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Board Director, Atlantic Council; Head of Strategic Partnerships and International Affairs, Saab
Jane Holl Lute
Advisory Council Member, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and Board Director, Atlantic Council; President and Chief Executive Officer, SICPA North America
Secretary of the Army, US Department of Defense
National Security Reporter, the Wall Street Journal
MICHAEL ANDERSSON: On behalf of Saab and the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, as well as its Forward Defense practice, I would like to welcome you to this exciting second installment of our 2022 Commanders Series, “A Conversation with Secretary Wormuth on the Army’s Role in the National Defense Security Strategy.” Secretary Wormuth, thank you so much for joining us today.
When Saab and the Atlantic Council first launched the Commanders Series in 2009, our vision was to establish a flagship speakers forum for senior military and defense leaders to discuss the most important security challenges both now and in the future. This series has been very useful for defense companies like Saab, helping us better understand challenges and priorities in order to inform our investments and partnerships, particularly when it comes to research and development, while better preparing ourselves to meet future capability needs.
Today’s event is the second installment of the Commanders Series in 2022. Last year, we were honored to kick off our series with a discussion on advancing Army priorities with then-Acting Secretary of the US Army John Whitley and Army Chief of Staff General James McConville. General McConville has been a frequent guest at the Commanders Series. The year prior, he also featured in a discussion on adapting Army operations to prevail in near-peer competition. Today’s event will add to our proven track record of insightful engagement with the Army leadership.
We’re delighted, again, to host the secretary of the US Army, the Honorable Christine Wormuth, to build upon these previous discussions. There is no leader better situated today to discuss the Army’s role in deterring malign actors across the board. Secretary, thank you again for spending time with us today. We’re looking forward to hearing your insights during the upcoming hour.
With that, it is my great pleasure to introduce my colleague Jane Holl Lute, who will make a couple of announcements and further introduce our esteemed guests. Jane is also an Atlantic Council board director and the president and CEO of SICPA North America, a company that specializes in providing solutions to protect the integrity of products, processes, and documents. Jane has held previous roles as deputy secretary in the Department of Homeland Security, as assistant secretary-general of the United Nations, and as a member of the National Security Council under the Bush and Clinton administrations. She’s also had a distinguished career in the US Army, including service in the Gulf during Operation Desert Storm. She deeply understands the importance and the topics we will discuss today.
Jane, thank you for joining us today. Over to you.
JANE HOLL LUTE: Thank you very much, Michael for that introduction and for Saab’s generous, longstanding support for the Scowcroft Center’s Commanders Series.
It’s a pleasure to hear from many senior defense and military officials and leaders here at the Council that we have hosted over the years, and I’m particularly looking forward to our discussion with today’s remarkable guest. We’re joined by the United States secretary of the Army, Christine Wormuth. Thank you very much for joining us, Madam Secretary, and we look forward to your insights over the next hour.
Here at the Atlantic Council, our Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security works to develop sustainable, nonpartisan strategies to address the most important security challenges facing the United States, its allies, and partners. The Center seeks to honor General Brent Scowcroft’s legacy of service and embodies his ethos of nonpartisan commitment to the cause of security and peace. While we are working together on these issues related to security and peace, the United States and its partners and allies really have so much to thank General Scowcroft for.
Consistent with his ethos and with the mission, the Scowcroft Center’s Forward Defense practice is designed to shape the debate around the greatest military challenges facing the United States and its allies, and creates forward-looking assessments of the trends, technologies, and concepts that will define the future of warfare. That future is only becoming more complex, as we are currently seeing with the evolving crisis and war in Ukraine.
This year the Biden administration is set to release the National Defense Strategy, which will provide a roadmap for the Department of Defense’s near-term priorities. The recently-released National Defense Strategy fact sheet provides a glimpse into the department’s strategic thinking, stressing integrated deterrence, campaigning, and building enduring advantages as the three main lines of effort.
The United States Army, alongside its sister services, will need to coordinate with allies and partners and defend across all domains and theaters of warfare to maintain military advantage now and into the future. Additionally, deterring China and then Russia remains both a top priority for the United States’ defense.
As Russia challenges the United States and allied leadership abroad, US troops are reinforcing NATO countries and Ukraine in response to the intensifying aggression. Meanwhile, the United States continues to recognize China as the pacing threat. While the current administration gradually shifts resources to the Indo-Pacific, the Army makes the case for its value to joint force operations there.
In response to an evolving defense landscape, the United States Army must adapt its posture and update its arsenal to support US and allied security imperatives. Secretary Wormuth will sit down with us to discuss the Army’s role in meeting the national and global defense priorities today and tomorrow.
As secretary of the Army, Christine Wormuth is the Defense Department’s senior civilian official responsible for all matters related to the United States Army. In her role, she is responsible for the function and readiness of the Army ranging from personnel to financial matters. She is formerly—she has formerly held senior national security roles in the Obama administration, special assistant to the president, and as the National Security Council’s senior director of defense. Secretary Wormuth also served as deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy, plans, and forces, including the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review. She has also served as undersecretary of defense for policy, advising the secretary of defense on a range of functional and regional issues. I’d be remiss not to mention that she also served as the founding director of the Atlantic Council’s Resilience Center, which strives for sustainable solutions to climate, migration, and security problems.
Secretary, thank you for taking on the myriad security challenges now facing the nation.
Moderating today’s conversation is Vivian Salama, who serves as a national security reporter at The Wall Street Journal. She has covered US foreign policy and national security for nearly two decades and has reported from over seventy nations.
Before I hand it over to Secretary Wormuth for keynote remarks, I would like to remind everyone that this event is a public event and on the record. We encourage our audience on Zoom to direct any questions to the secretary using the Q&A tab, which you can find at the bottom of your screen. Be sure to identify yourself, please, and your affiliation as you ask your questions. We’ll be collecting them throughout the event and then Vivian will pose some questions to our guest at the end. We also encourage our online audience to join the conversation on Twitter by following @ACScowcroft and using the hashtag #ForwardDefense.
Thank you all for joining the Atlantic Council for what I know will be a stimulating, captivating conversation. Secretary Wormuth, without any further ado, over to you.
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: Good afternoon, and it is delightful to be back at the Atlantic Council. It’s great to see some of my former colleagues who I so enjoyed working with.
And, Jane, thank you so much for that introduction. I really appreciate it. You have been a woman leader in our national security community, in our homeland security community. And like everyone who served in our Army, you are also a soldier for life. So thank you so much. It’s great to be here.
I’ve spent the last few weeks testifying with General McConville, the chief of staff of the Army, in front of Congress, and meeting with senators and representatives, and talking about really the Army’s top three priorities—people, modernization, and readiness—and talking about how we’re trying to strike the balance between meeting the demands of today while also preparing for the future. But given this audience and given everything I know about the Atlantic Council, I thought this afternoon that I would talk a little bit about how the Army is going to play its part in implementing the National Defense Strategy, which the department has just issued in the last several weeks.
There are three primary lines of effort in the National Defense Strategy. The first is campaigning or active campaigning. The next is integrated deterrence. And then the third pillar is building enduring advantages. And the Army has a role to play in all three of these pillars, and I just thought I would talk briefly about our role in each part of the strategy.
First, the Army is campaigning out in the world every single day. Campaigning strengthens deterrence and it enables us to give advantages against the full range of competitors’ actions. Really, the core of campaigning is using operating forces and synchronizing them and aligning our US government activities with other instruments of national power—non-military instruments of national power—all to undermine acute forms of competitor coercion and to complicate adversaries’ military preparations as we develop our own warfighting capabilities with our allies and partners around the world.
And we in the Army are campaigning every day in Europe and in the Indo-Pacific and in other regions all around the world. In Europe, for example, the Army invested $2.4 billion just in FY 2022 for the European Deterrence Initiative. And we’ve seen the return of that, frankly, on that investment, when our troops were able to deploy and basically go to Europe, fall in on the Army pre-positioned sets of equipment, and be out in the field doing live-fire training with that equipment all in about a week’s time. That would not have been possible had we not made the investments in EDI that we’ve made in the last couple of years.
The Army also established—reestablished V Corps in 2020 and stood up a forward headquarters element, which I visited, in Poznan, Poland. And that forward headquarters has been very important in everything we’re doing right now as we confront Russia’s completely unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
The EDI investments have also allowed us to build up infrastructure throughout NATO territory and to undertake considerable training with our NATO allies. We actually just wrapped up the signature exercise for the region, DEFENDER-Europe 2022, and that took place across nine different countries. It included more than 3,400 US troops and 5,100 multinational members from eleven allied and partner nations. And this is, frankly, on top of everything that we’re already doing to, again, deter aggression against NATO territory and to help Ukraine defend itself.
Turning to the Indo-Pacific and what we’re doing to campaign there, in the Indo-Pacific we’ve invested over a billion dollars in FY 2023 on the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which was modeled on, you know, EDI, which the Obama administration established when Russia went into Ukraine the first time in 2014. And our marquee event in the Indo-Pacific is called Operation Pathways, and that encompasses about seven major exercises in the region. We have Cobra Gold in Thailand, Balikatan in the Philippines, Keris Strike in Malaysia, Tiger Balm in Singapore, Talisman Sabre in Australia, Garuda Shield in Indonesia, and Salaknib in the Philippines again. And as we do all of those different exercises, General Flynn, who is our four-star commander of US Army Pacific, is working closely with allies and partners in all of those countries to deepen the complexity and to expand the scope of those exercises so that they will be more and more useful to use and more and more useful in terms of developing interoperability with our allies and partners.
We are also looking in the Indo-Pacific theater, as we’ve done in Europe, at how we can get the best use of our Army pre-positioned stocks. We are looking at how we can make better use of our APS Afloat in the Indo-Pacific, since we want to be able to use that equipment as much of the year as possible. And in parallel with our exercises, we are also making good use of what we call in the Army our Security Force Assistance Brigades. These are teams that are largely comprised of mid- to senior-level noncommissioned officers, and they are—they were designed, frankly, originally to go into Afghanistan and to help build partner capacity with the Afghan security forces. But we have taken that concept and really used it as the centerpiece for how we’re thinking about building partner capacity around the world.
And in just the last two years, the Fifth Security Force Assistance Brigade, which is aligned to INDOPACOM, has sent advisory teams to over fourteen different countries. And those—anytime I talk to a combatant commander, whether it’s the Indo-Pacific Command or Admiral Aquilino or AFRICOM—Steve Townsend—they always want another Security Force Assistance Brigade, which I think speaks to the utility of that particular formation.
Another really important part of what we’re doing in INDOPACOM in terms of campaigning is using our Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center. And I would describe this as sort of an exportable combat-training system. Those of you who know the Army know that we send our brigades to do major training at the brigade and battalion levels to Fort Irwin in California and to Fort Polk in Louisiana. And now what we’re doing with the JPMRC in the Pacific is allowing our troops who are stationed all the time in Hawaii to be able to engage in that kind of complicated training from home station, and we are also able to take some of the capabilities of the JPMRC and use that with our allies and partners in the region. So we’re looking forward to building out on that.
And while I focused on talking about what the Army is doing in Europe and the Indo-Pacific in terms of campaigning, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we are also in the Middle East, in Africa, in Latin America, and we are also—of course, we have our Army Special Forces, who are working all around the world in all of those continents every day. And I would just highlight, focusing on Europe, in the last seven years it’s really been Army SOF substantially that have deployed to train and assist Ukraine’s military to help them build up their resilience and build up their resistance capabilities, and I think we see the return on that investment very much with what we’re seeing right now.
And when Russia went into Ukraine in late February, we sent the Tenth Special Forces Group to develop a coalition planning cell that enabled us to bring together twenty different nations to coordinate information with international SOF partners and allies. And that has, again, I think contributed significantly with the effectiveness and the speed of the assistance and training that we’ve been able to provide.
Turning to integrated deterrence, first, I would note that everything we’re doing on campaigning contributes to building integrated deterrence. Any time our adversaries or potential adversaries can see combat-credible forces out operating in the field, that is helping to build integrated deterrence. And as of right now, Russia can see 48,000 Army soldiers in Europe standing firm in defense of NATO territory and standing firm with Ukraine in its efforts to defend itself.
But we’re not just thinking about combat-credible forces today. We’re also, in the Army, thinking about strengthening integrated deterrence by developing and building the forces we need for tomorrow. So I wanted to talk a little bit about our modernization strategy.
I spend a lot of time thinking about modernization for the Army, first in making sure that we’re investing enough in our enduring systems that we are going to need in addition to thinking about what are the new systems we need to develop for the future battlefield. For example, the Army is currently updating and investing in the Abrams tank version SEPv3. And that is the same tank, I would point out, that we will be selling to Poland. Poland will be buying, you know, the most advanced, lethal American tank that one can possibly buy, and I think that will be fantastic for strengthening interoperability and deterrence with NATO.
We are also continuing—thinking about enduring systems—to modernize and invest in our Apache attack helicopters, for example. We are now developing the Echo model, which is going to be improving the lethality and survivability of that helicopter. The Echo model will be equipped with an open system architecture, which will incorporate the latest communications, navigation, sensors, and weapons systems.
And then when it comes to developing new systems, we are thinking about our modernization effort in terms of six different portfolios.
First, long-range precision fires.
Next-generation combat vehicles. So this is thinking about how are we going to replace the Bradleys, for example.
Future vertical lift. That will be two new helicopters that will eventually replace the Black Hawk and replace the capabilities of the Kiowa, which has not been in the Army’s fleet for some time.
We’re also improving our air and missile defenses, our soldier lethality systems, and the network which really underpins all of those other five portfolios.
Starting with the development and the establishment of Army Futures Command in 2018 in Austin, we have been working really hard on modernization in the last few years and I think we’re starting to see that effort pay dividends. We are now at the point where we will be putting prototypes and, in some cases, fielding actual new systems, getting them into the hands of soldiers.
In fiscal year 2023 alone, for example, we will have twenty-four systems go into the hands of soldiers either in terms of prototypes where our soldiers will be giving us feedback on the designs to help us as we move into procurement or in terms of actually putting programs of record into the hands of soldiers.
For example, in FY 2023 we will be putting out in the field four long-range precision systems: first, the long-range hypersonic weapon; second, the precision strike missile; third, our ship-killing mid-range capability; and then last, the extended-range cannon artillery. These systems will allow us to strike targets at ranges that have never been possible for the Army.
We’re also modernizing, as I said, our air and missile defense systems so that we have more capability when it comes to cruise missiles, for example, and we are funding the development of two new helicopters that we will field probably several years from now in the 2030s.
And we’re not just building new weapon systems. We are also developing new formations that will be able to use these systems and the one I would highlight is what we call the multi-domain task force, which will actually allow us to combine kinetic effects, you know, using, for example, some of those long-range precision fire systems that I just talked about but also to allow the Army to conduct non-kinetic types of attacks, for example, using cyber capabilities, using electronic warfare, using space capabilities.
We have three multi-domain task forces now and we will eventually be building to a total of five, and all of these new systems help us build integrated deterrence.
The last part of the strategy, I think, where I see a big role for the Army is in building enduring advantages and this is, really, thinking about how do we continue to outpace our competitors over time.
To build enduring advantage we have to be able to innovate and experiment with new concepts, new technologies, and start figuring out, you know, how can we really build a joint force that can work together and, really, then going beyond just the US joint force, how can we work together with allies and partners because, basically, as we’ve seen in the last couple of decades, we rarely go someplace alone. We usually go with our allies and partners.
And the primary way that the Army has been pursuing experimentation and innovation is through a series of activities called Project Convergence. This was a set of experiments that we started two years ago in 2020 and we’ve been sort of slowly building the complexity, sort of widening the aperture in terms of organizations that are participating in the PC series, and looking to Project Convergence 2022 we will be working with all of the sister services, looking at how can we—first, using scenarios that will be kind of anchored in the European theater, the Indo-Pacific theater, looking at what are the operational challenges in those two theaters that we have to solve and how can we, as a joint force, solve that together, and a big part of what we’re doing in Project Convergence is looking at how can we connect the best sensors to the best shooters.
So, for example, we’d like to get to a place where you might have an Army early warning radar system send that sensor data to, perhaps, an Air Force F-35, who then sends it to the best shooter, which could be, again, an Army platform, something like the precision strike missile, all working together to neutralize the threat. That is what we’re building to. That is what we’re trying to do when you hear people talk about JADC2. We have work to do to get there. But I am very proud of what the Army is doing in Project Convergence to contribute to helping us get to that goal.
And, finally, building enduring advantage isn’t just about hardware and software for the Army. It’s also about our people. Our people really is our best asset, our best weapon system. So we are looking at how can we get the most and the best from our people, and a lot of what we’re doing there is trying to take much more of a talent-based approach to developing our people.
The Army, you know, we’re about a million people at this point and we, for a long time, have used an Industrial Age approach to human resources and we’re really trying to move to a Digital Age approach where we are recognizing the individual capabilities and talents of individual soldiers, NCOs, and officers and really trying to think about how can we have a talent-based approach to our workforce.
In closing, I thought I would just talk a little bit, since I know it’s on everyone’s mind, what we’re seeing in Ukraine and what lessons learned there are for the Army. We are very much looking every single day in real time at what’s happening in Ukraine and what we’re seeing with the Russian military and trying to glean as many lessons learned as we can for what we think that means for the Army in the future, and I think there are a couple of lessons that really leap out.
First, if you look at the Russian military’s failures, I think it underscores the importance of leadership, training, and discipline. The Russians do not train like us. They don’t have an NCO corps, which is, I think, a very significant competitive advantage for the United States, and I think the terrible civilian atrocities that you’ve seen some of the Russian military commit is directly due to the lack of leadership, training, and discipline that they appear to have in their ranks. And, again, I think, you know, for us you would not see that because we have an NCO corps that is really the backbone of the force for the US Army.
Something else you see, I think, the Russians really struggling with is delegating responsibilities down to lower echelons. That is something the United States Army does extremely well. It’s one of our strengths, and I think you’ve seen, you know, the Russians struggle to adapt and show initiative on the battlefield. That is another place, I think, where the US Army is doing very well.
A third lesson is logistics, logistics, logistics. You often hear the expression, you know, amateurs do strategy and professionals do logistics. I think everything we’re seeing right now in Ukraine, certainly, underscores that. You can be the best equipped military in the world but if you can’t sustain your forces it doesn’t matter, and the Russians have displayed a notable and somewhat surprising deficiency in this area.
But I think, you know, this is also a strength for the US Army but, nevertheless, given the distances that would be involved in the Indo-Pacific, I think it underscores that we have really got to focus on how do we provide logistics effectively in a contested environment like the one we know we would face in the future, and that’s one of the reasons, for example, that we’re investing in more modernized watercraft so that we will be able to move supplies and personnel around the Pacific where you see just incredibly vast distances.
Another lesson, I think, you see coming out of what’s happening in Ukraine is the importance of secure communications and the consequences of when soldiers use their cell phones. Whether it’s because that’s just everyone is used to using cell phones or because secure communication systems and radios are not working, when soldiers use unencrypted comms that makes them targetable and I think, you know, we are going to have to think about that.
You know, certainly, most of our young soldiers are used to having their phones with them everywhere they go. But, more broadly, I think it speaks to the fact that we’re going to have to look at how can we reduce our signatures, the signatures of our formations on the battlefield, as much as possible because the battlefield of the future will be highly transparent.
Two last lessons I would highlight. One, everything we’re seeing in Ukraine underscores, again, the growing drone threat, something we saw in Nagorno-Karabakh as well. Drones and other unmanned systems are going to pose significant challenges for us, again, part of why we’re looking at modernizing our air and missile defense systems, and I would say drones are an issue not just overseas but here at home as well.
We, the Army, have been appointed the executive agent for the Joint Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems Office at the Department of Defense. We’re working hard on this, but there’s quite a bit more work to do.
And then, lastly, I would just say everything we’re seeing in Ukraine underscores the importance of maintaining our industrial base and our munitions stockpiles. Again, munitions are going to be very important in the future, particularly if we get into a protracted conflict. We’ve just signed contracts with a couple of our major industry partners to begin replenishing our stocks of Javelins and Stingers, and we’re also talking with industry, more broadly, about, you know, what can we do to think about stockpiling some of the longer lead items that we may have in some our critical munitions in the future.
There are, undoubtedly, I think, you know, ten more lessons that you could cite from what’s happening in Ukraine but in the interest of time I will stop here. Again, it is such a pleasure to be back at the Atlantic Council and I really look forward to my conversation with Vivian.
VIVIAN SALAMA: Thank you so much, Madam Secretary. It’s great to be here and to back at the Atlantic Council. We appreciate it.
Actually, you and I were supposed to have this discussion in late February and the war sort of upended both of our schedules. So I’m glad we made it happen. Of course, I just got back from a long stint in Ukraine two days ago so it’s definitely fresh on my mind as well.
The invasion—the Russian invasion has, obviously, thrown into sharp focus the debate over US troops being permanently stationed in Europe. Right now, there’s been a bit of maneuvering, including Army personnel. Today, there are about one hundred thousand, the highest number of US troops deployed to Europe since 2005, and President Biden has made clear that their mission will, largely, focus on reinforcing the eastern flank allies.
And so the expectation now among a lot of close observers is that we need a permanent presence to show Russia that we are there and committed to reinforcing those allies. And so we’re hoping to make a little bit of news here today. Of course, blame it on the day job. Can you tell us if a decision has been made about a permanent US troop presence there and if not—in Europe, I mean, specifically—and if not, do you anticipate reinforcing troop levels on rotation currently?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: I don’t think I’ll be breaking any news. Sorry. But what I can say is, you know, obviously, the issue of sort of future posture and presence in Europe is going to be, I think, you know, one of the centerpieces of the conversation at the NATO summit in Madrid coming up and, certainly, you know, in the Department of Defense we are looking at that and looking at what makes sense.
First of all, you’ve probably seen, you know, we have announced the replacement of the units that are there in Europe right now. So we will be, I think, you know, seeing that same number of about 48,000 Army troops continuing to stay in Europe, you know, over the next, certainly, several months.
I think the question of, ultimately, whether that enhanced force posture will be permanent or rotational is really kind of the key issue and, frankly, you know, I’m no longer in a role where I’m in the situation room and sort of, you know, actively participating in those kinds of discussions. You know, I think there are those, like Chairman Milley, who would say that rotational heel to toe deployments are just as effective from a deterrence standpoint as permanent presence and—but don’t come with, frankly, some of the costs associated with permanent presence like building schools, you know, building recreational facilities for families that then go and move.
There are others, you know, and, certainly, I think our sort of eastern flank allies in NATO like the Baltic countries, like Poland, would very much like permanent troops and feel that permanent troops are more effective in deterring. I think that’s really the heart of the discussion right now is sort of what is the best and most effective way to provide deterrence. But I do think you will see an enhanced posture overall when we are on the other side of this, you know, whenever that is.
VIVIAN SALAMA: President Biden has repeatedly made it clear that there are not going to be boots on the ground in this conflict so long as it’s isolated within Ukraine’s borders. Something I heard repeatedly while I was there is that military leaders and the president’s office even are concerned that as this conflict increasingly becomes prolonged, momentum to assist, to keep on fueling them with weapons, with assistance, with other kinds of training, could start to wane and especially when we have our own domestic priorities to worry about.
And so how do you see the US sustaining this level of support for Ukraine in a way that could actually make a difference in embattled regions like the Donbas, which is suffering significantly right now?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: I think—you know, I think the administration has done, frankly, an admirable job, you know, helping the alliance come together and have the very, very strong unified position that we’ve had against the Russian invasion, and I think we’ll continue to see that unity, frankly. It will take work. I know from my own experience, you know, back in 2014 and 2015 it takes a lot of active diplomacy to be able to sustain that alliance unity. But I think, you know, all of the NATO countries see what is at stake, frankly, in what’s happening, and that alone, I think, is an incentive for us to maintain unity. I think, you know, in a practical way, we are looking—you know, certainly in the Department of Defense and in the Army—at how—you know, what do we need to be doing to allow us to continue to sustain the kind of lethal assistance that we’re providing to the Ukrainians? And that’s why we’ve signed contracts to replenish our Stingers and replenish our Javelins. You know, we have really leaned into trying to provide, you know, everything that the policymakers deem essential to get to the Ukrainians, and, you know, we have taken some risk to our own readiness, not an unacceptable level of risk at all. But I think we will continue to do that, and I think, you know, again, we can’t take that unity for granted, but I think the NATO countries know what’s at stake.
VIVIAN SALAMA: Where does the US draw the line? I mean, we’re hearing a lot these days, and I was hearing it in Ukraine, about multiple-launch rocket systems and other long-range rocket systems that they so desperately need; the US has sort of wavered on this a little bit in recent weeks, and so, you know, a lot of reporting that it’s going to be announced this week. Can you tell us, you know, where the US stands as far as those types of systems getting into the hands of Ukrainian fighters?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: I think where the US stands is, you know, wanting to provide all of the assistance that we can to the Ukrainians without escalating the situation to a point where, you know, the war spills over or, frankly, you know, goes in a terrible direction. I mean, there’s been, you know, discussion about if Putin starts to feel cornered, you know, would he lash out? Would he contemplate using chemical weapons, for example, or even, you know, more horrifically, potentially some sort of a tactical nuclear demonstration? So I think, you know, we in the administration have to very prudently measure those risks, you know, and to think very carefully about, you know, how can we best, again, give the Ukrainian military what they need? We are in, obviously, a grinding artillery battle right now that I think—you know, it’s going to be more challenging, frankly, to sustain the morale of the Ukrainian forces, you know, given the bombardment that they’re being subject to. But again, you know, we cannot allow this war to escalate. Then I think you will see—if you want to talk about concerns to NATO unity, concerns for the American support for this conflict, if it escalates, I think that unity will be much more challenging to sustain.
VIVIAN SALAMA: You actually beat me to one of my questions in your discussion just about the performance of the Russian military where you said that they’ve shown their deficiency in the fact that they can’t sustain their forces, and that’s quite interesting. It surprised a lot of observers who expected, perhaps, its mightiness, its notorious mightiness might be a bit too much for the Ukrainians. And so moving forward, and especially you’re talking about this prolonged artillery war, where can the US kind of plug holes and to make a difference to get the Ukrainians over the line in some of these problem spots still in the country? Are you going to start training more people on newer systems? How is it going to work to really make—be a game changer at this point?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: I think what—we have started providing more training to the Ukrainians as we’ve been giving them more complex systems, you know. So, for example, the Javelins and the Stingers are not particularly complex systems; I actually, not too long ago, went to the simulator that the US Army has to teach our soldiers how to use Stingers, and even I was able to sort of take out a target in the simulator. So that’s—you know, that’s a more basic system. But, for example, as we’ve, you know, more recently given the Ukrainians M777 towed artillery, that system takes more training, and we have beefed up the training that we’re providing to the Ukrainian military. Another very important thing I think we’ve done is to help the Ukrainians learn how to sustain those types of systems—you know, not just how to use them to hit targets but how to make sure that the—you know, to maintain the tires, to load the shells, you know, accurately so that the system can keep working, and I think that will be something that will be increasingly helpful to the Ukrainian armed forces as this conflict goes forward.
VIVIAN SALAMA: There’s been a bit of troop movement again in Belarus in recent days and there’s definitely a lot of concern that there could be a renewed campaign against Kyiv or other parts in Ukraine. Are you monitoring that? Do you think that that is a likely scenario at this stage?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: Well, I certainly look carefully at the intelligence and I wouldn’t want to say more about that, but I think, you know, what we’re—what I’ve mainly seen is, you know, small advances now that the Russians are starting to make and I think, you know, that’s due to the fact that they clearly scaled back their objectives and really started to just focus on the east, focus on the Donbas, and the fact that the terrain there, I think, is a little more favorable to the sort of grinding bombardment campaigns that the Russians are notorious for.
VIVIAN SALAMA: Before we move on to another subject, just a really blunt question, being that there is concern that President Putin could resort to nuclear weapons at some stage, especially if he gets desperate in this conflict. What is the Army’s role in preventing that kind of a scenario, especially absent direct military involvement in Ukraine?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: You know, I think what we can do—I mean, first of all, I think it’s important to say that, you know, we are undoubtedly looking at that type of contingency and trying to think through what our options—you know, what options would be available to policymakers if that were to happen? The Army, I think what we can most, you know, helpfully do is to try to provide training for how to operate under those kinds of conditions. You know, we have personal protective equipment and things like that. But I think, you know, if Putin were to decide to use some sort of tactical nuclear demonstration, I think, you know, that would erase, in my mind, any possibility that he could be anything other than a pariah leader and a—leader of a pariah state, you know, for decades going forward. So I think that Putin would have to think extremely long and hard about that, since he clearly wants to try to bring Russia back into the international community at some point. I don’t see how he does that if he goes nuclear.
VIVIAN SALAMA: OK, a really quick programming note for folks out there, in case you missed it: We are definitely looking forward to your questions here so please do send us any questions that you have for Madam Secretary; we’ll get to them shortly. But I wanted to move on to the Indo-Pacific, which is obviously also a big focus over there at the Pentagon. How does the Army, then, balance the increased requirements in Europe with the country’s ambitions to have a more robust presence in the Indo-Pacific, and specifically I’d like you to talk about what the Army’s role—I mean, why not the Air Force or the Navy? What is the Army going to do specifically in this case?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: Sure. Well, first of all, I think it’s important, you know, we have a tremendous military and a tremendous Army and we can walk and chew gum at the same time, so I think, you know, as we have done everything that we’ve been doing in Europe since late February, we have continued to do all of the activities that we had otherwise planned in the Indo-Pacific, all of the exercises, for example, that I talked about. I think, you know, one of the things that the Army really brings to the Indo-Pacific, you know, perhaps that is a little bit different from our sister services, is the relationships with the armies in the region. You know, most of the militaries and the countries in the Indo-Pacific are dominated by the armies. If you looked, for example, at, you know, the counterparts for our chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Milley, in most of the countries in the Indo-Pacific those are going to be army generals and we have relationships with those generals that we’ve built up over time. So a lot of what we’ve done, I think, really, is build on interoperability, build relationships that can then sort of increase the potential for us to have access in the future if there were to have a conflict. So I think that’s something important that the Army does.
And if we were to get into a conflict in the Indo-Pacific, a lot of what the Army would be doing, in my view, is being a supporting force; you know, we would be helping to set up staging bases; we would be helping to secure those bases; we would be, again, using our incredible planning power to help, you know, plan for the entire joint force; we would be doing a lot to provide logistics and sustainment, you know, for all of the services that would be operating: the Air Force, the Navy, the Marine Corps. But then offensively, I think, again, with the new long-range precision-fire systems that we have, we would be able to, you know, bring that to bear as well, so I think the Army has a very important role. But clearly, you know, any kind of a future conflict in Asia will be a joint force effort.
VIVIAN SALAMA: Absolutely. President Biden last week said that the US could intervene militarily if China attempts to take Taiwan by force. The White House downplayed his remarks and said there was not a change in US policy currently, but from the Army’s perspective, what are the options for involvement? And particularly, can you help us understand sort of how it compares to Ukraine, also a US ally, where the US has not committed to get involved militarily, directly involved militarily? But this could be the case for Taiwan, potentially.
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: Yeah, again, I mean, I think, first of all, I would note that, you know, any attempt by China to forcibly reunify Taiwan, from a military perspective, would be an incredibly complex undertaking, you know? And I’m sure President Xi and his generals are looking at the challenges that the Russians have had to frankly undertake a simpler kind of military operation, and that is probably giving them pause in terms of looking at, again, you know, an amphibious and probably an airborne assault kind of operation onto Taiwan.
I think, again, the Army’s role would be in that kind of a conflict, in my mind, along the lines of what I just said. I think, you know, we would be providing air and missile defenses. You know, obviously the Chinese military has deep magazines and has, you know, missiles that can strike targets at many different ranges. But again, you know, we, with something like our midrange capability system that we’ll be fielding in FY 2023, that’s a land-based system that can sink ships, you know, sink ships that are going across the straits for an invasion. So I think the Army will have a number of roles.
But really what we want to do through campaigning, through integrated deterrence, is to make sure that every day President Xi wakes up and his generals wake up, they decide today is not the day to try to forcibly reunify Taiwan.
VIVIAN SALAMA: Or tomorrow either.
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: Or tomorrow.
VIVIAN SALAMA: I really quickly want to ask you a technology question before we turn to the audience. The Army has been discussing with folks on Capitol Hill the need for further innovation in emerging-technology spaces like artificial intelligence, robots, cybersecurity. I mean, the list goes on. So can you just talk in layman’s terms—and you did briefly mention it in your remarks—talk in layman’s terms about why this will make a real-life difference for our soldiers. And, you know, how does it kind of play out in terms of enforcing and modernizing our military?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: Sure. I would pick two examples and try to keep them, you know, very accessible. First of all, we are developing robotic combat vehicles. So these are, you know, autonomous vehicles that can, you know, navigate complex, difficult terrain without having soldiers in them. And obviously, you know, doing that means any soldier, you know, or any vehicle that’s able to go out on unexplored terrain and potentially, you know, if there are mines in that terrain, you know, a soldier is not going to be at risk anymore in a robotic vehicle, whereas today’s soldiers, you know, we are going out and they’re on the front lines. And I think if you think about, you know, the IED threat that we had in the last twenty years in Afghanistan and the Middle East, you can see how robotic combat vehicles would be helpful for soldiers.
Another example of where we’re bringing artificial intelligence into our—you know, into our formations and into our weapon systems is we have a program that we’re developing called Rainmaker that really is a software program that is able to take data from all sorts of different sources, different weapon systems, and knit it together, again, so that we are able to share data from different sensors to different shooters in a way that we are not able to do before. And that will allow us to be able to bring combat power to bear much more quickly than we ever have before.
VIVIAN SALAMA: Excellent.
I want to turn, Madam Secretary, to a couple of our audience questions. I’m juggling gadgets here. Thank goodness the military is better at technology than I am, but we’re going to try this out. Byron Callan asks, do you have any goals for the Army recruitment that could change between 2022 and 2024 in terms of where people are recruited from geographically, gender diversity, and whether recruits come from military families? What is the Army doing to change how and where it recruits?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: Great question. We have already started recruiting in different ways than we have before. So, you know, to the question about sort of where we are recruiting, we targeted two years ago twenty-two cities across the country in urban areas where you have, say, for example, higher concentrations of African-Americans or higher concentrations of Hispanic Americans, to try to, you know, reach demographic communities that we haven’t perhaps reached in the past as successfully.
That’s just—we’ve set up internships for, again, Hispanic-American and African-American officers, particularly to try to encourage them to come into the combat arms, infantry armor, field artillery, for example.
But I think we need to do more of that, frankly. You know, we are facing some significant recruiting headwinds right now because the economy is doing so well. You know, every private-sector employer is competing for talent. We’re competing against that too. So I think we have to do more to figure out how we can really talk to a wider band of Americans about what the value proposition is for them in the Army.
VIVIAN SALAMA: A really interesting question here from Steven Chu. He asks: A lot of allies have supported Ukraine with Soviet-era equipment, which, while this supports the US efforts, in encouraging those allies to divest from Soviet-era equipment and NATO-compatible equipment, those allies are now requesting equipment from the US to backfill those capabilities. What is the Army doing to support those NATO allies?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: What we are trying to do for the most part is, you know, A, you know, we are working with NATO countries that, if they have, you know, divested their Soviet-era equipment, we are trying to make it as easy as possible to buy American, to buy American equipment. And in some cases what we’re doing, you know, I would say, first and foremost with the Ukrainians, is, you know, some of the, again, the artillery systems I mentioned, the M777s that we’re providing to them, that is allowing us to buy new systems. So instead of replacing old with old, we’re actually replacing old with new.
VIVIAN SALAMA: There’s a number of Ukraine questions that we’re getting here today. Can you speak to the impact—this is from Michael Hauser, by the way—can you speak to the impact of Putin’s war in Ukraine—that Putin’s war in Ukraine has had on strengthening the relationship between NATO and US Army leadership in Europe? And what is necessary to maintain the strength of that relationship in the decades to come?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: Sure. Well, we have very strong relationships with, you know, NATO country—with the armies of NATO countries. General McConville does, you know, counterpart meetings every year. There is an entire land conference for European allies—or European armies, excuse me. So we will try to keep those relationships very, very strong.
I think another thing I would highlight is through the Army National Guard state partnership program, we actually have very deep relationships with not just Ukraine, but again, all of the NATO countries. And one of the real values of that particular program is that the general officers in the National Guard, you know, their tenures can be quite a bit longer. Their personnel are not rotating as much as they do in the active component. And that allows them to sometimes have relationships with NATO countries that last for years, you know, not just a couple of years. So you’re able to have, I think, a much deeper kind of set of connections through that program.
VIVIAN SALAMA: I mean, that question sort of raises one in my mind about also the potential new members that are joining NATO and how the US military is working with Sweden and Finland to potentially get them up to speed and get them integrated into the alliance smoothly, especially with things so tense in their backyards.
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: You know, I think it’s been a little while since I’ve been deep in kind of NATO activities, but my recollection is that even though Sweden and Finland were not actually NATO members, they were very close to NATO. And, you know, when it came to participating in exercises, for example, you know, the Swedes and the Finns participated pretty deeply. So I think it will not be—you know, there’s not a big gap there to bridge. I think, you know, they will come into NATO pretty quickly and assimilate and be, you know, right up there with all of their soon-to-be counterpart countries.
VIVIAN SALAMA: Absolutely.
Anka Valasenchi—I hope I pronounced that right: What is the US Army’s force-posture strategy in Oceana in light of the improbable but not impossible confrontation with Taiwan?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: You know, what we’re trying to do, obviously, is, you know, first and foremost, the State Department has the lead on diplomacy. But we are certainly, you know, having conversations very actively with the countries of Oceana and trying to explore, you know, whether we can have greater access, greater basing.
You know, I would say we have—the Army has very good relationships, for example, with Australia and we are looking at, you know, can we do even more with Australia? Can we do more with the Philippines? But that is kind of a series of ongoing dialogues. But a lot of what we’re doing right now is, again, you know, really trying to maximize what we’re getting out of those Operation Pathways exercises that I talked about in my remarks.
VIVIAN SALAMA: Speaking of the Indo-Pacific, China and Russia last week held their first joint military exercises since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, sending bombers over the seas in Northwest Asia—Northeastern Asia, sorry—while President Biden was in the region. Do you think it was a purely symbolic move in your assessment? And how concerned are you about that partnership, especially given how stretched thin the Russian military is at the moment? Do you think the Chinese could make a difference for them?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: I think, you know, undoubtedly, you know, when a head of state goes to visit in a situation like what we have, you know, there are going to be probably some symbolic military operations to sort of make a point publicly, if you will.
You know, I do think it’s concerning that the relationship between Russia and China has deepened to the extent that it has. And you have seen over the last years, you know, increasing participation with Chinese forces coming to the Zapad series of exercises that Russia conducts, for example.
But again, I think there are going to be eventually limits to that partnership. I’m not—you know, I think eventually, as you look out over time, Russia is likely to be the junior partner in that relationship, which is not something that I think President Putin enjoys. And I think right now, again, a lot of what China is seeing in terms of what’s happening to Russia is probably raising some questions in their mind.
VIVIAN SALAMA: Absolutely.
Michael Nauvikov asks: What is the Army’s strategy on small-business innovation and research grants to encourage technology, advance startups, to solve your specific need?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: We’ve really been trying to work closely with small businesses. And, you know, everyone talks about in the acquisition world, you know, the valley of death. You’ve got all these great startups that have all these cool, you know, relevant new technologies. And because it can be very difficult and heavily bureaucratic to work with the Department of Defense, it can be hard sometimes to bring those programs into fielding.
What we’ve really tried to do, first and foremost, is through Army Futures Command in Austin—and again, we chose to locate Futures Command in Austin because Austin is such a technology hub. And we’ve really tried to, through Futures Command, develop partnerships with small businesses. We have monthly and quarterly sort of, you know, fairs and forums where we try to invite small businesses in to work with us, because we’re very interested in, you know, leveraging new technologies and trying to bring in commercial off the shelf wherever possible.
VIVIAN SALAMA: Lee Schafer, a US Army captain, asks: One of the things the Ukrainian war has shown us is how quickly equipment destruction can outpace replacement for that equipment. With equipment becoming more and more complex as technology progresses, it’s clear that replacing the equipment will take longer and longer. Do you see a role for platforms that are less complex to enable faster combat replacement in the future?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: Yeah, great question. I do think we need to look at sort of, you know, systems that we can afford to have be attritable, if you will, you know; cheaper, more numerous. You know, one of the things that does is make it harder for the enemy to know what they should care about and what they should be targeting.
But another thing that we’re trying to do to get after this particular program is looking at advanced manufacturing and 3D printing and things like that, so that basically, you know, instead of having forces that are out in the field having to requisition spare parts and supplies all the way back, you know, to wherever, is having the ability to actually build those parts in the field and to, you know, be much quicker to be able to replenish.
VIVIAN SALAMA: Another Ukraine question from someone anonymous. The Ukrainian army has proved effective at destroying Russian tanks and armored vehicles. Do you see the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an example of a future for combined-arms warfare? And how will the Army adapt its maneuver units to better face the threats posed by expensive equipment by comparatively cheap drones and antiarmor systems?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: I think, you know, a couple of reactions, I would say, to that. You know, we absolutely have to be thinking about protection systems for our tanks, you know, particularly sort of over-the-top threats to the tanks, where tanks are traditionally more vulnerable. So that is a focus area for us.
But I would also say, you know, somewhat surprisingly, you know, what you haven’t seen the Russian military really do very effectively is combined arms. You know, they put their tanks out there. They’ve had them on the roads. But they haven’t used infantry, you know, to be able to do screening for them. They haven’t used infantry to go and find the Ukrainian resistance fighters who are shooting the Javelins at them. And, you know, that—we would be operating with our tanks very, very differently than what we’ve seen the Russians do.
VIVIAN SALAMA: There’s a question here about the Marine Corps gave up its tanks a few years ago, signaling a shift to lighter, faster force focus on the Indo-Pacific. How is the Army undertaking the famous pivot to Asia that President Obama talked about? Are you rethinking the Army’s commitment to heavy combined armed formations?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: I think, you know, if anything, what we see in Ukraine, you know, underscores that there is a need for heavy forces, for armored forces, you know. And frankly, you know, I look at the European theater and I talk about the Army being the supported force. The Army would really be the center of gravity in a NATO fight, whereas in the Indo-Pacific I see the Army as more being the supporting service, you know. And certainly our heavy tanks, you know, are not as relevant to the Indo-Pacific as they are to the European theater.
But we’re also, you know, to that point, designing a new lighter tank called Mobile Protected Firepower that kind of gives you some of the lethality of a tank but a lot more mobility when compared to our very heavy, you know, most modernized Abrams.
VIVIAN SALAMA: As far as getting equipment into the hands of Ukrainian forces, obviously there’s a lot of logistics at play. It’s going through Poland in a lot of cases or elsewhere. And, you know, the one thing that Ukrainians kept on telling us is it’s not a question of allies sending us equipment, because they’re trying to send us, but a lot of it is logistics and pipeline issues of trying to get it in the hands of the soldiers that need it.
And so how is the US working with Ukraine and other allies to kind of ease that transfer so that they get them a lot faster, as they need them, and especially as we’re talking about with destruction being so rapid in a lot of this equipment?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: I think, you know, what we’re in the Army, at least, trying to do is really focus in a couple of different ways. You know, one is to try to provide coordination and synchronization. And again, you know, I talked about that combined-action cell, you know, really trying to help bring the lethal assistance to where it’s most needed, recognizing that that’s going to be dynamic as the Ukrainians try to move that around and evade the Russians potentially trying to target convoys. You know, we are trying to be able to help coordinate moving all of those different sort of shipments.
Another thing I think we can help with is, you know, without saying too much, is intelligence about where the threats to those convoys may be. But I think, you know, it is going to be a continuing challenge, because, of course, you know, to the extent that a lot of that assistance is being provided by road and by truck, you’ve got the logistics challenges there with, you know, fuel and things like that.
So we’re going to do everything possible, I think. But that is going to be, I think, a challenge, a growing challenge, as time goes by.
VIVIAN SALAMA: We have about thirty seconds left, if you could just tell us, you know, what’s keeping you up at night? What are the main pressing issues on your mind these days?
CHRISTINE WORMUTH: Always hard. You know, I think probably the—one of the—a pressing problem for me as I think ahead to the Army is our recruiting challenges, because, you know, we—people talk about the all-volunteer force. We are really the all-recruited force. You know, it’s relatively rare to have a young American walk through the door completely cold and say I’d like to join the US Army.
So as we see, you know, fewer Americans eligible to join the military, whether it’s because of weight issues or behavioral issues, and as we see just the lowest percentage of young Americans wanting to serve in the US military, that is something that concerns me. We need to have an Army big enough to grapple with all of the challenges that we have in this world today, and I think we’ve got work to do to make sure we can keep us as big as we need to be.
VIVIAN SALAMA: Sadly, we have to leave it there. Secretary Wormuth, thank you so much for joining me.
Thanks to the Atlantic Council for hosting us and for all the great questions. I hope you all have a wonderful afternoon.
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