Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere, Commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, delivered a keynote address on “Global Strike,” covering the future of AFGSC, including the B-21, Sentinel ICBM, and more at the AFA Warfare Symposium, March 7, 2023. Watch the video or read the transcript below.
Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere:
How we doing? So you all are waiting for me to get done so you can go to the bar, right? All right, so I’d like to spend a few minutes thanking some folks. So I don’t see Orville or Doug here, but when I talked to Orville Wright a few weeks ago, I go “hey, what do you want me to talk about?” He goes, “whatever you want to talk about.” So I guess it’s customary for the MAJCOM commander in the Air Force to have the opportunity to come to the next AFA, and given the opportunity to pontificate about anything he or she wants to, so hang on. They should have given me a topic.
So I want to thank AFA and the industry partners here for setting this all up. I’d like to thank our Airmen and Guardians who made the time to come here, and their supervisors and commanders that let them do that and that attended themselves. I’d like to thank our family members who are here, who support, enable, and defend the homeland while our warriors are at home and deployed. And I’d like to personally thank my teammate Chief Smith here, sitting in the front, for all she does for not only me, but our Airmen and families in Air Force Global Strike Command.
I want to give you a little bit of an around the world for Air Force Global Strike Command. Today is literally my three months in command, third tour in the Air Force Global Strike Command, and three months today. So I’m going to give you a little bit of what I’ve seen so far, where we’re going, and there’s a lot of people here that we need to thank. And I don’t see them, but I’ll thank them anyways. So our success in Air Force Global Strike Command… In case you heard this morning, it’s the Global Strike Functional Area… is a byproduct of a lot of things. There is no Global Strike without Air Mobility Command, and I know Minnie [Gen. Mike Minihan] was just up here.
We don’t go anywhere in the world without AMC, so they enable our ability to go anywhere on the planet and influence bad people. We can’t do our job in Air Force Global Strike Command without our guard and reserve partners. So General Healy and General Loh were here earlier today, and if you’re in the components of reserve or guard, please know that we can’t do our job without you. And then there are many folks here that need to be recognized from an AFMC perspective and then the RCO perspective, for a lot of the things we’re going to talk about in our around the world for Global Strike Command can’t happen without Air Force Materiel Command and the Rapid Capabilities Office. So I want to take this opportunity to give you a little sense of the air component to STRATCOM, and I’m going to give it to you in a little bit of the parlance of strategic deterrence, because I didn’t understand it.
I’ve done this for 36 years and I did not understand this until I was a one star on the joint staff. So you’re all going to be ahead of the power curve. So every day of every week, our forces, Gen. Cotton … Every day of every week, we stand the watch. Right now, this second, in three ICBM wings across the northern tier of this country, we have missile operators, missile maintainers, defenders, facility managers, and chiefs standing the watch like they have done since 1962 with this weapon system, the Minuteman III. Started off with Minuteman I, we went to II in, now we’re at III. Think about that. A year before I was born was when this weapon system was originally fielded, and they have stood the watch since then. The silent warriors maintaining the foundational defense of our nation.
So when the chief and the secretary gave me the privilege—it’s not a right—the privilege to come back to Global Strike Command and serve in this capacity with 33,000 plus warriors, and have the privilege of taking care of this mission, of taking care of our Airmen and taking care of our families, it was a dream come true. There is no other place on the planet that I’d rather be than right here in Air Force Global Strike Command. Many of you may have not been around when this command was stood up in August of 2009. It was a turbulent time in our Air Force. You need to understand, we are here for a purpose. It’s somewhat lost in the last 20 years with the war on terror, but make no mistake why we exist.
We have the privilege and honor of maintaining two thirds of our nation’s triad, the land leg and the air leg, and my partner in crime, Admiral Caudle, maintains the sea leg. 24/7, 365. That’s a responsibility and an obligation we take very seriously. It’s a no-fail mission. It underpins everything in our nation. You heard General VanHerck, General Hyten talk about it yesterday. It’s an assumed underpinning of our nation’s defense. It’s an assumed aspect of every regional combatant commander’s operational plans, that strategic deterrence and within that, nuclear deterrence, will hold. No one can imagine a world where it doesn’t. That’s the nature of this business.
Now, you’ve heard many speakers talk about the threat. I will approach it from a slightly different angle. Just two weeks ago, Russia withdrew from New START Treaty. That was the last vestige of arms control treaty that the United States had. We do not have an arms control treaty with China. Many of you know that Russia has completed 80 to 85 percent of recapitalization of their strategic forces. Many of you know that they have non-treaty accountable weapons that exceed any number that we have had in the recent past. You don’t have to look too far back in history to realize that Russia doesn’t necessarily comply with all the international rules and laws that Western democratic nations aspire to follow. Just ask the Ukrainian people how they feel about that.
If you look out toward the Pacific, you can see China and the CCP sprinting to parity with their nuclear force, diversifying, expanding and modernizing at a pace that we haven’t seen since the Cold War. When the wall fell and we took a peace dividend, we thought the world was going to be a different place. It isn’t. I would offer to you that 2023 presents a threat and a world that Lieutenant and Captain Bussiere would have never guessed would materialize in 2023. It is the most complicated international order I have ever experienced in my military career.
So how would you propose we, from the air component to STRATCOM, respond to that? You are all familiar with the NDS published last October. You are all familiar with integrated deterrence. My opinion is we’ve been doing integrated deterrence for a while, but the maturation and vision that the secretary and the nation has, fully agree with. What’s the silent foundational assumption of integrated deterrence? That you have an underpinning of a credible nuclear deterrent. That is what we’re doing right now in Air Force Global Strike Command. Now, I used to put on my Christmas cards, which not everyone appreciated, a picture of the B-2 when I was flying that weapon system. It was a picture in my family, and across the top it said “peace through strength.”
How do we ensure the world as we know it doesn’t get more complicated or more dangerous? In my opinion, we make sure we have the most modern, credible nuclear deterrent and long-range strike platforms that our nation can deliver. And that’s what we’re going to talk about. Our current ICBM force, the Minuteman III, has been fielded for many, many decades. It’s a testament to General Richardson’s team at Air Force Materiel Command. It’s a testament to industry. It’s a testament to our operators in the field in the mighty 20th Air Force. It’s a testament that we have taken on the backs of our Airmen for years.
That system has to maintain full operational capability until we field the Sentinel weapon system. There is no other option. That’s a unique aspect of the business we do. There is no other business in the Department of Defense in my opinion, where you bring on a new weapon system that you don’t off-ramp the current system. You can’t do that in the nuclear enterprise. Full operational capability until the new weapon system is fielded. Whether that is the Sentinel for the land-based, or the B-21 bomber for the B-1 and B-2. Full operational capability. The same thing holds true for our NC3 systems and platforms. It’s a unique aspect that doesn’t exist, in my opinion, anywhere else in the department at this scale and scope. And that is going to be a testament to a really wonderful group of people. Our Airmen, our industry partners, and our materiel air command experts that manage those systems that we’re transitioning. You can’t do it without all of them.
Our current bomber force, right now we have bombers in Australia, we have bombers in Spain. We just had bombers return from India. We’re going to send bombers in a few days to Red Flag in Las Vegas. It’s a high demand, low density platform. Everybody wants it. As you know, there is no long range global strike without our bomber legs. I would offer to you the mighty 8th Air Force, which I had the privilege of leading, is the reason we have an independent air force. We can debate that after if you’d like. The essence of long range strike, range, and payload coupled with stealth, provides the opportunity to hold at risk anything on the planet at a time and place of our choosing. That’s a powerful thing for our senior leaders to have in their back pocket.
I used to tell our bomber crews that when the State Department goes and negotiate for the United States and our allies and partners, they’ll flip a baseball card across the table that has the B-1, the B-2, the B-52, and soon to be the B-21, and on the flip side, it’s a picture of them. That’s the power and influence that our long-range strike platforms have. The future bomber force. What do you think our next bomber is going to be? We just unveiled it, the B-21. But I’m not going to talk about that yet, Mojo. I’m going to talk about the 6th generation bomber first. I just made that up.
The B-52J. Any BUFF maintainers or operators in the audience? I used to say that our last B-52 pilot hasn’t been born yet. Yeah, I’m not thinking that’s the right line anymore. It might now be our last B-52 father or grandfather hasn’t been born yet. Think about that. Think about that platform. The Vietnam warriors that were on this stage yesterday talked about the strategic air command B-52s that were on in that war on that peninsula. Every time I went to a Vietnam veterans event when I was younger, when the B-52 flew over the event, the crowd went wild. I will offer to you that that sentiment is probably not going to change with the B-52J. It’s probably not going to change for a few decades. We’re going to fly that weapon system to the 2050s. Think about that.
But we’re going to put new motors, new radar, new avionics, and new weapons on that aircraft, and that will be the backbone of our long-range standoff systems. And you can’t do that alone. That’s a combination of industry, our Airmen, and the pros from Dover at Air Force Materiel Command. That’s a pretty amazing statistic. Now let’s talk about the new kid on the block. The B-21, just revealed in December of last year. Now, I got this cleared through Mojo so I’m not going to get in trouble. So the B-21 is truly an amazing long-range strike platform. The capabilities and technology integrated into that weapon system is second to none. It will be the most advanced strike platform ever designed or built on the planet, and that’s a huge testament to the B-21 team. It’s a huge testament to industry. It’s a huge testament to Duke’s team that has been integrated in the rapid capabilities office.
From day one, we’ve had the airborne risk reduction platform testing systems for the B-21. Just recently, we had a third party sensor integration demonstration for the B-21. Just recently, we demonstrated the capability to detect, target, track, and simulate destroying a target with the B-21. The technologies that are integrated, and the open architecture within the open architecture system that we built into it will provide the capabilities to advance, modernize, and keep that weapon system on the leading edge of any threat in the future. In fact, the B-21 team is already thinking about how you’re making a platform that hasn’t actually fielded yet, more lethal. And that’s because of the way it was designed, the way it’s being built, and the vision for it in the future.
Think about the capabilities coupled with the underlying foundational deterrents of our nuclear triad with the ability to hold at risk anything on the planet at a time and place of our choosing. That’s a pretty powerful statement for our nation. The next thing I want to give you an update on is our command and control. So we can have the most exquisite weapon systems on the planet in the nuclear triad, and we will, but the foundational elements of deterrents is our ability to command and control that in a stressed environment. Our nation’s unimaginable stressed environment. Our ability to deter is predicated on the capabilities of our forces to command and control our nuclear triad.
Air Force Global Strike Command and the Air Force has the privilege of maintaining about 75 percent of our nation’s NC3 systems, both widgets as well as airborne platforms. On the screen, you see our National Airborne Operations Center on the left-hand side. That’s the white and blue stripe 747. We have the privilege of supporting the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs with that weapon system. It is a very high demand, low density weapon system. No pressure. OK, just a little bit of pressure. We are going to field a replacement for that. It’s called the SAOC, because we can’t name it the NAOC-2, right? So we’re naming it the SAOC, but you’ll see that hopefully come out in 2023 as we are putting out that airframe for a bid. Foundational to our nation’s ability to command and control and support our senior leaders in government.
You see our helicopter for us up there. Vietnam era UH-1s, soon to be the Grey Wolf, the MH-139, that will meet our requirements for missile field security, range, payload, and speed. You might imagine we have some pretty stringent requirements to maintain security of our missile fields. That weapon system will provide that opportunity in the near future. Now, quick little tidbit. You can barely see it. You see the Grey Wolf up there? See the person in the doorway, and then the PJ fastener open? It’s my son. So I gave props to the program officers for putting a picture of my son on the Grey Wolf.
All right, so that’s a very quick overview of our weapon systems. Your weapon systems. We have the privilege of operating and maintaining them. We need your help to field them. Whether you’re an AFMC, the RCO, or industry, you should look up on that slide and see where your work and your sweat and tears have developed these capabilities. Now, no pressure. We have to do it. OK, just a little bit of pressure. Our nation recapitalizes the triad about every 40 years. We don’t have any option other than to modernize. We’ve exceeded all our operational margin in our current force. The good news is, our Air Force budget and our DOD budget reflects the priority of this mission. There’s not one weapon system up there. There are several weapon systems up there, and that’s accounting for our nation understanding the foundational elements of what Global Strike provides for our Air Force, for STRATCOM, and our nation, as well as our allies and partners. We provide that umbrella of 24/7 365 deterrence. And if ordered, make no mistake, make no doubt. If ordered, we’re ready.
So to wrap it up, some more thanks. To Air and Space Forces Association, thank you for giving me the opportunity to pontificate for a few minutes about what we do for you, our Air Force, and our nation. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to thank our industry partners, our teammates in RCO and AFMC, our teammates in Air Mobility Command, our teammates and the other major commands that are the recipients of our forces as we forward deploy them to the regional combatant commands. To our Airmen and Guardians and family members that are here, thank you for what you do every day. Thank you for volunteering to serve your nation and your Air Force, and your Space Force. If your families aren’t here, thank them for Chief Smith and I, for what they do to enable and empower your service.
To our commanders and command chiefs out there, thank you for leading. There is no higher privilege in the Department of Defense than to have the opportunity to take care of our mission, to take care of our Airmen, and to take care of our families. To the secretary and chief who aren’t here, thank you for letting me do this job. I’m just grateful and gracious they went alphabetical, and there were no As available. There is no other place on the planet I would rather be. And to the strikers of Air Force Global Strike Command, thank you for what you do every day to underpin our nation’s defense. There is no higher honor in my opinion in life than to have the opportunity to defend your family, your friends, and your nation. Thank you.
Dr. Patrick Donley:
General Bussiere, in appreciation for those terrific remarks and your warrior leadership, AFA would like to present to you this highly desired but seldom distributed AFA Star Delta coin with our sincere thanks and best wishes to you and all the strikers in the days ahead. Thank you, sir.
Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere:
Thank you, Patrick. Appreciate it.