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Priority Intelligence Requirement (PIR) 2: What are the current indicators of an outbreak of global conflict?
DOD memo shows concern about vulnerability of military targets
In October, Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, published a Department of Defense (DOD) memo inquiring about how vulnerable US military targets were to foreign adversaries. That memo (DOWNLOAD) stated his concern that potential adversaries to could attack domestic and/or foreign US installations in an effort to delay the deployment of US troops to a high priority conflict zone. The memo continues: “What is DOD’s priority/readiness for homeland defense, as well as its ability to successfully prosecute an ‘away game’ if critical infrastructure of homeland capabilities (especially command and control functions) are seriously degraded.”
Analyst Comment: The root of this memo is that the US military is facing potential conflicts at distances that challenge its ability to rapidly transport forces and provide them logistical support. Specifically, conflicts with Russia in the Baltics, Ukraine, or another eastern European locale, or with China at Taiwan or in the South China Sea, would be far from major US hubs capable of supporting the large, rapid deployments required to compete in a quick conflict. For instance, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would likely occur within 24 hours, testing US capabilities to prevent a quick, decisive victory. Similarly in the Baltics, Russian forces could use hybrid warfare to quickly invade the ethnically-Russian provinces in the border regions of Estonia or Latvia, potentially winning a decisive conflict before US or NATO forces could significantly intervene.
Because these conflicts would occur so close to Russia or China, these near-peer adversaries would have extreme advantages in their ability to deploy forces. Furthermore, “delaying or disrupting” US deployments are strategies that could be employed by attacking command, control, and communications targets in the US or abroad. If Russia or China consider that it’s merely a matter of time preventing sufficient US forces from intervening in these conflicts, then one logical conclusion is to identify vulnerabilities in how US deployments occur and then exploit those vulnerabilities to delay US deployments.
Without having access to the internal communications of Russian and Chinese military circles, it’s nearly impossible to judge the likelihood of these potential invasions, however, they are a distinct possibility. China historically feels no reluctance to threaten a Taiwanese invasion, and if the Chinese Community Party feels that Trump would promote Taiwan as the independent Republic of China, then we could be looking at a future military conflict to prevent that from happening. Meanwhile, Putin is waiting to see whether the Trump administration is going to relax Western sanctions against Russia, so the likelihood of a Ukraine-esque invasion is unlikely in the near-term; although the likelihood may increase should the US Congress decide to impose further sanctions over the alleged involvement in hacking and leaking emails associated with high profile political figures.