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[*] posted on 28-6-2017 at 03:30 PM
US Overseas alliances and allied states

‘Indispensable’ Palau Deal At Risk; Will China Get Access?

By Colin Clark

on June 27, 2017 at 6:22 PM

“Palau is indispensable to our national security and funding the compact is key to our strategic presence in the region.” That’s what the Defense Department’s 2018 budget request says — but the House Armed Services Committee disagrees, defunding a $123.9 million payment that gains us access to the islands.

Why is Palau indispensable? Look at the map. That will help. It commands approaches to the Philippines and to Indonesia, as well as Papua New Guinea. And, of course, they flank the Marshall Islands, as well as a wide range of Pacific islands flanking our ally Australia. Also, one source notes that the importance of Palau airfields have taken on “increased importance for PACOM/PACAF given Duterte and his rhetoric in the Philippines.” It provides “a more guaranteed form of access to airfields in the second island chain,” this source says.

And you can read what the head of Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 27:

I strongly urge Congress to pass legislation to approve and implement the 2010 Palau Compact Review Agreement at the earliest opportunity. The passage of this legislation will have a significant impact on our defense relationship with Palau, and will provide a measurable advantage in our strategic posture in the Western Pacific.

The problem is that the House Armed Services Committee doesn’t seem to think Palau is important enough to warrant taking money from the Defense Department budget and sending it to the Interior Department, which is what the budget request would do. So, they’ve peeled the money out of their version of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, according to two sources familiar with the issue.

The US is responsible for the defense of the Pacific islands. We were granted access to the island chain for 50 years under a Compact of Free Association. As part of that agreement, we owe Palau $123.9 million over the next seven years ($17.7 million a year). In return for that, we get exclusive access to the islands.

If the US were to fail to pay for the compact, you can be sure China would make a nice offer. And, if the Chinese were smart, they would run a nice story in Global Times or Xhinhua about the US abandoning one of the tiny island states of the Pacific, which they already assiduously court. All you have to do is look at what has happened in Fiji over the last few years.

In its legislative proposal justifying the request to Congress, the Trump administration says: “This agreement gives the U.S. military critical access and influence in an increasingly contested region where China has constructed artificial islands, installations, and structures and militarized the South China Sea.”

We don’t know a great deal about what the US does in Palau. “In fact, for us it’s a necessity because it assures access to Palau, which is prime geography to operate from. Can’t say more here, but you get the point,” one source tells us.

If much of what the US does in Palau is so sensitive that it’s classified that, in itself, would seem to argue strongly that a relative pittance of $123.9 million over seven years might supersede the technical concern of the HASC about transferring money from the DoD budget to another department.

My bet is that the Senate Armed Services Committee, led by one Sen. John McCain, will make a very persuasive argument in the NDAA conference that Palau receive the money America committed to pay it, period.
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[*] posted on 26-9-2017 at 12:08 PM

Five dangers of giving the Commerce Department oversight of firearms exports [Commentary]

By: Colby Goodman and Rachel Stohl   2 hours ago

U.S. Army Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, scout snipers fire M110 sniper rifles on October 14, 2015, in Djibouti. (Senior Airman Peter Thompson/U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Buy American” agenda is taking a potentially deadly turn, with the administration expected to issue new regulations that would make it easier for U.S. firearms and related ammunition to reach terrorists, criminal organizations and corrupt and abusive foreign security forces.

The Trump administration’s proposed regulations would likely transfer responsibility for reviewing licenses to export certain types of weapons — including assault-style rifles and pistols and armor-piercing sniper rifles — from the State Department to the Commerce Department.

Although not as eye catching as an F-35, these small arms are often called “the real weapons of mass destruction.” Responsible for up to 1,000 deaths a day, these weapons also threaten U.S. service members around the world. The proposal has raised significant concerns, including from U.S. law enforcement agencies that have fiercely opposed the transfer of these items because of the increased risk that they may land in the hands of unintended end users.

There are five key dangers of shifting oversight of firearms exports to the Commerce Department.

First, there is an increased risk of exports to unauthorized end users and conflict zones. Under the Commerce Department system, companies can generally use several broad license exemptions to export military equipment without U.S. government approval. When the U.S. government shifts oversight of firearms exports to companies, it loses the ability to identify key warning signs, including risky middlemen, unusual routes and mismatched weapons systems, of a possible diversion of U.S. guns to terrorists, criminals or conflict zones.

Without U.S. oversight, the government also couldn’t stop the sale of firearms to foreign security force units accused of serious human rights violations or corruption.

Second, a shift to the Commerce Department could compromise the United States’ ability to investigate and prosecute arms smugglers. The Trump administration’s proposal would likely eliminate the current requirement that individuals receive government approval before attempting to broker a deal to non-NATO countries for firearms controlled by the Commerce Department. The proposal might also remove the requirement that companies first register with the U.S. government before engaging in arms exports, which U.S. law enforcement has used to build investigations against illegal arms traffickers.

Furthermore, the proposal could create greater legal ambiguity about restrictions on firearms exports and, thus, impede U.S. law enforcement’s efforts to prosecute cases of illegal arms trafficking. Indeed, if an arms exporter can show that a reasonable person would be confused by U.S. regulations, the illegal exporter could escape prosecution.

Third, the proposal risks losing key legal restrictions on dangerous arms transfers. Commerce Department regulations, unlike the State Department’s, are not tied to all federal laws that regulate security assistance, including the commercial export of defense articles to foreign governments that support terrorism, violate internationally recognized human rights norms or interfere with humanitarian operations as well as country-specific controls imposed on nations of concern, such as China.

A shift to the Commerce Department would likely complicate, if not end, State Department reviews of a recipient’s human rights violations, as Commerce is not required to get the approval of the State Department when making arms transfer decisions.

Such a shift would thereby dilute the State Department’s ability to prevent high-risk transfers.

Fourth, the Trump proposal risks eroding global norms on firearms exports. Over the past two decades, through bilateral and multilateral agreements, the United States has successfully encouraged governments around the world to adopt better laws and policies to stop irresponsible and illegal arms transfers.

Many of these agreements note the need to review export licenses on a case-by-case basis, highlight the importance of brokering registration and licensing and contain other key controls. If the United States decides to reduce or remove some of these controls, many other countries may choose to do so as well, particularly if it allows them to better compete with the United States.

Finally, a shift would likely result in less transparency in arms sales. The proposal could eliminate both Congress’s and the public’s view of U.S. firearms sales authorizations and deliveries around the world because the Commerce Department’s annual reports cover only about 20 countries. Furthermore, there are no public end-use reports on arms exports authorized by the Commerce Department such as those for exports authorized by the State Department. The reports are useful to identify key trafficking patterns that can help avoid risky arms transfers.

Although the Commerce Department maintains a regulatory process for exports, its oversight is notoriously less robust than the State Department’s. Indeed, Congress has limited the executive branch’s authority to transfer military equipment to the Commerce Department to only those articles that do not have “substantial military utility.”

While firearms might not appear to hold the destructive power of many other conventional weapons systems, their potential impact can be devastating. As such, they deserve greater, not less, scrutiny when making export decisions.

Rachel Stohl is director of the Conventional Defense Program at the Stimson Center. Colby Goodman is director of the Security Assistance Monitor at the Center for International Policy.
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[*] posted on 21-10-2017 at 02:07 PM

DSCA head considering changes to early-procurement fund for allies

By: Aaron Mehta   12 hours ago

The Pentagon may look to change how it helps buy precision guided munitions for allies. The 432nd Maintenance Squadron munitions flight reviews safety precautions before building six GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs March 1, 2016, at Creech Air Force Base. (Christian Clausen/Air Force)

WASHINGTON ― The new head of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency is studying a little known but vital source of funding for foreign weapon sales, with the hopes of finding ways to speed the process forward.

Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper discussed his view of the Special Defense Acquisition Fund (SDAF) during comments at the annual AUSA conference Oct. 10.

“I think we need to have a better understanding on how to more effectively use the fund, and I’m looking very carefully at how we can have a discussion on how the fund might be more effectively applied than it currently is now,” Hooper said.

The fund is set up to allow the State Department to look ahead at what a partner nation may need to buy in the coming year and pre-order it. For example, officials could look at the rate a partner is using up ammunition or know that an ally is going to need spare parts for its rotorcraft in three years, and spend funding to put those products under production.

This can dramatically reduce the amount of time needed to deliver that gear to the partner nation, something that all those involved in the FMS process ― partners, the Pentagon, State and industry ― acknowledge is vital to America’s interests abroad.

Originally a Reagan-era program, the fund was shut down in 1995 as part of the Cold War drawdown. The fund relaunched in 2011 with a $100 million authorization cap, a amount that remained unchanged until late 2015, when it was expanded to up to $900 million, although the fund currently has only about $350 million appropriated for it.

Asked by Defense News to clarify his SDAF comment, Hooper said, “Right now I’m not looking at any changes, I’m just looking,” noting he had only been in his job for around 60 days.

“I’m looking at SDAF very closely with an eye towards the same thing I’m looking at everything else with, with an eye towards how can we best execute it, how can it be made better, and maybe suggestions or recommendations I can make on how we can take a look at it more closely and make it more efficient and effective,” he added.

One potential change could revolve around supplying munitions for allies. The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017 contained a provision requiring the SDAF to spend no less than $500 million from the SDAF on the procurement of precision guided munitions each year.

However, an administration official speaking on background said they are seeking legislative relief from that provision, which, given there is only $350 million in the account currently, would eat the entire SDAF on PGMs.

Hooper declined to put a timetable on when he might come to a decision or to comment on whether the goal was to have a decision made for the fiscal year 2019 budget.
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[*] posted on 1-1-2018 at 08:44 PM

Joe Hockey discussed Alexander Downer's Russia revelations with FBI

The Age

David Wroe

1 hour ago

The ambassador to the United States Joe Hockey personally steered Australia's dealings with the FBI on explosive revelations of Russian hacking during last year's presidential campaign in a sign of how politically sensitive the Australian government regarded the bombshell discovery, Fairfax Media understands.

It is also understood there is now annoyance and frustration in Canberra that the High Commissioner to Britain Alexander Downer has been outed through leaks by US officials as the source of information that played a role in sparking an FBI probe into the Trump campaign's dealings with Moscow.

© AP Australian High Commissioner to Britain, Alexander Downer.

Fairfax Media has confirmed independently that the conversation first reported by The New York Times took place.

In May 2016, Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos told Mr Downer over drinks at an upscale London wine bar that the Russians had a dirt file on rival candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of hacked Democratic Party emails.

Mr Downer conveyed the conversation to Canberra via an official cable, though apparently not immediately – perhaps because he did not take the 28-year-old adviser's claims altogether seriously until the hacked emails were released by Wikileaks in late July.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is planning a trip to the United States in February, Fairfax Media understands. Mr Turnbull said on Monday he was "not at all" worried that Australia's role in sparking the investigation that has become a consuming headache for Mr Trump would damage his relationship with the President. Beyond that he refused to comment.

Mr Hockey is believed to have been involved in discussions with the FBI, indicating the Australian government was keenly alive to its political sensitivity, given it raised the possibility that one side of a presidential campaign was colluding with a foreign power against the other side.

Former officials and experts have said Australia dealt with the fraught situation correctly and had little choice but to share information of this nature with its closest ally. Serving and former officials also said Canberra had every right to be annoyed that Mr Downer's involvement had been made public.

Andrew Shearer, a senior national security and foreign affairs adviser to former prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott, said Mr Downer and the Australian government appeared to have handled the matter "entirely appropriately".

"Given the febrile political environment in Washington DC, particularly when it comes to anything relating to Russian election interference and the [Robert] Mueller investigation, it's regrettable but not terribly surprising that details of Downer's encounter with Papadopoulos have become public," said Mr Shearer, now with the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Another CSIS expert, Michael Green, who was previously a senior White House national security official under George W. Bush, said Mr Downer's dramatic appearance at the centre of the case "gives this story of Trump campaign collusion with Russia a new level of credibility that will be problematic for the White House".

"Trump has attacked sources like this in the past, and it would not be surprising if he did so this time, though I think the US-Australia alliance and intel relationship can easily weather this," he said.

Mr Trump has furiously rejected suggestions of collusion between his campaign and the Russians to undermine his opponent. Along the way, he has launched unprecedented attacks on the FBI itself, while he and his supporters have dismissed the genesis of the probe as being a dossier compiled by a British former spy paid by Mr Trump's political rivals.
The Downer story is significant because it suggests the original probe was instead sparked by a tip-off from a trusted ally.

The Russia probe is now being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller, a widely admired former FBI director. It is regarded as very unlikely the leak to The New York Times came from Mr Mueller or anyone connected to him.

It remains uncertain precisely the degree to which Australia's reporting of the Downer-Papadopoulos conversation sparked the original investigation, given US authorities were getting information also from other friendly governments and from within the US.

Mr Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now co-operating as a witness.

Some Trump advisers and Republicans have dismissed him as an insignificant player in the campaign, though there are numerous reported instances of his having played a significant role.

TheNew York Times reported there was no evidence that he told anyone else in the Trump campaign about the Russian hacking.
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[*] posted on 5-1-2018 at 07:03 PM

American Ideals Beat the USSR. Why Aren’t We Using Them Against Russia?

By Jeffrey Mankoff
Fellow with the Truman National Security Project

January 4, 2018

Without an ideological rival to hold a mirror to its faults, the US is turning away from the ideas and institutions that led to victory.

It has become something of a cliché to refer to the ongoing crisis in U.S.-Russian relations as a new Cold War. And indeed, the combination of mistrust, sabre-rattling, and zero-sum thinking that now prevails in Washington and Moscow does have has a grim familiarity.

Yet history, as Mark Twain is reputed to have said, does not repeat itself, it only rhymes. The most notable difference between the current standoff with Russia and the 20th-century Cold War is the absence of ideological confrontation between two systems each claiming to offer the true path to freedom, peace, and justice and backed by their supporters with a religious fervor.

While the absence of ideological polarization means this Cold War might be more amenable to a diplomatic resolution, it also means that, without an ideological rival to hold a mirror to its faults and hypocrisies, some of the uglier strands in American history have made a comeback. It also means that the bipartisan consensus that sustained U.S. foreign policy throughout the latter 20th century is in danger of fracturing, leaving the U.S. unable or unwilling to push back against Russia’s aggressive efforts to upend the liberal international order and construct a sphere of influence around its borders.

Notwithstanding McCarthyism and other periods of anti-Communist hysteria at home, the ideological confrontation with Moscow helped drive progressive social and economic change in the United States. Whether because they feared a Communist revolution at home or in an effort to defeat Soviet influence abroad, for much of the 20th century, both Democratic and Republican administrations sought to tackle inequality and racism, to increase funding for education and science, and to promote media literacy in part because of they recognized that doing so was an important contribution to the geopolitical and ideological struggle with Moscow.

Even before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, fear of Communist revolution encouraged American leaders to take seriously the dangers of rampant inequality.

As early as 1912, Theodore Roosevelt was calling for a national system of social insurance (something like today’s Social Security system) to ensure that the United States’ future was “one of healthy evolution and not one of revolution.” While he had long supported greater government intervention to redistribute the gains of capitalism, Franklin Roosevelt only signed the Social Security Act in 1935 after a huge surge in working-class activism, some of it violent, in which socialists and the Soviet-backed Communist Party played a leading role.

In part thanks to the success of FDR’s New Deal, both inequality and working-class radicalism waned after the 1930s. With the outbreak of a global Cold War in the wake of World War II, the United States came to worry less about revolution at home and more about preventing the spread of Soviet-style Communism abroad, particularly in post-colonial Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Much of this global Cold War turned on the respective ability of the U.S. and Soviet models to inspire imitation in the “Third World.”

As part of this struggle, Moscow was eager to highlight the failures and injustices of the American system.

One of its most powerful critiques focused on racial injustice in the United States. Even in the 1920s and 1930s, the USSR saw African-Americans grievance as a possible driver of revolution in the U.S. and provided a platform for African-American activists to denounce the legacy of slavery, violence, and segregation at home. Figures like the activist-poet-singer Paul Robeson and the poet Langston Hughes gravitated to the USSR, which they lauded as an antidote to the discrimination they experienced at home.

After 1945, the Soviet Union consistently criticized segregation and other manifestations of racial injustice in the U.S. as part of its effort to weaken U.S. influence abroad (notwithstanding its own grim record on minority rights). Soviet media outlets targeting Asia, Africa, and Latin America highlighted racial strife in the U.S. to argue, in the words of a senior official in the Kennedy Administration’s State Department, that Jim Crow was “indicative of [U.S.] policy toward peoples of color throughout the world,” and that Washington would never reliably support the struggle for de-colonization.

The passage of civil rights legislation in the U.S. starting in the 1960s was justified to skeptics in part an attempt to weaken the impact of Soviet propaganda. As the historian Mary Dudziak has argued, a crucial driver of Cold War-era progress on civil rights was the need to make the case abroad that U.S.-style democracy was compatible with racial justice. Federal support for challenging segregation in court and for advancing civil rights legislation was justified in terms of success in the ideological struggle with the Soviet Union.

The ideological dimension also made the Cold War itself easier to prosecute, and ultimately win. Because the USSR was credibly portrayed as the negation of the United States’ ideals (acting as what David Fogelsong called the United States’ “dark double”), besting the Soviet Union came to provide a raison d’être for United States foreign policy from the late 1940s to the early 1990s. Whatever else they disagreed on, Democrats and Republicans were united in their belief that Moscow posed an existential threat not just to the U.S. homeland, but to the very ideals on which the United States was founded. That shared perception formed the basis of a longstanding bipartisan foreign policy consensus that emphasized U.S. support for liberal values, multilateralism, and resisting the spread of Communism.

Today, that consensus is in tatters, as a war for the soul of both parties rages between internationalist and isolationist wings. With the original Cold War a distant memory, Washington’s commitment to the institutions of the liberal order it created is in question in a way it has not been since the Second World War.

Russia, among other revisionist powers, benefits from this uncertainty. It supports opponents of the U.S.-led international order from both the Left and Right in the hopes of weakening the trans-Atlantic bond, securing its own sphere of influence, and peeling off sympathetic Europeans from the liberal West. Moscow still very much views the United States as its most dangerous strategic rival, and views its own security interests largely in zero-sum terms.

The original Cold War ended when the Soviet Union stopped believing in the ideals it claimed espouse. By the late 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev gave up the ghost on worldwide Communist revolution and, in 1991, on Communism at home.

Unfortunately, too many Americans came to regard the end of the Cold War and the discrediting of old-fashioned Leftist ideas like collective ownership of the means of production as a vindication of untrammeled capitalism. Meanwhile, tackling racial injustice at home ceased to be seen as a matter of national security, and in the process lost both its urgency and its bipartisan support. (Compare the records of Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower on racial equality to those of Donald Trump.)

Though today’s Russia positions itself as a strategic rival of the U.S., it no longer offers an ideological alternative that inspires revolutionary enthusiasm. While the U.S. fears Russia’s missiles and its hackers, it has stopped fearing Russian ideas.

The absence of Cold War-style ideological competition wedded to strategic rivalry has made it easier for U.S. politicians to support for policies that reinforce rather than ameliorate inequalities of all types in the United States and to denigrate the role of the federal government as an instrument for tackling racial and socioeconomic disparities. It has also shattered the consensus that checking Moscow’s efforts to undermine the liberal order is a cause worth fighting for.

It is hard to imagine passage of the Republican Party’s grotesque tax bill, which the Congressional Budget Office and independent analysts predict will dramatically worsen inequality, or the federal government’s tepid response to racial strife in Charlottesville and elsewhere, efforts to weaken the Justice Department’s civil rights division, or reduced support for academic research taking place during the Cold War, when systemic competition with the Soviet Union provided a powerful argument for overcoming entrenched racial and economic interests to make the United States attempt to live up to its founding ideals.

In the original Cold War, it was these American ideals—which America claimed were universal—that triumphed, rather than American arms. Because we lack the ideological framing of the original Cold War, a real danger of the opposite outcome now exists. Now it is the U.S.(and many of its allies) who seem to have jettisoned much of their belief in the ideals and institutions that facilitated their Cold War triumph. Military spending may increase, but without a shared commitment to a worldview that speaks to the better angels of America’s nature, and inspires Americans and Europeans to “bear any burden,” in John F. Kennedy’s famous phrasing, to ensure the triumph of liberty, it is too easy to imagine the U.S. giving up the ghost of fighting for the order it constructed.

The Cold War contained history’s most dangerous moments for the survival of human civilization. If it had any redeeming features, they lay in the understanding that America’s ideals mattered, and ought to be upheld both at home and abroad.

This new Cold War repeats much of the danger of its predecessor, but without the commitment to making a better country and a better world that once inspired the United States to take the hard choices that made victory possible.
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[*] posted on 16-5-2018 at 09:53 AM

Lawmakers seek $7.5 billion to counter China’s rise

By: Joe Gould   3 hours ago

Chinese troops march during a Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad on March 23, 2017. The U.S. Congress wants to increase funding to counter Chinese influence in the Pacific. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. should forge stronger military ties with Taiwan and add $7.5 billion in national defense spending in the Pacific region in order to counter Chinese influence in the region, according to a legislative proposal from four U.S. senators.

The bipartisan Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, or ARIA, would authorize $1.5 billion annually for five years to deter and defend against China. A mix of State Department and Defense Department funds would bolster the U.S. military presence and readiness in the region, improving defense infrastructure and critical munitions stockpiles.

The bill would also support regular arms sales to Taiwan, and fund the enforcement of freedom-of-navigation and overflight rights — moves to defy Beijing’s calls to keep out of the contested South China Sea.

CNBC reported this month that China had installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three of its outposts in the South China Sea.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Cory Gardner, chairs the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity. he said the idea had originally come from Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain, R-Ariz., and that he would work with appropriators to see it funded.

“This is not a new concept, and this is as close as we’ve come to an Asia-Pacific security initiative,” Gardner told reporters Tuesday.

The other sponsors are the subpanel’s ranking member, Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Todd Young, R-Ind. The name of the bill recalls the European Reassurance Initiative, a pot of money to bolster European capabilities against Russia—since renamed the European Deterrence Initiative.

On Tuesday, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver and Deputy East Asian and Pacific Affairs Alex Wong, appeared before Gardner’s subpanel, where they endorsed the legislation’s goals.

“With the help of Congress and the funding provided, we’re trying to build a force that’s appropriate to the longer-term challenges with China’s military modernization program, and trying to work with allies and partners to make sure they are adequately equipped and prepared for those long-term challenges,” Schriver said.

The U.S. is already boosting allies’ maritime domain awareness and maritime capabilities. The bill would augment foreign military financing and international military education and training programs, both with the idea to help partners “to resist coercion and to deter and defend against security threats.”

The bill explicitly excludes Myanmar, whose military has been accused of human rights violations, and Philippine counternarcotics activities, which have been linked to extrajudicial killings

In written testimony, Schriver emphasized the fiscal 2019 budget proposal’s investment in joint, integrated fires to “reach inside an adversary’s anti-access and area-denial envelope with advanced, long-range munitions.”

The Pentagon’s implementation of the National Defense Strategy calls for dispersal equipment and “survivable, sustainable logistics” to help in a potential conflict with China.

Schriver said the competition with China was not only a military rivalry with the U.S. The U.S. is seeking to partner with all nations that respect national sovereignty, fair and reciprocal trade and the rule of law.

“It’s a competition of ideas and values and interests. I think many more countries, including the most significant and influential counties in Asia outside of China support these concepts,” Schriver said.
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[*] posted on 16-5-2018 at 02:17 PM

Generals Worry US May Lose In Start Of Next War: Is Multi-Domain The Answer?

"There is a good chance… we’d lose the opening stages of this war," said one speaker. "Parts of the Pacific, parts of Europe are probably going to be overrun before we can gather ourselves."

By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

on May 14, 2018 at 7:43 PM

Defense of the Baltic States and Poland against a notional Russian missile barrage. (CSBA graphic)

QUANTICO: Russia or China could “overrun” US allies at the outbreak of war, senior military leaders fear, and our plan to stop them is very much a work in progress. Iraq and Syria have given sneak previews of how the US can combine, say, hackers, satellites, special operators, and airstrikes in a single offensive, but we’re not yet ready to launch such a multi-domain operation against a major power.

“There is a good chance… we’d lose the opening stages of this war,” said one participant in a high-level all-service conference on multi-domain operations held here last month. (I was allowed to attend on the condition I not identify anyone). “Parts of the Pacific, parts of Europe are probably going to be overrun before we can gather ourselves.”

Graphic courtesy Sen. Dan Sullivan

“If deterrence fails, we’re not going to be able to prevent loss of terrain and populations,” the speaker continued. “Just look at the Baltic States,” where every potential target is just a few hours’ drive from the Russian border and the NATO presence — one multinational battalion each in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland — is often dismissed as a “tripwire.” With US allies this exposed, the speaker said, “we’d give ground, and we’d have to consolidate and gather our resources to make a counter push.”

But when we try to counterattack, today’s adversaries won’t allow the US four or five months to mobilize, deploy, and prepare the way Saddam Hussein did twice (in 1990-91 and 2002-3), added another participant: “We’re predictable. They’ve built a system to take advantage of that predictability.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — a former joint commander himself — has pledged to make the US “strategically predictable for our allies” (i.e. dependable) but “operationally unpredictable for any adversary.” Part of being unpredictable is developing ways of fighting, and the concept with the most momentum in the last few years is multi-domain operations. The different US services have long worked with each other in limited ways, most notably when Air Force, Navy, and Marine aircraft support Army and Marine ground forces. But the multi-domain concept wants to jointness to a much higher level: seamless integration of land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace over vast warzones, with each service both assisting and being assisted by the others.

Islamic State (Daesh) fighters

Multi-Domain in the Middle East

The war against the Islamic State provided some small-scale, “episodic” examples of multi-domain operations, one participant recounted. In one case, intelligence had identified a number of the enemy’s primary command posts, but not their backup sites. So rather than just bomb the high value targets and try to figure out where the survivors went, the coalition forces used (unspecified) space and cyber capabilities to shut down communications at the primary sites. That forced the enemy leadership to move to their backup locations and turn them on, allowing the allies to target those. The physical strike followed, destroying the backup sites first and the primaries second.

“That’s an example of a multi-domain operation. The first shots were digits, ones and zeroes,” the participant said. “Pretty cool.”

The catch? The whole operation took four or five days, he said, but “it took us three weeks, probably, to organize that operation.”

Why so long? To start, the US didn’t have all the military capabilities and legal authorities required, forcing it to rely heavily on allies. Further, even within the US forces, information didn’t flow freely.

In a single command post, the speaker said, commanders had to make sense of four separate pictures of the battlefield:

- data on the current positions of friendly ground units via Blue Force Tracker;
- data on friendly air units, which didn’t show up on Blue Force Tracker;
- intelligence data, which didn’t feed into either the ground or air systems above;
- “a crowd-sourced social media map” that compiled tweets and other social media posts to report where bombings and battles had occurred. This open-source intelligence was at least as accurate as official intelligence sources and considerably faster.

This kludged-together system, taking weeks to bring capabilities together across multiple domains, works okay against the Islamic State, with its ragged ground force, modest cadre of hackers, and complete lack of air, sea, and space assets. But it would be lethally slow against a major power with its own long-range sensors, precision missiles, and big guns.

“We had absolute supremacy in all domains, right, and it still took us weeks to get that together because we didn’t have all the tools or resources or the authorities to be able to do it ourselves,” the speaker said. “(That) won’t work against a near-peer adversary.”

“We’ve got to be able to do in hours what …. took us weeks,” the speaker continued. Instead of such coordination being the exception, laboriously put together for a specific operation, it needs to become the default, part of the day-to-day operations of the armed forces: “Today we episodically synchronize. And in the future we’re going to have to continuously integrate.”

The Army’s battlefield framework for Multi-Domain Battle.

Command, Control, & Chaos

To achieve this integration, “we’re going to have to think very differently about command and control,” said another participant. Instead of relationships between commands staying the same for months or years, for example, who has the lead might suddenly switch to exploit some fleeting opportunity, then switch back again: “One minute you might you might be the supported commander, the next you might be the supporting commander.”

“In the Army…..we love to draw lines on maps,” the speaker continued: This brigade will advance here, this division will hold there. But that won’t work against adversaries with long-range weapons that reach across our tidily bounded boxes. A battalion, for example, might not be able to advance until someone neutralizes an enemy battery firing from hundreds of miles away — but that battery might not reveal its location by firing or redeploying until US ground units threaten it. Who’s in charge of solving that problem? We need a “functional approach,” the speaker said, integrating capabilities like precision firepower or ground maneuver across the entire war zone.

The Air Force already adopts a functional approach that plans for strike, refueling, reconnaissance, and other missions across the entire theater, rather than carving up territory among subordinate commands as in the Army. But the Air Force has its own obstacles moving to Multi-Domain Command and Control (MDC2) operations.

Combined Air & Space Operations Center (CAOC)

In particular, theater Combined Air Operations Centers (CAOCs) are set up to handle requests for air support coming from the Army’s top echelons, not from lots of widely dispersed, fast-moving brigades as envisioned for future war. “That creates a giant liaison problem,” said one briefer.

The head of Air Combatant Command, Gen. Mike Holmes, has argued the Air Force may need to decentralize its command structure for future wars. One participant today suggested the solution may instead be to create a kind of Uber for airpower:

Ground commanders could input their request for a particular type of support — airstrike, electronic warfare, reconnaissance, etc. — and a centralized system automatically matches them with the nearest available asset

The Navy is likewise looking at how to command and control its forces in a larger war. For decades, carrier and amphibious strike groups have operated as independent units, supervised by theater commanders: PACOM in the Pacific, CENTCOM in the Mideast, and so on. Now, the Navy is looking at strengthening an intermediate level of control, the fleet, with potentially multiple strike groups under a single fleet commander and multiple fleets in a theater. Naval operations will “now be synchronized at a much higher level,” one participant explained.

As much as we strengthen command and control, however, we have to expect the enemy to disrupt our plans. When military officers talk about “synchronizing” operations, “(it) implies that we have the ability to precisely synchronize our activities: maneuver, fires, sustainment, command, protection,” warned one speaker. “I think a future near-peer competition is going to preclude that. We’re going to have to accept a lot less precise synchronization.

“It’s going to be rougher,” the speaker continued. “It’s going to look more like an advance in World War II than the advance on Baghdad in (2003) or the attack in Desert Storm.”

That puts a premium on initiative and improvisation. Those are two things, fortunately, that Americans tend to be good at.
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