By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 30, 2010; A23
"We continue to strengthen and sharpen our focus on deterrence while at the same time preserving our freedom of action in space and cyberspace," Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, head of Strategic Command (Stratcom), said in last week's appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Increasingly, however, Stratcom has been assigned heavy and varied responsibilities. It began with strategic deterrence, nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. In 2002 came space operations, including global command and control (those communication and early-warning satellites in space) and missile defense. Cyber operations recently were added, followed by combating weapons of mass destruction, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR aircraft), and finally information operations (IO).
Chilton has the right background for such a multifaceted job.
He's an Air Force Academy graduate, an engineer (master of science from Columbia University), test pilot (F-15), NASA astronaut (three space trips) and manager (operations for the international space station program).
In 2007, when he was appointed Stratcom commander, he said at an Air Force Association symposium that he had "multiple missions, more than I could get my small mind around." He said he had to prioritize -- and he did.
He looked at missile defense, ISRs, WMDs and IO and put them lower on the list. "What struck me right away is, we had no forces assigned to conduct operations in those areas," he said.
In short, Stratcom's job was to advise: how to bring together missile-defense concepts of operations; with ISR, how best to use those high-demand/low numbers of aircraft; with WMD, help synchronize planning by the regional combatant commanders; and with IO, to "work in support of just about everybody around the world," Chilton said.
Then, he listed his top priorities. "There are three areas where we [Stratcom] actually have forces assigned . . . where I have three-star general officers who run our command and control centers and promulgate orders daily to the folks that work" for each of the generals. Chilton concluded by delineating those three focus areas: "cyberspace, space and global strike in the form of certain nuclear deterrence."
Last week, in defending Stratcom's growing budget, Chilton kept his focus on those areas. As a former astronaut, he spoke extensively about the need for space awareness and a next-generation space-based surveillance system to prevent collisions between satellites, manned spacecraft and debris.
In addition, he said, "I don't think we can imagine military operations today without the advantages we have obtained from missile warning in space, global communications, GPS . . . navigation and tracking."
A new Cyber Command is in the works, awaiting confirmation of its nominated commander, Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, currently the director of the National Security Agency. The new subcommand of Stratcom will combine offensive and defensive military cyber operations. Individual services -- the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines -- have created their own cyber commands, which Chilton will coordinate.
Because so much depends on Defense Department information networks, Chilton said protecting and improving them have become "interdependent imperatives -- with new and expanded cyber capabilities." But he reminded senators that Stratcom's responsibility is to "operate and defend military networks only," not other government or civilian systems, which "fall under the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security."
In the nuclear area, Chilton said his people had input in the 2011 Nuclear Posture Review, which has yet to be released. They also provided support for the arms-control negotiators whose work resulted in the announcement last week of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Chilton told the panel that his command will help design the strategy and plans that implement new limits in that agreement.
Meanwhile, he said, Stratcom carries on some old business. Last June, it held Global Thunder 2009, what Chilton told senators was "the most extensive nuclear command, control and communications field exercise in over a decade." It involved strategic submarines, aircraft sorties including B-52s, an intercontinental ballistic missile test launch, and continuous airborne command and control.
In August, Air Force Global Strike Command became operational, showing new Air Force attention to its nuclear responsibilities in the wake of the September 2007 fiasco: B-52s took off from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota with pilots and others unaware that they were carrying an armed air-launched cruise missile across the United States to Louisiana.
Chilton has also become a student of deterrence.
"Since the end of the Cold War, the serious study of deterrence theory and strategy has been inadequate," he said. An entire generation of policymakers, academics and military professionals skipped studying the evolution of deterrence. The preliminary work on the nuclear posture review and START "revealed this shortage of human capital," he said.
To fill the gap, Stratcom last summer held its first annual Deterrence Symposium. Chilton gave the senators an interesting thought to ponder: "Throughout the 65-year history of nuclear weapons, no nuclear power has been conquered or even put at risk of conquest, nor has the world witnessed the globe-consuming conflicts of earlier history."
It's a thought others in government ought to ponder as they watch Iran and North Korea seek to develop nuclear capability.