Convincing Russia and China that the Pentagon has scored a technological break-through on a new weapons system – even when success is years away or has turned into a dead end – can be a valuable strategic tool, a new think tank report details.
In discussing the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment’s monograph “Selective Disclosure,” Christian Brose said, “we can exploit their fault lines to our advantage.” Brose, the author of “The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare,” said the success of selective disclosure causes “our competitors to make mistakes” in what they are investing in.
Thomas Mahnken, CSBA’s chief executive officer and author of the report, said in answer to a question that this tool, while not new, remains effective because “we’ve got a technological track record” of delivering major military system breakthroughs like stealth that make potential adversaries – Russia, China and North Korea – weigh what any given U.S. claim actually means to them. “The U.S. remains a world leader” in technology, although its edge is eroding in some areas to the Chinese particularly, he said.
Selective disclosure – as the Russians did with their new missile deployment along their border with NATO and publicizing a concept of operations using tactical nuclear weapons – “has a much bigger impact” than things that cannot be seen, like cyber and artificial intelligence in military systems.
Brose said that with “AI, autonomy, how do I prove I have that advanced sensing, joint domain command and control?” Advances are “increasingly software capabilities” that aren’t visible, in contrast to North Korea’s recent parade of intercontinental ballistic missiles or the Chinese offer of long-range anti-ship missiles to Venezuela.
Jacqueline Schneider, a security expert at Stanford’s Hoover Institute, said making known cyber and software advances “generally are not good signaling mechanisms” to competitors or allies that there has been a major advance that can be deployed and affect outcomes in conflict.
Trying to counter American military reach and perceived strength in hardware still drives decision-making by competitors on where to invest. Schneider said, “some signals are better than others…like big platforms.” She added, “go for those aircraft carriers, China …they are very useful,” but also vulnerable.
“Who wins the competition [in what to disclose or not to disclose] comes down to cost” and having an adversary make bad choices in guns that affect resources to buy butter.
Schneider added that there is a danger in “pushing my adversary too far” and the adversary reacting with military force when the U.S. goal was stability.
There are also questions about gauging selective disclosure’s value and practice.
“How do we know this [selective disclosure] is working” and “who is responsible” for deciding what to release, Brose asked rhetorically. He noted that in this digital era and with widespread platforms in social media, there is “increased difficulty in hiding things.”
In opening remarks, Mahnken said the reason for the study and report lies in the fact that “we are the targets of other states’ selective disclosure.” He added: “we invest a lot in new capabilities” as well and should also look at how selective disclosure best works in developing long-range strategy. Other areas of study related to the report include gaining a better understanding of Russia’s and China’s strategies in their use of selective disclosure and their behavior following the U.S. use of it.