22 July 2023

‘The Return of the Taliban’ Makes Sense of Afghanistan’s Misery

Adam Weinstein

Nearly two years since the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, the Taliban are still firmly in charge. Despite initial predictions of a civil war, there is no substantial resistance challenging their power, although the nation grapples with an ongoing humanitarian crisis. Its fledgling aid-dependent economy has severely contracted but not yet imploded, and while food inflation is declining, it remains a slow-moving trainwreck with no apparent long-term solutions in sight. While terrorism remains a concern, Afghanistan is not quite the epicenter of transnational jihadists it once was.

Where Is Vietnam on the Sino-U.S. Spectrum?

Bich Tran

July 2023 marks two decades of Vietnam’s grand strategic adjustment (a change within a grand strategy) of cooperation and struggle, which was expected to position the country equidistantly between China and the United States. Like other Southeast Asian capitals, Hanoi does not want to choose a side. However, even after 20 years of implementing the 2003 adjustment, Vietnam remains closer to the Chinese side of the Sino-U.S. spectrum.

During the 8th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam in 1996, Vietnamese leaders announced, for the first time, a “foreign policy of independence, self-reliance, openness, multilateralization, and diversification of foreign relations,” (author’s translation). These five sometimes conflicting principles constitute Vietnam’s grand strategy, despite the country never explicitly claiming or acknowledging its existence.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc in Eastern Europe, China and Vietnam are among the five remaining communist regimes in the world, alongside Cuba, Laos, and North Korea. Vietnamese and Chinese leaders view the survival of their regimes as aligned with their national security interests. Vietnam had considered China a de facto ally that would protect socialism, while perceiving the United States as an archenemy leading imperialist forces with the intention of overthrowing communist regimes worldwide. However, Vietnamese leaders increasingly struggled to reconcile this view with the changing strategic environment in the late 1990s.

In July 2003, the Communist Party of Vietnam issued the Resolution on Strategy to Protect the Fatherland in the New Situation, which introduced the concepts of partners of cooperation and objects of struggle. With this new approach, Vietnamese leaders no longer view any country solely as a partner or an adversary but as a combination of both (a change in threat perception). Through the grand strategic adjustment, Hanoi cooperates with Beijing on specific political, economic, and security issues. Simultaneously, Vietnam struggles against China in the South China Sea and the Mekong Basin, while aiming to reduce its trade dependence on the Chinese economy. Notably, Vietnam prioritizes the modernization of its naval and air forces, as well as the deepening of defense cooperation with like-minded partners such as India, Japan, and the United States to better protect its interests in the South China Sea.

US is losing AI edge to China, experts tell lawmakers


The Pentagon must act quickly lest it lose its AI advantage to China’s well-funded advances, according to experts testifying on Capitol Hill and a new report from a government-data company.

China is directing more of its AI-related research into defense applications than the United States, whose tech sector is more focused on consumer AI services such as ChatGPT.

“We need to consider what the overall investment into military implementations looks like. And that's where there's a large disparity,” Scale AI founder Alexander Wang told lawmakers. “If you compare as a percentage of their overall military investment, the PLA is spending somewhere between one to two percent of their overall budget into artificial intelligence whereas the DoD is spending somewhere between 0.1 and 0.2 of our budget on AI.”

China’s larger investment in key research and development was reinforced by a report released Monday by Govini, a data analytics and decision sciences company. Echoing its findings in 2018, the company’s 2023 National Security Scorecard shows a big gap between the top 100 U.S. defense companies and the top U.S. companies working in AI.

“What this chart shows is that we've made very little progress. And while we might be attracting some of these non-traditional entrants into the defense procurement system, to contribute to AI on national security problems, we certainly aren't scaling them, at least not based on these numbers,” Govini CEO Tara Murphy Dougherty told reporters on Monday.

This year, “China is outpacing the United States by innovation measures,” Dougherty said.

The Pentagon is increasing its research-and-development spending, but not enough to close the gap, according to Bob Work, who as deputy defense secretary was credited with pioneering a sea change in how his department organized itself around new technology.

“We're in this situation where we have the largest R&D budget in the Department of Defense's history. We're patting ourselves on the back and saying, ‘Man, aren't we doing good?’ But when you blow out and look at global data, as Govini has done, you say, ‘Hey, it's not that good,’” Work said during the Govini call. “So, in kind of marginal terms, we're flat and the Chinese are outspending us. This is why China is so different. In the past, we've always been able to outspend our competitors. This time, China will be able to outspend us if they choose to do so.”

What the Wagner Mutiny Means for China in Africa

Alessandro Arduino

As the Wagner revolt against the Kremlin unfolded last month, China seemed to pay little attention to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s faltering attempts to restrain the mercenaries, which laid bare the fractures in Moscow. Though Beijing eventually put out a public statement of support for the Russian president, it is biding its time—observing how firm Putin’s grip on power is. Indeed, the possibility of Moscow failing to rein in Russian mercenaries in areas where Chinese economic interests are present could create a fault line in the Chinese-Russian “no-limit friendship.”

The clue China is preparing for war


In a sinister reversion to the very worst days of Mao’s rule, Communist Party officials across China are blindly obeying orders to rapidly increase the supply of arable land by any means possible. As with the “Great Leap Forward” that starved tens of millions to death in a futile attempt to produce more steel to industrialise overnight, the official aim is straightforward: to grow more “grain”.

In reality, however, China produces more than enough rice, wheat and maize to feed its human population. So why the sudden rush? Xi Jinping, it seems, is preparing for war.

At present, China relies on colossal imports of soya beans, maize, wheat and other cereals to feed its pigs, cattle, chickens and ducks — more than 120 million metric tons last year. These are supplied by the daily arrival of bulk carriers into Chinese ports from Argentina, Brazil, Canada and the United States. If war were to break out, these imports would quickly dry up.

In China, there is no spare land for crops, leaving Beijing little choice but to uproot the trees recently planted by its costly and much-admired reforestation efforts — even though China’s forests are mostly on slopes, and new crop plantings are often swept away by the first serious rain. Local party officials executing Beijing’s orders know this perfectly well, but disobeying means instant demotion at best.

After the colossal Yangtze River floods of 1998 destroyed 13 million homes, drowned thousands and swept away highways and rail lines, the CCP recognised that the floods had been made worse by uncontrolled deforestation. Orders were issued all across China to stop logging and to plant trees instead, with vast funding allocated to add up to roughly 90 billion trees over the next decade. Thousands of tree nurseries were established, and an army of tree-planters set to work on the bare deforested slopes, with local farmers hired to nurture the new trees. As a result, China became visibly greener in satellite images, as forest cover increased from 12% in 1998 to 24% in 2020 to then increase further — until last year. No figures have been published, but what has happened since greatly exceeds the rate of the Amazon’s deforestation, even though the West’s environmentalists have so far remained entirely silent.

Fueling Failure: A Global Power Shift from the West to China

Don Ritter

Autocratic producers, largely Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Venezuela, and China, and democratic consumers, fossil fuel-dependent nations, largely the so-called Global South, are convening and uniting over oil, gas, coal, petrochemicals, natural gas-derived fertilizers, and mined raw materials. This trend is detrimental for both the global climate and the United States.

China straddles both worlds as the largest producer and consumer of coal in the world and the second-largest consumer of all fossil fuels after the United States. The United States is the largest producer of oil and gas for now, but while government policies tamp down investment in future domestic production, U.S. energy companies scour the world to increase production to serve global markets.

It’s the autocratic countries who produce the fossil fuels that benefit from American production decline. This is due to the fact that the major democratic countries of the Global South— including India, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, etc.—who buy oil and gas products, need to feed their people, fuel their vehicles, and, in general, sustain, grow, and develop their economies at reasonable cost.

Autocratic Russia, a giant energy producer, continues to sustain its economy and finance its war in Ukraine, playing defense and waiting for Western electorates to lose patience. Moscow counts on continued fossil fuel sales to consumer countries. Meanwhile, China is importing record amounts of oil and gas from Russia which makes China the largest financier of Russia’s war in Ukraine by far. China, courtesy of Saudi Arabia’s Aramco, is on the upswing in building new refineries, becoming a major petrochemical producer while U.S. energy policy to phase out fossil fuels has curtailed U.S. companies from making such investments.

Youth Unemployment and China’s Economic Future


CHICAGO – In May, China reported that youth unemployment (among those aged 16 to 24) had reached a record-breaking 20.8%, with the high-paying, high-skilled jobs that university graduates are trained for growing scarcer. Since mid-2021, hundreds of thousands of positions have been eliminated in the tech sector, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, stringent capital and antitrust regulations, and the government’s broader “tech crackdown.” And, as the rapidly changing policy environment adds to the uncertainty, cutbacks are also coming to other high-skilled sectors like finance.

In June, the Chinese internet was flooded with despairing photos and messages from new graduates whose only employment prospects lay in low-paying sectors, where there is still some job growth. Chinese students and their parents are finding this new economic reality difficult to accept, given the tremendous sacrifices they made for higher education.

The Chinese education system is one of the most competitive in the world, not least because college admission is determined by a single standardized national exam, the gaokao. By the time most graduates from good colleges arrive on the job market, they have committed many years of their youth to intensive study. The pressure to master the core curriculum – math, science, and literature – is so great that even elementary schools have cut back on non-academic classes such as physical education and music.

Meanwhile, these graduates’ families have made sacrifices that are hard to imagine in many other countries. Children as young as ten often do four hours of homework per day, requiring constant encouragement, monitoring, and coercion from parents. All this is done with the expectation of enjoying future security in a rapidly growing economy – except that now economic growth has waned.

Young women tend to suffer more than young men in the labor market. Although Chinese girls outperform boys across subjects and age groups, they have long been prevented from entering traditionally male industries such as civil aviation, which previously had explicit anti-female quotas. These hurdles reflect China’s strong tradition of preferring sons. There are 116 boys for every 100 girls among those aged 15-19, compared to 98 boys for every 100 girls in the United States.

War with China over Taiwan? Don’t expect US allies to join

Daniel Larison

If there is a war with China over Taiwan, America’s regional allies aren’t likely to join the U.S. in fighting it.

While it is often assumed in Washington that it could count on at least some of its treaty allies to support and join American forces, this is based on best-case scenarios and wishful thinking. Even the most reliable treaty allies, including Japan and Australia, would be reluctant to join what would be a very costly U.S. war effort.

In the absence of allied support, the already daunting challenge of defending Taiwan would become even more difficult.

The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend on Japan’s lack of commitment to involve itself directly in the defense of Taiwan. According to the report, the Japanese government might give permission to let the U.S. use bases in Japan, but its own participation is unlikely: “Japanese leaders publicly shun discussion of a role in any Taiwan war, in part because public opinion is generally against getting ensnared in a conflict.”

While the Japanese government has been increasing its military spending, it is doing that for the sake of its own defense and not so that it can take part in a major war. As Kiyoshi Sugawa wrote for Responsible Statecraft in May, “The United States should not take it for granted that Japan will simply go along with Washington’s desires or expectations.”

This reluctance is influenced by Japanese public opinion. As an analysis for Voice of America noted last year, Japanese involvement in a Taiwan conflict is “far from certain and not popularly supported within Japan.” According to a poll this spring conducted for The Asahi Shimbun, just 11 percent of Japanese respondents said that their armed forces should join the U.S. in the fighting, and 27 percent said that their forces should not work with the U.S. military at all.

Tech Leaders Warn the U.S. Military Is Falling Behind China on AI


Tech leaders and AI experts on Tuesday warned that the U.S. military needs to move quickly to harness its military data and invest in emerging technology if it wants to compete with the Chinese in an era when artificial intelligence is upending global conflict.

“The country that is able to most rapidly and effectively integrate new technology into war-fighting wins,” Alexandr Wang, the CEO of Scale AI, told lawmakers on a House Armed Services subcommittee. China is spending three times more than the U.S. on developing AI tools, Wang noted. “The Chinese Communist Party deeply understands the potential for AI to disrupt warfare, and is investing heavily to capitalize,” he said. “AI is China’s Apollo project.”

Wang, who runs a San Francisco-based generative AI startup, pressed for the Pentagon to centralize data to train AI models and upgrade its workforce to compete. He was part of a panel testifying before the HASC’s Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems Subcommittee, which was created in 2021 to focus on artificial intelligence and the future of warfare. The hearing was the latest in a growing number of public conversations about how Congress can catch up with the quickly evolving technology.

The sudden emergence and widespread adoption of popular AI tools like ChatGPT has underlined Capitol Hill’s sluggish response. In recent months, lawmakers have introduced a flurry of bills and proposals meant to address everything from data privacy to government’s use of AI, even raising the prospect of an AI-focused federal agency designed to regulate the nascent technology.

China’s Border Talks With Bhutan Are Aimed at India

Marcus Andreopoulos

As tensions between China and India have grown in the last few years, the countries wedged between them are becoming more strategically significant. The two competing powers have sought a buffer between them ever since their founding—1949 in the case of the People’s Republic of China, and 1947 for India. Many scholars argue that it is this desire for a safety cushion that led to China’s 1950 invasion of Tibet. Today, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) efforts to manipulate democracy in Nepal have succeeded in shaping a government in Kathmandu that is more receptive to Beijing than to New Delhi. The CCP has also extended its reach to monitor and suppress the Tibetan community there.

Don’t Blame ‘Just-in-Time’ Production for Challenges in the U.S. Manufacturing Industrial Base

Cynthia Cook and Audrey Aldisert

Constraints on the U.S. defense industrial base and concerns about limited manufacturing capacity have been ascribed to a production approach described as “just-in-time.” Just-in-time production has been identified as one of the explanations for why industry is not set up to immediately surge to refill the warehouses after weapons were sent to Ukraine for its self-defense against the Russian invasion. This Critical Questions piece examines what just-in-time production is and whether it is to blame for any challenges in the industrial base.

Q1: What is just-in-time production?

A1: Just-in-time production is the term used to describe a model where subcomponents, parts, and other materials are sent as outputs directly from the supplier’s production line to the factory floor location where they are immediately needed. Depending on production rates, delivery of parts can be as frequent as once every hour in high-throughput assembly lines. The parts are sent at the point in the production process where they are ready to be incorporated into the final product, meaning they require no additional adjustments after arrival at the factory. (For simplicity, this piece will refer to these inputs as “parts” and the final assembler as the “factory,” while recognizing that the various parts, subcomponents, and materials are also produced in factories.)

Just-in-time production, a foundational concept of lean manufacturing pioneered by Toyota, focuses on managing production flow. It is most pertinent to high-volume production lines more common in automobile manufacturing; for example, Toyota’s Georgetown Kentucky plant assembled 445,136 vehicles in 2022. This volume of production is relatively rare in defense production outside of ammunition.

Q2: What are the benefits of just-in-time production?

Building Larger and More Diverse Supply Chains for Energy Minerals

Joseph Majkut , Jane Nakano , Maria J. Krol-Sinclair , Thomas Hale and Sophie Coste

In the past 30 years, the United States has become increasingly import dependent on the minerals used to manufacture electric vehicle (EV) batteries and motors, solar panels, wind turbines, and defense technologies. Simultaneously, many U.S. firms have exited the upstream and midstream stages of mineral supply chains, just as mineral demand for clean energy may need to quadruple to build a net-zero energy system.

Over the same period, China has come to dominate mineral supply chains. China is the largest source of U.S. imports for 26 of the 50 minerals that are currently classified as critical by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Such concentrated supply chains are vulnerable to physical, economic, or political disruption. Of particular concern to U.S. policymakers, China has used export controls and embargos for minerals as tools of economic coercion in the past and may do so again in the future.

Developing large and diverse critical mineral supply chains is of bipartisan interest. U.S. strategy to develop mineral supply chains should strive to uphold high environmental standards, respect human rights and community needs, and work closely with strategic allies. Such supply chains would both compete with and complement existing supply chains. They will have to be built nearly from scratch in markets that are opaque, volatile, and vulnerable to manipulation. That will require the coordination of U.S. government initiatives with both foreign governments and the private sector.

The last three administrations published critical minerals strategies (by the Department of Energy in 2010, Department of Commerce in 2019, and the White House in 2021). In the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Congress created spending programs and subsidies to reclaim mineral supply chains by investing in better surveys of domestic resources, manufacturing subsides, and tax credits for domestic production (notably for EV materials). Looking internationally, the U.S. government has established international partnerships and bilateral trade agreements with strategic allies to diversify and grow mineral supply chains.

Putin’s Fear of Strong Generals Is as Old as Russia Itself

Simon Sebag Montefiore

On June 23, the Russian warlord, mercenary, and billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose Wagner troops had performed with brutal resilience in the war against Ukraine, led his men in a short-lived mutiny against his patron, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin seemed to be demanding the dismissal of the defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, and the chief of staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov. Putin denounced him for treason. But having seized Rostov-on-Don and marched on Moscow, Prigozhin accepted the mediation of another Putinite courtier, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko.

Biden to Netanyahu: Please Stop Trying to Rush Through Your Judicial Overhaul. Build a Consensus First.


President Biden has had an intense week dealing with the battle inside Israel over the future of its judiciary, speaking with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone on Monday and President Isaac Herzog in person at the White House on Tuesday.

To make sure that Biden’s position is crystal clear to all Israelis, he invited me to the Oval Office on Tuesday afternoon and gave me a statement — unprecedented on this issue — expressing his respect for how the “enduring” protests in Israel are demonstrating the “vibrancy of Israel’s democracy.” He also noted his wish that Netanyahu’s coalition stop rushing to slam through a constitutional overhaul, without even the semblance of a national consensus, that would sharply diminish the ability of Israel’s Supreme Court to oversee the decisions and appointments of the government.

Netanyahu has attempted to confuse Israel’s friends in America by playing down the importance of the fundamental change that his government is pushing, by calling it a judicial reform and framing it as small.

But the willingness his government has shown to pay a huge price for the attack he began on the judiciary early this year — Israeli Air Force reservists refusing to report for duty to defend a “dictatorship,” high-tech investors withdrawing funds, immigration of Jews to Israel sharply reduced and large and disruptive mass protests — demonstrates that what is really at stake is the entire judicial-political balance of power in Israel’s democracy, which does not have a constitution.

Biden is now deeply worried for the stability and future of Israel, America’s most important Middle East ally and a country for which he wears his affection on his sleeve. His message to the Israeli prime minister and president could not have been clearer: Please stop now. Don’t pass anything this important without a broad consensus, or you are going to break something with Israel’s democracy and with your relationship with America’s democracy, and you may never be able to get it back.

Why Ukraine’s Counteroffensive Has Been Slower Than Expected

Ravi Agrawal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has what must be the most difficult job in the world. At last week’s NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, he couldn’t help but express disappointment that the security alliance wasn’t able to offer Kyiv a guaranteed pathway to membership. After reportedly being chided for his tone, Zelensky then switched to effusively praising NATO for its support. And then, once he had managed to balance diplomacy with the demands of war, he found himself managing a different narrative, this time to a domestic audience: He put out the message that Ukraine had gotten enough positives out of the summit, even though he surely wanted more.

In the AI-driven Conflict in Ukraine, is “The Swarm” the Systems Design Architecture of the Future?


In the months ahead, we will be introducing a research area known as “Swarm Dynamics”, which grows out of discussions at OODAcon 2022. Specifically, OODA John Robb positions “The Swarm” as a feature of his The Long Night framework – both as a panelist and in previous OODAcast conversations with OODA CEO Matt Devost. Swarm dynamics also figures prominently in the work of OODAcon 2022 panelist Sean Gourley. We will be returning to transcriptions from the conference in the months ahead. But as RSAC 2023 meets in San Francisco, we have compiled our current tracking of swarm dynamics, especially as it relates to kinetic and cyber warfare, positioning a formative hypothesis: Is Swarm Dynamics the Design Architecture of the Future?

DOD too slow in fielding EW capabilities, prominent congressman says


Two members of the 216th Space Control Squadron (SPCS) set up antennas as part of a ‘Honey Badger System’ during BLACK SKIES 22 at Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., Sept. 20, 2022. The 216 SPCS specializes in electromagnetic warfare and is participating in the Space Training and Readiness Command’s (STARCOM) BLACK SKIES 22, along with numerous other units spanning from California to Colorado. The first of its kind, BLACK SKIES 22 is a live simulation exercise designed to rehearse the command and control of multiple joint electronic warfare fires. (U.S. Space Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Luke Kitterman)

The military is too slow to field critical electronic warfare capabilities, according to a prominent member of Congress.

“I’m seeing a lot of talk, a lot of thinking going on behind closed doors. I don’t see the output, the actual combat capability output that we need in EW. We’re not there yet,” Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., a retired electronic warfare one-star general with the Air Force, said Tuesday during an event hosted by the Hudson Institute. “A lot of planning, not a lot of output. We’re just too slow.”

At the end of the Cold War, the DOD largely divested much of its high-end electronic warfare capabilities.

The Department of Defense has made a lot of progress within the last few years rebuilding its prowess within the spectrum.

Much of that progress, has been due to congressional prodding, Bacon argued, however.

Meta’s Threads: Effects on Competition in Social Media Markets

Caitlin Chin

Mark Zuckerberg has found a new product that consumers are interested in, and it is not the metaverse. Threads, the latest standalone app from Meta, has reportedly recruited over 100 million users since its launch on July 5—outpacing early growth rates of ChatGPT, TikTok, and other popular services. Meta envisions Threads as a “new, separate space for real-time updates and public conversations.” Threads is widely seen as a direct challenge to Twitter, with similar functionalities to share and respond to short written excerpts, which could allow Meta to extend into the text-focused social media space in addition to its typical Instagram or Facebook audiences.

Any direct market expansion by Meta, such as Threads, should raise questions over its potential effects on competition and consumers. Social media is one of the most concentrated markets in the United States, and Meta has historically dominated the industry. In 2022, Twitter had an estimated 370 million users and $4.6 billion in revenue internationally, merely a fraction of Instagram’s approximate 2.3 billion users and $51.5 billion in revenue. According to traditional antitrust doctrine, lack of competition stifles consumer choice, hinders innovation, and reduces the quality of products and services. The social media industry is particularly susceptible to high barriers of entry like network effects, where a platform’s value exponentially increases with its number of users, which then favors dominant players like Meta over emerging startups. By exclusively allowing Instagram users to automatically import their existing follower lists to Threads, Meta has capitalized on its incumbent advantage over other nascent Twitter rivals like Mastodon, Substack Notes, Post.news, and Bluesky.

But while Threads could worsen consolidation in the social media market overall, it could possibly improve competition among text-based networking platforms more narrowly, especially if it places additional pressure on Twitter to improve its service. Since taking over the company in October 2022, Elon Musk has made numerous unpopular decisions that have damaged its advertising revenue and user engagement, like limiting the number of daily posts that individuals can view, firing trust and safety employees, and revamping the verification system in ways that facilitate impersonation. Even though satisfaction with Twitter has reached an all-time low, consumers generally have lacked comparable options to switch to.

Want to Win a Chip War? You’re Gonna Need a Lot of Water


BUILDING A SEMICONDUCTOR factory requires enormous quantities of land and energy, then some of the most precise machinery on Earth to operate. The complexity of chip fabs, as they are called, is one reason why the US Congress last year committed more than $50 billion to boost US chip production in a bid to make the country more technologically independent.

But as the US seeks to boot up more fabs, it also needs to source more of a less obvious resource: water. Take Intel’s ambitious plan to build a $20 billion mega-site outside Columbus, Ohio. The area already has three water plants that together provide 145 million gallons of drinking water each day, but officials are planning to spend heavily on a fourth to, at least in part, accommodate Intel.

Water might not sound like a conventional ingredient of electronics manufacturing, but it plays an essential role in cleaning the sheets, or wafers, of silicon that are sliced and processed into computer chips. A single fab might use millions of gallons in a single day, according to the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET)—about the same amount of water as a small city in a year.

Chip companies hoping to take advantage of the CHIPS and Science Act, last year’s federal spending package aiming to boost US chip manufacturing, are now constructing new water processing facilities alongside their fabs. And cities trying to attract new factories funded by the legislation are studying the potential impact on their water supplies. In some places it may be necessary to secure the water supply; in others, new infrastructure must be installed to recycle water used by fabs.

“Local leaders need to engage in candid conversations with their city’s water resources staff and economic development staff to ensure that any new high-volume user is a good fit with the community,” says Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University.

Central Asian Whack-A-Mole: Western Tech Evades Sanctions, Feeds Russian War Machine

Carl Schreck

As Russia rains missiles on Ukrainian cities, the Kremlin remains hungry for Western electronics. Russian armaments deployed in Ukraine – including Iranian drones – are packed with dual-use components, including microchips from major US and European manufacturers such as Texas Instruments and Analog Devices.

An important node in this network is Central Asia. Since Russia’s February 2022 invasion, European Union exports to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan of dual-use technology found in Russian armaments have skyrocketed, an investigation by our RFE/RL team has found.

During the same period, Kyrgyz and Kazakh exports of these same categories of electronics to Russia rose sharply. Russian customers include electronics suppliers with links to the Kremlin’s war machine. One buyer openly boasts about its ability to import Western electronics, RFE/RL reporters found.

US, EU, and UK officials have used diplomatic levers to curb the trade. They have lobbied governments to prevent the flow of sanctioned dual-use Western electronics through their territory to Russia. Rather than targeting governments and companies in the region with secondary sanctions, the West has focused on high-level discussions and tightening export restrictions.

“The goal here is, at this point, not to punish Kyrgyzstan but really to give them the information that they need so that they do not become a place of sanctions avoidance,” Lesslie Viguerie, the US ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, told The Diplomat this month. “It’s something that I often bring up: that this is important, that the United States is watching.”

Kyrgyz and Kazakh players in the reexport market for sanctioned Western electronics insist that they are not doing anything illegal. Their governments, after all, are not party to Western sanctions against Russia, and both countries are members of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union. At the same time, Central Asian officials say they want to work with the United States and the EU on preventing the transfer of dual-use technology to Russia.

Electronic Warfare Has Become A Defining Feature Of Future Conflict. Here’s Why.

Loren Thompson

The electromagnetic spectrum has become a warfighting domain.ARMY.MIL

The biggest lesson coming out of the fighting in Ukraine isn’t about drones or artillery, it’s about electronic warfare.

Electronic warfare, or EW, focuses on efforts to control and exploit the electromagnetic spectrum for the benefit of friendly forces, while denying that advantage to adversaries.

Without access to the spectrum, most of the tools of modern warfare won’t work, from radios to radars to GPS.

US forces didn’t worry much about securing access during the global war on terror, but with the focus of national defense strategy now shifted to great-power competition it has become a hot topic among military planners.

The war in Ukraine has seen more intensive use of electronic warfare by both sides than any other conflict in history.

The Russians, who are invested heavily in EW, have used it to “jam” GPS signals to smart bombs supplied by Western nations, meaning that they generate so much power in the same frequency as the satellites that receivers on the weapons can’t pick up the relatively weak signals.

The Pentagon long ago developed a countermeasure to deal with this threat in the form of more powerful signals—which are harder to jam—but with the nearest GPS satellites over 12,000 miles distant, jamming is still a potential option for enemies.

AI must have better security, says top cyber official

Gordon Corera

Cyber security must urgently be built into artificial intelligence systems, a top security official has told the BBC.

Lindy Cameron from the National Cyber Security Centre said it was key to have robust systems in place in the early stages of AI development.

As companies rush to develop new AI products, there are fears that security it is being overlooked.

As a result, malicious attacks could have a "devastating" effect, a former intelligence chief added.

In the future, AI will play a part in many aspects of daily life in our homes and cities through to high-end national security and even fighting wars.

But for all the benefits, there are also risks.

"As we become dependent on AI for really good things like delivery of food, autonomous vehicles, utilities or all sorts of things that AI will help to control in the future, attacks on those systems could be devastating," says Robert Hannigan, who used to run the UK's communication intelligence agency GCHQ.

The concern is that companies - competing to secure their position in a growing market - will focus on getting their systems out for sale as fast as possible without thinking about the risks of misuse.

Air Force’s 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing tries some-fin special on EW


WASHINGTON — After the commander of the Air Force’s 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing asserted that personnel are key to closing a gap with China in electronic warfare capabilities, the 350th held an unconventional event to answer their commander’s call: a “shark tank” style competition, where military and civilian members alike could pitch ideas to improve the wing’s operations.

The shark tank faceoff was held earlier this month at the 350th’s home of Eglin Air Force Base, where a panel of five judges with backgrounds ranging from cybersecurity to aircraft expertise selected a total of seven new ideas to fund based on airmen’s pitches.

“Our boss, Col. [Joshua] Koslov, understands that innovation can come from any level,” Chief Master Sgt. Michael Sterling, who served as one of the judges on the panel, told Breaking Defense in a June 13 interview. “Whether young or old, experienced or novice, we encourage that culture and environment. We’re trying to build airmen to meet their full potential.”

The competition was open to all, with a focus on how to make both defensive and offensive electronic warfare operations more effective.

“Sometimes we get kind of immersed in the mission, and we think that our problems are either smaller or larger than they are,” Sterling said. Providing a forum like the shark tank event allows younger airmen to share fresh perspectives on those problems, he said, and foster a more innovative culture that enables ideas from lower ranks to rise to leadership.

Activated in 2021, the relatively nascent 350th is “still understanding where our expertise comes from,” Sterling said, and is working hard to recruit the workforce it needs to support its objectives. Beyond improving the wing’s internal workings, bringing new ideas to the fore through events like the shark tank competition are also meant to demonstrate to potential recruits that the 350th can be their home, Sterling said.

Hill defense committees pile on DoD over EW, spectrum ops gaps


WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee is leaning in on electronic warfare and spectrum operations, echoing concerns also simmering on the other side of Capitol Hill — and at the Pentagon — that the Defense Department may be lagging behind China and Russia.

The SASC version of the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed last Friday, “requires the Department of Defense to address deficiencies in the electronic protection of defense systems,” according to an executive summary.

The bill also pushes DoD to finally pull the trigger on a plan to establish a Joint Electromagnetic Spectrum Center at US Strategic Command. The center was initiated in 2021, at the same time Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin signed off on an implementation plan for the department’s 2020 Electromagnetic Spectrum Superiority Strategy to counter the growing prowess of Beijing and Moscow in electronic warfare. The goal of the center is to identify gaps in and improve capabilities across the US military to fight through attacks on spectrum access.

Since that time, however, the center’s official status has been awaiting approval by the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The SASC defense policy bill further would codify the the Pentagon’s informal, but high level, Electronic Warfare Executive Committee, created back in 2012 by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work to provide advice on EW issues.

Finally, Senate lawmakers would mandate an assessment of DoD training range capacity for EW training, an issue their counterparts on the on the House Armed Services Committee also raised in their version of the NDAA, passed June 22.

Army ‘on the cusp of greatness’ with its critical EW programs


WASHINGTON — The Army is making progress on two of its most critical electronic warfare (EW) programs as the service seeks to “reestablish its dominance to the spectrum for the next fight,” according to a service official.

“I think we’re on the cusp of greatness here in the EW portfolio after a few solid years of investment, lots of support from the Army and from [the Defense Department] to regrow the Army’s capability, and equipment’s coming,” Kenneth Stayer, project manager for EW and cyber, said in a May 1 interview.

That equipment will come in the form of the service’s Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool (EWPMT), built by Raytheon, which is meant to allow a commander to better visualize and plan operations in the electromagnetic spectrum on the battlefield. The Army has already fielded parts of the system to select units, but next fiscal year it will go into a full scale fielding.

He did not disclose which units will be fielded with EWPMT, but added that the service will continue to develop the system because there is “a large backlog of requirements that we want to get at.” Strayer told Breaking Defense last year that the system will add new capabilities that will allow it to connect to sensors, complete new modeling and analysis, and understand parts of the EW environment.

“So we’re right now in a competitive phase,” Strayer said May 1. “There is a [request for proposals] out on the street that vendors are proposing to right now. And we should get those proposals in next month and then plan to award a contract early next year.”

In its fiscal 2024 budget request, the Army requested $6 million to mature hardware and software capabilities that will “enable an Assured Position Navigation and Timing (APNT) system to function as a Navigation Warfare (NAVWAR) sensor” that will allow EWPMT to create a NAVWAR common operating picture. The service also requested $2.2 million to integrate NAVWAR “Situational Awareness,” a new start effort, into the program’s software, including developing application program interfaces and testing.