Strategic Intelligence Summary For 11 October 2018 – Forward Observer Shop

Strategic Intelligence Summary For 11 October 2018

Strategic Intelligence contains intelligence reporting on the state of global security and instability, geostrategic issues affecting the United States, pre-war indicators, and assessments on the current risk of war. This report is available each week for Intelligence subscribers.

In this Strategic Intelligence Summary(4,141 words)

  • UN report on climate change signals life or death warning
  • China exploits electronics supply chain
  • DOD beginning to grapple with scale of vulnerabilities
  • Army Secretary: Service entering a “renaissance”
  • Recon Shortage: Elite Marines are facing a manpower crisis
  • U.S. puts money where its mouth is on China
  • Army’s Pacific rotations to last longer
  • Trump loosens reins on offensive cyber operations
  • Mattis orders 80% jump in readiness for fighters
  • Milley: This is how the Army prepares for future wars
  • Army expands reach into Indo-Pacific
  • Army wants to double drill Sgts
  • Army making strides in readiness
  • Russia urged to witness NATO wargames
  • Can U.S. military get to Europe in a war with Russia?
  • Japan opposes U.S. withdrawal of troops from Korean peninsula
  • And more…


Priority Intelligence Requirements:

PIR1: What are the new indicators of disruptive events that could cause global or regional instability?

PIR2: What are the latest military and security developments exhibited by the U.S. and their peer and near-peer adversaries?

PIR3: What is the current situation report and risk of war in each of the four flashpoints? (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea)

PIR1: What are the new indicators of disruptive events that could cause global or regional instability?

UN report on climate change offers dire consequences

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a 728-page report at a meeting in South Korea that detailed how limiting human-caused warming by just 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (F) instead of the 1.8 degrees goal would greatly benefit the earth and its people. The report was written by 90 scientists and was based on 6,000 peer reviews. Reaching such a goal would require drastic cuts in emissions and dramatic changes in the energy field, which the panel described as possible but unlikely. According to the report, some of the benefits of such action would include:
  • Half as many people would suffer from lack of water.
  • There would be fewer deaths and illnesses from heat, smog and infectious diseases.
  • Seas would rise nearly 4 inches less.
  • Half as many animals with back bones and plants would lose the majority of their habitats.
  • There would be substantially fewer heat waves, downpours, and droughts.
  • The West Antarctic ice sheet might not kick into irreversible melting.
  • It may be enough to save most of the world’s coral reefs from dying. [source]

(Analyst Comment: We at Forward Observer take the climate alarmists with a grain of salt. Climate change is real — the Earth’s climate has changed for its entire existence — but I remain skeptical over the degree to which it’s changing. Citing 100 years of climate data is a blip when compared to climate estimates over hundreds of thousands of years. Nonetheless, there’s no denying that if these dire predictions come true that life on Earth will change. Climate science will unfortunately remain a touchy subject because it’s mired in near-religious adoption or rejection, however, my outlook remains open to the fact that climates change and that future changes will pose challenges.)

China exploits electronics supply chain

The Chinese have reportedly implanted chips in computer hardware manufactured there that could pose a threat to U.S. security. The main claim of the report is “The attack by Chinese spies reached almost 30 U.S. companies, including Amazon and Apple, by compromising America’s technology supply chain, according to extensive interviews with government and corporate sources.” Both Apple and Amazon deny the allegations. China, which manufactures 75 percent of the world’s mobile phones and 90 percent of its personal computers, has a unique opportunity to carry out such an attack. The problem is twofold in that the country controls a significant majority of the means of production, and the Chinese government requires private sector companies to share intellectual property with it. The only answer appears to be a move to manufacturing these products back to the U.S. The costs associated with such a move are astronomical, with the estimated cost of building a new plant at $3 billion back in 2007. A Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) report from that same year said the global economic pressures “are driving (integrated circuit) design and manufacturing to foreign soil and out of US control to ensure trust and availability.” [source]

PIR2: What are the latest military and security developments exhibited by the U.S. and their peer and near-peer adversaries?

DOD beginning to grapple with scale of vulnerabilities

An unclassified October 2018 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report titled “WEAPON SYSTEMS CYBERSECURITY: DOD Just Beginning to Grapple with Scale of Vulnerabilities” addresses (1) factors that contribute to the current state of DOD weapon systems cybersecurity, (2) vulnerabilities in weapons that are under development, and (3) steps DOD is taking to develop more cyber resilient weapon systems. The report focused primarily on weapon systems that are under development and cited fictitious weapons systems for illustration due to classification concerns. The performance audit leading to the report was conducted from July 2017 to October 2018.
This is the GAO’s first report specific to cybersecurity in the context of weapon systems acquisitions.  Additionally, there are no recommendations in the report, but the GAO does plan to continue evaluating key aspects of DOD’s weapon systems cybersecurity efforts in the future.
Some of the specific issues identified in the report include:
  • The fact that DoD weapons systems are more computerized and networked than ever before, making them ever more vulnerable to cyber attacks.
  • DoD has historically focused on the cybersecurity of its networks, but not weapons systems themselves.
  • The requirements and acquisition systems for weapons have not until recently taken cyber security into account during weapons design; correcting this problem with add-ons after the design phase is costlier both in terms of time and money.
  • DoD is still in the early stages of determining how to make weapon systems and their components with cyber vulnerabilities as secure as possible.
  • Software patches for weapons systems have sometimes not been employed, and at other times it takes months to test the patches because of the complexity of the systems involved.
  • Some program offices do not have a thorough understanding of the cybersecurity implications of their systems’ designs, including their systems’ connectivity.
  • Between 2012-2017, DoD testers routinely found mission-critical cyber vulnerabilities in nearly all weapons systems that were under development.
  • Test teams were routinely able to defeat weapons systems’ cybersecurity controls using simple tools and techniques, sometimes in a matter of minutes or hours.
  • Test team activities were often not detected and were regularly ignored.
  • Because of the limited time that test teams are allowed to work with weapons systems, they are only able to detect the most basic vulnerabilities of the systems; many more vulnerabilities likely exist but are not known by DoD.
  • Since 2014, DoD has issued a number of policies and directives dealing with weapons systems vulnerabilities.  These policies will need to be further developed and sustained to increase the security of these systems.
  • Two primary barriers to improvement include difficulty in recruiting properly trained and qualified cyber security professionals familiar with weapons systems, and a culture that hinders information sharing due to classification concerns. [source]

(Analyst Comment: One of the most important things militaries can have is confidence in their equipment. Part of the doctrine of U.S. military training is developing confidence in equipment and building trust that equipment will function properly in a time of war. The second half of that equation is ensuring that the equipment actually will work, which is what’s being attacked by China, Russia, and potentially other adversaries. Last year, news outlets broke a story that the National Security Agency had been conducting electronic warfare against North Korean missile tests, fueling speculation that NSA was responsible for some of those missile test failures. Whether or not the story was truth or it was part of a deception plan is moot; the psychological effects of firing a weapon system that doesn’t work can be devastating. Since at least Vietnam, U.S. intelligence operations have created malfunctions in enemy ammunition and weapons. Both Russia and China have the capabilities to target U.S. systems this way, as well. These could post major problems for U.S. forces should a war with Russia or China break out.)

Army officials: Service entering a “renaissance”

At the Association of the United States Army annual conference in Washington, D.C. this week, Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper called on Congress to keep the momentum going after two years of increased budgets. Esper also said the Army must concentrate on its top six modernization priorities: long-range precision fires; next generation combat vehicle; future vertical lift; the network; air and missile defense; and soldier lethality.  He also emphasized the importance of reviewing and cutting programs that don’t fit into modernization plans. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley described the Army’s readiness posture as being in a downward spiral when he assumed his current position four years ago. “We have, I think, turned a corner. We have a ways to go. We have not obtained the objectives that we set out to attain in readiness,” Milley said. [source]
Recon Shortage: Elite Marines are facing a manpower crisis
Marine Corps Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) 0321 is suffering from an “inverted grade pyramid” at the E-3 and E-4 levels at least partially due to high attrition rates at the 12-week Basic Reconnaissance Course (BRC) and declining BRC attendance rates. Adding to the manpower problems are complaints about gear, morale, and underutilization of skill sets during recent counterinsurgency conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Furthermore, the creation of Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) has created competition for the same pool of Marines. The Marine Corps has kicked off a rank structure review to look at manpower issues as a result of the Corps’ push to modernize, known as the Marine Force 2025 concept, and the recon field has been identified as a priority. The Corps is also adding 11 more days of training to BRC and updating its recon prescreening in an attempt to reduce attrition. However, some point out that these actions will not help with declining BRC attendance. [source]


U.S. puts money where its mouth is on China

For the first time in a decade, Congress reached an agreement on the annual budget for the Defense Department on schedule. This allows the Pentagon to begin the fiscal year on October 1 with the money it needs for the next 12 months. The budget of nearly $700 billion will be key in continued modernization efforts to put the U.S. military in a position to oppose China. However, caps on defense spending that are set to return in fiscal year 2020 under the Budget Control Act of 2011 and possible setbacks for Republicans in the U.S. midterm elections in November could jeopardize the new strategy. “We had a big budget increase from this budget deal, but there is no guarantee on the future of what’s going to happen,” said Todd Harrison, a budget expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I wouldn’t say [the national defense strategy] is dead. I’m going to say it’s going to have to be paused,” if Democrats take the House of Representatives in November.  [source]

Mattis orders jump in readiness for fighters

In a memo issued Sept. 17 to the secretaries of the Army, Air Force and Navy, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ordered the Air Force and Navy to increase mission capable rates for four key tactical aircraft (F-35, F-22, F-16, and F-18) to 80 percent by the end of September 2019. Publicly available Air Force aircraft combat readiness rates for fiscal year 2017 that were released in March indicate 71.3 percent of the Air Force’s aircraft were mission capable any time in FY17. The Navy releases its figures less frequently, but recent statements by Navy Secretary Richard Spencer indicate that service is likely also well below the 80% goal. The goal will be challenging to meet by next September, but the services are considering a number of strategies including retiring older aircraft to lower the total number available and streamlining maintenance by combining regular calendar maintenance and depot-level maintenance, a move that would cut redundant work and presumably free resources for other work. [source] (Analyst Comment: Both the Navy and Air Force have been plagued with aircraft issues, ranging from routine and end-of-life maintenance to pilot shortages. In fact, the Air Force recently announced a plan to train 1,500 additional pilots each by until 2022 in order to overcome their pilot shortage. The order to raise readiness is a partial solution to the Budget Control Act of 2010, also known as sequestration, which further degraded U.S. military readiness, but it’s also a partial solution to deterring — or alternatively preparing for — war with China and Russia. It’s tough to draw a distinct line between “This is an indicator of increasing levels of readiness back to normal” and “This is an indicator that military leaders expect a hot conflict with a near-peer adversary.” To be sure, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.)

Army wants to double drill sergeants

In order to improve Basic Combat Training (BCT) and Advanced Individual Training (AIT), the Army plans to double the number of drill sergeants per recruit. Current ratios are one drill sergeant per 20 trainees at BCT and 1:40 in AIT. “Those ratios are way too high … and that is because we intentionally over the last 17 years … trimmed our institutional force and reduced the numbers of people in the institutional force in order to feed the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and to make sure those deploying units had enough people,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley at the 2018 Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exhibition. There are also plans in the works to extend one-station unit training (OSUT) for armor and other combat specialties. Infantry OSUT at Ft. Benning, Georgia has already been extended from about 13 ½ weeks to 22 weeks, adding eight weeks of training time to hone marksmanship, land navigation, and key combat skills. [source] (Analyst Comment: This is an extension of a trend we’ve been following which shows that the entire U.S. military, and specifically the U.S. Army, are doubling down on better training for recruits. Secretary Mattis has complained of both discipline and unit readiness issues and, to use a crude metaphor, military leaders are cracking the whip. A large part of this is returning to normal levels post-sequestration readiness and getting the military back into fighting shape, but changes in the military go beyond just training and readiness because modernization and a transition to multi-domain battle are central to the military’s goals. Multi-domain battle seeks the transition from traditional shoot, move, and communicate to what I call shoot, move, communicate, jam, hack, disrupt, and deceive. The marriage of conventional warfighting capabilities on air, sea, and land to cyber, electronic, space, and information warfare is at the heart of multi-domain battle, which is designed to quickly overwhelm an adersary’s ability to deal with a multi-faceted approach to warfighting. There’s no doubt the military is moving fast to catch up technologically, tactically, operationally, and strategically; but better trained soldiers at higher levels of readiness are required to win future wars.)


Army making strides in readiness

Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, the deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, says the Army has achieved its highest state of readiness in decades with a 33 percent increase in the number of units that have achieved the highest readiness status possible. Richardson said efforts to improve readiness extend beyond soldiers, to each and every unit that supports those on the front lines.  It also includes efforts to decrease the number of non-deployable soldiers due to medical issues. The nation’s Combat Training Centers are the cornerstones of these efforts. Since 2015, officials have improved the 14-day scenarios that are designed to test soldiers at these centers with increased chemical weapons training, offensive and defensive cyber efforts and operations in an expeditionary environment with denied communications. [source]

PIR3: What is the current situation report and risk of war in each of the four? (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea)


Significant Developments:

Russia urged to witness NATO wargames

Adm. James Foggo, commander of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command, says that Russia has been invited through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to observe the NATO exercise Trident Juncture 2018.  “I fully expect they’ll want to come. It’s in their interests to come. I want them to be there so they can see how well we work together,” Foggo said during a Pentagon briefing.  The Russians have not yet responded to the invitation. Foggo describes Trident Juncture—which will involve about 40,000 alliance troops, 150 aircraft, and 70 warships—as primarily a logistics exercise to test NATO’s ability to insert, supply and maintain a response force coming to the aid of a member state under threat.  The exercise will take place mostly in central and eastern parts of Norway, and involve air and sea areas in Norway, Sweden and Finland. It will begin with advance activities around Iceland from October 15 – 17, continuing in and around Norway from October 25 to November 7. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Moscow’s TASS news agency, “The escalation of NATO’s military and political activity in the Arctic region — namely, in the immediate vicinity of Russia on the territory of northern Norway — hasn’t gone unnoticed.”  She went on to say, “the Russian Federation will take the necessary tit-for-tat measures to ensure its own security.” [source]


U.S. military to face challenges in getting to Europe in a war with Russia

At a time when Russia is being viewed as a reemerging threat in Europe and defense policy realigns for the potential of large-scale combat operations after 17 years of counterinsurgency warfare, it is questionable if the U.S. military would be able to move the tanks, guns, and equipment needed to engage in a large-scale European conflict. The U.S. sealift capacity is a fraction of its World War II capacity, and the U.S. commercial shipbuilding industry is nearly non-existent. This situation is setting up a struggle to get more funding into sealift capabilities, because this quantity of supplies and equipment cannot be airlifted. The problem is exacerbated by an aging population of civilian mariners readying for retirement, obsolete steamships with hulls approaching the end of their useful service lives, and a Navy that is already strapped for resources while engaging in its own modernization efforts. “It is a growing strategic problem we are facing right now,” said Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and analyst with consulting firm The Telemus Group.  “We don’t have the capacity for great power competition if we don’t have the enabling force — logistics trains and sealift — we need to sustain operations on that scale.” [source]


Significant Developments:

U.S. Army scaling up operations, rotations to Indo-Pacific

Since the beginning of the Pacific Pathways program, the U.S. Army has sustained about three unit rotations to Asia a year, sending soldiers to many countries for exercises and training events, according to Gen. Robert Brown, commander of U.S. Army Pacific. However, the next version of the program will see units going to fewer countries and staying longer. “The longer time between movements will allow units more time to train on fundamental wartime tasks,” said Col. Derrick Cheng, a spokesman for Army Pacific, “which will build readiness at lower tactical echelons while increasing interoperability with our allies at the higher echelons.” In 2014, the first Pacific Pathways partnered Army units with Indonesia, Malaysia and Japan. Since then, thousands of soldiers have rotated in deployments with these and other partners. The goal of the program is for units to enter the theater with a task-oriented mission that will use assets of multiple nations coordinated in a series of exercises. This is a departure from past training partnerships, which matched U.S. military with only one other partner in an isolated, bi-lateral exercise. [source] (Analyst Comment:  In 2012, the Obama administration adopted a “Pivot to Asia” strategy, with the intent to reduce military footprints in the Middle East and instead focus on southeast Asia. The fruition of those plans are happening now as we see a ramp up in focus on what’s now called the Indo-Pacific. The purpose of these Army rotations are to develop the capacity of U.S. security partners, so the longer rotations are likely aimed at conducting more training and building cooperation with foreign military units the U.S. may be fighting alongside in a war in the Pacific.) “I’ve never seen a greater momentum of effort,” Gen. Brown said. “When the rebalance to the Pacific started, most of the relationships were bilateral. Key leaders in partner nation armies would work individually with us. But it’s more and more multilateral.” Brown said that the importance of the region is illustrated by the fact that it’s home to 52 percent of the Earth’s surface, seven of the 10 largest armies, and 24 of the worlds 36 megacities, defined as cities with populations over 10 million. The Pacific also encompasses four of the threats outlined in the National Defense Strategy—China, Russia, North Korea and violent extremist organizations. Going forward, while the U.S. will continue to partner with Australia and Japan, “now we have the deliberate inclusion of India, which includes the Indian Ocean,” Brown said. Multi-Domain Operations in the region will also be very important, according to Brown. [source]

Middle East 

Significant Developments:

By far, the biggest news this week was the fallout of the missing Saudi journalist in Turkey. While not a tactically significant event, there are strategic implications. First, the Turkish government has demanded access to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where the missing journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, was last believed to be seen. When pressed for surveillance tapes, Saudi officials reportedly said that the surveillance cameras are live-streamed but aren’t recorded, which is extremely suspect. Turkish officials are accusing the Saudi government of luring Khashoggi to the consulate and then murdering him. This is an especially embarrassing time for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who’s promised President Trump and others of reforms to Saudi Arabia’s frequently barbaric ways. And it could also throw a short-term wrench into President Trump’s Middle East strategy. The Obama administration bet on Iran as their Middle East solution, but that was upended after Trump was elected. The Trump strategy is to partner with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab nations to beat back Iranian influence which they all point to as a the prime driver of unrest in the Middle East. Ignoring the U.S. double standard, partnering with a repressive Saudi government which is now accused of murdering one of its citizens is bringing additional criticism for President Trump, who says that he may not cancel Saudi Arabia’s $100bn arms deal because it might hurt the U.S. economy. This shouldn’t be a complex issue for the Trump administration: like the Obama administration’s bet on Iran, the Trump administration has already bet the farm on the Saudi-backed Arab coalition in the Middle East. Trump has no other choice but to continue to work with Saudi Arabia against Iran. For his part, President Trump said that he wants to get to the bottom of the case, adding that U.S. officials are aiding the Turkish and Saudi governments with investigations.


North Korea

Significant Developments:

Pompeo and Kim meet again

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met again recently with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to forge a plan for denuclearization and also another meeting with President Trump. After the meeting, Pompeo said that “real progress” was made and that there’s now “a path to where we’ll achieve the ultimate goal, which is the full and final verified denuclearization of North Korea.” He also said that the next meeting between Kim and President Trump would be announced “in short order”. (Analyst Comment: This week, the South Korean government signaled that it might lift some sanctions against North Korea in a sign of good faith that the two nations would achieve a better level of peace and cooperation. As opposed to Trump’s maximum pressure campaign, South Korea has long favored a “sunshine strategy”. Taken from an Aesop’s fable, the strategy is based on indirect pressure. In the fable, the sun and wind are competing to force a man to remove his cloak to see which was stronger. The wind howls and tries to rip the cloak away, but the man hunkers down to protect himself. Next, the sun shines brightly and the man becomes so warm that he removes the cloak. Decades of the sunshine strategy have failed, while Trump’s maximum pressure has given the first signs of hope for lasting peace since the end of the Korean war. How long that hope lasts is largely up to Kim, but for now even the largest critics of President Trump have to admit that more progress is being made than during any other time.)

Japan opposes U.S. withdrawal of troops from Korean peninsula

In a wide-ranging interview with the Financial Times in which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe discussed everything from the British exit from the European Union to tariff negotiations with the United States, he said Japan opposes any withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Korean Peninsula in exchange for North Korea’s denuclearization. “It is my understanding that there is no such idea in the minds of the U.S. side nor in the mind of President (Donald) Trump,” Abe was quoted as saying. The U.S. currently has nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea. If this number were to be reduced, it would increase the burden on the 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan and Japan’s Self-Defense Force (SDF). Abe, who is on his way to becoming Japan’s longest serving Prime Minister after his election win last month, said he plans to use his final three years in office to achieve his goal of amending the pacifist Constitution of Japan to clarify the legality of his country’s SDF. [source]


– S.C.


Mike Shelby is a former military intelligence NCO and contract intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.

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