Secretary of Defense
Air Force Association 2017 Air, Space and Cyber Conference
National Harbor, Maryland
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS: Thank you. Thanks very much. Secretary Peters, old friend. Ladies and gentlemen, Secretary Wilson, General Goldfein, I'm really honored to be here. Thank you for inviting me to this great get together of our greatest Air Force in the world.
I would just tell you 70 years, you got to be proud of who are and what you've developed as a reputation. I came here this morning, I want to pay my respects, share some thoughts about -- from my perspective, what's going on for our Departments of Defense and Air Force.
And hopefully close the gap a little bit and make certain that we prime the pump for the Q&A, which is always the best part of this. But I kind of flunked retirement. I was out West having a good time and the primary motivator to come back is the opportunity to serve alongside such selfless, highly capable, high spirited patriots such as you, and everyone in this room understands what an honor it is for me to be back here, humbling honor, back here among you all serving alongside you.
You look around this room, the integrity and the dedication to service that we just take almost for granted from one another. We look at one another, we know where we're at, we may not have ever met each other before and yet we do know each other when we walk into this sort of an assembly here.
The excellence that's here, the dedication to service, you look back and you think what General Hap Arnold would be thinking about if he was sitting right here on this stage looking out over this room today and the deep sense of satisfaction that General Arnold would have as you mark your 70th anniversary.
Since your founding, I believe that American air superiority that was built on your reputation in World War II has held firm all these years. And you're the ones who, in your formative years, you flew against Ploesti, you patrolled Megalia -- in Korea, you flew over Vietnam, we can go on.
You refused to abandon Berlin, you've fought it out so many times, you're in the skies, today, over Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan. And I would just tell you, we're going right on into the future with the U.S. Air Force where it belongs, overhead.
That's a reality that we have got to marry and we've got to ensure that this comes forward into the brave new world that we see developing around us. Americans are very proud, they're very grateful for your service. Everywhere I go, you won't believe the kudos I get. And so often, it's even with specific mention of what airman, soldiers, sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen are doing.
And they're very proud for your devotion to this experiment in democracy. That's all America is. It's one great big experiment that depends on each generation of Americans, having enough young people like you, and you're all young compared to me, and Secretary Peters, but I would just say, having enough young people -- thought I'd slide that in.
But I also want to thank all the veterans here today. Those of you who once wore the uniform, you've got my color hair in many cases, today. But I would say that we hope always -- and those of us who are on active duty in the civilian or military ranks today, we hope to live up to your legacy.
I can remember going into many fights, and I would've been more afraid of letting down the veterans, than I would've been the enemy's cunning or capability, that we really don't want to let down those of you who went before and set such a high, high bar of sacrifice and of capability, and of commitment to accomplishing any mission.
Let me talk for a few minutes this morning about what I expect of the Air Force, so there will be no surprises, so we know one another. I do expect that you can fight well, and you will win. It's that simple. I'd expand on it to some degree, but I can't. I'll simply dive deeper into the details of what I'm looking at. But I would say that America's ground and other forces have long operated with the confidence that no evil could come down upon them from above. And I can speak with some personal background on this, I remember after 9/11 that I went to see a man after a Navy fleet commander had directed me to go into Afghanistan. So I went to see a man I'll be forever proud to say I served under, a man named Buzz Moseley, who is down in Prince Sultan airbase where the CAOC was located.
Arriving there very late at night, never met him before. I laid out -- for a Marine, this was kind of high tech. I had a PowerPoint slide that showed some water with a little ship painted on it. Then it showed a (crossed arrow ?) going into Afghanistan, and it had a little statue -- it had a big X in Afghanistan. And I slid it across the table to him, there about midnight, at Prince Sultan, at his headquarters, and he took his fingers -- after looking at it, and put them on the scale of miles, and he marched them from the ship into the middle of Afghanistan.
Then he pushed the map back across the table, and said, "Are you really going to do this?", and I said, "Yeah. Taking about 1000 of my best friends up there, and we're going to fight." And he looked at it and he said, "Well if you get in trouble, I'll turn every airplane in the sky over your head." And ladies and gentlemen, as a result of that, for the first time in 30 years, in my assault waves going in, 350 nautical miles, refueled by KC-130s halfway there in the helicopters, we did not take artillery in our assault wave.
That's how much confidence I had as he explained how he was going to take care of us, he was going to move the two Marine liaison officers off the CAOC floor, and right up next to the one star, over watching it.
And I give you this as an example, because one of the real strengths of the U.S. military today, probably the source of most of our strength, is the jointness, is the ability to put together different capabilities, and come up with a synergy that it far exceeds the two plus two, or whatever the arithmetic equation would make you think we would be at. Because with protectors of the high-ground, you unleash enormous capabilities on the low-ground, down there where the terrestrial creatures are, that I spent a fair amount of time with.
It's good to remind ourselves as we sit here today that Americans have no God-given right to victory on the battlefield. And among a crew like this, I know that doesn't take a lot of detailed explanation.
You recognize the capability, the commitment, the loyalty, the courage, the cunning, all have to come together with training, and recruiting the right people and rewarding the right behavior if we're going to maintain the ability to fight and win, because we never want to come in second.
We've seen that before, when America was not ready. We saw it in North Africa at the beginning of World War II, we saw it in Korea at the beginning of that war, and we do not ever want to be caught in that position. We need the Air Force to make clear to our adversaries, make very clear to our adversaries, it is much better for them to deal with Secretary Tillerson in the State Department, they don't want to deal, in combat, with the U.S. Department of Defense. So all that you do in our Air Force --
Thank you. And all that you do in our Air Force is a reminder that America's got two fundamental sources of power. One of those is the power of inspiration. And the other is the power of intimidation. And you represent, rightly, the power of intimidation, even though you are often the best ambassadors, the most reassuring ambassadors to allies, and friends who are trying to keep the peace. And as we go forward into this world, it's important that our diplomats always speak from a position of absolute strength when it comes to the military of America's awesome determination to defend herself from those who would deny us our freedom or our liberty.
And whether it be safe guarding our Nuclear deterrent, or air combat, mobility to space, to personnel management processes and policies and everything in between, your actions must meet one standard. And that is to make the U.S. Air Force more lethal every day that you serve; to turn the U.S. Air Force over to your successors as more lethal than you inherited it here today.
I am absolutely confident -- I have total confidence that Dr. Wilson, our Secretary of Air Force, to General Goldfein old comrade in arms, a cunning war fighter in every sense of the world, who I have served alongside. I have absolute confidence with the right leaders to take this Air Force forward, to make it more lethal, more respected, more capable everywhere in the world.
They will be examining every policy, every practice, every element of our team, every bit of equipment and our culture to ensure that we're all aligned on making the Air Force the most lethal Air Force in the world. We're going to have to actively encourage the initiative and aggressiveness that I see in the young airmen just walking in the hallways here. Out there at the very furthest edges of the Air Force enterprise, so their ideas, their initiative is being harnessed and brought forward.
On the DOD level, I would just tell you we are pursuing three lines of effort. And the first one, no surprise to you, is building a more lethal joint force, and it's absolutely essential that the Air Force be in the front rank in that effort. But we're also working on a second line of effort to strengthen international alliances and partnerships.
If I were to give you a mental model for this ladies and gentlemen, it goes back to the greatest generation coming home from World War II, having grown up in economic depression, having been through a war that killed tens of millions, 50, 60, 70 million, with unbelievable heartbreak, and they come home and they say what a crummy world. And we're part of it whether we like it or not, so lets put together the alliances and the partnerships that will make it a better world for our children. And based on that, they began to put together a -- an alliance world for America, whether it be the NATO alliance or partnerships with other nations, because we recognized that it was absolutely critical to do so.
Furthermore, the third line of effort is to reform the business practices of the departments inside -- the military departments -- inside DOD, and especially, the Department of Defense itself. And Deputy Secretary of Defense Shanahan is working full time, 24/7 on that -- and I mean 24/7. No matter how early I come to work, he's there ahead of time. No matter what time I leave on Sunday, he's still there, working on this. And we're going to make it a more effective use of the people's treasury when we get the money, and we're going to turn it into lethality against our enemies' designs.
Let me start with the lethality and the readiness issue. Churchill pointed out that wars don't always come when you're ready, and he had some background in this, as you'll remember how the Royal Air Force had to buy time for Britain to hold on until they could amass the strength, and get the alliance with the United States and everything else to turn the tide in that very desperate battle, early battles, of World War II.
I want to repeat here that we have no God-given right to victory on the battlefield. And in that regard, make no mistake that our adversaries are right now making concentrated efforts to erode our competitive edge. You know it, I know it. We can see it in the world around us. And I would say, too, that by contesting our supremacy in every domain, we can see it working against us in aggregate.
And I want to get into more about this, because some nations that are challenging our dominance in the air are doing so through a proliferation of advanced, integrated air defense network, plus fifth generation aircraft. And I think, too, if you look at outer space, which was long considered a sanctuary of sorts, it's now contested.
And then you add another domain, the cyberspace domain, at the same time, and that's now contested at the operating -- in an operating realm at the tactical, the operational, and the strategic levels of conflict. And that means that we took several thousand years of war on land and sea, and it took us about 100 years to get another domain, air, brought to the position we're in today. And then, in the last 10 years, we've seen basically two new domains mature into war-fighting realms on us. Never in history has this happened in our past.
So our air, naval, ground, and logistics bases today are also under threat of precision, all-weather, day/night guided munition bombardment, which will complicate our operations, and make passive and active base defense absolutely critical in the future. So if we fail to adapt, ladies and gentlemen, at the speed of relevance, then our forces, military forces, our air force, will lose the very technical and tactical advantage that we've enjoyed since World War II.
The joint effort of rebuilding our readiness and lethality is based on the following problem statement for the U.S. Military, because every military in history that has successfully adapted -- transformed, modernized, whatever word you want to use -- has done so based on setting out to solve a specific military problem.
I believe the problem we face today is how do we maintain a nuclear deterrent and a decisive conventional force, while maintaining irregular warfare as a core competency? Because the paradox of war is, the adversary will always move against your perceived weakness. So a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent is there to ensure a war that can never be won, is never fought.
And I've been out to Bangor, Washington to see the submarine force; MINOT to see the B-52s and the missiles, and all, and I am absolutely convinced that having this safe, secure, and effective deterrent is critical -- the most critical piece of our nation's defense.
When I talk about a decisive conventional force, people say, "Well, that's awfully expensive." It is, but it's a heck of a lot less expensive than having to fight a conventional war because some adversary thought they could take us on and win. And so, I believe that we have got to be able to either deter that, or to win as swiftly as possible, if we must go into a conflict. I talk about retaining irregular warfare as a core competency, because we need it to safeguard America. What we do not want, ladies and gentlemen, is to be dominant, and at the same time, irrelevant to our nation's defense.
And for those of us who were on active duty on 9/11, you know exactly what I'm referring to as we look back on that tragic day, when some maniacs thought by hurting us, they could scare us. Well, the U.S. Air Force doesn't scare, and you were immediately launched into the fight and you were ready, and that's our obligation to the next generation of airmen. That we would be just as ready when the nation calls.
In the face of these challenges that we see around the world, and recognizing this problem statement, I would also say, that despite the casualties, the loss of our wonderful, beautiful, young troops, thousands of them over these last 16 odd years of combat, nothing has done more damage to the readiness of our armed forces than the continuing resolutions that stop us from taking initiative, than the lack of budgetary predictability, which means our industries will not change what they are doing, because they don't know whether they are going to be able to get the funding the next year to keep an effort going. And you can't ask companies to take survivor risk without some kind of reassurance.
I bring this up because if we don't get budgetary predictability, if we don't remove the defense caps, then we're questioning whether or not America has the ability to survive. It's that simple. And I think that right now, we have got to -- right now, move with the Congress, and the Congressional leaders are calling for this, toward a budget -- passing the president's budget, toward lifting and removing the defense caps, in the current increasingly severe security situation, so that we maintain our competitive edge.
Otherwise, it will erode. If Congress restores managerial integrity over the budget, this will enable us to invest in the critical warfighting capabilities, including in space, and cyberspace, where we need new starts, in order to take advantage of what our industry can deliver, if we are willing to invest there. And I think, too, we have to look at how we conduct in the future, global strike, close air support, global intelligence, global mobility, global surveillance, global command and control.
And that includes looking beyond pure technological means on command and control, as we look toward the initiative on airmen who might see their headquarters cut off from them and they've got to act anyway in defense of our country. Because in cyberspace, there's more and more -- I would call it, attack capability, in the hands of enemy to take down our commanding control systems than we have seen in a past time.
So that's what we're talking about when we talk about lethality and what I believe needs to be done. Our second line of effort is the strengthening of alliances and partner building, new partnerships. And I just remind everybody here that few of us -- in my case, never, did I fight in an all American formation.
I've always fought alongside coalition partners. And it's not easy, as Churchill put it, the only thing tougher than fighting with allies is fighting without them. Because we're all different. And we understand that. And we're all built from our formative experiences as young NCOs, as young officers, and we have a certain way of doing business.
And we have to recognize, at times, that that can actually get in the way of building alliances when it's on the military side. Why do I emphasize it? Because history is compelling on this point, that nations with allies thrive and those without allies decline. It's that simple.
I can go through, all the way back, thousands of years and keep pointing out that you will stagnate and wither if you do not have allies at your side. So to our allies and any partners here in this room, I would just say, thank you for standing with us. In Iraq today, we have allies. In Afghanistan, 39 nations stand together.
In the defeat ISIS campaign, there are 69 nations and four international organizations, including the Arab League, NATO, Interpol and the European Union that are together helping on the defeat ISIS campaign.
But ultimately, it comes down to America to breathe confidence and capability into these alliances so that they feel like they can actually have the success that the world's leader can help breed in all of their forces. And I think this is absolutely critical and we have to recognize that our organizations, our processes and procedures, have got to be allied friendly.
They've got to be welcoming. And the point I would make to the American officers in the room is that we must be willing to do more than to listen to our allies. We must be willing to be persuaded by them. And there's a whale of a difference between listening to somebody else's different idea and then going right on about the way you were going to do it and being willing to be persuaded.
And remember, not all the good ideas come from the nation with the most aircraft carriers. The third line of effort goes to the heart of our competitive edge. And that is reforming the department and its business processes and gaining full value from every taxpayer dollar spent on defense.
And we must do this, ladies and gentlemen. We have got to be very, very careful about where we spend and what we do with the money and make certain that what we're doing is making the department more lethal. That's what our countrymen and -women expect of us. And we do not want to lose the confidence of the Congress, the confidence of the American people that, in fact, we are gaining full value.
And that's the only way we're going to win and sustain the trust of the American people. Reforming the department is going to take the acquisition enterprise being reformed, and we're looking at how we break that out between software and hardware to take advantage of software development.
Do we really need to have the same procedures when we're doing a small program as when we're doing a major aircraft program? All these things are being looked at and I've got some great people coming in to help, from Deputy Secretary Shanahan, to Undersecretary Ellen Lord.
These are people that know what they're doing, there's nothing new under the sun, other than the opportunities and the challenges that they then apply a very rigorous and discipline problem solving effort to. So we'll be moving very, very aggressively on this. It's going to require delegating decision authority, in many cases, to the outer edges of the enterprises, to unleash the great ideas we find among our bright and committed airmen.
It's also important to integrate this across the joint force, because the real strength we've exhibited over 16 years of war is jointness -- its integrating the capabilities together. And I was just talking to chief of staff of the Air Force, as we're standing here in front of the room, talking about new ways to do the JSTARS mission. I'm eager to hear these efforts to help one another, the other services. No service doing anything that reveals the other service being in a weaker position. We're out to make each other stronger to gain that synergy.
Also, I don't want the same policies in every service. I want different cultures to be reflected in your policies. This is actually a strength to the Department of Defense that we have different service cultures, so long as there is a spirit of collaboration that operates over all of them. And nothing could have been more obvious to me as a young one star, to walk into three star Buzz Moseley's office and have him say he was going to put every airplane over my head during those critical hours when we'd be landing a few hundred people, close to thousands of enemy.
And at that point, I knew it was over for the enemy. I was not concerned when my troops closed in on them, what would be the outcome. The skill, the ferocity, the ethics of our troops, of my young marines and sailors, I knew what would happen. My concern was the broader issue, and General Moseley took that issue right off the table, that we would not be in apposition of operational checkmate thanks to the airmen and the skies overhead.
That was jointness at the leading edge of a battlefield, and it continued on as C-17s coming out of Germany were landing on dirt airstrips in the middle of nowhere and offer rolling light armored vehicles that were going to complicate the enemy's day. There was absolutely nothing they could do. I did not care how many -- how many miles they could run, I didn't care what weapon they had, they were going to lose; it was that simple. And it was all because we could come together as a joint team and the enemy was going to face cascading problems as they tried to confront us.
Before we go to the best part of this, which is going to be the Q&A, I just want to talk about the human element, and that's, of course, focused right on leadership. And it's fundamentally about people. The ability to build trust in every chain of command and the ability to create harmony across the joint force is really what we're looking for in our leaders.
It may be a vicious harmony as we close in on the enemy, but we have got to rebuild harmony across the force and that includes with or allies and our Department of State allies as well, over there across the river from the Pentagon. We need people who are willing to speak truth to power, to bring reality to bear.
And that can appear tough at times, because once in a while, we don't -- we don't hire wilting violets in the U.S. military. We reward -- we definitely reward initiative and aggressiveness. We've got to be open to those mavericks, to those people who think differently, because we don't want to be surprised on the battlefield because we ignored the mavericks inside our own ranks.
There is a great American writer, Flannery O'Connor, and she wrote, "Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally." A very interesting point, so you've got to remain open to those uncomfortable truths, as some people call them, as we craft an air force fit -- an air force fit for its future time and future battles.
I began my remarks by mentioning how American air power has remained dominant for 70 years now and the world watches and asks, can we keep it? I think there's no room for complacency, I will tell you that I have seen no complacency in the Air Force on this and I think some of you know me well enough to know that if I'd seen it, I would tell you right here this morning. I've not seen complacency; I've seen aggressive embracing of the new threats, of looking for solutions because you must hold the line.
You have got to hold the line and allow this country to come back together to allow this country to regain its fundamental friendliness toward one another and to every Airman and civilian serving today, I ask that you protect the high ground, you be ready to fight and to win. You're the airmen who went through everything to get to Ploesti, you're the airmen who've got a great legacy. You may be the youngest the service, but you have a very proud legacy already that the veterans who went before you lived up to. And remember this, there is nothing we will ask of you that the Airmen who went before you did not overcome.
So keep confidence in yourselves, keep confidence in your leadership and let's go to Q&A and see what's on your mind here.
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.
MODERATOR: We have had a number of questions about the Middle East. I think they can be summed up in what does winning look like in the Middle East and how do we get there?
SEC. MATTIS: Well, all wars are local and when we talked about winning in the Middle East, the Middle East is not the Middle East; there's one kind of fight going on in Iraq where we're invited in by the government, that's recognized by the United Nations, where we're fighting alongside the Iraqi military.
There's an altogether different fight going on, although it may look the same to an Airman overhead, but a very different fight in Syria where the Syrians had lost credibility -- their government and they had -- they did not control large swathes of the country and to defeat ISIS we have gone in there. That's a different sort of fight. So, it -- basically what we're going to do there, we are going to crush ISIS. There are those who questioned if we had the right capabilities there in the field.
The bottom line, when the administration came in, the direction was to change it in two ways. One, to accelerate the fight and to move more swiftly against the enemy's sources of power. We knew their external operations people were conducting fights going into Europe, you saw them in Brussels and Paris, you saw them in Turkey and those kind of places so we had to get in and take that out. We have accelerated the fight.
The second change is both in Iraq and Syria due to the danger of foreign fighters returning home, we're trying to reduce that number. I got this loud and clear when Secretary Tillerson had the 70-odd nations and international partners in -- organizations into Foggy Bottom here, back in -- I think it was March, and so we changed our tactics to take the time to encircle the places where they had strength and circle them. And instead of fighting attrition fights where we keep pushing them away, we encircle them and fight battles of annihilation so that the foreign fighters can't get out.
So that's how it looks there. ISIS goes down and we work with the government in Baghdad in order to make certain Iraq does not find itself with ISIS 2.0 coming back. With Syria, you'll see it move toward Geneva, and an international conference will move out of where the Russians are meeting with them occasionally these days, Astana, and we'll move it into Geneva and work toward gaining some kind of stability there in the geo-political heart of the Middle East.
In Afghanistan, on the other hand, we're going to reinforce, we're going to realign ourselves to mostly train, advise, assist. We'll see more Air Force mentoring of their Air Force, so eventually we'll replace ourselves there in the skies over Afghanistan with the right kind of Air Force fit for the kind of battles we're fighting.
And we will, by mentoring, we will get enough of the JTACs on the ground, that NATO Air Forces can come in and support those folks who are fighting there. Something we have not been able to do in the past because we didn't have enough advisers.
And we will eventually drive this down to a point, as our goal, that victory would like the people and the government of Afghanistan can handle this threat, from the terrorists, using their own security forces with international mentors, probably there for many years to come.
But the fighting will be done by the Afghans with our advising train, advise assist mentoring, and for right now, air support, certainly supported by NATO. So each area, victory looks differently but the bottom line is we're going to make it so that the world is not subject to the kind of terror attacks we saw recently in Barcelona -- a place like this.
It can be long term, it's going to have an educational component, it's got a lot of things going on in the Middle East as far as reducing the lure of this sort of terrorism, this sort of murder that we see going on. But in each area we're trying to construct local solutions, working by, with and through allies.
Sometimes, that will be supporting, for example, the brilliantly led French campaign in the Sahel where airmen are providing surveillance support, refueling support, this sort of thing. We've got some forces on the ground but the French are maintaining upwards of 4,000 troops. We probably have around 20,000 African troops, and there in the Lake Chad, north of the Lake Chad basin, you see that kind of a fight going -- again, by with and through allies which is why that second line of effort is so important.
MODERATOR: This is a question I'm sure you didn't anticipate. What's your take on North Korea and what can we do about it?
SEC. MATTIS: Well, obviously, North Korea has been a problem, it goes back to the days we worked together, you recall, under Dr. Perry and Senator Cohen -- our secretary of defense in those days -- the international community is aligned on this. How many times have you seen China, Russia, France, the United States, I can go on, United Kingdom, all voting in a unified position in the U.N. Security Council. That gives you an idea of the degree of international concern and the alignment of the international interests to stop the provocations, to stop the nuclear program there in -- in North Korea.
It is still a diplomatically led effort, it is one that is fully supported by the Department of Defense, in terms of the ensuring that the military options exist. And for right now, you see it as a primary effort up at the United Nations General Assembly meetings that are going on this week in New York.
We continue to press on the diplomatic level and that includes economic sanctions, of course. But at this time, we must also recognize the somber reality that military options must be available in order to protect our allies and ourselves.
MODERATOR: Perhaps a somewhat easier question, what's your take on the current state of jointness? And if it's not good, what do we need to do to improve jointness?
SEC. MATTIS: You know, one of the challenges we faced, ladies and gentlemen, is when we solve problems, we can sometimes forget that there was a problem we solved, and as we move forward, we leave the lessons behind.
I think the most important thing on jointness is that we make certain that young officers, probably in their mid-careers, have sufficient time in joint staffs, that they learn how they bring their capability, and I want no misunderstanding.
I want young NCOs and young officers sharpening their core competency in each of their services, that by midgrades, NCOs and officers, they need to have exposure and involvement in a joint way to ensure that put together, on any battlefield swiftly, what is needed in that specific war in order to win.
My concern would be if we forgot the lessons that we have taken so long to learn. I don't believe it will happen in this generation of airmen, soldiers, sailors, marines, I don't believe it will happen because we have spent so much time operating together that now it's kind of ingrained in you.
It's part of our formative experience. But if coming out of these wars, we do not maintain joint integrated exercises, then we could lose that very lesson. Right now, that's not happening. It's very clear, as I talk to soldiers, how much they know they depend on air support.
It's very clear when you talk to sailors, they know what they need to do to support the troops on the ground, I can go on. So I think right now we're in pretty good shape on jointness, but we do not want to lose the lessons learned the hard way.
And militaries have lost those lessons, many times in history, and the result has usually been a pretty traumatic event, the opening of the next fight. We also have to learn now, where can we adapt to the new realities and make certain that we're carrying jointness into those realities.
We're not thinking that this is all about one service. Again, it's got to be a spirit of collaboration that permeates the entire joint force where we're always looking for how to improve another force's ability to create defeats for the enemy.
As a young infantry second lieutenant, looking at a map considering a problem many years ago -- in the last millennium, that's how long ago it was.
I've never forget in those days we had F-4s -- an F-4 pilot in my infantry battalion, because we're assigned at that level, tapping me on the shoulder and say, "Watch this, Lieutenant. You're not going to have that problem when you get there."
So it's good to have your mind opened by people who bring their capabilities to bear and aggressively look for opportunities to solve each other's problem. And that's what I'm counting on the U.S. Air Force for.
MODERATOR: I think -- you know, this conference has a lot of industry folks here as well. And I think there's become a general feeling that kind of collaboration, which we're trying to get in the joint world, doesn't also extend to industry. Industry needs a more collaborative environment that they don't feel they get enough sense of where you want them to go. And yet they are willing to invest money to try to help you go there.
So, think the question is, you know, do you have any thoughts about how you could engage industry better than it is currently being engaged?
SEC. MATTIS: Yes, it was interesting when I came into the job, I met with a bunch of folks in industry. First of all, I became aware that some people thought, "Well. you can't really do that." And I said, "Why not? They're Americans, aren't they? You know, last time I checked, they were on our side," and so --
And sure enough, you know you can find the smart lawyers -- and there are some, believe it or not.
And they came in and said, "Well, of course you can meet with them, you just can't meet with one and show favorites," which I understand. In our job, you know, we can't do that.
But what struck me when I met with the industry leaders was how they had very good relations with certain elements of the Department of Defense and others had no relationship. And when I dove more deeply into it, I found the very thing that I'd run into initially, which was some of the services had gotten to the point of paralysis, because they felt they -- they could not speak to members of industry, representatives of industry, because somehow it was illegal.
I mean, there are right ways to do this, where you never violate our ethical rules. There's a reason why our industries are trusted. But at the same time we must maintain the trust of the American people that we're not doing some subtle modifications to the fair practices of our acquisition efforts.
And so, I think that the most important thing is that we open the lines of communication in a way that consider industry, American industry and allied industry where it's appropriate, as partners in this effort.
And I think the most important thing is to get the communication going again, if it -- in the areas where it's languished.
Now, there's some areas where it's very healthy, and -- from R&D efforts and everything else, there's a lot of back and forth, a lot of sharing, and a lot of exploration that's very, very valuable.
So it's a mixed bag right now. In some areas, I like the way it's working. But I want to encourage all of you within -- strictly within the ethical regulations, do not have imaginary legal restrictions on your leadership responsibility to find the best bang for the buck, to find the most far-reaching innovations that are out there.
I lived for three years, after I got out of the Marines, in Silicon Valley, right on Sand Hill road. And nothing is more reminding of just how innovative America is than to live in the middle of Silicon Valley and see the way that they're changing the world we live in.
And so, want you all engaged in this and to make certain that the lines of communication are open in a way that we can aggressively and swiftly take advantage of the opportunities that we see developing around us in the private sector.
MODERATOR: So now I have, probably, a most important question I've been asked up here. I have lots of these. Do you really have a nickname of Mad Dog? And if so, how did you get it?
SEC. MATTIS: Trust Secretary Peters to ask that one.
Ladies and gentlemen, it was never my call sign. Even my troops laughed at it when they read it in the newspaper. It was a slow news day, I think, and somebody made it up.
I was always known by my call sign, Chaos.
But I must confess how I got that name, because some people thought, well, it's probably because, you know, the great Chinese classical warfare strategist, Sun Tzu… you copied him or something like that. I'd love to tell you it was for a dignified reason like that.
In fact, when I was a regimental commander of 7,500 Sailors and Marines out in the Mojave Desert, there was nothing to do but go blow up the desert. I always had good ideas; at least, I thought they were very good ideas. And one day, walking out of my Operations Officers office, I noticed "chaos" written on this whiteboard. I said, "Wait -- what's this about?" Curious, you know. We all are. He said, "Oh, you don't need to know that." Of course, right away, you know, up goes the old --
So what's it about? And finally he kind of said, "Well, it means the colonel has an outstanding solution."
And it was very much tongue in cheek, ladies and gentlemen. They didn't consider all my solutions quite as outstanding as I enthusiastically promoted them. But I like what my irreverent troops had used there, so I adopted it as my call sign.
So, there was never a Mad Dog in there, other than some press person who needed a little bit of a fantasy life fulfilled, I think.
Thanks very much, Secretary. Thanks, everybody.