The current system of integrating the responsibilities and actions of regional commanders in chief doesn’t work well, and the U.S. is still failing to address hybrid warfare coherently, Gen. John E. Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said March 10.
He also discussed China and Russia’s strategic activities, how to approach modernizing NORAD, and his efforts to inject more speed into the joint requirements process.
Speaking on an online seminar of the Canadian Conference of Defence Associations, Hyten said the U.S. is struggling with “the integration piece” of its system of regional combatant commands, and who has responsibility for threats and conflicts that overlap the commands’ areas of regard.
“We’ve learned that we actually don’t know how to do that very well,” Hyten said. “We don’t effectively operate in an integrated manner.” The U.S. is experimenting with ways to close those seams through exercises and wargames, some alone and some in concert with allies, “especially in Europe,” he said.
“So, we’ve achieved the first step of the 12-step process, but we haven’t moved beyond,” he joked.
The impulse is to re-organize the system, he said, but “in almost every case … that’s the worst place to start dealing with the problem.” The first task is to “figure out what you need to do, … who needs to do what, how it needs to work, and then say, ‘Am I organized correctly to do that?’”
The analysis is being done within the Joint Warfighting Concept, he said, with all the combatant commands, allies, and partners playing a role.
“I’m not sure we’re organized incorrectly,” he cautioned, noting that the CCMDs are the direct connection to individual and groups of allies in theaters, and those relationships are key.
Almost every CCMD, for example, has a responsibility to deal with Russia, Hyten noted. Even U.S. Southern Command is dealing with Russia’s relationship with Venezuela, he said.
“You can’t look at each COCOM as a unique function that only deals with that territory, because all problems are global,” Hyten asserted.
In that context, the recent proposal to move responsibilities with Israel from U.S. European Command to U.S. Central Command is not a “fundamental change” in the construct, he said.
On the subject of refreshing the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Hyten said the U.S. and Canada need to “sit down together and figure out what aerospace defense really means. Let’s look at the threats and what we have to do,” and then decide if NORAD is doing too much or too little, and whether it is too big or too small. That should drive decisions on how and what to modernize it, he said.
“You don’t modernize just to modernize. You modernize to do something, and the only way to [do that] is to figure out what that is,” Hyten said. Absent that step, “Modernization just means, we want you to build new stuff for all your old stuff.”
The U.S. has not “done a good job of understanding the hybrid threat, and therefore we haven’t done a good job of responding” to it, Hyten said of Russia’s mix of information and kinetic warfare.
Russia “and others” see hybrid warfare as “another means … to their end state.” Russia is “trying to change the perception of others around the world … They believe they can walk up to a line and not cross the line and still achieve their objectives in the ‘gray zone’” of influence.
The U.S. and its allies needs to “open our eyes and realize … that is a strategy. We have to study it just like we study conventional warfare or … nuclear warfare, just like we’ve studied counterterrorism.” If hybrid is not treated with the same discipline of analysis and response, “you will not be effective … because it is a focused effort by a nation-state in trying to challenge the West,” he said.
Hyten said his biggest concern is that “we have not taken a fresh look at it, and therefore, everybody’s idea of how to deal with it is based on their own perceptions … That’s not how we deal with every other element of warfare, but somehow that’s what we’ve fallen into.”
China and Russia have to be faced with “open eyes,” Hyten said, and dealt with based not on wishful thinking but their behavior.
“It’s important to be realistic,” he warned. “If [China is] building a nuclear triad … [and] massive and powerful space capabilities, if they’re building and using cyber capabilities inside the United States [and Canada], they’re doing it for a reason. They’re not doing it because it’s … kind of fun.” America’s adversaries are “using enormous amounts of national treasure to build things that basically threaten the West; not just the United States …To threaten the liberal order that was developed after World War II, that we’ve operated under for the last eight decades.”
The COVID crisis has been a revelation about China, Hyten said.
“We saw China show their true colors,” he asserted. “They still have not been transparent about what happened in Wuhan. They still have not been transparent in helping the world deal with the virus … They still have not been transparent on supplies.” The U.S. and its allies need to view China “not just from a [physical] security perspective—am I going to be attacked—but what are the other elements going on that impact our everyday existence? And China over the last year has not helped the world in our everyday existence, and they still aren’t. So it’s important that we open our eyes and understand that.”
Likewise, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shouldn’t be ignored, he said, but all its aggressions looked at “with open eyes” and realism.
Hyten said he “hasn’t fixed the problem” of injecting far greater speed into the joint requirements process, something he hopes to advance in his last months in the job. He noted that in 2000, the military moved from a threat-based process to a capabilities-based system, wherein it was reasoned that, “if we just develop the capabilities, we’ll be able to stay ahead of any adversaries as far in the future as you can see.” That approach, though, led to a risk aversion that drove all decisions to the Pentagon “and away from the field,” slowing things down and building an elaborate bureaucracy.
“We have to get back to the way we did it in the 1950s,” he said, explaining that Thule Air Base, Greenland—with an early warning radar, 10,000-foot runway, two hangars for B-52s, and a town for 2,500 people—was built “in 91 days, … 600 miles from the North Pole” at the order of former head of Strategic Air Command, Gen. Curtis LeMay, and held up for many decades of use. The Pentagon needs to emulate that and delegate authorities to lower levels “and allow people to do their job.”
His goal is to tell the services, “Here’s your joint requirement, just go build it, and go fast. That’s what we’re trying to do. It’s frustrating, but we should all take ownership of the fact that we’ve become bureaucratic and slow, and we have adversaries that move very fast.”