30 August 2023

What’s so bad about ‘aggressive neutrality’?

Christopher Mott

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February of last year, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan raised suspicions in Washington for his decision to maintain relations with the Kremlin. In a characteristically unsubtle move, Khan also visited Moscow shortly after the war began. He returned to Islamabad with a chip on his shoulder.

“What do you think of us? That we are your slaves and will do whatever you ask of us? We are friends of Russia and we are friends of the United States,” Khan told a crowd of his supporters. “We are friends of China and Europe, we are not part of any alliance.”

Little did Khan know that these words may have helped bring about the end of his political career. According to Pakistani diplomatic cables published by the Intercept, U.S. officials reacted to Khan’s stance on the war by subtly encouraging his opponents to remove him from power.

While it is doubtful that the United States was the sole or primary actor in the events that would land the prime minister in jail and lead to a military crackdown on the country’s political system (a state of affairs that remains in place today), the cables reveal that opponents of Khan were informed of U.S. anger over Khan’s statements on the Ukraine War and may have moved to oust him with the expectation of being rewarded with closer ties by Washington.

Most of the reactions to this breaking story have understandably focused on the Cold War-like aspect of what seems to be brazen interference in another country’s internal affairs. However, what is in danger of being overlooked is something more fundamental to how so many in D.C. conceptualize foreign policy as a whole.

Another Anniversary Passes With Little Progress in Afghanistan

Jim Cook

While Afghanistan has largely receded from public memory, the two-year anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal revives the shocking scenes of bedlam at the Kabul airport as desperate civilians tried to flee the country. Amidst the confusion, thirteen U.S. service members were tragically killed in a horrific terror bombing attack. Some distraught family members recently traveled to Washington demanding answers from senior military and civilian leaders. In defending the Biden administration’s actions, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby conceded there was no easy way to end America’s longest war but “that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth doing.” This sombre occasion provides an opportunity for reflection on the war and the consequences of the withdrawal for Afghanistan and U.S. interests.

Unfortunately, there has been little progress in Afghanistan’s governance, economic prosperity, and security over the last two years. If not for a close inspection of the dates, one could easily mistake last year’s commemoration news reports for an analysis of the situation in Afghanistan today. Despite international conferences and donor pledges for billions of dollars in humanitarian relief and other forms of assistance, these well-intentioned initiatives have little chance of meaningfully changing the status quo. Moreover, those who optimistically believed in Taliban reform have seen their hopes repeatedly dashed by their hardline policies and brutal governance.

China’s 21st Century Empire Building


In his new book The Loom of Time: Between Empire and Anarchy from the Mediterranean to China, Robert Kaplan views China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as the 21st century’s version of empire building. If China succeeds in achieving its commercial and strategic objectives in Central Asia and the Middle East, Kaplan writes, it will be positioned to control what geopoliticians call the “World-Island” — the vast Eurasian-African landmass that, as Halford Mackinder noted, combines insularity with incomparable human and natural resources. “Who controls the World-Island,” Mackinder warned, “commands the world.”

Kaplan compares China’s BRI to the British East India Company, which was an important lever in Great Britain’s empire building across the region that Kaplan calls the “Greater Middle East.” “Whereas the British East India Company in the early modern era advanced eastward from Europe across the Middle East to China,” he writes, “China is now advancing in the opposite geographical direction westward, though with similar commercial and strategic motives.” The strategic goal of the BRI is, in Kaplan’s opinion, to link the “Heartland” of Central Asia to the “Rimland” — a crescent-shaped region named by the great Dutch-American geopolitical thinker Nicholas Spykman that encompasses East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, and Western Europe. “The more the Heartland and the Rimland are interconnected, and the more China’s BRI becomes regionally dominant,” Kaplan explains, “the greater the potential for China to dominate Mackinder’s World-Island, including Spykman’s Rimland.” (READ MORE: These American Businessmen Are Cozying Up With China)

Winning the Influence War Against China

Patrick W. Quirk, Caitlin Dearing Scott

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden signed an executive order curtailing U.S. high-tech investment in China, reflecting a bipartisan consensus that U.S. investment should not be helping the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in these highly strategic industries. Such efforts are welcome, but to be truly effective, must be part of a broader strategy to push back on Beijing’s pursuit of global domination.

Military strength is obviously necessary for the free world to prevail in this new great power contest—however, it is not sufficient. The CCP uses economic leverage and elite capture to exert political influence, deploying information operations and exporting its authoritarian governance model to create the conditions for Beijing to advance its local and global interests. The more successful China is in eroding democracy around the world, the better placed it will be to undermine American interests and supplant the United States as the global superpower.

We need a strategy that combines the serious commitment of hard power resources and economic statecraft with a robust campaign to counter China by strengthening democratic resilience around the world. The United States has deployed foreign assistance to advance its geopolitical interests since the end of World War II, when the Marshall Plan was used to rebuild Europe and Japan’s social and economic foundations to prevent a Soviet takeover. Throughout the Cold War, the United States used foreign aid as part of its strategy of containment, providing valuable lessons for advancing U.S. interests in a new age of competition. This includes the establishment of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 1961 and the founding of the congressionally funded National Endowment for Democracy in 1983 at President Ronald Reagan’s instigation.

Early Intelligence Suggests Prigozhin Was Assassinated, U.S. Officials Say

Michael R. Gordon

The plane carrying Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner paramilitary group, crashed as the result of an assassination plot but wasn’t shot down by a surface-to-air missile, U.S. officials said.

The preliminary U.S. government assessments, which officials stressed are incomplete, suggest that a bomb exploded on the aircraft or that some other form of sabotage caused the crash northwest of Moscow.

The Russian government has said it is investigating the cause of the crash, but hasn’t offered an explanation. Social-media channels close to Prigozhin’s Wagner have claimed that the aircraft was downed by a Russian military antiaircraft missile.

“We have no information at this time to suggest that a surface-to-air missile was launched against the private aircraft reportedly carrying Yevgeny Prigozhin,” a senior Biden administration official said.

U.S. satellites with infrared sensors can detect the heat from missile launches, and none was detected at the time the plane was downed, defense officials said.

U.S. officials, however, haven’t determined what specifically led to the crash and have stopped sort of publicly asserting that the downing was an assassination, although numerous officials have privately concluded that.

China’s Crisis of Confidence in Six Charts

Nathaniel Taplin

What ails China?

There are plenty of answers, from demographics to geopolitics to trade. But the key problem might boil down to household finances and, just as important, everyday citizens’ deeply shaken confidence that their lives will keep improving following China’s Covid-19 emergency.

Why look at households specifically? China has a serious debt and productivity problem, especially in the state-owned and local-government sectors, but that has been true for years. Exports are falling, but China has weathered trade downturns before. Moreover, private manufacturing and infrastructure investment are actually holding up relatively well.

What is really new and notable about the current slowdown is a combination of exceptionally weak consumer prices, consumption, services-sector investment and property investment. All of that points firmly at households.

Reduced willingness to spend and take risks by families also undermines other parts of the economy in pernicious and self-reinforcing ways: consumption directly, and investment indirectly because household borrowing, mainly through mortgages, has long helped keep cash-strapped property developers and local governments above water.

China Casts CIA as Villain in New Anti-Spying Push

Chun Han Wong

SINGAPORE—Chinese leader Xi Jinping is expanding a campaign to harden the country against foreign efforts to steal its secrets, with his spymasters warning citizens abroad to guard against enticement from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

The Ministry of State Security—China’s main civilian intelligence agency—recently accused two Chinese nationals of spying for the U.S., saying both were recruited by the CIA while living overseas. It publicized the cases soon after CIA Director William Burns said the agency had made progress in rebuilding its spy network in China, an assertion that drew widespread attention on Chinese social media.

The disclosures are part of the Chinese state-security ministry’s first-ever public foray on social media, where it has solicited the public’s help in fighting espionage and other threats to national security. In its debut post on the popular do-everything app WeChat on Aug. 1, titled “Counterespionage Requires Mobilization of an Entire Society,” it urged ordinary Chinese to help build a “people’s line of defense for national security.”

The ministry’s social-media offensive lands amid rising tensions and mutual distrust between the U.S. and China, with each power portraying the other as a strategic threat. Both sides have also traded spying allegations, with Washington accusing Beijing of running cyberattacks and espionage efforts against American targets, and vice versa.

Two active members of the U.S. Navy have been charged with allegedly transmitting sensitive military information to the People’s Republic of China in exchange for thousands of dollars, officials said. Photo: Meg McLaughlin/The San Diego Union-Tribune/AP (Published Aug. 3)

Defecting Russian Mi-8 Helicopter Was Lured To Ukraine


In what’s probably one of the more remarkable stories to come out of the Russia-Ukraine air war, reports emerged today of an apparent defection to Ukraine by a Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS, in its Russian abbreviation) Mi-8AMTSh Hip combat transport helicopter, in what is claimed to have been a long-planned Ukrainian intelligence operation.

If true, not only did the Mi-8 and at least some of its crew end up in Ukrainian hands, but the helicopter’s cargo consisted of undisclosed parts for VKS Su-27 and Su-30SM Flanker fighters, which were being transported between two airbases. That is the claim made by the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper, citing sources in Ukrainian defense intelligence, and the chief of Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence has also confirmed the basics of the story.

Those Russian airbases have not been named, and the exact route taken by the helicopter into Ukraine is unclear, although there are suggestions it landed somewhere near Poltava, in central Ukraine.


Nils Peterson

The China–Taiwan Weekly Update focuses on the Chinese Communist Party’s paths to controlling Taiwan and relevant cross–Taiwan Strait developments.

Key Takeaways:
  1. The Kuomintang (KMT) is facing several internal disputes as the party falls further behind in the presidential election polls.
  2. The flagship CCP journal Qiushi republished a February article by Xi Jinping on August 15 that emphasized “Chinese-style modernization.” This content of the publication and its reprinting indicates that the party aims to buttress support for spreading its political and economic governance models in formerly colonized countries.
  3. The CCP outlet Red Flag Manuscript published an article on August 14 about the necessity of recapturing the spirit of “revolutionary patriotism” embodied by the Chinese military during the Korean War. The content of the article indicates that creating ideological alignment amongst PLA leadership is becoming increasingly necessary in order to prepare for future wars.

Taiwan Developments


Riley Bailey

The Wagner Group will likely no longer exist as a quasi-independent parallel military structure following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s almost certain assassination of Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner founder Dmitry Utkin, and reported Wagner logistics and security head Valery Chekalov on August 23. The death of Wagner’s central leadership disrupts Wagner’s ability to reverse the effects of the Kremlin’s and the Russian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) campaign to weaken, subsume, and destroy the organization following the June 24 armed rebellion.[1] The Russian MoD has reportedly established private military companies (PMCs) that have been recruiting current and former Wagner personnel to assume control over Wagner’s operations abroad.[2] Russian sources claimed that the Kremlin refused to pay the Belarusian government for Wagner’s deployment to Belarus and that financial issues were already leading to reduced payments that were causing Wagner fighters to resign.[3] Satellite imagery from August 1 and 23 shows that Wagner had dismantled almost a third of the tents at its camp in Tsel, Asipovichy, Belarus in the previous month, suggesting that the effort to weaken Wagner may have resulted in a notable flight of Wagner personnel from the contingent in Belarus.[4] Some milbloggers denied claims that Wagner fighters are dismantling their camp in Tsel, however.[5] The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on August 23 that an unspecified number of Wagner personnel at camps in Belarus began preparations to return to Russia following Prigozhin’s death.[6] The central Wagner leadership had brought Wagner to the height of its independence during the offensive to capture Bakhmut and was attempting to retain some semblance of that independence in the aftermath of Wagner’s rebellion.[7] The elimination of this central leadership likely ends any remaining means Wagner had to operate independently of the Russian MoD. It remains unclear whether the Kremlin intends for Wagner to completely dissipate or intends to reconstitute it as a much smaller organization completely subordinate to the Russian MoD. A third option—restoring Wagner as a quasi-independent organization under a new commander loyal to the Kremlin—is possible but unlikely.

Putin delivered a brief de facto eulogy of Prigozhin and reportedly deceased Wagner leadership on August 24, and portrayed Prigozhin as his loyal subordinate up until his death, the armed rebellion notwithstanding. Putin characterized Prigozhin as having a “difficult fate” in which he made “serious mistakes,” and Putin noted that he had known Prigozhin since the early 1990s. Putin notably stated that Prigozhin “achieved the necessary results both for himself and what I [Putin] asked him for – for a common cause, as in these last months.” Putin’s comment implies that Prigozhin had been fulfilling Putin’s orders recently and throughout their acquaintance and notably refrains from suggesting that Prigozhin had ever betrayed Putin, but subtly indicates that Prigozhin’s loyalty through the years was not enough to offset the “serious mistake” of launching a rebellion against the Russian military leadership. Putin’s speech largely confirms ISW’s prior assessment that Prigozhin did not intend to oust Putin during his June 24 rebellion and instead saw himself as loyal to Putin while seeking to force Putin to fire the Russian military leadership as he had been demanding.[8] A Russian insider source, citing an unnamed individual who knew Prigozhin, claimed that Prigozhin was confident that Putin would forgive him.[9] Prigozhin likely underestimated how seriously his rebellion had personally humiliated Putin. Prigozhin had also apparently overestimated the value of his own loyalty to Putin. Putin places significant value on loyalty and has frequently rewarded loyal Russian officials and military commanders even when they have failed. Prigozhin’s rebellion was an act of significant insubordination despite his claim that he rebelled out of loyalty to Russia.[10] Putin’s statement was therefore a warning to those currently loyal to Putin that some mistakes are too serious for loyalty to overcome.

Tokyo A Victim Of Opportunistic Geopolitical Convenience – Analysis

Collins Chong Yew Keat

The release of the treated radioactive water from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has been a point of contention that has been made a geopolitical tool for strategic returns, more than being moulded from a scientific discourse and argument. Critical players including China have upped the ante of criticizing Tokyo and projecting a sustained climate of narratives based on this perceived irresponsible move by Japan.

While Beijing is further squeezed by its internal economic decline and the aftermath of the tech and investment embargo by the West, prospects are worsened by the inaugural tripartite alliance and defence pact among Tokyo, Seoul and Washington as cemented in the recent Camp David pact. While Beijing has gained ground in Southeast Asia in elevating its soft power narrative and influence-seeking activities to enhance its legitimacy and trust, it continues to receive dwindling perception and acceptance in its Eastern neighbours. With its economic clout being used as a tool in expressing its displeasure on moves by Seoul to seek closer ties with Washington and in placing anti-missile systems, public perception further took a hit.

Both Seoul and Tokyo are cognizant of the current need to repair ties and forgo past historical discord in order to jointly face common threats from Beijing and Pyongyang in particular, and both are not able to fully have a deterrent and post-deterrent capacity in standing up to both powers without Washington. Beijing’s worst fear of a consolidated security pact has come true, and the prospects of an expanded version of the Camp David alliance or an enlarged Quad in the form of a mini or Asian NATO further accelerate Beijing’s scramble to solidify its friendshoring efforts through the Global South and BRICS as the primary tools.

Achieving Peace in Ukraine Is More Complicated than Some Would Think

Paul R. Pillar
Source Link

A recent article by Michael Crowley in the New York Times highlights divisions within the community of peace activists over U.S. support for the Ukrainian war effort. Some groups and individuals who have been prominent members of that community, along with political leaders generally sympathetic to their objectives, have backed the Biden administration’s support for the Ukrainian military as a just response to a war of aggression by Russia. But some others have gone into the hearing-disrupting, banner-waving, slogan-shouting mode that became a trademark of antiwar activism in earlier times.

The current divisions—between and sometimes within groups—over the Ukraine war can be called a crisis of the peace activist community. The issues are far less straightforward for that community, and thus more difficult for it to deal with than two decades ago when it was the United States that launched a war of aggression against Iraq. It was during the run-up to that war that groups such as Win Without War and Code Pink—both still prominent parts of the antiwar activist scene—were founded.

Echoes of Vietnam

Probably there should have been more of a sense of crisis, and more complications going through the minds of peace activists, during some other earlier wars than was the case at the time. Baby boomers who in their younger years identified as peace activists won their flower-powered spurs protesting U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam. There obviously are great differences between the U.S. direct involvement in that war, with its immense costs in American blood as well as treasure in a time of conscription, and the current U.S. backing of the Ukrainians’ fight. Much of the emotionally charged peace activism of the late 1960s and early 1970s was waged in highly simplified terms of “stop the war” and “get out of Vietnam.”

Preventing a US-China War


China and America both need to pursue policies that will reduce economic and geopolitical tensions and foster healthy cooperation on global challenges. If they fail to achieve a new understanding on the issues driving their current confrontation, they will eventually collide – with disastrous consequences for the world.

NEW YORK – The United States and China remain on a collision course. The new cold war between them may eventually turn hot over the issue of Taiwan. The “Thucydides Trap” – in which a rising power seems destined to clash with an incumbent hegemon – looms ominously. But a serious escalation of Sino-American tensions, let alone a war, can still be avoided, sparing the world the cataclysmic consequences that would inevitably follow.

There will always be at least some tensions when a rising power challenges the prevailing global power. But China is facing off against the US at a moment when America’s relative power may be weakening, and when it is committed to preventing its own strategic decline. Both sides are thus becoming increasingly paranoid about the other’s intentions, and confrontation has mostly supplanted healthy competition and cooperation. Both sides are partly to blame.

Under President Xi Jinping, China has become more authoritarian and moved further toward state capitalism, rather than adhering to Deng Xiaoping’s concept of “reform and opening-up.” Moreover, Deng’s maxim, “hide your strength and bide your time,” has given way to military assertiveness. With China pursuing an increasingly aggressive foreign policy, territorial disputes between it and several Asian neighbors have worsened. China has sought to control the East and South China Seas, and it has become increasingly impatient to “reunify” with Taiwan by any means necessary.

Symbolism over substance for South Africa as Ramaphosa announces BRICS 3.0

Christopher Vandome

South Africa’s Police Minister, Bheki Cele, compared hosting BRICS to the World Cup in 2010 – perhaps the last time the country felt like it was the centre of the world’s attention. Fighter jets screamed over the city at regular intervals as if to remind its residents that important matters were taking place.

The message that BRICS represents 40 per cent of the world’s population and a growing share of its GDP was echoed across marketing banners at the airport and venue, and across media. These statistics seem to serve as the central justification for why the group exists, and why South Africa would want to be a part of it.

But despite the fanfare and the impressive potential of the economies involved, BRICS membership still delivers few specific economic benefits for South Africa, remaining primarily a forum for its geopolitical ambition.

In a newly expanded BRICS, South Africa will need to work with new partners and engage in ‘group diplomacy’ to ensure its position is strengthened and not diluted.

A desire for a multipolar world

BRICS week began with a Sunday night public address by President Cyril Ramaphosa, rooting South Africa’s foreign policy in the struggle against apartheid and a push for equal national recognition on the world stage.

US intel believes ‘intentional’ blast downed Wagner chief’s plane

Emma Burrows

A preliminary U.S. intelligence assessment concluded that an intentional explosion caused the plane crash presumed to have killed a Russian mercenary leader who was eulogized Thursday by Russian President Vladimir Putin, even as suspicions grew that he was the architect of the assassination.

One of the U.S. and Western officials who described the initial assessment said it determined that Yevgeny Prigozhin was “very likely” targeted and that the explosion falls in line with Putin’s “long history of trying to silence his critics.”

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment, did not offer any details on what caused the explosion, which was widely believed to be vengeance for the mutiny in June that posed the biggest challenge to the Russian leader’s 23-year rule. Several of Prigozhin’s lieutenants were also presumed dead.

Pentagon spokesman Gen. Pat Ryder said press reports that a surface-to-air missile took down the plane were inaccurate. He declined to say whether the U.S. suspected a bomb or believed the crash was an assassination.

USASOC study outlines measures to optimize female Soldiers

Joe Lacdan

WASHINGTON — To better address obstacles facing female Soldiers serving in special operations units and to retain its top talent, Army Special Operations Command outlined 42 recommendations in a study released Monday.

The research’s findings will guide USASOC in optimizing female warfighters while noting their physical and anatomical differences.

“It is not about providing accommodations for women,” said USASOC Command Sgt. Maj. JoAnn Naumann. “It's providing tools that allow women to maximize their performance and continue to serve at all levels and across time.”

During the yearlong study, researchers found that 44% of the female Soldiers surveyed said they experienced equipment-fitting challenges relating to body armor, helmets and ruck systems. The problem can impact women’s abilities to perform basic Soldier maneuvers and skills.

Female Soldiers also reported that the time they spent planning pregnancies negatively impacted their careers, leading to Soldiers scheduling childbearing around career milestones or avoiding pregnancy entirely, according to the 106-page report, titled, “Breaking Barriers: Women in Army Special Operations Forces.”

Researchers held more than 40 focus groups and interviews with women and men from across the force. The study focused on the areas of equipment fitting, childcare, gender bias, social support, sexual harassment, pregnancy and postpartum, and morale and wellbeing. Retired Lt. Gen. Francis Beaudette, former USASOC commander, initiated the 2021 study, which had more than 5,000 respondents. Additionally, the survey addressed other concerns including challenges of small-statured Soldiers and access to healthcare.

National Science Foundation plans $29M for quantum sensing research


The National Science Foundation is making a $29 million investment to help spur a new iteration of quantum sensing technologies.

Announced Tuesday, the funding will go to 18 research teams based out of U.S. universities, with each team awarded around $1 million to $2 million over four years.

Quantum sensing promises the advanced and precise measurement of changes in the temperatures, movement, direction, and other characteristics of subatomic particles.

Focus areas for the awardees include constructing a quantum-enhanced telescope that runs on entangled photons, developing portable atomic clocks to better measure shifts in the Earth’s gravitational field at different altitudes, and investigating new techniques for visualizing inside live cells to pursue advanced medical treatments.

US issues threat warning after hackers break into a satellite


It seems like nothing is off-limits for threat actors to target these days. Hospitals, schools, charity organizations and even municipalities have all been successfully targeted by malicious cyberattacks in recent years. And now, it seems like attackers are even looking into space for new systems to try and compromise.

Last week, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in coordination with the FBI, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, issued a warning about increased attempts to attack both satellites in orbit and the intellectual property of companies developing space technologies.

The warning comes just about a month after three teams at the DEF CON 23 convention in Las Vegas managed to hack a government satellite in orbit. Those attacks were conducted with the full permission of the government as part of the U.S. Space Force’s Hack-A-Sat competition. Three of the teams that successfully breached the security of the orbiting satellite were awarded up to $50,000 in prize money for demonstrating how such an attack could be conducted. This was the first time that hacker groups were able to prove that it was now possible to circumvent the cybersecurity protections of satellites in orbit.

Air Force won’t say whether newest ARRW test succeeded, echoing past failure


WASHINGTON — The Air Force recently conducted another all-up round test of the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), but the service won’t say whether this test was a success — echoing how the service handled a previous failed launch of the weapon.

“A B-52H Stratofortress conducted a recent test of the All-Up-Round AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon. This test launched a full prototype operational hypersonic missile and focused on the ARRW’s end-to-end performance,” an Air Force spokesperson said in a press release.

“The Air Force gained valuable new insights into the capabilities of this new, cutting-edge technology. While we won’t discuss specific test objectives, this test acquired valuable, unique data and was intended to further a range of programs such as ARRW and HACM. We also validated and improved our test and evaluation capabilities for continued development of advanced hypersonic systems,” the spokesperson added.

It is possible that the test was successful or at least met some of its objectives, but not announcing it as such raises the reality that it may be yet another failure for the weapon. Following the ARRW program’s previous all-up-round — or fully assembled — test in March, the Air Force conspicuously declined to say whether the test met all its objectives, with service secretary Frank Kendall later confirming that it was “not a success.” The ARRW had failed to transmit necessary data from the test flight, according to a report in Bloomberg.

Unnecessary Repetition: Russia’s Latest Attempt at a New UN Convention on Cyberspace

Parallel to the cyber front of Russia’s illegal war of aggression in Ukraine, conflict brews within the discussions on the cyber aspects of international law at the United Nations OpenEnded Working Group (OEWG). Russia’s latest proposal for a legally binding convention on ensuring international information security was submitted by Russia on the 29th of June after the fourth substantive session of the OEWG. It was conspicuous, despite it being ultimately largely ignored in the Progress Report. Even if ultimately unsuccessful, such proposals serve to direct the discussion and draw attention to the proposer’s desired topics, hence they are an effective influencing tool. Russia has a long history of proposing new conventions and instruments at the United Nations, so this is nothing new; however, after its successful proposal for a UN convention on cybercrime, all such initiatives should be carefully examined. While seemingly innocuous on the surface, this proposal is akin to a Trojan horse filled with the proposer’s own interests.

24 hours to launch: Space Force, DIU kick off new ‘Tactically Responsive Space’ mission


WASHINGTON — The Space Force and the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) today kickstarted a follow-up to the service’s Tactically Responsive Space-3 (TacRS-3) mission to launch a prototype satellite, called Victus Nox, within 24 hours of a “go” order.

The new effort, called Victus Haze and announced today in a call for industry proposals, is being managed by Space Systems Command’s Space Safari program office and is designed not just to very rapidly turn around a launch of a prototype satellite, but also quickly perform an up-close on-orbit inspection of a (simulated) threatening spacecraft. Space Safari was established to directly respond to urgent launch needs of US Space Command and other combatant commands.

“The number and complexity of adversary threats in space is constantly growing. To rapidly respond to those threats, we need to deliver the most advanced TacRS capabilities the U.S. has to offer,” said Lt. Col. MacKenzie Birchenough, Space Safari material leader, in a joint statement with DIU. “VICTUS HAZE will help provide the advantage we need to assess the threats and continue our ability to freely maneuver in space.”

The solicitation comes as the Victus Nox satellite, built by Boeing’s Millennium Space Systems, is awaiting the starting gun to launch to low Earth orbit on a Firefly Aerospace Alpha rocket. Space Safari has been planning to launch by the end of the year, but could spring the notice on the contractors as early as the end of this month.

UK awards BAE Systems $113M Trinity tactical network contract


BELFAST — The UK Ministry of Defence has issued a five-year contract, valued at £89 million ($113 million), to BAE Systems for the design and manufacture of a deployable Wide Area Network (WAN) dubbed Trinity, set to deliver “enhanced connectivity” to frontline troops.

Described as a “highly secure and state-of-the-art battlefield internet capability,” Trinity will be acquired to replace Britain’s existing Falcon network, due to be retired in 2026. The total contract amount of $113 million will be “dedicated” to the research and development phase of the program, set to be delivered in December 2025, according to an MoD statement Tuesday.

The new system features a series of nodes meant to add, access, and move data across a digital network. Even if some nodes suffer damage from combat operations, the others automatically re-route to maintain “optimum” network speed and keep information flowing, added the MoD.

It also noted that BAE Systems will be supported at an industrial level by US firms L3 Harris and KBR, an engineering company headquartered in Texas. Northern Ireland-based business management agency PR Consulting will also assist with the program.

How revisiting naval aviation’s lessons can (and cannot) inform military AI innovation


Imagine this scenario: United States military forces are advancing westward across the Pacific Ocean, responding to a provocation, to confront an adversary in the country’s near abroad. US forces will need to project power to conduct and sustain operations at great distances, complicating prolonged involvement in the conflict.

The adversary has targeted American outposts around the Indo-Pacific to deny US forces access to the conflict zone and hamper logistics and resupply, aiming to score a quick victory. How might the United States use the emerging capabilities to overcome the obstacles posed by its opponent, particularly when the adversary is similarly trying to exploit new technologies?

The Indo-Pacific competitor in the above scenario is not China. The emerging capabilities are not related to artificial intelligence (AI), hypersonics, or other headline-grabbing technologies.

Rather, the adversary is Imperial Japan, and the emerging capability is carrier aviation. Historical analogies are imperfect and can be easily over-generalized to fit current lenses; the above scenario does not perfectly reflect a US-China contingency over Taiwan, for example.

Nonetheless, the naval aviation revolution in military affairs (RMA), which arose from US-Japan interwar competition, offers valuable insights into how the Department of Defense can conceptualise and develop military AI applications across the services and joint force. These include the importance of realistic experimentation, effectively navigating bureaucracy, and empowering visionary personnel.

Digital Engineering: The Good, the Bad, and a Call to Action

Gregory T. Kiley

Several government reports released this summer concerning digital engineering bring forth cause for grave concern, while at the same time expressing optimism and a clear call to action. As Congress comes back to session this fall amidst all the expected hand-wringing and chest-thumping over budgets and deficits, it is hopeful that professional staff and members will see through the noise and act. With Hill staff pushing the Department of Defense to embrace digital engineering, they may just help alleviate a bit the next round of wailing over budget pressures and funding shortfalls; to overuse clichés, “The devil is in the details.”

On July 27, 2023, the Air Force published its accident investigation report of an October 2022 F-35 fighter aircraft crash. In short, the board reports a “software glitch” as the cause for the loss of a $166 million asset. The fact that such an advanced, top-of-the-line fighter aircraft could be lost so simply should be cause for great alarm. The fact that “software glitches” are not being caught before airborne operations should ring alarm bells even more. Coupling the accident investigation finding with any number of headlines this summer concerning the delays surrounding F-35 deliveries should keep those responsible for our Nation’s security up at night.

Also in July 2023, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published its latest iterative report on best practices, encouraging the Department of Defense to adopt said practices to more effectively and efficiently procure and manage its assets. The GAO writes, “Agencies are increasingly acquiring complex products, such as combined networks of hardware and software, which require new processes to design, produce, and deliver. GAO found that to consistently deliver products with speed to users, acquisition programs for these networks—known as cyber-physical systems, such as aircraft and uncrewed vehicles—DoD must adopt new approaches to evaluate performance and assess execution risks.” Foundational to leading practices within successful businesses is the industry’s use of modern design tools, such as digital engineering throughout development for both hardware and software.

INDUS-X: Charting the Way Ahead for India-U.S. Defense Industrial Cooperation



By any reasonable standard, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s U.S. visit in June 2023 was a success. As the subsequent factsheet stated, many significant deals were struck, and many previously announced bilateral initiatives were inaugurated.

Among the initiatives launched during the visit was the India-U.S. Defense Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS-X), a defence innovation bridge envisioned to bolster defence industrial cooperation between both nations. The inaugural summit convened frank and detailed discussions on a wide range of issues related to India-U.S. defence industrial cooperation. Opportunities for corporate mentor-protégé programs were identified, and even the minutiae of export control laws were thoroughly examined. The event concluded with the release of a collaboration agenda that outlines an assortment of objectives along with a plan for tracking progress toward achieving them. The agenda is wide-ranging in nature and will need a whole-of-government approach to meet the ambitious targets it envisions.

In two weeks, President Joe Biden will arrive in India for the G20 Leaders’ Summit. This creates an opportunity for both countries to keep the momentum on INDUS-X going and hammer out some key deliverables in the short term. The importance of quick wins in the area of defense-industrial cooperation cannot be emphasized enough. While defence trade between New Delhi and Washington has grown steadily since the landmark nuclear agreement in 2005, the two countries have a less-than-satisfactory record when it comes to defence-industrial cooperation. Nonetheless, India and the United States have identified key areas of defence industrial cooperation at the inaugural INDUS-X summit. They must now strive toward tangible outcomes on an accelerated timeline. This commentary highlights how the two countries can work out some quick wins.