My morning ritual is fairly consistent. Coffee first, then the headlines on my iPad followed by reading the NYTimes and WJS. The particular morning I have in mind: I had to share my international concerns that Prince Harry and his wife were in crisis talks with Prince Charles and want to strike out on their own, and that the President of the United States has revealed that we are developing supersonic weapons. First and foremost: don’t you need some sort of skill or training to “strike out on your own”. I think that’s in Prince Charles’ mind in their crisis talks. And second, didn’t Putin announce at least three weeks ago that the Russians already had supersonic weapons? I have all but conceded (to myself) that there is no way I can convey to the Prince (any of them) the realities of life on one’s own, and with regard to the President, I admit I can neither walk on water nor quicksand.
In mid-December, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia’s arsenal of new weapons had no foreign equivalents and that his country had a clear fighting edge for years and years to come. The new Russian Kinzhal hypersonic missile and their Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle are enormous additions to Moscow’s fighting capacity and power. “No one has hypersonic weapons yet, but we have it,” he publically boasted. The U.S. Government Accountability Office acknowledged that the Russian military additions have the speed, altitude and maneuverability to simply make them too difficult to stop.
The GAO report states: “There are no existing countermeasures.” That is daunting and disheartening news especially in light of the President’s telling us how invincible we are under his administration.
If that information is not sobering enough, and as the U.S. and Iran compete for the best PR positioning, the Trump administration is about to unveil its 2021 Pentagon budget that is not only flat but also leaves our armed forces with little, if any room to not only design but to build and test critical modernization projects that require hypersonic and artificial intelligence technology. The Pentagon says it needs more funding to be in a position to at least inch ahead of both China and Russia. It is important to remember, in structuring our defense and offensive capabilities that China and Russia do not have the financial burden of two decades of unsuccessful and expensive wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan. When you build a war machine, I have learned, there is a difference between “a force structure, readiness, and modernization”, each component with their own timetable, urgency in their need and the obvious—cost.
What we have learned is that there is an enormous gap between –for example—what the Navy needs and what the current administration says is available to spend. To this untrained eye the Navy is being asked to sail blind beyond two oceans. The Navy, it is reported, told the White House it would buy one dozen fewer ships, slash its shipbuilding budget, and possibly decommission 12 more hulls over the next four years. The White House did not like that scenario –it would be a PR disaster, and directed the Navy to become magicians and count unmanned vessels as ships, allowing it to continue to “grow in size” as “the president has directed”. The Navy has taken its case to the front pages of major newspapers in demanding more money than the Army or Air Force. The Air Force is not in much better shape and will in all probability suggest phasing out a large portion of its older fleet to be able to accommodate the purchase of more F-35s and B-21 bombers. And don’t forget the newly introduced Space Force –not withstanding its weird uniforms, the need to staff it and give them something “to fly”. Speaking at the White House about the Iranian missile attacks on Iraqi bases housing U.S. and NATO forces and the injuries to 11 Americans, President Trump announced: “the American military has been completely rebuilt under my administration at the cost of $2.5 trillion dollars. The U.S. armed forces are stronger than ever before.” I have no idea what cheat-sheet he is utilizing to learn this information but obviously he is deluded.
If you believe that there will be an end to hostilities since both the U.S. and Iran have publically announced a stand-down, you are betting on the wrong horse. Putting aside for a moment the jumbled, incoherent attempt to justify the assassination of an Iranian general, Iran is being pressed economically by Trump’s additional sanctions. It is recklessness to think that for one moment they will sit idly by without some counter measures. In addition, they have unintentionally created another problem with their own citizens in the downing of the Ukrainian Airline and demands of accountability.
The Irian Government’s need to divert their citizen’s attention has increased. And that scenario will not play out with bombs or rockets, inviting a reciprocal response, but the deadly, accurate use of cyber-attacks on the U.S. and our interests. The risk is real and high enough that both the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have issued a joint warning that the U.S. government and the private sector must accept that their sites “will go down and be prepared to hit restart”. CNN has also reported on the FBI and DHS “joint intelligence bulletin” that predicted attacks first on overseas facilities — such as the Iranian missile attacks at two U.S. air bases in Iraq —to be followed in the “medium-term” by attacks on the U.S. homeland and our interests abroad. “I’m going to tell you a painful truth. When you have actors like this that are well trained — in the thousands — by a nation-state, if they are targeting something, they will probably succeed,” says Diana Volere ( a risk and intelligence expert with Saviynet, a risk, security and intelligence group). Their coordinate attack on the Saudi oil fields is a prime example of their excellent and precise capability.
In 2012, Iran formally established a special high-level command for cyber war, led by the Revolutionary Guards and directly overseen by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. They have had 8 years to build and prefect their capacity to create havoc far from Tehran: hacking the electrical grid on our West Coast (that would cause chaos and panic) or sending drones crashing into soft military installations. The message from various private and government sources is that the potential for attack will not only be aimed at U.S. government installations and military facilities, but as Texas Governor Greg Abbott reported, citing information from the Texas Department of Information Resources, as many as 10,000 attempted attacks per minute from Iran had been detected over the past 48 hours on state and local agency networks. And he made that announcement on January 7 of this year.
The type of attacks, targets chosen and methods of operation are restricted only by the imagination of the attacker. On January 14th, the New York Times front page headline claimed that Iran’s financial condition would not permit it to wage a war. I don’t question the wisdom of that claim, but its economic struggles have not and will not prevent its clandestine, under-the-radar cyber-attacks that do not require an army or fighter planes in the sky. They proved that with their coordinate well planned and timely executed attack on the Saudi oil fields. Israeli intelligence predicts that Iran will likely field nuclear ICBM in two years. Parenthetically, Iranian lawmaker Ahman Hamzeh has reportedly offered a $3 million reward for the assassination of President Trump, according to Reuters, and called for the country to produce long-range missiles.
Gen. Paul Nakasone (head of CYBERCOM –which is responsible for defending the Department of Defense information networks worldwide)) noted in an interview with Joint Force Quarterly, discussing cyber-attacks: “Persistent engagement is the concept that we are in constant contact with our adversaries in cyberspace, and success is determined by how we enable and act. ….Acting is the concept of operating outside our borders, being outside our networks, to ensure that we understand what our adversaries are doing. If we find ourselves defending inside our own networks, we have lost the initiative and the advantage.” Sobering.