HUNTSVILLE, Ala.– The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stressed relevance, adaptability and affordability as top concerns for programs ranging from nuclear weapons to satellites during the Space and Missile Defense Conference here Aug. 19.

Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright emphasized the importance of striking a balance between “the exquisite and good enough,” as reviews of several defense programs — prompted by the new administration — are under way in Washington.

The Quadrennial Defense Review, Nuclear Posture Review, Ballistic Missile Defense Review and Space Posture Review give defense and government officials a chance to relook at these programs and make sure they are “doing the right things,” the general said.

The QDR outlines the national defense strategy for force structure, acquisitions and long-term budget planning. The unique advantage of this QDR is that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates stayed on after the administration changed, an unusual but fortunate decision, Cartwright noted. With the United States engaged in two wars and the challenges facing the U.S. and global economies, the secretary’s decision cut out much of the acrimony typically associated with QDR discussions.

During his speech, Cartwright posed several questions arising from the review.

“Are the tools that we’re procuring relevant to the reality of the wars that we’re in and to anybody’s best estimate of the wars that we’re likely to go to?” he asked. “Is that strategy adaptable? Because if we’ve learned anything over the last eight years of this conflict, it’s that the enemy has a vote in where we’re going to go and where this fight’s going to go.

“And the third is — although sometimes it doesn’t seem like it when we talk about trillions of dollars — affordability is a huge issue,” he said.

Cartwright also touched on nuclear posture and ballistic missile defense, stating that the current “one-size-fits-all” approach to nuclear deterrence is in question. These strategies have worked for the past 50 years, he said, but the question is whether they will work for the next 50. With emerging threats in North Korea and Iran, and non-nation state actors suxch as al-Qaida and the Taliban, the United States has to ensure nations under its extended deterrence “umbrella” feel secure enough that they don’t proliferate nuclear weapons of their own.

The United States must look at its relationships with nations in a different way, encourage neighboring countries to band together to form a regional, extended deterrence construct that is not weapons-of-mass-destruction centric, and convince those nations that there are credible alternatives to nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles for their safety and security, he said.

“These are the kinds of thoughts that we’re trying to understand as we start to look at the synergies between the Ballistic Missile Defense Review and the Nuclear Posture Review,” Cartwright explained. “How do these things fit together? And it’s not one size fits all.”

The general tied his three themes to the Space Posture Review as well, underscoring the importance of developing space capabilities similar to current missile defense capabilities, before the United States loses its competitive edge in space.

“Right now, the enemy is imposing cost on us. We react with exquisite, very expensive, long-time-to-discover systems. We’ve got to turn that around. We’ve got to be in front of it,” Cartwright said. “We’ve gone the right direction in missile defense. We have proliferated; we have so many choices, the adversaries just plain don’t know where to go.

“We’ve got to do the same with the capabilities we have in space, integrating them across domains, so it doesn’t matter what [the enemy does] to my air, ground or my space,” he continued. “There’s always another answer, and we can adapt faster than you can change.”

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