Sharpening America's Deterrence

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. David Stone
  • 10th Missile Squadron commander
During the height of the Cold War, the world shuddered under the specter of a nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. As the two nations stood face-to-face, the United States' ICBMs were a critical element in deterring the Soviet Union and no one ever questioned the need for ICBMs or their role. Today, as the Cold War has warmed and the United States seems more focused on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Global War on Terror, it may be natural to wonder what role ICBMs play in keeping the United States and the world safe. The answer is: the ICBMs' role has not changed at all from the Cold War and it is equally important today as it was during the height of the Cold War. 

Deterrence stems from the notion that anything an adversary could hope to gain through attacking would be more than offset by their losses. In effect, the nation's deterrent forces provide a strategic "fixing force" that forces a potential adversary to respect the United States' ability to defend itself against existential threats. The ICBMs on alert at Malmstrom, as well as those at F.E. Warren [Air Force Base, Wyo.] and Minot [AFB, N.D. ] form the backbone of that deterrence. In order for deterrence to be effective, a potential adversary must believe the United States has both the capability and the will to respond to an attack. The will to respond comes from the nation's leadership; the capability comes from every single member of Team Malmstrom. 

The 341st Space Wing's mission is: "Keeping America free and strong by providing combat-ready people and aerospace forces." It is not an accident that every job description on Malmstrom falls under that mission statement because every person on Malmstrom, no matter what their job, plays a critical role in maintaining America's deterrence. Ultimately, the ICBM crew members would be the people who launch the ICBMs if directed, but this is only a small fraction of the 341st Space Wing's overall capability to put ICBMs on target. If the missiles, equipment and facilities are not repaired or kept secure, we will not be able to launch. If the personnel system does not ensure the wing has the required skill sets or the people are not cared for, we cannot keep the missiles on alert. If we lack any one of a multitude of needs, from services and recreation to financial, spiritual and legal support and countless other functions, our capability and our deterrence mission will be degraded. 

Maintaining the nation's capability is the wing's most important mission, but that's not enough; the adversary must know we are capable. Our missiles are not immediately visible to our adversaries, but our people and facilities are center stage. Everything we do shapes our credibility as a professional fighting force. If our potential adversaries see base facilities that are well cared for and sharp personnel who are committed to the mission and excellence in everything they do, those adversaries will have no choice but to believe our culture of excellence extends to our capability and readiness to fight. Conversely, if we don't take care of our facilities and we are sloppy in our uniforms and the manner in which we conduct ourselves, a potential adversary will begin to question our viability as a fighting force. 

In addition to influencing a potential adversary, our attitudes and our actions influence each other. If every person adopts a single-focused attitude toward mission accomplishment and an attitude of "look sharp, feel sharp, be sharp," the wing will be better for it. When the attitude is pervasive, it will feed off itself and reinforce our credibility and reputation as the world's greatest fighting force. 

The world's geopolitical environment has changed since the Cold War, but the need for deterrence has not diminished. We must remain resolute in our commitment to freedom and security. Each member of Team Malmstrom is a reflection of the team as a whole. Being sharp as individuals ensures the tip of the deterrent spear also remains sharp and as long as our spear remains sharp, America will remain free and strong.