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Remarks as prepared for Adm. Michelle Howard at the 2016 Multinational Ballistic Missile Defense Conference

May 10, 2017 at 9:21 AM UTC

October 31, 2016 | London, England

Good morning, I am honored to be with such a distinguished audience.  Thank you to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the large number of industry partners who have a stake in putting on this conference.   

We are all here because we are interested in making our world a safer, more stable place and I want to thank you all for the work each of you do to foster that shared goal.  For the Alliance, missile defense is ultimately about fulfilling one of NATO’s core tasks: protecting our people and territories against all threats.  The threats are evolving and so must our defenses.  The capability to adapt quickly to the threats we face as they evolve allows our Alliance to be successful.  We must be willing to change and be on the leading edge to continue fulfilling our shared responsibilities.

It’s appropriate, given our host country today, to let you in on bit of trivia…today marks the 53rd anniversary of Ed Sullivan’s original experience with Beatlemania.  Mr. Sullivan was trying to catch a flight from Heathrow back to New York City.  While at the airport he witnessed the chaotic scene surrounding the Beatles returning from a tour in Sweden. Mr. Sullivan had his staff make inquiries and ultimately brought them to the United States for three performances the following February which was the launch point for the so called "British Invasion."  

The Beatles were on the leading edge of a dramatic change in music.  Part of that was because they were undeniably good, and part of the reason they were so good was because of the amount of hard work they put in, together. 

Before I give away my punchline I want to tell you that I brought up the Beatles because I want to talk a little bit in the beginning of my remarks today about "virtuosity."  Virtuoso derives from the Latin virtuosus, meaning virtuous and the Latin virtus, meaning excellence.   

In his 2008 New York Times bestseller "Outliers," Malcolm Gladwell discussed how we reach that level of excellence, the pinnacle of skills.  It can take upwards of 10 thousand hours of practice. That’s over 400 straight days of 24 hours a day practice.  Now of course any individual isn’t able to pursue their dreams 24 hours a day so imagine how long it takes any individual to achieve that level of experience and associated performance.

And we aren’t simply talking about one individual putting that much time and effort into achieving their goals.  We are talking about the Beatles.  To reach excellence, they needed to function as a team.  And for our Alliance it means the same thing, we need to function as a team,–really as a team of teams, and make each and every note that we hit sound good. 

The command and control of our forces must be clear and unified.  In 2002, retired U.S. Navy Adm. Robert Willard wrote in Proceedings Magazine that, “command and control is the commander’s contribution to winning the fight.”  Allied Air Command, Allied Maritime Command, Striking and Support Forces NATO, and Task Group Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) contribute in either a supporting or supported role to winning the complex fight.  Like the Beatles, they have to make opportunities to practice this command and control and through repetition, achieve excellence.

At the unit level, the petty officers who are on watch aboard the ballistic-missile defense ships in the theater must be attentive to their scopes.  The tactical action officers charged with managing the ship’s weapon systems must understand their preplanned responses and not hesitate in executing.  The commanding officers must be ready to launch when necessary.  And the same is true for those standing the watch in our recently commissioned Aegis Ashore facility in Deveselu, Romania. 

But these tasks must be done within the context and across the Alliance despite varying capability and the challenge of interoperability.   We cannot miss a single note.  It cannot be a pick-up game.  We aren’t a group of teenagers in a garage band.  We are on tour and our stage is protecting millions of people.   When the lights come up we must accomplish it, together. 

In order to increase our capabilities and meet the challenges we face, we must continue to seek out opportunities to test our forces with high-end training.  Last year a number of Alliance members participated in the Maritime Theater Missile Defense’s at-Sea demonstration on the Hebrides Range off the Scottish Coast which featured the first international ship queuing for ballistic-missile defense shots by U.S. Navy destroyers. 

In October of 2017, U.S. 6th Fleet will lead a similar exercise, Formidable Shield 2017.  This exercise will bring together ships from seven nations to track and engage three ballistic missile and 14 subsonic or  two supersonic anti-ship cruise missile targets in an operationally realistic scenario to flex their capability and high end interoperability.  Formidable Shield is the type of exercise we need to invest our time and resources in.  Formidable Shield will provide the forces of our Alliance members and our partners the chance to work out the command and control and to fight and win against a complex enemy. 

High-end warfighting exercises are vital, but we should also consider less complex, less expensive training opportunities which provide the sets and reps needed to get really good.   One example of this type of regular exercise is that in September, the Air Command Ballistic Missile Defense Operations Center was added to the U.S. Navy’s Task Force 64 weekly training regimen providing operators with an opportunity to work through the tactical and operational challenges inherent in this complex mission.

The Beatles sang about “getting by with a little help from my friends,” and I believe that the ancient Romans understood this concept long ago as well.  A classic military application of interoperability and collective defense can be found in studying tactics of the Roman Legions.  When the Legions went into battle their shield movements were precise because they practiced them consistently and together as a group. 

When the legions were given the order “testudinem formate”, translated tortoise formation, they maneuvered into a formation specifically designed to protect themselves from aerial projectiles.  The legionnaires would align their shields to form a packed formation covered with shields on the front and top. Raising their shields in unison, the first row of men, excluding the men on the flanks, would hold their shields from about the height of their shins to their eyes, so as to cover the formation's front.  Ranks to the rear would place their shields over their heads in an overlap to protect the formation from above.  The legionnaires had seconds to maneuver their shields into the correct position as arrows, propelled by gravity, dropped towards their formation. 

Today, our shields must also rise as one when a threat is detected.  We don’t have much longer than the legionnaires had so many years ago.  From the launch of a threat missile to the time it takes for detection, queueing and the appropriate defensive measures to be undertaken, John, George, Paul and Ringo could have started and finished Yellow Submarine -- we’ve got a precious few minutes.  However, the window to launch an interceptor may be only a few precious seconds to successfully intercept a ballistic missile -- essentially a modern day arrow, flying a path of arc similar to arrows fired by archers centuries ago.

Our command and control must be agile and our aim must be true -- we cannot miss.  Commanding officers of our ships must have the rules of engagement, and when the firing circuit key is turned and the missile launches, the shared situational awareness must be robust enough for ground based defenses to engage leakers and passive defense measures in place to mitigate risk to our civilian populations.  The Alliance is a joint team that must function the same as the legionnaire formations of old – we must be impenetrable and synchronized.  The populations we protect deserve nothing less. 

Ballistic missile defense is a long-term, defensive investment by the Alliance.  The addition of the USS Carney in September 2015 completed the homeport shift of four U.S. Aegis-class destroyers to Rota, Spain.  Protecting our populations from the sea is a long-standing Navy tradition.  The completion of Aegis Ashore sites in Deveselu, Romania, and Redzikowo, Poland, will allow the Alliance increased capacity to fulfill this vital mission.    

These are not unilateral efforts being made by the U.S.  The Beatles were four men working together to make unforgettable music.  Our Alliance is 28 countries who share the ideals of peace and freedom, and this is an ongoing effort by all Alliance partners.  Spain is serving as the host nation for four U.S. destroyers; Romania agreed to host the initial Aegis Ashore facility; Poland will be home to the second Aegis Ashore facility; Greece maintains a logistics hub in Souda Bay for our destroyers; and Turkey hosts critical infrastructure for ballistic missile defense.  Contributions to training events like last year’s Maritime Theatre Missile Defense at-sea demonstration were made by a number of Alliance partners including the U.K., Canada, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and Netherlands. 

This is yet another way the Alliance is showing its commitment to ballistic missile defense.  We are all making large contributions to the overall defense of the Alliance and I want to thank all of our allies and partners for their commitment to these efforts. 

At the recently concluded Warsaw summit the nations of our Alliance proudly announced the initial operational capability of our ballistic missile defenses with the potential to counter threats to Europe stemming from outside of the European theater.  The Alliance is committed to protecting our people and territories from these types of threats.  As we continue to develop cost-effective and operationally capable missile defense systems the Alliance’s capacity will expand against future threat uncertainties.   

There are over 500 million people living under the NATO umbrella throughout Europe, and they are all depending on us to be perfectly on pitch and on key, hitting each and every note when the time comes to defend them.