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Emerging Threats and Opportunities

11 November 2020
Emerging Threats and Opportunities

Resilience

The AARC Quarter 3 Strategic Assessment has been published, which acknowledges resilience as an emerging theme relevant to land power’s contribution to Australian Defence Strategy.

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements recommends a ‘fundamental shift in strategic thinking about national disaster management. If there were one word that encapsulates this shift, it would be ‘resilience.’’ The Royal Commission’s report highlights that 33 people died, over 3,000 homes were destroyed and that financial impacts are over $10 billion. ‘These losses were exacerbated by severe hailstorms, and floods in some areas that were just starting to recover from the fires… It was a true ‘campaign season.’’ The Royal Commission was tasked to consider national natural disaster coordination arrangements as a result.

The Report recommends ‘a national entity dedicated to championing resilience across the nation’ be established. It is argued that this will help Australia to ‘build back better;’ or, to use a term from Nassim Taleb, to become ‘anti-fragile.’ The Report sees a greater role for Emergency Management Australia in this work. It recommends a revision of the COMDISPLAN (Australian Government’s Disaster Response Plan), noting that ‘we are likely to see more compounding disasters on a national scale with far-reaching consequences.’

Deterrence

From the Center for a New American Security, a piece from John Warden arguing that ‘The United States needs a strategy for fighting wars with nuclear-armed adversaries over limited objectives.’ While this might elicit concern, the position taken by Warden in this article aims to deter major escalation, ‘including an adversary’s decision to employ nuclear weapons.’ Central to the next National Defense Strategy, Warden argues, should be ‘the best mix of nuclear, non-nuclear, and dual-use capabilities to deter conflict and escalation.’

Major Power Competition

War on the Rocks has published a warning from Lt. Gen. Barno (ret.) and Dr. Nora Bensahel about the coming cultural challenge for the U.S. Army. Between the tensions of Major Power Competition and shrinking Defence budgets (due to the COVID19 pandemic), Barno and Bensahel predict a pivot from the U.S. Army as the generally supported service, to becoming the supporting service, with ensuing adjustments to missions, tasks and priorities as a result.

Continued analysis from RUSI into the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has illuminated the proliferation of precision strike capabilities as a key factor in the level of attrition achieved against Armenian armour (over 100 T72 main battle tanks now recognised as having been destroyed). Through pairing long-range loitering munitions with pervasive sensors, assets such as an Armenian S-300 surface-to-air missile site at Shuskakend were engaged in what has been described by RUSI as ‘fighting at the seams of the battlefield.’ The title of this piece highlights the evident trend for future warfare – ‘the democratisation of precision strike’. 

Information Warfare and Cyber

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has indicted several GRU officers of Conspiracy (amongst other charges) ‘to deploy destructive malware and take other disruptive actions, for the strategic benefit of Russia.’ Charges date back to actions against the Ukraine in 2015, and include the “NotPetya” malware attacks of 2018. This case is interesting due to the illumination of GRU virtual tradecraft within the indictment (noting that releasing this information itself offers the GRU insight into how they were tracked) and the criminal precedence this DOJ action suggests. Namely, that the term ‘Information Warfare’ infers state-sanctioned protection for the individuals involved. That Russia has consistently denied responsibility over such online activities turns activities in ‘the grey zone’ into a liability. If actions are not state-sanctioned “warfare”, then individuals must therefore be culpable for their actions. If found guilty, tracking the progression of this case to understand how the DOJ intends to prosecute GRU officers may inform options for Australian Government responses to grey zone activities.

From Wired, an article examining the potential for AI to identify an information warfare campaign within ‘an avalanche of unclassified information.’ Of note, is not only this application of AI in the Information domain, but also that the AI identified Russian narratives in support of Armenia and undermining of Azerbaijan and Turkey - in July, three months prior to the outbreak of hostilities. The implication of such evidence is that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict might reinforce assessments of the ‘Kremlin Playbook’ or Russian New Generation Warfare.

Irregular Warfare and Terrorism

The Middle East Institute has recently examined U.S. policy as it applies to the resurgence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. This report notes the increasing trend in ISIS attacks from 2018 into 2020 and seeks to identify policy challenges in responding to this resurgence. The trend is reinforced by analysis by the CTC Sentinel and by the United Nations. Further adding to this trend, the Australian Institute of International Affairs analyses a reconstituted ISIS in Syria. These reports also describe a weakening of “ISIS Core” command and control over its affiliates.

Despite this weakening of influence over its affiliates, the latest edition of the CTC Sentinel examines the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) which absorbed the Ahl a-Sunnah wa al Jamma’ah (ASWJ) movement in northern Mozambique in June 2019. Since that time, the ASWJ has surged, and employed similar tactics to other IS franchises in its August 2020 seizure of the town of Mocimboa de Praia, in what seems to be a like model to that of population control in Mosul or Marawi.

Innovation

From the recent Association of the United States Army (AUSA) conference, a significant pivot in US Army budget priorities will mean a tipping point in US Army weapons programs in 2023. Legacy weapon systems programs faced a series of “night court” reviews, with tough decisions being made, such as cancelling an upgrade to the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and pushing funding into an Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV). This process has reportedly realised $37 billion to fund future capabilities development. The Secretary of the Army highlighted the experimental realisation of future concepts through Project Convergence (reported in ETOs here) has informed this review. Recorded presentations form the AUSA conference are available here (requiring user registration).

Also from Wired, a story speaking to the contemporary nature of innovation and adaptation for Defence applications leveraging recently-separated veterans. The capability developed, a LIDAR-equipped UAV with video and mapping functionality is also notable regarding its utility for urban environments and underground facilities.

The next instalment of the Stanford University course, Technology, Innovation and Modern War progresses to Class Seven and Eight, presented by Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan (former director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Centre), and Nand Mulchandani (Chief Technology Officer at the Joint Artificial Intelligence Centre) and Chris Lynch (founder of the Defense Digital Service).

Events

  • ANU’s National Security College continue their series of discussions with senior public service members, this week publishing a conversation with Deputy Secretary, National Security, PM&C, Caroline Millar. This conversation can be found here.
  • ASPI continue their series of discussion with DG ASIS, Paul Symon. A conversation on ASIS’s purposes and principles can be found here.
  • 11 November (1800-1900): Professor Anna Moore of ANU is presenting for AIIA on Australia’s Role in the New Space Age. Details are available here.
  • 17 November (1730-1830): Professor George Lawson of ANU is presenting for AIIA on Revolutions and World Order. Details are available here.
  • 19 November (1200-1300): The AARC Seminar series is hosting its 2020 Honours Students presenting their research findings and the implications for Army capability. Details will soon be available through Eventbrite.
  • 1 December (0900-1000): COL Armstrong will present on lessons from the 19-20 Bushfires for the AARC Seminar series at the R1 Theatre. Details will soon be available through Eventbrite here.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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