Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to join you in welcoming our nominees. Thank you both for your willingness to serve in positions of great responsibility in the Department of Defense. I would also like to thank your family members who, like all military families, sacrifice so much for the security of our nation.
I also note with a heavy heart the loss of U.S. Fifth Fleet commander Vice Admiral Scott Stearney over the weekend. On behalf of the entire Committee, I extend our condolences to his friends, family, and all who knew him.
General McKenzie and General Clarke, if confirmed, you will lead combatant commands at the forefront of protecting our national security. As noted by the National Defense Strategy, or NDS, “long-term strategic competitions with China and Russia are the principal priorities for the Department, and require both increased and sustained investment.” The NDS goes on to say “the Department will sustain its efforts to deter and counter rogue regimes such as North Korea and Iran, defeat terrorist threats to the United States, and consolidate our gains in Iraq and Afghanistan while moving to a more resource-sustainable approach.”
The guidance contained in the NDS is likely to result in significant changes to the commands you have been asked to lead. With respect to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the NDS forecasts reduced force structure and more efficient utilization of what remains. Managing the implementation of those changes and any impact they may have on our ability to carry out counterterrorism operations, deter Iran, and reassure our allies and partners will be significant considerations for CENTCOM in the coming years.
With respect to U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the focus of the NDS raises questions about the role of special operations forces in the competition with potential near-peer adversaries. Given that special operations forces have been heavily committed to the fight against violent extremist groups since 9/11, SOCOM will necessarily have to evaluate whether its current capabilities are appropriately matched to the operations its forces will be asked to conduct in the future. Additionally, given the already high operational tempo on special operations forces, SOCOM will need to be careful that any additional responsibilities do not overstress the force. I hope both of our nominees will discuss the expected impact of the NDS on the Commands they have been nominated to lead and how any challenges can be mitigated in implementation.
Last week we held a hearing with the National Defense Strategy Commission to discuss their review of the NDS. The Commission’s report states that there is a “relative imbalance of civilian and military voices on critical issues of strategy development and implementation.” It goes on to state that “civilian voices were relatively muted on issues at the center of U.S. defense and national security policy, undermining the concept of civilian control.” When I read the Commission’s report, I was struck by these observations and the consequences that such an imbalance could have on the development of defense policy, the impact it could have on the civilian and military personnel serving in the Department, and how it may shape the advice provided to the President. As senior members of the Joint Staff, I hope both of our nominees will share their thoughts on the Commission’s finding and how their experience with civilian policymakers would shape their leadership of CENTCOM and SOCOM, respectively.
On this point, the committee focused attention in recent years on strengthening the partnership between the SOCOM Commander and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, or ASD SOLIC. In particular, section 922 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 enhanced the role of ASD SOLIC to serve as the “service secretary-like” official responsible for oversight of, and advocacy for, special operations forces. General Clarke, I look forward to hearing your views on the implementation of these reforms and how the ASD SOLIC – SOCOM partnership can be further strengthened.
Again, I thank you for your willingness to serve and I look forward to your testimony. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.