June 27, 2012
The U.S. military will one day use unmanned trucks driven by remote control to deliver supplies into war zones.
Cyberwar is the threat that “eventually could be most catastrophic” to the country and world — even more potentially dangerous than the grave threat posed by terrorism.
And speaking of grave threats: The U.S. military will go absolutely, positively broke if it continues to spend as much as it spends now on salaries, benefits and health care for its service members.
These aren’t the opinions of a defense analyst or a think tank strategist.
These are thoughts that Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the country’s highest ranking military officer, shared with an audience Tuesday afternoon during a whirlwind speech at Offutt Air Force Base.
For most of the hourlong event, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff took seemingly unscripted questions from an audience filled with U.S. Strategic Command personnel, Offutt airmen and members of the Air Force Weather Agency.
He stalked around Offutt’s Patriot Club ballroom. He discarded his microphone when it broke and simply yelled his answers, much to the consternation of a Pentagon TV crew in town to tape the speech.
And he practically goaded the audience of 300 into a serious discussion about the present and the future of the U.S. military.
“Gimme a question, the hardest one you can think of,” he said at one point.
They did, and Dempsey rarely sidestepped in response.
In response to a query about unmanned drones — a tough question at Offutt, where the Air Force’s 55th Wing flies traditional manned spy planes — he all but promised that the United States would employ more unmanned aircraft in the future than it does now.
And the drones won’t be confined to the air, he said. Unmanned supply convoys could happen at some point in the future.
“We could save a lot of lives,” he said of the unmanned convoys. “It’s not just about getting a hold of the (latest) technology.”
Asked to name the gravest threats facing the country, he ticked off a laundry list: The economy, global terrorism, nuclear proliferation, all part of what he called “a quilt or mosaic of threats.”
But he spent the most time on the threat in cyberspace, pronouncing it “the threat least known and most ignored.”
“Our greatest opportunity and our greatest vulnerability,” he said of cyberspace.
Later: “Eventually (cyberwar) could be most catastrophic.”
President Barack Obama named Dempsey, 60, to the country’s top military post in May 2011, a promotion that Dempsey reportedly earned in part because he had few critics or political enemies.
But Dempsey hasn’t been afraid to march into controversy during his tenure. This spring, for example, he came out strongly against the idea of an Israeli airstrike on Iranian nuclear facilities, a position that got him crosswise with both Israel and hawks in Congress.
Dempsey has argued that Iran hasn’t yet decided to build a nuclear weapon. Its leaders may feel pressure to drop any nuclear ambitions if an oil embargo and economic sanctions continue to take their toll on Iran’s riches, he said.
The Iranian government “will act in what they perceive to be their interests,” he said while in Omaha on Monday night. “Even (if those interests) are at the expense of the Iranian people.”
It’s “not prudent” for Israel or the United States to decide to attack Iran, he said in February. He also acknowledged that there was a serious difference of opinion between the Israeli government and the American government on Iran.
“A strike at this time would be destabilizing and it wouldn’t achieve their long-term objectives,” Dempsey said of Israel. “I wouldn’t suggest, sitting here today, that we’ve persuaded them that our view is the correct view and that they are acting in an ill-advised fashion.”
No one asked the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about Iran on Tuesday, but they did query him about military pay and benefits.
Dempsey labeled the manpower costs borne by the military “not sustainable” and said they will quickly overwhelm the military’s budget if nothing changes.
That would result in a hollowed-out military, he said, similar to the dispirited one he joined in the early 1970s.
“Ten years of unrestrained resources,” he said of the post-Sept. 11 spending on defense. “Is that good? Hell yeah, we are at war. Bad habits? Yeah.”
Dempsey told the crowd that an all-volunteer military — any military anywhere — had never before served in wars as long or as trying as Iraq or Afghanistan. When he wasn’t goading the Offutt personnel into asking questions, he was thanking them.
“If you ever wanted to serve when it really mattered … you have done it,” he told the crowd. “It makes a difference.”