While initiatives such as the "third offset strategy" — despite seemingly being couched in so-called great power competition and developing tools for overmatch and offense — are actually aimed at ensuring conventional deterrence and peace, there is recognition that these capabilities are necessary to procure and operationalize in case a conflict ensues with another near-peer competitor.
However, a fight in a highly contested environment, which differs from the permissive counterinsurgency environments in which U.S. forces have fought for 15 years, is inevitable.
"This future fight — and this is where I'll say this is my opinion — a future fight that is inevitable, non-permissive operations in high-end contested and degraded operational environment — to me this is not a matter of if but when and we're not as well prepared for it as we would like to be, which is why the [future] budget does put a lot of emphasis on those high-end technologies," Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, director for defense intelligence (warfighter support) at the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, said Thursday at a breakfast hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association.
Shanahan provided a short list of priorities being pursued to get after this issue. The first is greater airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability, both manned and unmanned. This unmanned component, he said, is across all the services, "it's no longer just an Air Force [thing], the Army and the Navy are getting big into the unmanned ISR."
Shanahan also noted unmanned undersea capabilities for the Navy, which he described as a big growth area.
Space capabilities is another priority area for the department, which involves persistence, resiliency and broad area coverage.
"The resiliency discussion is a very important one," he said. Space is becoming a highly contested domain of warfare and the ability to perform uninterrupted, even when assets are targeted will be critical, he added.
Shanahan also pointed to the growth of cyber capabilities — security, offensive and defensive — and the need for a more robust cyber intelligence workforce.
"There is a serious shortfall in the number of cyber intelligence professionals out there," he said. "The on-net operations turns out to be a little bit easier than all the other intelligence that goes into finding out how do you get on that network, what do you do on that network, what do you take off that network … so cyber intel remains an area where we have a lot of focus on."
He pointed to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's desire for greater Title 10, or military, cyber capabilities in recent years, a capability that has traditionally been shielded in the shadows of intelligence or Title 50 operations. It "has just been pretty fascinating to watch this play out in counter-ISIL operations and where that line is between Title 10 military cyber operations and foreign intelligence collection. I think Secretary Carter, you've seen, has been very forceful in pushing for more Title 10 cyber operations," Shanahan said, using a common acronym for the Islamic State group (also known as ISIS) and referencing the cyber operations with which Carter has tasked as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the global anti-ISIS coalition.
The importance of cyber as a war fighting capability has been exemplified by the standing up of CYBERCOM, increasing cyber budgets and even the recently released language in the National Defense Authorization Act elevating CYBERCOM — currently a sub-unified combatant command under Strategic Command — to a unified combatant command.
While the first open "cyberwar" is being executed against non-state actors — one that many, including CYBERCOM Commander Adm. Michael Rogers, has described as "the most adaptive target I've ever worked in 35 years as an intelligence professional" — cyber will continue to be a growing resource for commanders, especially against nation-states that have greater vulnerabilities in this space given their interconnectedness and thus more to lose.
Conveying deterrence against nation-states is easier because everyone recognizes that there are mutual vulnerabilities, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress last month. The greater challenge, he said, is deterring non-state actors, "which over time are going to develop more capabilities in the cyber realm to commit to render attacks. I think the notion of building a sense of deterrence, the psychology of deterrence in non-nation-state entities is going to be difficult."