Our Margin of Technological Superiority Is Being Eroded Steadily
Our Margin of Technological
Superiority Is Being Eroded Steadily
Deputy Secretary of Defense Speech :
GEOINT Symposium 2015. As Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work,
Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC, June 23, 2015. (DoD
Thank you for that introduction. I want to thank the Director
here at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Robert Cardillo.
He was the one who invited me to come here to speak this
morning. I'm really happy to be here. And I'd like to commend Jeff Harris and
the entire United States Geospatial-Intelligence Foundation for putting on this
impressive conference. I just had no idea how big it would be.
What I want to do is talk to you this morning about what we
need to do to prepare our armed forces and our national security community, and
the entire space community that supports them, for a far more challenging future
than we have experienced in the last two-and-a-half decades.
So, I have four basic messages that I'd like to talk to you
about this morning. First, the next 25 years is going to be a lot more
challenging than the last 25 years from a national security perspective. Second,
our space constellation or our space capabilities are going to be contested in a
way that they haven't been before. And we need to be prepared for that
eventuality. Third, geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) is really going to be
central, as it always has, to our space capability and to our national security
apparatus. And because of some of the things that are coming along, we're really
going to have to embrace innovation and change. So those are the four basic
messages I want to talk to you about this morning, and so I want to jump right
We're at a pivotal moment in the post-Cold war world, in my
view. The last 25 years has represented an absolutely remarkable period in our
history, if not for the entire Westphalian era. Throughout this time, the United
States was essentially unchallenged as the world's only true great power and as
the only global super power militarily. That was a singularly unique -- unique
polar moment which is now coming to an end.
While the United States retains enormous absolute power now
and will retain enormous absolute power in the future, we will see its relative
power decline as we enter a more multi-polar world in which the U.S. leadership
of that world is more challenged.
Now, one of the most significant challenges to our U.S.
global leadership and the one that in my view promises to be the one that is
most difficult for us to manage is the possible reemergence of great power
competitions. Now, there's many interpretations of the term "great power." Let
me tell you the one that I subscribe to as a national security professional.
It comes from John Mearsheimer, who defines a great power as
one that possess sufficient military assets to put out a serious fight in an
all-out traditional war against the most powerful state in the world, and
possess a nuclear deterrent that can survive a nuclear strike against it. By
that narrow definition, if Russia and China are not great powers now, they
certainly have the potential to be. And under any circumstances, both of these
two countries present us with unique and increasingly stressing military
Now, for its part after its actions in Crimea and eastern
Ukraine, its nuclear saber-rattling, its overtly aggressive actions from the
Baltic all the way to North American airspace, Russia represents a clear and
present danger. Now, this development is unfortunate because it comes after 25
years of the United States and Europe working very hard to include Russia within
the European community and partner with it on a variety of global issues. And I
want to emphasize that we still seek both of those outcomes.
However, after modernizing both its nuclear and its
conventional military capabilities and warfighting doctrine, Russia is actively
seeking to undermine NATO. It has indicated it wants to dominate the Arctic. And
it wants to challenge many of America's broader global aims.
Consequently, we're now working very closely with NATO to
blunt further Russian aggression in Ukraine and to deter further Russian
intimidation or military actions against its neighbors and our NATO treaty
allies. Now, this is going to require expenditures of resources that quite
frankly we were not expecting to make, and in an era of constrained budgets.
Now, let's think about China. It's a rising power and a
growing economy; has impressive latent military-technical capabilities, and it
is going to present probably a more significant and enduring challenge over the
next 25 years, and one that the DOD has to focus on. Now, this doesn't mean to
suggest in any way, shape or form that I think China and the United States are
destined to become adversaries. Indeed, we see our future relationship with
China as having elements of both cooperation and competition, and not open
Accordingly, we continue to pursue military-to-military
cooperation, as well as confident-building measures with China in order to
increase transparency, expand our dialogue on a variety of security issues,
improve crisis stability and reduce the risk of military miscalculation. But at
the same time, I think everyone in this audience recognizes that DOD must not
overlook the competitive aspects of our relationship, especially in the realm of
military capabilities -- an area which China continues to improve at an
impressive rate. And we must also be aware of historical precedent.
A Harvard study has shown that in 15 cases in history in
which a rising power has interacted with the established state power or great
power, 10 have ended in war. China recognizes this itself. In its most recent
military strategy, it says, "International competition for the redistribution of
power, rights and interests is tending to intensify." We must therefore hedge
against this intensification becoming too heated. And that's where DOD comes in.
Now, from our perspective, the best way to hedge against any
overt military competition or even an unexpected crisis with another state
power, is for the United States to maintain strong nuclear and conventional
deterrent capabilities. And as to strong nuclear-conventional deterrence, which
is what I want to talk about today, that posture requires three things. First,
we have to overmatch the technical capabilities of any potential adversary.
Second, we have to maintain the ability to project power across trans-oceanic
distances and defeat any adversary's attempt to project power across intra- or
inter-theater distances. And third, we have to routinely demonstrate both of
those two capabilities.
Now, without these three fundamental things, our conventional
deterrence posture is going to be less effective. Our overseas alliances and
partnerships will be weakened. And crisis stability will be undermined. Now,
unquestionably, everybody in this room and all of us Americans, and especially
our national security professionals and Congress, we need to spend more time
thinking about strengthening all three pillars of our conventional deterrence
posture so that we preserve peace.
And since at least World War II, we have relied upon
technological superiority to provide us with the conventional overmatch to
overcome any adversary's advaantage in time, space or even size of forces. And
this was particularly true in the last 25 years since the Cold War ended, when
the United States enjoyed unparalleled conventional dominance across the
We could generally count on unimpeded access to land and the
air, on and under the seas, and in space. And even when our access was
challenged, we were generally able to establish access very quickly and at
relatively low cost. Once in theater, our joint force enjoyed a substantial
technical, operational and tactical overmatch against any potential regional
adversary. And one of the biggest reasons this was so was because of our
unparalleled space capabilities.
These capabilities evolved throughout the Cold War. They were
constantly refined. As you know, in the early days of the Cold War, we developed
space capabilities primarily to serve our strategic decision-makers. We relied
on space systems to peer behind the Iron Curtain, to determine the size of
Soviet nuclear forces. We launched early warning satellites to warn us of
possible nuclear attack. We launched communications satellites to connect our
nuclear retaliatory forces.
We used the full panoply of capabilities to determine the
size, disposition and readiness of Soviet ground forces and to track Soviet
Now, first, these capabilities, which were enormously
impressive, served the tactical warfighters rather indirectly. We provided
highly detailed maps to them derived from space capabilities. We had navigation
communications support. But it was towards the latter part of the Cold War where
tactical warfighters got a taste of exactly what space could provide them
through the Tactical Exploitation of National Capabilities (TENCAP) program.
Quite frankly, and I was a TENCAP officer, we found the taste
very much to our liking. Thus, once the Cold War ended and the National
Reconnaissance Office (NRO) came out of the black -- I served in the Operational
Support Office right around the time where NRO was still a classified name. But
we were coming closer to coming out as a wide-world organization. And the focus
of the space constellation from that point on, from the end of the Cold War on,
really expanded to support both operational and tactical commands.
Indeed, the space architecture that we built during the Cold
War provide us with an instant ability to set up theater-wide guided-munition
battle networks. That is, smart weapons that we can employ across the entire
range and depth of a theater, and these were enabled by space-based targeting,
navigation, timing and communications capabilities.
Now, these very same capabilities allowed us to become an
aggressive first-mover in this new warfighter regime involving guided munitions.
And it allowed us to dominate conventional fights in ways that we simply had not
done so in the past. Said another way, our space constellation helped give our
terrestrial forces an enormous operational and tactical overmatch against any
regional adversary. Gosh, I just can't say this enough, having worked in this
field for quite some time, that these capabilities that were built up and
refined over the Cold War allowed us to project more power, more precisely, more
swiftly, at less cost, and with less force structure and with far fewer
casualties than would otherwise be possible. Many of the people in this room
were directly responsible for these capabilities. And all Americans, and
certainly all fighting men and women, salute you for your efforts.
Without question over the past 25 years, much more so than
during the Cold War, space support has become so deeply enmeshed in joint,
combined arms operations that they are now absolutely central to our way of
deterring, assuring and war-fighting.
All right, so that's the good news. Now, the bad news is the
next 25 years is going to look a lot differently, as I said in the early part of
my presentation. The security environment is changing and our learned experience
over the last 25 years has to be increasingly examined and questioned. At the
macro level, the problem is our margin of technological
superiority is being eroded steadily, and at a pace that is uncomfortable
to Secretary Carter, myself and Frank Kendall, our undersecretary of defense for
acquisition, technology and logistics (AT&L).
Now, this erosion results from a combination of two factors,
which most of you are well aware of. The first is that many countries, including
Russia and China, are pursuing levels of advanced weapons development that we
haven't seen since the mid-1980s, near the very peak of the Soviet Union's surge
in Cold War defense spending. And second, for the last 14 years, our attention
has been rightly focused in the Middle East on the men and women that were
fighting there. And now, our post-Cold War budget cuts are limiting our own
ability to make technical investments. So as a result, the big margin of
technological superiority we have has shrunk.
But the problem goes well beyond just the mere erosion of our
technological overmatch. So let's talk about space. For the last 25 years, we've
considered it a virtual sanctuary. We have counted on the capabilities there and
haven't thought much about it, other than we know we want it and we expect to
have it. But as this audience knows, that is no longer the case. Many countries,
including Russia and China, have studied our way of warfighting and they search
for gaps that they can exploit in the unlikely event that we would come -- that
we would have a clash of arms. And they have focused on our space system as a
potentially vulnerable center of gravity for U.S. military power and – they are
So as a result, space must now be considered a contested
operational domain, in ways that we haven't had to think about in the past. Said
another way, we find ourselves dependent now on space capabilities that are
increasingly vulnerable to counter-space systems that others are developing.
Now, obviously, we need to do something about this. So the
first order of business is something that this audience needs to think about,
along with all of the other parts of our space architecture, is to make us more
resilient so that we can continue to count on space-based missions to support
our forces regardless of the threats against it.
If we fail to do so, the implications for our national
security will be quite profound. Our command and control would be significantly
degraded. Our ability to detect and track adversary ballistic missile launches
would suffer. The accuracy of our precision-guided munitions would be put into
question. The satellite links that connect our aerial -- unmanned aerial systems
could be denied. We would lose much of the space-derived data that forms the
foundation of nearly all of our intelligence products.
The ugly reality that we must now all face is that if an
adversary were able to take space away from us, our ability to project decisive
power across trans-oceanic distances and to overmatch adversaries in theaters
once we get there, both of which are the very essence of our conventional
deterrent posture, would be critically weakened.
Now, President Obama has made clear that such a future or
situation is totally unacceptable. And he has challenged senior defense and
intelligence community leadership to make big changes in our space strategy and
posture, to make sure it never happens.
So what do we do? From the Department of Defense, we'll start
with first principles. We exist for two purposes. We deter threats to our nation
where we can, and we fight and win our nation's wars when we must. We cannot
credibly deter conflict if we are not prepared to fight and we're not
demonstrating our capability to win. And that means we must be prepared now to
prevail in conflicts that extend into space.
So that means we have to work with the intelligence community
to approach this problem in a holistic manner, so that both DOD and the
intelligence community assets are seen as a single coherent constellation.
Together, we have to develop new space tactics and doctrines, to account for a
contested space environment. Together, we must and will need better indications
and warning of attacks upon our respective systems and space assets.
Together, we must and will develop more resilient
architectures. Together, we must and will develop command centers that help us
fight through attacks. And together, we must make sure that we counter adversary
space capabilities, especially their intelligence, surveillance and
reconnaissance (ISR) and their space-enabled precision strike.
Now, this is going to mean that we're going to have to devote
resources – divert resources to the space mission set. And our budgets reflect
this. Starting 2016, we shifted about $5 billion of both I.C. and Defense
Department investment into space security. It doesn't sound like a lot, but in
this budget environment, that was a big, big muscle move. And the top aim of
this year's strategic portfolio review on space is to figure out if we need to
Now, without question, as we discuss and we debate what space
capabilities we need to improve upon, GEOINT is going to remain at the top of
the list. All of you know the incredible products you provide to the warfighter
-- exquisite imagery, detailed highly accurate maps and charts, data for
high-fidelity mission planning systems, change detection, highly accurate
targeting support, even three-dimensional renderings of buildings and compounds
such as the ones used at the Abbottabad compound in the bin Laden raid.
But there's not going to be any rest for the weary in this
room, I'll tell you that. Because we're going to double-down on GEOINT in the
future. We want to be able to establish patterns of light in space. We want to
know what the unusual looks like. All of a sudden, a lot of cars show up in a
parking lot of an adversary's missile plant, we want to know about it and we
want to know about it quickly.
If suddenly, small boats are swarming in the Gulf or pirates
are starting to congregate off Aden, we want to know. If Russian soldiers are
snapping pictures of themselves in war zones and posting them on social media
sites, we want to know exactly where those pictures were taken. If people start
building islands or starting to build structures on islands in the South China
Sea, we want to know about it. And if a ship that we suspect -- suspect might be
carrying illicit materials, we want to know how deep it is sitting in the water
so we can determine how much cargo is on board.
And by the way, on top of all of that, we want this
information more quickly than in the past in order to get inside an adversary's
response time, inside their decision loop. Because in an era of warfare in which
computer and machines are working with humans, reaction times become shorter. We
have to be able to dominate the temporal component of warfare, which we call
speed of action.
Now, how are we going to do this in the era of tight budgets?
Like I said, we shifted $5 billion. In the big scheme of things, $5 billion is a
big relative, but in absolute terms, not really that big. Well, one way we're
going to do it, and I think Robert Cardillo and his entire workforce is already
kind of leading us in this way -- as you all know, in the early GEOINT days, the
government collection systems were far more prevalent than commercial. But today,
the equation has flipped. And sensors and platforms have become commoditized.
As Robert Cardillo has told me, in the next five years, it
looks as though we might have more than a dozen GEOINT constellations with more
than 500 small sats [satellites] that we'll launch and get the continuous image
of the earth in some way. And as he said, this mass of satellites will
revolutionize the way we sense the planet.
So all of us here, and the GEOINT community, need to figure
out how to harness the incredible power of such constellations if they come to
pass. If we are successful, we will continue to move the GEOINT community beyond
just the provider of pixels and increasingly a service provider, which allows us
to understand more and more of the world around us. We'll be aided by tapping
into the innovations of the commercial sector. We have to be able to do that.
And we need to get into real-time video, persistent access and multi- and
So that's the next big challenge for the GEOINT community,
which has done so much for our country over the course of the Cold War and the
last 25 years. They're going to have to be prepared to analyze, categorize and
prioritize what is going to be a mountain -- a massive amount of data. They're
going to have to be able to sift through this crush of data to gain the ability
to understand and even predict what is happening, which Robert calls providing
coherence out of chaos.
I think that is such an apt mission for the GEOINT community.
That means we're going to have to invest in decision science in both big data
and predictive analysis types of things. And we have to do so with the
understanding that space is not only contested, but the information domain is
contested also. And that is increasingly at risk, too.
Right now I think the commercial sector has eclipsed
government RDT&E investment, especially in the decision science era of big data
analytics. And for that reason, Secretary Carter has decided to launch what he
refers to as the defense innovation unit experimental, or DIUX, which will be
located at Silicon Valley, be a point of presence for us, and we'll try to
harness the resident innovation culture in areas like remote sensing, big data,
advanced computing, robotics, miniaturization, additive manufacturing and on and
Now, even though we look to the commercial sector for
innovation, I can't tell you -- I do not want to leave you with the impression
that I don't think that we are innovative inside the government. I recently had
the honor of visiting the headquarters of NGA and NRO both. I spent several
hours interacting with the workforce. And I have to tell you, I was just blown
away -- blown away by the dedication, mission-oriented, just innovative approach
that our military, civilian and contractor workforce is dedicated to. It's going
to be the pairing of this exceptional workforce with the technological
advantages that we harness from the commercial sector that is going to yield
this enormous payoff as we look to provide our warfighters an enduring
And I can tell you confidently that Robert Cardillo and Betty
Sapp are the right leaders at the right time in the right place now to try to
figure this out.
So again, the next 25 years is really going to be much
different than the last. And it's going to challenge us in ways that we have not
really thought about since the end of the Cold War. Two, we will be contested
across the technological domain and in all operating domains, but especially
space, because our adversaries know just how powerful our space capabilities are
and how much we rely upon them. GEOINT is going to be central to the way ahead
and being able to aggregate and sift through and make sense out of this enormous
amount of data that we expect over the next five to ten years. To create
coherence out of chaos is going to be the central mission of the GEOINT
Again, thank you for allowing me to share my morning with you
this morning, and I look forward to your questions.