Vice Chairman Discusses Weapons of Mass Destruction at Symposium

The new Joint Warfighting Concept will be enabled by deterrence — a concept in vogue during the Cold War, but becoming relevant again, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.

Air Force Gen. John Hyten spoke as part of the virtual National Defense University’s Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction 2020 Symposium.

Hyten gave a bit more detail on the Joint Warfighting Concept. He said the overall concept is enabled by four underlying concepts: joint contested logistics, all-domain command and control, joint fires and information advantage.

Speed of action, speed of development and speed of acting will be critical to the future capabilities of the U.S. military. “It’s important that we start training our people and educating our people to understand that whatever concept we have … (it) is underpinned by a deterrent model that has to be ready each and every minute of each and every day.”

Nuclear weapons are the backbone of that deterrent, and while everyone hopes they will not be used, they must be ready and must be in the minds of any adversary or competitor.

“The primary role of our nuclear weapons is to deter our adversaries and make sure that nuclear weapons aren’t used against the United States,” he said. “They’re also there to provide a deterrent backdrop for everything else we do, and understanding that is important.”

The general also talked about the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus is a naturally occurring disease that first manifested itself in Wuhan, China. It was not created in a lab or released on purpose, he said.

“But our adversaries, as they look at the response of our nation and the impact of COVID-19 on our nation, understand how biological capabilities can impact the nation,” Hyten said.

The United States military had a plan for responding to a pandemic. “Like most plans, it was not really accurate,” he said. “It did not survive first contact with the adversary — COVID-19.

But the planning was still useful because the military had the capabilities and people needed and aligned to respond effectively. “It’s still a huge impact on our nation,” he said.

Another example he used was the alleged poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. News reports indicate Navalny was poisoned with Novichok — a nerve agent the Soviet Union developed in the 1970s and 1980s. While Hyten did not comment on intelligence matters he did say if the news reports are true and if an adversary applied that weapon more broadly, the results could be catastrophic.

Hyten also spoke about cyber saying that it deserves to be discussed in the symposium. “A catastrophic attack from cyber could be looked at as a weapon of mass destruction. We have to figure out how to defend against that.”


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