, more effectively?  How many proposals have you seen from the services to reorganize themselves in a way that makes them fundamentally different and harder to defeat by the enemy?  That number’s relatively small.  It’s not in the hundreds, I guarantee you.  So we don’t have the menu of things to look at, which is one of the reasons we’ve embarked on a deliberate process of experimentation. 

So we have funded a number, and I’m not going to tell you what the number is, nor am I going to tell you how much money we spent, so hold that question until forever.  But we have funded a series of experiments that will play out over the next several years that will test hypotheses about how we could unhinge our opponents’ capacity to outrange us and outshoot us in a long-range precision strike fight in a complex battlespace.  If we fail, we haven’t spent a ton of money.  If we succeed, that will contribute to the building blocks of the Third Offset.  And we can think about ways to organize ourselves differently around those capabilities, not the opposite, which is to organize ourselves around something we wish we had, and then force it into the system.

MODERATOR:  Who has the microphones?  Yes, sir.

Q:  Today at lunch Admiral Richardson talked about rules that govern the forces contest.  So thinking about China and the rule set on cyber and creating islands and physical things in the environment that can be done and undone, can you comment on how you play this contest with someone who apparently has different rules, and do we change rules, or how do we think about that

GEN. SELVA:  That’s a great question.  I think first, we have to understand the rule by which we believe we are playing.  And I think that’s a fairly known set of parameters.  Then it’s important to understand what we believe they rules they are playing by are.  So I’ll give you a hypothetical example.  If I will lie to your face, and you’re obliged to believe me because you’re a trusting person, I already know your ruleset and you don’t know mine.  We’ve spent a significant amount of energy trying to understand the perspective that the Chinese are bringing to the relationship that’s going on today, which I would argue, as does Secretary Work, is a great power competition.

We need to understand the ruleset they’re working by.  If they don’t subscribe to the international norms that we subscribe to, then there has to be consequence.  So you raise the issue of the South China Sea.  There is a case pending in the International Tribunal that is agreed to under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, where the Philippines and a variety of other countries have brought 14 issues before the court.  The Chinese almost five years ago now agreed that when that case was brought that they would accept the outcome of the court. 

They have since built 3,200 acres’ worth of artificial islands in the South China Sea.  They’ve declared intentions to become the sovereign over the nine-dashed line.  And they are implying that they are not going to accept the ruling of the court.  So I would suggest, which ruleset are they working by?  And what will the consequence be if their behavior continues to indicate that they are not going to be abide by the ruling of the court?  Because we can say publicly:  You told us in no uncertain terms that you would accept the outcome.  Your behavior tells us that was not true.  So in the ruleset I live under, you are not allowed to lie to me if I catch you.  You have been caught.  That’s the way I would play that out over time.

The Chinese view the world in long swaths of time.  We are children to them.  I mean, our country’s only been here a little over 200 years.  They actually think we’re pretty amateur at this game.  I think we can show them we’re not.  And we just call them on the stuff they do.  Their behavior speaks volumes about who they are.  We just have to call them.  It’s a great question.  Thank you.

I’m not – you got the mic.  You’re on.

Q:  I’ve got the mic, so I’ll ask.  Prime Minister Abadi – sorry, Idris (ph) with Reuters.  Prime Minister Abadi has said that they should be able to retake Mosul in 2016.  There’s a lot of doubt about that.  Do you think Mosul can be retaken in 2016?  And secondly, on North Korea, they test-fired two more short-range ballistic missiles today.  Do you see that as concerning, or is that just now typical behavior that’s expected from them?

GEN. SELVA:  So let me take them backwards.  I think whenever we have an exercise going on in South Korea, you can expect the North Koreans to rattle sabers, more with this government than any previous government.  So what we’re seeing is sort of the normal saber rattling, notwithstanding the fact that the nuclear test several weeks ago and the rocket launch that put an object in space.  But I think what we’re seeing now is relatively normal saber rattling.  It is in the face of the sanctions that have been imposed as a consequence of their prior behavior – the nuclear test and the rocket launch.  I think time will tell if all of the parties to the sanctions – read, all the members of the United Nations – will uphold those sanctions and really put pressure on North Korea on the denuclearization issue.  But I think what we’re seeing right now in terms of the short-range ballistic missile firings of SCUDs and the like over the last several days is a relatively normal reaction to our exercise with the South Koreans.

In the case of Prime Minister Abadi’s prediction about Mosul, he’s in a better position than I to say whether Mosul can be retaken in 2016.  What I would tell you is the conditions exist to isolate and take Mosul.  The Iraqi Army is beginning to reposition assets.  The Kurds have agreed to provisions to help with the liberation of Mosul.  We’re seeing significant pressure from all sides now on ISIL in the northern part of Iraq.  So it’s just a matter of time.  It is better for the Iraqis to pick the time than to be pushed into a timeline that doesn’t suit their capabilities or their readiness.  So I’m not one to put a timeline on Prime Minister Abadi.  It’s a fight he is taking to ISIL.  And he’s doing a pretty compelling job of it, along with some of his partners and friends in the region, along with us.  So I won’t put a timeline on it.


GEN. SELVA:  Yes, sir.

Q:  General Selva, you talked earlier on about the need for a fresh national dialogue relative to the triad, arguably relevant to other elements of our national defense policy.  How should we think about how to shape that dialogue today?  Just a couple of points:  Obviously, we’re in the middle of a national election season.  Politically, more folks declare themselves to be independent than both national parties.  We’ve got a growing population of millennials.  And frankly, many more people in this country who have never seen military service.  So what’s your thinking on those things?

GEN. SELVA:  I think the last two variables you bring up are the most compelling ones in this whole conversation about national security, starting with the very basics of service and loyalty to the nation, ending sort of at the top of the pyramid with what is the most important to our national defense.  And those are the striking number of people of your age and mine that are capable of having that conversation, and a striking absence of that conversation among our youngest generation that’s of working age. 

When I talk to my nieces and nephews, who have known me their whole lives, if I don’t – and they’re all in their 30s to their low 20s.  If I don’t drive the conversation to the questions about national defense and foreign policy that are embedded in the discussions that happen on Capitol Hill – notwithstanding the politics of that election – the conversation would never go there.  If I sit quietly at the dinner table and let my 87-year old father and my 90-year old mother drive the conversation, they pull my nieces and nephews into that conversation in about 2 nanoseconds.

My point is, the debate about national security disappeared in any real measure from our national dialogue when we were all in our 40s.  Those you who are under 40, you don’t remember that.  Post-Desert Shield, Desert Storm, the great peace dividend, the focus on economy, the focus on prosperity, to the exclusion of service took that conversation out of our normal daily discussions – my opinion.  9/11 made it worse, not better, because 9/11 made national security about counterterrorism, hunting down al-Qaida, and seeking justice for what happened in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania. 

Broad strategic conversations about the value of the military outside of that context – lost.  So I think we need to figure out how to bring it back into the conversation, but it’s not going to be an easy lift.  It won’t be good enough for an old four-star sitting on a stage to say it’s important.  College professors have to say it’s important.  High school teachers have to say it’s important.  Clergy have to understand.  And how do you motivate them to have that conversation?  I don’t know.  I honestly don’t know.  If I did, I’d be out hawking the solution.  If I knew how to motivate people to have that conversation, other than having it like this, I’d be out there hawking the solution.

But we have to have it, because as many of the speakers earlier today probably told you, as we run into the ’20s, we’re going to have a modernization bill for our strategic nuclear force that will be layered on top of the extant bill for the modernization and maintenance of our conventional force.  In our history, every time that’s happened we have added a specific amount to the Defense Department’s top line to accommodate the modernization of our strategic nuclear arsenal – the airplanes, the ships, the missiles, the warheads, the indications and warning, and the command and control – the whole kit bag.  That is a substantial bill for the nation to pay. 

If we don’t start the debate now, if we don’t start the discussion now about the value of our nuclear deterrent – in spite of the fact that we all want to live in a world that has no nuclear weapons in it.  Until that world exists, we have to deter those that would wish us ill.  If we’re not starting that conversation right now, this instant, it will be too late because we’re already formulating the POM that defines the top line for the early ’20s.  We’ve got to get this conversation to the forefront, and soon. 

My pitch has been to get it into curricula at our service academies, at our professional schools, to encourage political scientists who teach strategy around the nation to bring this back into the conversation.  And by the way, it’s additive, not exclusive of, the requirement to get at violent extremism and to deter in a conventional sense.  We’ve got to build time for the conversation.  I wish I had a better answer.

Q:  Thank you.

Q:  Well, you started the conversation about classmates.  I’m a Class of 1980 from the Naval Academy, so I won’t – in an effort of jointness, I won’t yell “beat Air Force.” 

GEN. SELVA:  And I won’t say “beat Navy,” but that OK.

Q:  OK.  But a couple years ago, when you were the TRANSCOM commander, I was running the Navy League of the United States.  I think we spoke at an event.  I may have forwarded you some of the emails from some of the coasties and merchant mariners who said, oh my goodness, we have an Air Force general that understands the freedom of the seas, understands the value of our sea lines of communication.  We heard Admiral Richardson speak earlier at lunch about 99 percent of our communications going under the seas – under the sea.  So I just want to say, in your current position, thank you for your understanding of that from TRANSCOM.  It’s great to have somebody in that position that understands that strategic priority too.

GEN. SELVA:  Thank you.

Q:  Beat Air Force.

GEN. SELVA:  Sink Navy.  (Laughter.)  What happened to beat Army?

Q:  They never show.

GEN. SELVA:  Oh!  (Laughter.) 

MODERATOR:  Here we go.

Q:  General, Sydney Freedberg, Breaking Defense.

To pull on one string you mentioned, we have all these wonderful toys that we are used to having function all the time.  But as you mentioned, people like the Russians in particular are very good at old-school electronic warfare, which is a business that everybody except the Navy kind of got out of.  And your own service retired the Ravens.  The Army retired its electronic warfare units.  And we all – they’re also very good at cyber, which is a different means of attacking the same system.  So in particular, on the EW dimension, which I think gets less publicity, how deep a hole are we in based on what we’re seeing in Ukraine and elsewhere?  And how do we dig out of it?

GEN. SELVA:  I think at the tactical level, so small-unit level, the Russians and the Chinese have a distinct advantage because they have deployed very capable electronic warfare tools – they’re really not weapons; they’re tools – at that level.  As we raise the discussion the operational and strategic level, our ability to integrate our electronic warfare capabilities against some of their more capable systems, is actually still a marginal advantage.  And I use the word marginal advantage on purpose, because we haven’t exploited all of the corners of that envelope that we can exploit, and we need to.

That will mean that we will very likely have to deploy fairly elegant electronic warfare tools at the tactical level, which today we do not have.  We will also have to attend to the operational and strategic level EW capabilities that we have the capacity to develop or field.  While it is true that we have retired a number of electronic warfare systems, it is also true that many of the systems that we have fielded have inherent electronic warfare capabilities that we simply don’t talk about.  And so I’m going to take that out, and I’m not going to talk about them.  But that capacity exists.

The real magic in electronic warfare is how you integrate the tools, not the face that you have them.  And that’s the place where we need to put some energy.  And how we integrate the tools across the joint force to give our fielded force the kind of tactical advantages that the Russian special forces brought into the Ukraine campaign, without necessarily fielding a whole new suite of tools.  And I think we can get there.  I’m being a little big obscure, because I don’t want to reveal the how of getting there, because that will be how we maintain our advantage. 

And you’re right, the toys we bring, like my iPhone, that empowers my two Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids, are potential victims of electronic warfare.  But the weapons we bring to the field – and I make the distinction on purpose – the weapons we bring to the field to fight an enemy cannot be susceptible to the same kind of intrusion and tampering.  And that gets to both the EW and the cyber part of that equation.  If you take my hearing aids away, I will simply take them out and not hear well.  If you can get into my weapon system and prevent it from operating, that could have lethal effect on the battlefield. 

So we have to attend to those consequences with greater import.  And I would suggest to you we are, but the details of how we do that are important enough to keep from our enemy that we not make them obvious in fora like this one.  But I do – I sincerely appreciate the question.

MODERATOR:  Sir, with that in mind, I think we’re out of time.

GEN. SELVA:  So does anybody know what happened this morning in the fight between the grandmaster of the game Go and the DeepMind computer?  Anybody keeping score?  Does anybody know what the hell I’m talking about?  (Laughter.)  So this is one of those very promising things that we need to watch.  Why do the deputy secretary and I pay attention to the score of that match?  AI, artificial intelligence, game theory, deep learning.  So the machine that is up against the world’s grandmaster of Go is ahead 2-0. 

And we all go, well, that can’t be that important.  It’s just a game like checkers.  But it is so much different than checkers.  I asked somebody to do the calculation for me.  I’m not going to tell you I believe the result, but I’m going to tell you what the result was.  In checkers, you have a couple of thousand options for how you move those pieces around the board.  In chess, you have roughly 24,000 combinations of how you might move pieces around the board.  In Go, there are 2 times 10 to the 16th options for how you might play the game. 

So when the Korean grandmaster was asked this morning how he felt about the game, he said:  It’s really difficult to play a computer because – now, think about what I’m about to say – because much of this game – much of the strategy is about intuition.  It’s about watching your opponent.  It’s about understanding the context of how they hold their hands and how they breathe, and where they look.  The computer can’t see any of that.  What the computer has done is infer from every move he makes all of the possible moves he might make.  And it’s winning 2-0, in a game that’s about intuition, in a game that’s about instinct.

What dos that imply about how you might pair a relatively smart machine with a well-trained, smart human?  So you’ll hear Secretary Work and I talk about man-machine teaming.  And the pilots in the audience will say, well, that’s what happens when I strap myself into an airplane.  I’m a man-machine team.  Except, most of your machines are not thinking.  Hopefully, the pilots are thinking.  You could say the same thing about your automobile.  You get in your car, and you drive it.  We are not far from you get in your car and it drives you. 

When the car can make the choices, the ethical and tough decision choices that you make every day you drive – do I stop at this crosswalk or do I run the old lady over?  (Laughter.)  Do I run through the red light and hope that I don’t get caught or do I not?  Can I speed on this highway?  Well, not based on my last ticket.  You make those choices, those rule-based choices, every time you drive.  There is an automobile today where you get in and you push the easy button, and the steering wheel folds itself up and goes away.  It’s not certified to drive on the road yet, but it exists.  A human built it.  It’s completely driven by artificial intelligence and augmented sensors that understand the context and rules within which it’s supposed to operate. 

What if you could take a machine like that, have it inform a person of decisions pending and not yet made, and have a human make the decisions faster than his opponent or her opponent could, knowing the range of possibilities?  There’s something in that.  So when I talked earlier about the brushfire and not stamping it out, and letting those things play out, and figuring out where to place your bets, that’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about, making our side exponentially more capable than the other side because we empower our people with the tools to make better-informed, faster decisions, in an increasingly dynamic battlespace.

We started this in 1975.  When we said assault breaker, which became air-land battle, would be composed of a grid of sensors, a command and control grid, and a strike grid, an effects grid.  We had to make those three layers of that network faster, more precise, and more lethal than our enemies.  If you can take the kind of AI that’s beating a human at Go and pair it with a human, what do you think might happen?  And I offer you that as a question as you go off to have your drinks at the bar and talk about how good the speakers were earlier in the day and how lousy this one was.  (Laughter.)  Thank you all very much.  (Applause.)