Michael Griffin, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, on Secure Freedom Radio

Michael D. Griffin is Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering at the Department of Defense. 

FRANK GAFFNEY:

Welcome to Secure Freedom Radio. This is Frank Gaffney, your host and guide for what I think of as an intelligence briefing on the war for the free world. It is my great privilege to have known for quite some time now a man who has served his country in a variety of capacities with great distinction in the defense sector, notably in the Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency, it’s been called different things at different times. He has served as the director of NASA. And he is, these days, the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, the man who presides over the incredibly arduous job of insuring that our military is capable of dealing with all enemies, with all their capabilities, present and prospective. He is an extraordinary public servant and it is a real honor to have him with us here at Secure Freedom Radio. Mr. Secretary, welcome, it’s so good to have you.

MICHAEL GRIFFIN:

Thank you, Frank. Yes, we have known one another for a long time. I hope always to mutual benefit. So what can I do for you today?

FRANK GAFFNEY:

It’s certainly been my honor. Listen, I wanted to just set the stage for a brief conversation with you about our national security posture by reminding our audience what has been going on in recent weeks between the Russians and Chinese in something they call Vostok-18. Which, as you know, is a major exercise and apparently has involved simulated nuclear attacks on the United States. I won’t ask you to get into classified assessments of this, but what does it tell you about the seriousness of the threat we’re facing at the moment?

MICHAEL GRIFFIN:

Well, it confirms for me what our, I mean, one more time, if such confirmation were needed, it confirms for me the wisdom of the National Defense Strategy that was released in January of this year. It’s the first really new National Defense Strategy that I think we’ve had since the Reagan era, to be honest. Possibly the first new such strategy that we really needed since that time. But that – but the published strategy calls out at the unclassified level a renewal of an era of great power competitions frankly, the United States has not had to face since the Wall came down and the Soviet Union broke up.

FRANK GAFFNEY:

Or we face, but it’s been emerging to a point where it didn’t seem as serious a problem as it certainly does now in either Russia or China.

MICHAEL GRIFFIN:

For those of us, like yourself and myself, who are, I guess I would say inherently skeptical and suspicious, yes, we’ve been watching this emerge for awhile. But now, it has emerged, full-blown, and so when Russia and China are combing to war game how we would attack the US and attack US interests around the world, you know, at some point you kind of have to take that seriously.

FRANK GAFFNEY:

Right. Well, we are that point and thank God you are among those in the Pentagon that are there to take seriously this threat and to act on the strategy for dealing with it. Which brings me to a presentation that you and your counterpart on the policy side of the Pentagon, Undersecretary of Defense, John Rood and Lieutenant-General Sam Greaves in the Missile Defense Agency, convened on Capitol Hill recently under the auspices of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance. It was a fascinating presentation and I wanted to commend you in particular, because I think what you were saying about this strategic environment we’re in, including some of the capabilities that the Russians and the Chinese are now beginning to bring to bear, really put a very fine point on the magnitude of this problem. Could you just recap, quickly, both the hypersonic and maneuvering threat piece of this and what we need to be doing about it?

MICHAEL GRIFFIN:

Well, one of the things that I pointed out or that someone pointed out at the conference and that I picked up on and amplified upon was that the Chinese have developed and the Russians are developing a hypersonic maneuvering vehicle threat that is, at present I think it is being considered to be tactical rather than strategic in nature, meaning conventional rather than nuclear and confined to relatively limited theaters, but which is strategic in its implications. Because these systems overfly our air defense capability. They operate at many tens of kilometers in altitude. And they under fly our missile defense capabilities because they never really go much above a hundred kilometers of altitude. And when they do, it’s in the immediate post-boost phase when they’re over their own territory and our ground-based missile defenses don’t reach them. So they’ve crafted a system which flies in the niches in our defensive systems. And as they approach their targets, which may be forward operating bases or, you know, westward islands such as Guam and other places, or aircraft carriers, when they approach those targets, they’re capable of very high acceleration maneuvers. And the conventional interceptors with which we are equipped won’t be there.

FRANK GAFFNEY:

Okay. Yeah. And you actually said, essentially, we have to be in space. A domain in which you have spent much of your professional career thinking about and building programs and demonstrating capabilities. Talk a little bit about, in the context I guess of the space force, among other things, what you have in mind there, Secretary Mike Griffin.

MICHAEL GRIFFIN:

Well, what we talked about in that context with regard to space was that we, because of the reasons I just stated, their advanced maneuverability when they’re close to their target, these things have a cruise phase which can last several thousand kilometers or, you know, tens of minutes. That is where they are vulnerable. But they are not within range of our vision at those points.

FRANK GAFFNEY:

From the ground, or, you know, the atmosphere.

MICHAEL GRIFFIN:

Right. So the only practical way to target them, to track them, is from space. You know, we simply don’t have enough radars, far enough forward positions, to be able to track these things in the usual case. And so, as you know, the Congress, in its recent authorization bill, has required that the Department begin development of a space sensor layer and the president has signed the law, signed the bill so it is a law. So we will be looking at what kind of space sensor layer allows us to detect, acquire, track, target and provide fire control for these kinds of threats.

FRANK GAFFNEY:

Yeah. And I think it was you who mentioned this, but it’s worth stating explicitly, at least for the moment, and I think that caveat was also said, there is a bipartisan consensus about the need for this kind of defensive capability that is, if not unprecedented it certainly doesn’t come to my mind in the forty or so years that I’ve been fooling around with this stuff and you have, too. How important is that to doing what you need to do, Mr. Secretary, in terms of translating technologies and capabilities in the abstract into actual defenses that we need so urgently?

MICHAEL GRIFFIN:

Well, I mean, it’s critical. I was making the comment in our conference on the Hill the other day that in my working career, you know, now well over forty-five years, that I’ve never seen the Hill so lined up in support of what we believe to be needed to defend our nation. And it’s very encouraging. Let me offer praise not only for the strategy behind the National Defense Authorization Act, but you’ll note that we have an on-time regular order appropriations bill this year to go with all that. It’s been a very long time since we’ve had that kind of strategic thinking captured in an authorization act and followed up by appropriations. I’m truly grateful to them.

FRANK GAFFNEY:

I thought you captured this thought brilliantly with a very shorthand way when you said in explanation for why this seemingly almost unprecedented turnabout had taken place on the Hill, I think you said the enemy voted [LAUGHTER] just talk us through that for a moment. Is it the case that threat is now so apparent to even people who don’t like missile defense and don’t like space-based missile defense in particular, that it cannot be ignored?

MICHAEL GRIFFIN:

Well, yeah, the threat is apparent. It’s a little bit slangy to say the threat has voted, which is a clever way to put it, but the way that I like to put it is the United States never declares other people to be its adversaries first. Other people declare us to be their adversary. And then we have to respond or we don’t respond. I vote for responding. But it’s not the United States which is going after Russia and going after China and, you know, I commented in that meeting the other day, we did all of the background research on hypersonic systems. We never chose to weaponize them. They are choosing, have chosen to weaponize them and we have to respond. The United States would just as soon not have people declaring themselves to be our adversaries, but we don’t get the choice.

FRANK GAFFNEY:

Right. This raises one last question, if I may, Mr. Secretary – and again, our guest is Mike Griffin, the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, we do have a problem as you know better than anybody, with the technology that our brilliant scientists and engineers are developing being ripped off and being brought to bear against us, in some cases before we can even bring it to bear on our own defense. Just very quickly, two questions. Compare and contrast, if you will, the readiness and the capacity of our industrial base to support our necessary defense needs, and the extent to which our adversaries are more than performing, in terms of creating these threats or translating our capabilities into new threats against us.

MICHAEL GRIFFIN:

Well, our industrial base is the best in the world with no one even in second place, when it comes to producing sophisticated weapons at scale. What we are – and this is a combination of a government industry problem, what we are not as good at as we used to be is producing things quickly, you know, doing our design cycles quickly, making decisions quickly, and getting things in the field. We are, I think I mentioned the other day, we are running at, you know, delivery times of fifteen and sixteen years after statement of need. That just doesn’t match the threat. That’s what we have to work on.

FRANK GAFFNEY:

Well, and it is so encouraging that a man of your talent is working on it and working on behalf of all of us. I thank you for your continuing public service, undersecretary of defense Mike Griffin. And it is inspiring to know that what you’re trying to do is bearing fruit, especially in some of these areas that I think are absolutely critical to the deterring of our adversaries and the defending of our nation. So thank you again for your service, sir. Come back to us again if you would.