6 March 2021

Chinese Cyber Exploitation in India’s Power Grid – Is There a linkage to Mumbai Power Outage?

Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

New York Times report on U.S. based intelligence firm Recorded future giving details of Chinese penetration of India’s power grid and its possible linkage to power outage in Mumbai on October 13, 2020 has caused a furor in Indian media.

I decided to strike when iron is hot. I wrote the paper on the next day based on open sources information titled Chinese Cyber Exploitation in India’s Power Grid – Is There a linkage to Mumbai Power Outage? To be published by any think tank it would taken time because of requirements of peer review and other requirements.

I have published in my own blog site the paper Chinese Cyber Exploitation in India’s Power Grid – Is There a linkage to Mumbai Power Outage?, for earlier dissemination.

Any feedback is welcome.

---- PKM

Biden Faces a Brutal Choice on Afghanistan


President Biden is facing a dilemma that he would rather not face. Sometime in the next few months, he will have to pour more troops into Afghanistan or pull out altogether. There is almost no other real option.

The United States currently has 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, the lowest number since the war began 20 years ago. An agreement that President Trump signed with the Taliban calls for all U.S. troops to leave the country by May 1. In turn, the Taliban pledged to dissociate themselves from terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and to refrain from attacking civilians. They have not complied with either condition.

So should Biden stay after May 1 or leave anyway? The issue goes beyond numbers. The president and his aides are conducting a policy review, and the review should ask a basic question: What do we want to accomplish in Afghanistan after all this time, and is that goal feasible? If not, should we cut our losses and go home?

Currently, U.S. troops are mainly involved in counterterrorism against al-Qaida and, to some degree, ISIS. In all of last year, just 10 Americans died in Afghanistan—only four of them while fighting. But if U.S. troops are still in the country after May 1, the Taliban will force them into a fight—and, for that, the U.S. will need more than 2,500 troops. And if they come under attack from the Taliban, they couldn’t do much against al-Qaida either. Reinforcements would be necessary, and more Americans would die, or else the mission would be doomed.

Complicating matters further is that the U.S. is not the only country whose commitment is at stake. Other NATO countries have about 8,000 troops in Afghanistan. They are unlikely to stick around if the Americans pull out. And if Biden does stay in, they’ll still want to know the plan.

Billions of US Dollars Wasted in Afghanistan

By Catherine Putz

Since 2008, various U.S. government agencies have constructed or procured nearly $7.8 billion in capital assets in Afghanistan. Of that, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found that around 30 percent ($2.4 billion) of the assets were unused or abandoned, had not been used for their intended purposes, had deteriorated, or were destroyed; around 15 percent ($1.2 billion) were being used as intended and a paltry 4 percent ($343.2 million) of the assets were being maintained in good condition. The status of the rest is unclear, as SIGAR notes it has been unable to determine the status of various assets when the relevant reports were published.

“SIGAR’s work reveals a pattern of U.S. agencies pouring too much money, too quickly, into a country too small to absorb it,” Special Inspector General John F. Sopko said in a statement that accompanied the evaluation report. The report was filed in response to a request from the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on National Security to summarize the capital assets the U.S government has constructed, financed or subsidized in Afghanistan.

“The fact that so many capital assets wound up not used, deteriorated or abandoned should have been a major cause of concern for the agencies financing these projects,” Sopko said.

Four flashpoints in the China-US cold war

First in a five-part series on countries at the center of the U.S.-China rivalry. Read part two here.

Great-power competitions have the feel of one-on-one duels: Athens vs. Sparta, Rome vs. Carthage, Moscow vs. Washington. Yet they are also struggles for the loyalties of those caught between the contenders, which means that the choices of lesser states can determine the fate of superpowers.

During the Napoleonic wars, London eventually triumphed by orchestrating a winning coalition of countries menaced by the French juggernaut. During the Cold War, the support of the “free world” was America’s decisive advantage: The benefits conveyed by alliances with some of the world’s most dynamic countries gave Washington the edge over Moscow and its coalition of impoverished satrapies. Few lessons of the past are more relevant today.

A new global rivalry, between America and China, is remaking supply chains, reshaping the world’s strategic geography, and raising the specter of a devastating great-power war. As during the Cold War, countries from Oceania to Latin America are being pressured to pick sides, insulate themselves from competitive pressures, or otherwise find protection in a fragmenting world.

These countries are strategic prizes as Washington and Beijing maneuver for advantage, but they are also strategic actors in their own right. The choices they make — how they vote in the United Nations; which provider of 5G technology they select; whom they support and whom they resist — may well decide who wins this century’s defining contest.

The One-Sided War of Ideas With China


The Cold War was a battle of ideas to determine which side history was on: U.S. democratic capitalism or Soviet communism. The United States won. But the aftermath has proved muddled with epic Middle Eastern wars, nasty populism in Europe and the United States, and the relentless rise of an increasingly totalitarian China. Now we are embarking on what, in functional terms, is a second cold war: an intense rivalry with China that neither side sees in its interest to become “hot.” But the battle of ideas this time is all on one side.

U.S. President Joe Biden has resurrected vintage Cold War and post-Cold War doctrines of democracy and human rights as the lodestars for this new global struggle. The president is saying, in effect, that despite the disappointments and vicissitudes of the past third of a century, the U.S. idea is nevertheless eternal and signifies a direction in history: a direction consistent with moral progress.

The Chinese, unlike the Soviets, have little interest in joining this debate. Of course, the Beijing regime labels itself Marxist-Leninist and is increasingly repressive at home. But to a significant degree, it is indifferent to promoting its political values outside of China’s borders.

In fact, the motivational force for China abroad is something that does not comprise an idea at all: geography and trade. The United States tends to discount geography since it has always had it in abundance. Indeed, U.S. elites, armed with their continental geography that they take for granted, have been obsessed with freedom and human rights over the decades. But the Chinese, with a far more problematic geography, are busy looking at the map. That is the key to their Belt and Road Initiative.

Chinese Vaccines Sweep Much of the World, Despite Concerns

By Huizhong Wu and Kristen Gelineau

The plane laden with vaccines had just rolled to a stop at Santiago’s airport in late January, and Chile’s president, Sebastián Piñera, was beaming. “Today,” he said, “is a day of joy, emotion and hope.”

The source of that hope: China – a country that Chile and dozens of other nations are depending on to help rescue them from the COVID-19 pandemic.

China’s vaccine diplomacy campaign has been a surprising success: It has pledged roughly half a billion doses of its vaccine to more than 45 countries, according to a country-by-country tally by The Associated Press. With just four of China’s many vaccine makers able to produce at least 2.6 billion doses this year, a large part of the world’s population will end up inoculated not with the fancy Western vaccines boasting headline-grabbing efficacy rates, but with China’s humble, traditionally made shots.

Amid a dearth of public data on China’s vaccines, fears over their efficacy and safety are still pervasive in the countries depending on them, along with concerns about what China might want in return for deliveries. Nonetheless, inoculations with Chinese vaccines have begun in more than 25 countries, and the shots have been delivered to another 11, according to AP’s tally, based on independent reporting in those countries along with government and company announcements.

It’s a potential face-saving coup for China, which has been determined to transform itself from an object of mistrust over its initial mishandling of the COVID-19 outbreak to a savior.

The US-China Trade War Is Still Happening

By Sara Hsu

Yes, the US-China trade war is still happening. Donald Trump began his presidency by investigating unfair trade practices in China, and then slapping 25 percent tariffs on the Asian nation. Four years later, those tariffs remain. Even after the Phase One trade deal (meant to be the first in a series of deals) was signed in January 2020, U.S. tariffs on Chinese products remained in place. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the trade war faded into the background, used only to highlight China’s inability to meet the conditions of the deal to purchase an additional $200 billion in American products over the 2017 level through 2021 due to the disruption from the pandemic. The trade war continues to ravage the U.S. economy even under the new Biden administration.

The Biden administration has not made changes to tariff structures and is said to be examining the Phase One trade deal. Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, recently asked President Joe Biden to restart talks with China to remove tariffs and sanctions. Wang pointed out that the United States has greatly diminished bilateral talks at all levels.

While talks to discuss the trade war have yet to materialize, at the end of February, Biden signed an executive order to analyze global supply chains in four industries that were strongly affected by the pandemic. These include computer chips, large-capacity electric vehicle batteries, pharmaceuticals, and critical minerals in electronics. The semiconductor industry faced serious bottlenecks at the outset of the global pandemic, when Chinese factories were in lockdown. These industries were also hit by the U.S.-China trade war, and the two external shocks led many C-suite executives to reassess their firms’ global supply chain resilience.

‘Clean Network’ in the US-China Tech Race

By Mercy A. Kuo

Trans-Pacific View author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into U.S. Asia policy. This conversation with James Andrew Lewis, senior vice president and director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is the 261st in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”

Assess the effectiveness of the Clean Network and 5G Clean Path in the Trump era.

The Clean Network Initiative identified a major problem – the Chinese government uses any technological opportunity for espionage and surveillance – but it was never really implementable. It lacked a regulatory or legal basis, so it is best seen as aspirational. No one in their right mind should use a Chinese cloud service or undersea cables – it’s like inviting the Ministry of State Security or the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] to listen in – but it will take time for this lesson to sink in and some countries care more about cost than security. Clean Networks helped start to change that. It was an effective way to call attention to the problem of Chinese technological espionage but otherwise had little impact.

How might the Biden administration build on the Clean Network?

Clean Network called for the adoption of “digital standards.” What it meant by this was really the adoption of rules and principles to guide the acquisition and use of technology and services from China. There is undeniable risk in relying on China as a technology provider, and the Biden administration has a good opportunity to build common understandings with allies and partners on digital governance. The dilemma is that the Europeans do not want to be caught in some tug of war between the U.S. and China. The new administration would be better served by pursuing a global approach to rules and principles for trust and security rather than an anti-China approach. Doing this requires rebuilding the trust with foreign partners that was badly damaged in the last administration – the loss of trust in the U.S. because of Trump is a refrain heard repeatedly from foreign interlocutors.

Red Flags: Triaging China's Projects in the Western Balkans

This report, the third in a series on Chinese economic activities in the Western Balkans, provides recommendations for U.S. and partner responses to China's growing economic and political influence in the region and a “red flags” checklist to help identify activities that warrant further scrutiny.

This report was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations.

There's a Reason China's Military Drones Come So Cheap

by David Axe 

China’s CH-4 killer drone appears to be falling out of favor with some of its major operators.

This first appeared in August 2019 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

The Iraqi air force is down to just one operational CH-4 out of a fleet of around 10, according to an August 2019 report from the U.S. inspector-general.

Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led operation targeting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, told the inspector-general that maintenance problems have grounded most of the Iraqi CH-4s.

The CH-4 is roughly similar to the U.S.-made MQ-1 Predator. The Chinese unmanned aerial vehicle, which is remotely-controlled via satellite and can carry a variety of missiles, briefly was popular among Middle East militaries that balked at the cost, politics and paperwork associated with acquiring armed drones from the United States.

But the Chinese drones seem to be going out of style. The Jordanian air force in June 2019 put up for sale its own six CH-4s.

China Task Force: How the U.S. Military Is Planning to Take on China

by Kris Osborn

The Pentagon’s newly established China Task Force is now formally underway, a move that introduces the prospect of strategic and operational military adjustments in the Pacific intended to ensure stability and counter Chinese provocations.

One area of likely focus is the ongoing volatility in the South China Sea, a circumstance which continues to lurk beneath the surface of broader geopolitical and strategic dynamics between the U.S. and China and inspire continued military exercises, drills, and operational maneuvers by both countries in the area.

The area in question is called the Spratly Islands, more than 750 reefs, small islands, and atolls in the South China Sea off the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam. Highly disputed for centuries, the area is rich in oil and natural gas. Countries claiming rights to territory in the Spratly Islands include China, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Brunei.

Citing precedent as far back as its Dynastic era, China claims virtually all of the disputed areas as its own, citing something called a “nine-dash-line” demarcation surrounding the island chain. While not considered legitimate by most of the world, China’s claim represents a transparent effort to fortify its territorial ambitions in the area. Given this, for many years now, China has been engaging in what the Pentagon calls “land reclamation,” a term that could be described as phony island-building. Essentially, China has for many years been constructing artificial land, or man-made structures, to extend upon and enlarge certain disputed areas of the South China Sea island chains. These Chinese activities, which have included the placement of weapons, artillery, aircraft runways, and even fighter jets on man-made structures, have for years generated sharp criticism by the Pentagon.

How China Is Trying to Dominate and Control the South China Sea

by Kris Osborn

The Pentagon’s long-standing opposition to Chinese phony island-building, or “land reclamation,” in the South China Sea is based upon the definition of “island” as it is explained in the U.N. Convention Law of the Sea, an international agreement negotiated in the 1980s and updated in the 1990s.

China has for many years now been building new island-like structures, adding airstrips, and placing weapons in and around highly disputed areas of the South China Sea.

As of several years ago, China had already reclaimed over thousands of acres of the area throughout the region, a phony island-building process caught on video by U.S. Navy Poseidon spy planes years ago.

Preferring to call them "artificial features" rather than "islands" or "territories," Pentagon officials say China's attempted island and outpost building does not bolster any legitimate territorial claims in the region -- according to established international conventions.

Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, an island is defined as a "naturally formed area of land above the water at high tide." Also, article 60 of the U.N. Convention says "artificial islands are not entitled to territorial seas."

China’s South China Sea Bases: Major Obstacle or Paper Tiger?

by David Axe

Here's What You Need to Know: In the event of war between the United States and China in the western Pacific region, the outposts likely would be important targets for the Americans.

China’s island outposts in the China Seas might have a major weakness.

Since 2013 the Chinese government has dredged and mostly destroyed ecologically delicate reefs in disputed waters in order to build seven major military bases complete with ports, airstrips and radar and missile installations.

The islands function as unsinkable aircraft carriers and help to cement Beijing’s claims on waters rich with fish and minerals, waters that neighboring countries also claim.

“If the terraforming no longer makes headlines, it is because it is largely complete,” The Economist stated.

Perhaps the most important installations sit on the Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief reefs in the Spratly island group. Vietnam, The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all also claim the Spratlys.

Between 2013 and 2016, huge construction vessels pulverized the reefs in order to create the raw materials for the bases. The dredger Tianjing alone shifted 4,500 cubic metres of materials every hour, “enough to nearly fill two Olympic-size swimming pools,” according to the Hong Kong South China Morning Post.

What Does Civilization Owe to War? More Than We’d Think

by Dov S. Zakheim

SPEAKING TO a New York Times reporter as his twenty-six-year-old son was brought back in a coffin after only two weeks at the front, the bereaved Azeri father said, “If the nation calls, he has to go … long live the nation.” Muslim Azeris and Christian Armenians have been fighting an off-and-on war over the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh since 1988. Hostility between the two nations dates back centuries. Their ancient hatreds intensified when both Armenia and Azerbaijan became independent in 1918. Both states were absorbed into the Soviet Union, however, and Nagorno-Karabakh became a region of Azerbaijan, despite its overwhelmingly Armenian population. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the two countries, once again independent, went to war, amplifying what had been lower-level hostilities between the two ethnic groups for the previous three years.

A very different kind of conflict took place in July 1969. This one, dubbed the “football war” between El Salvador and Honduras, flared up as a result of a Honduran land reform law that effectively expelled thousands of Salvadoran migrants who were either squatters or immigrant farmers. The proximate cause of the war was violence that had broken out at successive Salvadoran World Cup matches, one of which had been won by each country. On the day that the two teams played the tiebreaker, which El Salvador won, it launched an attack on Honduran targets, including its international airport. Salvadoran troops then moved in and occupied part of Honduras. After four days of fighting, the Organization of American States negotiated a cease-fire on July 18 which took effect on July 20. El Salvador withdrew its troops a few weeks later.

What Did I Just Read? A Conversation With the Authors of 2034

Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis

“We've got a ship in duress sailing without a flag that hasn't sent out a distress signal. Something doesn't add up.”

“Somewhere in that black hole was the Chinese fleet. She would be expected to find and destroy it.”

“Eventually, the Americans would find them. But by then it would be too late.”

EARLIER THIS YEAR, as many of you know, WIRED dedicated our February issue of the magazine to an excerpt of 2034. Then, for the past six weeks, we serialized the excerpt on this website. Today we are running the final WIRED chapter—and an interview with the authors. (The book in its entirety goes on sale next week.)

MARIA STRESHINSKY, WIRED: So, where did the idea for this book come from?

ADMIRAL JAMES STAVRIDIS: From another novel that I read many years ago, in the 1980s, called The Third World War, by Sir John Hackett. It is a superb novel that imagines a global war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

America’s Strategic Materials Problem

by Brent Sadler

During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the belligerents attacked neutral shipping in the Persian Gulf, putting the free world’s oil supply at risk. The Cold War was still very cold, and the United States and its allies were reliant on Persian Gulf oil to drive their economies and militaries.

To safeguard the supply of this strategic resource, Washington initiated Operation Earnest Will on July 24, 1987. It was, and remains, the largest maritime convoy operation since World War II. The cost to the Navy was thirty-seven sailors killed, more than thirty injured and two warships severely damaged.

Today the United States relies on other foreign-sourced strategic materials that will have to be secured in times of crisis or conflict. It is a risk that has been acknowledged by both political parties and reaffirmed by a presidential executive order, also known as the Executive Order on America’s Supply Chains on the thirty-sixth day of the Biden administration. As such, the Navy can be expected to execute one of its traditional roles—safeguarding the nation’s maritime trade. The question is what essential materials will need to be secured, and where will the Navy be required to operate in order to secure them?

Reposturing US defence to the Indo-Pacific

How might the US military deliver on its long-held ambitions to shift its centre of gravity to the Indo-Pacific region? Euan Graham explores how the Biden administration might go about reversing a deteriorating strategic situation in Asia.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has initiated a global force posture review. China and the Indo-Pacific are expected to be identified as strategic priorities. But there is sure to be scepticism in the region about the Biden administration’s ability and willingness to deliver significant new defence commitments. A chorus-line of Austin’s predecessors described the Indo-Pacific as a priority theatre, yet ultimately fell short on reallocating assets and fiscal resources from Europe and the Middle East. Biden has also clearly signalled his intention to put diplomacy first in American statecraft. To be convincing to regional audiences, China included, defence rebalancing is likely to be required in four areas, not all of which will be within the review’s formal scope.
1. Inter-regional balancing

The most obvious option for global reposturing is moving US forward-deployed forces from one region to another. Tilting the centre of gravity for US naval operations from the Gulf to the South China Sea would be one visible way to substantiate claims of prioritisation for the largely maritime Indo-Pacific region. This could initially take the form of a commitment continuously to maintain an aircraft carrier or amphibious ready group in the South China Sea, although technology will hopefully facilitate less vulnerable ways to combine presence and credible combat power in future.

Real Life Super Soldiers? They Could Be on the Horizon

by Alex Hollings

While Captain America was first introduced to audiences way back in March of 1941, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s depiction of the scrawny kid turned brawny hero in Captain America: The First Avenger brought the concept out of the ’40s and into the modern consciousness. Since then, there’s been no shortage of articles comparing the titular hero to ongoing efforts to pull the best possible performance out of the human form, but how practical are these efforts really? It turns out, they’re increasingly practical–and that may be bad news for the United States.

Of course, it’s important to remember that not every scientific effort to improve human performance is inherently related to the military. While Captain America benefitted from defense research in his own transition into the peak of human capability, today’s pharmaceutical conglomerates and university-backed researchers are making significant strides toward improving human performance in the private sector. In a truly all-encompassing “super soldier” effort, the research, treatments, and even body modifications found in these other endeavors would almost certainly play a vital role–and to be clear, that’s the way the Pentagon would probably prefer.

Nuclear vs. Cyber Warfare: Which is the Bigger Threat?

by John Powers

Astrategist provides the decision-maker with at least three options: the most likely option, the least likely option and the most dangerous option. This methodology applies to all strategists, regardless of their discipline—national security, diplomacy, economics, health care, home affairs. The essence of their tradecraft is to analyse, assess and advise so leaders can make informed decisions—and then act.

For those who grew up during the Cold War and its dogma of mutually assured destruction (MAD) between the Soviets and the US, nuclear weapons were the world’s most destructive threat. Without question, for most strategists, they were the most dangerous option and, on several occasions, also the most likely option.

Still today, there’s no denying the catastrophic effect of a nuclear weapon. However, to a nation such as Australia, is the detonation of a nuclear device our most likely threat? Our most dangerous threat?

We live in an age of cybernetics and the ‘internet of everything’. All things seem to be connected and dependent on digital technologies, and those dependencies disrupt all aspects of truth and veracity. Smartphones, messaging apps and social media shape our public, political and national security environments, to the point that we must ask ourselves as a nation: What’s the most likely and what’s the most dangerous threat to our sovereignty? Is it a nuclear detonation, a physical invasion, or something else?

History Problem: America Learned the Wrong Lesson from Desert Storm

by Daniel L. Davis 

In the heady days following the spectacular U.S. victory over Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard armored divisions in Operation Desert Storm, military experts in Washington celebrated the fact that the U.S. military was vastly superior to every armed force on the planet. Even officials and experts in Russia and China grudgingly acknowledged the claim. President George W. Bush declared that the “specter of Vietnam” had been authoritatively vanquished with the stunning military victory in Kuwait. Twenty-five years later, however, the only thing that was vanquished appears to have been objective analysis. The unequivocal military success may have resulted in a dangerous strategic defeat for the United States.

On this date in 1990, I was a second lieutenant with the Second U.S. Armored Cavalry Regiment (2ACR) in the Saudi port city of Jubail, feverishly preparing my armored fire support vehicle for the coming ground campaign against the Iraqi troops that had invaded Kuwait the previous August. 2ACR had been designated as the vanguard of the U.S. VII Armored Corps, ordered to lead theater commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf’s armored thrust into Saddam’s strongest combat divisions, the Republican Guards, in northern Kuwait. I had been an officer in the Army for barely a year.

In early January 1991, our unit departed the friendly confines of Jubail for the open deserts near the border with Kuwait. We began a series of large-scale maneuvers including thousands of troops and literally hundreds of Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and other armored vehicles spread out over scores of square miles. Even before the 2ACR left our base in Germany, we knew the UN Security Council had passed Resolution 678, which issued an ultimatum to Saddam.

Who will lead the world in artificial intelligence?

Elaine McCusker and Emily Coletta

A new report
emphasizes why it is urgent that the Department of Defense and Congress work together to modernize the way defense programs and budgets develop, integrate and deploy the latest technologies in support of American national security. Released by the
National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, a federal body created to review and recommend ways to use artificial intelligence for national security purposes, the report recommends the use of AI to update America’s defense plans, predict future threats, deter adversaries and win wars.

Because AI will be “incorporated into virtually all future technology,” it is easy to recognize that national security threats and opportunities posed by AI should be a catalyst for necessary changes to defense requirements and resourcing processes. In an AI-enabled world, the Defense Department will be unable to modernize the way it recruits talent, trains the force, develops and integrates technology, and funds all of these elements without internal culture shifts and help from Congress.

“Unless the requirements, budgeting and acquisition processes are aligned to permit faster and more targeted execution, the U.S. will fail to stay ahead of potential adversaries.” This blunt recommendation to the Defense Department under the heading “Accelerate Adoption of Existing Digital Technologies” makes clear the urgency for cultural and structural updates to the way the department currently does business.

How the National Cyber Director Position Is Going to Work: Frequently Asked Questions

By John Costello, Mark Montgomery 

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal 2021 created the Office of the National Cyber Director within the Executive Office of the President. The office will be headed by the United States’s first national cyber director (NCD) and is intended to lead the implementation of national cyber policy and strategy, with a focus on making rapid progress on domestic cybersecurity. The director will serve as the president’s senior adviser for cyber issues.

The creation of the Office of the National Cyber Director comes at a pivotal time in the development of the nation’s cybersecurity and on the heels of one of the most widespread cyber incidents ever inflicted on the country. The nation’s lead cyber agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) at the Department of Homeland Security, continues to slowly mature into its crucial role. Still in the midst of the presidential transition, President Biden has begun to organize his staff at the White House, including with the creation of a deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies. While Biden has made it clear that cybersecurity will be a top priority for his administration—and the creation of the new deputy national security adviser is certainly indicative of this—many questions remain. The confluence of these developments and the creation of the Office of the National Cyber Director has led some observers in the administration, the private sector, and the media to pose questions about the nature and role of the new office. The NDAA provides clear descriptions of the office’s several mandates. But questions remain about the motivation for the creation of the office, its authorities and how it relates to other cyber-relevant roles within the White House.


Kelly McCoy

Among technologists, there is an anecdote about a senior military officer who didn’t fully understand the capabilities and limitations of his intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets. The story is said to have taken place at some point in the last decade, when this senior officer, a joint task force commander, was advised of his ISR requests being denied—only to receive a satellite asset at the last minute.

“Good—at least that’s something,” the commander said. “Now let’s have it loiter over this objective for that critical twelve-hour window.”

The staff looked at him perplexed, and after a brief silence one of the more junior but technically oriented members spoke up. “Sir, that isn’t going to be possible.”

The commander became visibly agitated as he shot back, “This asset has been assigned to me for use of our mission over the next twenty-four hours. We need it over the objective for those twelve hours. Now tell me why that is not possible.”

The staff officer swallowed, and with nothing else coming to mind, he said, “Well . . . physics, sir.”

The Army’s Information Operations Profession Has an Identity Crisis

By Major Bradley Young and Major Jonathan Wood, U.S. Army

The U.S. Army information operations (IO) community faces an identity crisis. Army IO officers, known by their career field designation of Functional Area 30 (FA30), are the “staff focal point for IO,” and perform a vital function to synchronize, coordinate, and integrate information effects into unit operations. However, the FA30 community lacks a coherent group identity in part because of a widespread misunderstanding of IO stemming from years of constantly changing doctrine, terminology, and theories of execution. As a result, the Army lacks a shared institutional understanding of both IO and the purpose of FA30s. The degree to which the FA30 community can overcome this identity crisis will determine how well the Army can recruit, train, retain, and employ its IO professionals to meet the current and future challenges of information warfare.
The importance of Social Identity

Social identity is directly tied to an organization’s cohesion and effectiveness. Social identity theorists widely concur that a strong group identity can improve cooperation, levels of effort and engagement, group decision-making, morale and motivation, information sharing, coordination, and the performance of tasks. Simply put, members of an organization are more likely to perform their duties effectively and enthusiastically when they identify with their organization. Furthermore, social identity theorists Blake Ashforth and Fred Mael point out that a clearly defined, widely understood organizational purpose is crucial to building group identity and team effectiveness. Indeed, by cultivating a shared purpose among members, an organization builds both internal and external influence. Ashforth and Mael explain that a group with a “positive and distinctive organizational identity attracts the recognition, support, and loyalty” of its members as well as external outgroup members. Undoubtedly, an organization with a well-established identity and purpose is more effective and better positioned to influence than an organization that lacks these attributes.
Social Identity and Army Information Operations



Many of the most important capabilities on the future battlefield will depend on getting data and information to and from soldiers at the tactical edge. Sensors, artificial intelligence and machine learning are examples of key technologies that gather data, interpret it and send it to commanders and other critical combatants so they can make better decisions faster than their adversaries.

Developing these technologies into the data-enabled capabilities the Army needs requires the scientists and engineers of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, also known as DEVCOM, to take the technologies they are working on today out of the lab and into the dirt where soldiers can use them and provide feedback.

The Army’s learning campaign to make that a reality is Project Convergence, a continuous, structured series of demonstrations and experiments announced in 2020 by Gen. Mike Murray, commanding general of the U.S. Army Futures Command. Collecting and analyzing data from various technologies, then sending it to soldiers was one of the key objectives at the Army’s capstone Project Convergence 20 exercise, which was held at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, in September. The “20” in the name of the exercise stands for the year 2020.

The Changing Military Dynamics of the MENA Region

Anthony H. Cordesman

The Burke Chair is issuing a comprehensive survey of the changing military dynamics in the Middle East North Africa region. It addresses the shifts by each MENA country as well as subregion, the role of outside powers, and the full range of new military and civil pressures that are changing regional security efforts and the role of outside security assistance.

This survey is entitled The Changing Military Dynamics of the MENA Region. It is available on the CSIS website at https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/210302_Cordesman_Military_Dynamics.pdf?aFbaUdiB0knUgNbAmZ_SEJOABTSDemZ7. It is being circulated for comment as a working paper. Please send any comments to Anthony H. Cordesman at acordesman@gmail.com.

The analysis focuses on the fact that the U.S. faces major challenges in its security relations with each state in the Middle East and North Africa as well as from nations outside the MENA region. It still is the dominant outside power in the region, but the security dynamics of the Middle East and North Africa have changed radically over the last decade and will continue to change for the foreseeable future.

At the beginning of 2011, most MENA nations were at peace and seemed to be relatively stable. North African countries were at peace under authoritarian leaders. The Arab-Israeli conflicts were limited to low-level clashes between Israel and Palestine. Egypt acted as a stable major regional power. Iraq’s Islamic extremists seemed to be defeated. Iran was a weak military power dependent on low-grade and dated weapons. The other Arab Gulf states appeared to be unified in a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Yemen was poor and could not meet the needs of many of its people, but it still seemed stable. Military spending and arms purchases were high by global standards, but they only presented a limited to moderate burden on local economies.

How the Battle of 73 Easting Made H.R. McMaster

by Daniel L. Davis
When Army Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster was elevated to become President Trump’s national security advisor in 2017, the media was awash with references to his role in the biggest tank fight of Desert Storm, the Battle of 73 Easting. While these stories conveyed the basic outcome of the fight, they did little to illuminate how the battle unfolded or what set the stage before the first cannon shot screamed out of his tank. What turned out to be an amazing and thrilling victory, could easily have been the biggest disaster of Desert Storm.

Twenty-eight years ago this month I was at the Grafenwoehr training center in Germany where my unit, Eagle Troop of the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment (2nd ACR), was conducting a series of field maneuvers and live-fire exercises. The 2nd ACR was one of three cavalry regiments then providing frontline defense against the Warsaw Pact, patrolling the borders between West and East Germany in the north and West Germany and Czechoslovakia in the south.

The Warsaw Pact nations, anchored by the Soviet Union, had more than fifty thousand tanks and millions of troops. Based on the terrain in Central Europe, there was always the risk communist forces could come flooding across a large plain known as the Fulda Gap and potentially defeat the nations of Western Europe. The 2nd ACR was charged with defending the central part of the border, and as such, equipped with hundreds of M1A1 Abrams Tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, mechanized artillery cannons, and attack helicopters.