Report to Congress on Afghanistan and U.S. Policy

The following is the Dec. 1, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Afghanistan: Background and U.S. Policy in Brief. From the report The aftershocks of Afghanistan’s watershed year of 2021 continue to reverberate within Afghanistan, throughout its region, and in the United States. In 2021, U.S. and international forces departed after nearly two decades of operations […]

The following is the Dec. 1, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Afghanistan: Background and U.S. Policy in Brief.

From the report

The aftershocks of Afghanistan’s watershed year of 2021 continue to reverberate within Afghanistan, throughout its region, and in the United States. In 2021, U.S. and international forces departed after nearly two decades of operations in Afghanistan; the internationally backed Afghan government and its military forces collapsed; and the Taliban, a Sunni Islamist extremist group that formerly ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, retook power. Afghans and Americans alike, including Members of Congress and other U.S. policymakers, continue to grapple with the reality of the Taliban’s renewed rule.

The Taliban government is dominated by former officials from the Taliban’s prior rule or longtime loyalists, indicating that the Taliban have prioritized internal cohesion over outreach to other segments of Afghan society or similar gestures advocated by the United States and other countries. Some signs of dissension in the group’s ranks along various lines have emerged, though the Taliban have a history of effectively managing internal disputes. Some Afghans have sought to advocate for their rights and express opposition to the Taliban in nonviolent demonstrations, which the Taliban have monitored and sometimes violently dispersed. Other anti-Taliban Afghans have taken up arms against the Taliban, claiming guerilla-style attacks against Taliban forces and calling for international assistance, and the regional Islamic State affiliate has conducted attacks against both Taliban forces and Afghan civilians.

Some Members of Congress have focused on a number of impacts of the Taliban’s renewed rule on U.S. interests:

  • Counterterrorism. The Taliban takeover has had different impacts on the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, historic Taliban adversaries and partners, respectively. With no U.S. military forces based in Afghanistan or neighboring states, the United States is pursuing an “over-the-horizon” counterterrorism approach.
  • Women and Girls. Taliban actions have been detrimental for the status of women and girls in Afghanistan, a longtime U.S. policy concern, with girls prohibited from attending school at the secondary level and women’s roles drastically curtailed.
  • Relocating U.S. Partners. Some Members of Congress have closely followed ongoing U.S. efforts to relocate remaining U.S. citizens, as well as the tens of thousands of Afghans who worked for U.S. efforts and seek to leave the country.

Some Members have also expressed concern about dire humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan has faced intersecting and overwhelming humanitarian and economic crises, a result of challenges both preexisting (such as natural disasters and Afghanistan’s weak economic base) and new (such as the cut-off of international development assistance, U.S. sanctions on the Taliban, and the U.S. hold on Afghan central bank assets). In response, the Biden Administration has provided over $1 billion in humanitarian assistance, issued general licenses authorizing various humanitarian and commercial transactions, and established a Switzerland-based “Afghan Fund” to disburse some of Afghanistan’s central bank assets to support the Afghan economy.

Congressional oversight of U.S. Afghanistan policy has featured numerous hearings, past and ongoing investigations, and the creation of the Afghanistan War Commission. Congress has also imposed a variety of reporting requirements to monitor dynamics in Afghanistan and their implications for U.S. policy. Going forward, Congress may consider further reporting requirements, resources, or investigative efforts related to various U.S. interests as it evaluates the Biden Administration’s budget request and defense authorization measures. Future reports from the congressionally created Afghanistan War Commission and other bodies may offer lessons for legislators

Congressional action is likely to be influenced, and likely constrained, by a lack of reliable information about events in Afghanistan and the historical legacy of U.S. conflict with the Taliban. Perhaps more challengingly, the Biden Administration and many in Congress seek to ameliorate humanitarian and economic conditions in Afghanistan, but without taking any action that boosts the Taliban’s position or that may be perceived as doing so. Pursuing these policies in tandem may prove complicated given the Taliban’s evident aversion to make compromises in response to international pressure and its apparent willingness to accept considerable humanitarian and economic suffering as the price of that uncompromising stance.

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Tough Military Recruiting Environment is About Much More than Low Unemployment, Experts Say

When it comes to military recruiting, economist Beth Asch is an optimist. Asch has been studying military recruiting for almost 40 years, during which she has seen good recruiting years and bad ones. Each time a new challenge arises, it’s treated like a crisis, she said during a Heritage Foundation discussion Tuesday. In the 1990s, […]

Recruits with the 64th Annual Recruit Cardinal Division stand at attention during a pass-in-review graduation ceremony inside Midway Ceremonial Drill Hall at Recruit Training Command, Nov. 4, 2022. US Navy Photo

When it comes to military recruiting, economist Beth Asch is an optimist. Asch has been studying military recruiting for almost 40 years, during which she has seen good recruiting years and bad ones.

Each time a new challenge arises, it’s treated like a crisis, she said during a Heritage Foundation discussion Tuesday. In the 1990s, recruiting was affected by the dot com boom when more people were being hired by the growing tech industry, Asch said in a November interview with USNI News. In 2005, a stronger economy and the war in Iraq led to less interest in joining the services.

But history shows that recruiting challenges can be overcome, Asch said, suggesting that the current recruiting issues are no different.

“Invariably, it can take a while,” she said. “It can take a lot of resources, it will involve mistakes, and it can be quite costly. And that has to be reckoned with but I am optimistic that things will get back on track. I mean they have to.”

Top military leaders have suggested that the strong job market might be the cause for the current recruiting woes, suggesting it can be difficult to attract talent who also have opportunities to work for large box stores like Amazon.

But a lack of recruits eligible to serve and decreased trust in the military, instead of a strong job market, are likely the leading factors for recruitment troubles, the top Marine Corps officer suggested in a November article.

Marine Corps recruits with Bravo Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, squat with a log during log drills at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Nov. 28, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

“The Marine Corps is struggling to recruit talented young Americans in a competitive economy and from a society increasingly distant from the military,” Marine Corps commandant Gen. David Berger wrote in a piece for Naval Institute’s Proceedings. “And we are not alone; all the services are experiencing similar challenges. This concerns me both as the Commandant and as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, because the Marine Corps relies on the other services, and they rely on us, across a web of interdependencies.”

The Marine Corps met its Fiscal Year 2022 recruiting goals, bringing on 33,210 enlisted active-duty Marines. But Berger, and other military leaders, have raised concerns that the branches won’t continue to meet those goals.

The Navy, which just barely met its recruitment goals in FY 2022, raised its age limit for new recruits last month as one way to increase the pool for eligibility. The sea service is also offering enlistment bonuses, a tactic the Army and Air Force also use.

A low unemployment rate in the United States has been one of the most cited reasons for the more difficult recruitment environment, but Berger argues that while it might be a contributing factor, it deserves less of the blame.

“Yet, some of our deepest challenges are chronic, indicating that the strength of the economy may be less critical than commonly thought,” Berger wrote. “For example, the Marine Corps has struggled—in good economic times and bad—to produce and retain an adequate number of pilots, even for the newest, most modern aircraft.”

The commandant, in his article, also evaluates the shrinking pool of eligible candidates. Most recent numbers suggest that 77 percent of Americans between the ages of 17 and 21 are not eligible to serve in the military, retired Rear Adm. Robert Besal, who works with advocacy group Mission Readiness, told USNI News.

The top three reasons for ineligibility are failure to pass entrance exams, health concerns and prior criminal activity, including drug abuse. One of the main health concerns is childhood obesity, which Besal said counts for 30 percent of those who are ineligible.

Mission Readiness is attempting to fix the pool of eligibility by trying to get funding for educational and nutrition programs, Besal said, but that requires getting congressional and other legislative officials to think in the long term.

Programs that would help childhood obesity and failure to pass entrance exams should start with children as young as three years old, Besal said. But the payoff will not be for another 15 years, when that child becomes eligible for service.

Gen. David H. Berger makes remarks during the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific change of command ceremony on Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Sept. 7, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

But while Mission Readiness looks at what can be done for the future, there are limited options for the services right now to fix the ineligibility problem, Berger wrote.

“Military leaders have few levers to pull to increase the number of Americans eligible for service, and the biggest and most immediate lever—lowering standards—is not one military leaders or most Americans want,” he wrote. “To effect enduring change requires understanding and addressing the declining propensity to serve.”

The economy can contribute to recruitment challenges, but it is a cyclical factor, Asch, who is a senior economist at RAND, told USNI News

Historically, when there is low employment, it’s harder for the military to recruit, she said in an interview Nov. 2. This could be the case for the military right now, but it’s all speculation, she said.

“I don’t think it’s an either-or situation,” Asch said. “I think it’s a matter of understanding the array of factors that could be having an effect and then teasing out their relative importance and for what particular groups, under what circumstances.”

Berger also points out that recruitment challenges persist even when the unemployment rate is higher, which generally is associated with better recruiting, suggesting that the economy, while a factor, is not the sole cause for recruiting woes.

Berger pointed to a lack of trust in the military, a factor that Besal also highlighted.
The military used to be one of the most trusted institutions, Besal said.

“There’s been, I don’t want to just call them all scandals, but there’s been some missteps whether in the active force, whether individual or collective, and some things that should have never occurred,” Besal said. “And so I think that’s something that really will have to take a strain inside the service to straighten that up. Because I think that you’re gonna get fewer people listening to you when you make this plea.”

People have inaccurate views about the military, which does not help the trust issue, Asch said. As an example, people do not always know the difference between the branches of the military or what it means to be a noncommissioned officer.

“People have a lot of ignorance, and that’s increased,” she said.

That ignorance is similar between those who enlist and those who do not, but the difference is that those who choose military service have positive values associated with the military.

Trust in the military is a new problem, but it will take more resear

A recruit embraces with a family member as he is picked up for Recruit Training Command’s (RTC) Thanksgiving Adopt-A-Sailor program. US Navy Photo

In Berger’s piece, he points to a shrinking pool of people who have familial ties to the services.

“A growing percentage of those serving in uniform have a close relative who also served (or is currently serving),” Berger wrote. “In other words, those who are most familiar with the military are most likely to enlist.”

This does play out in recruiting, Asch said, where many recruits do have a family connection.

However, this could hurt the military, as the Military Family Advisory Network’s most recent survey found that military members are increasingly less likely to recommend a military career to a family member.

There was an 11 percent drop between 2019 and 2021 among family members who would recommend service, said Shannon Razsadin, president and executive director of the Military Family Advisory Network.

Approximately 62.9 percent of military participants surveyed by Military Family Advocacy Network would recommend military service to family members, according to the 2021 annual survey. That’s down from 74.5 percent in 2019.

The drop is attributed to low pay, leadership challenges, frequent moves that make it difficult on families, and military benefits that no longer outweigh the challenges that come with service, Razsadin said.

But Berger points out that the pool of eligible military recruits could shrink to those with a family connection if the military does not do more to reach out to those unfamiliar with the military, and the family pool could be shrinking as well.

“Definitely you’re pulling from a smaller pool, because when you had the draft, you know, everyone had the requirement of service,” Razsadin said. “And so these are people who are choosing to make the sacrifices, they’re choosing to serve. And so, of course, it’s gonna be a different percentage than if you had the draft and mandatory service requirements.”

Defense Primer: Ballistic Missile Defense

The following is the Nov. 23, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Defense Primer: Ballistic Missile Defense. From the report The United States has been developing and deploying ballistic missile defenses (BMD) to defend against enemy missiles continuously since the late 1940s. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the United States deployed a limited nuclear-tipped […]

The following is the Nov. 23, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Defense Primer: Ballistic Missile Defense.

From the report

The United States has been developing and deploying ballistic missile defenses (BMD) to defend against enemy missiles continuously since the late 1940s. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the United States deployed a limited nuclear-tipped BMD system to protect a portion of its U.S. land-based nuclear ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) force in order to preserve a strategic deterrent against a Soviet nuclear attack on the Homeland. That system became active in 1975 but shut down in 1976 because of concerns over cost and effectiveness. In the FY1975 budget, the Army began funding research into hit-to-kill or kinetic energy interceptors as an alternative—the type of interceptor technology that dominates U.S. BMD systems today.

In 1983, President Reagan announced an enhanced effort for BMD. Since the start of the Reagan initiative in 1985, BMD has been a key national security interest in Congress, which has appropriated well over $200 billion for a broad range of BMD research and development programs and deployment of BMD systems here and abroad.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is charged with the mission to develop, test, and field an integrated, layered, BMD system (BMDS) to defend the United States, U.S. deployed forces, and U.S. allies and partners against ballistic missiles of all ranges and in all phases of flight. The FY2023 budget request is $24.7 billion for missile defense, $9.6 billion of which is for MDA.

Ballistic Missile Threats

After an initial powered phase of flight, a ballistic missile leaves the atmosphere and follows an unpowered trajectory or flight path before reentering the atmosphere toward a predetermined target. Ballistic missiles have an effective range from a few hundred kilometers (km) to more than 10,000 km. Short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) range from 300-1,000 km and are generally considered for tactical military use. Medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) have a range from 1,000-5,500 km, although most are armed with conventional warheads and range less than 3,500 km. ICBMs range further than 5,500 km and are generally considered as strategic deterrent forces.

Most of the world’s ballistic missiles belong to the United States and its allies and partners; however, China and, in particular, Russia also have significant numbers of ICBMs. Russia continues to possess intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles (3,500-5,500 km), which led to the U.S. withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The 2022 Missile Defense Review additionally identifies ballistic missile threats from North Korea and Iran.

North Korea likely has an arsenal of hundreds of SRBMs that can reach all of South Korea and perhaps dozens of MRBMs (whose reliability at this point remains uncertain), capable of reaching Japan and U.S. bases in the region. North Korea has flight-tested two types of road-mobile ICBMs that have the range to strike the U.S. homeland. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has assessed that “North Korea’s continued development of ICBMs, IRBMs, and [submarine-launched ballistic missiles] demonstrates its intention to bolster its nuclear delivery capability.”

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SECDEF Austin, Chinese Defense Minister Meet, Agree to Keep Lines of Communication Open

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin emphasized the need to keep open lines of communication and responsibly manage competition in his meeting this week with China’s Minister of National Defense Gen. Wei Fenghe. Austin met with Wei on the margins of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) in Siem Reap, Cambodia. […]

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III meets with General Wei Fenghe, Minister of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), on the margins of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus in Siem Reap, Cambodia, Nov. 22, 2022. DoD Photo

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin emphasized the need to keep open lines of communication and responsibly manage competition in his meeting this week with China’s Minister of National Defense Gen. Wei Fenghe.

Austin met with Wei on the margins of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Both defense chiefs last met in June in Singapore during the Shangri-La Dialogue.

Austin and Wei discussed U.S.-China defense relations and regional and global security issues and Austin emphasized the need to responsibly manage competition, according to a Pentagon readout on the meeting.

The U.S. defense chief also brought up the importance of substantive dialogue on reducing strategic risk, improving crisis communications and enhancing operational safety. He raised concerns about the increasingly dangerous behavior demonstrated by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft in the Indo-Pacific region that increases the risk of an accident, according to the readout. The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, Austin said.

During the meeting, Austin discussed Russia’s war against Ukraine and expressed concerns about recent provocations from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). He called on the PRC to fully enforce existing U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding the DPRK’s unlawful weapons programs.

The U.S. defense chief told Wei that the United States remains committed to the longstanding one China policy, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three U.S.-China Joint Communiques and the Six Assurances. Austin spoke about the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and underscored his opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo and called on the PRC to refrain from further destabilizing actions toward Taiwan, according to the release.

China’s Ministry of National Defense also issued a release on the meeting stating that Wei stressed that the Taiwan question is at the very core of China’s core interests and is the first red line that must not be crossed in China-U.S. relations.

“Taiwan is China’s Taiwan. The settlement of the Taiwan question is the Chinese people’s own affair, and no external force has the right to interfere. The Chinese armed forces have the backbone, resolve, confidence and capability to resolutely safeguard the national reunification” according to the release.

During the talks, both sides agreed that the two militaries should implement the consensus reached by the two heads of state, maintain communication and contact, strengthen crisis management and control and strive to maintain regional security and stability, according to the release. The two sides also exchanged views on international and regional situations, the Ukraine crisis, the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula issues.

The ADMM-Plus is a platform for ASEAN and its eight Dialogue Partners Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States (collectively referred to as the “Plus Countries”), to strengthen security and defence cooperation for peace, stability, and development in the region with the main meeting between the defence chiefs of the countries taking place on Wednesday. Cambodia as the current chair of ASEAN is the host for the event.

While the secretary of defense met with his Chinese counterpart, Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines where she reiterated the U.S. commitment to the country.

Harris told Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. that the U.S. stands with the Philippines in defense of international rules and norms as it relates to the South China Sea during her opening remarks on Monday.

An armed attack on the Philippines Armed Forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments, “and that is an unwavering commitment that we have to the Philippines,” Harris said, echoing similar remarks made by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in July this year.

On Tuesday, the vice president visited the Philippine island of Palawan, which lies around 320 km from the disputed Spratly Islands, which is claimed by Brunei, China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. With the exception of Brunei, all the claimants maintained military stations on their claims in the area, with China expanding the capabilities of its military stations there in recent years. Harris conducted engagements with the fishing community, local officials and the Philippine Coast Guard in Palawan.

In a speech aboard the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) patrol vessel BRP Teresa Magbanua (MRRV-9701), the vice president repeated the U.S. commitment to the Philippines, saying that as an ally, the United States stands with the Philippines in the face of intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea.

“We must stand up for principles such as respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, unimpeded lawful commerce, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, and throughout the Indo-Pacific,” Harris said.

The vice president also stated that the United States supported the 2016 ruling of the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal which “ firmly rejected China’s expansive South China Sea maritime claims,” adding that the tribunal’s decision was binding and must be respected. The United States will continue to rally its allies and partners against unlawful and irresponsible behavior and that when the international rules based order is threatened somewhere, it is threatened everywhere, Harris said.

The United States will provide new funding to Philippines maritime law enforcement agencies allowing them to combat IIU fishing, enhance their capabilities and upgrade their monitoring systems, Harris said.

Among the initiatives was the provision of $7.5 million in additional assistance to enhance the capabilities of Philippine maritime law enforcement agencies and that the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, pending Congressional notification, will support the Philippine Coast Guard in upgrading and expanding its vessel traffic management system (VTMS) to enable improved maritime safety and environmental monitoring, according to a White House release.

On Sunday, the White House issued a release about the new Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (ECDA) locations that had been identified to enable the United States and the Philippines to continue to work together towards achieving the agreed objectives under EDCA.

Currently, five EDCA locations have already been agreed upon, namely Cesar Basa Air Base and Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Luzon; Lumbia Airfield in Mindanao; Antonio Bautista Airbase in Palawan and Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief Lieutenant General Bartolome Vicente Bacarro said in an interview with Philippine news channel GMA Network on Nov. 14 that the AFP had identified five sites for the additional EDCA facilities with two sites being in Cagayan, and one each in Palawan, Zambales and Isabela.

Defense Primer: U.S. Special Operation Forces

The following is the Nov. 21, 2022, Congressional Research Service, Defense Primer: Special Operation Forces. From the report Special Operations Forces (SOF) are those active duty and reserve component forces of the military services designated by the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) and specifically selected, organized, trained, and equipped to conduct and support special operations. Special […]

The following is the Nov. 21, 2022, Congressional Research Service, Defense Primer: Special Operation Forces.

From the report

Special Operations Forces (SOF) are those active duty and reserve component forces of the military services designated by the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) and specifically selected, organized, trained, and equipped to conduct and support special operations. Special operations frequently require unique modes of employment, tactics, techniques, procedures, and equipment. SOF often conducts special operations in hostile, politically, and/or diplomatically sensitive environments, and are characterized by one or more of the following: time-sensitivity, clandestine or covert nature, low visibility, work with or through indigenous forces, greater requirements for regional orientation and cultural expertise, and a high degree of risk. SOF’s core activities are:

  • Direct action
  • Special reconnaissance
  • Countering weapons of mass destruction
  • Counterterrorism
  • Unconventional warfare
  • Foreign internal defense
  • Security force assistance
  • Hostage rescue and recovery
  • Counterinsurgency
  • Foreign humanitarian assistance
  • Military information support operations
  • Civil affairs operations

Selection of SOF Operational Personnel

SOF operational personnel (often referred to as “operators”) undergo a rigorous screening and selection process characterized by a low selection rate. After selection, they receive mission-specific training to achieve proficiency in a variety of special operations skills. SOF operators tend to be experienced personnel and many maintain competency in more than one military specialty. Selected operators have regional, cultural, and linguistic expertise. Some SOF personnel require highly technical and advanced training for anticipated missions such as Military Freefall training, Combat Diver training, and Sniper training.

Command Structure and Components

In 1986, Congress, concerned about the status of SOF within overall U.S. defense planning and budgeting, passed legislation to strengthen special operations’ position within the defense community and to strengthen interoperability among the branches of U.S. SOF. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 1987 (P.L. 99-661), established an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD (SOLIC)) and a new four-star command to prepare Special Operations Forces (SOF) to carry out assigned missions and, if directed by the President or SECDEF, to plan for and conduct special operations.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD (SOLIC))

The ASD (SOLIC) is the principal civilian advisor to the SECDEF on special operations and low-intensity conflict matters. The ASD (SOLIC) has as their principal duty overall supervision (to include oversight of policy and resources) of special operations and low-intensity conflict activities. The ASD (SOLIC) falls under and reports to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (USD (P)). Congress, wanting ASD (SOLIC) to exercise greater oversight of USSOCOM, enacted Section 922, FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 114-328) to facilitate and resource ASD (SOLIC)’s originally intended Service Secretary-like authorities.

U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)

Activated on April 16, 1987, and headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL, USSOCOM is the unified Combatant Command (COCOM) responsible for organizing, training, and equipping all U.S. SOF units. Headquarters, USSOCOM consists of approximately 2,500 military and civilian personnel, and overall, the command has more than 70,000 personnel assigned to its headquarters, its service components, and sub-unified commands. The USSOCOM commander is a four-star general officer from any Service, who reports directly to the SECDEF. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, USSOCOM’s responsibilities were expanded in the 2004 Unified Command Plan (UCP), assigning USSOCOM responsibility for coordinating the Department of Defense (DOD) plans against global terrorism and conducting global operations as directed. Since 2016, USSOCOM has also been assigned the roles coordinating authority over countering violent extremist operations (CVEO) and counter weapons of mass destruction (CWMD) operations.

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Defense Primer: U.S. Defense Appropriations Process

The following is the Nov. 17, 2022, Congressional Research Service Defense Primer: Defense Appropriations Process. From the report The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse in Article I, Section 9, which provides that “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” To fulfill this duty, […]

The following is the Nov. 17, 2022, Congressional Research Service Defense Primer: Defense Appropriations Process.

From the report

The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse in Article I, Section 9, which provides that “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” To fulfill this duty, Congress annually considers appropriations measures, which provide funding for numerous activities—such as national defense, education, and homeland security—consistent with policies and priorities established through various enacted measures, such as the National Defense Authorization Act.

The congressional appropriations process includes various rules and practices that Congress has adopted to distinguish appropriations measures and facilitate their consideration. These measures generally provide funding authority in response to the President’s budget request for a fiscal year (October 1 through September 30).

Committees of Jurisdiction

The House and Senate Committees on Appropriations exercise jurisdiction over annual appropriations measures. Each committee has 12 subcommittees, each of which is responsible for developing one regular annual appropriations bill. These measures determine which department activities will be funded. House and Senate Appropriations subcommittee jurisdictions are generally parallel. The main subcommittees that deal with defense matters are:

    • Subcommittees on Defense, with jurisdiction over appropriations for the Departments of Army, Navy (including the Marine Corps), and Air Force (including the Space Force); the Office of the Secretary of Defense; defense agencies; and intelligence activities.
    • Subcommittees on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, with jurisdiction over appropriations for the Military Construction, Chemical Demilitarization Construction, Military Family Housing Construction and Operation and Maintenance, and Base Realignment and Closure accounts; the NATO Security Investment Program; the Department of Veterans Affairs; and other related agencies.
    • Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, with jurisdiction over all defense-related activities of the Department of Energy, including the National Nuclear Security Administration. This subcommittee also has jurisdiction over the civil works activities of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, among other non-defense activities.

The Congressional Budget Resolution

The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-344) provides for the annual consideration of a concurrent resolution on the budget, which allows Congress to establish overall budgetary and fiscal policy to be implemented through enactment of subsequent legislation. The budget resolution, in part, establishes a limit on total new budget authority and outlay levels divided among 20 functional categories—such as national defense, agriculture, and transportation—that set spending priorities.

Section 302(a) of the Congressional Budget Act requires the total new budget authority and outlays in the budget resolution to be allocated among all committees with spending jurisdiction. This establishes ceilings on spending for legislation reported from each committee that can be enforced procedurally through points of order during consideration of the legislation. All discretionary spending is allocated to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, which are required to subdivide this allocation among their 12 subcommittees under Section 302(b) of the Congressional Budget Act. These suballocations are also enforceable during consideration of legislation, preventing the consideration of amendments that would increase funding above these limits. In the absence of agreement on a budget resolution, the House and Senate may use alternative means to establish enforceable limits.

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Defense Primer: U.S. Policy on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems

The following is the Nov. 14, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Defense Primer: U.S. Policy on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems. From the report Lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS) are a special class of weapon systems that use sensor suites and computer algorithms to independently identify a target and employ an onboard weapon system to engage […]

The following is the Nov. 14, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Defense Primer: U.S. Policy on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems.

From the report

Lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS) are a special class of weapon systems that use sensor suites and computer algorithms to independently identify a target and employ an onboard weapon system to engage and destroy the target without manual human control of the system. Although these systems are not yet in widespread development, it is believed they would enable military operations in communications-degraded or -denied environments in which traditional systems may not be able to operate.

Contrary to a number of news reports, U.S. policy does not prohibit the development or employment of LAWS. Although the United States does not currently have LAWS in its inventory, some senior military and defense leaders have stated that the United States may be compelled to develop LAWS in the future if U.S. competitors choose to do so. At the same time, a growing number of states and nongovernmental organizations are appealing to the international community for regulation of or a ban on LAWS due to ethical concerns.

Developments in both autonomous weapons technology and international discussions of LAWS could hold implications for congressional oversight, defense investments, military concepts of operations, treaty-making, and the future of war.

U.S. Policy

Then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter issued DOD’s policy on autonomy in weapons systems, Department of Defense Directive (DODD) 3000.09 (the directive), in November 2012. U.S. defense officials have stated that they plan to release an updated directive by the end of 2022.

Definitions. There is no agreed definition of lethal autonomous weapon systems that is used in international fora. However, DODD 3000.09 provides definitions for different categories of autonomous weapon systems for the purposes of the U.S. military. These definitions are principally grounded in the role of the human operator with regard to target selection and engagement decisions, rather than in the technological sophistication of the weapon system.

DODD 3000.09 defines LAWS as “weapon system[s] that, once activated, can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator.” This concept of autonomy is also known as “human out of the loop” or “full autonomy.” The directive contrasts LAWS with human-supervised, or “human on the loop,” autonomous weapon systems, in which operators have the ability to monitor and halt a weapon’s target engagement. Another category is semi-autonomous, or “human in the loop,” weapon systems that “only engage individual targets or specific target groups that have been selected by a human operator.” Semi-autonomous weapons include so-called “fire and forget” weapons, such as certain types of guided missiles, that deliver effects to human-identified targets using autonomous functions.

The directive does not cover “autonomous or semi-autonomous cyberspace systems for cyberspace operations; unarmed, unmanned platforms; unguided munitions; munitions manually guided by the operator (e.g., laser- or wire-guided munitions); mines; [and] unexploded explosive ordnance,” nor subject them to its guidelines.

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Defense Primer: Electronic Warfare

The following is the Nov. 14, 2022, Congressional Research Service report Defense Primer: Electronic Warfare. From the report Electronic warfare (EW), as defined by the Department of Defense (DOD), are military activities that use electromagnetic energy to control the electromagnetic spectrum (“the spectrum”) and attack an enemy. The spectrum is a range of frequencies for […]

The following is the Nov. 14, 2022, Congressional Research Service report Defense Primer: Electronic Warfare.

From the report

Electronic warfare (EW), as defined by the Department of Defense (DOD), are military activities that use electromagnetic energy to control the electromagnetic spectrum (“the spectrum”) and attack an enemy. The spectrum is a range of frequencies for electromagnetic energy. EW supports command and control (C2) by allowing military commanders’ access to the spectrum to communicate with forces, while preventing potential adversaries from accessing the spectrum to develop an operational picture and communicate with their forces. Some have argued that EW is a component of anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) campaigns.

Role of EW in Military Operations

Since the introduction of two-way radios, militaries have become dependent on the spectrum. This reliance has expanded over the past century to include nearly every weapon system. Applications include

  • radio frequencies to communicate with friendly forces;
  • microwaves for tactical data-links, radars, and satellite communications;
  • infrared for intelligence and to target enemies; and
  • lasers across the entire spectrum to communicate, transmit data, and potentially destroy a target.

Modern militaries rely on communications equipment that uses broad portions of the spectrum to conduct military operations. This allows forces to talk, transmit data, provide navigation and timing information, and to command and control forces all over the world. They also rely on this to know where adversaries are, what adversaries are doing, where friendly forces are, and what effects weapons achieve. As a result, modern militaries attempt to dominate the spectrum through electronic warfare. From the perspective of military operations, there are three broad divisions of electronic warfare

  • Electronic protection involves actions to protect access to the spectrum for friendly military assets.
  • Electronic attack uses electromagnetic energy to degrade or deny an enemy’s use of the spectrum.
  • EW support identifies and catalogues emissions of friendly or enemy forces to either protect U.S. forces or develop a plan to deny an enemy’s access to the spectrum.

These subsets of EW often mutually support each other in operations. EW support uses equipment to assess both friendly and adversary electronic emissions. This information can then be used to develop a protection plan to maintain access to the spectrum or an attack plan to deny adversaries vital access. Radar jamming (electronic attack) can serve a protection function for friendly forces to penetrate defended airspace, and it prevents an adversary from having a complete operating picture.

In general, the more advanced a military adversary, the greater role EW plays in combat.

Types of EW Capabilities

As electronic warfare affects all military domains—land, air, sea, space, and cyberspace—each of the military services has its own EW capabilities and programs. EW capabilities are traditionally categorized into two distinct categories: terrestrial and airborne. Because each kind of EW has its respective advantages and disadvantages, multiple capabilities may be required to provide a desired effect. For example, airborne EW is used to intercept, decrypt, and disrupt communications, radars, and other C2 systems over a large area. However, these capabilities may be limited by aircraft endurance and are therefore unable to provide certain EW effects. Examples of airborne EW programs include the E-2 Hawkeye, the EA-18G Growler, the RC-135 Rivet Joint, and the EC-130H Compass Call.

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GAO Report on Pentagon Cybersecurity Incidents

The following is the Nov. 14, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, DoD Cybersecurity: Enhanced Attention Needed to Ensure Cyber Incidents Are Appropriately Reported and Shared. From the report The Department of Defense (DOD) and our nation’s defense industrial base (DIB)—which includes entities outside the federal government that provide goods or services critical to meeting U.S. […]

The following is the Nov. 14, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, DoD Cybersecurity: Enhanced Attention Needed to Ensure Cyber
Incidents Are Appropriately Reported and Shared.

From the report

The Department of Defense (DOD) and our nation’s defense industrial base (DIB)—which includes entities outside the federal government that provide goods or services critical to meeting U.S. military requirements—are dependent on information systems to carry out their operations. These systems continue to be the target of cyber attacks, as DOD has experienced over 12,000 cyber incidents since 2015 (see figure).To combat these incidents, DOD has established two processes for managing cyber incidents—one for all incidents and one for critical incidents. However, DOD has not fully implemented either of these processes.

GAO Graphic

Despite the reduction in the number of incidents due to DOD efforts, weaknesses in reporting these incidents remain. For example, DOD’s system for reporting all incidents often contained incomplete information and DOD could not always demonstrate that they had notified appropriate leadership of relevant critical incidents. The weaknesses in the implementation of the two processes are due to DOD not assigning an organization responsible for ensuring proper incident reporting and compliance with guidance, among other reasons. Until DOD assigns such responsibility, DOD does not have assurance that its leadership has an accurate picture of the department’s cybersecurity posture.

In addition, DOD has not yet decided whether DIB cyber incidents detected by cybersecurity service providers should be shared with all relevant stakeholders, according to officials. DOD guidance states that to protect the interests of national security, cyber incidents must be coordinated among and across DOD organizations and outside sources, such as DIB partners. Until DOD examines whether this information should be shared with all relevant parties, there could be lost opportunities to identify system threats and improve system weaknesses.

DOD has established a process for determining whether to notify individuals of a breach of their personally identifiable information (PII). This process includes conducting a risk assessment that considers three factors—the nature and sensitivity of the PII, likelihood of access to and use of the PII, and the type of the breach. However, DOD has not consistently documented the notifications of affected individuals, because officials said notifications are often made verbally or by email and no record is retained. Without documenting the notification, DOD cannot verify that people were informed about the breach.

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GAO Report on Gaps in U.S. Military Aircraft Readiness

The following is the Nov. 10, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, Weapon System Sustainment Aircraft Mission Capable Goals Were Generally Not Met and Sustainment Costs Varied by Aircraft. From the report GAO examined 49 aircraft and found that only four met their annual mission capable goal in a majority of the years from fiscal years […]

The following is the Nov. 10, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, Weapon System Sustainment Aircraft Mission Capable Goals Were Generally Not Met and Sustainment Costs Varied by Aircraft.

From the report

GAO examined 49 aircraft and found that only four met their annual mission capable goal in a majority of the years from fiscal years 2011 through 2021. As shown below, 26 aircraft did not meet their annual mission capable goal in any fiscal year. The mission capable rate—the percentage of total time when the aircraft can fly and perform at least one mission—is used to assess the health and readiness of an aircraft fleet.

Comparing fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2021, the average mission capable rate for the selected aircraft has fallen for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, to varying degrees. The average mission capable rate for the selected Army aircraft has risen.

For fiscal year 2021, GAO found that only two of the 49 aircraft examined met the service-established mission capable goal. More specifically, for fiscal year 2021, 30 aircraft were more than 10 percentage points below the mission capable goal in fiscal year 2021; and 17 aircraft were 10 percentage points or less below the mission capable goal in fiscal year 2021.

Many of the selected aircraft are facing one or more sustainment challenges, as shown below. According to program officials, these challenges have an effect on mission capable rates.

Operating and support (O&S) costs totaled about $54 billion in fiscal year 2020 for the reviewed aircraft—a decrease of about $2.9 billion since fiscal year 2011 after factoring in inflation using constant fiscal year 2020 dollars. Maintenance costs became a larger portion of O&S costs—increasing by $1.2 billion since fiscal year 2011. Air Force and Army O&S costs have decreased, while Navy and Marine Corps O&S costs have increased. Based on our analysis and information provided by the program offices, these trends have largely been driven by changes in the size of aircraft inventory and reduced flying hours. Additionally, O&S costs have varied widely across aircraft fleets. For example, the total fiscal year 2020 O&S costs for the systems we reviewed ranged from about $97 million for the KC-130T fleet (Navy and Marine Corps) to a high of about $4.3 billion for the F-16 fleet (Air Force). Based on our analysis and information provided by the system program offices, cost variances were based on aircraft type and factors such as age of the fleet, the number of aircraft included in the inventory, and the number of flying hours flown by a fleet.

The Department of Defense (DOD) spends tens of billions of dollars annually to sustain its weapon systems in an effort to ensure that these systems are available to simultaneously support today’s military operations and maintain the capability to meet future defense requirements. This report provides observations on mission capable rates and costs to operate and sustain 49 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.

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