American deterrence, though traditionally centered on the nuclear triad, is becoming ever more integrated and dependent on other technologies in space and the cyber world, Admiral Cecil D. Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, told a Stanford audience.
Haney, appointed to lead USSTRATCOM by President Barack Obama last year, made a daylong visit to Stanford on Tuesday, holding seminars and private meetings with faculty, scholars and students at the Hoover Institution and the Center for International Security and Cooperation. His seminar at CISAC focused on strategic deterrence in the 21st century.
Admiral Haney has made it USSTRATCOM’s goal, in accordance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the 2010 START Treaty, to reduce America’s nuclear weapons stockpile. But he sees a world where maintaining a deterrent is still necessary.
“As we work to continue our nation’s goal of reducing the role of our nation’s nuclear weapons, we find other nations not only modernizing their strategic capabilities but also promoting them,” he said. Russia, Iran, and China attracted particular concern. Haney declined to estimate how much the U.S. can reduce its stockpile without hurting its deterrent posture.
While the nuclear triad is still the foundation of American deterrence, space and cyberspace technology are now fully integrated with nuclear platforms, making cyber and space security indispensable.
“Deterrence is more than just the triad,” said Haney. “We are highly dependent on space capabilities, more so than ever before. Space is fully integrated in our joint military operations as well as in our commercial and civil infrastructure. But space today is contested, congested, and competitive.”
Haney said there are more than 20,000 softball-sized objects orbiting Earth.
“Only about 1,000 of those objects are satellites, the rest is debris, increasing threats to our operational satellites as they travel at speeds exceeding 17,000 mph,” he said. The Joint Space Operation Center receives an average of 30 collision alerts per day.
Damage to some of our satellites could have devastating impacts on our economy, communications and infrastructure. Rival nations also pose space security challenges.
According to the U.S. government, China recently tested an anti-satellite missile. This follows a 2007 test when China successfully destroyed one of its satellites, and consequently created a cloud of debris that still poses a threat to international satellites.
“Keeping assured access to the space domain is a full-time job,” Haney said.
Likewise cybersecurity. America’s increasing reliance on cyberspace for both military and civilian purposes has created security vulnerabilities that can be exploited by both state and non-state actors. Haney cited the recent attacks on J.P. Morgan and Sony, Russia and China’s attacks on regional rivals, and non-state terror groups.
“We have benefited enormously from advanced computer capabilities, but it has opened up threat access to our critical infrastructure,“ Haney said. “As we confront terrorist groups we all know that they are not only using cyber for recruiting and messaging – but also to seek weapons of mass destruction.”
In a Q&A session after his talk during the CISAC seminar, a variety of concerns were raised about the USSTRACOM mission, including triad modernization, the ongoing personnel issues that have been in the news, and missile defense.
FSI Senior Fellow Scott Sagan asked about the recent spate of personnel problems at U.S. nuclear silos. Haney said a full review of personnel and procedures, ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, was completed and changes have been enacted.
“We are trying to positively reinforce our workforce and I am getting a lot of positive feedback from operators,” Haney said. “We are having monthly conversations that include operational officers. When I visit sites I don’t just meet with commanders, I have meals with smaller groups of lower-ranking personnel.”
Haney previously served as commander of the Pacific Fleet. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he has personal experience with America’s nuclear deterrent as he served in submarines armed with nuclear ballistic missiles, which, in addition to land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and strategic bombers, make up part of the United States’ nuclear triad.
USSTRATCOM is one of nine unified commands that have control of forces from all four branches of the U.S. military. The command’s well-known responsibility is command and control of America’s nuclear arsenal, a role it inherited from the Cold War-era Strategic Air Command. Since its establishment in 1992, USSTRATCOM has been assigned additional responsibilities, most notably cyberspace and outer space.
Joshua Alvarez was a CISAC Honors Student during the 2011-2012 academic year.