14 May 2021

China’s Nuclear and Missile Capabilities: An Overview

  Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

Since China first conducted a nuclear weapon test in 1964, its nuclear doctrine has remained unchanged and is underpinned by two principles: a minimum deterrent doctrine and a No First Use (NFU) policy. China’s 2019 defence white paper states, “China is always committed to a nuclear policy of NFU of nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstances, and not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones unconditionally.”

However, a recent U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) report claims that the scope of China’s nuclear modernisation and its lack of transparency “raise concern that China is not only shifting its requirements for what constitutes a minimal deterrence but that it could shift away from its longstanding minimalist force posture.” The data available show that China is modernising and expanding virtually every element of its nuclear forces, including each aspect of its nuclear weapons and missile, sea, and air delivery systems. What is not clear are China’s current and planned holdings of nuclear weapons, China’s future plans for deploying additional delivery systems, its commitment to some form of NFU, first preemption, or launch on warning, and the extent to which it will accept what might be called a form of ‘minimum assured destruction.

Experts criticise India's complacency over COVID-19

Anoo Bhuyan

Mass gatherings have been permitted as cases soar and patients die, while experts criticise a lack of planning and flexibility in the COVID-19 response. Anoo Bhuyan reports from New Delhi.

India is battling a second wave of COVID-19, which has rapidly surpassed its first wave in 2020 in terms of the number of new cases and deaths per day. Currently, India has the second highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world after the USA. “The country is working day and night for hospitals, ventilators, and medicines”, said India's Prime Minister in his monthly national broadcast on April 25, 2021.

India has been recording more than 300 000 cases of COVID-19 per day since April 21, up from 100 000 per day on April 4. These numbers eclipse India's previous highest number of new cases reported in a single day, at 97 860 cases on Sept 16, 2020.

Health infrastructure has collapsed in several cities, with several state governments imposing curfews and lockdowns on movement, such as in the national capital New Delhi and in Maharashtra. State governments are scrambling to build up new infrastructure, making announcements this month about suddenly commencing the construction of new health facilities or oxygen plants. However, this frenetic activity comes in the middle of an ongoing and exponential rise in cases, whereas it should have come before, say experts.

The Once and Future Afghanistan


Afghanistan has been a presence in my life for decades. As a high school student at a Department of Defense school in Turkey, I read James A. Michener’s Caravans. I was enchanted. It seemed the ultimate in distant, exotic, hard-to-reach places. Just a few years later, I was there, as a college student joining the wave of world travelers wandering through Asia. Afghanistan did not disappoint, from the first night in a 25-cent hotel room in Herat to the last day traversing the storied Khyber Pass via Kandahar, Bamyan, and Kabul. I promised myself that I would be back.

That opportunity came just one year later when, freshly graduated, I was invited to be a prospective English teacher for the Peace Corps in Afghanistan. But then I was offered an appointment as a foreign service officer. It paid slightly better than the Peace Corps, so Afghanistan would have to be deferred, though not forgotten. Eighteen months later, as American vice consul in Khorramshahr, Iran, I traveled to Zahedan in Iranian Balochistan to visit a prisoner. I took the opportunity to drive north to the provincial capital of Zabul and look across the border at Afghanistan.


To Lose a War

by James Dobbins

President Biden made the case for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan on the grounds that the country is no longer as important as it once was, while the United States faces new and graver threats elsewhere. That is true. He reassured the public that it would be possible to deal with any residual terrorist threat that might emerge from Afghanistan without maintaining an in-country U.S. military presence. That may also prove true, although the president's military and intelligence advisers are clearly dubious.

There are two further reasons for staying that the president did not address. One is the reputational damage that could be incurred by abandoning a partner in the midst of a fight. And not for the first time. The United States is developing a reputation for withdrawal under fire—first from Vietnam in 1973; then from Beirut following the U.S. Marine barracks bombing in 1983; then from Somalia in 1995 following the “Blackhawk Down” firefight; then from Iraq in what turned out to be a lull in the insurgency in 2011; and now from Afghanistan. It seems likely that the Taliban found encouragement from some of these earlier experiences, and that others will draw the lesson from Afghanistan that the United States doesn't have to be outfought, just outlasted.

Another consideration unaddressed by the president is the moral obligation Americans may feel toward the millions of Afghans who have, with U.S. encouragement, set about building a freer and more modern society. Their prospects are grim. In 2019 several of us at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation published a look at the consequences of an American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s Moment of Risk and Opportunity

By Ashraf Ghani

President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September represents a turning point for the country and our neighbors. The Afghan government respects the decision and views it as a moment of both opportunity and risk for itself, for Afghans, for the Taliban, and for the region.

For me, as the elected leader of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, it is another opportunity to reiterate and further my commitment to peace. In February 2018, I made an unconditional offer of peace to the Taliban. That was followed by a three-day cease-fire in June of that year. In 2019, a loya jirga (grand council) that I convened mandated negotiations with the Taliban, and since then, my government has worked to build a national consensus on the need for a political settlement that would comport with the values of the Afghan constitution and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. My government remains ready to continue talks with the Taliban. And, if it meant peace would be secured, I am willing to end my term early.

For the Afghan nation, the announcement of the U.S. withdrawal is another phase in our long-term partnership with the United States. Afghanistan has been through consequential withdrawals before. In 2014, the year I first took office, 130,000 U.S. and NATO forces withdrew, allowing Afghans full leadership of the security sector and of the institutions that our international partners had helped us build. Since then, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) have protected and upheld the republic and made it possible for the country to carry out two national elections. Today, our government and our security forces are on a much stronger footing than we were seven years ago, and we are fully prepared to continue serving and defending our people after American troops depart.

How Cyber Ops Increase the Risk of Accidental Nuclear War


The risk of the United States and China going to war, leading to a nuclear exchange, is growing by the day. Cyber operations by either or both countries increase the risk significantly, as each side is tempted to use cyber tools to gain warning and an early edge in a crisis.

China’s arms buildup and assertiveness in the South and East China seas and its intimidation of Taiwan are animating calls in Washington to reinforce U.S. commitments and military power, including shifting from long-standing “strategic ambiguity” regarding the defense of Taiwan. The risk of “accidental” war is even higher, with collisions in the air or at sea leading to skirmishes that could escalate as leaders feel they must show their resolve and strength. China could use cyber operations to help neutralize the United States’ projection of conventional forces into China’s vicinity and in the process could become entangled with U.S. command and control systems that also are important for nuclear forces.

The U.S. has thousands more nuclear weapons than China does and an array of precise conventional strike weapons and missile defenses that threaten Beijing’s ability to strike back. Unlike with Russia, the United States has never agreed to base its strategic relationship with China on mutual vulnerability – the Reagan-Gorbachev idea that a nuclear war between them could not be won and so must never be fought.

New Concept Weapons: China Explores New Mechanisms to Win War

By: Marcus Clay


The idea of “New Concept Weapons” (NCW, 新概念武器, xin gainian wuqi) is not new. In the parlance of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), NCW was once almost a synonym for directed energy weapons (DEW) programs, with roots dating back to the 1960s.[1] In recent years, NCW has been increasingly associated with the PLA’s discourse on “new mechanism (新机理, xin jili) weapon systems.” (81.cn January 20, 2017; PLA Daily, September 28, 2017) It is often discussed in the context of broader military applications of disruptive technologies to create enduring asymmetric advantages. The majority of NCW operate in the information domain and overlap with the mission of the PLA Strategic Support Force (PLASSF). Because of this, NCW thinking may provide useful insights into the “new technology testing” (新技术试验, xin jishu shiyan) responsibilities of the PLASSF (Xinhua, October 1, 2019).

While this article does not delve into significant details of China’s NCW development, it provides an overview of the field and seeks to understand what factors shape Chinese views on NCW. It first summarizes the evolution of the PLA thinking on NCW over the past two decades. It then categorizes the main focus areas and analyzes the PLA’s key considerations for NCW development. Finally, it calls for better understanding China’s NCW programs as an integral component of the PLA’s deterrence strategy.

Something Old, Something New

The Abraham Accords effect: more armed drones in the Middle East

By Ali Arfa 

Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain signed a historic agreement to normalize relations in August 2020. Then-president Trump hailed the Abraham Accords, as the agreement is called, as a harbinger of peace in the volatile Middle East. Trump later tried to sweeten the deal with a $23 billion arms sale to the UAE.

After Biden was elected president, the deal’s future remained uncertain until mid-April, when a US State Department spokesman said the administration will approve the weapons sale. That means the UAE will soon have American-made armed Reaper drones in its arsenal.

Predictably enough, with or without Washington, security cooperation between Israel and the Arab signatories of the Abraham Accords waxes as hostilities and mutual distrust gradually wanes. This means an inevitable export of Israeli military technology to the Iranian neighborhood, with Tehran responding in kind, which will lead to the proliferation of unmanned combat aerial vehicles—and more specifically, armed drones, a pivotal military technology suitable for the light-footprint operations of today’s remote warfare. But if too many armed drones land at the Middle East’s door, peace may fly out its window.

Why more Israeli drones are coming. Armed drones are valuable assets for any military. They eliminate the risk of losing a pilot or special operator to the enemy. They reduce the time between target acquisition and strike, because they carry both sensor and weapon on the same platform. They can loiter for hours and attack with pinpoint precision. Perhaps most important, they make it difficult for international organizations to identify the perpetrators of an attack.

What Deters and Why

by Michael J. Mazarr, Joe Cheravitch, Jeffrey W. Hornung, Stephanie Pezard

Research Questions

What are the distinctive characteristics of gray zone aggression?

What is the status of the current U.S. and allied deterrent postures against gray zone aggression by China, Russia, and North Korea?

What are the implications of these findings for the U.S. Army?

In an era of rising global competition, U.S. challengers and rivals are increasingly looking to achieve competitive advantage through gray zone activities — that is, acts of aggression that remain below the threshold of outright warfare. In this report, RAND researchers identify eight common characteristics of such aggression (e.g., unfolds gradually, is not attributable) and develop a framework for assessing the health of U.S. and partner deterrence in the gray zone. They apply the framework to three cases: China's aggression against the Senkaku Islands, Russia's aggression against the Baltic states, and North Korea's aggression against South Korea. The authors conclude that U.S. and partner deterrence of gray zone activities is in a reasonably strong, though mixed, condition in each of these three contexts. Finally, the authors outline the implications of their findings for the U.S. Army. Among these implications are that maintaining a local presence and posture plays an important role in conveying likely responses to aggression, and clear statements of shared intent to respond to specific actions are critical.

Key Findings

Digital Authoritarianism With Russian Characteristics?


Is the Russian government seeking to emulate China’s strategic use of technology for social management and political control as part of an intensifying crackdown on the country’s political opposition? To be sure, Chinese authorities’ widespread use of high-tech tools for such purposes has more than piqued the curiosity of the Russian security establishment. Yet there are vast gaps between the Russian government’s aspirations and its actual ability to harness digital tools such as facial recognition software using artificial intelligence, or China’s nascent social credit system.

Russia’s approach is colored by wider geopolitical considerations. The unmistakable convergence of Russian and Chinese leaders’ political outlooks is a by-product of their increasingly adversarial relationships with the United States. Yet this alignment falls far short of a proper alliance or security partnership. Indeed, Sino-Russian relations are more complicated than they appear at first glance due to vast asymmetries between the two powers’ economic and political clout. Nor have Moscow and Beijing fully overcome lingering sources of mutual mistrust.

Contrary to commonly held perceptions and the rhetoric of Russian politicians, the Kremlin has big hurdles to overcome as it tries to decouple from Western technology in critically important areas. What’s more, Russia’s own use of digital repression is considerably less prevalent than such repression in China, where technology is deployed on a mass scale to surveil, control, and censor citizens said to be challenging political and social stability.


A Novel Approach to Local Climate Action in France


Summary: In the French city of Orléans, citizens, experts, and politicians are working together to advance climate transition in an innovative form of public engagement that aims for a new type of “social contract” around climate action.

As societies and governments around the world more urgently prioritize addressing climate change, the relationship between this cause and democratic politics has become the focus of much debate. Some iconic environmental figures argue that democracy needs to be put on hold to address the climate crisis. Others make the inverse argument that more and better democracy is needed to address climate change and related environmental issues.

Qualitatively different forms of democratic engagement are required to advance democracy and climate action at the same time. Climate assemblies have drawn much attention as a vehicle for democratic participation on energy transition issues. While these assemblies offer valuable deliberative spaces, so far they have had a limited political impact and insufficient connections with actual policymaking processes. It is therefore important to explore other innovative and complementary forms of public engagement on the climate agenda. In particular, alternative territorial governance arrangements can provide useful lessons on long-term citizen engagement and more seamless connections between citizens and government officials, thereby complementing other forms of public deliberation such as climate assemblies.

Ian Babelon is a researcher at Northumbria University investigating digital tools for collaborative urban planning and sustainability in the built environment.

Superspreaders of Malign and Subversive Information on COVID-19

by Miriam Matthews, Katya Migacheva, Ryan Andrew Brown

What types of COVID-19-related malign and subversive information efforts did sources linked to Russia and to China use in targeting U.S. audiences from January 2020 to July 2020?

What are the similarities and differences in COVID-19-related malign and subversive information efforts from Russian- and Chinese-linked sources?

The global spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) created a fertile ground for attempts to influence and destabilize different populations and countries. Both Russia and China appear to have employed information manipulation during the COVID-19 pandemic in service to their respective global agendas. This report uses exploratory qualitative analysis to systematically describe the types of COVID-19-related malign and subversive information efforts with which Russia- and China-associated outlets appear to have targeted U.S. audiences from January 2020 to July 2020 and organizes them into a framework. This work lays the foundation for a better understanding of how and whether Russia and China might act and coordinate in the domain of malign and subversive information efforts in the future. This report is the first in a series that will use big data, computational linguistics, and machine learning to test findings and hypotheses generated by the initial analysis.

Deep thoughts: How moving ICBMs far underground will make the whole world safer

By Ivan Oelrich 

The long-range, or strategic, nuclear weapons that make up the core of America’s nuclear arsenal are all inherited from the Cold War. Although the weapons are not in quite as much of an aging crisis as it is sometimes portrayed, they are indeed getting old and will eventually need to be retired and, most assume, replaced. The US “triad” of bombers, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) owes its origins as much to rivalry between the Air Force and Navy as to careful military planning, but the triad is a structure that became sacrosanct during the Cold War. Now that the nuclear world has been turned on its head since the end of the Cold War, current plans are to simply replace the old triad with a new one.

A cynic might be forgiven for imagining that the future direction of the nuclear arsenal depends more on momentum than careful analysis. Obviously, this is not to say that US thinking about nuclear weapons has not changed at all since the Cold War, only that the dramatic changes in the political and military environment seem not to be reflected by equally dynamic changes in thinking about the future of the triad. There may be multiple explanations for this dampened response.

One explanation could be that nuclear weapons are flexible and can be applied to new uses. Even so, if Russia and the United States woke up tomorrow with no nuclear weapons, it is unlikely they would immediately start to rebuild the Cold War-inspired arsenals that they have today. Yet, with the end of the Cold War, the US was, in fact, left with this powerful tool, and it is tempting to look for ways to exploit a tool that is at hand. Some scholars argue, for example, that having a robust nuclear capability constantly benefits the United States by swaying non-nuclear contests in favor of the Americans, although I believe all of these arguments fail to account for the costs of making or implying threats.

Erdogan's $20bn canal to nowhere

In April 2011, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan laid out his vision for a nearly 50-kilometre canal linking the Marmara and Black seas parallel to the Bosphorus Strait, some 20km to the east. A decade later, after countless stops and starts, Turkish officials expect to break ground next month on the $20 billion project, which Mr Erdogan himself describes as “crazy”.

A growing chorus of critics might agree. Leading the charge is Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, widely seen as Mr Erdogan’s main challenger in the next presidential vote, set for 2023. He views the project as a betrayal, arguing that locals need jobs and health and financial security a great deal more than a pricey new waterway. Nearly three of every four Istanbul residents concurs, according to a 2019 survey.

Istanbul represents one-fifth of Turkey’s population and more than one-third of its gross domestic product. But the Turkish economy has been stagnant since a mid-2018 currency crisis, with a steadily declining lira, massive foreign debt and persistently high inflation and unemployment. The pandemic has made matters worse, driving more than 1.5 million Turks into poverty. And a few days ago, Turkey entered its harshest lockdown yet amid record-high Covid-19 deaths.

“This Is a Huge Break with the Past”

Madame Defense Minister, Germany has been attempting to take on more responsibility in the world since at least 2014. But the country still has no coherent direction or strategy in foreign policy. Why this lack of development? Why does everything still seem so piecemeal?

For decades, one of Germany’s virtues was that it did not take center stage as a force in foreign and security policy. After the horrors of the Nazi era, that position was understandable, and it was also in part the basis for our country’s political and economic success. Above all, it was the strategy which enabled the reunification of our country. But it is now becoming clear that the situation has changed so much that our old foreign policy principles no longer work. Many of our partners and allies hope and expect—and rightly so—that Germany should do more, spend more money, and play a more active role. And that should be our own aspiration too, since our life in Germany, our free and economically stable life, is dependent on us doing that. A lot of people have difficulties with this new kind of thinking, and that’s completely natural. This is not an overnight process. Nonetheless, it is an important thing to do, and it is the right thing to do. We can all sense that the world is changing, and we continue to face new risks. We cannot go on leaving responsibility for our security in the hands of others. That’s a big transformation, and not an easy one.

An Assessment of the Russian Airborne Troops and Their Role on Tomorrow’s Battlefield

During the last several years, the Russian Airborne Troops (VDV) have undergone important changes in organization as well as the procurement of equipment—a process that is by no means complete. For the foreseeable future, the VDV is set to expand the number of units and continue to introduce modern combat vehicles like the BMD-4M and BTR-MDM. At the same time, however, the changes represent at least a partial return to Soviet practices with the reintroduction of tank units and, in the next few years, helicopter and artillery units to the VDV. In addition, the Airborne Troops’ exercise activities have shown an increased intensity, with progressively more comprehensive drills in recent years. The Russian military leadership clearly continues to see the VDV as having a crucial role to play on the current and future battlefield.

Jörgen Elfving is a former Swedish army and general staff officer. During his military career, he mainly served in staff positions handling the Soviet Union/Russia. He has also previously been posted as a assistant military attaché to the Baltic States. After retiring from the Swedish Armed Forces, Elfving has worked for a number of Swedish government agencies as a consultant and participated in a research project at the Swedish National Defense University regarding the development of Russia’s military capabilities. In addition, he has been active as a translator and written a number of articles about the Russian military for a Swedish and a foreign audience as well as a book about reforms of the Russian Armed Forces.

Russia’s Defense-Industrial Complex at a Crossroads: Aura Versus Reality (Part Two)

By: Sergey Sukhankin

President Vladimir Putin’s remarks about possibly nationalizing the Russian defense industry (DI) (Interfax, March 31) reinvigorated a debate on measures to optimize this strategically crucial yet decreasingly profitable sector of the country’s economy (see Part One in EDM, April 13). The Kremlin leader’s cautiously phrased openness to the idea was preceded by a telling and unambiguous comment from Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov. Speaking at the “Goszakaz-2021” government procurement forum, Borisov firmly stated that he is “a supporter of direct and firm protectionist policies” regarding the DI (1prime.ru, March 24). And in light of tightening international sanctions as well as the continued negative impact of COVID-19 on the Russian economy, the issue of the profitability of Russian arms manufacturers—as well as their future development more generally—has acquired new meaning.

Analysis of the Russian DI’s recent performance paints a mixed picture. On the one hand, last year was marked by several momentous achievements. To name just a few, the following weapons systems were produced or entered service in 2020 (Nvo.ng.ru, January 14):
The Sukhoi Su-57 “fifth-generation” jet fighter, which ostensibly placed Russia into the “elite club” of countries (the United States and, somewhat more questionably, China) that possess this type of weaponry.

Role of Airborne Troops in Russia’s Military Buildup in Crimea

By: Jörgen Elfving

At the end of each winter training cycle, the Russian Armed Forces typically hold extensive readiness checks in the month of April. So unsurprisingly, on April 6, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that the Russian military would carry out 4,048 such snap exercises at 101 ranges over the following few weeks (Mil.ru, April 6). When it came to the elite Russian Airborne Troops (Vozdushno-Desantnye Voyska—VDV), 35,000 paratroopers would take part (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, April 6), with the most important exercises carried out in the Eastern Military District, at the Tsugol and Segeevsky ranges. Yet on April 13, in connection with his visit to the Northern Fleet, Shoigu mentioned that starting in late March, three armies and three VDV units had been redeployed to Russia’s western borders (Mil.ru, April 13). Those VDV units were later identified as the 7th Guards Air-Assault Division (Novorossiysk), 76th Guards Air-Assault Division (Pskov) and the 98th Guards Airborne Division (Ivanovo) (Mil.ru, April 24); all three had been sent to Crimea. In addition, media reports revealed that the 56th Air-Assault Brigade (Kamyshin) had also been deployed to Crimea (Politika Segodnya, April 13; Liga.net, Strana.ua, April 1). That said, the latter may actually have been related to this brigade’s looming reorganization into an air-assault regiment and redeployment from Kamyshin to Feodosia (Izvestia, April 25).

Exactly when the aforementioned units’ deployment to Crimea took place is somewhat hazy. To judge from the various sources reporting on the matter, the 76th Air-Assault Division redeployed some of its units by rail on April 4 and 7, with the units sent in later arriving in Crimea on the evening of April 10 (Citeam-ru.medium.com, April 5; T.me/CITeam, April 12). The 7th Air-Assault Division might have deployed to Crimea already on March 19 (Citeam-ru.medium.com, April 22; Vzgljyad, April 5; Vk.com, March 19, 29). And parts of the 56th Air-Assault Brigade might have redeployed from Kamyshin by rail on March 31 (Strana.ua. April 1). It is not fully known if the 98th Airborne Division deployed to Crimea prior to the major exercise held on the peninsula’s Opuk range, on April 22 (see below). It is also uncertain whether the 98th Airborne Division was part of the deployment of VDV units to Crimea prior to April 22 or if it was limited to the units airdropped that day (Tvzvezda, April 27).

Who should lead the Pentagon’s information operations efforts?

By: Mark Pomerleau

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress said last week they are worried about the Department of Defense’s ability to combat information operations and disinformation campaigns.

Their consternation comes about 18 months after a watchdog agency said the Pentagon needed to improve its leadership in the area of information operations.

“I am concerned the Department leadership has been slow to adapt to the changing nature of warfare in this domain,” Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., the chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems, said in opening remarks during an April 30 hearing. “Too often, it appears the Department’s information related capabilities are stove-piped centers of excellence with varied management and leadership structures, which makes critical coordination more difficult. Further, the Pentagon has made limited progress implementing its 2016 Operations in the Information Environment Strategy, which raises questions about the Department’s information operations leadership structure.”

The information environment is broadly thought to include military information support operations, military deception, cyber operations, electromagnetic warfare, operations security, and information operations.

Reaching ‘Herd Immunity’ Is Unlikely in the U.S., Experts Now Believe

By Apoorva Mandavilli

Early in the pandemic, when vaccines for the coronavirus were still just a glimmer on the horizon, the term “herd immunity” came to signify the endgame: the point when enough Americans would be protected from the virus so we could be rid of the pathogen and reclaim our lives.

Now, more than half of adults in the United States have been inoculated with at least one dose of a vaccine. But daily vaccination rates are slipping, and there is widespread consensus among scientists and public health experts that the herd immunity threshold is not attainable — at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever.

Instead, they are coming to the conclusion that rather than making a long-promised exit, the virus will most likely become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate in the United States for years to come, still causing hospitalizations and deaths but in much smaller numbers.

How much smaller is uncertain and depends in part on how much of the nation, and the world, becomes vaccinated and how the coronavirus evolves. It is already clear, however, that the virus is changing too quickly, new variants are spreading too easily and vaccination is proceeding too slowly for herd immunity to be within reach anytime soon.

Continued immunizations, especially for people at highest risk because of age, exposure or health status, will be crucial to limiting the severity of outbreaks, if not their frequency, experts believe.


Erica D. Borghard

Prior to the Biden administration’s recent announcement of the nomination of Chris Inglis to serve as the inaugural National Cyber Director (NCD), debates swirled in cybersecurity policy circles about the role the NCD would play and whether its office would be duplicative of functions that already exist within the National Security Council (NSC), particularly the newly-created position of Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology, which Anne Neuberger currently holds.

Elevating the role of cybersecurity issues within the NSC was long overdue and is a positive development. There are, however, several areas where the NCD will fill an important gap in a way that complements and enhances, rather than overlaps with, the cybersecurity efforts within the NSC.


The creation of a Senate-confirmed NCD, along with an Office of the National Cyber Director (ONCD), within the Executive Office of the President was an idea generated by the US Cyberspace Solarium Commission, created by Congress in the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to develop a strategy and set of policy recommendations to defend the United States against cyber attacks of significant consequences. One of the foundational recommendations that anchored the Commission’s March 2021 final report was the NCD.

We Don’t Have Enough Information to Evaluate Arguments for a New ICBM


The politics of American nuclear modernization are heating up. As defense budgets come under increased scrutiny, lawmakers are taking a close look at the future of the ground-based leg of America’s nuclear triad. On the current course, the country’s 400 single-warhead, silo-based LGM-30G Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles are slated for modernization and replacement with a new nuclear missile known as the Ground-based Strategic Deterrent.

GBSD’s strategic value-add over Minuteman III is nil to negligible. Like the Minuteman III, which first deployed in 1970 and has seen rounds of life-extensions into the mid-2010s, the GBSD will serve largely as a “warhead sponge.” As long as 400 American ICBMs remain ready to launch in their silos, Russian planners must assign their own warheads to these targets. Given their primary function as a tripwire, the qualitative nature of those missiles is a secondary matter.

Yet this qualitative case for GBSD has received considerable airtime from its proponents. U.S. Strategic Command’s case for the GBSD—as made by STRATCOM commander Adm. Charles Richard last month—is straightforward: though the Minuteman III is “fully reliable today,” GBSD brings new capabilities to the table. These include improvements to the system’s security during warhead maintenance, lower manpower requirements for sustainment, and great modularity. More practically, GBSD is expected to make use of composite materials in its airframe—like the intercontinental Trident D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile, the cornerstone of the U.S. sea-based deterrent—and thereby may offer a throw weight increase over Minuteman III.

A blueprint for telecom’s critical reinvention

By Zakir Gaibi, Gareth Jones, Pierre Pont, and Mihir Vaidya

The next generation of telcos will be defined by leaders who act now, risking short-term advantages to seize untapped growth with a holistic approach to transformation.

Each generation of business leaders tends to believe that the challenges they face are more profound than those endured by previous generations. For the current generation of telecom leaders, this is stark reality, not merely perception.

Over the past decade, telcos have been under continuous pressure as their traditional value pools have gradually eroded and new growth horizons have proven elusive, driving return on investment capital (ROIC) ever closer to weighted average cost of capital (WACC). While telcos rose to the challenge of 2020—connecting people to work, school, family, and healthcare—the pandemic accelerated and amplified trends that were already redefining the basis for success.

Our prior research has demonstrated that organizations that move early to restructure and change during times of crisis come out ahead in the subsequent decade. Therefore, we believe that 2021 will be a critical year for operators: a unique opportunity to fundamentally reimagine their business or, alternatively, risk another decade of decline.

The next generation of telcos will be defined by leaders who act now, risking short-term incumbency advantages to seize untapped growth. The current moment demands a holistic, future-back approach to transformation, in which leaders deliver on four or five bold, integrated changes to reset their organization’s DNA.
Decision time for telcos

DoD wants new ideas for real-time spectrum sharing

Mark Pomerleau

WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense wants to see a prototype that can ensure spectrum is available whenever it’s needed for aerial combat training, according to an April 26 request from the National Spectrum Consortium.

The effort, focused specifically on the Operational Spectrum Comprehension, Analytics, and Response (OSCAR) project, is part of a larger portfolio included in the DoD’s office of research and engineering’s Spectrum Access Research & Development Program. That program hope to develop near real time spectrum management technologies that leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence to more efficiently and dynamically allocate spectrum assignments based on operational planning or on operational outcomes, a release said.

“I think of this set of projects as a toolset that’s really the beginning of starting to move toward pushing those fundamental technologies into more direct operational application,” Maren Leed, executive director of the National Spectrum Consortium, told C4ISRNET. It’s “starting to bridge from just sharing with commercial into capabilities that are going to enable warfighting much more directly.”

The goal is to provide advanced spectrum management capabilities to systems within the Advanced Wireless Services-3 bands, a press release stated, thought the prototype will be applicable to all spectrum being managed on range. Specifically, OSCAR will provide the spectrum management tools, workflows, and sensor network necessary to increase spectrum utilization and improve range spectrum management, the release said.

Worried about the autonomous weapons of the future? Look at what’s already gone wrong

By Ingvild Bode, Tom Watts

To the casual observer, the words “military AI” have a certain dystopic ring to them, one that’s in line with sci-fi movies like “Terminator” that depict artificial intelligence (AI) run amok. And while the “killer robots” cliché does at least provide an entry point into a debate about transformative military technologies, it frames autonomous AI weapons as a challenge for tomorrow, rather than today. But a close look at the history of one common type of weapons package, the air defense systems that militaries employ to defend against missiles and other airborne threats, illuminates how highly automated weaponry is actually a risk the world already faces.

As practical, real-world examples, air defense systems can ground a debate over autonomous weapons that’s often abstract and speculative. Heads of state and defense policymakers have made clear their intentions to integrate greater autonomous functionality into weapons (and many other aspects of military operations). And while many policymakers say they want to ensure humans remain in control over lethal force, the example of air defense systems shows that they face large obstacles.

Weapons like the US Army’s Patriot missile system, designed to shoot down missiles or planes that threaten protected airspace, include autonomous features that support targeting. These systems now come in many different shapes and sizes and can be typically operated in manual or various automatic modes. In automatic modes, the air defense systems can on their own detect targets and fire on them, relegating human operators to the role of supervising the system’s workings and, if necessary, of aborting attacks. The Patriot air defense system, used by 13 countries, is “nearly autonomous, with only the final launch decision requiring human interaction,” according to research by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.