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Learning from the corona virus

While the media spasms[i] over the corona virus as a way to get rid of President Trump, we should be examining critical lessons that we should learn with respect to military preparedness.

The corona virus (Covid-19) outbreak is causing some disruptions in military productions and activities.  Right now these are precautionary.  The bigger issue that these disruptions highlight is the issue of single source procurement.  Will external sources being interrupted result in more producers returning to the US? Are self-imposed risks acceptable?

Some of the disruptions in military activities include:

  • Lockheed Martin has held up production of F-35s in Italy and Japan. They have told employees to stay home for the next week. However, Lt Gen Fick (Program Manager) said that he does not anticipate any other disruption to the supply chain and that the Joint Program Office (JPO) is not taking any deliberate steps to actively curtail any ripple effects due to the corona virus that may further go through the F-35 supply chain.
  • The Indian Navy (IN) has postponed the 10-day long ‘Milan 2020’ multilateral exercise it was expected to host in the Bay of Bengal for 31 navies. The IN said in a statement on 3 March that this year’s iteration of the biennial exercise, which was scheduled to begin on 18 March, has been deferred after taking “the safety of all participants and travel restrictions imposed by the spread of Covid-19”
  • The Pentagon will decide soon how to prepare for the upcoming military moving season with the outbreak based on whether the new COVID-19 virus is still active in late spring through early fall, a military doctor said Wednesday. Presently travel to and from Korea is halted.
  • Military families in Italy are facing a third week of school and day care closures. They are also facing a two week quarantine when/if they return to the US.
  • The Army is screening new recruits before they enter basic training. Any found positive for COVID-19 will be quarantined.

It is certain that these are only the tip of the iceberg.  What is most important is what are we learning from the ongoing disruptions?  Are we examining supply chains to see where we have potential bottlenecks?  Are corporations and government entities willing to pay the price for some redundancy or are they going to take a risk? Risk might be acceptable in some categories or cases but not others.  Examples where risk may not be acceptable include pharmaceuticals, long lead time parts and components for essential military equipment, critical personnel skills.

The obvious other casualty of this virus scare is globalism.  When critical things have been allowed or even encouraged to be externally produced and then become unavailable due to disruptions in production and thus the supply chain in addition to looking for alternate production providers we might just question the whole philosophy that caused the problem—globalism.

A peacetime example that could occur next week to military units because of personnel replacement disruptions.  As an armored brigade commander I had over 100 tanks to maintain.  In my direct support maintenance unit there was only an authorization for 2 turret mechanics with a critical skill. If one of those authorizations was not filled and the other individual was on special duty my turret problems went unresolved until I could find a work around.  So an efficiency in personnel created a maintenance bottleneck and reduced readiness of several tanks.  Was this an acceptable risk?  Not to me but surely to the bean counters in the Pentagon.  Surely they considered the risk.  But what if the bottleneck is not anticipated or there is not a work around. This example applies as much to the supply chain as it does to personnel.  Is there a workaround whether it be alternate suppliers or backup capabilities? Redundancy is not necessarily bad.

These are the questions that we should be answering.  We should thank the Covid-19 for forcing the consideration of the risks created by what were thought to be the efficiencies of single source and function operations and globalism.

[i] “Unfortunately, we have been able to assess that accounts tied to Russia, the entire ecosystem of Russian disinformation, has been engaged in the midst of this world health crisis,” Lea Gabrielle, head of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, testified before the Senate on Thursday.

She went on: “We saw the entire ecosystem of Russian disinformation at play. Russian state proxy websites, official state media, as well as swarms of online, false personas pushing out false narratives.”

 

Deployment of small yield nuclear weapons

Barely noted in most news reports but this past week, the US Navy announced that it had tested a new missile known as the W76-2. The Washington Times reports that the W76-2 is a “submarine-launched, low-yield device designed to counter Russia’s arsenal of smaller missiles and to give the US. a way to retaliate in kind.”

A DOD spokesman noted that: “In the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, the department identified the requirement to ‘modify a small number of submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads’ to address the conclusion that potential adversaries, like Russia, believe that employment of low-yield nuclear weapons will give them an advantage over the United States and its allies and partners.” The spokesman continued: “[The W76-2] strengthens deterrence and provides the United States a prompt, more survivable low-yield strategic weapon; supports our commitment to extended deterrence; and demonstrates to potential adversaries that there is no advantage to limited nuclear employment because the United States can credibly and decisively respond to any threat scenario.”

The “Nuclear Posture Review,” referred to is a document that the Trump Administration put forth outlining its position on nuclear policy.  The Trump administration feels that  during the previous administrations, Russia, in particular, has made advancements in its weapon’s arsenal, while the United States has not, which has caused some to believe that Russia may have the upper hand in this area. The Nuclear Posture Review was meant to address this.

The thinking underlying this review reads very much like deterrence theory of the cold war. The W76-2 is one of the first publicly announced results of that document.  It reportedly gives America a way to combat the Russian advancements in low yield nuclear weapons. The thinking is that the deployment “strengthens deterrence and provides the United States a prompt, more survivable low-yield strategic weapon; supports our commitment to extended deterrence; and demonstrates to potential adversaries that there is no advantage to limited nuclear employment because the United States can credibly and decisively respond to any threat scenario.”

Proponents of the system believe the US needs a low-yield nuclear option in order to credibly counter Russia, which has invested heavily in a variety of nuclear systems in the last decade. Defense officials believe Russia would potentially use a smaller nuclear weapon in order to deter America from entering or extending a conflict, under the “escalate to deescalate” thinking; if the U.S. only has larger strategic weapons to retaliate with, it may hesitate.  This hesitation would give the Russians an advantage the advocates of this thinking believe.

Opponents of tit for tat deterrence doctrine question whether such a doctrine is realistic, and also argue that no nuclear system can truly be non-strategic. These opponents have raised concerns that having a low-yield and high-yield warhead able to be launched on the same submarine-launched missile creates a situation where an adversary doesn’t know which system is being used and therefore reacts as if the larger warhead has been launched.  This thinking makes the argument that a nuclear war can be limited to small yield exchanges questionable. Will an opponent wait until a war head detonates before acting?  Assuredly no!

In short this means that deterrence is strengthened because low yield nuclear weapons can be used and there is no need to escalate to larger yield weapons because we do not have a comparable small yield weapon. The logic is pure cold war deterrence theory and is potentially flawed.

Additional concerns are that this is the beginning of a new arms race.  An arms race that cannot be tempered by an arms control agreement.  How does one verify yield of a nuclear weapon. In the past nuclear arms control agreements have focused on delivery vehicles (planes, and different kinds of missiles)…  These are things that can be seen and counted.  Warhead yield is quite another issue.

The deterrence theory argued above and the inability to control warhead yield give me pause.  In arguing that smaller war head yield supports deterrence one can imagine the same argument for huge yields enhancing deterrence.  Being able to limit a nuclear war has its advantages, but any nuclear war must be considered a catastrophic event.

Vindman follow-up

The news reports today that additional 70 staffers have been reassigned away from the NSC staff.  The reported goal is to do two things:

  1. Reduce the NSC staff to about 100 people–the same size as it was during George H W Bush’s conduct of the Gulf War.
  2. Eliminate the Obama holdovers–potential dwellers of the swamp

So much as the Democrats want to paint LTC Vindman as a hero,the reality is that his reassignment was just the leading edge of the NSC restructuring.  The news is reporting that Vindman is on the list for attending the Army War College is this coming August.  This surprises me!  Attendance at the War College is usually reserved for former battalion commanders and other LTCs that are upwardly mobile.  As pointed out, Vindman’s career, based upon reported adverse reports, should be on hold.  More to follow.

Will we be receiving notification of similar housecleaning throughout the rest of the bureaucracy?

Offensive cyber authorization

Reports indicate that new legislation in the Senate proposes to authorize US military cyber warriors to go on the offensive against Russian attacks on the United States in cyberspace.   It also mandates a cyber deterrence doctrine.

These same reports indicate that lawmakers were disappointed in the administration’s latest cyber policy. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s fiscal year 2019 defense policy bill designates clandestine military operations in cyberspace as “traditional military activities.”  This affirms the secretary of defense’s ability to order cyber operations. A related section of the bill “authorizes the National Command Authority to direct US Cyber Command to take appropriate and proportional action through cyberspace to disrupt, defeat and deter systematic and ongoing attacks by Russia in cyberspace,” the report states:

(a) In General.—It shall be the policy of the United States, with respect to matters pertaining to cyberspace, cybersecurity, and cyber warfare, that the United States should employ all instruments of national power, including the use of offensive cyber capabilities, to deter if possible, and respond when necessary, to any and all cyber-attacks or other malicious cyber activities that target United States interests with the intent to—

(1) cause casualties among United States persons or persons of our allies;

(2) significantly disrupt the normal functioning of United States democratic society or government (including attacks against critical infrastructure that could damage systems used to provide key services to the public or government);

(3) threaten the command and control of the United States Armed Forces, the freedom of maneuver of the United States Armed Forces, or the industrial base or other infrastructure on which the United States Armed Forces rely to defend United States interests and commitments; or

(4) achieve an effect, whether individually or in aggregate, comparable to an armed attack or imperil a vital interest of the United States.”

There are several interesting aspects to this Congressional proposed strategic policy.

1.    The concept of cyber deterrence as a doctrine.

2.    That deterrence of cyber-attacks may also be achieved by the use of non-cyber responses.

The congress determining national security strategy is by itself unique.  The formal authorization of a cyber deterrence doctrine opens the whole realm of what is deterrence?

My UCLA graduate school professor (Bernard Brodie who was one of the founders of deterrence doctrine thought of deterrence as” a strategy intended to dissuade an adversary from taking an action not yet started, or to prevent them from doing something that another state desires. A credible nuclear deterrent,  he wrote, must be always at the ready, yet never used.”

Subsequently the capacity to harm another state was to be a motivating factor for other states to avoid it and influence another state’s behavior. To be coercive or deter another state, violence must be anticipated and avoidable by accommodation.

Deterrence is considered to consist of the capability to inflict such harm and the willingness to do so.  Capability is the more easily demonstrated aspect of deterrence.  It is achieved through observable tests, news reports or use. Willingness is the hard part to quantify.  It is usually thought to consist of demonstrated use or as during the cold war some form of automaticity to the response.  With the consequences of a major nuclear exchange being so great during the cold war and automatic responses discussed openly no side was willing to test the willingness of the other.

This lack of willingness to test the other side’s willingness became the source of moderation during the cold war.  Simple escalation of the DEFCON or making advanced alert status visible was used as a method of signaling willingness.

How one is to signal willingness in the cyber world is a fascinating question.  It may require some cyber ‘skirmishes.”  Possibly these have already occurred.

As we go forward in the evolution of strategic thought the concept of cyber deterrence will require significant additional study and the response to questions, such as:

  • What is the potential damage?
  • What is the nature of escalatory steps?
  • What are the defensive measures?  (These will most likely be constantly changing.)

This article should open a dialogue of cyber deterrence.  Please make your comments and check back for the comments of others.