Scenario-based Planning to Maintain the Credibility of the U.S. Nuclear Deterrent Against Emerging Threats

June 2020 No Comments

Speakers: Lehman, R. (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory [LLNL]); Chambers, B. (Institute for Defense Analyses [IDA])
Date: 30 June 2020
Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted speaker session presented by Amb. Ronald F. Lehman II (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory [LLNL]) and Maj Gen (Ret) Bill Chambers (Institute for Defense Analyses [IDA]) as a part of its SMA STRATCOM Academic Alliance Speaker Series.

Amb. Lehman and Maj Gen Chambers focused on a report released by the Defense Threat Reduction Advisory Committee (TRAC). Maj Gen Chambers first discussed the TRAC report’s tasking, research context, and findings. He stated that one of the primary goals of the TRAC is to assess how the US should think about deterrence and what analytic tools the US can use to ensure the credibility of the US’s nuclear capability within the next 10-25 years. He then outlined three central challenges that the TRAC report identifies: 1) Over the next 2-3 decades, successful presidents will need to convince successive executive branch houses that consensus for modernizing nuclear deterrence is needed; 2) The choice that the US is making to defer modernization leads to the distinct possibility that it may have a “bad day” or a legacy that won’t last; and 3) The threat in the form of capabilities, doctrine, and adversary thinking is continuously evolving. The TRAC report also emphasizes the importance of creating a narrative that defines deterrence and determines what is presently considered as deterrence. Maj Gen Chambers then spoke about the TRAC report’s findings, including that the US’s current analytic tools are insufficient to provide the necessary insights to senior leaders to make the tough decisions that will need to be made in the next 25 years. He also emphasized that this is an urgent issue, as we have just entered a decade of opportunity that we cannot waste.

Next, Amb. Lehman spoke about the challenges associated with wargaming outlined in the TRAC report. He stated that wargaming has now become more involved with modeling, simulation, and systems analysis. However, there are some downsides to to consider with regards to war games, including 1) they are expensive and time-consuming, and 2) the learning experiences derived from games are often constrained to those involved in the game. Amb. Lehman then stated that wargaming can be more than heuristics and analytics; new technologies may permit a more cost-effective approach to how the Department of Defense acquires gaming, modeling, and simulation capabilities and how it integrates them. He also highlighted the following points from the TRAC report: 1) A single composite measure of deterrence is unlikely to be reliable; 2) Surrogation should be consciously avoided; 3) Predicting the future is difficult, and surprise is imminent; and 4) The US must capture the importance of decision making on the other side and avoid stereotyping and mirror-imaging. Amb. Lehman added that if the Department of Defense doesn’t exploit these new opportunities to enhance wargaming, it may live in a world where someone else is. To conclude, Maj Gen Chambers provided a series of recommendations from the TRAC report. He stated that the Department of Defense needs to build a roadmap for modeling, simulation, and gaming that 1) includes a blend of old and new tools that are best-suited to address the challenge it is facing; 2) cuts across organizational stovepipes and territorial sanctuaries; 3) encourages use of analytic tools; and 4) incorporates a number of “what if” scenarios. He also stated that this is about asking the right questions rather than the tools themselves.

Speaker Session Recording


Download Amb. Lehman and Maj Gen Chambers’ Biographies, Report, and Slides