A View from the CT Foxhole: Vayl S. Oxford, Director, Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Author:Hummel, Kristina

CTC: DTRA's mission is quite expansive, covering a lot of ground in the WMD and CT realms. Can you summarize the organization's evolution and objectives?

Oxford: The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) was established as a Combat Support Agency (CSA) in 1996 but our legacy traces back to over 70 years ago with the Manhattan Project. Early on in [our] history, DTRA was involved in the original development of nuclear weapons. We were responsible for underground and above-ground testing of those weapons. Though DTRA no longer does nuclear testing, we are the core organization that understands nuclear-weapons effects.

Over the course of time, and as the geopolitical environment changed, our institution evolved through mergers of our legacy organizations, adding those missions and losing efforts that were no longer required. The most recent change to our organizational structure is the addition of the Joint Improvised Threat Defeat Organization (JIDO), an organization that worked for 13 years on countering the improvised explosive device threat. With the addition of JIDO, we have expanded our mission beyond just WMD to countering improvised threats.

All of these missions are directly correlated to working with the Combatant Commanders in the field and with the Services to make sure our products can transition to the warfighter. We have around 2,300 federal and military staff along with about the same number of support contractors that work with us every day. We have roughly 400 people forward deployed with the Combatant Commands, operational task forces, and embassies. In 2018, we conducted around 3,200 international engagements across 111 countries. Our global footprint continues to grow with the change in the National Defense Strategy and the emergence of great power competition that we now face.

CTC: The recent move of the CWMD mission from U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) to U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)--was that a seamless transition for DTRA?

Oxford: The Unified Command Plan transitioned from U.S. Strategic Command to U.S. Special Operations Command to act as the coordinating authority to [globally] CWMD was fairly straightforward for DTRA. When the CWMD mission was with USSTRATCOM, they stood up the USSTRATCOM Center for CWMD (SCC). That organization itself was eliminated along with the HQ Joint Force Elimination that fell under USSTRATCOM when they had the mission. The DTRA Director at the time was dual-hatted as the DTRA Director and the SCC. Those were the biggest changes for DTRA during the transition.

This Agency has been doing business with USSOCOM in great depth since the mid-1990s. One of the first things I did, as Director, was sit down with the USSOCOM Commander to talk about what the relationship would look like and how we would work together since we have about 120 USSOCOM staff embedded with us here in the National Capital Region. With USSOCOM picking up the coordination authority, taking on a new mission, and figuring out how to work with us--in the end, the transition was very seamless.

CTC: Some tend to think of DTRA as purely a science and technology agency, focused on big projects, on research and development. But in fact, DTRA does a tremendous amount to directly support the warfighter. Can you talk a little bit about this aspect of the Agency's work?

Oxford: I have never viewed DTRA as a science and technology agency, and I had the fortune of being here when it was the Defense Nuclear Agency and then the Defense Special Weapons Agency before it transitioned to DTRA. Then I left and went to the White House and then to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy prior to coming back to DTRA. The entire time there has been a strong linkage between what the DTRA Research and Development (R&D)-element does to support the war-fighter. This is a unique organization; when you look at a lot of other CSAs, they have the operational piece but they do not have the linkage back to R&D. And then you have an Agency like DARPA who has a huge R&D portfolio but no operations.

We go across the spectrum from R&D to full-fledged deployment of capability in direct support of the warfighter. When I returned to DTRA, one of the first things I did was sit down with the Combatant Commanders. Now we have Combatant Commander Requirement letters that identify their operational needs in the CWMD and improvised threat space. We have documents that tell us what they need and that informs the R&D process as well as our operational support process. Again, it is a continuum--from requirements back to our research and operational support.

CTC: When you look across the landscape at the threats facing the nation, how do you go about prioritizing DTRA's efforts?

Oxford: With the National Defense Strategy, Secretary of Defense James Mattis made it clear how we...

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