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Oct. 1, 2020
Notes from the Pentagon

Pentagon needs 'Gray Zone' weapons

By Bill Gertz
The Pentagon needs better weapons for waging warfare below the level of conventional military conflict — such as information and intelligence warfare capabilities — to win against strategic competitors, according to a report by the Defense Science Board.

“Gray Zone” warfare capabilities include better cyberweapons, information warfare capabilities, economic and commercial warfare tools and new multidomain military systems, the Pentagon advisory panel stated in an executive summary.

“The study findings emphasized creative ways and means beyond traditional weapons systems to achieve National Defense Strategy objectives,” Craig Fields and Eric Evans, board co-chairs, said in a preface.

The 2017 defense strategy for the first time in decades recognized China as the United States’ most significant strategic competitor, along with Russia. Neither state was mentioned in the summary of the board’s report, “The Future of U.S. Military Superiority.”

The Pentagon and other U.S. national security forces need “to be more aggressive in the Gray Zone and treat every action as a campaign to deter competitors from behavior counter to U.S. objectives.”

The report said U.S. competitors are seeking to become “dominant global powers in the economic, military and sociopolitical domains, with the objective to diminish the U.S. and its critical allies’ standing in the world order.”

“Meanwhile, they also use their militaries to coerce neighbors, attempt to counter U.S. military superiority, and undermine international freedom of action,” the report states. “In addition, such competitors also challenge the United States and its allies in the Gray Zone through undermining elections, malicious use of social media, and employing unfair business practices globally.”

The report warns that systematic use of these weapons is part of a long-term objective to undermine democratic systems and the current world order.

The report criticized current U.S. Gray Zone efforts as “disjointed” and not successful, adding that the U.S. needs coherent and sustained strategic engagement campaigns utilizing all elements of the government. The Pentagon has authorities, resources and experience in Gray Zone conflict but needs to partner with other agencies to better target the campaigns using all elements of national power.

The report calls for developing targeted intelligence within the social media and economic domains, as well as setting up a “National Strategic Engagement Intelligence Center” under the director of national intelligence.

On the cyberspace front, the Pentagon must expand capabilities and use them selectively together with other government activities.

For Cyber Command, the report recommends creating a “Cyber S&T Intelligence Activity” for Gray Zone warfare.

For the military as a whole, the board recommends building a set of “unique multi-domain military capabilities to counter adversary regional military advantages and force them to consider the costs of their actions.”

No details of these capabilities were provided in the summary.

For information warfare, the Pentagon must launch proactive campaigns that will identify and deter an adversary’s malign activities. As part of that effort, a Joint Information Warfare Engineering Laboratory should be set up.

The board also wants greater use of current economic, financial and trade authorities. Better U.S. government strategic engagement campaigns are needed as well, and the report called for setting up a not-for-profit Strategic Competition Support Capability.

“The United States will not sit idle in this Great Power Competition,” the report said. “Failure to act means that strategic competitors will continue to act with impunity to achieve their broad objectives,” the report concludes. “The United States must be persistent in taking the necessary actions that ensure the future of U.S. global engagement and military superiority.”

Michael D. Griffin, who authorized the study and was until July the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said the report shows the military needs more than advanced equipment.

“The department must also consider more broadly new ways and means to coerce potential adversaries,” he stated, noting the need for “asymmetric and non-kinetic mechanisms” to influence enemy decision-making.

China’s government is seeking to influence U.S. state and local governments as part of a broader strategy of influencing federal government policies, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a recent speech.

In an address last week in Wisconsin, Mr. Pompeo revealed that Wisconsin state Sen. Roger Roth received an email from a woman at the Chinese Consulate in Chicago named Wu Ting. The email included a draft resolution China wanted passed by the Wisconsin Legislature praising Beijing’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a second email, Mr. Roth responded with a one-word reply: “Nuts.”

Mr. Pompeo said the effort is part of a targeted program by the Chinese.

“Roger didn’t take the bait. Instead, Roger presented a resolution stating that ‘The Communist Party of China deliberately and intentionally misled the world on the Wuhan coronavirus.’ It’s true,” Mr. Pompeo said.

While many groups try to influence the United States, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is different. “The party and its proxies aim to make Americans receptive to Beijing’s form of authoritarianism,” he said.

As part of Beijing’s effort to counter the Trump administration’s tougher policies, Chinese President Xi Jinping directed influence operations to target “subnational” entities to soften the policies, he said.

Mr. Xi “thinks local leaders may well be the weak link,” Mr. Pompeo said.

“The Chinese Communist Party views itself as the true vanguard of Marxist-Leninist thought, which proposes that communist countries like theirs must struggle and prevail against capitalist nations like ours,” he added. “It’s why we have to have a conversation in our state legislatures about this China and this China challenge.”

Examples of the effort include pressuring local governments to oppose Taiwan, China’s rival, and for regional governments to criticize the Chinese religious group Falun Gong.

“The reality is that most every state legislature in the country has probably received a letter from the CCP much like Sen. Roth’s email as part of a coordinated propaganda campaign,” Mr. Pompeo said.

Another example was the infiltration of the New York Police Department by a Chinese agent, who was arrested last week.

In a bid to mute Americans’ anger at China’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese officials have begun playing the race card, Mr. Pompeo said.

“The CCP thinks it can drown out American cries for accountability with shouts of racism. We won’t let that happen. We can’t,” he said. “The CCP wants to foment the kind of strife we’ve seen in Minneapolis and Portland and Kenosha. That’s disgusting. We can’t let it happen.”

China’s large store of missiles continues to expand and the United States needs to prepare for missile tests by Beijing of increasing range, according to a Navy intelligence officer.

Cmdr. Jeffrey T. Vanak, currently a national security affairs fellow at the Hoover Institution, stated in a Washington Times opinion article published this week that China’s missile capabilities pose a threat to U.S. military advantages in the Pacific.

The People’s Liberation Army missile forces have been conducting increasingly provocative missile tests, most recently firing a salvo of missiles into the South China Sea. The tests have included an intermediate-range DF-26 — dubbed a “Guam killer” by China because it can reach the U.S.-owned South Pacific island.

“Within the next two years, PLA missiles could splash into the Pacific Ocean carrying with them geopolitical ramifications that, if left unchecked, would cede strategic ground to Beijing,” said Cmdr. Vanak, both an intelligence officer and operational planner.

China last year launched more ballistic missiles than the rest of the world combined as part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s drive to strengthen long-range precision strike forces.

Despite the test, China has not used missiles in realistic combat training in the Pacific, thus making it difficult for U.S. intelligence to assess how Chinese military leaders will use anti-ship ballistic missiles in a conflict.

“The prospect of China anti-ship ballistic missiles in the western Pacific is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when,’ and the United States must be primed to rapidly respond to the provocation,” Cmdr. Vanak said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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