It’s a big, scary world out there. And no one knows that better than Admiral Cecil D. Haney, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, based at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.
As StratCom’s top officer, Haney runs a joint-service command that oversees America’s nuclear weapons on air, land and sea; military operations in outer space; cyber warfare and security; surveillance and reconnaissance; and the combat weapons of mass destruction globally.
During an interview with reporters Friday at Scott, Haney declined to rank in ascending or descending order the biggest threats facing the American homeland.
“You ask for ‘1,2,3.’ I don’t get that kind of option,” said Haney, a former submarine skipper. “I get to have to be able to look at Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and violent extremist organizations.”
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North Korea’s launch last week of a satellite into space — an act most of the world immediately labeled a thinly disguised front for a ballistic missile test — was an action that Haney called “very disturbing,” especially in view of that nation’s earlier claims it had detonated a hydrogen bomb.
“That’s one I would say for the United States to pay very close attention to, but working of course with our allies and partners in terms of things, not just in the region,” he said.
Haney, a four-star admiral, visited Scott on Friday for the inaugural bomber/tanker stakeholder meeting aimed at ensuring better teamwork and communications between the military’s bomber and tanker components. Scott is the home of the Air Mobility Command, which oversees the Air Force’s air refueling units, among other missions.
Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II, AMC’s commander, said readiness and modernization are major issues for AMC.
“Our number one target right now is to make sure there’s support for Admiral Haney,” Everhart said. “We take each one of those requirements and we balance out the fleet that we have to meet our nation’s needs. So we’re really confident of the things we’re doing. And we’re watching it across the entire globe. We’re riding on the backs of our airmen, and our airmen do just a superb job every single day.”
Everhart spoke eagerly about the long-awaited introduction into the Air Force fleet of the Boeing’s KC-46A Pegasus air tanker, which is rolling out to replace KC-135 Air Stratotankers that date from the Eisenhower Administration. Earlier this year a KC-46A began aerial refueling training flights with Air Force fighter jets. The first of 36 of the new air tankers will be arriving later this year at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas.
The introduction of the KC-46 A is “going to be a huge difference,” Everhart said. “It’s going to bring modernization to our fleet…It’s going to be able to supply a lot of gas to support the needs of Admiral Haney. And also support the needs of combat commands. So we’re excited about bringing that airplane on. We can’t wait to bring it on.”
A key part of Haney’s job centers on detecting and defending against cyber-attacks on military and government targets.
The cyber-attacks on the federal Office of Personnel Management — essentially, the federal government’s hiring office — that government officials revealed last year shone a harsh light on the the nation’s cyber-vulnerabilites.
Two breaches of OPM databases leaked the personally identifiable information of some 21.5 million people, including many who had applied for high-level security jobs. The Pentagon was tasked with handling the identity theft protection services contract for those hurt by the breach.
In response to the breach, the 2017 Defense Department budget for cyber-security soared 35 percent, reaching $19 billion. This covers the ongoing stand-up since last year of two cyber-security squadrons at Scott.
“The good news is we have been working to build up our cyber-mission force in the United States military,” Haney said. “While we have a ways to go, our teams are out there working to defend our joint military force apparatus, as well as to help defend the United States with our other key partners associated with this” such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“We got a lot of chapters and verses associated with it,” he said. “We work hard to stay in front of that. Clearly we have not had an attack that had what I would call had a strategic impact to our nation.”
Several candidates for President have described the U.S. military as gutted and weak. Along these lines, Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, has been an especially vocal critic. Although he’s never served in the military, Trump continues to assert that “our military is a disaster.”
Haney said he did not wish to venture into the political spectrum. But the admiral defended the profession he has served for more than 40 years.
“I would just tell the American people they need to know that our military force is a very professional force,” Haney said. “I don’t think you can question its professionalism across the board with (other) militaries.”
Haney praised the ability of America’s troops, regardless the color of their uniform, to work at an “incredible operational tempo, away from their families and friends and out there serving our country gallantly and very, very professionally. I think its record stands for itself.”