26 August 2017

*** When Moscow Plays War Games, It Thinks a Few Steps Ahead

Forecast Highlights

As tensions mount in Moscow's standoff with the West, the upcoming Zapad military exercises likely will be larger and more important than ever before.

Still, the exercises probably won't serve as a pretext for Russian to invade Belarus or to take offensive military action against the Baltic states or Ukraine, as some countries on the Russian periphery fear.

The drills will offer indications of the tactics and targets the Russian military is focused on, and Moscow could use the exercises to boost its presence in states along the front line with North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces and to increase its military assets in Belarus.

In the grand standoff between Russia and the West, one of the strategic messages that Moscow regularly sends its adversaries comes by way of military drills. The Zapad exercises are the highest profile war games Russia plays. And since their inception in the mid-1970s, the drills — whose name means "west" in Russian — have served as a reflection of the relationship between Moscow and its Western counterparts and as a preview of future military actions and techniques.

From Cold War Training to Signs of a Russian Resurgence

The Zapad exercises began during the Soviet era as a way for Moscow to test new weapons systems, smooth out interoperability among Warsaw Pact members and display its military might. According to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the drills hit their peak in 1981 when between 100,000 and 150,000 Soviet personnel engaged in exercises simulating the invasion of Germany and the deployment of nuclear strikes against the West. The pace and intensity of the drills dropped off after the collapse of the Soviet Union, though they continued at sporadic intervals. But in September 2009, just a year after the Russia-Georgia war formally marked Moscow's resurgence as a regional power, the Zapad exercises returned as a more regular event, this time held jointly with Belarus. The two countries have partnered in the drills ever since. 

India’s Population: Becoming Number One

By Joseph Chamie and Barry Mirkin

By 2024, India will slip past China to become the most populous country and must rapidly prepare for a fast-changing economy.

India will likely hold that rank throughout the 21st century. Its population is 1.34 billion, nearly a fourfold increase since independence 70 years ago. China’s population, at 1.41 billion, roughly doubled over the same period. The pace of India’s population growth, now at 15 million per year, is the world’s largest. The two nations alone have more than a billion people, and their population gap is projected to widen to 500 million by 2100. By comparison, the third and fourth most populous countries in 2100, Nigeria and the United States, are projected to have populations of nearly 800 million and 450 million, respectively.

The long-term growth of India’s population, largely a function of fertility rates, is less certain. UN population projections indicate a range of possible scenarios. For example, if India’s current fertility of 2.3 births per woman remains constant, its population would grow to 1.8 billion by 2050 and 2.5 billion by 2100. Even under the instant-replacement fertility variant, with the country’s fertility assumed to fall immediately to 2.1 births per woman, India’s population would reach 1.9 billion by the century’s close.

Population of China, India, Nigeria and the United States, 1950-2100 (billions)

The frequently cited UN medium projection assumes Indian fertility will decline to below replacement by 2035 and remain at 1.8 births per woman in subsequent decades. As a result, India’s population is projected to peak at 1.7 billion in 2060 before declining to 1.5 billion by 2100. The low projection assumes more rapid fertility decline to well below replacement level – about 1.3 births per woman – resulting in India’s population peaking at 1.5 billion around 2040 and falling to 900 million by 2100.

Sizing Up the Competition on the Doklam Plateau

By Stratfor

High atop the Doklam plateau, Indian and Chinese forces are still locked in a standoff. The dispute along the Line of Actual Control, the contested 4,057-kilometer (2,521-mile) border between China and India, began June 16. And in the time since, each side has vehemently denounced the other's presence, digging in for a prolonged fight. An military confrontation would have serious repercussions for India and China alike, but it can't be ruled out. This is the second installment in a three-part series evaluating the strategic position of both sides of the dispute.
In his seminal military treatise, The Art of War, Chinese Gen. Sun Tzu stressed the importance of knowing one's enemy. The notion still rings true more than two millenniums later. As Chinese and Indian forces square off in the unforgiving terrain of the Doklam Plateau, each side's understanding of the other will guide its strategy in the event of an armed confrontation. Both will have to account for their own strengths and weaknesses — as well as those of their enemy — as they prepare for their latest border dispute to escalate. 

Trump’s Afghanistan Policy: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By Rohan Joshi
U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s speech from the Fort Myer military base outlining a new path forward in Afghanistan has been well received in Kabul and New Delhi. At the outset, this new path departs from the one laid out by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, in 2009 that affixed timelines for U.S. troop withdrawal from what was then a near decade-long conflict in Afghanistan.

Trump’s speech also departs from Obama’s in that it views Pakistan very much as a central contributing factor to the quagmire in Afghanistan, while the previous formulation viewed Pakistan as having convergent objectives with the U.S. in Afghanistan and drew equivalence between Afghanistan and Pakistan as fellow victims of terrorism.

In retrospect, the Obama administration erred in setting artificial timelines for U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. These timelines conveyed to the Taliban and its sponsors in Pakistan a message of despondency and the withering of American will to stay to course. Emboldened, they embarked on a campaign to attenuate the government of Afghanistan’s credibility and authority by targeting nascent institutions of the state as well as U.S. forces in the region. It would take another six years for the Obama administration to officially abandon this timeline for withdrawal.

Weak Link in Afghanistan Strategy: Pakistan, Still Not Serious About Terrorism

by Alyssa Ayres

Nearly sixteen long years on, the United States still struggles with how to devise a strategy for success in Afghanistan. The Donald J. Trump administration’s ongoing strategic review, according to press accounts, remains in a cycle of developing new options. Those presented so far have not earned the president’s approval. It’s possible to deliberate for months over the right troop levels, clearly. It is also possible to deliberate over the appropriate mix of military strategy, diplomacy, and development, especially given the reduced weight the Trump administration appears to place on the latter two. But in all honesty, it’s hard to see what combination of troops, aid, and statecraft will overcome the continued problem of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s strategic location has given it a vital role in the war in Afghanistan, despite the widespread recognition by U.S. officials that it remains insufficiently focused on addressing the many terrorist groups operating from its soil. During his visit to Islamabad in April of this year, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said, “…we have hoped that Pakistani leaders will understand that it is in their interest to go after these groups less selectively than they have in the past and the best way to pursue their interests in Afghanistan and elsewhere is through diplomacy not through the use of proxies that engage in violence.”

Afghanistan Strategy a Defining Moment for Mattis

By Sandra Erwin

The Afghanistan war strategy that President Trump announced Monday night was remarkable in that it was not a string of angry tweets but the product of a meticulous policy review.

“The process was rigorous,” said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

The strategy does not dramatically depart from the status quo. It essentially calls for a continued — but not open-ended — U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Notably, the president leaves it to the discretion of the Pentagon to set troop numbers and decide what targets to pursue in the battlefield.

The president, in a prime-time speech at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, in Arlington, Va., credited Mattis for changing his views on the war.

Shortly after his inauguration, Trump directed Mattis to undertake a comprehensive review of all strategic options in Afghanistan and South Asia. But up until a few weeks ago, it appeared the Afghanistan policy was very much in limbo, stalled by internal White House rivalries that pitted the generals against the isolationists.

“My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts, but all of my life I heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office,” Trump said. “After many meetings, over many months, we held our final meeting last Friday at Camp David, with my Cabinet and generals, to complete our strategy.”

A True Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Is Trump's Only Hope

John Nagl

I urge Trump to go to Afghanistan immediately—this week—to meet with his commanders and diplomats.

Last night, Donald Trump became the third consecutive U.S. president to commit to a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. He did not do so willingly; indeed, like President George W. Bush, Donald Trump had campaigned explicitly on the idea of abandoning nation-building campaigns like those conducted by his predecessor. But there are only three options when your enemy chooses to fight you as an insurgent: quit, conduct a scorched-earth campaign that kills everyone and destroys everything, or commit to counterinsurgency.

We cannot afford to quit. In the best two lines of his speech, President Trump laid out U.S. interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as is possible: “We must stop the resurgence of safe havens that enable terrorists to threaten America. And we must prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists and being used against us or anywhere in the world.”

Leaving Afghanistan would quickly result in the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, and the resumption of a safe haven for terror in Afghanistan, which cost us dearly on September 11, 2001. The United States cannot follow the Roman method of making a desert and calling it peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And so Trump, like Bush and Obama before him, chose a counterinsurgency strategy, not as his first choice, but as the least bad option available.

Trump's 'Obama-Lite' Afghanistan Strategy

Jacob Heilbrunn

No matter what Trump says or how much he complains about his predicament, he has made it clear that America is not leaving Afghanistan any time soon.

Where, oh where, is the Donald Trump who once proclaimed that the United States should “leave Afghanistan immediately”? Last night it was an alternately vexed and boastful Trump who appeared before troops at Fort Myer, Virginia, declaring he would seek “outright victory” in that desolate and war-torn country, where the Taliban, abetted by their Pakistani benefactors, are seizing more territory by the day. Whether Trump believed his own platitudes may be wondered.

His delivery was stiff and halting. It lacked conviction. He offered a kind of penance for his earlier remarks about Charlottesville by talking about the heterogenous character of the military and the need to unite. At times he bellowed a word or phrase; at others he was uncommonly subdued. Indeed he indicated at the outset that his own instinct all along was “to pullout.” His aim was to explain why he had changed his mind. He had learned new things. Bad hombres could once again take power absent America in Kabul.

At bottom he yielded to his generals who, like Trump, don’t want to be saddled with the blame for defeat.

Intellectual Property and the Coming US-China Trade War

By Robert Farley

Last week, U.S. President Donald J. Trump ordered a Section 301 investigation into China’s intellectual property (IP) practices. The report could take a year or more, and would not result in automatic action against China; rather, it would provide the president with a set of weapons to use if China is found in fault. Ana Swanson’s Washington Post article on the order provides a helpful typology of U.S. trade concerns regarding Chinese appropriation of US IP: China encourages/requires joint ventures between U.S. and Chinese firms that include technology transfer, in order to give U.S. firms access to the Chinese market, and the Chinese workforce.

China’s new cybersecurity procedures force U.S. tech companies to turn over proprietary data and code to the Chinese government in order to operate within China.

China’s failure to enforce extant IP law enables theft of trade secrets.

Chinese investment in technology firms around the world gives it access to cutting edge technology.

All of these are real complaints with strong factual basis, not withstanding Chinese progress on some elements of IP protection. Action against China is broadly popular in the United States, even if the exact terms of dispute are murky to the greater part of the American public. Washington has thus far hesitated out of a hope of gaining Beijing’s cooperation on North Korea, and because some within the U.S. commercial community would prefer the risk of IP appropriation to the risk of losing out on the Chinese market.

US And China Will Avoid A ‘Thucydides Trap’


In 12 out of 16 cases in the past 500 years when a major rising power “disrupted the position of a dominant state” the contest ended in war according to Graham Allison’s recent study. Clearly, the historical odds of a harmonious US-China power transition are not very high. But this is not just a typical relationship. One challenge in studying US-China relations is that both sides, for a variety of reasons, feel compelled to often obscure their parallel interests. For Beijing, the reasons are linked to both its state identity and legitimacy around China’s standing in the developing world. The Chinese cannot exude a G-2 posture beyond a certain point without incurring real costs to its international status and domestic political stability. For Washington, an overt cooperative posture could unravel its Asian alliances by provoking fears of abandonment as well as complicate the aim of deepening ties with China’s other neighbours since much of that engagement is sold on the premise of US-China antagonism.

Economic interdependence is the most obvious answer. Given the $650 billion in annual bilateral trade, a significant stock of investment in US treasuries held by China, $300 billion in two-way FDI in both economies, MNC production supply chains in mainland China, the latter largely the result of outsourced production intended for US consumption. In other words, the top line figures on US trade deficits with China need to be interpreted with the recognition that US firms have offshored production to China to recycle it back to the US homeland as well as to supply other markets. America’s aggregate economic position, despite internal imbalances and adverse inter-sectoral shifts, has largely benefited from the relationship with China.

China Defends Pakistan After Trump Calls Pakistan a Terrorist Haven

By Charlotte Gao

U.S. President revealed his Afghan strategy where he stated Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of terror 

A survey conducted by Pew Research Center in 2014 showed that Pakistan is China’s strongest supporter in Asia as 78 percent of Pakistanis view China favorably. The strong preference doesn’t come out of nothing. China seems to be the only nation that dare to defend Pakistan against the United States.

On August 21, the U.S. President Donald J. Trump issued his grand strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia, aiming to comprehensively crush terrorism in the region. In particular, he singled out Pakistan and made a harsh criticism on its failure — or even suspicious intentional failure — in counterterrorism in his speech:

Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror…Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting… It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace.

Faced with Trump’s grim remarks, China expressed full sympathy toward Pakistan. On August 22, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying defended Pakistan at the regular press conference:

How Bashar al-Assad Won the War in Syria

Daniel R. DePetris

The way he has prosecuted the war has been as effective as it has been inhumane.

On August 21, 2013, the international community awoke to a scene of absolute terror. Broadcasted on television screens around the world were pictures and video of men, women, and even small babies sprawled on the floor, gasping for breath. Many were already dead from exposure to the sarin gas that was delivered from the Syrian army’s surface-to-surface missiles. The attack in the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, which left an estimated 1,400 people dead according to U.S. intelligence community assessments, was the most gruesome chemical weapons strike since former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein gassed Kurdish civilians in the town of Halabja in 1988. Four years later, I still remember the New York Post cover page the next morning, dead Syrian children on one side and a grinning Bashar al-Assad on the other.

To the world’s credit, the 2013 chemical attack was so visually upsetting and such an appalling violation of international law that the United States and Russia, by then in complete opposition to how to manage the Syrian dictator, came together (with the endorsement of the U.N. Security Council) to force Assad to give up his declared chemical weapons stockpile and to enlist Syria as a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention. The first international chemical weapons inspectors were deployed on Syrian soil a short time later—and despite the enormous stress of working in a war zone and dealing with Syrian government officials who were less than truthful, managed to remove and destroy 1,300 tons of chemical weapons. “Never before,” the OPCW’s director boasted at the time, “has an entire arsenal of a category of weapons of mass destruction been removed from a country experiencing a state of internal armed conflict.”

Has Netanyahu Defeated the Palestinians?

Daniel Levy

Israel has undoubtedly scored some wins, while the Palestinian leadership has suffered from division and strategic ineptitude.

The long-running police investigations into the affairs of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to cross a Rubicon earlier this month. Netanyahu is under suspicion in a number of cases involving alleged bribery, fraud and breach of trust, among other things. A deal has now been reached by the State Prosecutor’s Office for Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, Ari Harow, to turn state’s witness—an arrangement rarely agreed to unless a strong case is being built against a more senior and serious criminal actor.

With the likelihood of his being indicted and speculation as to his longevity in office reaching unprecedented levels, Netanyahu struck back. In a support rally convened by his Likud Party, Netanyahu accused “the thought police in the media,” together with the left, and supported by the Palestinians, of conducting an “unprecedented, obsessive witch-hunt campaign” against him and his family. Their goal, he claimed, was to stage “a government overthrow” to topple “the national camp.” Both the style and substance of Netanyahu’s fiery rhetoric should have sounded very familiar to anyone in America not asleep for the past seven months.

Russia's PAK-DP Interceptor: The Unmanned Plane that Could Replace the MiG-31?

Dave Majumdar

Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG expects that it will likely develop an unmanned version of its forthcoming PAK-DP replacement for the Mikoyan MiG-31 interceptor in the future.

However, there are questions as to if the PAK-DP will ever materialize or if it will continue to remain an aspiration. Indeed, it is not clear if MiG—known during the Soviet-era as the Mikoyan Gurevich design bureau—will survive as an independent unit within Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation umbrella company. Indeed, MiG might be taken over by archrival Sukhoi, which has dominated Russia’s fighter market since the fall of the Soviet Union.

"It will be a brand new plane that will use brand new technologies for operation in the arctic conditions,” MiG chief executive officer Ilya Tarasenko told the TASS news agency at the Army-2017 tradeshow outside Moscow.

“This plane will defend the borders of our Motherland. Then an unmanned version will be transformed into a project."

The TASS report notes that the PAK-DP would not start development until 2019 at the earliest according to Russian Aerospace Forces commander-in-chief Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev. Indeed, if a PAK-DP program does emerge, it likely won’t be until the mid-2020s.

How the U.S. Can Pressure Pakistan


President Trump announced Monday a new strategic review for the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. He offered tough words for Pakistan, which supports militants inside Afghanistan, but gave few details of how the U.S. could persuade it to change its ways. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that U.S. support for Pakistan would be conditioned upon its leaders’ ability to “change their approach” of backing militant groups that are “disrupting peace efforts inside of Afghanistan.”

Complaints about Pakistan’s apparent unwillingness to cooperate with the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan date back almost to the U.S.-led invasion of the country following the attacks of September 11, 2001: The country is known to provide support and a safe haven not only for the Taliban, but also groups that target neighboring India in Kashmir and elsewhere, not to mention the al-Qaeda leadership that’s believed to be inside the country. 

“Every time Pakistan has been pressured, it has always done something to appease the United States,” Hussain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington who is now director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, told me. The problem, he said, is every step Pakistan takes is treated as “a great leap forward,” leading the U.S. to shower incentives on the country. “And then the one step forward,” he said, “has been followed by two steps backwards.”

Intellectual Property and the Coming US-China Trade War

By Robert Farley

How significant is the new Section 301 investigation into China’s intellectual property practices?

Last week, U.S. President Donald J. Trump ordered a Section 301 investigation into China’s intellectual property (IP) practices. The report could take a year or more, and would not result in automatic action against China; rather, it would provide the president with a set of weapons to use if China is found in fault. Ana Swanson’s Washington Post article on the order provides a helpful typology of U.S. trade concerns regarding Chinese appropriation of US IP: China encourages/requires joint ventures between U.S. and Chinese firms that include technology transfer, in order to give U.S. firms access to the Chinese market, and the Chinese workforce.

China’s new cybersecurity procedures force U.S. tech companies to turn over proprietary data and code to the Chinese government in order to operate within China.

China’s failure to enforce extant IP law enables theft of trade secrets.

Chinese investment in technology firms around the world gives it access to cutting edge technology.

All of these are real complaints with strong factual basis, not withstanding Chinese progress on some elements of IP protection. Action against China is broadly popular in the United States, even if the exact terms of dispute are murky to the greater part of the American public. Washington has thus far hesitated out of a hope of gaining Beijing’s cooperation on North Korea, and because some within the U.S. commercial community would prefer the risk of IP appropriation to the risk of losing out on the Chinese market.

US to Build New Stand-off Nuclear-Capable Cruise Missile

By Franz-Stefan Gady

The new long-range nuclear-capable missile will replace the aging AGM-86B weapon system.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded two separate $900-million contracts to Lockheed Martin Corporation and Raytheon Company for the development of the Long Range Stand Off (LRSO) nuclear-capable cruise missile, the Pentagon announced on August 23.

The contracts run until 2022, when the U.S. Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center will select a single contractor to build and deploy the new weapon system. The new weapons program is part of a multi-billion dollar effort to extend and modernize the U.S. arsenal of nuclear-capable missiles.

“This weapon will modernize the air-based leg of the nuclear triad,” said Secretary of the U.S. Air Force Heather Wilson. “Deterrence works if our adversaries know that we can hold at risk things they value. This weapon will enhance our ability to do so, and we must modernize it cost-effectively.”

The LRSO missile is expected to replace the nuclear-armed AGM-86B air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), a weapon system first introduced in the 1980s during the height of the Cold War. “The aging ALCM will continue to face increasingly significant operational challenges against emerging threats and reliability challenges until replaced,” the U.S. Air Force said in a statement.

Army mobilizes largest-ever National Guard cyber task force

By: Mark Pomerleau

The Army has activated Task Force Echo, which consists of 138 National Guard members from seven states and will be directly under the command of Army Cyber Command and support the larger efforts of U.S. Cyber Command. This mobilization, one of many endeavors (such as the cyber exercise staged in Germany pictured), “highlights the total Army’s capability and focus to support cyber operations and carry out defense of the Army network.”

The Army activated the largest mobilization of reserve forces in cyberspace the week of August 14 to establish Task Force Echo.

This cyber task force, which consists of 138 National Guard members from seven states, will be directly under the command of Army Cyber Command and support the larger efforts of U.S. Cyber Command, an Army statement read. The task force will provide critical support for CYBERCOM to carry out its cyberspace mission and operations against adversaries, the statement said.

This mobilization “highlights the total Army’s capability and focus to support cyber operations and carry out defense of the Army network.” The Army is responsible for providing a total of 41 of the 133 teams to Cyber Command’s cyber mission force. In addition to these 41 active teams, the Army is also standing up 11 teams within the National Guard and 10 in the Army Reserves.


When I came into the Army in 1974, we understood that one of our biggest advantages against the oncoming Soviet hordes was a command system that encouraged initiative. While we could predict Soviet actions based on templates and checklists, they would ultimately be bedeviled by our independent responses appropriate to our unique situation. Sometimes we would have to respond in a carefully choreographed way as well, depending on the nature of the mission and the threat. We had no unique name for all of this. It was just understood to be good leadership. The emerging doctrine of AirLand Battle would stress agility and initiative as key operational concepts, but also included synchronization, the requirement to carefully coordinate all activities on the battlefield and achieve “unity of effort throughout the force.”

During this time, Army leaders were developing new doctrine under the guidance of Gen. William DePuy, commander of the new Army Training and Doctrine Command. World War II as well as the wars in Korea and Vietnam, taught him that that the battlefield was “a terrifying place,” and soldiers worked best with very specific orders. He garnered many insights from fighting against the Germans, but was most impressed not with their supposed reliance on the flexibility and initiative of Auftragstaktik, “mission-type tactics” allowing much subordinate flexibility, but instead with their constant communication during combat and active leadership on the battlefield. In a 1986 interview in the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center archives, he acknowledged that if something goes wrong with the plan and communication breaks down while the enemy is responding in an unexpected way then initiative is key, but overall he believed there was “absolute non-stop rubbish on the street” about the amount of freedom of action that should always be given to subordinates.

Cybercrime Roundup: Rehabilitation and Recidivism in Cybercriminals

By Sarah Tate Chambers 

In 2011, invite-only Russian cybercrime forums offered a new product for sale—Citadel. A malware toolkit, Citadel was designed to infect computers and steal account information and personal identifying information (PII). Citadel was widely used; the Department of Justice estimates that over 11 million computers were infected, resulting in more than $500 million in losses. As suggested by its frequent use, Citadel required upkeep—and Mark Vartanyan was its mechanic.

Known by the moniker “Kolypto,” Vartanyan worked to update and patch Citadel from August 2012 to January 2013 when he was living in Ukraine and from April 2014 to June 2014 when he was living in Norway.

Brian Krebs recently wrote a fascinating article about how the authorities identified Vartanyan. In October 2014, Vartanyan was arrested in Norway, where he spent two years in prison before being extradited to the United States. On March 3, 2017, he pled guilty to one count of computer fraud.

Vartanyan is not the first person to face Citadel-related charges in the United States. Dimitry Belorossov, a 22-year-old Russian national, bought access to Citadel and used it to operate and control a botnet of over 7,000 infected computers. He used the botnet to steal account credentials and PII. According to the Justice Department press release, the Citadel malware investigation is ongoing.


The novelist Kurt Vonnegut once imagined a fictional substance called “ice-nine” that could turn any liquid into ice. This was supposed to serve a narrow and practical military purpose: allowing land forces to cross rivers and streams by making them solid. But walking on water — a brilliant tactical innovation — had catastrophic potential. If ice-nine could freeze rivers, it could also freeze oceans.

Vonnegut was satirizing the nuclear arms race in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a time when observers were wondering aloud whether states could control their own technologies, or whether their capacity for invention would lead to disaster. Had weapons designed to ensure national security become a risk to the global good?

Today, critics are asking the same question about cyberspace. Over the last two decades, states have developed increasingly sophisticated tools for conducting espionage and sabotage online. Cyber spying allows intelligence agencies to gain information without putting human sources in danger. Offensive cyber operations go further, offering the hope of destroying enemy capabilities without the need for military force. It’s easy to see why these tools are so seductive to policymakers.

The best-known offensive cyber operation remains the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz in 2009. The attack was clever and sophisticated. It caused uranium centrifuges to slowly fail by modulating their speed, all the while hiding the effects from Iranian engineers. The problem, however, was that the Stuxnet worm did not die at Natanz. Instead, it quickly spread outside Iran, ultimately infecting over 100,000 computers in India, Indonesia, and elsewhere. That Stuxnet — a carefully designed cyber weapon that targeted a specific industrial control system at one plant — spread so far and so fast suggested that offensive cyber operations are difficult, if not impossible, to control. “We will rue Stuxnet’s cavalier deployment,” warned an observer in the Financial Times.

You Can’t Write an Algorithm for Uncertainty

By Mark Gilchrist

Why Advanced Analytics May Not Be the Solution to the Military ‘Big Data’ Challenge

The proliferation of sensors and data sources available to a modern military like the ADF often swamps the ability of the analyst to find what’s truly relevant in the sea of information. The exponential increase in sensors and data sources hasn’t been matched by an increase in human resources to process them. That imbalance makes aspirations of ‘information superiority’ untenable, leaving militaries vulnerable to promises that they’ll have machine solutions for and certainty about what’s an inherently human and uncertain problem: war.

We must be careful about proclaiming a revolution in military analytics and be cognisant of the failed promises of the last ‘revolution’ that occupied Western military attention. ‘Advanced analytics’ is a bet on computers being able to process the data deluge in a meaningful way to support military decision-making. My concern is that we don’t fully understand how difficult that is to achieve, or the significant changes that such a gamble implies for the workforce charged with implementation.

The fallacy of smart computing. Computers are only as smart as we program them to be. In the absence of Skynet-level AI, they can’t interrogate data holdings to generate links between diffuse pieces of information to predict or assess the military actions of a thinking human adversary. Existing software can’t make sense of complex human interactions in the same way, or with the same time-sensitivity, that a well-trained analyst can or should. Much is made of the ability to assist with pattern recognition, and while analytics can certainly assist with that task, it still relies on someone programming the correct patterns to recognise. But understanding what those patterns might look like implies a degree of certainty about the tactical environment that rarely exists on the battlefield.

Chinese Advances in Quantum Sensing

By Elsa Kania & Stephen Armitage

This piece builds upon prior research and analysis on Chinese advances in quantum information science and quantum technologies, previously featured in China Brief in the series “China’s Quantum Leap,” parts one and two.

Today, technologies that harness the “spooky” properties of quantum phenomena, once purely science fiction, are fast becoming a reality. Backed by the Chinese leadership at the highest levels, Chinese scientists are achieving rapid progress in a variety of different applications, including quantum encryption—which creates uncrackable communication—and quantum computing, which will enable tremendous computing power that could render most modern forms of encryption obsolete. While each of these technologies could rewrite the rules of how information can be used and processed, quantum sensing—the use of quantum entanglement to enable extremely precise measurement—could most fundamentally alter operational realities of future conflict.

Quantum sensing could be used in a number of technologies with direct military applications. In particular, quantum radar can be used to detect targets that cannot be discerned through conventional radar, and quantum navigation similarly leverages quantum properties to create a precise form of positioning system that may eventually replace GPS. Together, such technologies could be critical to China’s future military capabilities and might become a key focus of U.S.-China technological competition.

Defense Technologists Divided Over Killer Robots

By Sandra Erwin

Artificial intelligence experts shook up the tech world this month when they called for the United Nations to regulate and even consider banning autonomous weapons.

Attention quickly gravitated to the biggest celebrity in the group, Elon Musk, who set the Internet ablaze when he tweeted: “If you're not concerned about AI safety, you should be. Vastly more risk than North Korea.”

The group of 116 AI experts warned in an open letter to the U.N. Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons that “lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare.” Speaking on behalf of companies that make artificial intelligence and robotic systems that may be repurposed to develop autonomous weapons, they wrote, “We feel especially responsible in raising this alarm.”

The blunt talk by leaders of the AI world has raised eyebrows. Musk has put AI in the category of existential threat and is demanding decisive and immediate regulation. But even some of the signatories of the letter now say Musk took the fear mongering too far.

What this means for the Pentagon and its massive efforts to merge intelligent machines into weapon systems is still unclear. The military sees a future of high-tech weapon systems powered by artificial intelligence and ubiquitous autonomous weapons in the air, at sea, on the ground, as well as in cyberspace.