20 August 2019

The US can't seem to live without Afghanistan


The eighth round of U.S.-Taliban negotiations concluded this week without an accord. Still, there’s a real possibility that an agreement will be concluded by September. 

It’s far too early to call winners and losers before the details of a framework accord are announced and likely even afterwards, given the uncertainties inherent in any accord. But here are several key politically inconvenient realities that would seem to flow from any U.S.-Taliban agreement. 

This isn’t about peace

On August 11, as Afghans were marking the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad expressed hope that “this is the last Eid where Afghanistan is at war.” I worked with Khalilzad at the State Department, and he’s one smart negotiator.

The draft Afghan peace plan, explained

By Pamela Constable
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KABUL — The proposed Afghan peace deal presented Friday to President Trump by the administration’s top peace negotiator would accomplish the president’s major goal of beginning to withdraw thousands of U.S. forces from the country, after nearly 18 years of fighting and just over 2,400 U.S. personnel killed. 

In return, Taliban insurgents would agree to cut ties with al-Qaeda and prevent it from operating or carrying out activities in areas of Afghanistan under Taliban control. This commitment is something U.S. military officials have said is important to help prevent other extremist groups from using Afghanistan as a springboard for attacks against American interests in the region.

Beyond that, however, the agreement as described by U.S. officials leaves several key issues unaddressed, others not yet explicitly endorsed by the Taliban, and still others to be worked out at future meetings between Taliban and Afghan leaders that have not yet been confirmed or announced. 

U.S. Seeks to Reassure Afghan Military Amid Uncertainty Over Peace Deal

by Mujab Mushal 

The top American commander in Afghanistan sought to reassure Afghan forces on Thursday that they still had the full backing of the United States, after a report that the support was being dialed back in preparation for an imminent peace deal with the Taliban.

The fighting in Afghanistan has intensified as United States diplomats and the insurgents have worked through eight rounds of negotiations in Qatar. Afghan forces and the Taliban have both sought to increase their political leverage through violence, with both sides suffering heavy casualties and civilians bearing the brunt of the attacks…

In Afghanistan, Is Sirajuddin Haqqani Ready for Peace?


In peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, the United States should not fail to address the evolution of the Haqqani-al-Qaeda nexus.

As the Donald J. Trump administration aims to end a “‘slowly deteriorating stalemate,’ with ‘no military victory’ possible,” President Trump has supported withdrawing thousands of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in exchange for peace with the Afghan Taliban. According to some accounts, the reduction of U.S. forces seems imminent, irrespective of the peace negotiation.Notwithstanding whether Washington pulls out U.S.combat forces, Trump said he would leave “a very strong intelligence” presence in Afghanistan, which he calls the “Harvard of terrorists.” If this strategy is to achieve its security goals, it should account for a fundamental concern that has not received sufficient attention: how modern terrorist organizations usurp U.S. foreign policy in order to survive and even prosper by adapting to Western counterterrorism measures in insidious and often underestimated ways.The Haqqani network, a terror network with close ties to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has evolved over the last half-century and now exerts unprecedented influence in the Afghan insurgency, according to the UN ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and Taliban Monitoring Team. In fact, as the UN Team stated in an interview for this blog:

The U.S. Shouldn’t Stumble Out of Afghanistan

By Laurel Miller

As the United States seeks to finalize a deal with the Taliban, it must reconcile two discordant truths: One is that the United States grievously erred in thinking it could defeat an insurgency in Afghanistan and should have negotiated its military withdrawal much sooner, and the other is that the deal it negotiates now might increase rather than lessen the violence. 

Between those two truths is a narrow space in which the U.S. government could both end its longest war and avoid leaving an intensified civil war in its wake. Whether the expected deal accomplishes those objectives will depend on the details.

Overshadowing the talks is Washington’s now evident intent to pull out of Afghanistan. The political logic of U.S. withdrawal was ripening well before candidate Donald Trump broadcast his desire for it.

The political logic of U.S. withdrawal was ripening well before candidate Donald Trump broadcast his desire for it.The expense and challenges of nation building in one of the world’s poorest and weakest states—and the lack of direct security threats to the United States once al Qaeda was decimated—meant that one day this thought would crystallize in Washington: What are we still doing there? The U.S. interest in destroying al Qaeda was always clear; the interest in destroying its Taliban hosts was always attenuated.

Will Hong Kong Survive China's Crackdown?

by Doug Bandow
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Perhaps the greatest threat to liberty is disorder. Not because chaos necessarily begets violence. But because the fear of lawlessness often encourages repression.

The Chinese government poses the greatest threat to Hong Kong’s liberties. However, activists are increasing chances of a crackdown by making the territory impossible to govern. Beijing will choose violence over mayhem.

Hong Kong long led a privileged existence. More than a century ago Great Britain misused its power to force the cession and lease of lands which made up the colony of Hong Kong. However, that protected residents from the debilitating weaknesses of Imperial China, violent chaos of battling warlords, and revolutionary madness of the Red Emperor, Mao Zedong.

Underestimating China’s nuclear threat

By Peter Vincent Pry
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Fiona Cunningham is to be commended for her report “Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications Systems of the People’s Republic of China” (Nautilus July 18, 2019). Ms. Cunningham relies on unclassified sources to provide a well-researched summary of the mainstream view of academics, China scholars and even many military professionals of the PRC’s nuclear doctrine and C3 arrangements.

Unfortunately, this mainstream view is almost certainly wrong.

Western analysts consistently fail to understand that, for both Beijing and Moscow, nuclear war plans and C3 to execute those plans are national security “crown jewels” that they try to protect and conceal behind a bodyguard of lies and disinformation. Trusting open sources and commentary — especially when they are intended to cast nuclear doctrine and C3 in the most benign possible way — is a big mistake.

China's J-20 Stealth Fighter Today and Into the 2020s

By Rick Joe

A photo of the J-20 was recently released as part of China’s recent defense white paper release titled “China’s Defense in a New Era.” Over the last few years, many photos of the J-20 5th generation fighter have been released, including photos of the J-20 in service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). However this J-20 bore a serial number indicating it belonged to a frontline combat unit, marking a major milestone for the aircraft. This piece will review the current status of the J-20, the number of aircraft that may exist, some recent developments observed with the J-20’s engine situation, and to project what may lie in the J-20’s future going into the 2020s.

Service Status

The J-20 was announced to have entered service by the PLAAF in late 2016, and then subsequently to have “been commissioned with combat troops” in February 2018. These announcements likely referred to the J-20 being activated in the Flight Test and Training Base in Dingxin and the Flight Training Base in Cangzhou, respectively.

The South China Sea Island China Gave Away

By Zhen-Gang Ji

In 1957, as the Vietnam War escalated, the most strategic island in the Gulf of Tonkin was secretly transferred from China to Vietnam. This island, called Bach Long Vi (BLV), has long been regarded as essential not only for security and defense, but also for oil and gas exploration, marine economic development, and environmental conservation in the area. It is also an important fishery with enormous potential in seafood processing, fishing logistic services, and maritime preservation.

BLV is the largest habitable island in the entire South China Sea, which is one of the world’s busiest waterways. An estimated a third of the global maritime trade passes through the South China Sea. This area is subject to several overlapping territorial disputes involving multiple countries, which sparked armed conflict between China and South Vietnam in 1974. The disputes have remained unresolved for decades and have emerged as a flashpoint in Asia.

Conflicting Claims in the South China Sea

In the fight to control the South China Sea, naval capabilities are critical. China is the largest naval power in the region, but other countries’ claims are backed by an important ally: the United States. Here, we see just how much the competing claims of countries in the region overlap.

How a Crackdown in Hong Kong Would Reverberate, From Shanghai to Taiwan

Howard W. French

A drive to the airport in Shanghai from an outlying suburb earlier this week revealed an entirely new city to me. Brand new high-rise apartments rose in thick clusters in the near distance, as new access roads zigged, zagged and looped around new train and subway stations.

Mine was not the usual surprise of newcomers to this city, but rather that of someone who had lived there for six years, up until 2009. Shanghai was already plenty big and new and physically impressive then. But to look at the way entirely new zones—from Pudong in the east to the southwestern district where I recently stayed—have developed since then brought new perspective on the immensity of what China has achieved, and not only in this showcase city of more than 20 million people. ...

Counting the international costs of Huawei exclusion

In an interconnected world, the supply chains of every significant industry rely on the unimpeded flow of information to coordinate activities. Thus, the greatest physical and financial effects of the US-China trade war almost certainly are playing out in the acceptability (allegedly for security reasons) of the Chinese telecom giant Huawei’s equipment. This includes both network infrastructure and smartphones and other devices (including machine-to-machine “Internet of Things” devices) connecting to the networks. Huawei is second (to Samsung) in global smartphone market share, and is experiencing steady growth in this statistic, unlike rivals Samsung and Apple. It is the market leader in wireless network equipment, ahead of Nokia, Ericsson, and Cisco.

To recap, in August 2018, the US banned the use of Huawei components in US telecommunications networks (although implicit bans had applied since around 2008). US ally Australia quickly followed suit. In November, the New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) declined to approve the use of Huawei equipment in major mobile operator Spark’s proposed 5G network (not strictly a “ban,” but having the same effect). The UK and Germany initially adopted a more nuanced approach, with the former’s National Cyber Security Centre reportedly finding the alleged security risks of deploying Huawei equipment “manageable.” However, it appears that under new political leadership the UK is revisiting the issue and may ban Huawei following Brexit. And while in June President Trump may have softened his stance by allowing some sales by US manufacturers to Huawei, there is no reciprocity for Huawei sales into the US.

Israel’s Massive Self-Own

Daniel Shapiro
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You don’t expect logic and reason to rule the day when it comes to the Middle East. But every now and then, in a limited way, you get lucky. In July, an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives voted to affirm the traditional tenets of U.S. policy toward Israel: opposing attacks on Israel’s legitimacy, as articulated by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, and supporting a two-state solution to allow Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace, security, and dignity—notwithstanding opposition to various elements of the resolution from the Trump administration, the Israeli government, and the Palestinian Authority.

This month, large delegations of members of Congress from both parties visited Israel and met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, expressing support and asking hard questions, as allies do with one another.

Unveiling the Role of Women in Jihadist Groups

By: Sudha Ramachandran

On July 21, two back-to-back terror attacks rocked Dera Ismail Khan in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The first was carried out by two unidentified gunmen, who opened fire at a checkpoint at Kotla Saidan, killing two policemen. Soon after, a suicide bomber struck a hospital to which the victims of the Kotla Saidan attack were rushed. According to local officials, the suicide bomber was a 28-year-old burqa-clad woman. She was reportedly strapped with 7-8 kilograms of explosives packed with nails and ball-bearings, which she detonated near a crowd of people who were bringing in the injured and dead to an ambulance. The suicide bombing resulted in the death of four policemen and three civilians visiting relatives at the hospital. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is opposed to the Pakistani state and is based largely in areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border, claimed responsibility for the attack, describing it as revenge for the killing of two TTP commanders by police a month earlier. However, it denied that the suicide bomber was a woman (The Nation, July 22).

The Cybersecurity 202: Hackers just found serious vulnerabilities in a U.S. military fighter jet

By Joseph Marks
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LAS VEGAS — In a Cosmopolitan hotel suite 16 stories above the Def Con cybersecurity conference this weekend, a team of highly vetted hackers tried to sabotage a vital flight system for a U.S. military fighter jet. And they succeeded. 

It was the first time outside researchers were allowed physical access to the critical F-15 system to search for weaknesses. And after two long days, the seven hackers found a mother lode of vulnerabilities that — if exploited in real life — could have completely shut down the Trusted Aircraft Information Download Station, which collects reams of data from video cameras and sensors while the jet is in flight.

They even found bugs that the Air Force had tried but failed to fix after the same group of hackers performed similar tests in November without actually touching the device.

“They were able to get back in through the back doors they already knew were open,” Will Roper, the Air Force’s top acquisition official, told me in an exclusive briefing of the results. 

Fracking Has Less Impact On Groundwater Than Traditional Oil And Gas Production

Conventional oil and gas production methods can affect groundwater much more than fracking, according to hydrogeologists Jennifer McIntosh from the University of Arizona and Grant Ferguson from the University of Saskatchewan.

High-volume hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, injects water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into petroleum-bearing rock formations to recover previously inaccessible oil and natural gas. This method led to the current shale gas boom that started about 15 years ago. 

Conventional methods of oil and natural gas production, which have been in use since the late 1800s, also inject water underground to aid in the recovery of oil and natural gas. 

“If we want to look at the environmental impacts of oil and gas production, we should look at the impacts of all oil and gas production activities, not just hydraulic fracturing,” said McIntosh, a University of Arizona professor of hydrology and atmospheric sciences. 

“The amount of water injected and produced for conventional oil and gas production exceeds that associated with fracking and unconventional oil and gas production by well over a factor of 10,” she said. 

How Trump Can Avoid War with Russia

by George Beebe
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A LITTLE over a century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt got an early glimpse into the makings of history’s greatest manmade catastrophe. In 1904, he observed that Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II

believes that the English are planning to attack him and smash his fleet, and perhaps join with France in a war to the death against him. As a matter of fact, the English harbour no such intentions, but are themselves in a condition of panic terror lest the Kaiser secretly intend to form an alliance against them with France or Russia, or both, to destroy their fleet and blot out the British empire from the map. It is as funny a case as I have ever seen of mutual distrust and fear bringing two peoples to the verge of war.

After a Deadly Collision, the Navy Is Ditching Complex Digital Warship Controls

By Kyle Mizokami 
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The U.S. Navy is abandoning an effort to digitize the controls of its destroyers after the system was partially blamed for a collision that killed ten sailors. The National Transportation Safety Board’s report into the incident cited the design of the ship’s new Integrated Bridge and Navigation System, which replaced manual controls in controlling the ship’s propulsion and steering, were so complicated they became a safety issue.

As a result, the Navy will return to handheld manual, mechanical controls for its Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

In the early morning hours of August 21, 2017, the USS John S. McCain and the commercial tanker Alnic MC were traveling parallel to one another off the coast of Singapore. The McCain suddenly turned in front of the Alnic MC, causing a collision. USS McCain suffered 10 dead and 48 injured in the collision, and the vessel sustained more than $100 million in damage. No injuries were reported on the much larger Alnic MC, which suffered $225,000 in damage.

Deterring Hybrid Threats: The Need for a More Rational Debate

By Michael Rühle 
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Michael Rühle writes that following Russia’s use of hybrid warfare in Ukraine, it wouldn’t take long before the Western strategic community would examine how to best deter hybrid threats. After all, deterrence was the central paradigm of Western security throughout the Cold War. However, Rühle contends that this examination is being held back by the West’s own debate on hybrid warfare, which is characterized by alarmism, fuzzy terminology and sweeping generalizations. In response, he here outlines five key factors hindering this debate and their implications for hybrid threats deterrence policy.

Since Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine in 2014, the Western strategic community has been trying to come to grips with the concept of hybridity.1 Some observers were quick to point out that the idea of combining military and non-military tools was far from new, and they warned against exaggerating hybrid warfare.2 However, Russia’s apparently seamless and effective blending of political, diplomatic, economic, electronic and military tools in order to annex Crimea and support separatists in the Donbas seemed to herald a new era of hybrid warfare: a revisionist power was using both old and new means to undermine and, eventually, tear down a post-Cold War order it considered unfair and unfavourable.

Sanctions: The New Economic Battlefield

By David Uren

Economic warfare is being fought with an intensity not seen since the period leading up to World War II as countries deploy tariffs, embargoes and economic sanctions to force policy changes or punish their adversaries.

Free trade is coming off second best, and global trade has stalled. There’s been no growth in trade volumes since late 2017, contributing to a slowing world economy.

The World Trade Organization, as the upholder of global trading rules, looks increasingly impotent. Its resemblance to the League of Nations in the late 1930s will sharpen if, as is possible, the US withdraws in the lead-up to next year’s presidential election.

A rising tide of trade embargoes in the early 1940s was the catalyst for Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor and attacks in Southeast Asia to secure its supplies of rubber and oil.

While the escalation of tariffs between the US and China has been the greatest concern to economists and institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the use of economic sanctions is becoming increasingly aggressive and extends far beyond UN Security Council mandates.

Fast and Furiously Accurate

By Lieutenant Andrea Howard, U.S. Navy

Testifying before Congress, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin outlined the consequences of the United States falling behind Russia and China on one of the most threatening breakthroughs today—hypersonic weapons: “Let them have their way, or go nuclear.”1

The United States may face this dismal choice between incapacitation or nuclear escalation if attacked with hypersonic weapons without a credible, equal response. However, by developing more-precise technology—and specifically integrating hypersonic weapons with U.S. Navy submarines—the United States may gain an edge in developing the fastest, most precise weapons the world has ever seen.

Faster than Supersonic

Infographic Of The Day: The World's 86 Trillion Economy Visualized In One Chart

The world's GDP still grew a healthy 6.9% in 2018, up from $80.2 trillion in 2017 to $85.8 trillion. Nearly half of this growth came from the world's two largest economies: the United States, at $20.5 trillion (up 5.4% from 2017), and China, at $13.6 trillion (up 10%).

The World Is Reaping the Chaos the British Empire Sowed

By Amy Hawkins

There was a time when the sun never set on the British Empire. That’s long gone, but the grubby legacy of imperialism remains in Asia, where two seemingly distinct crises—in Hong Kong and Kashmir—share the same legacy.

Hong Kong is in its 10th week of demonstrations, as hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of society call for greater democratic freedoms in their city. The police have responded brutally while Beijing now describes the protests as “terrorism.”

The U.S. Army Is Creating Artillery Rounds Guided By AI

By Kyle Mizokami
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The U.S. Army is working on a new artillery shell capable of locating enemy targets, including moving tanks and armored vehicles. The shell, called Cannon-Delivered Area Effects Munition (C-DAEM), is designed to replace older weapons that leave behind unexploded cluster bomblets on the battlefield that might pose a threat to civilians. The shell is designed to hit targets even in situations where GPS is jammed and friendly forces are not entirely sure where the enemy is.

In the 1980s, the U.S. Army fielded dual purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) artillery rounds. DPICM was basically the concept of cluster bombs applied to artillery, with a single shell packing dozens of tennis ball-sized grenades or bomblets. DPICM shells were designed to eject the bomblets over the battlefield, dispersing them over a wide area. The bomblets were useful unprotected infantry troops and could knock out a tank or armored vehicle’s treads, weapons, or sensors, disabling it.

Artificial Intelligence: A new weapon in the cyber security arms race

Satish Thiagarajan
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The cyber security threat is constant and real. Entire businesses, large enterprises and even whole cities have been vulnerable to these attacks.
Growing threat of cyber attacks

The threat is not trivial. Recently, two cities in Florida hit by ransom ware attacks – Rivera Beach and Lake City – opted to capitulate and pay ransom totaling more than $1.1 million to hackers. The attacks had disrupted communications for first responders and crippled online payment and traffic-ticketing systems. It was reminiscent of the $4 billion global WannaCry attacks on financial and healthcare companies. A full two years after the WannaCry attack, many of the hundreds of thousands of computers affected remain infected. 

And hackers are continuously devising new techniques, adapting the latest technology innovations including machine learning and artificial intelligence to devise more destructive forms of attack. Indeed, AI promises to become the next major weapon in the cyber arms race.

Army Struggles To Man New Cyber/EW Units: GAO


WASHINGTON: Two elite Army cyber/electronic warfare units — critical components of its plans for high-tech war — have struggled to fill their ranks, the Government Accountability Office reported Thursday. As of March, only 18 percent of the required personnel were in place at the 915th Cyber Warfare Support Battalion (CWSB) in Fort Gordon, Ga. On the opposite coast, at Fort Lewis, Wa., the Intelligence, Information, Cyber/Electronic Warfare, & Space (I2CEWS) battalion had managed to reach 55 percent manning, up from 32 percent at its creation in October last year.

Of course, the GAO data is out of date. Have things improved? So far, I haven’t gotten updated figures from the Army, nor any official statement on the report. But the informal, off-record reaction I’ve heard from people in the Pentagon boils down to: Really?

3 surefire ways to build a better cybersecurity strategy


Data from the Center for Strategic and International Studies paints a sobering picture of the modern cybersecurity landscape. The CSIC, which has been compiling data on cyberattacks against government agencies since 2006, found the United States has been far and away the top victim of cyber espionage and cyber warfare.

These statistics are behind the Defense Department's cybersecurity strategy for component agencies that details on how they can better fortify their networks and protect information.

DOD's strategy is built on five pillars: building a more lethal force, competing and deterring in cyberspace, strengthening alliances and attracting new partnerships, reforming the department and cultivating talent.

While aspects of the strategy don't apply to all agencies, three of the tactics will help all government offices improve the nation's defenses against malicious threats.


FACEBOOK DOESN'T HAVE the most stellar privacy and security track record, especially given that many of its notable gaffes were avoidable. But with billions of users and a gargantuan platform to defend, it's not easy to catch every flaw in the company's 100 million lines of code. So four years ago, Facebook engineers began building a customized assessment tool that not only checks for known types of bugs but can fully scan the entire codebase in under 30 minutes—helping engineers catch issues in tweaks, changes, or major new features before they go live.

The platform, dubbed Zoncolan, is a "static analysis" tool that maps the behavior and functions of the codebase and looks for potential problems in individual branches, as well as in the interactions of various paths through the program. Having people manually review endless code changes all the time is impractical at such a large scale. But static analysis scales extremely well, because it sets "rules" about undesirable architecture or code behavior, and automatically scans the system for these classes of bugs. See it once, catch it forever. Ideally, the system not only flags potential problems but gives engineers real-time feedback and helps them learn to avoid pitfalls.

Infographic Of The Day: World's Most Powerful Militaries

The United States and China account for nearly half of the world's military spending!

Creating the Army After Next, Again

By Dan Gouré

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Army began an effort to re-invent itself in anticipation of changes in the political, operational and technological environments. The “Army After Next” (AAN) program was an effort to look into the future of warfare some 25 years in order to frame the major issues that would drive the design of the Army and its modernization efforts. Today, Army Futures Command (AFC) is attempting once again to get one step ahead of the future. It is developing a vision of future warfare, the concept of Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), at the same time, it is driving forward with a multi-faceted technology modernization program. In many ways, the AAN effort was a harbinger of the challenges facing U.S. military planners today as the pace of change continues to accelerate. AAN holds some important lessons for an Army striving to re-invent itself and to do so at speed.

In 1997, then Army Chief of Staff General Dennis Reimer initiated the AAN program. No longer faced with an existential threat in the form of a massive Red Army, General Reimer believed that the Army had time to think about the future and shape a course forward that could secure continuing overmatch vis-à-vis potential adversaries. Leading this effort was one of the Army’s most brilliant strategists and historians, Major General Robert Scales, USA (Ret). General Scales and the Army’s Training and Doctrine command spent some three years working on new operational concepts, force designs and military capabilities.