Gen John Hyten, Vice Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told delegates to the National Defense University Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction’s 2020 Symposium on 17 September that the new Joint Warfighting Concept (JWC) is to be enabled by deterrence, a concept making a return as a relevant component of policy.

Giving more details on the JWC, he explained it operates via 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 US 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 […[ They're also there to provide a deterrent backdrop for everything else we do, and understanding that is important," Hyten stated.

He also talked about the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic – a naturally-occurring disease that first manifested itself in Wuhan, China – not created in a lab or released on purpose. “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. He went on to observe that the US military had a plan for responding to a pandemic, but that "[…] like most plans, it was not really accurate […] 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 admitted.

He also referred to 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 declining to comment on intelligence matters, Hyten suggested that he did say if the news reports are true and if an adversary applied that weapon more broadly, the results could be catastrophic.

Finally, he also turned to 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."

Adequate training lies at the heart of US response to weapons o mass destruction, as shown in this radiological detection and training event held in New York City in August. (Photo: US DoD)

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