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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

West 2014 Day One

 

Morning Keynote: Ms. Christine Fox, Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense 

America’s armed forces need to be downsized, Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox during the opening address at WEST 2014 Tuesday at the San Diego Convention Center.

“The fiscal uncertainty and continued budget austerity… require that we make tough and far-sighted choices now in order to achieve a ready and modern force in the future,” she said.

“The strategic environment, the fiscal environment, the political and bureaucratic realities of the defense enterprise – point to the conclusion that the military must get smaller over the next five to 10 years,” Fox said. “It is not an ideal course of action. It contains real risks – as a smaller force, no matter how ready or technologically advanced, can go to fewer places and do fewer things. But given current realities, it is the only plausible way to generate the military’s technological superiority for the next generation – to avoid the prospect of a `hollow force’ in the future.”

Fox also addressed the Pentagon’s renewed focus in Asia. But she emphasized that the so-called pivot is not all about China. Threats are growing “not just from advanced military powers, but from the proliferation of more advanced, precise anti-ship munitions around the globe,” Fox said.

“Clearly, this puts a premium on undersea capabilities – submarines – that can deploy and strike with relative freedom of movement. For aerial platforms we need the ability to strike from over the horizon from secure locations, whether that capability comes from missiles, bombers, or tactical aircraft, manned or unmanned.

But with limited resources and global responsibilities, we simply can’t afford to build a Navy tailored for one region and one kind of fight. We need a flexible portfolio of capabilities that can operate along the full spectrum of conflict and military operations.”

Fox noted Pentagon spending has been cut by billions of dollars, but said, “going after the `real money’ invariably leads to compensation, about half of all defense spending, broadly defined as all pay and benefits, military and civilian, current and retirees, direct and in-kind. The 2000s’ saw substantial military pay and benefit increases – which was justified by the circumstances at the time. The result, however, is a compensation package that will be difficult to sustain under today’s budget circumstances – at least without making truly damaging and dangerous cuts elsewhere.”

Fox also emphasized, “survivability of our battle fleet is imperative…we need more ships with the protection and firepower to survive against a more advanced military adversary. Presence is important. Presence with a purpose and capability.”

President Barack Obama appointed Fox to the Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian position in December. She has also served as director for cost assessment and program evaluation in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and as principal staff assistant to the defense secretary for evaluating and analyzing plans, programs and budgets.

Obama last week nominated Robert Work to be the next Deputy Secretary of Defense. The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing Feb. 13 to consider the nomination. Work at previous WEST conventions has said that reductions in military spending growth are nothing new.

 

Panel: What Does the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan Teach Us about the Future?

Coalitions. That was the theme of a morning panel with retired Marine Gen. John R. Allen and retired Adm. James Stavridis discussing what the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan teaches us about the future.

“In the end, unilateral action is not a successful strategy for the United States,” Stavridis said, pointing out that 50 countries, including 28 members of NATO, took part in the Afghan war. “This diplomatic and military coalition was central to the work in Afghanistan.”

A key coalition partner, the retired admiral said, was the Afghans themselves.

Gen. Allen agreed. “American military power might be applied unilaterally, but in the end, it is effectively applied through coalitions.”

While the future of the country remains somewhat in doubt, both pointed out the successes secured. Before the U.S. launched its war in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, some 500,000 children – all boys – were enrolled in Afghan schools. Today, an estimated 9 million children – 40 percent of who are girls – study in Afghan schools, Stavridis said. Further, when the Taliban was ruling the country, just 10 percent of the population had access to health care. Today, that number is closer to 65 percent. And when the Taliban controlled the impoverished nation, virtually no one owned a cell phone. Today, there are 19 million cell phones in the country. And developments there are covered by a free press.

“I am cautiously optimistic optimistic,” Allen said. “There have been a lot of huge accomplishments that have occurred, though the question is will they be sustained?”

He also reminded the audience “we need to keep our expectations measured.” Afghanistan was the fourth poorest country on Earth when the war began, and it remains among the poorest in the world today. Corruption will remain a challenge. As will tribal rivalries.

“This is a long-term human project to work our way out of,” Allen said.

Stavridis was optimistic, saying the same sort of questions persisted in Colombia 10 years ago and in the Balkans five years before that.

“I see a better than even chance of coming ahead in Afghanistan,” Stavridis said. “But the fact that we are handing off power democratically I think is… remarkable.”

Allen noted that the challenges posed by tribalism and ethnic tensions “does not preclude a system of governance that will work for Afghanistan.”

 

Luncheon Keynote: ADM Harry B. Harris, Jr. USN, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet 

Budget constraints and sequestration may cause a reassessment of America’s military spending, but the nation must remain committed to security on the sea, Adm. Harry B. Harris, Jr., commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said during a luncheon address.

“Our world is interconnected and interdependent in ways unimaginable only a generation ago,” Harris said. “Today, not only does 90 percent of the world’s commerce travel by sea, but 95 percent of all Internet traffic travels under it.

“Freedom of the seas is the minimum condition necessary for global trade to flourish. That applies to the United States, a true maritime nation and very much a Pacific nation, and that applies to every other country in the world, some perhaps more obvious than others. But all are affected by the seas.”

Harris said China remains a concern, including its treatment of its neighbors and its recent declaration establishing an Air Defense Identification Zone.

“Our criticism of China's recent establishment of an Air Defense Identification Zone, or ADIZ, is less about it's right to do so, but rather how they did it in a unilateral attempt to change the status quo,” Harris said. “I also have concerns regarding the aggressive growth of the Chinese military, their lack of transparency, and a pattern of increasingly assertive behavior in the East China Sea and South China Sea. This includes incremental efforts to assert control over the area within the so-called `nine dash line.’ They’re doing this despite the objections of their neighbors, and, in my opinion, a lack of any explanation or basis under international law.”

Despite such moves, Harris said, “We welcome the emergence of a prosperous and successful China as a positive contributor to Asian stability and member of the community of nations. It is in the best interests of the U.S. and China that we manage friction and prevent misunderstanding at sea through sustained navy-to-navy communication, and practical cooperation on maritime challenges faced by all Pacific nations.”

 

Panel: Joint Strike Fighter: What Do the Pilots Who Are Flying It Today Have to Say?

The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is a revolutionary weapon that is “extraordinarily easy to fly,” but that will cause some rethinking for aircraft carrier crews and others who maintain it, pilots who have flown the jet said during an afternoon panel session.

“I compare it to my experiences in the [F/A-18E/F] Super Hornet,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Burks. “It is extraordinarily easy to fly.”

Even more important, when one considers its spy capabilities and the 20,000-gallons of fuel in its tanks and “when you look at all of these capabilities, there isn’t an aviator out there who wouldn’t be dying to get into the cockpit of an F-35 today.”

Marine Lt. Col. Steve Gillette agreed. “It handles magnificently when you’re in the over.”

Burks, however, pointed out that the F-35 couldn’t be treated like just another jet fighter on an aircraft carrier. “It’s going to require daily support, it’s going to take a whole squadron effort” to maintain the aircraft. In addition, “it’s a noisy jet” that will require what Burks called improved “noise cancellation” efforts for those working nearby.

The F-35 program has been criticized for being schedule and about 70 percent over initial cost estimates, but military experts say it will play a pivotal role for the Navy, Air Force and Marines.

William Gigliotti, a lead test pilot with manufacturer Lockheed Martin noted the F-35 Lightning II program has had its share of wrinkles, but added it also is “the most heavily scrutinized program around.”

He also said the weapon gives pilots “an unfair advantage against the enemy.”

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