Raul Castro toured military installations and met with his armed forces high command during three days of extensive war games, saying his forces' preparedness inspires more respect than possession of an advanced weapon ever could.
The military exercises, which were wrapping up Saturday ahead of Cuba's National Defense Day on Sunday, involve hundreds of thousands of people _ both uniformed and civilian _ and are the largest since 2004.
Cuban military leaders say they must guard against an American attack, despite assurances from Washington that such talk is absurd and the fact that relations have been improving, albeit slowly, since President Barack Obama took office.
"Reaching a high level of preparedness _ whether it is to confront a military aggression or a hurricane _ is what inspires respect, more than any type of weapon," Castro told Granma, the official newspaper of Cuba's Communist party.
The Cuban leader also said the country needs to strengthen its institutions and "maintain order and discipline," according to Granma and Juventud Rebelde, another party-run newspaper that printed an almost identical article.
The foreign press was given no access to the military exercises and even the local government-controlled press showed few images.
The exercises were the first to be held in Cuba since Castro took over from his brother Fidel in February 2008, and the first since Obama took office in January.
The U.S. leader has loosened financial and travel restrictions on Cuba, the two countries have begun negotiations on restarting direct mail service, and there is talk of future discussions on cooperation on counter-narcotics and disaster relief, among other things.
Still, Cuba said it could not let down its guard.
"The current political-military situation that characterizes the confrontation between Cuba and the U.S. government has made these strategic exercises a necessity of the first order," Gen. Leonardo Andollo Valdes, a member of the high command of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces, said earlier this week.