Strategic Outpost Summer Reading List

Out of all the listings below, I would highly recommend War Stories From the Future…some really good reading there.

Also If you have not read it already, do yourself a favor and read Ghost Fleet by August Cole and PJ Singer ASAP…arguably one of the best books I have read this year so far. -SF


Attention all defense nerds! We know you. We are you. You are getting ready for your August vacation, when normal people take a break from work. You, however, are not normal people. Your vacations are really just a chance to surreptitiously catch up on juicy work reading while pretending to relax with family and friends (or to escape them entirely).

So before you grudgingly flee your keyboards and cubicles and take your pasty bodies to the beach, here is our list of top reads (and looks and listens) that you may have missed during the past year. Catch up and keep those brain cells energized after slathering on the sunscreen! Not all of these are obviously about defense and national security, but all will sharpen your thinking and help you think more creatively about future as well as the world we live in now.

The Recent Wars

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger. The best-selling author of War and co-director of the striking Afghan war documentary Restrepo (which is an absolute must-see), Junger wrestles in this book with the vast discontinuities between the surprisingly uplifting experience of bonding in combat and the reality of coming home to a fractured nation lacking any sense of solidarity. He finds that the veterans of today’s wars “often come home to find that, although they’re willing to die for their country, they’re not sure how to live for it.” This unusual meditation is not so much about veterans as it is a reflection upon the deep divisions in American society today and what to do about it, drawn from the lessons of those who have fought.

Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield, by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. This engaging book tells the story of the first women to serve in the Army’s Cultural Support Teams (CST), which were attached to special operations forces fighting in Afghanistan. Although women were not technically allowed to serve in combat positions at the time, they faced the very same dangers while gathering vital intelligence that their male colleagues could not obtain from Afghan women. Lemmon weaves together their combat experiences with the more personal details of the sisterhood that these trailblazers formed and beautifully describes how these women and their male counterparts grieved together when the first CST member was killed in action. (While you’re at it, read Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s December 2015 announcement that opened all positions in the U.S. military to women — it’s the true epilogue to this book.)

Youngblood, by Matt Gallagher. A gripping novel that navigates the often unique challenges of small unit leadership in today’s wars, combining thriller, mystery, and love story into a compelling account. Narrated by “Lieutenant Jack,” a young Army platoon leader in post-surge Iraq, the tale veers in surprising directions with an unexpected ending that highlights the irony and complexity of our recent wars — and what we are asking our young men and women in uniform to do. This might be the best fictional piece yet from the wars of 9/11.

Season 2 of Serial. This 11-episode podcast interviews Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl about his disappearance from an outpost in eastern Afghanistan in 2009. This fresh and riveting chronicle exposes the bizarre mindset that led him to leave his base and the immense efforts of the soldiers who put themselves at risk to find him. More than just a story about Bergdahl, this series does a remarkable job explaining the larger context of the war with all its frustrating and often inexplicable contradictions. Listening to this account in the words of those who were there makes it starkly clear why his fellow soldiers were so outraged upon his return.

The Wars of Today and Tomorrow

“The Obama Doctrine,” by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic. Whether you agree with the president or not, there is no doubt that his decisions about Syria, Iran, Russia, terrorism, and beyond will shape the U.S. national security agenda for years to come. This fascinating article, based on extensive personal interviews, reveals both the practical reasons and the deeper philosophical underpinnings of some of his key decisions —including his dim view of foreign policy experts and why he chose to break, in his own words, “the playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow.”

Eye in the Sky, a film thriller on the moral dilemmas of drone warfare. Helen Mirren stars as British Colonel Katherine Powell, directing a U.S.-operated drone mission in support of a U.K. counterterror raid in Kenya. It is the best depiction to date about the gut-wrenching decisions and consequences of drone warfare — including the civilian and military leaders agonizing over potential collateral damage, those killed and wounded when the missiles strike, and the drone operators who get to absorb the carnage they have wrought in high-definition detail. It’s a powerful story as well as a lesson in the moral conundrums of modern warfare and the fight against terrorism.

War Stories from the Future, edited by August Cole. This innovative collection from the Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare project includes a series of science fiction short stories and eye-catching art. Drawing on established authors as well as contest-winning writers and visual artists, this anthology brings new voices and new ideas to emerging defense and national security topics. As former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey writes in the introduction, these stories “invite us to shed the shackles that bind us to our current constructs and instead imagine things as they might be, for better or for worse.” (For more on the “critical task of forecasting the future of warfare,” check out the WOTR podcast with August Cole, B.J. Armstrong, and John Amble.)

Global Trends

The Industries of the Future, by Alec Ross. A striking book about the “next economy” and its world-changing implications for all of us. Ross, former Chief Innovation Officer for the secretary of state, outlines in concise terms what technology-driven industries will transform the world we know now — in enormous but deeply unequal ways — over the next two decades. Chapters on the “future of the human machine,” “the weaponization of code,” and data as the “raw material of the information age” provide important clues on how to prepare our nation, our societies, and our families for what’s coming (and sooner than you think).

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, by Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner. Tetlock’s last book demonstrated the real limitations of expert predictions, famously concluding that they did about the same as a “dart-throwing chimp.” Based on the findings of the Good Judgment Project, this sequel of sorts examines the characteristics of “superforecasters” — otherwise average people who can consistently make better predictions with openly available information than intelligence analysts using classified information. Fortunately for the rest of us, the authors show how these skills can be learned — including a very handy appendix called “Ten Commandments for Aspiring Superforecasters.”

Just Because

The Duffel Blog. Yes, we put this on our last reading list, but you can’t ever get enough of the military version of The Onion. Articles from the last couple of weeks alone include CENTCOM Commander Can’t Believe It’s Not His Problem For Once and Army Replaces Benefits with Rolled Sleeves. Our line of work may be serious, but every now and then you just gotta laugh about it.

Extra Credit

Finally, a bit of shameless self-promotion: our article in The Atlantic called “Can the U.S. Military Halt its Brain Drain?” It tells the story of how the military must transform its archaic personnel system through the tales of two remarkable junior officers.

With that, dear readers, we bid you a fair summer farewell. Strategic Outpost is taking its own August vacation and will be back right after Labor Day. Until then, happy reading, watching, and listening!

Read the Original Article at War on the Rocks

Modern Warfare: Ukrainian Border Guards in Donbas Suffer Retina Burns From Laser Weapons


Three Ukrainian border guards at the Marinka checkpoint have suffered retina burns of varying severity while conducting terrain surveillance using optical equipment. The Ukrainian State Border Service suspects that prohibited special purpose laser weapons were used against them.

“The nature of the burns and preliminary medical diagnosis leads to the conclusion that it’s possible that the enemy used high-power light emitters, which could be the so called ‘dazzling lasers,’” the State Border Service website says. The border guards were hospitalized at the Central Clinical Hospital of the State Border Service for specialized treatment.

Information about the possible use of the laser weapons by the pro-Russian separatists was brought to the attention of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and representatives of international and human rights organizations. It is worth noting that in Russia, blinding lasers are used by the troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and are mass-produced.

In accordance with the “Additional Protocol to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to have Indiscriminate Effects” (Vienna, October 1995), it’s prohibited to use laser weapons specifically designed for use solely in combat or including the intent to causing permanent blindness to sight organs of a person who doesn’t use optical instruments.

Read the Original Article at  UA Wire

Future Warfare: Three Articles You Need to Read on Russia and China


I have felt a strong need as of late to stay abreast of all developments regarding Russia and China.

I would urge all my readers to not be distracted by all the Political theater and “filler” the state run media seems intent on running on continuous loop as of late. It is mindless garbage fit for the “Useful Idiots”, which I dare say my readers ARE NOT!!

The Civilian Operator must always remember that the KEY to both keeping themselves and their family safe and being able to adequately PREPARE for any serious threat is GOOD INTELLIGENCE.

I would normally re-post these articles separately, but because of their length, I thought it more pertinent to just link them.






Stay Alert, Stay Informed, Stay Armed and Stay Dangerous!

Future of Warfare: How Russia Defeats NATO

With all the saber rattling going on lately toward Russia I thought this article was a breath of fresh reality.-SF


When asked two weeks ago in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee whether the Army was “outranged” by any adversary, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley said: “Yes … the ones in Europe, really Russia. We don’t like it, we don’t want it, but yes, technically [we are] outranged, outgunned on the ground.”

Given Russia’s aggression in the Ukraine, this is sobering testimony. But is it accurate? Unfortunately, yes: Nearly two years of extensive wargaming and analysis shows that if Russia were to conduct a short-warning attack against the Baltic States, Moscow’s forces could roll to the outskirts of the Estonian capital of Tallinn and the Latvian capital of Riga in 36 to 60 hours. In such a scenario, the United States and its allies would not only be outranged and outgunned, but also outnumbered.

Outnumbered? While the Russian army is a fraction of the size of its Soviet predecessor and is maintained at a level of imperfect readiness, we found that it could — in 10 days or so — generate a force of as many as 27 fully ready battalions (30–50,000 soliders in their maneuver formations, depending on precisely how they were organized) for an attack on the Baltics while maintaining its ongoing coercive campaign against Ukraine.

All these Russian units would be equipped with armored vehicles — tanks, infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), and so forth. NATO, meanwhile, would be able to respond largely with only light, unarmored, or lightly armored forces. These would consist of the forces of the Baltic republics themselves and those that the United States and its partners could rush to the scene in the few days of warning that would likely be available.

Counting the “Very High Readiness Joint Task Force” (VJTF), NATO could optimistically deploy elements from three airborne infantry brigades, one Stryker brigade, and one U.S. armor brigade. Russia would achieve initial advantages in tanks (7:1), infantry fighting vehicles (5:1), attack helicopters (5:1), cannon artillery (4:1), long-range rocket artillery (16:1), short-range air defense (24:1), and long-range air defense (17:1).

Outranged? But the problem is not just numbers. The Russians field cannon and rocket artillery with significantly longer ranges than their U.S. counterparts. Existing Army tube artillery can generally fire at targets 14 to 24 kilometers (9 to 15 miles) away. Unfortunately, the most common Russian self-propelled howitzer NATO forces would encounter in the Baltics has a range of 29 kilometers (or 19 miles). On the battlefield, these differences matter.

Moreover, at the moment, the United States has no Multiple-Launch Rocket System units deployed in Europe, but even if it were, and the range of its primary rocket is only 40–70 kilometers (25–44 miles) depending on payload. Meanwhile, Russian forces are richly equipped with two rocket artillery systems with ranges up to 90 kilometers (56 miles).

Outgunned? Here the evidence is somewhat less clear, but the situation is certainly far less favorable to the United States than it is accustomed to. While Russia’s tanks and IFVs in some cases share the same designations as those that U.S. forces encountered in Iraq in 1991 and 2003, those weapons have little in common besides the name. They have much more advanced armor, weapons, and sensors, and in some areas — such as active protection systems to defend against anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) — are superior to their Western counterparts.

If a fight broke out today in the Baltics, Russian attack helicopters, IFVs, and even some tanks could employ ATGMs with an effective range that could penetrate the armor of most if not all NATO combat vehicles, including the U.S. M1 tank. The M1s might maintain a slight advantage in the close-in fight, if they survived to get there. But given the current U.S. posture, there would at best be only a few dozen on the field, compared to about 450 Russian. The Baltic states themselves have no heavy armor, and our analysis indicates that no other European heavy forces could make it to the frontlines in time to influence the outcome of a short-warning Russian assault.

Beyond the disadvantages of being outnumbered, outranged, and outgunned, a slew of other issues compounds the problem. First, NATO allies and the U.S. military would be of limited immediate help offsetting these disadvantages. European allies followed the American lead by cutting armor and optimizing their remaining forces for “out-of-area” missions like Afghanistan. Thus, Great Britain is continuing with plans to withdraw its last troops from Germany, while Germany has reduced its army from a Cold War level of 10 heavy divisions to the equivalent of two.

But it’s not just the numbers here that matter. The United States and its partners have also steadily reduced the infrastructure necessary to support any kind of substantial deterrent or defensive effort in Europe. Today, there are no U.S. division or corps headquarters forward-based on the continent, nor any Army aviation, engineer, and associated logistics brigades. Our analysis — which assumed brigades could be received, moved to the front, and then commanded, controlled, and supported once there — may have ignored significant shortfalls in all these dimensions. Deploying brigades is not enough. Without a plan, without adequate logistics, without robust command and control, a better-prepared adversary would still overwhelm NATO.

Second, airpower has long been the U.S. trump card, and the Army relies on it to deliver fire support and protect its units from enemy air attack. This reliance has reduced the amount of artillery it deploys with its maneuver forces and, for all intents and purposes, has stripped them of organic air defenses.

While these choices were entirely sound in facing the Taliban and Iraq’s air force and integrated air defenses, Russia is an entirely different story. Russia fields perhaps the most formidable array of surface-to-air missile (SAM) defenses in the world. Operating from locations within Russian territory, these SAMs far outrange existing defense-suppression weapons and present a credible threat to U.S. and allied airpower that would be costly and time-consuming to counter. Unlike recent American wars, getting air support will not be as easy as making a call and waiting. Especially in the crucial early days of any conflict, allied ground forces may find air support available only in narrow windows of time and space.

And third, the Russians possess a credible air force of their own. Our analysis shows that Moscow could commit hundreds of fighter, attack, and bomber aircraft to an assault on the Baltic states. While such forces are ultimately qualitatively and quantitatively inferior to the alliance’s airpower, when teamed with Russia’s surface-to-air defenses, such forces could present a threat to U.S. and allied ground forces moving to reinforce or counterattack. Without ground-based air defenses of their own, and with limited overhead cover from NATO air forces, U.S. Army formations could suffer serious attrition from enemy air attack for the first time since World War II.

On top of all these issues, geography is a harsh mistress in this scenario. It’s about 130 miles from the Russian border to Riga, a distance that modern armored forces can traverse in a matter of hours. Even against fierce opposition from airpower, our analysis shows that there is simply not enough time to inflict sufficient damage to halt a Russian attack, absent sufficient NATO ground forces to slow their movement and force invaders to operate in ways that make them more vulnerable to air attack. This is intrinsically a joint fight, not one that can be won on the ground or from the skies alone.

Add in the fact that the Bush administration decided — and the Obama administration affirmed — that, beginning in 2019, U.S. forces will no longer use cluster weapons that leave more than one percent of their ordnance unexploded on the ground. While admirable on humanitarian grounds, this decision — for which there is no parallel on the Russian side — will significantly reduce the effectiveness of U.S. artillery and air fire against Russian artillery, air defense, and mechanized targets. Given the weakness of NATO’s overall posture, this is no trivial concession.

Today NATO is indeed outnumbered, outranged, and outgunned by Russia in Europe and beset by a number of compounding factors that make the situation worse. Having said that, it is possible to begin restoring a more robust deterrent posture and to do so at a price tag that appears affordable in the context of an alliance with an aggregate GDP of $35 trillion. The enlarged European Reassurance Initiative announced by the administration is a step in the right direction, though not a complete solution. Also, NATO’s European members must begin making the necessary investments to fulfill their commitments to the alliance’s collective defense; this is not just America’s problem.

It seems unlikely that Vladimir Putin intends to turn his guns on NATO any time soon. However, the consequences should he decide to do so are severe. Probably the best outcome — if the phrase has any meaning in this context — would be something like a new Cold War, with all the implications that bears. A war with Russia would be fraught with escalatory potential from the moment the first shot was fired; and generations born outside the shadow of nuclear Armageddon would suddenly be reintroduced to fears thought long dead and buried.

A situation 20 years in the making will not be solved overnight, nor will solving it be politically simple or non-controversial for an alliance consisting of 29 members with different priorities and perceptions. Nonetheless, the potential consequences of failing to do so are so dire that prudent investments — in improved posture and thoughtful, targeted modernization of the joint force — to stave them off are warranted to assure allies living next to a belligerent Russia and to provide an insurance policy against the risks of a potential catastrophe.

Read the Original Article at War on the Rocks

What the 2016 Presidential Candidates Get Wrong About the Future of War


They fail, they lack, they misunderstand, they pander, they don’t get, and they just don’t know national security – not according to our Future of War roster of experts.

“The President shall be Commander in Chief…”

If history is any guide, the answer is no. When George Washington took the oath of office for the first time, he didn’t expect he’d soon be leading a force of some 13,000 troops into Western Pennsylvania to put down the Whiskey Rebellion (the first and last time the president served as a commander in chief in the field). Abraham Lincoln, at his inauguration, expected conflict was on the way, as seven Southern states already had seceded since his election. But no one expected the Civil War would last four more years and introduce industrialized warfare. More recently, George W. Bush entered office lamenting “nation building” and would leave it presiding over two massive nation-building efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In turn, Barack Obama pledged to responsibly end America’s involvements in these wars. He will leave office not only with forces still there, but also having commanded air and drone war campaigns in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia.

The Future of War project is a joint effort of New America and Arizona State, in partnership with Defense One, that brings together a diverse group of experts, whose backgrounds range from Navy SEALs and scientists to historians, journalists, and lawyers. As a lead up to the project’s “Future of War” conference on Mar. 10—which you can livestream here—we asked them:

What do the 2016 presidential candidates get most wrong about the #FutureofWar?”

Their answers covered areas that ranged from strategy to terrorism, but a theme that cut through was the need to be honest to the American people, and themselves, about what awaits. In an age of TV soundbites and Twitter trolling, let’s hope that whoever wins the upcoming election is the exception to the rule that presidential candidates just don’t get the Future of War.

Read the Remainder at Defense One