Army Visual Signals

Soldiers need to be able to communicate on a noisy, dangerous battlefield even when conventional means of communication are unavailable.

To help meet that need, the US Army has just updated its compilation of hand and flag signals.

One configuration of flags signifies “Chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear hazard present”:


Or a soldier may need to signal “I do not understand,” as follows:


See Visual Signals for Armor Fighting Vehicles (Combined Arms), GTA 17-02-019, US Army, February 2018.

The Expanding Secrecy of the Afghanistan War

Last year, dozens of categories of previously unclassified information about Afghan military forces were designated as classified, making it more difficult to publicly track the progress of the war in Afghanistan.

The categories of now-classified information were tabulated in a memo dated October 31, 2017 that was prepared by the staff of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko.

In the judgment of the memo authors, “None of the material now classified or otherwise restricted discloses information that could threaten the U.S. or Afghan missions (such as detailed strategy, plans, timelines, or tactics).”

But “All of the [newly withheld] data include key metrics and assessments that are essential to understanding mission success for the reconstruction of Afghanistan’s security institutions and armed forces.”

So what used to be available that is now being withheld?

“It is basically casualty, force strength, equipment, operational readiness, attrition figures, as well as performance assessments,” said Mr. Sopko, the SIGAR.

“Using the new [classification criteria], I would not be able to tell you in a public setting or the American people how their money is being spent,” Mr. Sopko told Congress at a hearing last November.

The SIGAR staff memo tabulating the new classification categories was included as an attachment for the hearing record, which was published last month. See Overview of 16 Years of Involvement in Afghanistan, hearing before the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, November 1, 2017.

In many cases, the information was classified by NATO or the Pentagon at the request of the Government of Afghanistan.

“Do you think that it is an appropriate justification for DOD to classify previously unclassified information based on a request from the Afghan Government?,” asked Rep. Val Demings (D-FL). “Why or why not?”

“I do not because I believe in transparency,” replied Mr. Sopko, “and I think the loss of transparency is bad not only for us, but it is also bad for the Afghan people.”

“All of this [now classified] material is historical in nature (usually between one and three months old) because of delays incurred by reporting time frames, and thus only provides ‘snapshot’ data points for particular periods of time in the past,” according to the SIGAR staff memo.

“All of the data points [that were] classified or restricted are ‘top-line’ (not unit-level) data. SIGAR currently does not publicly report potentially sensitive, unit-specific data.”

Yesterday at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) asked Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis about the growing restrictions on information about the war in Afghanistan.

“We are now increasing the number of our troops in Afghanistan, and after 16 years, the American people have a right to know of their successes. Some of that, I’m sure it is classified information, which I can understand. But I also know that we’re not getting the kind of information that we need to get to know what successes we’re having. And after 16 years, I do not think we’re having any successes,” Rep. Jones said.

Secretary Mattis said that the latest restriction of unclassified information about the extent of Taliban or government control over Afghanistan that was withheld from the January 2018 SIGAR quarterly report had been “a mistake.” He added, “That information is now available.” But Secretary Mattis did not address the larger pattern of classifying previously unclassified information about Afghan forces that was discussed at the November 2017 hearing.

Army Sketches Future Cyberspace Operations

The U.S. Army this week published an overview of future military cyberspace operations. See The U.S. Army Concept for Cyberspace and Electronic Warfare Operations 2025-2040, TRADOC Pamphlet 525-8-6, 9 January 2018.

The new Army publication is intended to promote development of cyber capabilities, to foster integration with other military functions, to shape recruitment, and to guide technology development and acquisition. It addresses defense against cyber threats as well as offensive cyber activities.

Proliferation of cyber threats is eroding the benefits of US superiority in conventional military power, the document said.

“The Army faces a complex and challenging environment where the expanding distribution of cyberspace and EMS [electromagnetic spectrum] technologies will continue to narrow the combat power advantage that the Army has had over potential adversaries.”

“Adversaries will conduct complex cyberspace attacks integrated with military operations or independent of traditional military operations.”

“Since every device presents a potential vulnerability, this trend represents an exponential growth of targets through which an adversary could access Army operational networks, systems, and information.”

“Conversely, it presents opportunities for the enhanced synchronization of Army technologies and information to exploit adversary dependencies on cyberspace.”

“If deterrence fails, Army forces isolate, overwhelm, and defeat adversaries in cyberspace and the EMS to meet the commander’s objectives.”

“These [Army] capabilities exploit adversary systems to facilitate intelligence collection, target adversary cyberspace and EMS functions, and create first order effects. Cyberspace and EW [electronic warfare] operations also create cascading effects across multiple domains to affect weapons systems, command and control processes, critical infrastructure, and key resources to outmaneuver adversaries physically and cognitively, applying combined arms in and across all domains.”

Military action in cyberspace is an evolving field that may have overtaken existing law or convention.

“Many effects of cyberspace operations require considerable legal and policy review,” the Army document said.

Reversing Course, DoD Will Retain Cluster Munitions

The Department of Defense last month abandoned a 2008 policy that would have reduced the U.S. inventory of cluster munitions and imposed strict new safety and quality control standards on these anti-personnel weapons, which have been implicated in numerous civilian fatalities.

“We must not lose our qualitative and quantitative competitive advantage against potential adversaries that seek operational and tactical advantages against the United States and its allies and partners,” wrote Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan in a November 30, 2017 memo establishing the new policy. Therefore, “the Department will retain cluster munitions currently in active inventories until the capabilities they provide are replaced with enhanced and more reliable munitions.”

The new DoD policy “essentially reversed the 2008 policy,” according to a newly updated review from the Congressional Research Service.

Where the previous policy issued by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2008 had “established an unwaiverable requirement that cluster munitions used after 2018 must leave less than 1% of unexploded submunitions on the battlefield,” that requirement is no longer operative and no new deadline for reducing associated risks has been set.

“Cluster munitions have been highly criticized internationally for causing a significant number of civilian deaths, and efforts have been undertaken to ban and regulate their use,” CRS wrote.

Furthermore, cluster munitions today may be an anachronism, the CRS report said. “Given current and predicted future precision weaponry trends, cluster munitions might be losing their military relevance–much as chemical weapons did between World War I and World War II.” See Cluster Munitions: Background and Issues for Congress, December 13, 2017.

Other new and updated publications from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Plant and Plutonium Disposition: Management and Policy Issues, updated December 14, 2017

Defense Spending Under an Interim Continuing Resolution: In Brief, updated December 15, 2017

Federal Procurement Law & Natural Disasters, CRS Legal Sidebar, December 14, 2017

The Net Neutrality Debate: Access to Broadband Networks, updated December 14, 2017

The Purple Heart: Background and Issues for Congress, updated December 15, 2017

Pentagon Reaffirms Policy on Scientific Integrity

“It is DoD policy to support a culture of scientific and engineering integrity,” according to a Department of Defense directive that was reissued last week.

This is in large part a matter of self-interest, since the Department depends upon the availability of competent and credible scientists and engineers.

“Science and engineering play a vital role in the DoD’s mission, providing one of several critical inputs to policy and systems acquisition decision making. The DoD recognizes the importance of scientific and engineering information, and science and engineering as methods for maintaining and enhancing its effectiveness and its credibility with the public.  The DoD is dedicated to preserving the integrity of the scientific and engineering activities it conducts.”

Several practical consequences flow from this policy that are spelled out in the directive, including:

–Permitting publication of fundamental research results

–Making scientific and engineering information available on the Internet

–Making articulate and knowledgeable spokespersons available to the media upon request for interviews on science and engineering

The policy further states that:

–Federal scientists and engineers may speak to the media and to the public about scientific and technical matters based on their official work with appropriate coordination with the scientists’ or engineers’ organizations.

–DoD approval to speak to the media or the public shall not be unreasonably delayed or withheld.

–In no circumstance may DoD personnel ask or direct scientists or engineers to alter or suppress their professional findings, although they may suggest that factual errors be corrected.

The reaffirmation of such principles, which were originally adopted in 2012, does not guarantee their consistent application in practice. But it does provide a point of reference and a foothold for defending scientific integrity in the Department.

See Scientific and Engineering Integrity, DoD Instruction 3200.20, July 26, 2012, Incorporating Change 1, December 5, 2017.

Military Operations Face Growing Transparency

Soldiers and Marines fighting in populated urban environments have to assume that their actions are being closely monitored by the public, according to new military doctrine published last week. They need to have “an expectation of observation.”

Increased transparency surrounding military operations in populated areas must be anticipated and factored into operational plans, the new doctrine instructs.

“Soldiers/Marines are likely to have their activities recorded in real time and shared instantly both locally and globally. In sum, friendly forces must have an expectation of observation for many of their activities and must employ information operations to deal with this reality effectively.”

This can be a matter of some urgency considering that “Under media scrutiny, the action of one Soldier/Marine has significant strategic implications.”

See Urban Operations, ATP 3-06, US Army, US Marine Corps, December 7, 2017.

“Currently more than 50 percent of the world population lives in urban areas and is likely to increase to 70 percent by 2050, making military operations in cities both inevitable and the norm,” the document states.

Inevitable or not, urban military combat presents a variety of challenges.

“Urban operations often reduce the relative advantage of technological superiority, weapons ranges, and firepower.”

“Moreover, because there is risk of high civilian casualties, commanders are generally required to protect civilians, render aid, and minimize damage to infrastructure. These requirements can reduce resources available to defeat the enemy, often creating difficult choices for the commander.”

“Military operations that devastate large amounts of infrastructure may result in more civilian casualties than directly caused by combat itself. Excessive U.S. destruction of infrastructure that causes widespread suffering amongst people may turn initially neutral or positive sentiment toward U.S. forces into hostility that can rapidly mobilize populations and change the nature of the military problem.”

“Destroying an urban area to save it is not an option for commanders.”

What is an Act of War in Cyberspace?

What constitutes an act of war in the cyber domain?

It’s a question that officials have wrestled with for some time without being able to provide a clear-cut answer.

But in newly-published responses to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Pentagon ventured last year that “The determination of what constitutes an ‘act of war’ in or out of cyberspace, would be made on a case-by-case and fact-specific basis by the President.”

“Specifically,” wrote then-Undersecretary of Defense (Intelligence) Marcel Lettre, “cyber attacks that proximately result in a significant loss of life, injury, destruction of critical infrastructure, or serious economic impact should be closely assessed as to whether or not they would be considered an unlawful attack or an ‘act of war.'”

Notably absent from this description is election-tampering or information operations designed to disrupt the electoral process or manipulate public discourse.

Accordingly, Mr. Lettre declared last year that “As of this point, we have not assessed that any particular cyber activity [against] us has constituted an act of war.”

See Cybersecurity, Encryption and United States National Security Matters, Senate Armed Services Committee, September 13, 2016 (published September 2017), at p. 85.

See related comments from Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford in U.S. National Security Challenges and Ongoing Military Operations, Senate Armed Services Committee, September 22, 2016 (published September 2017), at pp. 56-57.

In January 2017, outgoing Obama DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson for the first time designated the U.S. election system as critical infrastructure. “Given the vital role elections play in this country, it is clear that certain systems and assets of election infrastructure meet the definition of critical infrastructure, in fact and in law,” he wrote. It follows that an attack on the electoral process could now be considered an attack on critical infrastructure and, potentially, an act of war.

“Russia engaged in acts of war against America, not with bullets and bombs, but through a modern form of warfare, a cyberattack on our democracy,” opined Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University, in a letter published in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books.

Not so fast, replied Noah Feldman and Jacob Weisberg: “The US is not now in a legal state of war with Russia despite that country’s attempts to affect the 2016 election.”

The current issue of the US Army’s Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin (Oct-Dec 2017) includes an article on Recommendations for Intelligence Staffs Concerning Russian New Generation Warfare by MAJ Charles K. Bartles (at pp. 10-17).

Army Operations: The New Operational Environment

Other nations, including current and potential adversaries, possess military capabilities that now match or exceed those of the United States, according to a new US Army doctrinal publication.

“Today’s operational environment presents threats to the Army and joint force that are significantly more dangerous in terms of capability and magnitude than those we faced in Iraq and Afghanistan. Major regional powers like Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea are actively seeking to gain strategic positional advantage. These nations, and other adversaries, are fielding capabilities to deny long-held U.S. freedom of action in the air, land, maritime, space, and cyberspace domains and reduce U.S. influence in critical areas of the world.”

“In some contexts they already have overmatch or parity, a challenge the joint force has not faced in twenty-five years.”

That assessment appears in the Foreword to the newly updated US Army Field Manual 3.0 on Operations that was officially released today.

The Field Manual describes the conduct of operations in the new environment, with notably new material on the cyber and space domains.

“Threat operations [by adversaries] in cyberspace are often less encumbered by treaty, law, and policy restrictions than those imposed on U.S. forces, which may allow adversaries or enemies an initial advantage,” the manual states.

The unclassified field manual was released along with two supporting volumes:

ADP 3-0. Operations, Army Doctrine Publication, October 2017, and

ADRP 3-0. Operations, Army Doctrine Reference Publication, October 2017

Last week, Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued a memorandum to all military personnel and DoD employees warning against leaks of classified or otherwise restricted defense information.

“It is a violation of our oath to divulge, in any fashion, non-public DoD information, classified or unclassified, to anyone without the required security clearance as well as a specific need to know in performance of their duties,” he wrote. A copy of the memo was obtained by Military Times. (A security clearance is not required for unclassified information.)

Yet also last week, Secretary Mattis himself disclosed new information that about US rules of engagement that is normally not published, the New York Times reported. A Pentagon spokesman denied that the disclosure would place US forces at risk, or help the enemy. See “Mattis Discloses Part of Afghanistan Battle Plan, but It Hasn’t Yet Been Carried Out” by Thomas Gibbons-Neff, October 6.

Some New DoD Directives and Instructions

Noteworthy new directives and instructions issued by the Department of Defense, of interest to some, include the following.

DoD Space Enterprise Governance and Principal DoD Space Advisor (PDSA), DOD Directive 5100.96, June 9, 2017

Global Health Engagement (GHE) Activities, DOD Instruction 2000.30, July 12, 2017

Assessment of Significant Long-Term Health Risks from Past Environmental Exposures on Military Installations, DOD Instruction 6055.20, June 6, 2017

Conscientious Objectors, DOD Instruction 1300.06, July 12, 2017

Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, as of July 2017

Army Issues New Counter-WMD Doctrine

Countering weapons of mass destruction is “an enduring mission of the U.S. Armed forces,” the US Army said last week in a new doctrinal publication.

Counter-WMD operations are defined as actions taken “against actors of concern to curtail the research, development, possession, proliferation, use, and effects of WMD, related expertise, materials, technologies, and means of delivery.”

See Combined Arms Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, ATP 3-90.40, June 29, 2017.

The Army document does not refer to any specific countries such as North Korea.

Instead, it says generally that “Conventional forces and SOF [special operations forces] capabilities may be necessary to stop the movement of CBRN materials, WMD components and means of delivery, WMD-related personnel, or functional weapons into or out of specified areas or nations. Such actions may require boarding vessels and using search and detection capabilities to secure and seize shipments.”

Counter-WMD activities are directed not only at the weapons themselves but at the networks that produce, sponsor, fund and utilize them.

“Interacting with and engaging networks requires the use of lethal and nonlethal means to support, influence, or neutralize network members, cells, or an entire network. As part of this effort, commanders select, prioritize, and match effective means of interacting with friendly networks, influencing the neutral network, and neutralizing threat networks,” the new Army publication said.

“Commanders and staff utilize the targeting process to identify targets, determine the desired effects on those targets, predict secondary and tertiary effects, and plan lethal and nonlethal effects. This process enables the prosecution of targets to capitalize on and exploit targets of opportunity.”