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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default We live in an era of implausible deniability and ambiguous warfare

    International Affairs is the Chatham House journal and they have made available for free this article 'Grey is the new black: covert action and implausible deniability' by Professor Richard Aldrich and Dr Rory Cormac, both British academic intelligence historians.

    On a very quick read the focus is Anglo-American, although the USSR / Russia gets a mention and I have not looked at the ninety-six references.

    If anyone is in Oxford on May 14th Dr Cormac is speaking at a public event (PM for details).

    The Abstract, from where the title comes says:
    For hundreds of years, states have sought to intervene in the affairs of others in a surreptitious manner. Since the professionalization of intelligence services in the aftermath of the Second World War, this behaviour has become known as covert action, which—for generations of scholars—has been defined as plausibly deniable intervention in the affairs of others; the sponsor's hand is neither apparent nor acknowledged. We challenge this orthodoxy. By turning the spotlight away from covert action and onto plausible deniability itself, we argue that even in its supposed heyday, the concept was deeply problematic. Changes in technology and the media, combined with the rise of special forces and private military companies, give it even less credibility today. We live in an era of implausible deniability and ambiguous warfare. Paradoxically, this does not spell the end of covert action. Instead, leaders are embracing implausible deniability and the ambiguity it creates. We advance a new conception of covert action, historically grounded but fit for the twenty-first century: unacknowledged interference in the affairs of others.
    Link:https://academic.oup.com/ia/article/94/3/477/4992414
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 05-04-2018 at 05:18 PM.
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    David,

    Thanks for sharing the study/article. Overall a good article, but I think the author is a little base. First, the growth of U.S. Special Operations doesn't automatically correlate to a growth in covert operations. The majority of USSOF when deployed are openly declared, yet they seek to keep a low profile. Second, hybrid warfare isn't a new term to describe covert action. It is a term to describe the blending of conventional and irregular warfare and the various forms it takes. Covert action may or may not be an aspect of hybrid warfare. The term describes a historic norm, so its only utility in my view is as a tool to pry open the eyes of officers whose views on warfare have been overly limited by narrowly focused studies on 19th Century warfare strategists like Jomini and Clausewitz. At the end of the day war continues to be just war, it may be waged at various levels of intensity and via various means and ways that extend well beyond the use the conventional forces and the increasingly elusive idea of a meeting engagement where a decisive battle achieves our political ends.

    The author may be right that gray is the new black, and that covert action may even have less utility in the future. An alternative future is that covert action will increasingly become the norm (whether is gray or black) due to the influence globalization and growing economic interdependence (thus the desire to manage escalation). Globalization equates to growing global mobility of people, goods, information, and globalisms (identify groups based on ideology). State actors will increasingly be able to influence and leverage these identity groups around the globe via information operations (bots, etc.), while maintaining a hidden hand. You can call it indirect covert action through a combination of witting and unwitting proxies, but again this is an old practice, only the means to do so are new or evolving.

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    Default The Coming Asymmetry

    There has been much discussion since the 1990s on asymmetric warfare and its various meanings and implications. One glaring asymmetry is unmanned and semi-autonomous, or fully autonomous air, maritime, and land military / paramilitary / terrorist vessels/vehicles. Of course, it the asymmetry will be temporary, as everyone who seeks to remain relevant in current and future conflicts will adapt and they'll become the new norm. Despite their economic and technological advances, some advanced countries with deep military cultural biases may actually fall behind their competitors due to their propensity to cling to their comfort zone.

    https://www.defenseone.com/technolog...ssiles/152650/

    China Shows Off Self-Steering Boat that Fires Missiles

    China has developed an autonomous boat that can conduct reconnaissance and fire up to four guided missiles, state-run media reported. Manufactured by Zhuhai Yunzhou Intelligence Technology, the 7.5-meter, 3.7-ton Liaowangzhe-2 was displayed for the first time at the China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, in southern China this week.
    The U.S. has been the leader in highly autonomous ocean vessels since August 2014, when the Office of Naval Research staged a breakthrough demonstration on VirginiaÂ’s James River. Some 13 self-driving boats conducted a series of complex, coordinated maneuvers to protect a high-value ship and harass enemy vessels. Unlike aerial drones such as the Reaper that still require a human operator, the small rigid-hulled inflatable boats handled advanced swarming tricks with virtually no human guidance. The whole coordinated maneuver drill required just one person, who relayed targeting information from a helicopter.
    Since ISIS, China, Russia, Israel, and other state and non-state actors are increasingly employing this unmanned vehicles with varying degrees of autonomy, where is the asymmetry? Its in the tactics and economics.

    First, a new technology is not an effective innovation until it is exercised and becomes part of our doctrine, or at least can feasibly be employed by a unit in the field. A few visionaries experimenting with new technologies at DARPA and like labs does not equate to a viable combat capability as of yet. It is an innovation when tactical commanders are willing and know how to employ it in their overall scheme of maneuver.

    Point two, the Navy has a deep cultural bias for manned ships, and the Air Force has a cultural bias for manned aircraft. The disruption to the current force structure and associated personnel management from recruiting to promotions will be substantial. Based on this, the legacy force will resist change by all bureaucratic means possible.

    Third point is economic, which in fact could compel U.S. political leadership to force the military to change quicker with a new Act that would be as transforming as the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986. I have no idea how much it cost to make an armed autonomous vessel that is "good enough" to effective swarm a U.S. manned vessel and destroy it. I'll assume $2 million, and the cost will be reduced over time as the technology is more widely available. It will cost much less if you simply pack the vessel with explosives and not rely on missiles. A U.S. Frigate costs approximately $340 million, a destroyer $1.5 billion, and an aircraft carrier over $10 billion. It probably wouldn't take more than 20 drones to overcome one ship so $40 million or so to destroy a vessel that is 10 to 6,000 times more expensive. This doesn't even take into account the cost of losing several hundred to several thousand sailors.

    Who will adapt first? A non-state actor or nation that can't match an adversary's conventional military over match, or the state actor with the current overwhelming conventional advantage?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    There has been much discussion since the 1990s on asymmetric warfare and its various meanings and implications. One glaring asymmetry is unmanned and semi-autonomous, or fully autonomous air, maritime, and land military / paramilitary / terrorist vessels/vehicles. Of course, it the asymmetry will be temporary, as everyone who seeks to remain relevant in current and future conflicts will adapt and they'll become the new norm. Despite their economic and technological advances, some advanced countries with deep military cultural biases may actually fall behind their competitors due to their propensity to cling to their comfort zone.

    https://www.defenseone.com/technolog...ssiles/152650/

    China Shows Off Self-Steering Boat that Fires Missiles

    Since ISIS, China, Russia, Israel, and other state and non-state actors are increasingly employing this unmanned vehicles with varying degrees of autonomy, where is the asymmetry? Its in the tactics and economics.

    First, a new technology is not an effective innovation until it is exercised and becomes part of our doctrine, or at least can feasibly be employed by a unit in the field. A few visionaries experimenting with new technologies at DARPA and like labs does not equate to a viable combat capability as of yet. It is an innovation when tactical commanders are willing and know how to employ it in their overall scheme of maneuver.

    Point two, the Navy has a deep cultural bias for manned ships, and the Air Force has a cultural bias for manned aircraft. The disruption to the current force structure and associated personnel management from recruiting to promotions will be substantial. Based on this, the legacy force will resist change by all bureaucratic means possible.

    Third point is economic, which in fact could compel U.S. political leadership to force the military to change quicker with a new Act that would be as transforming as the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986. I have no idea how much it cost to make an armed autonomous vessel that is "good enough" to effective swarm a U.S. manned vessel and destroy it. I'll assume $2 million, and the cost will be reduced over time as the technology is more widely available. It will cost much less if you simply pack the vessel with explosives and not rely on missiles. A U.S. Frigate costs approximately $340 million, a destroyer $1.5 billion, and an aircraft carrier over $10 billion. It probably wouldn't take more than 20 drones to overcome one ship so $40 million or so to destroy a vessel that is 10 to 6,000 times more expensive. This doesn't even take into account the cost of losing several hundred to several thousand sailors.

    Who will adapt first? A non-state actor or nation that can't match an adversary's conventional military over match, or the state actor with the current overwhelming conventional advantage?
    Great post.

    When teaching introduction to innovation applied to the military, one maxim I use is “it’s not innovation until it’s implemented”: https://www.cove.org.au/adaptation/a...vation-maxims/

    Ultimately, I believe the answer to your question of who will adapt first will be answered thru further questions:

    1) which org is most accepting of many small failings?
    2) which org is most receptive to new institutional learning?
    3) which org is most willing to deploy “good enough” today and continuously iterate towards excellence tomorrow?
    4) which org is most likely to incorporate the scientific method, velocity of decision making, and perpetual iteration as core behaviours, habits, culture, and doctrine.

    The disposability of decisive military advantage is accelerating towards the life expectancy of Zero Day exploits.

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default From an armchair

    I dip into War on The Rocks irregularly and this article may help lift the gloom that I see here.

    It opens with:
    The world’s largest constellation of satellites is not operated by the U.S. government, but rather by Planet Labs, a San Francisco-based startup that uses satellites to gain insights for its commercial customers.....While principally focused on commercial applications, the dual-use nature of this technology is clear. Battles at sea historically favor the first effective attacker. Launching the first effective attack requires either superior scouting...
    Link:https://warontherocks.com/2018/11/pe...ime-awareness/

    Is this an example of how the non-state sector can help with an established system? No doubt the traditional response will be it is not built for warfare, e.g. insufficient, encrypted data down link capacity.

    Could it be innovation comes from the bottom in the military, where the need can be clearer, even if the capacity to innovate may be small?
    davidbfpo

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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    I dip into War on The Rocks irregularly and this article may help lift the gloom that I see here.

    It opens with:
    Link:https://warontherocks.com/2018/11/pe...ime-awareness/

    Is this an example of how the non-state sector can help with an established system? No doubt the traditional response will be it is not built for warfare, e.g. insufficient, encrypted data down link capacity.

    Could it be innovation comes from the bottom in the military, where the need can be clearer, even if the capacity to innovate may be small?
    For building an array of micro-satellites, it may likely require an innovation programme such as Hacking 4 Defense developed at Stanford U by:

    Steve Blank(the “godfather” of Lean StartUp)
    Pete Newell(stood up the Rapid Equipping Force)
    Joe Felter(now serving as Assistant Undersecretary of Defense)

    It’s an awesome university based program(I’m biased) that is designed to solve big hairy national security problems.

    I’ve used it as a basis to build short courses focused on teaching uniformed and civilian defence personnel how to innovate and support them in their efforts from the bottom up.

    One of the problems we have identified after conducted this pilot course thru quite a few iterations in two countries now is the vulnerability that comes with organisations where too many people have the right to say no to bottom up innovation.

    So stealing heavily from Steve Blank’s “Get to Yes” Memo: https://steveblank.com/2015/03/17/ge...te-innovation/

    We are proposing the return of the Letter of Marque: https://groundedcuriosity.com/why-be...e-a-privateer/

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    Default Gloom and Reality Checks

    David,

    Sometimes a little gloom drives innovation, nothing like necessity to drive change with a sense of purpose and urgency .

    Innovative centers like Silicon Valley have spread around the world for better and worse. I'll take your point and raise you one. Non-state sectors are frequently the centers for military innovation, but frequently is military-industry teaming that leads to the big innovation wins. I suspect there are bureaucratic hurdles to expanding our ISR collection by leveraging existing private industry satellites, but those hurdles can be overcome during a crisis. Going back to my first point, a futuristic adversary may have a couple hundred $2 million armed/weaponized unmanned maritime vessels (surface and sub surface and hybrid). Assuming our ISR could detect these, now we have to destroy with million dollar missile. That is still an expensive proposition, so the economic asymmetry remains unless we apply a new paradigm. If it is a protracted conflict, then what opponent's industry can out produce the other? I assume it will be possible in the near future to produce small, unmanned vessels using 3D printing, and adding the software as the article I linked to above indicates is a pretty simple and inexpensive. This can play out in multiple ways over time, either in our favor or against us. I guess my point is after thinking about it a little more is we cannot assume technical superiority in future, as an example, even if we know our destroyers are superior to Chinese and Russian destroyers, innovation in other areas can neutralize that advantage. When I see net assessments that compare friendly to potential adversary forces, they are largely symmetric (plane to plane, tank to tank, ship to ship) and the assumption is the side with the mostest and bestest military toys has the decisive advantage. This process neglects comparing fighting strategies and how asymmetric technology and tactics and change the assessment finding.

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