The Military Role in Combating COVID-19

There is a bewildering amount of official guidance on the role of the military in circumstances such as the current pandemic. But the practical impact of that guidance, whatever it may be, is unclear. Like the proverbial war plan that cannot survive first contact with the enemy, Pentagon doctrine on infectious disease seems to have been overtaken by events.

“The mission of DOD in a pandemic is to preserve U.S. combat capabilities and readiness and to support U.S. government efforts to save lives, reduce human suffering, and slow the spread of infection,” according to a 2019 Army manual.

To help accomplish that, another military manual offered a “prioritized and tiered [list of] infectious diseases [to] assist the military research community in focusing on the development of vaccine, prophylactic drugs, diagnostic capabilities, and surveillance efforts.”

Pandemic influenza was among the highest priority diseases, posing a “high operational risk,” but unfortunately the intended military research response appears to have lagged.

Who is in charge?

Well, “USNORTHCOM [US Northern Command] exercises coordinating authority for planning of DOD efforts in support of the USG response to pandemic influenza and infectious disease,” says a Pentagon publication (JP 3-40) on Joint Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction.

What is NORTHCOM doing?

“DoD has nearly 11,000 personnel dedicated to COVID-19 operations nation-wide, with nearly 2,500 in the New York City area,” according to an April 10 news release. “DOD is providing expeditionary medical care in several states across the country.”

“NORTHCOM is out there working furiously to carry out its many missions, implementing at least five different operations plans simultaneously,” according to military researcher William M. Arkin.

But “Implementing might be too strong of a word,” he wrote, “because even though these plans run in the hundreds of pages, most are thrown out the window almost as soon as they are taken off the shelf, useful in laying out how things should be organized but otherwise too rigid — or fanciful — to apply to the real world.”

In a new piece, Arkin surveyed 19 operational military plans that in theory govern NORTHCOM activities. Most of them are not publicly available, and some are classified.

“Is there any reason you can imagine that the pandemic response plan shouldn’t be public? Or the plan for Defense Support of Civil Authorities?” Arkin doesn’t think so.

One of the plans he turned up, a 2017 NORTHCOM draft on Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Disease Response, identified what it termed “critical vulnerabilities” including:

“Lack of communication and synchronization among partners and stakeholders, inability or unwillingness to share information / biosurveillance data, limited detection capabilities, and limited laboratory confirmatory testing.”

That particular plan from 2017 “seemingly never went beyond the draft stage,” said Arkin.

The Urgency of Military History

The task of the military historian differs from that of the academic historian because military history has an operational dimension. It is supposed to help inform current military operations with the lessons and the perspectives of the past.

“The historian must always bear in mind that the whole purpose of the history office is to help the warfighter by serving as an advisor and presenting critical documentation when needed,” according to a new US Air Force Handbook on the subject. “The mission drives what is important for the historian, not the historian’s particular interest. ”

The military historian also is responsible for identifying and assembling the raw materials of future scholarship. Contrary to what “many new historians may incorrectly assume, documentation will not automatically arrive in the office. The historian must seek it.” See Aerospace Historian Operations in Peace and War, Air Force Handbook 84-106, April 2, 2020.

But operationally, history can only do so much.

“Military history does not produce solutions for problems and does [not] guarantee success on the battlefield,” an Army manual on the subject explains. “An approach with these goals leads to frustration and biased or inaccurate history.”

“Rather, military history affords an understanding of the dynamics to shape the present and enables Soldiers the perspective of viewing current and future problems with ideas of how similar challenges were confronted in the past. . .  If history rarely provides concrete answers, it offers insight and understanding.”

“Historians know that Army history records triumphs, challenges, and failures. Army historians do not judge operations and actions; they seek to tell the full story so that others learn from it.” See Military History Operations, ATP 1-20, US Army, June 2014.

Life Underground: US Army Subterranean Operations

Subterranean operations involving the use of tunnels and underground facilities pose growing challenges to the U.S. military, a new Army manual indicates.

“Today, over 10,000 known subterranean facilities exist around the world,” the manual says.

“Whether to protect vital assets and capabilities, mitigate weapon system and sensor overmatch, to strengthen a larger defensive position, or simply to be used for transportation in our largest cities, subterranean systems continue to be expanded and relied upon throughout the world. Therefore, our Soldiers and leaders must be prepared to fight and win in this environment.”

See Subterranean Operations, Army Techniques Publication ATP 3-21.51, November 2019.

Logistical issues aside, subterranean operations can have adverse effects on soldiers’ emotional, moral, and spiritual health, the Army manual said.

“Subterranean environments may reduce a Soldier’s sense of purpose and commitment, causing them to lose combat effectiveness sooner than anticipated due to the psychological and physiological stress of these environments.”

“As a result, Soldiers may have powerful emotional reactions. These may include an overwhelming sense of fear or momentary loss of their moral compass leading to illegal or immoral actions.”

Army Playing Cards Feature Iranian Weapons

In a not very subtle sign of the times, the U.S. Army has produced a deck of playing cards featuring weaponry used or held by Iran in order to familiarize soldiers with Iran’s inventory of weapons and presumably to facilitate their recognition on the battlefield.

The Iran collection follows similar decks of playing cards illustrated with Chinese and Russian weapons.

Another set of U.S. Army playing cards featuring North Korean weapons systems is forthcoming.

DoD Doctrine on Nuclear Operations Published, Taken Offline

The Joint Chiefs of Staff briefly published and then removed from public access a new edition of their official doctrine on the use of nuclear weapons. But a public copy was preserved. See Joint Publication 3-72, Nuclear Operations, June 11, 2019.

The document presents an unclassified, mostly familiar overview of nuclear strategy, force structure, planning, targeting, command and control, and operations.

“Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability,” according to one Strangelovian passage in the publication. “Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.”

The document might have gone unremarked, but after publishing it last week the Joint Chiefs deleted it from their public website. A notice there states that it (JP 3-72) is now only “available through JEL+” (the Joint Electronic Library), which is a restricted access site. A local copy remains publicly available on the FAS website.

USAF Seeks “Resilient” Nuclear Command and Control

The US Air Force last week updated its guidance on the command and control of nuclear weapons to include protection against electromagnetic pulse and cyber attack, among other changes. See Air Force Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications (NC3), Air Force Instruction 13-550, April 16, 2019.

“This is a complete revision to the previous version of this instruction,” the new guidance states. “It revises the command relationships, roles and responsibilities, the governance structure, and addresses resourcing, architecture and configuration management, resilience, and assessments.”

“Resilience” here pertains particularly to “two of the most broadly applied challenges: hardening against the effects of electromagnetic pulse and threats in the cyberspace domain.” These topics were scarcely mentioned at all in the previous version of the Air Force Instruction that was issued in 2014, nor did the term resilience appear in the earlier document.

Several new classified directives on nuclear command and control have been issued in recent years (such as Presidential Policy Directive-35 and others) and their content is reflected at least indirectly and in part in the new unclassified USAF guidance.

A broader modernization of the nation’s entire nuclear command, control and communications system is underway at U.S. Strategic Command, costing a projected $77 billion over the coming decade. See “STRATCOM to design blueprint for nuclear command, control and communications” by Sandra Erwin, Space News, March 29, 2019.

Contractors: All Major Military Operations Rely on Them

Military contractors are such an integral part of U.S. military forces that “most military operations will include contracted support,” a newly updated Pentagon manual explains.

In fact, “While some limited-duration operations, such as noncombatant evacuation operations, may use limited contracted support, all major operations will involve significant contracted support.”

Aside from their prominent role in logistics, contractors also provide linguist, signal and security services.

In some circumstances, contractors may even substitute for US military forces. “The use of contracted support as an alternative to deploying US forces may have other benefits, including minimizing the military footprint in the operational area, reducing force operational tempo, and improving domestic US political support or buy-in,” the manual said.

Contractors are considered indispensable, and they can sometimes be used to circumvent policy restrictions on military deployments. “The continual introduction of high-tech equipment, coupled with force structure and manning reductions, mission-specific force cap restrictions, and high operating tempo, means contracted support will augment military forces in most operations.”

Among the various types of military contractors are armed private security contractors (PSCs) that are used to guard personnel and facilities. “PSC-provided services, more than any other contracted service, can have a direct impact (sometimes a very negative impact) on civil-military aspects of the operation,” the Pentagon manual cautioned.

As a general matter, vigilant oversight is needed to ensure the integrity of the contracting process, since “the procurement of supplies and services in support of military operations can be prone to fraud, waste, and abuse (FWA), even more so in a foreign contingency where there are many contracts with local firms.” See Operational Contract Support, Joint Publication 4-10, March 4, 2019.

Military Deception: A Handbook

Military tacticians use deception to induce an opponent to act against his own interests, or to refrain from acting when it would be advantageous. The theory and techniques of military deception were detailed this week in a new Army publication for military planners that also implicitly illuminates the role of deception in other contexts.

In one form, deception may increase an adversary’s uncertainty so as to hinder decision-making. In another form, it may decrease uncertainty to encourage the adversary to make a decision that is mistaken.

“Ambiguity-increasing deception is designed to generate confusion and cause mental conflict in the enemy decision maker. Anticipated effects of ambiguity-increasing deception can include a delay to making a specific decision, operational paralysis, or the distribution of enemy forces to locations far away from the intended location of the friendly efforts,” the Army manual said.

Deceptive actions “can cause the target to delay a decision until it is too late to prevent friendly mission success. They can place the target in a dilemma for which no acceptable solution exists. They may even prevent the target from taking any action at all. This type of deception is typically successful with an indecisive decision maker who is known to avoid risk.”

On the other hand, “Ambiguity-decreasing deceptions manipulate and exploit an enemy decision maker’s pre-existing beliefs and bias through the intentional display of observables that reinforce and convince that decision maker that such pre-held beliefs are true. Ambiguity-decreasing deceptions cause the enemy decision maker to be especially certain and very wrong… Planners often have success using these deceptions with strong-minded decision makers who are willing to accept a higher level of risk.”

Even deception has limits and rules, according to the Army. For one thing, the U.S. military is not supposed to deliberately practice deception against the U.S. government or the public.

“Deception activities, including planning efforts, are prohibited from explicitly or implicitly targeting, misleading, or attempting to influence the U.S. Government, U.S. Congress, the U.S. public, or the U.S. news media. Legal staff review all deception activities to eliminate, minimize, or mitigate the possibility that such influence might occur.”

Nor, according to international convention, should instruments of negotiation be abused as tools of deception.

“Flags of truce must not be used surreptitiously to obtain military information or merely to obtain time to affect a retreat or secure reinforcements, or to feign a surrender in order to surprise an enemy.”

See Army Support to Military Deception, Field Manual 3-13.4, 26 February 2019.

By its nature, the effectiveness of military deception depends on secrecy. Specific applications of military deception are addressed in classified publications such as DoD Instruction S-3604.01. The latest (2017) version of Joint Publication 3-13.4 on Military Deception is restricted in distribution.

But the new Army manual is unclassified and was published without restriction.

Defense Primers, and More from CRS

“The President does not need the concurrence of either his military advisors or the U.S. Congress to order the launch of nuclear weapons,” the Congressional Research Service reminded readers last month in an updated “defense primer” on “Command and Control of Nuclear Forces.”

The CRS defense primer series consists of two-page introductions to a variety of basic military and intelligence topics. The primers do not generally present information that is altogether new to specialists, but they are a convenient way to increase national security literacy among non-specialist members of Congress and the public.

Recently updated items in the series include the following.

Defense Primer: Commanding U.S. Military Operations, CRS In Focus, updated December 20, 2018

Defense Primer: Intelligence Support to Military Operations, CRS In Focus, updated December 20, 2018

Defense Primer: U.S. Defense Industrial Base, CRS In Focus, updated December 20, 2018

Defense Primer: Procurement, CRS In Focus, updated December 20, 2018

Defense Primer: Information Operations, CRS In Focus, updated December 18, 2018

Defense Primer: Cyberspace Operations, CRS In Focus, updated December 18, 2018

Defense Primer: President’s Constitutional Authority with Regard to the Armed Forces, CRS In Focus, updated December 17, 2018

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

The Special Counsel Investigation After the Attorney General’s Resignation, CRS Legal Sidebar, January 2, 2019

Government Expenditures on Defense Research and Development by the United States and Other OECD Countries: Fact Sheet, updated December 19, 2018

Executive Branch Ethics and Financial Conflicts of Interest: Disclosure, CRS Legal Sidebar, January 2, 2019

DHS’s Cybersecurity Mission–An Overview, CRS In Focus, updated December 19, 2018

New U.S. Policy Regarding Nuclear Exports to China, CRS In Focus, December 17, 2018

Congress’s Authority to Influence and Control Executive Branch Agencies, updated December 19, 2018

Religious Support to Military Funerals

The US Army has issued updated guidance on military funerals that notably emphasizes freedom of religion and individual choice.

“The Army requires the capability to provide RS [religious support] across austere and isolated locations which accommodates service members’ right to the free exercise of religion and supports resiliency efforts to sustain service members in combat.”

“RS is comprehensive because every individual personally defines what constitutes RS. While not every religious need of every Soldier can be met, chaplains and religious affairs specialists seek to meet as many needs as possible.”

“Due to the religious diversity of the nation and Army, all chaplains must know the funeral practices and religious requirements of various faith groups in the military.”

“Wherever they are conducted, and regardless of the tasks or order of events, military funerals and memorial events pay tribute to those who have honorably served the nation. Each final tribute draws from national, military, and religious traditions, not routinely nor impersonally, but profoundly and with compassion.”

See Religious Support to Funerals and Memorial Events, ATP 1-05.02, November 2018.