RETIRED GENERAL CRAIG MCKINLEY: So without further ado, I’d like to introduce the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Sandy Winnefeld. (Applause.)
ADMIRAL JAMES “SANDY” WINNEFELD: All right. Well, thank you, my good friend Craig, for that kind introduction, and good morning. Thank you so much for inviting me to speak to you. Just a sort of humble naval officer out here to join you this morning at the Air Force Association’s air and space technology expo. It’s great to see old friends, including Craig and a few other folks that I’ve the chance to bump into here in the early minutes since I arrived. Craig, as he mentioned, was one of my partners-in-crime while I was privileged to lead NORAD and USNORTHCOM.
And what an audience. I see airmen, leaders from defense industry, think tanks, academia – all of you part of or closely associated with the big, blue United States Air Force family.
Looking over the program, what a rich package of speakers, present company excluded, of course. (Scattered laughter.) It’s a veritable master’s degree in 21st century air power, and I really wish I could have been here all week to gain a lot of the knowledge that’s going to be important for me in my – in my current job. So I’ll look for a good summary from someone.
Please allow me to toss in a thank-you and to join you in all the heartfelt sympathies that I know have been expressed by previous speakers over the tragic events occurring at the Navy Yard on Monday. It just shows that when the chips are down, we set all of our rivalries aside and do our best as a military family, and that’s one of the things that makes us the best in the world. So thank you very much.
Now, on a more upbeat note, let me start by wishing the Air Force happy birthday. I’m told that you’re 66 years old. (Applause.) That means that you’ve fully reached retirement age. (Laughter.)
You think I’m kidding. The Social Security website tells me that if you were born between 1943 and 1954, you now don’t get full benefits until you’re 66 years old. And now, since the Air Force was officially born in 1947, ’66 is the new ’65. But under sequester rules, I’m not sure the Air Force will get the full benefit. (Laughter.)
So here I am indeed, a lonely island of white uniform in a sea of Air Force blue. But it’s always been a privilege for me to be around the Air Force. I’ve had the joy of flying with and against and literally taking gas from a lot of very talented airmen always trying to keep those airmen in front of me, which is not an easy task, I assure you. I’ve tried to keep up with a B-1. It was in full military power, with my old Tomcat in full afterburner. I’ve been directed by many a superb Air Force joint terminal air controller. I’ve actually lived on an Air Force Base. I’ve literally lived with the Air Force. My college roommate for a while had been General Phil Breedlove. People expected him to be successful. (Laughter.)
I’ve even thrown a football with Peyton Manning in the back of a C-17 high over Afghanistan. And I can also say that given my last three jobs, I now probably know as least as many Air Force generals by their first names as I do Navy admirals. And heck, in this job, sometimes you can call me “general,” which always quickens my step a little bit. And as a Georgia Tech graduate, I can say that I’m somewhat neutral regarding Air Force-Navy football. (Scattered laughter.) Well, not exactly.
But we’re here together this morning at the beginning of what promises to be a fall season full of excitement, but not because of what might happen to your favorite football team. Rather, as we prepare to step on the shaky financial field of the future, we find ourselves really with no idea how much money the Defense Department’s going to have in 2014, much less beyond. We have no idea when we’re going to know how much money we’re going to have. And we have no idea what the rules are going to be when we finally find out. Will the government shut down, or will we have a budget or a continuing resolution to start off the next fiscal year in 12 days? What happens when we hit the debt ceiling sometime in October? Will the January sequester mechanism kick in again on the 1st of January? Will our nation’s political leadership reach some kind of a compromise?
Well, if any of you are “Men In Black 3” fans, I could use the services of the character Griffin, a multidimensional being who can see many possible futures all at the same time. I keep remembering him say, “Uh-oh, this is the one where ...” Well, the only future that seems certain is that there are no Doolittle Raiders coming over the horizon ready to strike courageously at the heart of our fiscal troubles. To put this in business talking head speak, I calculated the odds of the Defense Department enduring considerable financial stress for the foreseeable future as being rather high.
As tempting as it is, I won’t relate to you this morning in detail all the disruption this has already meant for the department or for the finest Air Force in the world, other than to mention the challenges associated with the potential steepness of the resource cliff under the current law, the wasteful effects of not being able to plan decisively, the fact that readiness seems to have no constituency in this environment, that elements of our very important industrial base can be at risk, and above all, the negative effects of this on our wonderful men and women who serve in uniform and as Department of Defense civilians, all while we have troops still fighting a war. Well, we don’t have the luxury of muttering what a shame it all is and blaming the other side. We have to defend the nation. And so I want to talk about what we will have to do to get through this.
To succeed, we have to be armed with two fundamentally important weapons. The first weapon we must have is courageous and effective leaders willing to face the new realities of this evolving security environment and to lead change. Business and war-fighting history are rife with leaders who got this kind of thing right and who also got it wrong. It’s all over the place in the business literature. Max De Pree, author of “Leadership Is an Art,” was right when he said, “The first job of a leader is to face reality,” as was General Electric’s Jack Welch when he said, “Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wished it were,” as well as business guru Jim Collins, who said in his book “Good to Great,” “Great companies confront the brutal facts of the current reality,” and even John Boyd, an Air Force hero, famously wrote about the ability to quickly recognize and act upon the changes in the real environment.
We need leaders who will do this, who have studied and understand the mistakes that have been made in the past by organizations in similar crisis, who can make the right decisions at the right time and who will then push forward with an airminded, creative answer. By the way, you can look up the term “airmindedness,” for some of you older folks. It was invoked starting about 1926 and hit its peak in World War II, and it means an interest in and enthusiasm for the use and development of aircraft, for you – you people out there are in that category.
Anyway, we need leaders who have unselfish and unconditional support from their bedrock institutions, in this case, the magnificent active, Reserve, Guard and retired military, civilian men and women who make up the Air Force community, including AFA. Fortunately, the Air Force is blessed with such leaders in acting Secretary Eric Fanning, who you heard from on Monday, and my good friend and neighbor General Mark Welsh, who spoke to you Tuesday and who is going to be in front of Congress in a few minutes and who’s holding a forum later this afternoon. It’s my very great privilege each and every day to work with these two gentlemen, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their work cut out for them.
And that leads to the second weapon we must have: a solid intellectual framework to get us off the runway and onto a good trajectory going forward. My sense is this framework finds its most solid foundation when we strike the proper balance among the three elements of strategy, namely our national security ends or interests and the threats thereto, the military ways we go about defending those interests and the financial means we shape into the military tools of capability, capacity and readiness to defend those interests. We are going to have to balance all three of these elements. And those who would suggest that we should just articulate our strategic ends and then simply demand the means to make it happen have never really seriously done strategy out there in the real world, and they risk leaving us with a bankrupt strategy if we do so.
The harsh reality today is that we’re in a security environment in which the ends and the ways and the means are all shifting under our feet at the same time. And if we don’t fully understand this reality or combination of realities or we deny it, hoping it will disappear, or if we allow our ends, ways and means to fall out of balance, then our strategy will be bankrupt we and will fail our great nation.
So in the time I have this morning, I’d like to elaborate a little bit on ends, ways and means, beginning with the importance of ends. That is the list of interests that we would use the military instrument of national power to protect, and roughly in what priority we would do so. That list must by nature be abstract and derived from guidance we receive from the commander in chief, and it usually begins with survival of the nation and finishes with the protection of universal values. And there’s plenty in between, depending on who is doing the listing, such as preventing catastrophic attacks on our nation, maintaining secure, confident and reliable allies and partners, and protecting American citizens abroad.
You can argue the details, but these interests are enduring. What changes is the degree to which we can comfortably cover everything on the list and, if not, making sure that we can and do cover the most important things. I don’t know how we can make decisions, especially in the department’s current financial crisis, without referring to this touchstone. It is the most fundamental discriminator we have for guiding our decisions. And I turn to them in some way every day.
For example, the greater the number and importance of our interests that are affected in a given situation – you name it – the more likely we are to use force, to do so unilaterally, to take great risk, to expend a lot of resources and to accept opportunity costs elsewhere in the world. And the opposite is true. I would submit that we saw this model played out pretty well in Libya. Similarly, knowing how we prioritize what we intend to protect can guide our investment decisions.
And I’ll tell you one thing: The Air Force has its hands on two of the three legs of the triad that protects our most vital of interests, and that is the survival of our nation. All other things being equal, the more a way or a means contributes to protecting more and higher national security ends, the more likely we are to invest in it, particularly in a downsizing environment. And the opposite is true, as well.
Chairman Dempsey introduced this concept into the Chairman’s Risk Assessment, and we used it again during the Strategic Choices and Management Review to help us set priorities. It’s doubly important that we do it now in such a tough fiscal environment, when the operational and investment decisions we need to make will be so very important.
This brings me to the steadily evolving threats to those prioritized ends, beginning with major nation states, who have watched the U.S. military’s impressive capability, including and especially the Air Force’s, with some anxiety and who are working very hard to catch up, in some cases using advanced designs exfiltrated from our own industrial networks to help them along. And where they can’t challenge us symmetrically, they will do so asymmetrically.
Then there are the highly insecure authoritarian states, such as Iran, North Korea and Syria, including those who murder their own people on a large scale and those concluding that obtaining deliverable nuclear weapons is the best insurance policy for their regimes. This also has huge implications, ranging from the importance of limited missile defense to how we might handle a conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
Then there’s the threat from violent extremism, which has morphed from a centrally controlled apparatus within a supportive host nation to a group of highly diversified, feisty and independent yet weakened franchises living mostly in poorly governed or ungoverned spaces. They’re growing operationally wiser over time and still threaten American citizens and interests across the globe.
There are other evolving threats to our varying interests, including transnational criminal organizations and hyper-empowered individuals. And even the threat of natural disasters is changing along with the Earth’s climate.
When I consider the interests we must protect and the many threats to those interests, there’s plenty in there for the Air Force and its five core missions, and that’s where we need to get into ways. Ways are the vital connective tissue between ends and means. The more we refine our ways, the more we can preserve the ends we seek using a finite amount of resources.
There are two imperatives within this need for constant examination of our ways that I see in our department.
First, we owe it to the taxpayer to always search for ways to become more efficient so we can preserve more front-end war-fighting capability for every dollar. This is the first place we looked in the Strategic Choices and Management Review. And, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for us to lean this business out or we will not have the means to protect the interests that I mentioned above.
And we’re going to need a lot of help. We will need help from Congress in giving us as much freedom to maneuver as possible within our budgets and by removing restrictions on our ability to become proficient, such as limitations on our downsizing glide slopes, where we need to get our old stuff out of the system so we can buy and sustain the new stuff; and prohibitions on base closures so we can get rid of the 20 percent excess infrastructure that we’re now carrying; and a mandated pay and benefits growth glideslope that is out of touch and simply not sustainable.
And while everyone here would agree that our magnificent men and women in uniform deserve more than the average bear, we simply cannot sustain our recent growth trajectory in pay and benefits and expect to preserve a properly sized, trained and equipped force. And I’m very grateful to organizations such as AFA, who have the courageous leadership to step up and support us in this area, as you have done this year. Thank you for that.
We’ll also need help – additional help from you and your fellow institutions. We have to support Acting Secretary Fanning and Mark Welsh in understanding and supporting their view to find these efficiencies and manage compensation. Some will fight these needed changes, but I would ask you to continue standing up and understand that the most important benefit we can provide to our people is to train and equip them to fly, fight and win and come home safely to their families. And we won’t be able to do that unless we find savings anywhere we can.
The second way that is imperative is the fact that the world is constantly changing on an accelerated schedule – changes in the way battles and wars are fought because of new tactics and technologies, changes in the types of conflicts most likely to be fought, and even changes in the ways societies look at conflict.
One of my favorite thoughts comes from a book called “Surfing the Edge of Chaos,” and it’s very simple: “Equilibrium is the precursor to death.” We have to look ahead and make sure that we’re not stuck in the equilibrium of the past and that we are preparing for the next fight, not the current or the last fight, or we will become irrelevant, or worse.
This is where the Air Force has to take a very hard look at what kind of air power operations it will most likely conduct in the future. And there are a lot of potential operations out there. There’s no doubt that the Air Force had to, by necessity, shift a great deal of emphasis to a counter-insurgency fight over the last decade or so, conducted in a very permissive environment.
As you might expect, the Air Force came to excel in this new type of fight. I would submit that a good bit of what we’ve learned in this fight is applicable to other fights, such as network warfare and intelligence operations integration. And we’ve certainly deepened our joint approach to warfare over the last 10 or 12 years.
However, our airmen have owned these unchallenged skies for a very long time, and if we’re not careful, lengthy periods of success will breed complacency and the curse of equilibrium. When the next big fight comes – and history suggests that it will – I think that contest will be a different fight, a much different fight, one that’s faster and harder and dependent on capabilities brought to bear by American airmen. Indeed, the entire battle space – land, sea and air – could very well be a much more hostile environment than we’ve ever seen.
We will not win that fight without dominant airpower. If we allow them, future adversaries will use many of the tools we’ve employed so successfully, such as ubiquitous ISR, networks, stealth and precision-guided weapons against us. And the fog of war will not easily clear in that fight, because future adversaries will employ new tools as well, exploiting any cyber and space vulnerabilities they can find and try to negate our advantages in those domains. We will have to either find ways to preserve our communications, precision navigation and timing, and ISR – because people will try to take them away – or we will have to learn to live without them.
We, including the Air Force, face an important threshold question: As potential adversaries accelerate their technical capabilities, do we go head on with them or do we out-asymmetrize those who would master asymmetry? Asymmetry to me means, among other things, operating from places that either an enemy can’t see or they can’t reach with weapons that an enemy cannot counter. It also means confusing the enemy, thickening his fog, which opens the door to a host of things that I cannot cover today.
There are a lot of other things we should think about. Speed to the battlefield, whether by being in close proximity already or through prepositioning, or through what the Air Force is better than anybody in the world at, and that is strategic lift, will become more important than ever. Speed together within the battlefield, maneuver and the effectiveness of combined arms will be more important than ever.
And as adversaries build tactical ballistic arrows that can reach our air bases and that are cheaper than missile defense arrows that can negate them, we’ll need to enhance expensive, active regional missile defenses with passive ones, which places the burden on who owns the forward-deployed asset and its base.
Fortunately the Air Force has a long history of innovators, leaders like Bernard Schriever, William Tunner, and of course Billy Mitchell, who relentlessly advocated innovative ways of using air power to defend the homeland and win our nation’s wars.
And Curtis LeMay, who peered through the dense fog of the 1950s and saw the turbulent environment for what it was. LeMay’s vision transcended popular fear. Strategic Air Command, under his direction, offered the nation an innovative way to confront Cold War dangers, even after defense spending was slashed in the wake of the Korean War. LeMay lobbied for robust early warning systems, revamped bomber training and tactics, and placed SAC [strategic air command] on a hair trigger that successfully deterred a war that the world was convinced was inevitable.
In today’s environment we need to empower this generation of ways innovators. General Welsh is thinking big about new ways to shape his force to efficiently integrate air, space and cyber capabilities across domains; to develop the Air Force’s most important asset, its airmen; and to ensure the Air Force’s contribution to our renewed emphasis on the Pacific while maintaining mobility to get to other parts of the world quickly.
But as I mentioned before, it sure looks to me like we’re going to have to do all these things with fewer resources in the future. And that brings us to means. Means are ultimately the pre-tools of capability, capacity and readiness that we use to breathe life into our ways. We are all, including the finest Air Force on the planet, going to have to do with fewer means. And that will mean skillfully adjusting those three levers: capability, capacity and readiness.
Now, service chiefs are graded both by their alumni and their members during a downturn, usually by the easiest and most obvious thing to measure: capacity, or how big the force is that’s left at the end of the day. I believe that all the services, and particularly the Air Force, should instead be looking at the optimal mix of not only capacity but also capability and readiness, which are much harder to quantify or explain but will be so terribly important in this next fast, hard fight, wherever it is.
That’s why I don’t have some magic picture in mind for the size and the substance of the Air Force, because I’m not smart enough to pick the specific blend. My sense, though, is that the future battlefield I described, where we do not expect extended conflicts, but the ones we fight will be very difficult, argues for capability over capacity, especially in a force like that that relies so much on its technical edge.
As we buy this capability we, working with what is perhaps our closest partner, namely industry, are going to have to find ways to control its costs. And in this fiscally constrained world, there are difficult readiness choices ahead as well, including finding innovative ways of maintaining our readiness for less cost.
I’ve got tremendous faith that the Air Force’s leadership will wisely and courageously find the right combination of these three levers to best service new ways on a new battlefield in support of the realistic ends that we’re all trying to achieve. Wherever the Air Force goes, it will need your support, and I know its airmen will have it.
And that takes me back to the very first weapon with which we need to arm ourselves, namely people who can lead change. Former IBM CEO Sam Palmisano said about companies in crisis, “You spend more time arguing amongst yourselves over a shrinking pie than looking to the future and so you miss the big turn.” There will be tough internal choices as our Air Force makes its next big turn, and we need to avoid this trap. Midgrade and senior leaders will have to look beyond the wars in which they grew up and beyond the service communities in which they grew up. Everything, except perhaps cyber, will likely get smaller. Sacred cows will have to gored and rice bowls overturned.
The strongest arguments will be tied to the ends of our national security interests. The ways that are most innovative and that best correspond to our ends will be the ones that must be most empowered to shape our ends. But if we get this right, emerging from the far side all of this complexity will be a smaller but more modern, faster, more lethal and far more capable Air Force. It’s a tall order but, as always, our great airmen, along with the operational, tactical and technical innovations they will lead, will remain our biggest war-fighting edge.
If the Air Force were a stock, I’d be buying it right now. You here at AFA can enhance the value of that stock, even in a tough fiscal environment. Aim high and give the terrific leadership you have in the United States Air Force, the intellectual space and the backing they need to make the tough decisions that will have to be made here in the near future.
So thank you for allowing this humble naval officer and fellow flyer to address you on your 66th birthday. And may God bless the United States Air Force and its magnificent airmen and their families and the wonderful nation we all protect. Fly, fight and win. Thank you. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: (In progress.) Hopefully that’s classified, but where does the operation in Syria and the Middle East, the shifting sands, as Dr. Charles Krauthammer talked about yesterday, leave us? What are our options going forward in the Middle East?
ADM. WINNEFELD: Well, that’s a big, massive strategic question and I would probably want to mostly defer to the president and secretary of state and secretary of defense. (Laughter.) So I’ll try to stay out of trouble here, but we have worked – I will say since the beginning of the Syrian issue we have worked very, very hard over the last couple of years to provide options to the president and a full range of options for the military instrument of power, in conjunction with all of the other instruments of power that our nation has in play out there.
Obviously more recently with the horrible use of chemical weapons against his own population, that has drawn that into a sharper focus. Once again, we provided the president with a range of options, including very robust strike options using, again, the full range of instruments that the military has available to it. And as we know at the moment, that threat of the use of force seems to have made the difference in enabling what we hope will be the diplomatic solution to at least the chemical weapons dimension of that problem in Syria, although it does not solve the overall issue in Syria of a civil war, which is sort of out my lane.
But it does point out the great dangers in the – highlight again the great dangers in the Middle East – the instability in the “Arab awakening” that has flashed across the region and that we’re – you know, as much as we would like to shift to the Pacific, if you read the Defense Strategic Guidance closely, it does say very explicitly that we will maintain our focus on the Middle East. And it’s just a terribly important part of the world, and air power, as you know, is there, it’s important, it’s an important deterrent to things like Iran producing a nuclear weapon, and it’s doing great work out there.
MODERATOR: The other question is, if you could turn back to your former role as commander of the United States Northern Command, how would you assess the nation’s ability to cope with natural disasters and calamities here at home?
ADM. WINNEFELD: Well, it’s – OK, as we know, whether you’re a believer in climate change or not, they are all – those natural disasters and calamities are out there. I think that we have improved – thanks to Craig’s leadership and working with me and out at NORTHCOM, we’ve been enabled the command and control of that I think a little bit better.
So we’re in a much better place to help protect the American people when something like this happens, and we work hard every day to try to pull the sand out of the machinery wherever it is and put – insert grease in the machinery so that we can respond as quickly as we can when there’s a natural disaster.
And you’ve seen out there this week, and last week with the terrible flooding that we’ve had in Colorado, we’ve put together a dual-status commander in Colorado. That may be one of the first few times that we’ve had really substantive federal resources and helicopters actually detailed over to the dual-status commander – (inaudible). We’ve done smaller versions of that, but this is a growth industry, I think, and the nation is well positioned, I think, to – and air power is certainly a big component through lift and through helicopters and other things that airmen provide to help those missions – natural disasters.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Vice Chairman. And on behalf of all the AFA folks here today, please send our condolences to Admiral Jonathan Greenert and to Secretary Mabus. We were very saddened to hear of the tragic loss of life the other day.
Thanks for your attendance here today. We appreciate your leadership, your friendship. And thanks for helping Phil Breedlove mature during his – (inaudible) – years as much as possible. (Laughter.) He sends his regards from Europe. So thanks.
I have a small token of our appreciation. John Steinbeck, who most of us are familiar with from writing “Of Mice and Men” and “Grapes of Wrath,” also was commissioned in World War II, back when 14 million men and women were put in the service of our nation, to take a look at the United States Army, Air Force’s Bomber Corps. So we have a small token of our appreciation for your time today and for your meaningful comments. Thanks, Sandy.
ADM. WINNEFELD: Thank you. Thank you very much. (Applause.)