Winnefeld Delivers Opening Keynote at 2014 Missile Defense Conference

James A. Winnefeld, Jr., Vice Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff began his keynote remarks at the Atlantic Council’s annual missile defense by examining two key terms: strategy and deterrence. Winnefeld stated that he and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, define strategy as linking and balancing ends, ways, and means and then evaluating the resulting risks. He then explained that deterrence comes in two forms. One form of deterrence is showing an adversary we can deny his objectives (i.e., his attack will fail). The second is that we can and will impose unacceptable costs on an adversary foolish enough to attack. 

The admiral announced that if the next missile defense test succeeds, the US will resume production of 14 in-progress missiles and expects to install them in the ground by the end of 2017. With these additional 14 GBIs (Ground Based Interceptors) we will have 44 interceptors in Alaska and California. Winnefeld said he would invest his “next nickel” on sensors because improvements in quantity and quality of sensors decreases the number of interceptors necessary. For example, the deployment of a new radar to Japan later this year will increase the defense of both US homeland and regional allies.

Winnefeld admitted his concern over the threat from cruise missiles. Current technology provides us with warning time if attacked by incoming ballistic missiles, but missile defense must also address the threat from cruise missiles, which can surprise and strike the US in ways ballistic missiles cannot.

The admiral emphasized that there has been a massive proliferation of regional ballistic threats, including an increase of more than 1,200 missiles in the last 5 years. There are now 6,000 ballistic missiles in the world and that number does not include the Russian and Chinese arsenals.

The US has deployed some form of missile defense system in 10 different countries and we have 30 Aegis ships capable of performing the missile defense mission. The US is also supporting missile defense improvements with its regional allies. For example, UAE is adding THAAD to its existing Patriot missiles, Saudi Arabia is upgrading its Patriot PAC2 batteries to PAC3 configurations and Kuwait is also purchasing Patriot PAC3 batteries.

The US will promote regional ballistic missile defense in East Asia. The admiral warned that growing the unpredictability of the North Korean regime might generate additional US missile defense deployments in Asia.

Winnefeld pointed out that SM3 missile interceptors onboard US ships have been deployed in the European theater since 2011. The first EPAA (European Phased Adaptive Approach) site in Romania will be operational in December 2015. In total, the US plans to have 48 missiles deployed on the ground in Europe.

Winnefeld pointed out that the US does not rely on missile defense for strategic deterrence of Russia because it would be too hard, too expensive, and too strategically destabilizing. He argued that NATO missile defense is designed to defeat a missile launch from the Middle East in the South and not from Russia in the East. He pointed out that the EPAA could not defeat Russia’s strategic ICMBs because there are too many of them and they are too sophisticated for European missile defense system. Furthermore, interceptors deployed in Europe will not have the velocity required to stop Russian ICMBs.

Winnefeld then addressed the effectiveness of current missile defense technology.  According to the admiral, operational configured interceptors have successful hit-to-kill records; THAAD has hit 11/11, Aegis BMD had hit 18/21, GMD hit 3/6, and Patriot PAC3 hit 21/25.

Winnefeld challenged the myth that countermeasures against missile defense are easy and cheap. US has tested its own countermeasures program and discovered just how difficult it is to get it right. In addition, our adversaries don’t do much testing of their countermeasures and thus cannot know well how their countermeasure perform.

In response to questions from the moderator, Fred Kempe, and the audience, Winnefeld tackled issues such as North Korea, Russia, Iran, and the South China Sea. Winnefeld declared that North Korea is the closest threat to achieving the capability to hit US homeland with ballistic missile. North Korea does not have that capability yet, but it has successfully tested components of that capability and could achieve that capability suddenly. Therefore, the US military already has the capability to shoot down a missile coming from North Korea.

A Russian journalist asked Winnefeld to respond to statements by Russian leaders that if NATO completed deploying a missile defense system in Europe, Russia would target it with Iskander missiles. The admiral stated that targeting a missile defense facility would be a “very provocative and foolish act.” To pre-emptively strike a NATO missile defense site would be an Article 5 “instant activation” and “hugely provocative.” Winnefeld confessed that it was hard for him to consider that any serious Russian leader would authorize an attack on a missile defense system oriented to the South and not to Russia. According to Winnefeld, “it boggles the mind, to imagine that.” He believes it is probably just saber-rattling in Moscow by leaders who do not speak for Putin. According to Winnefeld, the bottom line is that “we are committed fully to the defense of our NATO partners and will continue to deploy this system in order to protect them.” The admiral also stated that it’s a “smart move” for Poland and allies to improve their national missile defense capabilities.

Winnefeld argued that if a successful agreement is reached with Iran on its nuclear program, it does not eliminate Iran as a threat to US interests and it does not decrease our commitment to help protect our regional allies. He emphasized that Iran still has a lot of conventional ballistic missiles that the US has to take seriously.

Regarding instability and rising tension in the South China Sea, Winnefeld stated that the US “is completely committed” to the defense of our regional allies in the South Pacific. He also said that US missile defense policy on China is that we will not undermine China’s strategic missile capability. The US believes in strategic stability with China, but not parity.

This panel was part of the Atlantic Council’s annual conference on the United States and Global Missile Defense which focuses on recent developments in missile defense architectures in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia and how global missile defense is likely to look in the year 2030.