Informal Institute for National Security Thinkers and Practitioners

Quotes of the Day:

"The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision."
- Helen Keller

"The trouble with most people is that they think with their hopes or fears or wishes rather than with their minds."
- Will Durant

Characteristics of the American Way of War (11 of 13)
11. Impatient. America is an exceptionally ideological society and, to date at least, it has distinguished clearly between conditions of peace and war. Americans have approached warfare as a regrettable occasional evil that has to be concluded as decisively and rapidly as possible. That partially moral perspective has not always sat well with the requirements of a politically effective use of force. For example, an important reason why MACV was not impressed by the promise of dedicated, time-proven counterinsurgency techniques in Vietnam, was the undeniable fact that such a style of warfare was expected to take far too long to show major results. Furthermore, America's regular military minds, and the domestic public, have been schooled to expect military action to produce conclusive results. At Khe Sahn in 1968, for a case in point, MACV was searching for an ever elusive decisive victory. As a consequence, it was lured into remote terrain , far from the cities where the vast majority of the people had congregated. The nationwide popular rising (which never came) was planned and expected by Hanoi to be an urban event, with a little help from the VC, of course. Today, cultural bias towards swift action for swift victory is amplified by mass news media that are all too ready to report a lack of visible progress as evidence of stalemate and error.
Impatience is always a military vice, but never is this more true than in the conduct of war against irregular enemies. Those enemies have to use time as a weapon. We cannot claim we have not been warned. The rationale for, character, and structure of protracted war was described in ample detail 70 years ago by Mao Tse-tung; with local variants, it has been practiced around the world ever since by insurgents of many political persuasions.84 It is probably no exaggeration to claim that a campaign plan fuelled by impatience must prove fatal to the prospects for success in irregular warfare. An impatient combatant literally will be seeking to achieve the impossible. Unless the irregular makes a truly irreversible political error, swift and decisive success against him, let alone some facsimile of victory, simply is not attainable. The center of gravity in irregular warfare, which is to say the local people and their allegiance, cannot be seized and held by dramatic military action. Against irregular foes, America's soldiers, and more particularly America's local allies, must be prepared to play a long game. The Army knows this, but whether the American body politic shares in this enlightenment is much less certain. It may be important for this analysis to repeat here a point advanced earlier. Americans are right to be uneasy about open-ended military commitments to allies who are struggling against insurgencies. There is much to be said for U.S. forces to devote most of their distinctive strengths to keeping the fight fair for our local friends. This may well require the taking of suitably violent action, certainly the issuing of some fearsome threats, against foreign backers of an insurgency. But terrorists and other insurgents ultimately can be worn down and overcome only by local initiatives and steady effort, not by American COIN behavior, no matter how expertly conducted. As a general rule, to which there will always be the odd exceptions, irregular wars cannot be won by foreigners, regardless of their good intentions and the high quality of their means and methods. Such high-quality methods are, of course, greatly to be desired, and would stand in healthy contrast with much of America's record in countering irregular enemies over the past 50 years.

1. Competitive Global Engagement: Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy for the New Era (New Report from Robert Gates)

2. Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 16, 2023

3. Who Blew Up Nord Stream? Investigators Focus on Six Mysterious Passengers on a Yacht

4. Bakhmut: Russian casualties mount but tactics evolve

5. Poland says it foiled a Russian spy ring seeking to sabotage arms shipments to Ukraine.

6. Now Army Has Operational Imperatives Too, Copying Air Force

7. U.S. Commander: ISIS in Afghanistan 6 Months Away From Foreign Attack Capability

8. A Spy Wants to Connect With You on LinkedIn

9. China roars as US presses ByteDance to sell TikTok

10. Ukraine’s Cyber Defense Offers Lessons for Taiwan

11. US, Chinese commands in Pacific aren’t talking, says Indo-Pacific boss

12. China’s Xi to Meet Putin in Moscow Next Week

13. VA to change its motto, dropping male-only language

14. Why the US military should build modular nuclear reactors

15. Reaper Down: Three Takeaways from Russia’s Intercept of a US Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

16. Beijing Looks to Get Economic Projects Up and Running in Myanmar

17. Virginia government tells elite high school to ‘cut ties’ with Chinese government

18. Pentagon starts work on secretive experiment to aid long-range fires

19. Myanmar is a failing state, led by a junta fuelled by Russian arms, says UN rights envoy

20. Launch Under Attack: A Sword of Damocles

21. Military Chief Says US Will Defend Indo-Pacific Freedoms

22. The Surprising Success of U.S. Military Aid to Ukraine

1. Competitive Global Engagement: Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy for the New Era (New Report from Robert Gates)

A report very much reading and one we should very much consider and discuss.

The 24 page report can be accessed at this link:

Dr. Gates gave a very good interview on NPR today (Thursday evening). Listen at this link

Competitive Global Engagement: Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy for the New Era

Former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates convened a forum in December 2022 to address the central question: What concrete actions can the U.S. take to reimagine and reconstitute our strategic communications and public diplomacy tools and to integrate these with our other instruments of national power to compete successfully in this new era? This report from the Robert M. Gates Global Policy Center (GGPC) is neither a distillation of the independent research effort nor is it a consensus document reflecting the forum’s proceedings. Rather, it provides a menu of GGPC’s own recommendations and potential remedies for revitalizing strategic communications and public diplomacy.

Executive Summary

In the midst of the now-intensifying struggle with China and Russia over the future of world order, Americans must ask whether we have the national security structures and tools we need to successfully compete in a protracted rivalry with two determined powers across many fronts.

The U.S.’s core instruments of global engagement—including strategic communications and public diplomacy—were crucial to waging and winning the Cold War with the Soviet Union. But, after the Soviet collapse, many came to believe these tools were no longer needed to defend America’s interests and to foster and secure a freer, more equitable, and more peaceful international order.

Our political and policy neglect of global engagement has since generated glaring weaknesses in our national security and competitiveness toolkit. Meanwhile, Russia, and especially China, have invested heavily in these areas and built networks and capabilities reaching every corner of the globe. These capabilities significantly heighten the challenges to us and our foreign interests.

Given the seriousness of these challenges, former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates convened a forum in December 2022 to address the central question: What concrete actions can the U.S. take to reimagine and reconstitute our strategic communications and public diplomacy tools and to integrate these with our other instruments of national power to compete successfully in this new era? 

The dozen participants in the inaugural Gates Forum on strategic communications and public diplomacy included senior representatives from across the executive branch, bipartisan representation from Congress, and experts from outside of government. The forum’s far-ranging discussions were supported by an extensive independent and original applied research effort led by the Global Research Institute at William & Mary.

This report from the Robert M. Gates Global Policy Center (GGPC) is neither a distillation of the independent research effort nor is it a consensus document reflecting the forum’s proceedings. Rather, it provides a menu of GGPC’s own recommendations and potential remedies for revitalizing strategic communications and public diplomacy. Some of these proposals could be implemented unilaterally by the President or Secretary of State tomorrow. Others may require bureaucratic enhancements or restructuring but are meant to address issues which have hampered our redevelopment of a competitive global engagement capability. Still other options require bipartisan action in Congress to implement, and they should be a priority consideration on our national security and competitiveness agenda. ●

2. Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 16, 2023


Key Takeaways

  • The Russian Federal State Security Service (FSB) appears to be trying to penetrate the Russian defense industrial base (DIB) in a way that is reminiscent of the KGB’s involvement with the Soviet military and industrial base.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that he received a press question exposing a plot spearheaded by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev to undermine and “neutralize” the Wagner Group.
  • Western news agencies confirmed that Chinese companies have sold military and dual-use equipment to unidentified Russian entities. These sales appear small in scale but could alleviate strain on Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB) and circumvent Western attempts to limit Russian access to microchips.
  • Syrian President Bashar Assad used a staged interview with Russian outlet RIA Novosti to amplify notable Russian information operations.
  • Polish President Andrzej Duda stated that Poland will give Ukraine four MiG-29 fighter jets.
  • Russian’s decision to redeploy elements of its “peacekeeping force” from Nagorno-Karabakh to Ukraine is eroding Russia’s influence with Armenia.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to reassure the Russian public that the war in Ukraine will not have significant long term economic consequences, likely as part of the Kremlin’s effort to prepare Russians for a protracted war.
  • Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks northeast of Kupyansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces continued advancing in and around Bakhmut and continued ground attacks along the Avdiivka–Donetsk City line and in Western Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted localized assaults in Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces increased their naval presence in the Black Sea.


Mar 16, 2023 - Press ISW

Download the PDF

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 16, 2023

Karolina Hird, Riley Bailey, Angela Howard, George Barros, Nicole Wolkov, Layne Philipson, and Frederick W. Kagan

March 16, 6:15 ET

Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.

Click here to access ISW’s archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain maps that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will update this time-lapse map archive monthly.

The Russian Federal State Security Service (FSB) appears to be trying to penetrate the Russian Defense Industrial Base (DIB) in a way that is reminiscent of the KGB’s involvement with the Soviet military establishment. Spokesperson for the Ukrainian Center for the Research of Trophy and Prospective Weapons and Military Equipment of the Ukrainian General Staff Andrii Rudyk remarked on March 16 that Ukrainian experts have found FSB markings on many Russian weapons components that Ukrainian forces have destroyed or captured on the battlefield.[1] Rudyk noted that these markings appear not only on equipment such as T-90M tanks, but also on weapons’ microcircuits, and suggested that this means that the FSB conducted an equipment inspection of such weapons and components.[2] Rudyk concluded that this means that the FSB does not trust Russian military leadership and is conducting inspections of Russian equipment accordingly.[3] FSB markings on Russian equipment and weapons components, if confirmed, would have broader implications for the relationship between the FSB, the Russian DIB, and the broader Russian military apparatus. Either FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov has instructed the FSB to conduct these investigations at the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin, or Bortnikov has issued this directive independent of Putin. In either case the FSB appears to be directly inserting itself into the inner workings of the Russian DIB, likely penetrating equipment acquisition and inspection processes. The KGB (the FSB’s predecessor) notably penetrated the Red Army and Soviet defense industry in a similar fashion.

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that he received a press question exposing a plot spearheaded by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev to undermine and “neutralize” the Wagner Group. Prigozhin’s press service published a claimed request for comment on March 16 from Russian outlet Nezavisimaya Gazeta asking if Prigozhin was aware of alleged discussions between Putin and Patrushev regarding the future of the Wagner Group.[4] The press comment claims that information on these discussions has recently circulated on Russian and Ukrainian Telegram channels and alleges that Patrushev suggested to Putin that there will be “nothing left” of Wagner in “one and a half to two months.”[5] The post goes on to claim that Patrushev suggested that upon Wagner’s destruction in Ukraine, Prigozhin will try to “unite the former and remaining active Wagner fighters under a far-fetched pretext,” arm them, and "send them to the territory of Russia in order to seize power in the regions bordering Ukraine with a possible advance inland.”[6] The post concludes that Patrushev has already ordered observation and control over the movement of former Wagner fighters and that Putin reportedly agreed with this step and thanked Patrushev for his efforts to “neutralize Wagner in general and Yevgeny Prigozhin in particular.”[7] Prigozhin posted an audio clip in response to the claimed press comment saying that he had not heard about these supposed negotiations or observed speculation on Telegram channels, remarking that Russian special services should work to neutralize threats to Russia regardless of where they come from.[8]

ISW has not observed any information to suggest that these discussions have happened, nor has ISW captured any speculation in the Russian information space about them. Nezivisimaya Gazeta has not published the press comment on its own site, and no record of the comment is visible anywhere other than in references to the post by Prigozhin’s press service. The lack of external confirmation on this subject suggests that Prigozhin has fabricated the alleged plot to further several information operations on behalf of Wagner and his own reputation. First, this exchange clearly identifies Patrushev and possibly the Russian Security Council as enemies of the Wagner Group. Prigozhin appears to be setting careful information conditions to blame Patrushev for Wagner’s failures and potential crackdowns against the group, as well as introducing an invented scenario wherein Wagner poses a direct threat to Russia domestically. This effort appears to be the next evolution of Prigozhin’s campaign against the Russian military establishment, and Patrushev could become Prigozhin’s next target after his concerted informational campaigns against the Russian Ministry of Defense and General Staff.[9]

Western news agencies confirmed on March 16 that Chinese companies have sold rifles, drone parts, and equipment that could be used for military purposes to unidentified Russian entities. Politico cited data provided by customs data aggregator ImportGenius showing that Chinese companies sent equipment including 1,000 assault rifles, 12 shipments of drone parts, and over 12 tons of body armor to unspecified Russian actors between June and December 2022.[10] CNN also reported on March 16 that Ukrainian forces shot down a retrofitted, weaponized commercial Mugin-5 drone produced by a Chinese commercial manufacturer.[11] These sales appear small in scale, concern largely commercial equipment, and — in all but one confirmed case — do not include companies with ties to the Chinese government, according to Politico.[12]

Such Chinese shipments are significant, however, because they could alleviate strain on the overextended Russian defense industrial base (DIB) and circumvent Western attempts to limit Russian access to microchips. ISW has not observed routine Russian small arms shortages, and Russia’s DIB appears capable of producing sufficient quantities of assault rifles. The import of domestically available equipment from China likely enables the Russian DIB to transfer resources — most critically the limited number of skilled Russian defense plant workers — from the production of such goods to the production of military equipment for which Russia has a dire need.[13] Meanwhile, the sale of even commercial drone parts to Russian entities could provide Russia’s DIB with access to valuable microchips vital to the production of sophisticated equipment, which Western sanctions have worked to prevent.[14]

Syrian President Bashar Assad used a staged interview with Russian outlet RIA Novosti to amplify notable Russian information operations. Assad told RIA on March 16 that Russian military bases in Syria should receive the “most advanced weapons” to effectively deter threats in response to a question about the deployment of hypersonic missiles.[15] This comment is explicitly in support of the deployment of Russian hypersonic weapons, likely of the Kinzhal variety, to Syria, which is part of a longstanding Russian information operation to strengthen Assad and increase pressure against Turkey as Ankara considers ratification of Finland and Sweden’s accession into NATO. [16] Assad also notably recognized the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine as a part of Russia.[17]

Polish President Andrzej Duda stated on March 16 that Poland will give Ukraine four MiG-29 fighter jets. Polish news outlet Wydarzenia reported that Duda said that Poland will deliver the MiG-29s in the coming four to six weeks.[18] Polish news outlet Rzeczpospolita reported that Duda announced that Poland is servicing an unspecified number of additional MiG-29s for delivery to Ukraine.[19] The Ukrainian Air Force operates MiG-29s and would be able to use them in counteroffensive operations if Ukraine receives them with enough time in advance of its next counteroffensive.

Russia’s redeployment of elements of its “peacekeeping force” from Nagorno-Karabakh to Ukraine is eroding Russia’s influence with Armenia. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused Azerbaijan of preparing to conduct a new large-scale attack and genocide against ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh at an unspecified future time on March 16.[20] Pashinyan stated that Armenia should appeal to the United Nations Security Council if the Russian Federation is unable to uphold the November 9, 2020, Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire that Moscow helped broker with Azerbaijan.[21] Pashinyan previously accused Russia’s “peacekeeping force” in Nagorno-Karabakh of “not fulfilling its obligation” under this ceasefire in December 2022 after Russian forces failed to secure passage on the only road through the Lachin Corridor between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.[22] Russia’s “peacekeeping force” in Nagorno-Karabakh is very likely understrength. The Russian military redeployed elements of the 15th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade — Russia's only dedicated peacekeeping brigade — from Nagorno-Karabakh to Ukraine in March 2022.[23] Ukraine’s General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces severely degraded the 15th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade, killing about 800 and wounding about 400 soldiers of the brigade’s 1,800 soldiers that deployed to Ukraine as of June 2022.[24] Russia will likely lose military influence in other post-Soviet states since Moscow has redeployed elements of permanently stationed Russian forces from Russian bases in Kyrgyzstan, occupied Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia), and Tajikistan to fight in Ukraine.[25]

Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to reassure the Russian public that the war in Ukraine will not have significant long-term economic consequences, likely as part of the Kremlin’s effort to prepare Russians for a protracted war. Putin delivered a speech at the Congress of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs in Moscow on March 16 in which he claimed that the Russian economy has steadily grown in the past eight months following a roughly five percent contraction over the first months of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.[26] Putin attempted to portray Russia as not being isolated from the international economy by claiming that Russian trade with fast-growing markets has increased at double-digit rates.[27] Putin claimed that the domestic Russian economy will experience sustainable long-term growth and forecasted that Russian industries will significantly grow as they fill niches previously held by Western firms that have left the country and stopped doing business with Russia.[28] Putin suggested that the entire Russian economy will expand in a manner similar to the Russian agricultural sector’s growth following 2014 Western sanctions regimes associated with Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.[29] Putin claimed that Russia’s supposed economic resilience has disproven Western analysts who predicted empty store shelves and massive shortages of goods in Russia because of Western sanctions.[30]

Putin’s portrayal of a healthy and resilient Russian economy is at odds with Russia’s issues with sanctions-related supply chain bottlenecks, the Russian defense industrial base’s (DIB) struggle to meet the Russian military's needs in Ukraine, and the Kremlin’s substantial projected budget deficit problems.[31] Putin likely sought to reassure the Russian public as the Kremlin increasingly signals to Russians that the Kremlin intends to fight a protracted war in Ukraine and implicitly consign the Russian economy to an indefinite period of stringent Western sanctions.[32] The Kremlin also likely sought to reassure the Russian public that war-related production will not detrimentally impact the rest of the Russian economy as Russian officials continue efforts to gradually mobilize more of Russia’s DIB.[33] The Kremlin will likely struggle to not contradict its different informational lines of effort as it attempts to reassure the Russian public about the Russian economy, set informational conditions for a protracted war, and mobilize a wider portion of Russia’s DIB.

Key Takeaways

  • The Russian Federal State Security Service (FSB) appears to be trying to penetrate the Russian defense industrial base (DIB) in a way that is reminiscent of the KGB’s involvement with the Soviet military and industrial base.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that he received a press question exposing a plot spearheaded by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev to undermine and “neutralize” the Wagner Group.
  • Western news agencies confirmed that Chinese companies have sold military and dual-use equipment to unidentified Russian entities. These sales appear small in scale but could alleviate strain on Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB) and circumvent Western attempts to limit Russian access to microchips.
  • Syrian President Bashar Assad used a staged interview with Russian outlet RIA Novosti to amplify notable Russian information operations.
  • Polish President Andrzej Duda stated that Poland will give Ukraine four MiG-29 fighter jets.
  • Russian’s decision to redeploy elements of its “peacekeeping force” from Nagorno-Karabakh to Ukraine is eroding Russia’s influence with Armenia.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to reassure the Russian public that the war in Ukraine will not have significant long term economic consequences, likely as part of the Kremlin’s effort to prepare Russians for a protracted war.
  • Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks northeast of Kupyansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces continued advancing in and around Bakhmut and continued ground attacks along the Avdiivka–Donetsk City line and in Western Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted localized assaults in Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces increased their naval presence in the Black Sea.

We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

  • Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of two subordinate main efforts)
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1—Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and encircle northern Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2—Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Supporting Effort—Southern Axis
  • Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
  • Activities in Russian-occupied Areas

Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine

Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1— Luhansk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and continue offensive operations into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and northern Donetsk Oblast)

Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks northeast of Kupyansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line on March 16. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Hryanykivka (17km northeast of Kupyansk), Kreminna, Kuzmyne (3km southwest of Kreminna), Bilohorivka (10km south of Kreminna), Verkhnokamyanske (20km south of Kreminna), and Spirne (25km southeast of Kreminna).[34] Geolocated footage published on March 16 showing Ukrainian forces striking a Russian MT-LB vehicle west of Chervonopopivka (6km northwest of Kreminna) indicates a limited Russian advance northwest of Kreminna.[35] Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty stated that Russian forces are active near Hryanykivka, Bilohrivka, and Spirne.[36] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces attempted to advance in the direction of Makiivka, Nevske, Terne, Yampolivka, and Bilohorivka (all within 22km northwest of Kreminna) but did not specify the outcome of the attempted advances.[37] Drone footage published on March 14 purportedly shows Russian forces from the 2nd Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Army Corps striking Ukrainian forces in the Lysychansk direction in western Luhansk Oblast.[38]

Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)

Russian forces continued advancing in and around Bakhmut on March 16. Geolocated footage posted on March 14 indicates that Russian troops have advanced northwest of Bakhmut on the northern banks of the Pivnichnyi Reservoir.[39] Geolocated images additionally confirm Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s claim that Wagner troops captured Zalizianske (9km northwest of Bakhmut) on March 15.[40] Geolocated combat footage posted on March 16 confirms that Russian forces have additionally made marginal advances near Kurdiumivka, 13km southwest of Bakhmut.[41] Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley noted that while Russian forces may be making small tactical gains in Bakhmut, they come at a high manpower and equipment cost.[42] Russian milbloggers claimed on March 16 that Russian forces continue to expand their control of territory northwest of Bakhmut after taking Zalizianske and that fighting continues within the AZOM industrial complex.[43] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks on Bakhmut itself; northwest of Bakhmut near Orikhovo-Vasylivka (12km northwest), Hryhorivka (7km northwest), and Bohdanivka (5km northwest); and west of Bakhmut near Ivanivske (5km west).[44] Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty noted that Russian forces have conducted 42 ground attacks in Bakhmut over the last day.[45] The relatively slower pace of Russian attacks on and around Bakhmut on March 16, coupled with relatively fewer Russian claims on advances in this area, supports ISW’s March 15 assessment that the Wagner Group offensive on Bakhmut is likely nearing culmination.[46]

Russian forces continued ground attacks along the Avdiivka–Donetsk City frontline on March 16. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Avdiivka itself; in the Avdiivka area near Kamianka (4km northeast of Avdiivka), Stepove (7km northwest of Avdiivka); and Severne (5km west of Avdiivka), on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City near Nevelske, Neytalove, and Pervomaiske; and on the southwestern outskirts of Donetsk City near Marinka.[47] Russian sources claimed that Russian forces completely captured Krasnohorivka (9km north of Avdiivka) and that this has worsened the situation for the Ukrainian grouping in Avdiivka.[48] ISW has not observed any visual confirmation of the capture of Krasnohorivka as of March 16. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian troops are continuing ground attacks on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City in the direction of Pervomaiske from the Pisky-Vodyane line.[49] One Russian source claimed that Russian forces in Marinka are anticipating a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the village and are in a constant state of readiness.[50]

Russian forces continued limited ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast on March 16. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops conducted unsuccessful offensive actions near Vuhledar (30km southwest of Donetsk City) and that Russian forces are preparing to resume wider offensive operations on Vuhledar.[51] ISW has previously reported on the very degraded state of Russian forces operating around Vuhledar, and it is highly unlikely that damaged naval infantry and Eastern Military District elements currently deployed to western Donetsk Oblast will be able to resume successful offensive operations here in the near future.[52] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed on March 16 that a Russian Orlan-10 UAV detected and destroyed a Ukrainian platoon as it redeployed to the Prechystivka area just west of Vuhledar.[53]

Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)

Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted localized assaults in Zaporizhia Oblast on March 15. Russian milbloggers amplified geolocated footage on March 15 showing Ukrainian forces (likely less than a company) conducting an assault on Russian positions about six kilometers south of Orikhiv.[54] Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces attempted to attack positions of the Russian 70th Motorized Rifle Regiment (42nd Motorized Rifle Division, 58th Combined Arms Army, Southern Military District) near Novodanylivka (5km south of Orikhiv) and the positions of the 291st Motorized Rifle Regiment (42nd Motorized Rifle Division, 58th Combined Arms Army, Southern Military District) and the 22ndSPETSNAZ Brigade near Polohy (34km southeast of Orikhiv).[55] Russian sources claimed that Russian forces repelled the Ukrainian assaults, destroyed up to five Ukrainian tanks and two armored vehicles, and wounded and killed Ukrainian personnel.[56] Zaporizhia Oblast occupation deputy Valdimir Rogov characterized the Ukrainian assaults near Polohy as a reconnaissance-in-force operation.[57] A prominent Russian milblogger claimed on March 16 that Ukrainian forces transitioned to positional fighting in the Hulyaipole area following the alleged failed assaults in the Orikhiv and Polohy areas and that Russian forces repelled a Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group near Vasylivka (38km southwest of Orikhiv).[58] Another Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces continued assaults IVO Polohy on March 16.[59]

Russian sources claimed that Russian forces are expanding fortifications in Zaporizhia Oblast amid ongoing Russian discussions about a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive in the area. A prominent Russian milblogger reportedly visited Russian-occupied Zaporizhia Oblast on March 16 and claimed that Russian forces have established extensive fortifications in the area.[60] The milblogger claimed that he passed kilometers of anti-tank trenches and as many as 50 rows of dragons teeth along a route from Enerhodar to Melitopol to Tokmak (likely the T0805 and T0401 highways).[61] The milblogger claimed that he also met with elements of the 83rd Air Assault Brigade and the Shairmuratov Volunteer Battalion from Bashkortostan in an unspecified area of Zaporizhia Oblast.[62] Russian sources continued to claim that Ukrainian forces are planning to conduct a counteroffensive in southern Ukraine that would cut off the Russian land corridor to Crimea.[63] ISW continues to assess that Russian forces are significantly expanding field fortifications in the wider Melitopol area to protect Russian ground lines of communications (GLOCs) that connect to logistics nodes in Tokmak and Enerhodar as well as the E58 highway that passes through Melitopol in the event of a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces increased their naval presence in the Black Sea on March 16. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces have 21 naval vessels on combat standby in the Black Sea, 5 of which carry 32 Kalibr missiles.[64] The current Russian naval presence in the Black Sea marks a notable increase from the reported 13 Russian naval vessels in the Black Sea on March 15.[65] Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported that the larger-than-usual Russian naval presence may be a demonstrative response to US statements about retrieving the MQ-9 reaper drone that two Russian Su-27 aircraft forced down over the Black Sea on March 14.[66] A US Defense official reportedly stated that Russian naval vessels are at the site where the US MQ-9 Reaper drone fell into the Black Sea.[67]

Russian forces continued routine fire west of Hulyaipole and in Dnipropetrovsk and Kherson oblasts on March 16.[68] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces struck targets near Kherson and Zaporizhzhia cities.[69]

Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)

Russian authorities appear to be continuing efforts to make up for defense industrial base (DIB) production shortcomings by covertly procuring equipment from abroad. Ukrainian Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) representative Vadym Skibitsky stated on March 16 that Russia is seeking shell suppliers in Africa and Asia to fill its ammunition shortage.[70] Skibitsky noted that Russia is actively working with Iran and negotiating with Myanmar and unspecified countries in Africa and the Middle East.[71] The Ukrainian General Staff reported on March 16 that the equipment inside Russian T-90 M tanks captured in September 2022 indicates that Russia places its markings on imported electronics within tanks to mask the fact that it does not produce electronics for its own tanks.[72] The Ukrainian General Staff added that Russian forces only have 100 T-90 M tanks remaining and increasingly rely on T-62 and T-72 tanks or sometimes use engines from the 1937 B-2 and B-92S2 model tanks.[73]

The Russian State Duma adopted a bill increasing Russian commanders’ authority to punish soldiers without a court decision, likely supporting a crackdown on growing soldier complaints and insubordination, on which ISW has extensively reported.[74] A major Russian state-owned news agency claimed on March 15 that the Russian State Duma adopted a bill granting Russian military commanders the power to detain Russian soldiers without a court decision during a period of mobilization, martial law, or combat. Commanders may exercise this power under a broad range of circumstances, including general “evasion of military service duties.”[75]

Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov continued efforts to project power within Russia by promoting the Chechen special forces (SPETSNAZ) on March 16. Kadyrov claimed he held an “extended meeting” with Russian national guard (Rosgvardia) and Chechen Internal Ministry leaders to discuss increasing Chechen SPETSNAZ effectiveness in Ukraine, improving SPETSNAZ training, and measures to ensure public safety.[76]

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin continues to promote Wagner Group recruitment efforts targeting Russian youth. The Grusha Martial Arts Club in Moscow on March 15 posted videos of Prigozhin signing autographs and meeting with potential recruits.[77]

Prigozhin confirmed on March 15 that there are small numbers of Afghan fighters in the Wagner Group that are focused on targeting American artillery systems. Prigozhin claimed these fighters are also trained to work with captured or purchased US Javelin anti-tank missile systems.[78] The presence of limited numbers of such mercenaries is unlikely to grant the Wagner Group significant new capabilities.

Some Russians continue limited resistance to Russian mobilization, Russia’s war in Ukraine, and Russian coverage of the war in Ukraine. A Russian news outlet reported on March 15 that the Kazan, Tatarstan district court by March 9 began to consider the case of an eleventh-grader in Kazan charged with conducting an unsuccessful arson attack on a military recruitment facility in Kazan, Tatarstan.[79] A Russian opposition news source reported on March 15 that residents from near Efremov, Tula Oblast and local politicians from the Yabloko Party staged a demonstration in a courthouse to demand the return to her family of a girl sent to an orphanage after her father voiced opposition to the war in Ukraine.[80] Meduza reported on March 16 that the Novokuibyshevsk, Samara Oblast city court fined oblast deputy and Communist Party member Mikhail Abdalkin 150,000 rubles ($1,934) for “discrediting” Russian forces by wearing noodles on his ears — a cultural symbol of being lied to — while watching Russian President Vladimir Putin’s February 22 address.[81] An independent Russian news outlet stated that the Khabarovsk garrison military court on March 16 sentenced a Russian soldier to a 5.5-year suspended prison sentence for spreading “false information” discrediting Russian forces by confessing to murdering a Ukrainian civilian in Andriivka, Kyiv Oblast as part of a report published on August 15, 2022.[82]

Russian authorities continue to conduct covert mobilization and require residents to update their data with military enlistment offices, possibly setting conditions for a future wave of mobilization.[83]

Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of and annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)

Russian occupation authorities are continuing efforts to eradicate the notion of a distinct Ukrainian national identity from occupied territories. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on March 16 that Russian occupation authorities are attempting to create a pseudo-Cossack organization called “Cossack Khortysya” in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast in an effort to encourage the replacement of the Ukrainian identity with the Russian identity in occupied territories.[84] The Center reported that the non-profit Tavrika Center, which is registered in Crimea and is funded by the Russian President’s Fund, received over 11 million rubles ($14,100) to hold “mass cultural events” and film a historically revisionist documentary on how Ukrainian Zaporizhian Cossacks are members of a larger Russian-dominated Cossack community. [85] The Center emphasized that Russia previously used similar tactics to impose Russian influence in Ukraine, particularly after the Orange Revolution in 2004–2005.[86] This effort seeks to destroy the Ukrainian historical identity of the Zaporizhian Sich (an autonomous polity that existed between the 16th to 18th centuries) by framing all Cossacks — including Ukrainian Cossacks — as a culturally Russian monolith. ISW previously assessed that the Kremlin uses Russian Cossack organizations (paramilitary formations that perform state services, including law enforcement and military administrative tasks in accordance with Russian law) to support Russian force-generation efforts.[87]

Russian occupation authorities continue to exploit the Port of Berdyansk to integrate occupied territories into the Russian economy. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on March 16 that Russian officials exported looted grain by barge boat from the Port of Berdyansk.[88] Zaporizhia Oblast occupation head Yevgeny Balitsky claimed on March 16 that Russian occupation authorities have begun preparing the Port of Berdyansk to export grain, noting that that since the port is not designated on international registers as Russian, the grain export process will face challenges.[89]

Russian occupation authorities are intensifying passportization efforts by threatening to deport residents of occupied territories to Russia and settlements deep in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on March 16 that Russian occupation authorities and personnel of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) threatened to deport Ukrainian children living in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast to eastern regions of Russia should their parents refuse to obtain Russian passports.[90] The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian occupation authorities threatened residents in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast with deportation to Vasylivka, Zaporizhia Oblast.[91]

Russian sources reported that Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) officials stopped humanitarian aid delivery to occupied Kherson Oblast. A Russian milblogger responded to the reports that MVD officials stopped volunteers from delivering aid and detained them claiming that the vehicles delivering aid were stolen.[92] Another milblogger reported that MVD Representative Irina Volk said that the MVD Main Directorate is checking on the legality of its employees' actions and the reports of the detention of volunteers.[93] These reports suggest that the occupation administration in Kherson Oblast, particularly law enforcement entities, are likely dealing with high levels of corruption within their own ranks.

Significant activity in Belarus (ISW assesses that a Russian or Belarusian attack into northern Ukraine in early 2023 is extraordinarily unlikely and has thus restructured this section of the update. It will no longer include counter-indicators for such an offensive.

ISW will continue to report daily observed Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus, but these are not indicators that Russian and Belarusian forces are preparing for an imminent attack on Ukraine from Belarus. ISW will revise this text and its assessment if it observes any unambiguous indicators that Russia or Belarus is preparing to attack northern Ukraine.

Belarusian maneuver elements continue conducting exercises in Belarus. Unspecified elements of the Belarusian 19th Mechanized brigade conducted live fire exercises with T-72 tanks at the 227th Combined Arms Training Ground in Borisov, Minsk Oblast, on March 16.[94] Artillery elements of the Belarusian 11th Mechanized Brigade conducted indirect and direct fire training at the Gozhsky Training Ground in Grodno, Belarus, on March 15. [95]

Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update.

[1] dot ua/2023/03/16/markuvannya-rosiyanamy-aparatury-na-tankah-t-90m-poznachkamy-fsb-svidchyt-pro-nedoviru-speczsluzhb-do-verhivky-armiyi/

[2] dot ua/2023/03/16/markuvannya-rosiyanamy-aparatury-na-tankah-t-90m-poznachkamy-fsb-svidchyt-pro-nedoviru-speczsluzhb-do-verhivky-armiyi/

[3] dot ua/2023/03/16/markuvannya-rosiyanamy-aparatury-na-tankah-t-90m-poznachkamy-fsb-svidchyt-pro-nedoviru-speczsluzhb-do-verhivky-armiyi/












[15] https://ria dot ru/20230316/asad-1858224485.html

[16] https://ria dot ru/amp/20230316/siriya-1858189786.html


[18] https://www.rp dot pl/dyplomacja/art38136671-duda-cztery-samoloty-mig-29-przekazemy-ukrainie-w-najblizszych-dniach;

[19] https://www.rp dot pl/dyplomacja/art38136671-duda-cztery-samoloty-mig-29-przekazemy-ukrainie-w-najblizszych-dniach

[20] https://ria dot ru/20230316/karabakh-1858258784.html; https://www.panorama dot am/ru/news/2023/03/16/%D0%9F%D0%B0%D1%88%D0%B8%D0%BD%D1%8F%D0%BD-%D0%90%D1%80%D0%BC%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%8F-%D0%BC%D0%B5%D0%B6%D0%B4%D1%83%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%B4%D0%BD%D1%8B%D0%B5-%D0%BC%D0%B5%D1%85%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B7%D0%BC%D1%8B-%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%B4%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%B2%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%89%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%8F-%D0%B3%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%BE%D1%86%D0%B8%D0%B4%D0%BE%D0%B2/2807734

[21] https://ria dot ru/20230316/karabakh-1858258784.html; https://www.panorama dot am/ru/news/2023/03/16/%D0%9F%D0%B0%D1%88%D0%B8%D0%BD%D1%8F%D0%BD-%D0%90%D1%80%D0%BC%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%8F-%D0%BC%D0%B5%D0%B6%D0%B4%D1%83%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%B4%D0%BD%D1%8B%D0%B5-%D0%BC%D0%B5%D1%85%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B7%D0%BC%D1%8B-%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%B4%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%B2%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%89%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%8F-%D0%B3%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%BE%D1%86%D0%B8%D0%B4%D0%BE%D0%B2/2807734

[22] https://infocom dot am/en/article/95533; https://www.panarmenian dot net/eng/news/304636/Pashinyan_Russian_peacekeepers_becoming_silent_witnesses_to_Karabakh_depopulation; https://www.aljazeera dot com/news/2022/12/22/armenia-russias-peacekeepers-failed-mission-in-nagorno-karabakh

[23] https://jam-news dot net/baku-claims-russian-peacekeepers-relocated-from-karabakh-to-ukraine-moscow-denies-reports/; fr/fr/dossiers-pays/armenie/evenements/article/haut-karabagh-declaration-de-la-porte-parole-25-03-2022



[26] http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/70688

[27] http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/70688

[28] http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/70688

[29] ttp://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/70688

[30] http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/70688

[31] ; ;

[32] ; ;

[33] ; ; https:...


[35]; https://twitter...

[36]; https://suspilne dot media/415431-pidsumki-ramstajnu-devat-krain-nadadut-ukraini-tanki-leopard-a-norvegia-sistemi-nasams-386-den-vijni-onlajn/



[39]; https://twi...

[40]; https://twi...



[43];; ht...


[45]; https://suspilne dot media/415431-pidsumki-ramstajnu-devat-krain-nadadut-ukraini-tanki-leopard-a-norvegia-sistemi-nasams-386-den-vijni-onlajn/







[52];; https://...



[55] ;;

[56] ;;






[62] ;

[63]; https://ria dot ru/20230316/zaporozhe-1858199637.html ;




[67]; http...



[70] https://suspilne dot media/416004-deficit-boepripasiv-u-gur-rozpovili-de-rosia-namagaetsa-kupiti-ozbroenna/

[71] https://suspilne dot media/416004-deficit-boepripasiv-u-gur-rozpovili-de-rosia-namagaetsa-kupiti-ozbroenna/



[74] https://tass dot ru/politika/17274575;; https://www.unders...

[75] https://tass dot ru/politika/17274575;




[79] https://ovd dot news/express-news/2023/03/15/v-sud-postupilo-delo-shkolnicy-iz-kazani-kotoruyu-obvinyayut-v-popytke


[81] https://meduza dot io/news/2023/03/16/samarskogo-kommunista-posmotrevshego-poslanie-putina-s-lapshoy-na-ushah-oshtrafovali-na-150-tysyach-rubley

[82]; io/news/2023/03/16/rossiyskiy-voennosluzhaschiy-soznavshiysya-v-ubiystve-mirnogo-ukraintsa-prigovoren-k-pyati-s-polovinoy-godam-uslovno-po-delu-o-feykah-pro-armiyu

[83] https://meduza dot io/news/2023/03/16/ne-ponimayu-sut-vseh-perezhivaniy-rukovodstvo-universiteta-v-novosibirske-o-rassylke-studentam-povestok-v-voenkomat;;; https://t.... https://www.chita dot ru/text/society/2023/03/15/72133295/;; https://paperpaper dot ru/papernews/2023/3/15/68-tysyach-povestok-raznesli-sotrudniki-m/; 

[84] https://sprotyv.mod dot

[85] https://sprotyv.mod dot

[86] https://sprotyv.mod dot

[87] ru/proxy/ips/?docbody=&nd=102103268










Ukraine Project

File Attachments: 


Kharkiv Battle Map Draft March 16,2023.png

Donetsk Battle Map Draft March 16,2023.png

Zaporizhia Battle Map Draft March 16,2023.png

Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map Draft March 16,2023.png

Bakhmut Battle Map Draft March 16,2023.png

3. Who Blew Up Nord Stream? Investigators Focus on Six Mysterious Passengers on a Yacht

Curiouser and curiouser. So what really did happen?

Photos and a map at the website.

Who Blew Up Nord Stream? Investigators Focus on Six Mysterious Passengers on a Yacht

A boat rented in Germany sailed close to the spots in the Baltic Sea where explosions sabotaged the gas pipeline from Russia

By Bojan PancevskiFollowWilliam BostonFollow and Sune Engel RasmussenFollow

March 16, 2023 10:33 am ET

ROSTOCK, Germany—The small marina on the edge of this north German city is a popular summertime spot for recreational sailors. German intelligence believes it was also the jumping-off point for the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines, an assault on Europe’s civilian energy infrastructure unprecedented since World War II.

On Sept. 6, a small group set out from Rostock aboard a rented yacht, the Andromeda, a slender 50-foot-long, single-masted sloop, ostensibly on a pleasure cruise around Baltic Sea ports. Within two weeks, the group returned the boat and disappeared.

Not long after, on Sept. 26, a series of underwater explosions, powerful enough to register with seismologic measuring stations, tore apart three of the four main Nord Stream pipes, built to carry natural gas from Russia to Germany.

Hundreds of investigators from Germany, Sweden and Denmark, with the help of the U.S. and other Western allies, mobilized to figure out who was behind the attack. Submarines surveyed the crime scene. Intelligence agencies scoured communications intercepts. Police sought witnesses.

Six months on, the mystery persists as investigators and analysts puzzle over who had the means, motive and opportunity to commit the crime.

Initial suspicions in many European capitals focused on Russia, which denied any involvement. Analysts speculated that only a state with a sophisticated military would have been able to carry out such a complicated, underwater attack.

Investigators now, however, are focused on the Andromeda and the six people it carried. German officials who have been briefed on the probe said they were told some of the people who rented the yacht were Ukrainian. Others had Bulgarian passports since determined to be forgeries, they said.

On Friday, German legislators who oversee the country’s intelligence agencies were briefed on the latest findings and admonished to keep them secret.

“The thesis that this must have been a state-sponsored action has seemingly collapsed,” said Ralf Stegner, one of the lawmakers. “It seems that we now know that it could have been a group of people who were not acting on behalf of a state.”

The focus on the boat crystallized in December. After combing through boat-rental records all along the Baltic Sea coast, investigators zeroed in on the Andromeda, according to officials familiar with the probe.

The Andromeda in dry dock. German prosecutors believe the 50-foot charter yacht was used in the sabotage of the Baltic Sea pipelines Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 last fall.


Last week, Germany’s general prosecutor said investigators in late January searched a boat they believed was connected to the blasts. Government officials said traces of explosives were found inside, leading them to believe the vessel could have carried at least some of the explosives used.

A representative of Mola Yachting GmbH, the yacht’s owner, said the boat searched was the Andromeda. The man declined to be named or to comment further. Prosecutors have said the company’s employees aren’t suspected of wrongdoing.

Investigators have established that the rental fee for the Andromeda was paid by a Polish-registered company, according to German officials. The officials said investigators believe the company is controlled by Ukrainian owners.

At least some of the six people on the suspected sabotage team boarded the Andromeda in Rostock’s Hohe Düne harbor, which caters to upscale tourists and hosts international yachting events. The Yachthafenresidenz Hohe Düne hotel there boasts luxurious rooms and bars with picture windows overlooking the waterfront.

From there, the Andromeda traveled to the Yachthafen Hafendorf in Wiek on the island of Rügen, a far more discreet harbor off the beaten track, with no camera surveillance at night, according to René Redmann, the harbor master.

Mr. Redmann said his staff had checked in the boat and he had handed over the harbor logs to investigators. He said that his staff hadn’t registered the crew’s nationalities and that it wasn’t unusual for Eastern European tourists to pass through Wiek.

“We really have a lot of coming and going of charter guests with bigger ships,” he said, adding that he became suspicious about the visitors only when investigators reached out to him in January.

Docking stations

Leak areas


Boat path





2 leaks






Baltic Sea


Area of detail






1 leak





100 miles




100 km

Note: Boat paths are schematic.

Sources: Danish Martime Authority (leak locations); S&P Global Commodity Insights (pipelines); German officials and port authorities (boat stops)


German investigators believe that it was in quiet, out-of-the-way Wiek that the suspected saboteurs loaded explosives—ferried to the port in a white van—and additional operatives onto the Andromeda, according to a German official briefed on the investigation.

After Wiek, the Andromeda sailed to the busier Danish port of Christiansø, farther north. The island is Denmark’s easternmost settlement, located an hour by boat from the larger island of Bornholm. Christiansø is home to a 17th-century fortress, one production facility—a tiny herring pickling company—and 98 residents, most of whom live along the pier, where throngs of boats dock every summer.

Søren Thiim Andersen, the administrator of Christiansø, said he received a request from Danish police in December asking for any records of boats that had entered the main harbor between Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, a little over a week before the pipelines blew up. The police returned in January to look at data from a machine on the harbor on which visitors register their boats, and to interview a few local residents.

The island of Christiansø in the Baltic Sea, with a Danish naval patrol vessel in the distance.


At the request of the police, Mr. Andersen said, he wrote a post on a Facebook page for the island’s residents, asking for photographs or video footage of the port from those three days. Three residents sent photos they had taken of the port area during those days.

The port master on the isolated island, John Anker Nielsen, said he was working on the days the Andromeda docked there, but he hadn’t noticed anything or anyone suspicious.

Among the questions facing investigators is whether six people and a boat the size of the Andromeda would be able to carry out such a major act of sabotage, which would have meant moving large amounts of explosives and diving gear and required the expertise of underwater demolition experts. And whether they might have been just one part of a broader operation.

Achim Schlöffel, a German extreme diver who runs a diving school and helps companies protect vessels and underwater installations from sabotage, said explosives could have been planted by a group of well-trained technical divers accustomed to working at such depths—around 80 meters—assuming they had several days to do so.

Six divers, he said, could have lowered the explosives in several dives using commercially available equipment such as underwater scooters or propulsion vehicles, airlifting bags and buoys, and a portable sonar.

“I know dozens of professional divers who would be up to the task,” Mr. Schlöffel said.

An underwater photo of damage to the pipeline about three weeks after the blasts.


Cmdr. Jens Wenzel Kristoffersen of the Danish navy disagreed, and dismissed the idea of a small team working from a sailboat as “a James Bond scenario.”

He said that while it’s possible for divers to reach the pipeline with good training, staying down for a prolonged period while maneuvering explosives is more challenging. He said the operation would most likely have required a professional military unit skilled in underwater demolition.

The question of how the operation was conducted feeds directly into the bigger, and far more politically sensitive, question of who ordered it. A smaller operation using commercially available equipment would considerably expand the circle of potential culprits.

Authorities haven’t publicly disclosed any information about the identities of the six suspects aboard the Andromeda; their identities are the focus of the ongoing investigation.

Between June and July 2022, months before the Nord Stream attack, the Central Intelligence Agency sent a warning to its German counterpart, the BND, and other European services that a group might be preparing an attack on the pipeline, according to intelligence officials familiar with the notification. The warning included information about three Ukrainian nationals who were trying to rent ships in countries bordering the Baltic Sea, including Sweden, these officials said.

In October, shortly after the blasts, senior U.S. security officials visiting Berlin mentioned the possibility that Ukraine might have been behind the attack, according to a German official who spoke with them at the time. U.S. officials now say private Ukrainian actors could have organized and financed the bombings without the knowledge of the Ukrainian government.

Ukraine officials, including President Volodomyr Zelensky, have denied any involvement in the Nord Stream sabotage, saying the accusation played into Russia’s hands.

Any direct involvement by Kyiv would be damaging for the unity of the Western alliance that is backing Ukraine’s war effort. Such a revelation would have a particularly negative impact on the government of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who discarded his nation’s pacifist stance to become the world’s third-largest supplier of weapons to Ukraine and one of its biggest financial backers, despite misgivings among German voters.

Germany’s defense minister, Boris Pistorius, warned last week that there is no clarity as to who was behind the attack, and that there is a possibility of a false-flag operation designed to blame Ukraine even if it had no involvement in the sabotage.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed any suggestion that Ukraine, or any pro-Ukrainian group, could have blown up the pipelines, and blamed the U.S., which has denied involvement.

He also said a Russian investigation found that there could be unexploded devices that remain attached to the pipelines.

“Apparently, several explosive devices were planted; some exploded, but some didn’t. It’s not clear why,” Mr. Putin told state television.

Kim Mackrael and Georgi Kantchev contributed to this article.

Write to Bojan Pancevski at, William Boston at and Sune Engel Rasmussen at

4. Bakhmut: Russian casualties mount but tactics evolve

Video at the link:

Bakhmut: Russian casualties mount but tactics evolve

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Image source, Darren Conway / BBC

By Quentin Sommerville

BBC News

Ukraine has drawn a line in the dirt, and that line is Bakhmut. It is a city that few say matters strategically, but that tens of thousands have died fighting over. It began more than seven months ago, and is the longest battle of the war so far.

Two Ukrainian army brigades defending the city's southern flank gave the BBC access to their positions last week as fierce fighting continued in and around Bakhmut. The men have spent months facing both regular Russian army forces, and prisoners recruited by the Wagner private military group who have swarmed their trenches in droves. Troops say Russian casualties far outweigh theirs, but the enemy is deploying new techniques to try to seize the city and surrounding countryside.

Ukraine's forces are outgunned and outnumbered, but on a chalk hillside to the south, there is the anti-tank group from the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade. 3Storm - as they are known - are unyielding. They've dug trenches deep into the earth. Timber props supporting the roof shudder as Russian artillery lands in the near distance, and field mice scurry along duck boards. An antiquated field telephone sits in a wooden nook; these are conditions their grandfathers would recognise.

"They cannot get to us, we can see for a kilometre in all directions," says a bearded 26-year-old soldier who goes by the call sign "Dwarf", pointing out Russian positions. "We can hit the enemy with everything we have," he says.

Image source, Quentin Sommerville / BBC

Image caption,

The 26-year-old goes by the call sign "Dwarf"

Neither the Russian nor Ukrainian armies release official casualty figures for Bakhmut, or elsewhere, but the mostly abandoned city has become a slaughter house.

In a week fighting for the city, Dwarf's company faced conscripted prisoners from Russia's Wagner group. "We had battles every two hours," he says. "I guess a single company eliminated 50 people per day." In case of any doubt, he points out these numbers were confirmed by aerial reconnaissance. "The [Russian vehicle] arrives, 50 bodies come out, a day passes, 50 bodies come out again," he says. His company lost a fraction of that number, he says.

Officially, Ukraine estimates that for every one of its soldiers killed, Russia loses seven. Earlier this week, Russia said it had killed more than 220 Ukrainian service members in a 24-hour period in the battle for Bakhmut. None of these numbers can be independently verified.

In a newspaper interview, two captured Wagner conscripts told the Wall Street Journal that before they are sent forward, they receive little training beyond learning to crawl through forests in the dark. After six months serving at the front they are freed - assuming they survive.

Media caption,

Quentin Somerville approaches the frontline in Bakhmut

Conditions all along the 600-mile-long eastern front have begun to change. 3Storm's chalky hilltop hideout feels like dry land compared with the surrounding territory. An early spring has turned the hard ground of winter to mud porridge - which may favour the defenders. To get there, we had to follow the Ukrainian soldiers on foot - within a few paces my boots become lumpen and heavy with thick dirt. A battlefield ambulance speeds by unsteadily, its caterpillar tracks ploughing up the ground, and spraying pools of sludge as it struggles for grip.

The villages around here - the location can't be revealed - are in ruin. Handwritten signs on gates, mostly in Russian, announce "People Live Here", a plea as much as it is a statement. But the streets are entirely empty, apart from abandoned dogs who roam the ruins of destroyed farms and homes.

Image source, Darren Conway / BBC

Image caption,

Soldiers move through the tall grass

For the past two months, Russian forces have steadily advanced, trying to encircle Bakhmut. The commander of Ukrainian ground forces, General Oleksandr Syrsky, says his forces will continue to resist. "Every day of steadfast resistance wins us valuable time to reduce the enemy's offensive capabilities," he says, sending more reinforcements to the area. But it isn't only Russians who have fallen into the Bakhmut trap. Ukrainians are dying there, too, in ever increasing numbers.

On the hillside, a group of soldiers have gathered around a gun position, and I ask Dwarf - given that Ukraine is losing soldiers to untrained Russian convicts - if the defence of dead city, surrounded by the enemy, makes sense.

He says, "I was wondering, myself, if we should keep defending Bakhmut. On the one hand what's happening here now is awful. There are no words to describe it. But the alternative is we give up Bakhmut and move to another settlement. What's the difference between defending Bakhmut or any other village?"

Image source, Darren Conway / BBC

Image caption,

"Dwarf" with his comrade "Holm"

His comrade, a strongly built man with a full dark beard who goes by the call sign Holm, agrees. "It's not a strategic question for us here. We are ordinary soldiers. But this is our land. We may then retreat to Chasiv Yar, from Chasiv Yar to Slovyansk, and so we retreat up to Kyiv. Let it take a year or two, four, five - but we have to fight for every piece of our land."

The men have been fighting for more than a year now, and they say the Russians are evolving.

"They are learning, they are getting cleverer, and it really freaks me out," says Dwarf. "They send out a group - five morons taken from prison. They are shot, but the enemy sees where you are, walks around, and you are surrounded from behind."

Holm chimes in that Russia is now using drones armed with grenades more effectively. "We used to drop them and freak them out," he says. "Now they're dropping drone grenades on our positions."

Before the war, Dwarf was an outdoor youth worker and would take youngsters hiking in the Carpathian Mountains on the country's western edge. Here on Ukraine's eastern front, that is a far-off memory. He's been in many battles since then, but the horror of Bakhmut is what lives with him now.

When I ask about Wagner's convict army, he pauses to think and says, "I'll be honest. It's genius. Cruel, immoral, but effective tactics. It worked out. And it's still working in Bakhmut."

Image source, Quentin Sommerville / BBC

Image caption,

Soviet-era UAZ jeep makes it way through the mud

Days later, I'm back in the same area, crammed with four others into a Soviet-era UAZ jeep. Its steering wheel has the BMW logo - a joke says the driver, Oleg. He says little else as he grips the wheel and concentrates hard as the car whines and struggles over hills and through the shoals of muck. The automatic gunfire ahead signals we are nearing the 28th Mechanised Brigade, who are directly facing the Russians.

The landscape of war shifts in an instant - the men are holed up in a small wood, its trees shattered and split by Russian fire. In a month, the wood will offer them cover. For now, its bare branches expose them to surveillance drones. Nearby there's an exchange of gunfire, and Russian shells strike around 500m away. But Borys, a 48-year-old former architect who is serving now as a captain, seems untroubled.

"Today's war is a drone war," he says, "but we can walk around freely, because there's wind and rain today and drones are blown away. If it was quiet today, both our drones and our enemy's would be hovering over us."

On the way back, Oleg brings the jeep to a sudden halt. Lying in the dirt in front of us is a drone that has been blown off course. Its battery is quickly removed and it is brought inside - it turns out to be Ukrainian.

But today's war isn't so very different from the past.

Image source, Quentin Sommerville / BBC

Image caption,

Maxim machine gun

Two nights before, the 28th Brigade was attacked by Russian infantry and tanks. In a timbered gun position below ground, the cold, rain drips through the roof onto the dirt floor, and there, peering out into the bare landscape, is a Maxim belt-fed machine gun with stout iron wheels.

"It only works when there is a massive attack going on…then it really works," says Borys. "So we use it every week".

And this is how the battle for Bakhmut is being fought, as winter turns to spring in 21st Century Europe. A 19th Century weapon still mows down men by the score in the black Ukrainian earth.

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5. Poland says it foiled a Russian spy ring seeking to sabotage arms shipments to Ukraine.

Poland says it foiled a Russian spy ring seeking to sabotage arms shipments to Ukraine.

The New York Times · by Andrew Higgins · March 17, 2023

The sabotage, the Polish interior minister said, was planned “at the request of Russian intelligence” and “aimed at paralyzing the supply of equipment, weapons and aid to Ukraine.”

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Mariusz Kaminski, Poland’s interior minister, during a visit to the Ukrainian-Polish border last year.Credit...Darek Delmanowicz/EPA, via Shutterstock


  • March 16, 2023

WARSAW ⁠ — Poland on Thursday said it had detained nine foreigners accused of spying for Russia and preparing sabotage operations to disrupt the flow of Western arms into neighboring Ukraine.

The presence in Poland, a member of NATO, of a Russian spy ring intent on damaging Polish infrastructure used to transport weapons and ammunition to Ukraine would signal a risky escalation by Moscow, which has so far avoided striking at targets inside alliance territory.

Mariusz Kaminski, the Polish interior minister, announced the dismantling of what he said was a major Russia espionage network a day after a visit to Warsaw, Poland’s capital, by the C.I.A. director, William J. Burns, who has played a key role in coordinating the delivery of Western-supplied arms to Ukraine by train and road from Poland.

“The suspects conducted intelligence activities against Poland and prepared acts of sabotage at the request of Russian intelligence,” Mr. Kaminski told journalists in Warsaw. The planned sabotage, he said, was “aimed at paralyzing the supply of equipment, weapons and aid to Ukraine.”

Poland, a stalwart ally of the United States and one of Europe’s most robust supporters of Ukraine, is the main transit route for weapons and ammunition provided by the United States and other countries to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s military onslaught.

The State of the War

Neither Poland nor the United States gave any details of the C.I.A. director’s talks Wednesday with the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, and Jacek Siewiera, the head of Poland’s National Security Bureau. A brief statement issued by the Polish presidency said only that they had discussed “the general security situation in the context of recent events.”

Accusing Western nations of “pumping up” Ukraine with weapons, Russia last year declared arms convoys “a legitimate military target,” but so far has refrained from striking railway lines or roads into Ukraine from eastern Poland, whose territory is covered by the NATO alliance’s commitment to collective security.

During the Soviet war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, the K.G.B. and the G.R.U., the Soviet military’s intelligence agency, organized regular sabotage missions inside Pakistan to try to prevent weapons from the United States, China and other countries from crossing into Afghanistan. Soviet and Afghan government warplanes also bombed Pakistan’s border region, a haven for mujahedeen fighters backed and armed by the United States.

Bombastic commentators on Russian state television have often called for strikes inside Poland’s border with Ukraine, but their threats are generally dismissed as part of a Russian campaign to scare off Western support for Ukraine.

Mr. Kaminski, who oversees Poland’s security services, said six of the nine had been detained in an initial round of arrests by Poland’s Internal Security Agency, or A.B.W., and had been formally charged with espionage. The three others, arrested on Wednesday, were still awaiting formal charges, he said.

He said that none of the people arrested were Polish, and that all of them had come “from across the eastern border.” He did not specify their nationalities. Poland borders Ukraine and Russia’s client state Belarus in the east and the Russia territory of Kaliningrad in the north.

They had been monitoring railway lines with cameras and other equipment and carrying out other hostile tasks in return for regular payment from Russia’s intelligence services, he said. The A.B.W., Mr. Kaminski said, had found cameras, electronic equipment and GPS transmitters intended for mounting on weapons transports to Ukraine.

A Polish radio station, RMF-FM, reported earlier that cameras had been found near an airport in the eastern city of Rzeszow, a major logistical hub for military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The cameras, the radio station said, recorded movements on railway tracks near the airport and transmitted images.

Mr. Kaminski said the people had also received orders from Russia “to carry out propaganda activities in order to destabilize Polish-Ukrainian relations, incite and arouse hostile sentiments toward NATO countries in Poland, and to attack the Polish government’s policy toward Ukraine.”

Poland, though bitterly polarized between supporters and opponents of the governing Law and Justice party, has mostly united behind Ukraine. But some far-right groups, angling for support ahead of national elections later this year, have sought, so far with little success, to stir public hostility to Ukrainian refugees, more than 1.5 million of whom are now living in Poland, and have demanded an end to military aid.

Anti-Ukrainian sentiment was once strong among many Polish nationalists, angry that Ukraine has never fully acknowledged or apologized for the massacre of Poles by Ukrainian nationalists before and during World War II in territory that was formerly part of Poland.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February, however, hostility to Ukraine on the right has largely faded, replaced by much stronger and deeper hostility toward Russia, which has repeatedly attacked Poland in the past.

The New York Times · by Andrew Higgins · March 17, 2023

6. Now Army Has Operational Imperatives Too, Copying Air Force

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Or is this just logical?

Some interservice rivalry? Note that neither the Army or Air Force identifies an imperative in the human domain.

But speaking of "imperatives:" In 1990 when FM 31-20 Special Operations was being written, MG Barratto directed development of a Special Operations Principles of War. The Army balked because the principles of war were already established canon (recall MOOSEMUS). So Glenn Harned consulted the gray beards and came up with the SOF imperatives which were again published in 2012 in ADRP 3-05. So Army SOF has had imperatives for quite some time.

I have pasted the SOF Imperatives below this article. WHile they apply to SOF they are not exclusive to SOF. Any military organization can consider these.

Now Army Has Operational Imperatives Too, Copying Air Force

March 16, 2023 | By Greg Hadley

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Army has a major fan-crush on the Air Force. 

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has focused Air Force and Space Force planning and investment around seven Operational Imperatives and the approach both informed and improved the budget process, leaders say. Now Army Secretary Christine Wormuth is following suit. She detailed six operational imperatives for the Army during a fireside chat at the annual McAleese Defense Programs Conference March 15. 

“In a world where China is the pacing challenge and Russia is the acute threat, the Army really has to be able to do six things,” Wormuth said. “And I’ve noticed that my good friend Secretary Frank Kendall has gotten a lot of traction talking about the Air Force’s seven Operational Imperatives. So I’m going to upgrade the Army six things to six Operational Imperatives and see if I can similarly get some traction the way Frank has.” 

Wormuth’s operational imperatives are based on six requirements she’s emphasized that the Army needs to do by 2030: 

  • See and Sense Farther 
  • Mass Dispersed Forces with Combat Fist 
  • Win the Fires Fight 
  • Protect Forces from Air, Missile, Drone Threats 
  • Communicate and Share Data Rapidly 
  • Sustain the Fight Across Long Distance 

Wormuth connected these six operational imperatives to the Army’s plans to field 24 key new systems by 2023

Kendall introduced his Operational Imperatives at the 2022 AFA Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla. What began as talking points have expanded into a structured approach to sorting out priorities. 

“My highest personal goal has been to instill a sense of urgency about our efforts to modernize and to ensure that we improve our operational posture relative to our pacing challenge, China, China, China,” Kendall said at the time. “The most important thing we owe our Airmen and Guardians are the resources they need, and the systems and equipment they need, to perform their missions. To achieve this goal, I’ve commissioned work on seven operational imperatives. These imperatives are just that; if we don’t get them right, we will have unacceptable operational risk.” 

Kendall’s seven OIs are: 

  • Space Order of Battle 
  • Operationally-Focused Advanced Battle Management Systems 
  • Moving Target Engagement 
  • Tactical Air Dominance 
  • Resilient Basing 
  • Global Strike 
  • Readiness to Deploy and Fight 

Since he first detailed them, Air Force and Space Force leaders have seized on the structure and focus of the seven as a means to prioritize focus and investment, using them and citing them as guiding principles. At the 2023 AFA Warfare Symposium in Aurora, Colo., Kendall said the OIs played a fundamental role in informing and shaping the fiscal 2024 budget request the Air Force recently released. 

“As a result of our work on the DAF operational imperatives, we will be requesting close to 20 new or significantly enhanced efforts,” Kendall said in his keynote address.

The department may yet come out with even more OIs, Air Force acquisition executive Andrew Hunter said last summer.

To learn more and stay up to date on the latest news regarding the Air Force’s OIs, visit Air & Space Forces Magazine’s Operational Imperatives resource center.


ADRP 3-05 Special Operations 31 August 2012


1-75. SOF imperatives are the foundation for planning and executing SO in concert with other forces, interagency partners, and foreign organizations. Although the imperatives may not apply to all SOF operations, ARSOF commanders must include the applicable imperatives in their mission planning and execution:


Understand the operational environment. SO cannot shape the operational environment without first gaining a clear understanding of the theater of operations, to include civilian influence and enemy and friendly capabilities. SOF achieve objectives by understanding the political, military, economic, social, information, infrastructure, physical environment, and time variables within the specific operational environment, and develop plans to act within the realities of specific operational environments. ARSOF must identify the friendly and hostile decisionmakers, their objectives and strategies, and the ways in which they interact. The conditions of conflict can change, and ARSOF must anticipate these changes in the operational environment and exploit fleeting opportunities.


Recognize political implications. Many SO are conducted to advance critical political objectives. ARSOF must understand that their actions can have international consequences. Whether conducting operations independently or in coordination with partners, SOF must consider the political effects of their actions. SOF must anticipate ambiguous strategic and operational environments where military factors are not the only concern. SO frequently create conditions

for nonmilitary activities to occur within indigenous populations and for civil institutions to achieve U.S. and HN objectives. The advancement of the political objective may take precedence over the military disadvantages.


Facilitate interagency activities. Most SO occur in an interagency environment where the U.S. Government departments and agencies are working toward common national objectives as part of a country team effort. ARSOF must actively and continuously coordinate their activities with all relevant parties—U.S. and foreign military and nonmilitary organizations to ensure efficient use of all available resources and maintain unity of effort.


Engage the threat discriminately. SO missions often have sensitive political implications. Therefore, commanders must carefully select when, where, and how to employ ARSOF. SO may be applied with precision to minimize collateral effects and in a concealed or clandestine manner (or through the actions of indigenous military or other security forces) so that only the effects are detectable.


Anticipate long-term effects. ARSOF must consider the broader political, economic, informational, and military effects when faced with dilemmas because the solutions will have broad, far-reaching effects. These forces must accept legal and political constraints to avoid strategic failure while achieving tactical success. SOF must not jeopardize the success of national and geographic combatant commander long-term objectives with a desire for immediate or short-term effects. SO policies, plans, and operations must be consistent with the national and theater of operations priorities and objectives they support. Inconsistency can lead to a loss of legitimacy and credibility at the national level.


Ensure legitimacy and credibility. Significant legal and policy considerations apply to many SO activities. Legitimacy is the most crucial factor in developing and maintaining internal and international support. The United States cannot sustain its assistance to a foreign power without this legitimacy. Commanders, staffs, and subordinates foster legitimacy and credibility through decisions and actions that comply with applicable U.S., international, and, in some cases, HN laws and regulations. Commanders at all levels ensure their Soldiers operate in accordance with the law of war and the ROE. However, the concept of legitimacy is broader than the strict adherence to law. The concept also includes the moral and political legitimacy of a government or resistance organization. The people of the nation and the international community determine its legitimacy based on collective perception of the credibility of its cause and methods. Without legitimacy and credibility, ARSOF will not receive the support of the indigenous elements that are essential to success.


Anticipate and control psychological effects. All SO have significant psychological effects that are often amplified by an increasingly pervasive electronic media environment and the growing influence of social media. Some actions may be conducted specifically to produce a desired behavioral change or response from a selected target audience. Commanders must consider and incorporate the potential psychological effects and impacts of messages and actions into all their activities, anticipating and countering adversary information, as needed, to allow for maximum control of the environment.


Operate with and through others. The primary role of ARSOF in multinational operations is to advise, train, and assist indigenous military and paramilitary forces. The supported non-U.S. forces then serve as force multipliers in the pursuit of mutual security objectives with minimum

U.S. visibility, risk, and cost. ARSOF also operate with and through indigenous government and civil society leaders to shape the operational environment. The long-term self-sufficiency of the partner nation forces and entities must assume primary authority and accept responsibility for the success or failure of the mission. All U.S. efforts must reinforce and enhance the effectiveness, legitimacy, and credibility of the supported foreign government or group.


Develop multiple options. SOF must maintain their operational flexibility by developing a broad range of options and contingency plans. They must be able to shift from one option to another before and during mission execution, or apply two or more simultaneously, to provide flexible national and regional options while achieving the desired effects.


Ensure long-term engagement. ARSOF must demonstrate continuity of effort when dealing with political, economic, informational, and military programs. They must not begin programs that

are beyond the economic, technological, or sociocultural capabilities of the HN to maintain without further U.S. assistance. Such efforts are counterproductive. SO policy, strategy, and programs must, therefore, be durable, consistent, and sustainable.


Provide sufficient intelligence. Success for SOF missions dictates that uncertainty associated with the threat and other aspects of the operational environment must be minimized through the application of intelligence operations and procedures. Because of the needed detailed intelligence, ARSOF typically must also access theater of operations and national systems to alleviate shortfalls and to ensure that timely, relevant, accurate, and predictive intelligence is provided. Human intelligence (HUMINT) is often the only source that can satisfy critical SOF intelligence requirements, whether from overt or controlled sources. The key to effective intelligence support is for SO to fully use the entire intelligence support system and architecture. ARSOF units also provide intelligence through area assessments, SR, and post-operational debriefing of units.


Balance security and synchronization. Insufficient security may compromise a mission. Excessive security may cause the mission to fail because of inadequate coordination. SOF commanders must resolve these conflicting demands on mission planning and execution. Insufficient security may compromise a mission, but excessive security will almost always cause a mission to fail because of inadequate coordination.

7. U.S. Commander: ISIS in Afghanistan 6 Months Away From Foreign Attack Capability

Violent extremists organizations remain a threat. We cannot ignore them.

U.S. Commander: ISIS in Afghanistan 6 Months Away From Foreign Attack Capability

By U.S. News Staff U.S. News & World Report2 min

March 16, 2023

View Original

‘They can do an external operation against U.S. or Western interests abroad in under six months with little to no warning,’ says the Army general in charge of regional operations.

The Islamic State group branch in Afghanistan will be able to conduct terrorist attacks in Europe and Asia within six months, the top U.S. officer for operations in the region told Congress on Thursday.

“They can do an external operation against U.S. or Western interests abroad in under six months with little to no warning,” Army Gen. Michael Kurilla, the head of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

The general later specified that the group known as ISIS-Khorasan or ISIS-K could potentially conduct attacks in Asia or in Europe. It will have greater difficulty attacking the U.S. homeland directly, he said in response to questions.

U.S. intelligence offered a similar assessment of ISIS-K’s ability to attack the U.S. in October 2021.

The potential threat posed by the group, whose brutal acts became more prolific in the final years of the U.S. involvement in the conflict, has become a renewed matter of attention as lawmakers scrutinize the extent the U.S. can still conduct counter-terror operations in Afghanistan after fully withdrawing from it.

Since its rise, leaders of ISIS-K have focused their attacks on Western powers as well as fellow Muslims, including the Taliban leadership that currently rules Afghanistan.

Critics of President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan – resulting in catastrophic evacuation in the summer of 2021 – have centered on continued White House assertions that it can conduct “over the horizon” attacks to defend against terrorist threats from Afghanistan despite not having an enduring troop presence on the ground.

Kurilla confirmed Thursday that the U.S. has only conducted one such strike since the withdrawal – a matter of public knowledge. But he appeared to surprise some on the dais with vague details about two other “non-kinetic” operations involving several global U.S. military headquarters that he said disrupted terrorist operations in Afghanistan. He said he would provide further details in a closed-door classified session after the committee’s open hearing on Thursday.

ISIS-K appeared to gain momentum in its attacks last year and early 2023 following successful strikes on the Afghan foreign ministry building, the Pakistani embassy and a hotel housing several visitors from China. Beijing has previously criticized its intermittent ally in the Taliban government and its Pakistani backers for not doing more to protect its people and investments there.

The non-profit Counter-Extremism Project noted in a March analysis note that the number of attacks carried out by ISIS-K appeared to drop earlier in the year, as did its propaganda initiatives to build international cache for its organization. The project attributes the drop to weather conditions as Afghanistan experiences the coldest winter in 15 years, as well as some successful Taliban operations to target and contain the group.

Tags: Islamic StateAfghanistanMiddle Eastterrorismnational security terrorism and the militaryUnited StatesAsiaEuropenational securityworld news

8. A Spy Wants to Connect With You on LinkedIn

Remain vigilant.

A Spy Wants to Connect With You on LinkedIn

Russia, North Korea, Iran, and China have been caught using fake profiles to gather information. But the platform’s tools to weed them out only go so far.

Wired · by Condé Nast · March 15, 2023

There is nothing immediately suspicious about Camille Lons’ LinkedIn page. The politics and security researcher’s profile photo is of her giving a talk. Her professional network is made up of almost 400 people; she has a detailed career history and biography. Lons has also shared a link to a recent podcast appearance—“always enjoying these conversations”—and liked posts from diplomats across the Middle East.

So when Lons got in touch with freelance journalist Anahita Saymidinova last fall, her offer of work appeared genuine. They swapped messages on LinkedIn before Lons asked to share more details of a project she was working on via email. “I just shoot an email to your inbox,” she wrote.

What Saymidinova didn’t know at the time was that the person messaging her wasn’t Lons at all. Saymidinova, who does work for Iran International, a Persian-language news outlet that has been harassed and threatened by Iranian government officials, was being targeted by a state-backed actor. The account was an imposter that researchers have since linked to Iranian hacking group Charming Kitten. (The real Camille Lons is a politics and security researcher, and a LinkedIn profile with verified contact details has existed since 2014. The real Lons did not respond to WIRED’s requests for comment.)

When the fake account emailed Saymidinova, her suspicions were raised by a PDF that said the US State Department had provided $500,000 to fund a research project. “When I saw the budget, it was so unrealistic,” Saymidinova says.

But the attackers were persistent and asked the journalist to join a Zoom call to discuss the proposal further, as well as sending some links to review. Saymidinova, now on high alert, says she told an Iran International IT staff member about the approach and stopped replying. “It was very clear that they wanted to hack my computer,” she says. Amin Sabeti, the founder of Certfa Lab, a security organization that researches threats from Iran, analyzed the fake profile’s behavior and correspondence with Saymidinova and says the incident closely mimics other approaches on LinkedIn from Charming Kitten.

The Lons incident, which has not been previously reported, is at the murkiest end of LinkedIn’s problem with fake accounts. Sophisticated state-backed groups from Iran, North KoreaRussia, and China regularly leverage LinkedIn to connect with targets in an attempt to steal information through phishing scams or by using malware. The episode highlights LinkedIn’s ongoing battle against “inauthentic behavior,” which includes everything from irritating spam to shady espionage.

Missing Links

LinkedIn is an immensely valuable tool for research, networking, and finding work. But the amount of personal information people share on LinkedIn—from location and languages spoken to work history and professional connections—makes it ideal for state-sponsored espionage and weird marketing schemes. False accounts are often used to hawk cryptocurrency, trick people into reshipping schemes, and steal identities.

Sabeti, who’s been analyzing Charming Kitten profiles on LinkedIn since 2019, says the group has a clear strategy for the platform. “Before they initiate conversation, they know who they are contacting, they know the full details,” Sabeti says. In one instance, the attackers got as far as hosting a Zoom call with someone they were targeting and used static pictures of the scientist they were impersonating.

The fake Lons LinkedIn profile, which was created in May 2022, listed the real Lons’ correct work and education histories and used the same image from her real Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. Much of the biography text on the fake page had been copied from profiles of the real Lons as well. Sabeti says the group ultimately wants to gain access to people’s Gmail or Twitter accounts to gather private information. “They can collect intelligence,” Sabeti says. “And then they use it for other targets.”

The UK government said in May 2022 that “foreign spies and other malicious actors” had approached 10,000 people on LinkedIn or Facebook over 12 months. One person acting on behalf of China, according to court documents, found that the algorithm of one “professional networking website” was “relentless” in suggesting potential new targets to approach. Often these approaches start on LinkedIn but move to WhatsApp or email, where it may be easier to send phishing links or malware.

In one previously unreported example, a fake account connected to North Korea’s Lazarus hacking group, pretended to be a recruiter at Meta. They started by asking the target how their weekend was before inviting them to complete a programming challenge to continue the hiring process, says Peter Kalnai, the senior malware researcher at security firm ESET who discovered the account. But the programming challenge was a scam designed to deploy malware to the target’s computer, Kalnai says. The LinkedIn messages sent by the scammers didn’t contain many grammatical errors or other typos, he says, which made the attack more difficult to catch. “Those communications were convincing. No red flags in the messages.”

It’s likely that scam and spam accounts are much more common on LinkedIn than those connected to any nation or government-backed groups. In September last year, security reporter Brian Krebs found a flood of fake chief information security officers on the platform and thousands of false accounts linked to legitimate companies. Following the reporting, Apple and Amazon’s profile pages were purged of hundreds of thousands of fake accounts. But due to LinkedIn’s privacy settings, which make certain profiles inaccessible to users who don’t share connections, it’s difficult to gauge the scope of the problem across the platform.

The picture gets clearer at an individual company level. An analysis of WIRED’s company profile in January showed 577 people listing WIRED as their current employer—a figure well above the actual number of staff. Several of the accounts appeared to use profile images generated by AI, and 88 profiles claimed to be based in India. (WIRED does not have an India office, although its parent company, Condé Nast, does.) One account, listed as WIRED’s “co-owner,” used the name of a senior member of WIRED’s editorial staff and was advertising a suspicious financial scheme.

In late February, soon after we told LinkedIn about suspicious accounts linked to WIRED, approximately 250 accounts were removed from WIRED’s page. The total employee count dropped to 225, with 15 people based in India—more in line with the real number of employees. The purpose of these removed accounts remains a mystery.

“If people were using fake accounts to impersonate WIRED journalists, that would be a major issue. In the disinformation space, we have seen propagandists pretend to be journalists to gain credibility with their target audiences,” says Josh Goldstein, a research fellow with the CyberAI Project at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology. “But the accounts you shared with me don’t seem to be of that type.”

Without more information, Goldstein says, it’s impossible to know what the fake accounts linked to WIRED may have been up to. Oscar Rodriguez, LinkedIn’s vice president in charge of trust, privacy, and equity, says the company does not go into detail about why it removes specific accounts. But he says many of the accounts linked to WIRED were dormant.

Fighting Fakes

In October 2022, LinkedIn introduced several features meant to clamp down on fake and scam profiles. These included tools to detect AI-generated profile photos and filters that flag messages as potential scams. LinkedIn also rolled out an “About” section for individual profiles that shows when an account was created and whether the account has been verified with a work phone number or email address.

In its most recent transparency report, covering January to June 2022, LinkedIn said that 95.3 percent of the fake accounts it discovered were blocked by “automated defenses,” including 16.4 million that were blocked at the time of registration. LinkedIn’s Rodriguez says the company has identified a number of signs it looks for when hunting fake accounts. For instance, commenting or leaving messages with super-human speed—a potential sign of automation—might cue LinkedIn to ask the account to provide a state-issued ID and make the account inaccessible to other users.

Similarly, when an account is being created, a mismatch between its IP address and listed location wouldn’t automatically be a trigger—someone could be traveling or using a VPN—but it might be a “yellow flag,” Rodriguez says. If the account shares other characteristics with previously removed accounts from a particular region or set of devices, he adds, that might be a clearer signal that the account is fraudulent.

“For the very small percent of accounts that managed to interact with members, we retrace our steps to understand the common characteristics across the different accounts,” Rodriguez says. The information is then used to “cluster” groups of accounts that may be fraudulent. Sabeti says LinkedIn is “very proactive” when human rights or security organizations report suspicious accounts. “It’s good in comparison with the other tech companies,” he says.

In some cases, LinkedIn’s new defenses appear to be working. In December, WIRED created two fake profiles using AI text generators. “Robert Tolbert,” a mechanical engineering professor at Oxford University, had an AI-generated profile photo and a resume written by ChatGPT, complete with fake journal articles. The day after the account was created, LinkedIn asked for ID verification. A second fake profile attempt—a “software developer” with Silicon Valley credentials and no photo—also received a request for an ID the following day. Rodriguez declined to comment on why these accounts were flagged, but both accounts were inaccessible on LinkedIn after they received the request for ID.

But detecting fake accounts is tricky—and scammers and spies are always trying to stay ahead of systems designed to catch them. Accounts that slip past initial filters but haven’t started messaging other people—like many of the scam accounts claiming to be WIRED staff—seem to be particularly hard to catch. Rodriguez says dormant accounts are generally removed through user reports or when LinkedIn discovers a fraudulent cluster.

Today, WIRED’s page is a fairly accurate snapshot of its current staff. The fake Camille Lons profile was removed after we began reporting this story—Rodriguez did not say why. But in a process similar to the Lons impersonators, we conducted one additional experiment to try to slip past LinkedIn’s filters.

With his permission, we created an exact duplicate of the profile for Andrew Couts, the editor of this story, only swapping out his photo for an alternative. The only contact information we provided when creating the account was a free ProtonMail account. Before we deleted the account, Fake Couts floated around on LinkedIn for more than two months, accepting connections, sending and receiving messages, browsing job listings, and promoting the occasional WIRED story. Then, one day, Fake Couts received a message from a marketer with an offer that seems too good to be true: a custom-built “professional WordPress website at no cost.”

Wired · by Condé Nast · March 15, 2023

9. China roars as US presses ByteDance to sell TikTok

China roars as US presses ByteDance to sell TikTok

But Beijing’s ability to impose tit-for-tat countermeasures is limited as Facebook and Youtube do not operate in China’s highly-censored market · by Jeff Pao · March 17, 2023

Responding to the Biden administration’s request that China’s ByteDance sell its stake in TikTok for national security reasons, Beijing has complained that the United States is “suppressing” Chinese companies.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an inter-agency committee of the US government, told ByteDance that if it doesn’t dispose of TikTok’s shares, then the use of the short-video app will be banned in the US.

“The US has so far failed to produce evidence to prove that TikTok threatens its national security,” Wang Wenbin, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Thursday in a regular briefing. “The US should stop spreading false information on data security issues and unreasonably suppressing relevant companies.”

Wang said the US has generalized the concept of national security and abused its state power to suppress foreign firms. He also said the US should provide a business environment that is open, fair, just and non-discriminatory to companies from all over the world.

A TikTok spokesperson told media that the company has been contacted by CFIUS but it does not think that a change in ownership can ease American national security concerns if no new restrictions on data flows or access are imposed.

In 2020, then-US president Donald Trump issued executive orders to ban downloads of the TikTok app in the US. Trump had hoped to force ByteDance to sell its US TikTok operations but a plan for Oracles to buy the operations lapsed after President Joe Biden took office.

In June 2021, Biden ordered CFIUS to review the TikTok case. Negotiations between CFIUS and ByteDance failed to convince Washington that TikTok does not pose a national security risk to America.

Last month, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul introduced a bill, the Deterring America’s Technological Adversaries Act, which if passed and signed into law will allow the president to ban the use of TikTok nationwide.

Photo combo of TikTok and Donald Trump: AFP / Jim Watson / Lionel Bonaventure

By the end of last year, TikTok had more than 1 billion monthly active users globally. In the US, there are about 113.3 million active TikTok users.

Last month, the US and Canada ordered government organizations to remove TikTok from all official devices and systems. The European Commission also required all employees to delete the app from their work devices.

On Thursday, the United Kingdom also announced that it would ban TikTok from government phones due to security concerns. It said Tuesday it is now investigating the matter.

“We need to make sure our phones are not spyware,” UK Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said Tuesday. “Understanding the challenges these apps pose, what they are asking for and how they reach into our lives, is incredibly important.”

Tugendhat said he has asked the National Cyber Security Center to look into the TikTok app’s security issues.

Commenting on the UK’s investigation on TikTok, Wang said Wednesday that China had put forward its Global Initiative on Data Security in 2020 to call on countries to encourage companies to abide by laws and regulations of the state where they operate.

“Countries should not request domestic companies to store data generated and obtained overseas in their own territory,” said Wang. “They should respect the sovereignty, jurisdiction and governance of data of other states, and shall not obtain data located in other states through companies or individuals without other states’ permission. We always do what we say.”

However, TikTok is still accused by Western countries of handing users’ data to the Chinese government.

A Guangdong-based columnist says that if the US imposes a nationwide ban on TikTok, China will not be able to launch any countermeasures on US social media such as Facebook and YouTube as they have not entered mainland China.

He says if China launches countermeasures on other US businesses, it may violate the country’s opening-up policy. The columnist says the helplessness of such a passive position was seen in the past when China could not ban Apple’s iPhone in mainland China after the US banned Huawei’s products.

He says if TikTok is completely banned in the West, the company should turn to developing countries.

TikTok could emphasize developing world markets after a US ban. Photo: AFP

Alex Tsai, a former member of the Legislative Yuan in Taiwan and a member of the Kuomintang, says US politicians call for a nationwide ban of TikTok because they do not want the Chinese app to grow further, especially when internet giants such as Facebook, Google and Amazon are cutting their employee headcounts.

However, Tsai adds, Republicans and Democrats may have different views on the matter. He says Republicans do not like TikTok.

As evidence, he notes that former Trump failed to win reelection in November 2020 after he’d been mocked by young voters with some viral short videos. Tsai suggests that Democrats may not have as strong incentive to push the TikTok ban.

Read: Relentless censor Beijing mocks US TikTok crackdown

Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3 · by Jeff Pao · March 17, 2023

10. Ukraine’s Cyber Defense Offers Lessons for Taiwan

Ukraine’s Cyber Defense Offers Lessons for Taiwan

Washington should work with Taipei to stiffen the island's defenses against network attacks.


MARCH 16, 2023 01:06 PM ET · by Lt. Col. James Hesson

The Ukraine war has filled the world with graphic images of a surprisingly capable underdog resisting the advances of a lumbering aggressor. But while the pictures are far less compelling, the story is the same in cyberspace: Ukrainian defenders have thwarted an onslaught of Russian cyberattacks. While credit for this success goes to the resilience, persistence, and professionalism of the Ukrainians, America’s efforts to improve their cyber capacity played a key role, and offer lessons for defending Taiwan from Chinese cyberattacks.

Cyber cooperation between the United States and Ukraine has a long pedigree. After Russian hackers shut the lights off in Ukrainian cities in 2015 and 2016, Kyiv launched a monumental initiative to harden its defenses. A partnership with the United States began in earnest in 2017 with the first U.S.-Ukraine Bilateral Cyber Dialogue, driven by increasing cyber threats from Russia. Most importantly, the dialogue linked U.S. agencies such as the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Treasury with Ukrainian counterparts to build their defenses.

After helping Ukraine remediate the attacks on its electric grid, the U.S. Department of Energy worked with the Ukrainian government to strengthen the resilience of Ukraine’s energy sector and national-response planning. Since 2014, the U.S. government has provided more than $160 million in technical support for Ukrainian energy security. That Russia has resorted to targeting electricity systems with cruise missiles and drones instead of malware is a testament to the cyber resilience of the infrastructure.

In March 2020, the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, launched a $38 million program aimed at “strengthening the cybersecurity enabling environment; developing Ukraine’s cybersecurity workforce; and building a resilient cybersecurity industry.” As a critical part of this effort, USAID delivered software and hardware tools that increased Ukrainian cyber defenses.

The Department of the Treasury, meanwhile, joined forces with the National Bank of Ukraine via the Software Engineering Institute to improve cybersecurity information sharing. The result: despite attacks in the days before the war, Ukrainian banks have so far weathered the Russian storm.

The FBI has worked closely with Ukrainian partners to share threat information on Russian malicious cyber activity and disrupt disinformation campaigns. And in July, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security expanded its information and technical exchanges with Kyiv.

And U.S.-Ukraine cyber cooperation has entailed more than money, tools, and information. In the three months leading up to the war, U.S. Cyber Command sent teams to Ukraine for defensive cyber operations known as “hunt forward” efforts. Working alongside their Ukrainian counterparts and other European partners, U.S. operators spotted malicious cyber activity on Ukrainian networks. The hunt-forward effort identified Russian intrusions to key networks and prevented crippling cyberattacks.

Taken together, all the hard work in Ukraine is paying off, and the U.S. government is taking notes. In a recent interview, Rob Silvers, DHS undersecretary for strategy, policy, and plans, said his department is now “thinking big about cyber collaboration.” Washington, he said, “should be looking for opportunities to work with international partners more intensively across the board.” We agree.

With last month’s announcement that the United States is expanding troop levels on Taiwan, the timing is perfect to launch cyberdefense capacity-building programs for the island. CISA Director Jen Easterly recently warned that China is likely to accompany military action against Taiwan with cyberattacks not only on the island, but also on the United States and other partners. The effort that prepared Ukrainian defenders, if repeated in Taiwan, could force China to re-evaluate its ability to cripple the island’s infrastructure and could help avert war.

In addition to replicating successful programs in Ukraine, cyber capacity-building measures in Taiwan should include training programs for law enforcement agencies to fight cybercrime. Both CISA and the FBI have the requisite experience for this training program.

In December, as part of the annual defense bill, Congress directed the Department of Defense to increase joint military exercises with Taiwan. These exercises should include operational cyber exercises. The U.S.-Israel Cyber Dome VII exercise could serve as a useful template for joint training and exercising.

Ukraine has shown that in cyberspace, the best defense might actually just be a good defense. Working hand-in-hand with Taipei, Washington can build Taiwan’s defensive cyber capabilities to mitigate and thwart attacks. Doing so will better position Taiwan and the United States to counter China and protect both nations’ interests.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. James Hesson is a visiting military analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Annie Fixler serves as the Director for the Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation and as an FDD Research Fellow. Follow Annie on Twitter @afixler. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Defense Department nor the U.S. Air Force. · by Lt. Col. James Hesson

11. US, Chinese commands in Pacific aren’t talking, says Indo-Pacific boss

Cautionary words.


Aquilino also touched on lessons both the U.S. and China could learn from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, which Russia invaded more than a year ago.
“No. 1: The ability to execute complex combined arms actions to achieve your objectives is difficult,” he said. “Synchronizing all those effects across all those domains, supporting it through logistics chains to deliver an effective fighting force that can sustain over time is hard.”
He also stressed that conflict “costs blood,” and that short wars “do not happen anymore, if it ever did.”
The cost of battle would also far exceed any projections, and the decision to enter one should not be taken lightly, he added.

US, Chinese commands in Pacific aren’t talking, says Indo-Pacific boss

Defense News · by Mike Yeo · March 16, 2023

MELBOURNE, Australia — The head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command says he has not had contact with his Chinese counterparts, despite a previous agreement between the U.S. defense secretary and the Chinese defense minister.

Speaking in Singapore on Thursday at an event hosted by the International Institute of Strategic Studies’ Asia branch, Adm. John Aquilino said he has not received a response to a standing request to speak with the commanders of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern and Southern Theater commands.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, in November agreed that it’s important for operational commanders to “have a conversation.”

“I have not yet received a response for a year-and-a-half to accept my request for a conversation,” he said. “I’ve not received a ‘no.’ I’ve not received a ‘wait, could we adjust?’ I’ve just received no answer.”

“We have continued to ask because I do think it is important. But it’s concerning to me I don’t have the ability to talk to someone, should there be a reason to talk,” he added.

Earlier this week, the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps also expressed concerns about a lack of communication in the region following reports that an American intelligence drone crashed after colliding with a Russian fighter over the Black Sea.

“This is probably my biggest worry, both there and in the Pacific, is an aggressive Russia or China pilot or vessel captain or something gets too close, doesn’t realize where they are, causes a collision, and it’s 2 in the morning and we’re trying to unpack this as fast as we can. I really worry about that,” Gen. David Berger said at the National Press Club.

“Even more challenging because right now on our side, on the [People’s Republic of China], normally we would have communications with the [People’s Liberation Army Navy], their military. It doesn’t exist right now, they won’t communicate with us. So the normal, sort of many channels that you have to quickly diffuse something — they’re gone. They’re not gone, but they’re suspended right now,” he added. “So I worry, I do.”

However, the lines of communications remain strong with other countries within and outside of the region, Aquilino explained, adding that he has the ability to quickly contact foreign counterparts and vice versa. He said he hopes to have the same option with China, “but today it doesn’t exist, and it is not for the lack of trying.”

Aquilino also touched on lessons both the U.S. and China could learn from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, which Russia invaded more than a year ago.

“No. 1: The ability to execute complex combined arms actions to achieve your objectives is difficult,” he said. “Synchronizing all those effects across all those domains, supporting it through logistics chains to deliver an effective fighting force that can sustain over time is hard.”

He also stressed that conflict “costs blood,” and that short wars “do not happen anymore, if it ever did.”

The cost of battle would also far exceed any projections, and the decision to enter one should not be taken lightly, he added.

Aquilino also rejected the assertion by China’s new foreign minister that war was “inevitable,” saying that it was important that regional countries, including China, know the U.S. is not pursuing conflict.

Qin Gang had warned at the closing of China’s 20th National Congress in Beijing earlier this month that war with the U.S. is inevitable unless the latter “changes course.”

Defense News’ Megan Eckstein and Marine Corps Times’ Irene Loewenson contributed to this report.

About Mike Yeo

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.

12. China’s Xi to Meet Putin in Moscow Next Week


Mr. Xi also plans to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a meeting that is expected to take place virtually, reflecting Beijing’s effort to play a more active role in mediating an end to the war in Ukraine, the Journal has reported.

China’s Xi to Meet Putin in Moscow Next Week

Visit is set to highlight China and Russia’s closer ties amid Ukraine war

By Georgi KantchevFollow and Chun Han WongFollow

Updated March 17, 2023 6:16 am ET

Chinese leader Xi Jinping plans to visit Moscow next week for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the latest marker of the deep ties between Beijing and Moscow as the war in Ukraine continues into its second year.

During the visit, which will take place March 20-22, the two leaders will discuss “topical issues of further development of the comprehensive partnership relations and strategic cooperation between Russia and China,” the Kremlin said Friday. Several bilateral documents will be signed during the visit, it said. 

Messrs. Xi and Putin will discuss the expansion of international cooperation between the two countries, the Kremlin said.

Mr. Xi’s visit was arranged in response to an invitation from Mr. Putin, according to a one-sentence statement issued by a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman. In a routine briefing, a ministry spokesman described Mr. Xi’s visit as a trip of friendship, cooperation and peace that will deepen mutual trust between China and Russia.

As the Ukraine conflict has increased Russia’s international isolation, Beijing has provided diplomatic support to Moscow and an economic lifeline amid Western sanctions. China has scooped up Russian oil and gas, and sold microchips and other advanced technologies that can have military uses.

The planned visit would be Mr. Xi’s first international trip this year and showcase his close personal relationship with Mr. Putin—a key driver of China-Russia relations. The two men have met 39 times since 2013, the year that Mr. Xi took office as China’s largely ceremonial president, months after he became Communist Party chief.

People familiar with Chinese foreign policy have said Mr. Xi is likely to step up overseas travel this year, in part to repair relations strained by geopolitical tensions and his Covid-induced hiatus from trips, The Wall Street Journal previously reported. Mr. Xi secured this month a third term as China’s head of state, a role he has used to front an increasingly assertive diplomacy and pursue what he sees as his country’s rightful place as a great power. 

Watch: Russian Jet Downs U.S. Spy Drone After Collision Over Black Sea


Video released by the Pentagon showed a U.S. MQ-9 surveillance drone buzzed by a Russian Su-27 jet moments before it crashed over the Black Sea. Photo: U.S. European Command

Mr. Xi’s Russia visit comes amid frayed relations between China and the U.S., which has been increasing pressure on Beijing over its stance on Ukraine even as tensions intensified over Washington’s recent shootdown of what it called a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon. American officials have said that China was considering providing arms to Russia, and warned Beijing against doing so. China, for its part, has criticized the U.S. for exacerbating the conflict by supplying weapons to Ukraine.

Beijing has sought to hold the middle ground on the war, while casting itself as a responsible global actor. It has called for peace, issuing in February a 12-point position paper outlining its views on how to end the conflict. But Chinese officials have also declined to criticize Russia’s invasion, instead describing the war as the “Ukraine crisis” and portraying the U.S. as the chief instigator of the conflict. 

China boosted its self-styled image as a neutral mediator and calming influence in international affairs this month, when Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to restore relations in a deal brokered by Beijing.

Mr. Xi also plans to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a meeting that is expected to take place virtually, reflecting Beijing’s effort to play a more active role in mediating an end to the war in Ukraine, the Journal has reported.

After a tumultuous period during the Cold War, when Beijing and Moscow differed over ideology and geopolitical influence and their forces engaged in bloody border skirmishes, their relationship has grown closer in recent decades. Messrs. Putin and Xi share the view that the U.S. has sought to limit their global ambitions, a vision that has increasingly underpinned Russia-China ties.

On the economic front, China has needed Russia’s vast energy resources to fuel its fast-growing economy while Russia has been searching for markets outside the West.

Messrs. Xi and Putin last had an in-person meeting in September 2022, on the sidelines of a regional summit in Uzbekistan. When Mr. Putin visited China in February 2022 to attend the Winter Olympics, weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, Moscow and Beijing said they struck a “no-limits” partnership.

On a 2019 trip to Moscow, Mr. Xi hailed the countries’ deepening economic cooperation as a “key pillar of our relations.” That year, the two countries opened the $55 billion Power of Siberia pipeline delivering Russian natural gas to China

The war in Ukraine further boosted economic ties. 

China-Russia bilateral trade is expected to exceed $200 billion soon, up from $140 billion in 2021. Much of the growth has come as Beijing bought up Russia’s commodities, helping to offset some of the declines in Moscow’s oil-and-gas exports to Europe, formerly its biggest market. Russia was able to divert crude to China and other markets, though the price Moscow gets for its oil has fallen.

Moscow has also increased the usage of China’s yuan, including conducting some of the energy trade in the Chinese currency and increasing its share in its sovereign-wealth fund.

Write to Georgi Kantchev at and Chun Han Wong at

13. VA to change its motto, dropping male-only language

VA to change its motto, dropping male-only language · by Leo Shane III · March 16, 2023

Veterans Affairs leaders are changing the department’s mission statement from the current male-only focus to be more welcoming to women veterans, officials announced Thursday.

The current motto — in use by VA and the Veterans Administration since 1959 — is based on an excerpt from President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.” It’s displayed prominently at about half of all VA hospitals, cemeteries and office buildings across the country.

The new motto will still be based on Lincoln’s words but instead reads: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”


Why leaving the military is harder for female vets

Women veterans face different social expectations, a lack of a peer support, problems finding child care, and are more likely to face financial problems compared to their male counterparts

By Apoorva Mittal

The use of male-specific language in the original mission statement has long drawn criticism from veterans advocates who note that women veterans are the fastest growing cohort of the community, expected to make up one in every five living veterans in America by 2040.

VA leaders said the decision was made after interviews with more than 30,000 veterans over the last two years. According to those surveys, the change was supported by the majority of every age group, racial group and gender group.

They noted that the motto change not only includes a wider scope of veterans, but also better emphasizes the role of veterans’ family in their care and benefits.

“Whenever any veteran, family member, caregiver, or survivor walks by a VA facility, we want them to see themselves in the mission statement on the outside of the building,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “We are here to serve all veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors — and now, our mission statement reflects exactly that.”

The new motto also downplays the role of combat operations in veterans benefits, to reinforce that anyone who serves honorably in the military is granted a wide range of education support and financial assistance.

VA leaders and veterans advocates were scheduled to unveil the new statement during an event at the Military Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday afternoon.


Wounded women veterans face higher levels of loneliness, isolation: report

Officials say the new survey from Wounded Warrior Project shows a need for more transition programs focused on women.

Both McDonough’s predecessor, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, and former President Donald Trump had adamantly opposed any change in the motto, calling it an attack on history and an attempt to erase Lincoln’s words.

Multiple Democratic lawmakers in recent years have introduced legislation to force a change, without success. Many advocates expected a change early in President Joe Biden’s administration, but VA officials opted for a slower approach, with numerous behind-the-scenes conversations to track the opinions of veterans groups and policy makers.

On Thursday, advocates involved in the fight praised the move.

“For too long, women and LGBTQ+ veterans have been considered ‘invisible veterans’ — feeling inadequately recognized by our fellow Americans,” said Allison Jaslow, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and herself an Iraq War veteran. “We’re one step closer to changing the way America sees its veterans today, and that’s a damn good reason to celebrate.”

VA staff said that the change to the new motto will take place over the next few months. No information was released on how much updating plaques and displays at department buildings will cost.

About Leo Shane III

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

14. Why the US military should build modular nuclear reactors


Nuclear power is a well-proven technology that offers carbon dioxide-free electricity. One of the main objections to the expansion of nuclear power in the U.S. is based on the perception that it is dangerous. This is primarily based on the historical cases of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. In reality, there have been very few safety issues with nuclear power since it first came into use in the 1950s.
Some countries have embraced nuclear power, such as France, which produces 70% of its electricity from nuclear power. The new modular reactors are even safer than existing reactors and, according to some experts, do not pose any threat of a meltdown. For example, Bill Gates wrote about the TerraPower reactor design that “accidents would literally be prevented by the laws of physics.”
The U.S. military has a long history of using nuclear energy. It is well known that the Navy operates nuclear-powered ships and submarines, but the Army also had a nuclear power program from 1954 to 1976. This program operated small nuclear reactors both domestically and at deployed locations. So there is a strong historical foundation of safe operations of nuclear power reactors to build upon.

Why the US military should build modular nuclear reactors

Defense News · by Cmdr. Jared Harlow · March 16, 2023

The 2022 National Security Strategy identified climate change as an existential challenge, and the Defense Department’s Climate Adaptation Plan calls for reducing carbon emissions across the services. The Department of Defense is the largest energy user in the U.S. government and uses approximately 29 million megawatts of electricity annually. Despite being such a large energy consumer, only 6.5% of the electricity the DoD uses comes from renewable energy sources, which lags well behind the national average of about 20%.

To address the existential challenge of climate change and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the U.S. military should build and operate modular nuclear reactors to power its domestic bases. Along with reducing its impact on climate change, this would also prepare the military services to operate forward-deployed nuclear reactors in support of combat operations.

Although addressing climate change and reducing the emission of greenhouse gases is a multifaceted challenge, one of the most critical aspects is producing electrical power without releasing carbon dioxide. Electric power production was the source of 25% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2020. There is a growing push for using renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. However, without significant technological leaps, these do not offer a realistic path to greenhouse gas-free electricity at the scale needed.

In addition, there are existing nuclear power programs that could be expanded. In 2022, the Pentagon announced that it was designing and building a mini-nuclear reactor under Project Pele. The Air Force also announced that it plans to operate a modular reactor at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, with “demonstration and operational testing” expected to start in 2027. These projects are both good starts but are focused on microreactors at very remote or overseas locations. These programs should be expanded to include larger modular reactors housed on bases throughout the continental United States.

Along with reducing the department’s carbon footprint, modular nuclear reactors could increase the military’s combat capabilities. This has been recognized by the Pentagon and is one of the driving factors behind Project Pele. The ability to operate and deploy nuclear reactors could be vital in supporting operations during a high-end global conflict. The military is becoming more reliant on electrical power as we develop systems such as directed-energy weapons and electric-powered combat vehicles. The U.S. military has had relatively uncontested logistics access during all of its conflicts since World War II due to air and sea power superiority, which has given us the ability to control vital lines of communication.

However, it should be assumed that potential adversaries in the future will have the ability to disrupt lines of communication, particularly on bulk shipments like fuel oil. Modular nuclear reactors would reduce the U.S. military’s reliance on fuel shipments and ensure the availability of the energy needed for high-tech combat systems. Developing and operating the capability domestically would provide the military training and experience needed to operate nuclear reactors in support of overseas operations.

By building and operating modular reactors to power U.S. domestic bases, the military could help address the existential challenge of climate change by reducing the department’s carbon footprint. Since the military has a long history of operating nuclear power reactors and has high security — and often remote bases to house them — there may be less public pressure against building military nuclear power facilities than there would be against the immediate expansion of civilian facilities.

Furthermore, once the military developed a safe track record of operating modular nuclear reactors, that could be used to support the further development of civilian nuclear power facilities. If this were successful, it could have a much larger impact on the nation’s overall greenhouse gas reduction.

U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Jared Harlow is a graduate student at the National War College. He currently holds a bachelor’s degree in marine environmental science and a master’s degree in defense and strategic studies. During his most recent role with the service, Harlow oversaw and executed maritime law enforcement missions. The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Coast Guard or the National War College.

15. Reaper Down: Three Takeaways from Russia’s Intercept of a US Unmanned Aerial Vehicle


The Meagre Wartime Contributions of Russia’s Air Force
Unmanned Platforms Have Changed Escalation Calculus
UAV Survivability and Large-Scale Combat Operations

Reaper Down: Three Takeaways from Russia’s Intercept of a US Unmanned Aerial Vehicle - Modern War Institute · by Liam Collins · March 17, 2023

Earlier this week, two Russian Su-27 fighter aircraft downed a United States MQ-9 Reaper that was flying in international airspace over the Black Sea. The Department of Defense released video evidence of the event, just forty-two seconds long, that appears to justify the US claim that Russian jets dumped fuel on the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and then collided with the Reaper’s propeller, prompting the vehicle’s operator to crash it into the Black Sea.

Not surprisingly and despite the video evidence, Russia claimed that the Russian fighters “did not use airborne weapons or come into contact” with the Reaper. While the evidence clearly indicates the Russian fighters engaged in extremely aggressive flight near the UAV, it is not clear if the fighters intended to physically hit the vehicle or the collision was unintended and instead the result of a miscalculation when flying too close.

Regardless of Russia’s intent, three things can be learned from this incident. First, this might have been a deliberate effort by Russia to distract from the fact that its air force has underperformed in the war to date. Second, it suggests that unmanned platforms may change escalation calculus, with states willing to engage in riskier behavior around unmanned vehicles than manned aircraft. Third, it demonstrates that large UAVs that served the United States well in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may not be survivable enough for large-scale combat operations against a near-peer adversary.

The Meagre Wartime Contributions of Russia’s Air Force

Why are Russian fighters attacking an unmanned aircraft in international airspace instead of supporting a brutal urban fight in Bakhmut? It may be that the incident over the Black Sea is about all that the Russian air force is capable of doing right now.

The underperformance of Russia’s military has been shocking, to say the least. As early as March 2022, Russia’s failure to defeat the Ukrainian air force was being described by some as “one of the biggest surprises of the war.” Many thought Russia would achieve air supremacy quickly, but more than one year later, its air force has failed to even achieve air superiority.

According to Dutch open-source intelligence and defense analysis website Oryx, Russia has lost at least seventy-nine fixed-wing aircraft, seventy-nine rotary-wing aircraft, seven combat UAVs, and 194 reconnaissance UAVs. Among these losses included an Su-27, the same aircraft that Russia used to down the Reaper. Oryx only reports losses that it can confirm through “photo or videographic evidence,” so it acknowledges that Russian losses are “significantly higher” than what they report.

These losses are significant—they are expensive and take years to replace, especially given Russia’s struggles to get its defense industrial base to support its war effort. Yet more impactful than the cost of the losses is the fact that it has changed how Russia is able to employ its aircraft. At the start of the war, the Russian air force had one of the largest fleets of military aircraft in the world—the third largest behind those of the United States and China. Yet despite Russia’s significant investment in this large air service, it has only been able to play a marginal role in the ground war.

If the attack on the Reaper was intentional, then one plausible and likely explanation is that President Vladimir Putin or another senior Russian military leader authorized the brazen attack to distract the Russian populace from the fact that its air force has been so impotent. It allows Russian leaders to hope that the downing of an unprotected UAV flying in international airspace will be perceived domestically as some kind of a victory.

Unmanned Platforms Have Changed Escalation Calculus

While this may not have been a momentous violation of international law—at least compared to Russia’s previous ones—its implications are significant from a military or political perspective. At the start of the war, there were calls by some to establish a no-fly zone, but military and policy officials never seemed to seriously consider this option because of the risk that it “could easily lead to a war between NATO and Russia.”

The only way to enforce a no-fly zone would require NATO members to directly engage Russian aircraft, which could understandably be viewed from the Russian perspective as an act of war. Over time, particularly during the Cold War, a set of normative standards took shape that helped manage the risk of escalation. Superpowers may supply arms to proxies, as the United States did in Afghanistan in the 1980s or the Russians did in Vietnam in the 1970s, but superpowers do not engage in military conflict directly due to the risk of nuclear escalation. Against the backdrop of those relatively longstanding norms, this direct attack was significant.

Regardless of whether the contact was intentional or not, it is unlikely that Russia would have engaged in such reckless behavior if the aircraft had been manned. Despite previous tensions, Russia has never dumped fuel on or flown so close to manned aircraft flying in international airspace. Thus, Russia likely felt it could engage in this risky behavior because the aircraft was unmanned.

Neither the United States nor Russia want to engage in an action that might inadvertently trip the two powers into a direct war. Intentionally or unintentionally downing a manned aircraft that could result in the death of its pilot risks escalation that neither party wants. By contrast, downing a $32 million unmanned aircraft might draw some negative repercussions, but is not likely to result in direct escalation. Thus, it seems likely that UAVs invite more aggressive actions and this might be the first of what could become a much more common behavior.

The MQ-9 Reaper and other large, fixed-wing drones like the MQ-1 Predator were designed in an era in which US air supremacy was assumed. They were developed after the end of the Cold War, at a time when no nation could challenge the United States militarily. These assumptions held in Afghanistan and Iraq, conflicts for which these platforms were optimally matched.

Facing little to no air or counterair threat, the United States designed these platforms to maximize their ability to loiter while carrying a limited payload. They did not have to invest in building an aircraft capable of conducting evasive maneuvers because such maneuvers were not necessary. This was a smart design choice in the context of the wars that the United States was engaged in after 9/11. Yet, when the US military transitioned from these wars to focus on near-peer threats and large-scale combat operations, it made no changes to the Reaper.

Piloted aircraft are designed to be capable of conducting evasive maneuvers and are armed with countermeasures, such as flares to protect against heat-seeking missiles, to keep their pilots alive. But designing planes with these capabilities results in trade-offs. For example, an F-16 that is capable of flying at Mach 2 and withstanding nine G’s of force must be built with an engine powerful enough and an airframe strong enough to conduct evasive maneuvers, but that leaves the aircraft with a limited loiter time.

For smaller, less expensive UAVs, it likely is not worth the engineering trade-off to create a more survivable aircraft. With a cheaper platform, a higher loss rate is acceptable. But the MQ-9 costs roughly half as much as an F-16, so it would seem prudent to engineer defensive measures into the platform. This would necessarily reduce the UAV’s loiter time, but what good is a long loiter time if the UAV does not survive long enough it leverage it?

This week has demonstrated that the MQ-9 Reaper may not be survivable in an environment characterized by large-scale combat operations. Admittedly, the United States was not at war, so it did not have an integrated air defense to support this UAV’s mission. Nevertheless, the Russian attack did demonstrate the aircraft’s vulnerability and there should be real debate about survivability and the role of these expensive platforms in a future conflict against a near-peer adversary. There is a decision to be made: Should the US military field more survivable UAVs—ones capable of conducting defensive maneuvers—or invest in smaller ones that it does not mind losing?

While much of the attention from this event has focused on the political ramifications, those discussions will soon pass. When they do, it will be critical that the lessons that this incident foretells about unmanned platforms, strategic decision-making, and large-scale combat operations do not pass with them. Several of those lessons were on display this week in just forty-two seconds of video.

Liam Collins, PhD, was the founding director of the Modern War Institute at West Point and served as a defense advisor to Ukraine from 2016 to 2018. He is a retired Special Forces colonel with deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, the Horn of Africa, and South America. He is coauthor of Understanding Urban Warfare.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense. · by Liam Collins · March 17, 2023

16. Beijing Looks to Get Economic Projects Up and Running in Myanmar

Is China exploiting the turmoil in Burma?


Hopefully the Chinese government can find an enlightened self-interest that takes into consideration decades of self-interest but centuries, in which a prosperous, stable and peaceful China and Myanmar can do business for the wellbeing of their peoples.

Guest Column | Beijing Looks to Get Economic Projects Up and Running in Myanmar · by The Irrawaddy · March 16, 2023

By Lin Htet Myat 16 March 2023

The general consensus on the status of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) in Myanmar two years after the military coup is that the projects are resuming—albeit at various paces—especially after the junta’s then foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, was invited to China in April 2022. During his trip, China reaffirmed its commitment to help safeguard Myanmar’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity “no matter how the situation changes”.

Amidst rising tension and geopolitical rivalry between the US and China in the Indo-Pacific region, China’s decision to engage fully with the regime—if not recognize it completely—seems to be driven by its strategic considerations and economic interests despite calls for non-recognition and non-engagement by anti-junta resistance forces as the CMEC and other regional initiatives such as Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) involving Myanmar will address China’s Malacca dilemma and give China access to the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia and South Asia.

To hedge against the rising anti-Chinese sentiments among the people of Myanmar due to its backing of the junta, known as the State Administration Council (SAC), the emerging pattern of CMEC projects in Myanmar, according to analysts, is that most of them will be implemented in periphery areas controlled by ethnic armed organizations (EROs), which are under Beijing’s sphere of influence and calmer than other areas, although Beijing is not likely to pour billions of dollars into these projects.

According to The Irrawaddy, there are three major Chinese infrastructure initiatives, although they are not limited to infrastructure alone, in Myanmar, which are LMC, CMEC & CMEC plus, and the New International Land Sea Trade Corridors. Projects planned and implemented under these three initiatives can be classified into three groups. The first one, LMC, consists mainly of small technical cooperation projects in sectors such as agriculture, culture, digital economy, science, education and public health, as proposed by China in six cooperation programs during the LMC meeting in July 2022, which was attended by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, although the LMC’s main agenda is to build transport infrastructure and cross-border economic cooperation among LMC countries (China, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam).

However, China is also supporting, under this LMC cooperation program, the upgrading of the strategically important Wan Pong Port in eastern Shan State’s Tachileik district and hydropower projects on the Salween River including the 7,000 megawatt Tasang Dam, which is in the planning stage as a joint venture between Chinese and Thai companies despite local protests against implementation. A feasibility study was conducted for upgrading the Wan Pong Port with the support of the LMC fund, according to the Chinese embassy.

Transportation and power sector projects dominate the second initiative, CMEC & CMEC plus. The Kyaukphyu SEZ, border trade zones, hydro, solar and gas-fired power projects and cross-border interconnection projects fall into this category. CMEC plus means inviting other LMC countries to cooperate in implementation of the CMEC. Chinese state-owned company CITIC had called tenders for legal services and hired Myanmar Survey Research (MSR) to conduct EIA/SIA in 2022. MSR has done local consultations in Kyaukphyu and some CSO activists launched protests, according to local sources.

At the opening ceremony of the 135-megawatt gas-fired power project in Kyaukphyu in October 2022, Chinese Ambassador Chen Hai said Chinese companies are implementing hydropower projects in Ye Ywa in Mandalay, Paung Laung in Naypyitaw and Tha Htay in Rakhine; natural gas-fired plants in Tha Hton in Mon State and Thaketa in Yangon; and a solar plant in Minbu in Magwe Region. The above-mentioned $180-million project was jointly developed by state-owned Power China Resources and local Supreme Group and Power China implemented solar projects (30-megawatt) in Magwe and Mandalay regions after the coup. Agreements on most of these projects and cross-border interconnections were signed under the since-ousted NLD government.

The third category of New International Land-Sea Trade Corridors will pass through Myanmar connecting with Southeast Asian countries and give China access to the Indian Ocean. However, successful implementation of this corridor depends a lot on the planned Muse-Mandalay railway project. The pre-feasibility phase has been completed for this project, which is a vital part of the China-Myanmar rail route connecting Yunnan province with Myanmar. According to the planned Y-shaped railway routes, the Muse-Mandalay railway will go south to Yangon and west to Kyaukphyu by the Mandalay-Kyaukphyu railway line. Construction of the Mandalay-Kyaukphyu Road and upgrading of the Mandalay-Muse Road are also under way on the Myanmar side. However, the investment amount for the Muse-Mandalay railway is estimated to be $9 billion; whether it is financially feasible or not is the big question given the current situation of civil war.

Among projects in these three groups, the most likely ones to get to the implementation phase are technical cooperation projects under the LMC. Over $27 million was disbursed for the 92 Mekong Lancang Cooperation (MLC in Myanmar) Special Fund projects in Myanmar according to a presentation by the deputy foreign minister of Myanmar to diplomats of LMC countries during their study visit on Feb. 16, 2023. These 92 projects are being implemented by the ministries of Home Affairs; Culture and Religious Affairs; Agriculture; Rural Development and Cooperatives; Environmental Conservation; and Science and Technology.

These technical cooperation projects are in line with the Chinese government’s new “Small is Beautiful” approach to the BRI. China’s development financing particularly for mega infrastructure projects has been declining significantly (and turned negative in 2019 and 2020) and more than 60 percent of the loans are in debt distress after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Instead of financing multi-billion dollar large infrastructure projects, Chinese state-owned companies and state institutions are now cooperating in security, surveillance and governance training in countries like Tanzania, Myanmar and the Solomon Islands. This change in BRI strategy is more cost-efficient for China and more effective.

The second-most-likely-to-be-implemented projects are in the power sector, although mega-dams such as Tasang and projects like the Mee Ling Gyaing LNG terminal are not likely to reach the implementation stage under current circumstances. The majority of these power projects started before the coup. The SAC revoked solar power bids which were called in 2020 by invoking force majeure and invited a new round of solar tenders in May 2021. The financial viability of these power projects and the SAC’s commitment to power purchase agreements are quite doubtful. A few weeks ago, investments by Chinese companies in wind power projects in Rakhine State was announced in state-owned media.

With respect to the third category, border trade zones at the China-Myanmar border can be implemented as bilateral trade has been increasing since the opening of the Chinese border and most of these are in areas controlled by EAOs which have close relations with China. However, it is unlikely we will see implementation of the Muse-Mandalay railway, which is vital for connecting with railroads in Yunnan province, given that China’s overseas lending is encountering debt distress in many debtor countries, and the domestic economic situation.

Given all this evidence, it is certain that China is diversifying risks by putting its investments into different baskets (SAC’s ministries, EAO-controlled and cross-border projects). And it seems to be cautious of financial risks and is likely to focus more on technical cooperation and small (20-40 megawatt solar) and medium-sized (over 100-200 megawatt hydro and gas-fired) power projects. China has a major economic and geostrategic interest in resuming the CMEC and other regional cooperation projects.

However, whatever the reasons for the resumption of investments while the SAC is waging war against its own people, the public perception of Chinese investments would be more negative than before. Nearly half of Myanmar’s external debt is owed to China, including a $1.4-billion loan for the Myingyan steel mill extended to a military-owned company and later transferred to the Ministry of Industry, which was closed down by the NLD government due to losses. Due to governance gaps identified in the country’s case-studies of regional initiative BRI Monitor, the Myanmar public considers China’s loans and investments not beneficial to the public, and as only enriching the military elites. In these case studies, common findings are lack of transparency and limited consultation with local communities, collusion with authorities in land confiscation, and corruption. Chinese state-owned companies formed partnerships with domestic state-owned companies and powerful elite-owned companies to implement large infrastructure projects without paying regard to the risks involved in them. According to Brad Parks of AIDDATA, two main features loom large in Chinese BRI projects all over the world, although not all are beneficial to the local communities. They are political capture and corruption. In Myanmar, these two features were prominent under the previous military junta, the SPDC. Lee Jones and Yizheng Zou wrote a case study of China Power International (CPI)’s Myitsone Dam in their paper “Rethinking the State Role of State-Owned Enterprises in China’s Rise”, saying that CPI had ignored the Chinese government’s regulations to gain profit and signed a framework agreement on the Irrawaddy Hydro Power Project which planned to build seven dams including Myitsone at an estimated cost of $20 billion (one third of Myanmar’s then GDP). These two features will become much more pronounced under junta rule. Therefore, the Chinese side needs to address governance gaps in their investment projects. Compounding this is the deteriorating rule of law and conflict situation in Myanmar. Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing himself admitted that only 50 percent of the territory is under the regime’s control.

The Chinese government, although it has decided to resume its CMEC and other projects in Myanmar, should give attention to proper risk assessments of mega infrastructure investments. It is not realistic to compartmentalize the country into different segments as mentioned above to diversify risks and assume that implementing CMEC and other Chinese investments in these areas such as Rakhine State will serve China’s strategic and economic interests, and they are risk free. There are a lot of risks associated with these projects, from financial, currency and political to force majeure. The spillovers from conflicts in other parts of the country, particularly mainland Burman areas, will definitely affect these projects. In addition, SAC’s mafia-style governance to maintain its hold on power at whatever costs to the country—by using drug-producing militias, thugs and gangsters—will have a huge impact on China and regional stability.

Hopefully the Chinese government can find an enlightened self-interest that takes into consideration decades of self-interest but centuries, in which a prosperous, stable and peaceful China and Myanmar can do business for the wellbeing of their peoples.

Lin Htet Myat analyzes public policy with a focus on economic governance and Public-Private Partnership Projects in Myanmar. · by The Irrawaddy · March 16, 2023

17. Virginia government tells elite high school to ‘cut ties’ with Chinese government

Sigh... I bet the spokesperson wishes she did not say this.


FCPS recently attempted to defend the arrangement between TJHSST and the Chinese entities. Julie Moult, the media relations manager for FCPS, told the Washington Examiner last week that TJHSST is "world-renowned" and that "it is not unusual for elite public schools, colleges, and universities in the U.S. to benefit from donations and grants from various sources, including international sources.”

Virginia government tells elite high school to ‘cut ties’ with Chinese government

by Jerry Dunleavy, Justice Department Reporter |

 March 16, 2023 11:44 AM

Washington Examiner · March 16, 2023

The Virginia Education Department directed Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) to “cut ties” with Chinese government-linked entities after it was revealed by the Washington Examiner that one of its elite high schools had collaborated with a Chinese military-linked group for years.

Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera sent a letter to FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid on Wednesday, pressing the school system on revelations that Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) and the TJHSST Partnership Fund have “accepted significant financial contributions from entities known to have connections to the Chinese Communist Party."


The Virginia-based school partnered with Tsinghua University High School, or TUHS, to assist it and China generally with adopting the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, and advanced lab research. TUHS is closely tied to Tsinghua University, considered by the Pentagon to be a Chinese military university.

Guidera told FCPS on Wednesday to "direct schools within your division to cut ties with CCP-linked partners” and said she had asked her department to “investigate the prevalence of such relationships between CCP-linked partners and local school divisions” across Virginia.

The Virginia education secretary said the revelations that “a Virginia high school accepted contributions from CCP-linked entities” were “concerning, and warrant a response regarding the nature of these funds.” Guidera told FCPS to say exactly how much money the TJ fund had received from the Chinese entities and how those funds were used, and whether any of the Chinese entities “provided any guidance, influence, or instructional materials related to content taught” at TJHSST.

Guidera also asked FCPS whether “any non-public student information” or “any instructional materials, class schedules, and individual performance or evaluation indicators” were provided to the Chinese entities.

The Virginia government inquiry comes following a Washington Examiner investigation into the saga.

The nonprofit organization Parents Defending Education (PDE) helped unearth the Chinese funding for TJHSST and had asked Virginia's Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin to investigate.

“We are grateful that Gov. Youngkin and Secretary Guidera have taken swift steps to investigate the scope of this scandal — not only at TJ, but throughout the Commonwealth,” PDE President Nicole Neily said. “This incident highlights the acute need for federal lawmakers to address this problem going forward, and to mandate disclosure of foreign funding to America’s K-12 schools.”

FCPS recently attempted to defend the arrangement between TJHSST and the Chinese entities. Julie Moult, the media relations manager for FCPS, told the Washington Examiner last week that TJHSST is "world-renowned" and that "it is not unusual for elite public schools, colleges, and universities in the U.S. to benefit from donations and grants from various sources, including international sources.”


FCPS did not respond to a request for comment about the new state-level investigation.

The TJPF received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Tsinghua University as part of its agreement with TUHS. The TJPF also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Ameson Education and Cultural Exchange Foundation, as well as the Chinese company Shirble, which were all led by men tied to China’s United Front Work Department, which manages Chinese government foreign influence campaigns.

Washington Examiner · March 16, 2023

18. Pentagon starts work on secretive experiment to aid long-range fires

Is it secret if it is in the media?

Pentagon starts work on secretive experiment to aid long-range fires · by Courtney Albon · March 16, 2023

WASHINGTON — With funding “finally” in hand, the Pentagon can start a series of advanced technology demonstrations for which its research and engineering team has planned during the last two years, according to the department’s top technology officer.

Heidi Shyu, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said this week that the Defense Department began to execute four of the projects in the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve’s first series of exercises — or sprint — which will focus on technologies that support long-range fires.

“We’re going to be off and running, demonstrating these prototypes in a contested environment,” Shyu said March 15 at the McAleese & Associates conference. “It can’t work just in a lab. It’s got to work in a real environment, and that’s exactly what we’re focused on.”

The Pentagon created the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve, or RDER, in 2021 to address high-need capability gaps across the military. Since then, Shyu and her office have culled through hundreds of project proposals from the services and crafted plans for three demonstration sprints. Following the long-range fires effort, the second sprint will focus on contested logistics and the third on base defense.

The department requested $687 million for RDER in its fiscal 2024 budget — nearly double the $358 million it asked for last year. Congress appropriated $272 million for the program in FY23 and $34 million the previous year for the effort, funding that Shyu said helped the department start the first series of demonstrations.

The growth in the FY24 spending request, which was released this week, is required to support the second and third sprints, she added.

The details of the sprints are classified, so it’s unclear what specific projects they’ll support. The first series includes demonstrations with the United Kingdom and Australia, Shyu said, adding that RDER sprints will take place as part of joint exercises, including U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s annual Northern Edge training event scheduled for May.

“We’re leveraging multiple experiments and exercises that are being conducted in different parts of the world,” she said.

About Courtney Albon

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.

19. Myanmar is a failing state, led by a junta fuelled by Russian arms, says UN rights envoy

Maybe Russia should recall its weapons for use in Putin's War in Ukraine? (note sarcasm).

Myanmar is a failing state, led by a junta fuelled by Russian arms, says UN rights envoy

Civilians are being killed by Russian weapons just like in Ukraine, says special rapporteur Tom Andrews in call for global action

The Guardian · by Rebecca Ratcliffe · March 15, 2023

Myanmar is a “failing state” and the crisis is getting exponentially worse, a UN special rapporteur for the country has warned, urging countries to adopt the same unified resolve that followed the invasion of Ukraine.

“The same types of weapons that are killing Ukrainians are killing people in Myanmar,” Tom Andrews, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, told the Guardian in an interview, citing the supply of Russian weapons to the junta since the coup two years ago. The junta relies heavily on aircraft from China and Russia, and has increasingly resorted to airstrikes to attempt to quell determined resistance forces.

The international response to Myanmar has been inadequate and some countries are continuing to enable the junta’s atrocities, Andrews said, calling for an arms embargo.

‘Monster from the sky’: two years on from coup, Myanmar junta increases airstrikes on civilians

Read more

“It is unspeakable what is happening and what is so incredibly frustrating is the fact that, as far as most of the world is concerned, this is not happening,” he said.

Instead, the world was “watching a train wreck”, Andrews said. “Myanmar is a failing state, it is in the process of failing and this is happening before our very eyes.”

He spoke ahead of a report, to be presented to the Human Rights Council next week, that details how people who have fled Myanmar face “the risk of arrest, detention, deportation, pushbacks at land and sea” as well as obstruction of their access to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR.

Myanmar was plunged into chaos in February 2021 when the military detained the country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and seized power. The coup has provoked widespread opposition, including both a peaceful civil disobedience movement and an armed resistance. Conflict has spiralled over the past two years, spreading across vast areas of the country, including regions that were once peaceful, where members of the public joined defence groups to fight back against the military.

The military - which analysis suggests has lost territory to the resistance despite having superior weaponry - has increasingly deployed airstrikes, including against schools and medical facilities, as well as scorched earth tactics, in an attempt to stop the resistance.

“As it becomes more dangerous for their troops to operate on the ground they have resorted to these gunships, fighter jets that are dropping bombs on villages and even IDP centres [camps for internally displaced people who have been forced to flee],” said Andrews.

Myanmar’s military has previously denied carrying out atrocities and says its operations target “terrorists”.

report by the special rapporteur last year said Russia, China, and Serbia were providing the junta with weapons. A recent investigation by Myanmar Witness also found the military was heavily reliant upon Russian or Chinese air assets for its attacks.

Andrews said he recently spoke to a father whose home was destroyed by the military. The father had taken his family to a centre for displaced people; only for it to be bombed. His two daughters, aged 12 and 15, were killed.

The junta launched airstrikes in 10 out of 14 of the country’s administrative divisions during the last six months of 2022, according to Myanmar Witness, with such attacks occurring on an almost daily basis.

Given its reliance on aircraft from China and Russia, the junta has sought to publicly align itself with both nations after the coup. The military, led by Min Aung Hlaing “fawns over Russia”, said Andrews. “He has flown to Moscow, he has praised Putin, they of course seek and secure weapons that they use to commit these atrocity crimes.”

However, Andrews said that other countries are capable of taking more robust strategic action to stop the junta from accessing resources. While many western governments have imposed sanctions, greater coordination was needed, he said.

An arms embargo, and measures to stop aviation fuel from reaching the military should also be adopted. He did not suggest sending weapons to support the resistance, but instead measures to stop weapons or resources from reaching the junta.

Andrews has also backed calls for the UN security council to pass a resolution that will refer the situation in Myanmar to the international criminal court.

Countries have a moral imperative to do “everything possible to squeeze from the junta the means through which they are continuing to attack their people”, said Andrews. It was also in the interests of the international community, especially neighbouring countries, to act, he said.

“Myanmar is a very significant country, it is a nation of 54 million people, located on a very important part of the world between India and China. Already you have seen the impact of the instability that’s there. Thousands and thousands of people every month are running for their lives every month over the border into the region.”

In a report to be presented to the Human Rights Council on 20 March, the special rapporteur said neighbouring governments had forcibly returned people – including military deserters and children – to Myanmar despite the risk of imprisonment, torture, or even execution.

According to the UN, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has soared, from 1 million before the coup, to an anticipated 17.6 million in 2023.

“The economy has imploded, you have half of people now living in poverty. You have the collapse of the education system with millions of kids not having the opportunity for an education. The health system has collapsed,” he said. “Things are bad and they are getting exponentially worse.”

Some in Myanmar, while welcoming the support Ukraine has received, have questioned why the international response to the atrocities in their country has differed so vastly, said Andrews. He said that he did not have the answer, adding that some nations were continuing to enable the junta’s crimes.

“There is a moral imperative to not turn our backs on people who are exhibiting extraordinary courage in fighting for their country and their future,” said Andrews.

The Guardian · by Rebecca Ratcliffe · March 15, 2023

20. Launch Under Attack: A Sword of Damocles


The United States currently maintains the option to launch under attack so that in the event of first strike by Russia, U.S. silo-based missiles could be launched before they are be destroyed. However, our simulations find that 100-200 silo-based missiles would survive, which would likely leave the United States with more warheads per retaliatory target than before the Russian strike. As such, the United States would suffer no meaningful loss of capability and should update its policy to eliminate the Launch Under Attack option in order to reduce risks of accidental nuclear war caused by technical glitches, human error, or cyber-attack. Revising this policy does not lock the United States into any particular posture: If technologies change, the policy could be reinstated. In the meantime, the United States should strive to deploy a more robust, less provocative, and less dangerous system that is better tuned to emerging threats. There has not yet been a false alarm that prompted an actual nuclear launch, but there’s no need to bet the entire world on the hope it will never happen.

Launch Under Attack: A Sword of Damocles - War on the Rocks

NATALIE MONTOYA AND R. SCOTT KEMP · by Natalie Montoya · March 17, 2023

On Jan. 10, 1984, a guidance computer in a U.S. Minuteman-III missile suffered a glitch. As a result, operators in the nearby command center received a message that the missile, aimed at Russia, was entering its launch sequence all on its own. It carried three nuclear warheads. Security forces scrambled to park a truck on top of the silo lid in an attempt to prevent the missile from launching. While the officer in charge later disclaimed that there was a real risk, the truck-parking procedure was in place because the risk of inadvertent launch was understood to be nonzero. This begs the question: Are Russian missiles guaranteed never to launch themselves? Are their missileers perfectly reliable? If the answer is no, then why does the United States maintain a policy that risks starting a nuclear war in the event something goes wrong?

Since the 1960s, the United States has deployed nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles in concrete silos. Barring an almost direct hit, the silo is designed to protect the missile from the crushing overpressure of nuclear explosions so that it can be used for retaliation. In addition to this physical protection, the United States maintains a posture it calls “launch under attack,” a doctrine that permits U.S. missiles to be loosed from their shelters after “multiple, independent sensors” detect an incoming attack from an adversary. The notional purpose of this policy is to provide extra assurance that U.S. silo-based missiles will not be destroyed, silo protections notwithstanding.

Launch under attack proponents argue that this posture improves strategic stability. We argue it does the opposite. A better description of the policy would be “launch on warning.” While multiple sensors are used, those sensors cannot discern whether the warheads on incoming missiles are armed. Because the posture forces a decision before these missiles land, it leaves the president somewhere between zero and 20 minutes to guess at whether the electronic warning messages received constitute an actual attack. This is scant time and an imperfect basis for definitively committing to a civilization-ending nuclear war.

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Such a gamble might be deemed necessary if the United States were at risk of losing its weapons from a first strike — a nuclear Pearl Harbor, as the policy’s proponents like to say — but this is not a reality. We argue from published data about missile accuracies and silo hardness that silos will work, and U.S. missiles will survive. In fact, because of a technical twist, the U.S. deterrent force may be stronger after the attack than before it, when measured as weapons available per target. This implies that launch under attack does not provide any additional deterrent against a first strike.

At the same time, there are many historical examples of early-warning systems generating false alarms or computer-generated messages pretending to be actual warnings. When combined with a launch-on-warning posture, these glitches create real risks of accidental war. It is thus not surprising that four-star generals George Lee Butler, Eugene E. Habiger, and James Cartwright — all of whom served as commander of U.S. Strategic Command — have argued forcefully that the United States should abandon its launch under attack policy. Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama called for severely reducing or eliminating the capacity, stating that it created unacceptable risks. As a candidate, President Bush also argued that the United States should not wait for Russia to reciprocate “because it is in our best interest and the best interest of the world” to act unilaterally. However, U.S. policy remains unchanged.

President Joe Biden’s 2022 Nuclear Posture Review released in October maintains the status quo, but it also confesses that the policy is not needed, stating: “…while the United States maintains the capability to launch nuclear forces under conditions of an ongoing nuclear attack, it does not rely on a launch-under-attack policy to ensure a credible response. Rather, U.S. nuclear forces are postured to withstand an initial attack.” Our simulations support this finding. Even under the most pessimistic assumptions, about 100-200 missiles are expected to survive in their silos — more than enough to inflict severe damage on an adversary.

Silo Survivability Simulations

The scenarios investigated in our work were based on the assertion made in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review that “To destroy U.S. ICBMs [silo-based missiles] on the ground, an adversary would need to launch a precisely coordinated attack with hundreds of high-yield and accurate warheads. This is an insurmountable challenge for any potential adversary today, with the exception of Russia.”

Following this view, we developed four attack scenarios in which Russia targets each of the 400 U.S. silos with one warhead, two warheads, three warheads, and finally all of its deployed ballistic missiles (in silos, on road-mobile launchers, and on submarines). We used probabilistic computer simulations of missile accuracy and blast effects to estimate the number of silos that would survive the attack, and ran 10,000 simulations for each attack scenario. (Details of missile accuracy and warhead yields are available in supplemental information). Most Russian ballistic missiles carry multiple warheads on independently targeted reentry vehicles, which imposes constraints on a Russian attack because there is a physical limit to how far apart the individual warheads carried by the same missile can be targeted. Our simulations target the individual warheads to optimize their performance.

The findings for each of the four attack profiles are shown in Figure 1. In each case, we assumed unrealistically high performance for Russia’s weapons. Our findings therefore overestimated the damage Russia could do to U.S. nuclear forces. Specifically, our calculations assumed Russian missiles would suffer no launch failures, duds, navigation errors, flight-control errors, or any other failure that would prevent them from reaching their targets. We also assumed zero fratricide, which is to say Russia’s nuclear detonations would not disrupt other incoming Russian warheads. The smallest attack left the United States with 205 ± 9 missiles, which is just over half of the existing force. The largest attack left 102 ± 9 missiles. In addition to these silo-based missiles, the United States would still retain about 1,000 nuclear warheads deployed on submarine-based missiles, and hundreds more to be delivered by bombers.

Figure 1: Results of simulated attacks on U.S. missile silos by Russian deployed ballistic missiles 1-, 2- and 3-warheads per silo, as well as all ballistic missiles (214 silos targeted at 3-to-1 and 186 silos targeted 4-to-1). Error bars are 95 percent confidence intervals.

Under the brinkmanship construct, the ability to deter Russia’s first strike rests on its assessment of both the probability that the United States would decide to retaliate as well as the damage inflicted by that retaliation. With respect to a decision to retaliate, adding launch under attack would not change anything. If the attack were genuine, the United States would respond. Launch under attack does make a decision to use weapons more probable, but only for the subset of cases where the early warning system gave a false alarm — exactly those cases where such a decision would be in error.

That leaves the question of whether the retaliation that the United States could inflict after riding out an attack is comparable to that under launch under attack. Leaving aside U.S. submarines, the number of silo-based missiles remaining would in all cases be sufficient to execute the planned catastrophic damage to Russia’s war-making ability.

First, consider the case where the United States launched all of its silo-based missiles on warning of an incoming, large-scale attack. The Russian arsenal accounts for 138 “counterforce” targets (126 silos, seven mobile missile bases, three nuclear bomber bases, and two nuclear missile submarine bases). To compensate for imperfect accuracy and reliability, each aim point would likely be covered by multiple warheads, as evidenced by declassified Cold War plans. Geographically large targets, like bases, often have multiple aim points. Assuming two warheads per aim point, and that bases have two aim points each while silos have just one, the counterforce targets alone require 300 of the 400 available U.S. silo-based missiles. This would leave 100 weapons for the remaining non-missile counterforce targets, leadership targets, and strategic elements of Russia’s war-making capability such as industry.

Now consider the case after an all-out Russian attack in which the United States did not launch its missile on warning. The 300 counter-missile targets are no longer meaningful targets, since Russia used those weapons in its attack. The other types of targets remain, but now the United States can be expected to have, in the worst case, 102 warheads for these targets where the initial plan designated 100. The situation for the United States is nearly the same regardless of whether the land-based missiles were launched on warning of an incoming attack or not. The remaining U.S. land-based missile force would therefore be adequate to perform its original mission. Moreover, the hundreds of additional submarine- and bomber-based weapons would continue to provide an excellent deterrent against other adversaries or any rebuilt Russian force.

The Counterargument

Given these findings — which we assume are known to military planners — as well as longstanding criticism from former presidents and Strategic Command commanders, the perpetuation of the launch under attack option is curious. The last five Nuclear Posture Reviews have defended the policy using largely identical language:

From the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review: “U.S. forces are not on ‘hair trigger’ alert and rigorous safeguards exist to ensure the highest levels of nuclear weapons safety, security, reliability, and command and control. Multiple, stringent procedural and technical safeguards are in place to guard against U.S. accidental and unauthorized launch. ”
20 years later, the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review provides basically the same defense: “U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are not on ‘hair trigger’ alert. These forces are on day-to-day alert, a posture that contributes to strategic stability. Forces on day-to-day alert are subject to multiple layers of control, and the United States maintains rigorous procedural and technical safeguards to prevent misinformed, accidental, or unauthorized launch.”

Unfortunately, these defenses are naive to the kinds of failures that can emerge in complex systems.

The United States uses “dual phenomenology” to assess missile launches prior to launching a retaliatory strike. As the name suggests, it depends on two independent sensor systems to provide warning of incoming ballistic missiles: The Space Based-Infrared System satellites detect missile launches, and the Upgraded Early Warning Radars track incoming missiles. To fulfill the requirements of dual phenomenology, an incoming missile must be detected by both satellite and radar. While this is a useful safeguard, it does not provide any assurance that the incoming missile carries a nuclear weapon or that those weapons are armed. For instance, missile flight tests are conducted unarmed, and Russia has conducted flight tests from Dombarovsky, which also hosts some of Russia’s silo-based missile forces. An accidental launch from that field may be an unarmed missile. There are other scenarios as well.

Once sensor information is received and evaluated, the alert is advanced up the chain of command through multiple “conferences” until it reaches the president. These conferences are intended to avoid mistakes. However, the whole process leaves only a few minutes to make critical decisions. The president would have at most 20 minutes for incoming land-based missiles and as little as zero minutes for Russian submarine-based missiles based near the United States to decide whether to retaliate. Particularly for Russia’s submarine-based missiles, this timeline is extremely tight, which puts immense pressure on all involved — all without knowing the intent, character, or payload of the incoming missiles. Even if these procedures constitute “rigorous procedural and technical safeguards,” the fact remains that sensors provide unacceptably incomplete information on which to base nuclear war.

Perhaps the biggest risk arises from nonrandom errors, like the one that occurred on Nov. 9, 1979, when North American Aerospace Defense Command received sensor warnings of incoming missiles. The early-warning system showed 250 and then 2,200 missiles incoming from the Soviet Union. The problem was not a technical malfunction: Rather, a training tape was accidentally left in place, and it simulated the information needed to confirm that the launches were authentic.

In addition to human error, there may be common-mode technical failures in electronics or software. Depending on where these occur, they may give the appearance of detections confirmed by redundant sensor systems. For example, on June 3, 1980, a circuit chip failure caused North American Aerospace Defense Command screens to display 200 incoming missiles rather than 000. A similar glitch was responsible for triggering the apparent self-launch of a U.S. missile mentioned at the start of this article.

The only way to be confident that the United States is being attacked with a nuclear weapon is to wait until sensors detect an actual detonation. Unpleasant as that may seem, it bears remembering that whether the United States launches its retaliation before or after the detonation does not change the number of detonations over U.S. soil. Launch under attack cannot reduce U.S. causalities, but it could increase them by unintentionally initiating a nuclear war that didn’t exist. With the stakes so high and missile survivability already adequate, it would be prudent to wait until detonations are confirmed.

A Technical Imperative?

Prior to his becoming Secretary of Defense in 2017, Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis argued that the silo-based missiles were not needed because U.S. submarines were undetectable and would therefore always be capable of retaliation. Proponents of launch under attack now argue that advances in technology could make the submarines at sea vulnerable to attack. While it is true that vulnerable submarines could undermine America’s retaliatory capability, we have shown here that retaliation does not need to hinge on the availability of submarines: Plenty of silo-based missiles will survive. Moreover, there is no evidence that submarines are becoming vulnerable, but if they did, and if Russian forces improved to such a point that enough U.S. silo-based missiles were genuinely at risk, then the Lunch Under Attack policy could always be reinstated.

By contrast, the technical landscape that is actually emerging today suggests it might be time to look beyond Launch Under Attack, because it provides insufficient protection. Increasingly, U.S. adversaries are fielding delivery vehicles that are undetectable by the current suite of sensors, namely cruise missiles and hypersonic vehicles. Without the ability to detect and track all possible delivery vehicles, assured retaliation will require the use of other sources of intelligence beyond the sensors used for dual phenomenology. Thus, the logic of launch on warning, and the technical systems propping up that policy, provides a veil of strong protection but actually falls short of what is now needed.

Similarly, over-reliance on this system leaves the United States under-prepared for detection failures. For example, anti-satellite weapons, including simple ground-based lasers, could disable early-warning satellites. Without satellite detection, the requirements of dual phenomenology could not be fulfilled. It is unclear what would happen at this point. Would the launch under attack policy degenerate to a one-phenomenon launch policy? In that situation, it would take longer for incoming missiles to come within range of the radars, so decision makers would have even less time to evaluate missile threats, on top of needing to assess whether the blinded sensors were caused by a technical malfunction, a hostile act by the attacker, or a third party aiming to introduce confusion. Instead of holding fast to the idea of immediate launch, it is far sounder to build a nuclear capability that can survive a first strike and for which decision-makers are not pressed to make decisions with incomplete information. Fortunately, that condition already exists today, and such a launch policy should be implemented now.

Bottom Line

The United States currently maintains the option to launch under attack so that in the event of first strike by Russia, U.S. silo-based missiles could be launched before they are be destroyed. However, our simulations find that 100-200 silo-based missiles would survive, which would likely leave the United States with more warheads per retaliatory target than before the Russian strike. As such, the United States would suffer no meaningful loss of capability and should update its policy to eliminate the Launch Under Attack option in order to reduce risks of accidental nuclear war caused by technical glitches, human error, or cyber-attack. Revising this policy does not lock the United States into any particular posture: If technologies change, the policy could be reinstated. In the meantime, the United States should strive to deploy a more robust, less provocative, and less dangerous system that is better tuned to emerging threats. There has not yet been a false alarm that prompted an actual nuclear launch, but there’s no need to bet the entire world on the hope it will never happen.

Become a Member

Natalie Montoya is a technical associate at the Laboratory for Nuclear Security and Policy in the Department of Nuclear Science & Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Previously, Natalie was the 2021–2022 James C. Gaither Junior Fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

R. Scott Kemp is associate professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director of the Laboratory for Nuclear Security and Policy.

Image: United States Air Force

Commentary · by Natalie Montoya · March 17, 2023

21. Military Chief Says US Will Defend Indo-Pacific Freedoms

Military Chief Says US Will Defend Indo-Pacific Freedoms

U.S. doesn’t seek conflict or to contain China INDOPACOM chief Aquilino said, but would take action to support the region against bullying. · by Associated Press · March 17, 2023


United States Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. John Aquilino said Thursday that Washington does not seek to contain China, nor seek conflicts in the region, but it would take action to support the region against coercion and bullying by authoritarian regimes.

Speaking at a lecture in Singapore, Aquilino said the era of globalization has evolved into one of “renewed great power competition” where the security environment influences economics, trade and investment.

“My concern is that this foundation of this rules-based international order … is under direct assault by authoritarian regimes,” he said, without naming any nations, though he noted recent actions by China to “grab a foothold” in Solomon Islands.

A security alliance between China and Solomon Islands a year ago sent shudders throughout the South Pacific, with many worried it could set off a large-scale military buildup.

Aquilino also addressed China’s protests over U.S. vessels and aircraft in the Taiwan Strait, where Beijing has renewed its threats against Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory to be brought under its control by force if necessary.

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While the United States is not seeking conflicts nor supporting Taiwan’s independence, he said the military will continue to “fly, sail and operate” in the region to uphold the navigational rights and freedom of all nations.

“Revisionist powers seek to disrupt and displace the current system in ways that benefit themselves, and at the expense of all others. They use coercion, intimidation to achieve their objectives and they justify their action under a theory of ‘might equals right,'” he said.

“They make illegal excessive territorial claims not based on anything other than revisionist history. They empower law enforcement entities to harass nations operating legally within their own exclusive economic zones. They break formal commitments. They ignore international legal rulings. They avoid requirements delivered under the U.N. Charter,” he said, in a reference to aggressive Chinese actions in the South China Sea and rising Chinese incursions into Taiwanese air defense zones.

Aquilino said China has a role to play in the world if it adheres to the rules-based order, especially in regards to North Korea.

In 2022 alone, Pyongyang launched 70 missiles, which Aquilino called the most provocative action in history. He noted that earlier Thursday, North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile hours before the leaders of South Korea and Japan were to meet at a Tokyo summit.

Pyongyang’s actions have threatened South Korea and Japan and it has “developed the capabilities to threaten the United States as well,” he said.

“It is destabilizing, it’s unpredictable, it’s continuing, it’s not slowing down. The potential for the People’s Republic of China to help to dissuade the DPRK from executing these events would be helpful,” Aquilino added, using the official names of China and North Korea. · by Associated Press · March 17, 2023

22. The Surprising Success of U.S. Military Aid to Ukraine


U.S. security assistance works best when the leaders of countries that receive such help are highly motivated to strengthen their militaries. The simmering war in eastern Ukraine between 2014 and early 2022 was not enough to compel the Ukrainian leadership to implement crucial changes in its security sector. It took the largest war on European soil since World War II to persuade Kyiv to embrace reform and maximize the value of U.S. assistance. Of course, Ukrainians are responsible for coming up with and pursuing many reforms and innovations since the 2022 invasion. But weapons and ammunition from Western countries were essential to Ukraine’s ability to sustain the fight against Russia. Ukraine’s success does not demonstrate that U.S. security assistance works writ large but, rather, that U.S. security assistance is most useful in the cases when those receiving the aid are driven to do whatever it takes to strengthen their forces.

The Surprising Success of U.S. Military Aid to Ukraine

Kyiv’s Determination Has Improved Washington’s Spotty Track Record

By Polina Beliakova and Rachel Tecott Metz

March 17, 2023

Foreign Affairs · by Polina Beliakova and Rachel Tecott Metz · March 17, 2023

Ukraine’s military has defied expectations in its war with Russia, and many analysts attribute its success to U.S. help. But the mere fact of receiving aid is no guarantee of a positive outcome. After all, the United States provides security assistance to many countries with mixed results. Billions of dollars in aid and decades of training, advising, and institution building did not stop the armies of Afghanistan and Iraq from collapsing. Smaller scale efforts around the world have produced so-called Fabergé egg armies, militaries that are expensive to build but easy to crack.

One of the main reasons security assistance has succeeded in buttressing the Ukrainian war effort but failed elsewhere has to do with the motivation of Ukraine’s leadership. If leaders are not prepared to prioritize institutional reforms that will strengthen their militaries, then foreign support will be of little consequence. Ukraine’s experience is telling. Between 2014 and early 2022, Ukrainian officials were glad to receive U.S. help, and they followed U.S. advice in making changes that improved the effectiveness of Ukrainian forces. But they did not embrace institutional reforms that threatened the political or personal interests of powerful constituencies.

That changed in February 2022, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion. The attack galvanized Ukraine’s leadership to discard parochial concerns and implement a series of reforms and battlefield innovations that help account for the country’s tremendous performance in the war. At the same time, the redoubled motivation of Ukrainian leaders has simplified the challenge of delivering the country security assistance. Ukrainian leaders no longer need to be persuaded by U.S. advisers. They are motivated enough to implement reforms on their own. What Ukraine needs now from the United States to beat back the Russian invasion is weapons and ammunition. This, the United States has delivered—to extraordinary battlefield effect.


In March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and launched an incursion into eastern Ukraine. In response, Western governments increased security assistance to Kyiv. The United States committed approximately $2 billion to military training and security sector reform between 2014 and 2022. Ukrainian leaders were motivated enough by Russia’s aggression to implement some U.S. recommendations, particularly in training, exercise, and arming units—areas where Kyiv had considerable room for improvement. But U.S. efforts to encourage reforms in Ukrainian defense institutions fell short because they rubbed up against the interests of the defense establishment.

For instance, U.S. military instructors trained the new Ukrainian Special Operation Forces in clandestine operations behind enemy lines, sabotage, and informational-psychological warfare. At the training center in Yavoriv, U.S. and other Western military instructors trained Ukrainian troops in combat tactics, battlefield medicine, and dismantling improvised explosive devices. With U.S. encouragement, Ukraine reformed its noncommissioned officers corps, improving methods of personnel management. Ukrainian leaders were receptive to these efforts because they boosted battlefield effectiveness without threatening existing institutional interests.

But when U.S. advisers recommended more costly security sector reforms, Ukrainian leaders made only cosmetic changes. Kyiv saw reforming the political institutions and processes in the security sector as burdensome and less pressing than progress at the tactical level. Ukrainian officials dawdled on implementing U.S.-proposed reforms to increase civilian control of the military, expand professional military education, and clean up the corrupt defense procurement system. For instance, despite the early successes in strengthening civilian oversight in the Ministry of Defense, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appointed a career military officer, General Andrii Taran, as defense minister, and Taran promptly squashed such initiatives.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Defense, led by Taran, and the Ministry of Strategic Industries dragged their feet in reforming procurement practices and failed to place orders for crucial weapons. For example, Ukrainian manufacturers make an excellent antitank weapon, the Stuhna-P, but the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense did not order enough of them in 2021. When Russia invaded in February 2022, Ukraine had to repurpose Stuhnas it had manufactured for Middle Eastern clients. Ukrainians fought Russians with Ukrainian weapons operating on Arabic interfaces. More proactive reforms in civilian control and defense procurement would have ensured Kyiv’s readiness for a larger war.


In February 2022, Russia launched a full-scale war against Ukraine. Confronted with this immediate, existential threat, Kyiv focused on a single priority: maximizing the effectiveness of its forces fighting against Russia. Doing so required both reforming the defense institutions and increasing security cooperation with the West. Kyiv was desperate for Western ammunition and weapons, which the United States has delivered.

Weapons and training provided by the United States and other Western countries have been vital for translating Ukraine’s willingness to fight into battlefield success. The United States has provided much-needed antitank weapons, howitzers, High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), antiship missiles, air-defense capabilities, and infantry fighting vehicles and tanks. Ukraine’s armed forces have quickly learned to use new weapon systems and have liberated thousands of Ukrainian civilians from Russian occupation in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Kherson oblasts.

Donating money to Ukraine’s armed forces has become a daily routine for thousands of Ukrainians.

An existential threat from Russia did what U.S. encouragement alone could not––incentivized Kyiv to tackle corruption in defense procurement. In January 2023, Ukrainian media alleged that the Ministry of Defense was about to overpay suppliers for food for Ukrainian troops. The scandal resulted in hearings at the Ukrainian parliament, investigations, and the partial declassification of the defense procurement budget––a bold step toward transparency that is all the more striking in the midst of an ongoing war. In addition, the Ministry of Defense fired the head of the procurement department while the deputy minister of defense resigned voluntarily. In a separate case, the Security Service of Ukraine detained the president of a leading defense manufacturer for alleged corruption. Facing an existential threat, Ukrainian authorities and the public became increasingly intolerant of the endemic corruption that has plagued the country since its independence in 1991.

Ukraine has also implemented reforms that had nothing to do with U.S. security assistance. Since 2014, the Ukrainian government has developed a new legal basis and institutional capacity for mobilizing, training, and deploying its reserve corps—the result of hard work by Ukrainian civil society, government, and the military. Similarly, Ukrainian civil society has played a tremendous role in delivering the necessary equipment and services to the frontline. For instance, the Come Back Alive foundation, a nonprofit that aims to equip Ukrainian forces, improved Ukraine’s procurement process—and bypassed the Ministry of Defense’s bureaucracy—by crowdfunding the purchase of communication devices, laptops, generators, telescopic sights, and advanced drones for combat and reconnaissance. Hospitallers, a volunteer paramedic organization, has trained hundreds of paramedics to work on the frontlines and evacuated thousands of wounded combatants and civilians since 2014. Supporting Ukraine’s armed forces with donations has become a daily routine for thousands of Ukrainian citizens and businesses. Since February 2022, Come Back Alive has received almost $163.5 million, 80 percent of which has come from individual donations under $27. Although these achievements align with the goals of U.S. security assistance, they cannot be attributed to Western influence.


U.S. security assistance works best when the leaders of countries that receive such help are highly motivated to strengthen their militaries. The simmering war in eastern Ukraine between 2014 and early 2022 was not enough to compel the Ukrainian leadership to implement crucial changes in its security sector. It took the largest war on European soil since World War II to persuade Kyiv to embrace reform and maximize the value of U.S. assistance. Of course, Ukrainians are responsible for coming up with and pursuing many reforms and innovations since the 2022 invasion. But weapons and ammunition from Western countries were essential to Ukraine’s ability to sustain the fight against Russia. Ukraine’s success does not demonstrate that U.S. security assistance works writ large but, rather, that U.S. security assistance is most useful in the cases when those receiving the aid are driven to do whatever it takes to strengthen their forces.

  • POLINA BELIAKOVA is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, Dartmouth College.
  • RACHEL TECOTT METZ is an Assistant Professor at the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed here are her own and do not reflect the official positions of the Naval War College, the Department of the Navy, or the Department of Defense.

Foreign Affairs · by Polina Beliakova and Rachel Tecott Metz · March 17, 2023

De Oppresso Liber,

David Maxwell

Vice President, Center for Asia Pacific Strategy

Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Senior Fellow, Global Peace Foundation

Editor, Small Wars Journal

Twitter: @davidmaxwell161

Phone: 202-573-8647


De Oppresso Liber,
David Maxwell
Vice President, Center for Asia Pacific Strategy
Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Senior Fellow, Global Peace Foundation
Editor, Small Wars Journal
Twitter: @davidmaxwell161
Phone: 202-573-8647

If you do not read anything else in the 2017 National Security Strategy read this on page 14:

"A democracy is only as resilient as its people. An informed and engaged citizenry is the fundamental requirement for a free and resilient nation. For generations, our society has protected free press, free speech, and free thought. Today, actors such as Russia are using information tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies. Adversaries target media, political processes, financial networks, and personal data. The American public and private sectors must recognize this and work together to defend our way of life. No external threat can be allowed to shake our shared commitment to our values, undermine our system of government, or divide our Nation."
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