Carter: Determined to Ensure Successor Inherits 'Same Level of Excellence'


When Ash Carter was sworn in as defense secretary two years ago, he inherited the finest fighting force the world has ever known, he said yesterday at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.

Invited to deliver closing remarks at the annual national policy summit, Carter used the opportunity to outline the scope and vision of his time as head of the DoD.

“It’s been my mission through my actions as secretary to ensure that my successors, and my successor's successors, inherit that same level of excellence" that he inherited from his predecessors, he said.

Four Plus One

Carter said the challenge during his tenure has been overseeing a strategic transition that requires military deterrence of the most advanced adversaries while continuing to fight terrorist groups.

“In our budget, our plans, our training and capabilities, and our actions, we must demonstrate to potential foes that if they start a war, we will win it," he explained. "Because a force meant to deter conflict can only succeed in deterrence if it can show that it will dominate a conflict.”

Carter has used the “four-plus-one” concept to model the force needed for today and tomorrow. It is deterring four nations -- Russia, China, North Korea and Iran -- while actively countering violent extremism. American service members are in harm’s way in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, working with indigenous forces to roll back the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the Taliban.

Meanwhile, both Russia and China are building up military capabilities and using unconventional methods to gain concessions. Those actions require a U.S. response, Carter said, and the DoD has delivered it with the European Reassurance Initiative and with strengthened contacts among the nations of the Asia-Pacific region.

And that's only part of the picture. America also must be ready for tomorrow’s threats and conflicts, including Iran's continued malign influence throughout the Middle East and North Korea's vigorous pursuit of nuclear weapons and missile technology.

Carter said that uncertain future requires certain investments now.

Innovation and Investment

"That’s why I’ve been constantly pushing the Pentagon to think outside our five-sided-box and ensure -- in our technology, our plans, our organization, and above all, our people – we stay the best for decades to come,” he said.

The United States must invest in technologies that ensure U.S. dominance for years to come, such as the F-35 aircraft and the B-21 bomber, Carter added, and the DoD must ensure the nuclear Triad -- the heart of deterrence -- remains modern and viable. America must also build the capability for operations in space and cyberspace, the secretary said.

Innovation is at the core of it all. Some of the innovation will be through new technologies, Carter said, but some will come through new ways of using older, established technologies.

The department needs new capabilities quickly. The secretary emphasized that the idea of business as usual cannot stand in the way of today’s security progress, and many efficiencies have been developed to ensure research and acquisition move forward smartly.

Force of the Future: DoD’s People

And undergirding all this change are people -- the real secret weapon of the department, Carter said.

His Force of the Future initiatives aim “to ensure that amid generational, technological, and labor-market changes, we continue to attract and retain the most talented people America has to offer," he said. The future-force ideas and programs essentially address every stage of a service member's or DoD civilian's career -- from recruiting men and women into the military, to caring for, retaining and developing them, and then to helping successfully transition those who want to move on, Carter explained.

“All the actions and decisions I’ve spelled out today were taken to do exactly what my predecessors did for me: Ensure that my successor and my successor's successors will inherit as fine a fighting force as the one I lead today,” Carter said.

“Maintaining that continuity is our tradition in the Department of Defense and one I’ve always been determined to uphold,” the secretary said. “Not for my own sake, but for the sake of the force and the country we all love.”