All The Revelations From Hours Of Testimony By The Pentagon’s Top Uniformed Officer

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, is up for another term as the top uniformed officer in the entire United States military. He is sure to get another two years in the position as the straight talking Marine is widely respected and is known to work especially well with Secretary of Defense James Mattis. But that doesn’t mean the normal congressional protocol was waived, Dunford still has to make his rounds on Capitol Hill as part of the reappointment process. 

Yesterday the Senate Armed Services Committee had Dunford testify, which was a free-for-all question and answer session that hit on pretty much every topic related to America’s armed forces. It offered a fascinating and up to date illustration not only of Dunford’s thoughts on key issues, but also on the state of the Pentagon and its campaigns around the globe. 


We already talked about one of the revelations that has come out of the hearing, now here are all the other carefully curated highlights and need to know details from nearly three hours of Dunford’s testimony: 

On North Korea:

  • Whether it’s six months or 18 months, it’s soon that Kim Jong Un will be able to reliably deliver a warhead to the United States mainland and we should be conducting ourselves as if it is a matter of a very short time before they get that capability. The General emphasized: “We should assume now today that North Korea has that capability and they are willing to use that capability.”
  • Gathering intelligence on North Korea and its programs is an issue because they have buried many of their weapons development programs and capabilities deep underground. Adverse weather conditions can also limit collection abilities. Competing demand for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets is also a factor. Dunford further notes that for a long period of time the Pentagon decreased intelligence gathering capabilities in regards to North Korea due to other priorities but has since increased them once again. 
  • Recent operations conducted (show of force flights) involved General Dunford, SecDef Mattis, and PACOM commander Admiral Harris directly in the planning and approval process so as to mitigate risk of a mistake or misunderstanding that could lead to a conflict. Such a miscalculation is supposedly a big concern among the DoD brass. 
  • The U.S. has no form of direct communication with North Korea at this time.
  • The military’s top leadership has made the conscious and coordinated decision not to use provocative terms that would exacerbate the crisis, especially those regarding destruction of the country and the regime, and to allow Secretary Tillerson to be the single source of messaging towards North Korea. He also noted that he “won’t comment on things that our senior political leadership have said.” In other words, Trump’s rhetoric and tweets are totally detached from this carefully planned messaging strategy. 
  • The regime’s nuclear and missile programs are an insurance policy for its survival. 
  • There is no preemptive strike option that doesn’t put Seoul at risk, but a credible military option has to be on the table. 

On Afghanistan:

  • The general stated: “I do not believe we can attain our objectives in Afghanistan… Unless we materially change the behavior of Pakistan… It will require a broad approach to do it… It’s unacceptable that Pakistan provides sanctuary and we need to bring the full weight of the U.S. government and our coalition partners on Pakistan to ensure they do not provide the sanctuary that they have provided historically to groups like the Haqqani and the Taliban.” 

Missile Defense:

  • An additional 21 ground based interceptors should be added to the 44 that are already deployed as outlined by the latest Pentagon budget draft.
  • Boost phase intercept, either via airborne laser or interceptor, continues to evolve and is a priority developmentally, but no operational capability is available at this time. 
  • The U.S. military can protect Hawaii from a limited ICBM attack with the capabilities it has fielded today. 

On competitive advantage:

  • We are clearly challenged in our ability to project power in Europe and the Pacific unlike we were a decade or two ago.
  • Dunford said: “The Chinese the Russians and other have studied our strengths over the course of 20 years. They have been on a path of developing capabilities that exploit our vulnerabilities. We know what those are and we have a plan to correct those. But if we don’t correct those, our ability to project power… Is going to be challenged.”
  • Don’t assume the following in the future without major investments in excess of what the Budget Control Act allows: Access to space. Ability to protect our networks—both military and commercial. Ability to counter our enemy’s electronic warfare capabilities. Defense against emerging ballistic and cruise missile threats. 

On what country poses the biggest threat to the U.S. today:

  • “In terms of a sense of urgency today, North Korea poses the greatest threat today. In terms of overall military capability, I believe Russia poses the greatest threat because of their nuclear, cyber and electronic warfare, and any activity we have seen from Crimea to Ukraine. If I look out to 2025 and I look at the demographics and economic situation I think China poses the great threat to our nation by about 2025 and that’s consistent with much of our analysis.”

On transgender service members:

  • “I believe any individual that meets the physical and mental standards and is worldwide deployable and is currently serving should be afforded the opportunity to continue to serve… The advice I just articulated is what I have provided in private and I have now just provided it in public.”

On Readiness:  

  • The general explained that a pilot that gets 15 hours a month of flight time instead of 30 hours a month will be far less capable of facing emergencies in the cockpit. We will probably never know about the emergency with the pilot that gets 30 hours a month in the air but we are more likely to with the one with the one that gets 15 hours a month because that emergency is more likely to result in a class A mishap (over $2M in damage or fatal).
  • We use to train and deploy units based on their ability to reach a desired level of proficiency in certain tasks, now under the current operations tempo we train based on time—a ship is going to sea and the infantryman is going to go to war whether they are proficient in basic tasks or not. 
  • USS Barry was underway 70% of the time over the last 12 months, which is clearly unsustainable and puts into question the crew’s ability to train during that period as well as their very well being.

On Syria and ISIS:

  • In six months Dunford thinks the U.S. and its partners will have “completed operations more properly” in and around Raqqa and will be “well on our way” to going after ISIS’s external operations abilities and media operations in Syria. They won’t be able to claim they have a caliphate anymore and that will affect recruiting. Also, the U.S. will be working to help Iraq secure its western border from future infiltration by ISIS or other extremist elements. 
  • When asked if Assad needs to go in Syria, Dunford said: “Addressing the grievances of the civil war will be necessary to have a stable political construct” which sounds a lot like a yes. 

On Iran:

  • Iran’s activity in Iraq has increased dramatically in recent weeks as an “end game” in regards to driving ISIS from the country draws near.
  • Iran is complying with the Iranian nuclear deal. 

On Russia:

  • Russia is in violation of the Open Skies Treaty and has been for some time now. The US is now going to limit Russia’s Open Skies flights. This is in reaction to Russia limiting our flights over Kaliningrad—Russia’s heavily armed enclave in Europe—as well as over Chechnya and South Ossetia. Russia even limited the altitude that the Open Skies aircraft could fly over Moscow during its photo run. Dunford believes the treaty would be best kept in place, but only if Russia abides by it. A diplomatic effort is underway to bring Russia back into compliance. Part of this effort includes restricting Russia’s access to overflights of Alaska and Washington DC. Russia gets more benefit from these flights than the U.S. does due to their far more limited spy satellite network. 
  • Adversarial competition short of armed conflict—in other words hybrid warfare with a focus on electronic, information, and cyber warfare—is now an area included in the Pentagon’s campaign planning process. Dunford also says he advises a “whole of government” approach to the issue which hints at supporting the congressional Russian investigation and whatever policy stems from it. 

On Ukraine:

  • Dunford has recommended the U.S. provide lethal defensive armament to Ukraine. The final decision is now up to the White House. 

On acquisition:

  • The ability to execute rapid acquisition programs has been a bright spot in the acquisition process, but finding the balance between going after rapidly acquired capabilities, many of which are commercially available off the shelf, has to be balanced with the development of higher-end capabilities that have a much longer gestation period. 

You can watch the whole two and a half hour long hearing below:

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Tyler Rogoway


Tyler’s passion is the study of military technology, strategy, and foreign policy and he has fostered a dominant voice on those topics in the defense media space. He was the creator of the hugely popular defense site Foxtrot Alpha before developing The War Zone.