NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
The current House defense authorization bill is targeting Russia’s aggressive information warfare operations in Ukraine, along with propaganda activities by Islamist terrorists.
The House Armed Services Committee bill added $30 million to special operations forces funding to counter Russian disinformation and Islamic State social media recruitment efforts. The added funds followed a recent visit to Ukraine by committee Chairman Mac Thornberry who is concerned the U.S. military is not equipped to counter this new form of informational warfare.
“Our adversaries around the world are using propaganda to shape the battlefield, drive up their support and inspire imitators,” the Texas Republican told Inside the Ring. “We’ve seen [the Islamic State] and al Qaeda use this tool in the Middle East, and Russia use it in Eastern Europe.”
Such propaganda in the wrong hands can be an effective weapon, and “it is something America does not always do a good job [of] countering,” he said.
The bill “acknowledges this serious communications gap, and takes steps to correct it,” Mr. Thornberry said.
The boost in funds for the U.S. Special Operations Command (Socom) to $54.7 million is aimed at expanding “global inform and influence activities” against Russia and terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
The committee wants Socom to brief the panel no later than July on the counterinfluence program.
The committee bill states that Moscow’s tactics are not new, but adds that “Russia has combined them in new, effective, and troubling ways. It has fomented and taken advantage of ethnic disputes to train, build and equip a separatist army in Ukraine under Russian direction.”
“It has combined this line of effort with propaganda, diplomatic and economic measures to try to reduce the effectiveness of Ukraine’s response, as well as the response of the United States and Europe, and to preserve and extend its perceived sphere of influence,” the bill states.
The committee also said the Russian information operations “pose a challenge to the NATO system” and that NATO collective self-defense has been undermined by Russian political and covert warfare in Ukraine.
Additionally, differing views among NATO members will make it difficult for the alliance to reach a consensus on Russian involvement and thus Moscow’s tactics could undermine NATO’s ability to deter Russia.
“The committee believes that the Department of Defense and NATO should fully explore how the United States, NATO and member-states can, as necessary, establish deterrence mechanisms against activities such as those undertaken by the Russian government in Ukraine,” the bill says.
Moscow’s tactics include media propaganda, economic warfare, cyberwarfare, criminal acts and intelligence operations.
Philip A. Karber, a Georgetown professor and specialist on Ukraine with the Potomac Foundation, said after speaking to Ukrainian field commanders during 13 visits, “the most important military battle they lost was the information one.”
Russian information warfare in Ukraine includes political subversion, the use of proxy forces, the movement of forces to threaten an invasion, public threats and large-scale nuclear exercises, as well as negotiations designed to inhibit Western intervention.
“Against the Russian media machine, you cannot just depend on a free press alone to defend against their multifront ‘Big Lie’ campaign,” Mr. Karber said.
The added $30 million for U.S. counterinfluence is too small to compete with the billions being invested by Moscow in disinformation and media manipulation, he said.
“But nevertheless, the funds are an important turning point in educating the American military and getting them to think proactively,” Mr. Karber said.
A spokesman for Special Operations Command declined to comment.
Robot helo conducts test rescue
An unmanned helicopter conducted a successful test flight of a new search-and-rescue capability designed to minimize the dangers faced by rescue pilots and crew.
A Kaman K-MAX cargo helicopter conducted the test in Connecticut last month by safely landing and picking up a crash test dummy, three defense contractors involved in the test said in a statement.
The companies, Lockheed Martin, Kaman Aerospace and Neya Systems, said the test was the first time a robot helicopter carried out a simulated casualty evacuation.
Automated K-MAX cargo helicopters have been used by the Marines in Afghanistan for years for resupply missions. But ferrying wounded troops has not been part of the aircraft’s mission.
In the demonstration last month, a distress call prompted the dispatch of an unmanned ground vehicle to conduct an assessment of the area and the simulated injured soldier. An airlift evacuation was then ordered, and the unmanned K-MAX flew in and retrieved the simulated soldier, who was positioned on a seat on the outside of the aircraft.
“This application of the unmanned K-MAX enables day or night transport of wounded personnel to safety without endangering additional lives,” said Jay McConville, a Lockheed official involved in unmanned systems and training. “Since the K-MAX returned from a nearly three-year deployment with the U.S. Marine Corps, we’ve seen benefits of and extended our open system design incorporating the UAS control segment architecture, which allows rapid integration of new applications across industry to increase the safety of operations, such as casualty evacuation, where lives are at stake.”
In Afghanistan, from 2011 to 2014, K-MAX robot helicopters flew more than 1,900 missions delivering more than 4.5 million pounds of cargo. The K-MAX was outfitted with an advanced unmanned control system that allows it to operate in day and night, and to fly in all weather conditions when manned flights are not possible.
Spacecom’s General: ‘I’m not NASA’
The commander of the Air Force Space Command, Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, has a new nickname.
Gen. Hyten bluntly declared during Sunday’s “60 Minutes” broadcast on China’s growing space warfare capabilities and threats to American satellites that the U.S. military will respond forcefully to space threats from countries like China and Russia. Asked by CBS correspondent David Martin about the increasingly contested space environment, Gen. Hyten said: “We have the right of self-defense and we’ll make sure we can execute that right.”
“And use force if necessary?” Mr. Martin asked.
“That’s why we have a military. You know I’m not NASA,” Gen. Hyten said, referring to the civilian National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
During a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on military space, Air Force Secretary Debra L. James quipped that the general has become “Gen. ‘I’m-not-NASA’ Hyten, as we now call him.”
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.