Archive for Christopher Woody

The Coast Guard is taking a frontline role against US foes on the other side of the world

Coast Guard Hamilton Bosphorus Turkey Black Sea
US Coast Guard cutter Hamilton in the Bosphorus on its way to the Black Sea, April 27, 2021.
  • In April, Coast Guard ships had close encounters in the Persian Gulf and sailed into the Black Sea.
  • The missions reflect the Coast Guard's role overseas, set to grow amid competition with China.
  • But that will add to the service's responsibilities as it balances current missions and future needs.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Encounters far from home in April underscored the US Coast Guard's growing overseas role, which is set to expand as more attention and resources are dedicated to countering China.

On April 2, an Iranian ship repeatedly sailed in front of Coast Guard patrol boats Wrangell and Monomoy at "an unnecessarily close range" as they operated in the Persian Gulf, which the US deemed "unsafe and unprofessional."

Three weeks later, Iranian vessels again approached US ships - Navy patrol boat Firebolt and Coast Guard patrol boat Baranof - in the Gulf. After verbal warnings to the Iranian ships went unheeded, Firebolt fired warning shots.

Wrangell, Monomoy, and Baranof are all based in Bahrain as part of Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, the Coast Guard's largest unit outside the US, which was set up in 2002 to support operations in the Middle East.

Hours after Baranof's encounter, the Coast Guard cutter Hamilton sailed into the Black Sea, where longstanding tensions increased this spring, amid a Russian military buildup on the border with Ukraine.

Coast Guard Monomoy Persian Gulf Iran
Iranian ship Harth 55, left, crosses the bow of US Coast Guard patrol boat Monomoy, right, in the Persian Gulf, April 2, 2021.

Hamilton had escorted two cutters sailing from the US to join Patrol Forces Southwest Asia but remained in Europe, sailing into the Black Sea on April 27. Russia's Defense Ministry said that day that its Black Sea Fleet was monitoring Hamilton's "actions."

Hamilton is the first Coast Guard vessel to enter the Black Sea since 2008 and is "emblematic of our presence in the Black Sea," Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, said in response to a question from Insider at an Atlantic Council event on April 29.

The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Defense Department, but it often works with other branches of the US military and with foreign militaries.

"We particularly appreciate the Coast Guard's ability to cooperate with other equivalent services ... around the world, but in this case in the Black Sea," Cooper said.

Cooper echoed Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, who said in March that while the service hadn't operated in Europe "in a good number of years," the deployment suited its ability to cooperate and compete.

"I think the Coast Guard brings access. The Coast Guard brings a different look. The Coast Guard brings some unique, complimentary capabilities," Schultz told reporters after his annual address to the service.

'We're going to push them out'

Coast Guard Hamilton Turkey Mediterranean Sea
A Turkish coast guard boat escorts the Hamilton in the Mediterranean Sea, April 27, 2021.

The Coast Guard often ventures long distances to enforce US laws and help other countries assert their own.

Coast Guard ships patrol the eastern Pacific Ocean to intercept drug smugglers. Cutters were deployed to Africa's Atlantic coast to assist countries there in 2019 and 2020 for the first time in nearly a decade. In late 2020, a cutter was deployed on a South Atlantic patrol for the first time "in recent memory."

The Coast Guard's presence in the western Pacific Ocean is also increasing amid broader competition with China.

Since mid-2020, the service has stationed three new fast-response cutters in Guam, a US territory. Those ships have "about a 10,000-mile reach," Schultz said in March.

"We're going to push them out to some of the outer reaches of Oceania. We're going to team them up with national security cutters on occasion," Schultz added, referring to the service's largest cutters, which include Hamilton.

Many recent Coast Guard operations have focused on countering illegal fishing, a growing source of friction with China. In December, a Coast Guard cutter helped Palau apprehend a Chinese vessel suspected of illegal fishing.

Japan Coast Guard
US Coast Guard Cutter Kimball and Japanese Coast Guard ship Akitsushima during an exercise near Japan's Ogasawara Islands, February 21, 2021.

Coast Guard ships also work with the US Navy in the region. In May 2019, a Coast Guard cutter transited the Taiwan Strait for the first time, sailing alongside a Navy destroyer.

"I just think those lines are going to thicken," Schultz said of Navy-Coast Guard cooperation.

The Navy's operational tempo "has been very high for a considerable period ... so it's not surprising that they'd reach out and try to supplement" with the Coast Guard, said Michael Desch, a professor and international-security expert at Notre Dame.

But the Coast Guard's more overt role comes as the US military's service branches balance resources between current missions and modernization.

The Coast Guard has a number of domestic responsibilities and a growing role in the increasingly accessible Arctic but didn't see the same budget increases as other branches did during the Trump administration.

While the Coast Guard is very capable and often better suited than the Navy to work with foreign forces, the growing workload should raise questions about the scope of US commitments, Desch said.

The recent encounters "seem to be indicative of the fact that we're being stretched by all the things that we're doing," Desch told Insider. "Rather than throwing everything we've got but the kitchen sink at some of these missions, we ought to ask ourselves, are these missions really essential?"

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The Coast Guard is taking a frontline role against US foes on the other side of the world

Coast Guard Hamilton Bosphorus Turkey Black Sea
US Coast Guard cutter Hamilton in the Bosphorus on its way to the Black Sea, April 27, 2021.
  • In April, Coast Guard ships had close encounters in the Persian Gulf and sailed into the Black Sea.
  • The missions reflect the Coast Guard's role overseas, set to grow amid competition with China.
  • But that will add to the service's responsibilities as it balances current missions and future needs.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Encounters far from home in April underscored the US Coast Guard's growing overseas role, which is set to expand as more attention and resources are dedicated to countering China.

On April 2, an Iranian ship repeatedly sailed in front of Coast Guard patrol boats Wrangell and Monomoy at "an unnecessarily close range" as they operated in the Persian Gulf, which the US deemed "unsafe and unprofessional."

Three weeks later, Iranian vessels again approached US ships - Navy patrol boat Firebolt and Coast Guard patrol boat Baranof - in the Gulf. After verbal warnings to the Iranian ships went unheeded, Firebolt fired warning shots.

Wrangell, Monomoy, and Baranof are all based in Bahrain as part of Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, the Coast Guard's largest unit outside the US, which was set up in 2002 to support operations in the Middle East.

Hours after Baranof's encounter, the Coast Guard cutter Hamilton sailed into the Black Sea, where longstanding tensions increased this spring, amid a Russian military buildup on the border with Ukraine.

Coast Guard Monomoy Persian Gulf Iran
Iranian ship Harth 55, left, crosses the bow of US Coast Guard patrol boat Monomoy, right, in the Persian Gulf, April 2, 2021.

Hamilton had escorted two cutters sailing from the US to join Patrol Forces Southwest Asia but remained in Europe, sailing into the Black Sea on April 27. Russia's Defense Ministry said that day that its Black Sea Fleet was monitoring Hamilton's "actions."

Hamilton is the first Coast Guard vessel to enter the Black Sea since 2008 and is "emblematic of our presence in the Black Sea," Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, said in response to a question from Insider at an Atlantic Council event on April 29.

The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Defense Department, but it often works with other branches of the US military and with foreign militaries.

"We particularly appreciate the Coast Guard's ability to cooperate with other equivalent services ... around the world, but in this case in the Black Sea," Cooper said.

Cooper echoed Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, who said in March that while the service hadn't operated in Europe "in a good number of years," the deployment suited its ability to cooperate and compete.

"I think the Coast Guard brings access. The Coast Guard brings a different look. The Coast Guard brings some unique, complimentary capabilities," Schultz told reporters after his annual address to the service.

'We're going to push them out'

Coast Guard Hamilton Turkey Mediterranean Sea
A Turkish coast guard boat escorts the Hamilton in the Mediterranean Sea, April 27, 2021.

The Coast Guard often ventures long distances to enforce US laws and help other countries assert their own.

Coast Guard ships patrol the eastern Pacific Ocean to intercept drug smugglers. Cutters were deployed to Africa's Atlantic coast to assist countries there in 2019 and 2020 for the first time in nearly a decade. In late 2020, a cutter was deployed on a South Atlantic patrol for the first time "in recent memory."

The Coast Guard's presence in the western Pacific Ocean is also increasing amid broader competition with China.

Since mid-2020, the service has stationed three new fast-response cutters in Guam, a US territory. Those ships have "about a 10,000-mile reach," Schultz said in March.

"We're going to push them out to some of the outer reaches of Oceania. We're going to team them up with national security cutters on occasion," Schultz added, referring to the service's largest cutters, which include Hamilton.

Many recent Coast Guard operations have focused on countering illegal fishing, a growing source of friction with China. In December, a Coast Guard cutter helped Palau apprehend a Chinese vessel suspected of illegal fishing.

Japan Coast Guard
US Coast Guard Cutter Kimball and Japanese Coast Guard ship Akitsushima during an exercise near Japan's Ogasawara Islands, February 21, 2021.

Coast Guard ships also work with the US Navy in the region. In May 2019, a Coast Guard cutter transited the Taiwan Strait for the first time, sailing alongside a Navy destroyer.

"I just think those lines are going to thicken," Schultz said of Navy-Coast Guard cooperation.

The Navy's operational tempo "has been very high for a considerable period ... so it's not surprising that they'd reach out and try to supplement" with the Coast Guard, said Michael Desch, a professor and international-security expert at Notre Dame.

But the Coast Guard's more overt role comes as the US military's service branches balance resources between current missions and modernization.

The Coast Guard has a number of domestic responsibilities and a growing role in the increasingly accessible Arctic but didn't see the same budget increases as other branches did during the Trump administration.

While the Coast Guard is very capable and often better suited than the Navy to work with foreign forces, the growing workload should raise questions about the scope of US commitments, Desch said.

The recent encounters "seem to be indicative of the fact that we're being stretched by all the things that we're doing," Desch told Insider. "Rather than throwing everything we've got but the kitchen sink at some of these missions, we ought to ask ourselves, are these missions really essential?"

Read the original article on Business Insider

As China ramps up military flights around Taiwan, another quieter mission continues at sea

China Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft
A Chinese military Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft.
  • Chinese military flights around Taiwan have increased in recent weeks.
  • Those flights are seen as Chinese efforts to test Taiwan and send a message to its partners, especially the US.
  • But the aircraft included in those operations hint at a larger Chinese effort to improve its military's capabilities.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

China's military flights around Taiwan have intensified in recent weeks in what is seen as an effort to test Taiwan and to send a message to its partners, especially the US.

Amid those operations, China appears to be continuing an ongoing effort to improve its military's ability to fight below the waters off its coast.

In 2020, Chinese aircraft made a record number of flights into Taiwan's air-defense identification zone. China has stepped up those flights this year, adding combat aircraft and setting new records: 20 aircraft in one incursion on March 26, followed by 25 warplanes on April 12.

According to Taiwan's Defense Ministry, many of those flights take place off of southwest Taiwan and include variants of the Shaanxi Y-8 aircraft equipped for reconnaissance or anti-submarine warfare.

The latter capability is particularly important in those waters, where the shallow Taiwan Strait meets the deeper South China Sea. To the east, the Bashi Channel connects them to the Pacific through the Philippine Sea.

Chinese China navy submarine
A Chinese submarine off the coast of Qingdao in Shandong province, April 23, 2009.

The South China Sea's deep waters are "favorable" for Chinese submarine activity, and the proximity to Taiwan is the reason for "the frequent presence" of anti-submarine aircraft, said Su Tzu-yun, director of the defense strategy and resource division at the Institute for National Defence and Security Studies, a Taiwanese state-backed think-tank.

The Bashi Channel "can be considered as an underwater corridor from which Chinese submarines can enter the Philippine Sea and launch strikes against the US West Coast," Su told Insider.

Operating and detecting submarines in that area depends on knowledge of water conditions there, which China is working to learn.

"If you want to fight a successful naval war, you had better get your hydrographic information right," said Lyle Goldstein, a research professor and expert on Chinese undersea warfare at the US Naval War College.

That information affects algorithms used in undersea warfare, and China has been "pulling out all the stops" to understand the currents, temperature, and salinity of those waters, Goldstein told Insider.

"The performance of all those systems is affected by those algorithms, and the Chinese know that," Goldstein said, "They are working absolutely overtime."

Waiting game

Shiyu Kinmen County Taiwan China
Shiyu, or Lion Islet, one of Taiwan's offshore islands, seen in front of the Chinese city of Xiamen, April 20, 2018.

The geography around the first island chain - the islands immediately off East Asia, including Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines - creates challenges and opportunities for submarine warfare.

"China has this kind of perennial strategic problem of geography," Goldstein said. "To egress their submarines is quite difficult because they have to maneuver through the island chains."

"You can bet they're working very hard on making it as hard as they can for the US to know when Chinese submarines are going out and how they do it," Goldstein added.

The shallowness of the Taiwan Strait inhibits submarine operations, but the currents, temperatures, and salinity create "a really tough acoustic environment," according to Bryan Clark, an expert on naval warfare at the Hudson Institute and a former submarine officer.

The latter conditions make it harder to detect submarines - an acute problem for US forces tasked with finding Chinese subs in a conflict. The Chinese, however, will likely "just wait for the US [submarines] to start doing something that they can detect," such as firing torpedoes or missiles, Clark said.

China has rolled out an array of assets that improve its ability to do that, including anti-submarine-warfare ships, undersea monitoring sensors, and advanced helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

China navy Type 056 corvette
Huizhou, a Chinese Navy Type 056 corvette designed for coastal defense, near Hong Kong, July 7, 2017.

"China just in the last five years has started fielding units of serious anti-submarine aircraft," Goldstein said, citing the Gaoxin-6, an improved anti-submarine variant of the Y-8/9 aircraft.

"They had helicopters that could do anti-submarine warfare, but this is quite new, to have these large fixed-wing planes that drop on sonobuoys and look for submarines," Goldstein added.

China still has anti-submarine-warfare shortcomings. Its sonar and sonobuoys "aren't very sophisticated," Clark said. "They're easily two generations behind where the US and NATO are and ... at least one generation behind Japan."

The combination of assets and capabilities likely means China will focus on thwarting offensive operations by US subs rather than proactively hunting them, Clark said. Despite US submarines' familiarity with the area, the confined waters there would limit their ability to evade attacks, meaning they'd likely back off in the face of Chinese pressure.

"The idea would be if a potential submarine is detected, they would send these aircraft, like the Y-8, out there to drop weapons on them," Clark said. "They're going to make sure that their own submarines are not in the area and use that to suppress US submarine operations."

"The fact that the Chinese are developing this, essentially, [anti-submarine warfare] response capability means that US submarines are going to have a more limited impact on any confrontation with the Chinese over something like Taiwan," Clark added.

'China is extremely worried'

Navy submarine
US Navy fast-attack submarine USS Asheville with US 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge in the Philippine Sea.

China's efforts to improve its maritime awareness aren't limited to waters around Taiwan.

Last year, Australian officials said a Chinese ship off that country's western coast was likely mapping routes Australian subs use to access the South China Sea. In December, Indonesian fisherman found a suspected Chinese underwater drone, which was seen as a sign of China trying gather information needed for submarine operations near Australia.

China is not alone in these efforts.

India, which recently clashed with China on their disputed land border, has stepped up efforts to monitor the Indian Ocean, especially around the Malacca Strait, which connects that ocean to the Pacific.

Last year, the US reportedly asked Indonesia to allow P-8 maritime patrol planes land and refuel there, giving them another operating location around the South China Sea; Indonesia denied the request. The recovery of underwater drones near China's coast also suggests the US is gathering data on the waters there.

While the number of submarines in the region is growing - Taiwan is building a new fleet with US help - US subs remain China's chief concern.

"China is extremely worried about our submarine force ... because they know that it would be hard for them to hunt our submarines, and our submarines have quite a devastating punch," Goldstein said. "They're really trying to do everything they can to understand where our submarines are and how could Beijing possibly counter them."

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US Army says it needs to ‘regain dominance’ in the Arctic, but it’s still figuring out what it needs to do it

Army Alaska Arctic paratroopers C-130J
US Army paratroopers exit a C-130J during exercise Arctic Warrior 21 in Alaska, February 8, 2021

As military activity increases in the Arctic, the US Army is putting renewed emphasis on the region, particularly Alaska, seeking to rebuild its ability to operate in the toughest conditions.

"We have a long history of training and operating out here. It really hit its peak in the '80s," Maj. Gen. Peter Andrysiak, commander of US Army Alaska, told Insider in a March interview.

In the 1990s and 2000s, the Army shifted its focus to the Middle East, adapting its formations and capabilities to better deploy and operate there. "As a result, those [Arctic] skill sets atrophied," Andrysiak said.

But the Army is refocusing on the high latitudes, underscored by the release in mid-March of its Arctic strategy, titled "Regaining Arctic Dominance."

Canadian army Chinook helicopter Alaska Arctic
US and Canadian personnel during a simulated aerial assault as part of Arctic Warrior 21, February 17, 2021.

With adversaries, namely Russia and China, increasing their activity in the Arctic, the Army "must have the proper training to endure the harsh Arctic environment during extended operations, equipment that can function in challenging terrain and extreme temperatures, and the infrastructure to sustain the force over vast distances," the document says.

Among the strategy's objectives are the creation of an operational headquarters, led by a major general, with specially trained and equipped combat brigades, an increase in the materiel readiness of Arctic-capable units, and an improvement in the training of US forces to operate in the region.

The goal is have soldiers capable of high-end operations not only in Alaska but throughout the Arctic and in mountains elsewhere, but the Army is still assessing what it needs to do that.

'In and through' the Arctic

Army Alaska Arctic paratroopers
US Army paratroopers clear snow before installing a cold-weather tent in Alaska during Arctic Warrior 21, February 7, 2021.

US Army Alaska conducted its Arctic Warrior exercise in February, reflecting a decision made last year to "start focusing on the coldest parts of the year," Andrysiak said in March.

"Now what we've been asked to do is start training in October and largely finish up by March and then build the higher-end skills to operate in and through" the Arctic, Andrysiak told Insider.

Extreme cold, snow, and mountainous terrain all present specific challenges in the winter months, and during the exercise, the Army's Combined Arms Center led a review to find where equipment fell short.

"They're in the process now of doing this very detailed gap analysis that the Army will then take in turn and figure out what they've got to do to adapt existing capabilities or, where necessary, acquire new capabilities," Andrysiak said.

Col. J.P. Clark, chief of the strategy division within the Army general staff, said at a March press conference that "shortfalls in equipment" found during the analysis "will be handled pretty quickly," with requests to address "near-term deficiencies" likely coming in the 2023 defense budget.

"We have a year to kind of dig into those questions and see where we want to have the money go," Clark said.

Army Alaska Arctic AH-64 Apache helicopter
Logistics personnel from Army Aviation and Missile Command support Arctic testing on an AH-64 Apache, February 12, 2021.

The strategy calls for equipment that can be used in temperatures as low as -65 degrees for extended periods, but much of the service's gear - such as tents, batteries, and vehicles - can't function well or at all in that extreme cold.

Freezing temperatures make it hard to keep water on hand, hindering cooking and other essential operations. Extreme cold also affects electronics, which are also hampered by the region's long distances and sparse satellite coverage.

"We've got to go back and figure out where do we need to alter the key performance parameters [for equipment] and then what modifications that we need to make to existing capabilities," Andrysiak told Insider.

The cold affects hydraulics, brakes, even weapons on vehicles, but snow poses a different challenge. "That 16 or 18 inches of snow, if you're not plowing it, they can't operate in it," Andrysiak said. Ground movement can also be hard in warmer months, when lakes, rivers, and swamps thaw.

In the 1980s, US Army Alaska had 700 small unit support vehicles, a tracked vehicle that can move through snow. Now it has "less than 50," and while the Army is working on a replacement, whether it will be what's needed "is yet to be determined," Andrysiak said.

As analysis of mobility challenges unfolds, "we can inform our modernization efforts of those potential future requirements," Elizabeth Felling, a strategic planner in the Army general staff, said at the press conference.

Infrastructure needs are also an issue. While there are many bases across the state, parts of Alaska lack transportation infrastructure, like paved roads or ports, inhibiting movement.

Army Alaska Arctic paratroopers small unit support vehicle
A Small Unit Support Vehicle (SUSV) moves paratroopers over deep snowy terrain during Arctic Warrior 21, February 9, 2021.

"If we want to be able to project power to remote locations, either we've got to change the equipment that we operate with so that it relies less on infrastructure or we've got to build the infrastructure, which takes a lot of time," Andrysiak said.

The Army is "looking at how well our bases ... support our forces and their ability to train," Felling said, adding that as training requirements become clear, so will infrastructure needs.

The Army's embrace of multi-domain operations - working with other service branches in the air, on land, at sea, and in space and cyberspace - brings with it new infrastructure requirements and new challenges for logistics and sustainment, both exacerbated by the harsh Arctic conditions.

The Army is reviewing requirements for different approaches to multi-domain operations, Clark said. "Once we kind of figure out what we want to do, then we can figure out what the logistical tail that is required."

The Army has 11,600 soldiers in Alaska, and it's "premature" to say how many more may be stationed there, but, Felling said, "options are being worked with Army senior leaders, and we expect that there will be announcements for that probably later on this year or maybe even next."

The Army has already started an Alaska-focused recruiting campaign. Other efforts are underway to improve quality of life there to boost retention.

"There's no doubt that with 'people first' being a priority for the chief of staff of the Army and [for] us ... we've got to make an investment that's commensurate - that speaks to 'people first,'" Andrysiak said.

'They're committed'

Army Alaska Arctic paratroopers
US Army paratroopers conduct a simulated attack as part of Arctic Warrior 21, February 11, 2021.

The strategy outlines how the Army will support the Defense Department's Arctic strategy, published in 2019, and officials said last month that the service's goals will take years to reach.

"We have a long time period for the implementation," Clark said. "It will be quite a bit in order to get our full multi-domain force as has been laid out. We've used 2028 and 2035 as our waypoint and our aim point."

But things are moving quickly, according to Andrysiak, who said the strategy itself came together in about six months.

"The sense of urgency and investment ... has been unprecedented, in my opinion," Andrysiak told Insider.

Andrysiak said he was "confident" that some equipment could be adapted "relatively quickly" and that there was "the right level of engagement and support" to address other shortfalls.

"There's a lot that we have to learn in the human dimension, and our ability to operate in the human dimension is largely impacted by material solutions," Andrysiak added.

"What we've got to do here has got to be measured in years, because this is just a very unique environment," Andrysiak said. "My view is with this strategy the Army knows that. It's a multi-year approach, and they're committed to that."

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The US military wants to get ahead of ‘more complex’ Russian operations, top North American commander says

Russia NORAD F-22 Tu-95
A US F-22 alongside a Russian Tu-95 bomber during an intercept in international airspace near Alaska, August 8, 2019.
  • Russian activity in the Arctic is increasingly complex, the head of US Northern Command said.
  • Gen. Glen VanHerck said his command is looking "to use strategic messaging to create a deterrence effect."
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Russian military activity around Alaska is increasing and getting more complex, the top US commander in the region said Wednesday.

The Arctic, especially around Alaska, has become a venue for competition amid heightened tensions between the US and Russia. One of Moscow's most visible gestures has been military flights into the Alaskan air-defense identification zone, or ADIZ.

Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, who leads US Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, told senators in March that that US and Canada responded to more of those flights in 2020 than in any year since the Cold War.

"We're back into peer competition. Clearly Russia is trying to reassert on a global stage their influence and their capabilities," VanHerck said of the flights at a Defense Writers Group event Wednesday.

"The difference between the past and now is the intercepts are more complex - multi-axis, multi-platform, and oftentimes they'll enter the ADIZ and stay for hours," VanHerck added. "That would be the significant difference, but ... it is playing out as the peer competition."

Air Force F-22 Russia Tu-95 bomber Alaska Arctic
A US Air Force F-22 based in Alaska intercepts a Russian Tu-95 bomber, June 9, 2020.

In an April 2020 interview, an F-22 pilot tasked with responding to those Russian flights told Insider that they were "part of an ongoing probe" for "gauging our response and our ability to go out and meet them."

Those Russian flights have been less frequent than in early 2020, but they have continued. NORAD said on January 25 and again on March 29 that it had tracked Tu-142 patrol aircraft in the ADIZ. (The ADIZ extends well beyond territorial airspace, which none of those aircraft entered.)

On February 18, NORAD posted a tweet attributed to VanHerck saying it was "aware of Russian military aircraft forward deployments" and that it "stands ready, as always, to respond appropriately."

Russia has deployed aircraft and other military hardware to the region in recent months, as has the US, but NORAD's tweet didn't specify which aircraft or where.

VanHerck said Wednesday that the tweet reflected "how we're changing how we approach competition, candidly."

"When I talk about my strategy, it's getting further left in our messaging and creating deterrence options. It's about giving decision space to senior leaders," VanHerck said, using "left" as a military term for ahead of an adversary's action.

"The fact that you can tell a competitor that you're aware of their activities and potential intent gives us the opportunity to posture forces or use strategic messaging to create a deterrence effect," VanHerck added.

'Significant activity'

Russian submarines Arctic ice
Three Russian submarines surfaced through ice in the Arctic near Alexandra Island, March 27, 2021.

Climate change is making the Arctic more accessible to human activity, and military operations there are increasing.

US and NATO navies have been more active there in recent months - the British Navy completed its first Arctic exercise of 2021 in late March. The US Air Force has been flying more near Russian borders in the European Arctic, where Russia has sensitive military bases.

Russia, which has the world's longest Arctic coastline and hopes to benefit from more activity there, has for years been refurbishing and upgrading radars, airbases, and other facilities in the region, where aerial defense is a primary concern.

Russian Navy chief Adm. Nikolai Yevmenov said on March 26 that MiG-31 jets had for the first time flown over the North Pole and refueled in midair. Yevmenov also said three nuclear-powered submarines had surfaced through Arctic ice "in a limited space" for the first time the service's history.

Such submarine exercises, like a unique US submarine's appearance in Norway last year, are often meant as messages.

British Norwegian navy fjord Arctic
British Navy frigate HMS Lancaster in a fjord, seen from Norwegian Navy frigate HNoMS Thor Heyerdahl in March 2021.

"These combat training, research, and practical measures have demonstrated the Russian Navy's abilities and preparedness to operate in the harsh northern latitudes," Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month, adding that such work "must be continued."

Amid those Arctic drills, there was what NATO called "an unusual peak of flights" by Russian aircraft around Europe on March 29. Fighter jets from NATO militaries intercepted six groups of Russian planes in less than six hours.

"Within the last week or so, there's been significant activity in the Arctic" in the air, at sea, and undersea, VanHerk said Wednesday. "Again, I attribute that back to a competition ongoing."

That activity was outside of VanHerck's area of responsibility, but he said he was aware of it and emphasized his command's training and cooperation with NATO and US forces in Europe.

"We just recently recently completed our exercise Amalgam Dart. We have ICEX, another exercise, upcoming," VanHerck said, referring to a NORAD air-defense exercise and a Navy submarine exercise, both in the Arctic.

"We've closely partnered with NATO and [European Command] as far as ... conducting operations that show our capability," VanHerck added.

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The heavy-duty ship the US needs to protect its thawing border with Russia ‘is just falling apart,’ captain says

Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star Alaska Arctic
Petty Officer 1st Class Wahkene Kitchenmaster removes ice from Polar Star's hull in below-freezing temperatures in the Chukchi Sea, December 28, 2020.
  • Polar Star, the Coast Guard's only working icebreaker, wrapped up an Arctic mission in February.
  • The 45-year-old ship is "definitely showing its age," its commanding officer said.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The months-long Arctic operation that Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star finished last month was a rare mission for the US's sole heavy icebreaker.

It was the first time a US icebreaker had been in the Arctic in winter since 1982. The crew overcame "treacherous" conditions, but they also grappled with a problem aboard the ship that may hinder the US's Arctic ambitions.

Polar Star is "now 45 years old, and it's definitely showing its age," Capt. William Woityra, Polar Star's commanding officer, said in February at an event cohosted by the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Nome office of Alaska Sea Grant.

"We were up to this mission, and we were excited to undertake it, but it took the crew working around the clock to keep the ship running," Woityra added.

Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star Alaska Arctic
Polar Star in the Chukchi Sea, December 19, 2020.

Polar Star can break through 21 feet of ice and sail through 40- to 50-foot seas (though seas much lower than that can incapacitate the crew, Woityra previously told Insider).

The icebreaker's usual wintertime trip to Antarctica to help resupply the McMurdo Sound research station was canceled because of the pandemic. It was sent north after the US's only other oceangoing icebreaker, Healy, broke down as it sailed to the Arctic.

Polar Star has its own history of breakdowns, which cropped up again.

"On New Year's Eve, we actually got stopped in the ice," Woityra said. "We had a diode on our AC-to-DC rectifier that blew out, and we had to replace it. And this is a part that is no longer available. It's not made anymore."

Polar Star has a split propulsion system. In addition to gas turbines, it has what Woityra called "basically locomotive engines" powering generators that send power through that rectifier to turn a propeller shaft.

"We've got a few dozen of these in a box on a shelf," Woityra said of the diode. "When they're gone, the ship will not be able to run anymore. It's really kind of disconcerting ... that this ship, and this operation, and the US's icebreaking presence in the Arctic is reliant on a box of spare parts that ... there are no more of."

Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star Arctic Bering Alaska
Crew from Polar Star enjoys a brief ice liberty on the frozen Bering Sea, January 30, 2021.

Parts for Polar Star are dwindling. Crews have stripped replacement parts from its out-of-service sister ship, Polar Sea, and even turned to eBay to find a resistor unavailable elsewhere.

"The only source of supply in the world was on eBay," Woityra told Insider during the event. "We worked with the supplier to actually pull listing from eBay, and we were able to use normal government contracting mechanisms to purchase those resistors."

"With a ship that's almost 50 years old, every single part of it is just falling apart, and there's no one-for-one replacement to keep it going," Woityra added.

Polar Star is set to begin a five-year service-life extension program this summer to keep it going for another decade. The Coast Guard has awarded a contract for a new icebreaker, which it expects by 2024, with two more by 2030.

Leasing an icebreaker is also being considered as a near-term option, as other countries expand their icebreaker fleets.

'We're pushing back'

Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star Alaska Arctic
Polar Star's deck department removes ice from the ship's deck and deck equipment while in the Chukchi Sea, December 28, 2020.

Despite mechanical challenges, the Coast Guard was enthusiastic about Polar Star's mission, which included testing communications technology for the Defense Department and scientific research in an environment and at a time of year for which data is scant.

"It had been 40 years since the Coast Guard had been operating in this region," Woityra said. "So here was a chance to gather some in-situ data that was normally not available under any circumstances."

American researchers, Merchant Marine Academy midshipmen, and Royal Navy sailors were also aboard Polar Star for the mission, as were junior Coast Guard members, there to train as the service tries to rebuild its Arctic proficiency.

"We've really got to build out a future fleet of icebreaker sailors, as the Arctic ... becomes increasingly more an area of focus and becomes increasingly more accessible," Adm. Karl Schultz, commandant of the Coast Guard, said at a separate event last month.

That increasing accessibility, driven by climate change, has made the Arctic a growing venue for geopolitical competition. The Bering Strait, which separates the US and Russia, is likely to be a focal point for that competition.

Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star Alaska Arctic
The Aurora Borealis is seen from Polar Star while patrolling in the Chukchi Sea, December 21, 2020.

Schultz, Woityra, and other Coast Guard officials have stressed that the service has a good relationship with its Russian counterpart, but a major Russian military exercise in the area last summer, during which Russian warships harassed US fishing boats, added to tensions.

Polar Star's crew was aware of that encounter and was motivated to "defend US interests" and support Alaskans, Woityra said.

When Polar Star patrolled the US-Russian maritime boundary, the Russian fishing fleet "was well on their side," Woityra said. While in the strait, Polar Star also saw "regular overflights by Russian border-patrol aircraft."

"We knew that they were coming. They knew where we were," Woityra said. "We got word 12 to 24 hours ahead of time ... and when they came into range, they held us on VHF radio, we exchanged information, everything went exactly as according to plan."

Schultz said last month that "having a pragmatic relationship with the Russians is a good thing," as it facilitates cooperation on search-and-rescue operations, environmental management, and disaster response, but the service is "projecting our sovereign interest" in the region, Schultz added.

"Russia's pushing up against that line, and we're pushing back," Schultz said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The US Air Force’s plan to dodge Chinese missiles means new jobs for airmen who keep fighters flying

Air Force Cope North Guam
An eight-plane formation over Guam during exercise Cope North 21, February 9, 2021.

The US Air Force's efforts to disperse its forces have gained new urgency as the Chinese military grows in size and reach, but operating from far-flung, often austere airfields creates new logistical challenges. To overcome them, the service is asking its airmen take on new tasks.

Expeditionary operations are getting special attention in the Pacific, where important facilities, like Anderson Air Force Base on Guam, are within range of Chinese missiles.

The Air Force has spent more time refining a concept known as Agile Combat Employment, which pairs bases like Anderson, or hubs, with remote airfields, called spokes. To support operations at those spokes, the service is looking to "multi-capable airmen," who have been trained do tasks outside their assigned specialties.

Both concepts were on display during Cope North 21, an exercise conducted with Japanese and Australian forces in the Pacific between February 3 and February 19.

"Every year, we try to expand the envelope of what we can do," Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, head of US Pacific Air Forces, said of Cope North during the Air Force Association air-warfare symposium last week.

Air Force F-35 C-130J Guam
Two F-35s wait to refuel from a C-130J at Northwest Field in Guam as part of Agile Combat Employment multi-capable airmen training during Cope North 21, February 16, 2021.

During the exercise, F-35s from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska flew to Guam. During the drills, the F-35s landed in the island nation of Palau, refueled without shutting down their engines, and, after less than an hour, took off again to continue training, Wilsbach said.

That demonstrated "the ability to get back and forth to Palau, which is a very long distance, and the ability to refuel on the ground," which requires multi-capable airmen, Wilsbach added.

"One of the things that we were doing at Cope North was expanding this notion of multi-capable airman," Wilsbach said. "We train airman in generally one specific area, like, for example, a security forces member ... but what if a security forces member could also refuel an aircraft or reload an aircraft or work on communications gear at those outstations?"

In addition to airfields on Palau, US and Japanese airmen conducted training at the rugged Northwest Field on Guam.

Pacific Air Forces is implementing a syllabus to teach airmen skills from outside their assigned career fields, Wilsbach said. "This gets us more capability with fewer people, which reduces the logistics requirements at some of those spoke locations."

Able to pick up a weapon

Air Force C-130J Palau
A US Air Force C-130J lands at Angaur in Palau during Cope North 21, February 11, 2021.

Air Force personnel around the world, including in the US and Europe, are practicing ACE and related concepts, and Pacific Air Forces includes an ACE component in most exercises, Wilsbach has said.

In the days after Cope North, the 18th Wing, the host unit at Kadena Air Force Base in Japan, held its first multi-capable airman training course.

"Prior to this - or even historically - some airmen made it through their whole career without really touching an aircraft," Senior Master Sgt. Frank Uecker, ACE superintendent for the 18th Wing, said in a release.

The service's Advanced Maintenance and Munitions Operations School, based at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, is also trying to spread lessons from airmen who have led development of ACE among the maintenance, munitions, and logistics experts it trains.

What the school "is really trying to codify is what is the supply chain, what's the logistics look like for that, what capabilities do you need in a multi-capable airman to be able to minimize the footprint and stay agile," 57th Wing commander Brig. Gen. Michael Drowley, who oversees the school, said last month.

Air Force airman fuel F-16 Guam
A US Air Force airman pulls fuel lines to an F-16 during an agile combat employment scenario at Northwest Field during exercise Cope North 21, February 15, 2021.

"Right now, they're really in the tabletop exercise, red-teaming aspect of looking at some of those operations and what the requirements would be and then what do they need to train their instructors to be able to do, so that way [instructors] can go back out to the units and now provide that training," Drowley added.

The new tasks for airmen aren't limited to the maintenance and logistical support. They may also have to help defend the base from missiles, enemy aircraft, and other incoming threats.

"We're looking at acquiring some additional light capability to go out primarily to the spokes, because our hubs are pretty well protected with things like" Patriot missiles and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense weapon system, Wilsbach said.

"Who's at the base and what they can do to help you defend the base goes back to that multi-capable airman," Wilsbach added. "There will be expectations that they will be able to add to the defense of the base, regardless of whether they're a security forces member or not. They've got to be able to pick up a weapon that can help defend that location until you leave or until such time as the threat has been abated."

Read the original article on Business Insider

The US Air Force’s plan to dodge Chinese missiles means new jobs for airmen who keep fighters flying

Air Force Cope North Guam
An eight-plane formation over Guam during exercise Cope North 21, February 9, 2021.

The US Air Force's efforts to disperse its forces have gained new urgency as the Chinese military grows in size and reach, but operating from far-flung, often austere airfields creates new logistical challenges. To overcome them, the service is asking its airmen take on new tasks.

Expeditionary operations are getting special attention in the Pacific, where important facilities, like Anderson Air Force Base on Guam, are within range of Chinese missiles.

The Air Force has spent more time refining a concept known as Agile Combat Employment, which pairs bases like Anderson, or hubs, with remote airfields, called spokes. To support operations at those spokes, the service is looking to "multi-capable airmen," who have been trained do tasks outside their assigned specialties.

Both concepts were on display during Cope North 21, an exercise conducted with Japanese and Australian forces in the Pacific between February 3 and February 19.

"Every year, we try to expand the envelope of what we can do," Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, head of US Pacific Air Forces, said of Cope North during the Air Force Association air-warfare symposium last week.

Air Force F-35 C-130J Guam
Two F-35s wait to refuel from a C-130J at Northwest Field in Guam as part of Agile Combat Employment multi-capable airmen training during Cope North 21, February 16, 2021.

During the exercise, F-35s from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska flew to Guam. During the drills, the F-35s landed in the island nation of Palau, refueled without shutting down their engines, and, after less than an hour, took off again to continue training, Wilsbach said.

That demonstrated "the ability to get back and forth to Palau, which is a very long distance, and the ability to refuel on the ground," which requires multi-capable airmen, Wilsbach added.

"One of the things that we were doing at Cope North was expanding this notion of multi-capable airman," Wilsbach said. "We train airman in generally one specific area, like, for example, a security forces member ... but what if a security forces member could also refuel an aircraft or reload an aircraft or work on communications gear at those outstations?"

In addition to airfields on Palau, US and Japanese airmen conducted training at the rugged Northwest Field on Guam.

Pacific Air Forces is implementing a syllabus to teach airmen skills from outside their assigned career fields, Wilsbach said. "This gets us more capability with fewer people, which reduces the logistics requirements at some of those spoke locations."

Able to pick up a weapon

Air Force C-130J Palau
A US Air Force C-130J lands at Angaur in Palau during Cope North 21, February 11, 2021.

Air Force personnel around the world, including in the US and Europe, are practicing ACE and related concepts, and Pacific Air Forces includes an ACE component in most exercises, Wilsbach has said.

In the days after Cope North, the 18th Wing, the host unit at Kadena Air Force Base in Japan, held its first multi-capable airman training course.

"Prior to this - or even historically - some airmen made it through their whole career without really touching an aircraft," Senior Master Sgt. Frank Uecker, ACE superintendent for the 18th Wing, said in a release.

The service's Advanced Maintenance and Munitions Operations School, based at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, is also trying to spread lessons from airmen who have led development of ACE among the maintenance, munitions, and logistics experts it trains.

What the school "is really trying to codify is what is the supply chain, what's the logistics look like for that, what capabilities do you need in a multi-capable airman to be able to minimize the footprint and stay agile," 57th Wing commander Brig. Gen. Michael Drowley, who oversees the school, said last month.

Air Force airman fuel F-16 Guam
A US Air Force airman pulls fuel lines to an F-16 during an agile combat employment scenario at Northwest Field during exercise Cope North 21, February 15, 2021.

"Right now, they're really in the tabletop exercise, red-teaming aspect of looking at some of those operations and what the requirements would be and then what do they need to train their instructors to be able to do, so that way [instructors] can go back out to the units and now provide that training," Drowley added.

The new tasks for airmen aren't limited to the maintenance and logistical support. They may also have to help defend the base from missiles, enemy aircraft, and other incoming threats.

"We're looking at acquiring some additional light capability to go out primarily to the spokes, because our hubs are pretty well protected with things like" Patriot missiles and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense weapon system, Wilsbach said.

"Who's at the base and what they can do to help you defend the base goes back to that multi-capable airman," Wilsbach added. "There will be expectations that they will be able to add to the defense of the base, regardless of whether they're a security forces member or not. They've got to be able to pick up a weapon that can help defend that location until you leave or until such time as the threat has been abated."

Read the original article on Business Insider

Congress wants a closer look at US special operations after 2 decades of secret missions and scandals

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., speaks as the House reconvenes to debate the objection to confirm the Electoral College vote from Arizona, after protesters stormed into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.
Rep. Ruben Gallego speaks during House debate of an objection to Arizona's Electoral College vote, after protesters stormed into the US Capitol, January 6, 2021.
  • Sprawling and secretive military operations over the past two decades have been a target for criticism.
  • With a new House Armed Services subcommittee, Congress hopes to provide more scrutiny.
  • "The landscape has changed in terms of what threats are out there," Rep. Ruben Gallego told Insider.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The US military's special-operations units have fought around the world over the past two decades, a period during which their successes have been marred by scandals and misconduct.

Now, with a new subcommittee on the House Armed Services Committee, lawmakers hope to exercise greater oversight over those shadowy operations and other emerging challenges.

"The landscape has changed in terms of what threats are out there and what the capabilities of our near-peer competitors are," Rep. Ruben Gallego told Insider.

Gallego, the highest-ranking person of color on the Armed Services Committee, a Marine veteran, and progressive Democrat, will chair the new subcommittee.

"We're right now having to be able to continue with the traditional roles [of the] military but then also having to figure out how to deal with hybrid warfare," Gallego added.

Gallego and committee chairman Rep. Adam Smith announced the new subcommittee, officially called the Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations, on February 3.

ISO emerges from a split of the Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee, along with the Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems.

"A lot of the work in warfare that's going to be coming up is going to be found in these two subcommittees," Gallego said.

'Very serious and sticky situations'

Ruben Gallego immigration Dreamers
Gallego and Dolores Huerta, right, outside the Supreme Court during oral arguments on then-President Barack Obama's executive actions to help defer deportation for undocumented people, April 18, 2016.

The ISO subcommittee is responsible for military and national intelligence, countering weapons of mass destruction, counterterrorism, and special-operations forces. Special operations and military intelligence are likely to get the most attention.

"They both feed into each other" and "into the bigger portfolio in terms of preparing us for the great-power competition," Gallego said. "We're going to not neglect our actions in other areas, but making sure that those two areas are primed and ready to go, I think, is going to be really important."

Demand has grown for more oversight of military operations conducted under the banner of counterterrorism. Special-operations forces, such as the Navy SEALs, are a minority among troops overseas but carry out many of those missions.

The lack of clarity about what they're doing and the legal justification for it has been a major point of criticism.

"It definitely is a problem," Gallego said of that opacity. "They are special operators, but they are still under the purview of civilian authority, and I also don't appreciate that they've been essentially used to ... go around Congress's ability to wage war."

"So we are going to bring that under control as much as possible. We want to see more transparency when it comes to their usage," Gallego said. "At the same time, we also want to make sure that we guard their usage, because their consistent rotations, I think, [are] actually debilitating towards their effectiveness."

Lawmakers have expressed concern about that high operational tempo. Like other troops, special operators face increasing mental and physical strain from frequent deployments. That strain, plaudits heaped upon those forces, and a lack of accountability have been blamed for repeated cases of misconduct - especially among SEALs.

Edward Gallagher
Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher with wife Andrea after being acquitted of most of the serious charges during his court-martial at Naval Base San Diego, July 2, 2019.

Those units' high profile may help recruiting, Gallego said, but it can also make policymakers "more likely to use them in very serious and sticky situations that they don't necessarily want 'normal' forces in."

In January, the Pentagon announced an evaluation of whether US Special Operations Command, which oversees those forces, and US Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, implemented programs to reduce potential violations of the laws of war and whether violations that did occur were reported.

Accountability is needed for "any type of abuse" uncovered by that probe, Gallego told Insider, "but mostly what we want to see come from this probe are steps and checks to make sure that we don't find ourselves going into mission creep in terms of use of our special forces."

Policymakers have a habit of deploying those forces without public debate, hoping that "they never get 'caught' or create situations where then they have to answer to the public," Gallego said.

In that respect, the Pentagon's review "will be extremely important," Gallego added, pointing to Congress' inquiries after the October 2017 ambush in Niger that killed four US Army Special Forces members. (That incident prompted a restructuring of special-operations leadership to allow more civilian oversight, which was implemented by the Trump administration and is now being reviewed by the Biden administration.)

"Members of Congress were surprised that we had military in Niger," Gallego said. "The fact that it is that pervasive, abuse of our military, that even people in the Armed Services Committee did not know that we were actively involved there is a problem."

'Toe-to-toe with any military'

Rep. Ruben Gallego

While special operations will be a priority for the subcommittee, challenges related to intelligence-gathering, cyber intrusions, and disinformation loom large after the 2016 and 2020 elections.

In a joint statement announcing the new subcommittee, Gallego and Smith singled out "the disruptive impact of disinformation attacks" among the "unprecedented threats" the US faces from "adversaries and competitors."

Disinformation is a particular challenge because it spans "the civilian-military divide" and is created by both domestic and international actors, Gallego said.

"We are going to have to address it. How we address it with the assets that we have currently on deck, I think, is going to be really important," Gallego added. "We have the capability. We have the talent. We don't necessarily have the authorities nor the true understanding of how deep and problematic this is."

Gallego mentioned the Defense Intelligence Agency as a partner for the subcommittee. DIA is one of 18 organizations in the US intelligence community, the size of which has been a source of internal confusion and external criticism.

The community's size isn't the problem but rather its responsiveness, Gallego said.

"If you're big and you don't move, that's a problem. If you're small and you don't move, that's still a problem," Gallego added. "So I'd love to be able to work with all these different elements and make sure that they are interoperable, they're talking to each other, and they actually want to have action and operations, instead of just informing the military ... and us what's going on."

Ruben Gallego Capitol Hill building siege attack riot
Gallego directs traffic as staffers and House members get safety hoods from under desks as protestors breach the Capitol building, January 6, 2021.

The Trump administration resisted assessments from those agencies about the role foreign influence operations had in the 2016 election. Disputes about those assessments persist, and domestic actors, including Republican lawmakers, continue to invoke baseless allegations about the integrity of the 2020 election.

Gallego said he didn't see that as an obstacle to working with Republicans on matters before his subcommittee.

"I think that was very much a Trump administration-led problem," Gallego told Insider. "Now that Trump has gone, I think that is no longer an issue, and I think people want to work together across party lines to make sure we take care of that serious threat."

The new subcommittee was announced a day before the Pentagon announced a review of the US military's "footprint, resources, strategy, and missions" around the world, which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said will inform his advice to President Joe Biden "about how we best allocate military forces in pursuit of national interests."

The relevance of that review extends to information warfare and emerging technologies, Gallego told Insider.

"I'm sure we can go toe-to-toe with any military when it comes to man-to-man, hand-to-hand combat, but are we going to be able to win the hacking war of the next 20 years? Are we going to be able to win the quantum-computing competition that we may be already losing right now? What happens if China turns the corner when it comes to AI?" Gallego said. "These are the things that would have to have a full review."

Read the original article on Business Insider

Congress wants a closer look at US special operations after 2 decades of secret missions and scandals

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., speaks as the House reconvenes to debate the objection to confirm the Electoral College vote from Arizona, after protesters stormed into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.
Rep. Ruben Gallego speaks during House debate of an objection to Arizona's Electoral College vote, after protesters stormed into the US Capitol, January 6, 2021.
  • Sprawling and secretive military operations over the past two decades have been a target for criticism.
  • With a new House Armed Services subcommittee, Congress hopes to provide more scrutiny.
  • "The landscape has changed in terms of what threats are out there," Rep. Ruben Gallego told Insider.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The US military's special-operations units have fought around the world over the past two decades, a period during which their successes have been marred by scandals and misconduct.

Now, with a new subcommittee on the House Armed Services Committee, lawmakers hope to exercise greater oversight over those shadowy operations and other emerging challenges.

"The landscape has changed in terms of what threats are out there and what the capabilities of our near-peer competitors are," Rep. Ruben Gallego told Insider.

Gallego, the highest-ranking person of color on the Armed Services Committee, a Marine veteran, and progressive Democrat, will chair the new subcommittee.

"We're right now having to be able to continue with the traditional roles [of the] military but then also having to figure out how to deal with hybrid warfare," Gallego added.

Gallego and committee chairman Rep. Adam Smith announced the new subcommittee, officially called the Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations, on February 3.

ISO emerges from a split of the Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee, along with the Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems.

"A lot of the work in warfare that's going to be coming up is going to be found in these two subcommittees," Gallego said.

'Very serious and sticky situations'

Ruben Gallego immigration Dreamers
Gallego and Dolores Huerta, right, outside the Supreme Court during oral arguments on then-President Barack Obama's executive actions to help defer deportation for undocumented people, April 18, 2016.

The ISO subcommittee is responsible for military and national intelligence, countering weapons of mass destruction, counterterrorism, and special-operations forces. Special operations and military intelligence are likely to get the most attention.

"They both feed into each other" and "into the bigger portfolio in terms of preparing us for the great-power competition," Gallego said. "We're going to not neglect our actions in other areas, but making sure that those two areas are primed and ready to go, I think, is going to be really important."

Demand has grown for more oversight of military operations conducted under the banner of counterterrorism. Special-operations forces, such as the Navy SEALs, are a minority among troops overseas but carry out many of those missions.

The lack of clarity about what they're doing and the legal justification for it has been a major point of criticism.

"It definitely is a problem," Gallego said of that opacity. "They are special operators, but they are still under the purview of civilian authority, and I also don't appreciate that they've been essentially used to ... go around Congress's ability to wage war."

"So we are going to bring that under control as much as possible. We want to see more transparency when it comes to their usage," Gallego said. "At the same time, we also want to make sure that we guard their usage, because their consistent rotations, I think, [are] actually debilitating towards their effectiveness."

Lawmakers have expressed concern about that high operational tempo. Like other troops, special operators face increasing mental and physical strain from frequent deployments. That strain, plaudits heaped upon those forces, and a lack of accountability have been blamed for repeated cases of misconduct - especially among SEALs.

Edward Gallagher
Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher with wife Andrea after being acquitted of most of the serious charges during his court-martial at Naval Base San Diego, July 2, 2019.

Those units' high profile may help recruiting, Gallego said, but it can also make policymakers "more likely to use them in very serious and sticky situations that they don't necessarily want 'normal' forces in."

In January, the Pentagon announced an evaluation of whether US Special Operations Command, which oversees those forces, and US Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, implemented programs to reduce potential violations of the laws of war and whether violations that did occur were reported.

Accountability is needed for "any type of abuse" uncovered by that probe, Gallego told Insider, "but mostly what we want to see come from this probe are steps and checks to make sure that we don't find ourselves going into mission creep in terms of use of our special forces."

Policymakers have a habit of deploying those forces without public debate, hoping that "they never get 'caught' or create situations where then they have to answer to the public," Gallego said.

In that respect, the Pentagon's review "will be extremely important," Gallego added, pointing to Congress' inquiries after the October 2017 ambush in Niger that killed four US Army Special Forces members. (That incident prompted a restructuring of special-operations leadership to allow more civilian oversight, which was implemented by the Trump administration and is now being reviewed by the Biden administration.)

"Members of Congress were surprised that we had military in Niger," Gallego said. "The fact that it is that pervasive, abuse of our military, that even people in the Armed Services Committee did not know that we were actively involved there is a problem."

'Toe-to-toe with any military'

Rep. Ruben Gallego

While special operations will be a priority for the subcommittee, challenges related to intelligence-gathering, cyber intrusions, and disinformation loom large after the 2016 and 2020 elections.

In a joint statement announcing the new subcommittee, Gallego and Smith singled out "the disruptive impact of disinformation attacks" among the "unprecedented threats" the US faces from "adversaries and competitors."

Disinformation is a particular challenge because it spans "the civilian-military divide" and is created by both domestic and international actors, Gallego said.

"We are going to have to address it. How we address it with the assets that we have currently on deck, I think, is going to be really important," Gallego added. "We have the capability. We have the talent. We don't necessarily have the authorities nor the true understanding of how deep and problematic this is."

Gallego mentioned the Defense Intelligence Agency as a partner for the subcommittee. DIA is one of 18 organizations in the US intelligence community, the size of which has been a source of internal confusion and external criticism.

The community's size isn't the problem but rather its responsiveness, Gallego said.

"If you're big and you don't move, that's a problem. If you're small and you don't move, that's still a problem," Gallego added. "So I'd love to be able to work with all these different elements and make sure that they are interoperable, they're talking to each other, and they actually want to have action and operations, instead of just informing the military ... and us what's going on."

Ruben Gallego Capitol Hill building siege attack riot
Gallego directs traffic as staffers and House members get safety hoods from under desks as protestors breach the Capitol building, January 6, 2021.

The Trump administration resisted assessments from those agencies about the role foreign influence operations had in the 2016 election. Disputes about those assessments persist, and domestic actors, including Republican lawmakers, continue to invoke baseless allegations about the integrity of the 2020 election.

Gallego said he didn't see that as an obstacle to working with Republicans on matters before his subcommittee.

"I think that was very much a Trump administration-led problem," Gallego told Insider. "Now that Trump has gone, I think that is no longer an issue, and I think people want to work together across party lines to make sure we take care of that serious threat."

The new subcommittee was announced a day before the Pentagon announced a review of the US military's "footprint, resources, strategy, and missions" around the world, which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said will inform his advice to President Joe Biden "about how we best allocate military forces in pursuit of national interests."

The relevance of that review extends to information warfare and emerging technologies, Gallego told Insider.

"I'm sure we can go toe-to-toe with any military when it comes to man-to-man, hand-to-hand combat, but are we going to be able to win the hacking war of the next 20 years? Are we going to be able to win the quantum-computing competition that we may be already losing right now? What happens if China turns the corner when it comes to AI?" Gallego said. "These are the things that would have to have a full review."

Read the original article on Business Insider