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WEST 2017 Keynote: "The View from the Indo-Asia-Pacific"

By ADM Harry B. Harris, Jr. | U.S. Pacific Command | Feb. 22, 2017

Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command

"The View from the Indo-Asia-Pacific"
WEST 2017 Conference Lunch Keynote

San Diego, CA
February 21, 2017
As Delivered


Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my distinct honor to be back here in ‘America’s Finest City’ to again address this incredible group and our industry partners – patriots all. Thanks so much to USNI and AFCEA – I’m a proud member of both – for hosting this event and for challenging all of us to think about the vital nexus between emerging technology and military operations.

I tried to meet this challenge in 2014 when I last addressed this audience by wearing Google Glass and manhandling an iPad. That same year, I also addressed AFCEA in Hawaii where a drone brought me my speech and a robot brought me a bottle of water. But this year, instead of bringing you the next gizmo, I’m bringing you a message:

I need your help.

I’d like you to think back to the night of September 11, 2001. When President Bush addressed the nation, he said ‘America was targeted for attack because we are the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.’

Ladies and gentlemen, to ensure America’s beacon of light continues to shine – even to the farthest and darkest corners of the globe – we must continue to develop the innovative capabilities that allow good to overcome evil. Our country must maintain credible combat power, in concert with like-minded allies and partners, to preserve unimpeded access to all the shared domains – sea, air, land, space, and cyber.

And the time to act is now… for I believe we’re approaching an inflection point in history. We’re certainly not approaching anything resembling the end of history. Freedom, justice and the rules-based international order hang in the balance. And the scale won’t tip of its own accord or simply because good people wish it so.

What I’m talking about is perhaps a daunting, brave leap of exponential thought and development on how we do business as a military. In a networked world that is changing dramatically, we must craft methods of warfighting that link our hard-power technology, our smart-power capabilities, and our rock-solid commitment to security with our allies and partners. And nowhere is this more urgently needed than in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, a region which I believe is inextricably linked to America’s future prosperity and security.

Ensuring stability in this region is a team sport where PACOM - and all of you - play a huge role. Our opportunities out here are abundant, but the path is burdened by four considerable challenges: North Korea, China, Russia, and ISIS.

In the here and now, ISIS is a threat that must be destroyed. The main focus of our coalition's military effort, and rightfully so, is in the Middle East and North Africa.

But as we eliminate ISIS in these areas, some of the surviving fighters will likely repatriate to their home countries in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. And what's worse is they’ll be radicalized and weaponized. So we must eradicate this disease before it metastasizes in the PACOM area of responsibility.

But ISIS isn't our only immediate threat in the region. North Korea distinguishes itself as the only nation to have tested nuclear weapons in this century. As former U.S. Secretary of Defense Bill Perry once said, we have to deal with North Korea, ‘… as it is, not as we wish it to be.’ Now I want all of you smart people to stop and think for a minute and really think about this. Combining nuclear warheads with ballistic missile technology in the hands of a volatile leader like Kim Jong-Un is a recipe for disaster. That’s North Korea as it is.

I know there's some debate out here about the miniaturization and other technological advancements made by Pyongyang. But an aggressive weapons test schedule, as demonstrated by yet another ballistic missile launch earlier this month, moves North Korea closer to its stated goals. I must assume that Kim Jong-Un’s claims are true – his aspirations certainly are. So I take him at his word – and that should provide all of us a sense of urgency to ensure PACOM is prepared to fight tonight with the best technology of any force on the planet.

Vicious, vindictive, and volatile dictators are nothing new in the long, dark history of mankind. But what is new is a vicious, volatile, and vindictive dictator with his fingers on a nuclear trigger.

This is why we must remain ever vigilant in our efforts to defend the U.S. homeland and the homelands of our allies in South Korea and Japan. This is why we need technologies like THAAD and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to be operationalized in Northeast Asia.

We are also challenged in the Indo-Asia-Pacific by a revanchist Russia and an increasingly assertive China – neither of whom seem to respect the very international agreements they’ve signed on for. Both Moscow and Beijing have choices to make. They can choose to disregard the rules-based security order that has served all nations – including them – so well for decades. Or they can contribute to it as responsible stakeholders. I hope for the latter, but I have to be prepared for the former.

No one, including me, wants conflict. I've said often that I prefer cooperation so that we can collectively address our shared security challenges.

But I've also been loud and clear that we won’t allow the shared domains to be closed down unilaterally. I said this before, but it's worth repeating now – we’ll cooperate where we can, but we’ll be ready to confront where we must.

So where does science and technology come in? I’ll start by telling you where it doesn’t. Simply adding legacy systems to new platforms isn’t going to cut it – and neither will evolutionary improvements to legacy systems.

Industry is full of examples of how linear thinking can kill an organization. For instance, consider the famous fight between Fujifilm and Kodak. Both companies were aware of the coming digital age as consumers began to alter their choices in the photographic, or wet film, marketplaces.

Fujifilm was brave enough to think with the future in mind – about how to maintain the culture of photography and not just the medium of photography. Fujifilm also diversified into new lines of business that would become important in the digital age, like healthcare, document solutions, imaging technology and all that. Wet film wasn’t the future.

Meanwhile, the Kodak behemoth was slow to change and was hesitant to meaningfully divest from its dying wet film business.  Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012 while Fujifilm thrived.

So linear thinking is just business as usual.  It doesn’t take into account a read on the future.  The weight behind the phrase ‘it’s simply the way we’ve always done it’ is often too great a lift.

Linear thinking gets you a better camera and maybe a better way to develop wet film.  But exponential thinking gets you Snapchat and Instagram.  Or said another way, linear thinking gets you a better buggy and maybe a faster horse.  But exponential thinking gets you an electric supercar that might drive itself.

Folks, we have to change the way we do business and the way we think. Change is difficult and uncomfortable. And I get it that different audiences listening to my remarks might interpret my signaling with their own interests in mind.

For instance, engineers and acquisitions types will hear this message and think, ‘the PACOM Commander is tired of the same old stuff. He’s demanding innovative weapon systems with more lethality.’ You’d be right.

Allied and partner nations will hear this message and hopefully be reassured that U.S. commitment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific is as strong as ever and that America is looking at new ways to maintain the rules-based security order. And they’d be right.

And potential adversaries upon hearing this message should recognize that their propagandized attempts to sell America’s decline is a bunch of hooey. The United States is going to remain a powerful leader in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. And as demonstrated by San Diego’s own USS CARL VINSON carrier strike group patrolling the South China Sea today, our joint forces will continue a robust and persistent presence in the region, just as we routinely have for the last seven decades.

So that no one thinks I’m a starry-eyed optimist, it’s important for everyone to know that I look through a lens darkly. Hope is not a strategy, which is why everyone in this room must act now.

Linear thinking simply won’t keep us in front of the strategic challenges we face as a nation. We need to think exponentially to make the kinds of leaps that will keep America as the preeminent global military power.

Trends in computing power are leading to what Ray Kurzweil has called the Singularity, which is the point at which machine intelligence surpasses that of humans. Kurzweil, no stranger to this audience I’m sure, has been more right than wrong on his predictions about the state of technology. In fact, he revised an earlier prediction of reaching the Singularity in 2045 to happen as early as 2029.

Folks, that’s just a little bit more than a decade away. And with how fast technology is moving, it wouldn’t surprise me if Kurzweil revises his prediction to an even earlier date.

So we need to think exponentially just to keep up. We must take advantage of cutting edge technologies to outpace our adversaries. We must make real efforts to reap real advantages in artificial intelligence, or A.I., and collaboration between people and computers, also known as man-machine teaming. Third offset, anyone?

A.I. and man-machine teaming are promising areas of research and development that I’m sure interest most of the people in this audience. Now, I’m a simple, analog guy from Tennessee. When I think of man-machine teaming, I think of a pickup truck hauling corn to make moonshine. Try as you may, you cannot digitize good moonshine.

But let’s explore this concept a bit further – for my sake, if not for yours.

Time is the great ally and the great enemy. A.I. and man-machine teams take advantage of autonomy to ultimately inject more time back into the human’s decision cycle to make time our ally – and to make time our enemy’s enemy. And the technology is mature enough to do it now. This isn’t theoretical stuff anymore.

To prove my point, let’s talk about drones. The smartest guy in the Pentagon, well, besides Secretary Mattis of course, is arguably Dr. Will Roper. Many of you may have seen him recently on 60 Minutes or snooping around your labs looking for great ideas. He and his team are changing the game – and changing it fast. His swarms of 3D-printed micro drones, or Perdix, provide our aircraft with an autonomous search capability to identify threats in hazardous areas. This transfers the risk from our operators and expensive aircraft to a bunch of inexpensive drones.

Another example occurred in this year’s Super Bowl. If any of you watched the halftime show on T.V., you saw 300 quad-copters put on a light show as an opening act for Lady Gaga – who was terrific by the way.

If FOX Sports can do that to entertain millions, then we can do the same kind of networked thinking to bring extra lethality to the battlefield.

What interests me in these examples are not the drones per se – or even Lady Gaga for that matter. What interests me is the network that allows a hundred drones or more to fly in formation, to receive new orders, and to report back. That said, there’s a dark side – as Jan Tighe and Mike Gilday know all too well. As soon as we figure out a way to do this, someone else will try to hack into it. I go back to my opening line: I need your help.

Dr. Roper is also working with the Navy on its ‘Ghost Fleet’ concept where unmanned and autonomous systems in the surface, air, and undersea domains work together and with legacy platforms to conduct a number of relevant missions. This will only grow as we take advantage of the exponential nature of the growth and learning we are experiencing in this area.

This is important because I think that the Multi Domain Battle and Cross Domain Fires concepts are the right approaches we need to adopt in order to win future battles. As the PACOM Commander, I’m proud of the work with all of our teammates in operations across all domains – land, sea, air, space, and cyber – in the vast Indo-Asia-Pacific.

As I’ve already told our outstanding U.S. Army Pacific commander General Bob Brown, before I leave PACOM, I’d like to see the Army’s land forces conduct exercises to sink a ship in a complex environment where our joint and combined forces are operating in other domains.

Moving forward, all the Services will have to exert influence in non-traditional and sometimes unfamiliar domains. More change, more angst, more opportunity.

We must be able to execute joint operations across far more domains than operational planners accounted for in the past. We need a degree of ‘jointness’ where no domain has a fixed advantage or a fixed boundary. A Combatant Commander must be able to create effects from any single domain to targets in every other domain in order to fight tonight and win.

And that’s not all. I’d like to see all the Services use autonomous technologies to help the Joint Force commanders expand the kill chain. For example, I believe Army missileers should incorporate their air defense systems into the Navy’s Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air, or NIFCA, architecture. I’ve called for anti-ship missiles that are faster, longer range, more lethal, networked and cheap. If those five attributes are mutually exclusive, how about a family of missiles that, together, have these characteristics?

To this end I’ve put your money where my mouth is and established a Multi Domain Battle Tiger Team at PACOM. Though my mouth is bigger than your wallet, I think this is juice worth the squeeze. So my component commanders can expect to see an exercise order from me this year. As Admiral Wayne E. Meyer famously said, we’re going to ‘build a little, test a little, and learn a lot.’

Some might think these are lofty goals, but I don’t. I think they’re achievable goals. Put another way, ‘innovate or die.’ The way we think about war and how we conduct it is quickly changing. I think most of you here in this room will agree with me when I tell you that the most frustrating part about change is that some of the biggest obstacles we have to overcome are those that we impose on ourselves. In the vernacular, we need to stop shooting ourselves in the foot.

One example of unnecessary restrictions includes cyber capabilities and the appropriate authorities needed to use them. You’ve all seen the headlines ‘cyber capabilities exceed authorities.’ I read that to mean that ‘we can’t use the tools we’ve developed.’ And I’m sure some of the developers of these tools are wondering why they even bother to continue their innovative work if we can’t use it.

Linear thinking when applied to strategy and doctrine is especially dangerous because it can hamstring exponential thinking in weapons development. For example, we face significant cruise and ballistic missile threats in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. We’ve already talked about North Korea. China is free to field a complete arsenal of highly capable advanced land-based anti-ship missiles while we’re restricted from fielding the kind of conventional weapons we must have to stay ahead of them. And as many of you probably read this past week, Russia deployed a new cruise missile that violates the I.N.F. treaty.

So let’s apply exponential thinking to figure out what it takes for America to field the types of systems to enable our joint forces to realize the full potential of the Multi Domain Battle and Cross Domain Fires concepts while, importantly, adhering to our international treaty obligations.

Or, if we’re not going to get exponentially smart, let’s at least get better lawyers.

As I said back in 2015 when I testified before Congress, I always prefer to bring a gun to a knife fight. But as it stands today I might get shot before I even get to the fight. I can’t ask you to build something that we can’t use. But, we can’t leave game-changing technology on the shelf because of restrictions on sensible security measures.

Alright, I know I’ve been up here for some time now. Hopefully I’ve given each of you something to think about. I’ll wrap this up with a challenge and a call to action before Siri tells me that it’s time to take a few questions.

I firmly believe that America is still the center of gravity for innovation. If you don’t believe me, just look at the 1 million-plus international students studying in our country last year, 31 percent of which, or 328,000 are Chinese – that’s a five-fold increase from a decade ago, when Chinese scholars studying here only accounted for just a little over 10 percent of international students. And my gut tells me they’re not studying English literature. They’re undoubtedly studying the hard sciences, engineering, computer science and other courses that help them become innovative thinkers.

So it’s imperative that America uses our inherent innovative spirit to start thinking exponentially. Thus, my challenge to all of you is simple: don’t be passive and don’t do nothing.

Folks, whatever the future may yield, it’s up to us to help bring it to fruition. And I use ‘us’ generously. It’s really up to you – America’s industrial and technological base. Technology can provide us the means to do things in ways that saves time, saves dollars, improves collaboration with our allies and partners, and decreases risk across the board. But we have to be willing to break paradigms. Exponential thinking will take us to the next level.

We need our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Coastguardsmen, Marines and our civilian teammates to continue finding new ways to apply that technology. And we need to get rid of self-imposed restrictions that allow us to create organizations that are agile and unafraid to push the envelope on new innovations that we can use when we have to fight tonight.

Now that I’ve given you my challenge, here’s my call to action: ‘Fate rarely calls upon us at a moment of our choosing.’ Think about that. ‘Fate rarely calls upon us at a moment of our choosing.’ Pretty cool words. That’s a line from Transformers 3. So if you remember nothing else, just remember that you were at WEST 2017 when the PACOM Commander stole a line from Optimus Prime.

Ladies and gentlemen, the strength of our nation depends on the very synergy between those brave men and women of our armed forces who volunteer to defend our country, and the inventive engineers, acquisition experts, and partners in industry who come up with the technologies we need in the warfighting environment. You have my personal gratitude for all you do on a daily basis to give your military the tools we need to ensure our nation maintains its competitive edge.

May God bless this beautiful city by the sea. May God bless our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Coastguardsmen and DoD civilians who carry the load for us with the stuff you give them. And may God bless the United States of America.

Thank you very much.

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