U.S. Needs to Share More Tech, Intel with Allies, Says Wittman

September 28, 2023 4:30 PM
Japan Maritime Self Defense Force Oyashio-class submarine with JMSDF destroyer JS Takanami (DD-110), U.S. Navy destroyer USS Higgins (DDG-76), Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Winnipeg (FFH338) and JMSDF destroyer helicopter carrier JS Izumo (DDH-183) sail in formation in the South China Sea during exercise Noble Raven 22-2. Japan Maritime Self Defense Force Photo

U.S. laws covering technology sharing among America’s closest allies to meet the current military threats are overdue for reevaluation, the number two on the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday.

Rep. Rob Wittman, (R-Va.), said under existing law “we have to treat Canada better than Australia,” despite the Australia-United Kingdom-United States [AUKUS] agreement, which includes Canberra eventually building its own nuclear-powered submarine force and sharing advances in technologies among the three allies.

Speaking at a Center for Strategic and International Studies webinar, “a higher level of trust” is necessary with the “five eyes” partners who share signal intelligence. The nations involved are Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

They “should all be treated the same.”

“We should be the last to lecture anyone … after our own breaches” of security. In answer to a later question, Wittman said, the United States has “to get to the left of the curve” in protecting technological advances. That comes “in thinking a step ahead” of what an adversary might gain from a design, software or production technique.

“We truly have the ability to deter the Chinese” militarily and technologically by leveraging allies’ capabilities and being more proactive in securing American breakthroughs.

In addition, Congress should also relook laws and policies regarding foreign military sales, Wittman said. “Timeliness is of the essence,” particularly when it comes to Taiwan, as China has ramped up its probes of the self-governing island’s air and maritime defenses. He specifically mentioned speeding delivery of F-16s and military spare parts to Taipei. Earlier this month, William LaPlante, under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, attributed the delay in sending fighter aircraft to the shutdown of the production line, which has since been restarted.

Wittman added that there has been a change of mindset in the Indo-Pacific “of almost 180 degrees” when it comes to Chinese threats and aggression.

In a recent trip, Wittman saw firsthand the Chinese militarization of artificial islands and its aggressive behavior toward Philippine vessels. “We need to call this out for what it is,” he said. “It’s all about military dominance.”

Chinese “gray zone” activities have continued to escalate. Wittman said many of these activities operate on “the edge of legal,” such as what it gains from TikTok operating on American university campuses such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “You have to look at all as cumulative.” He called it “a death by a thousand cuts.”

With their investments in artificial intelligence and machine learning, the Chinese are “vacuum cleaners of data.”

Wittman added, “we want to make sure we’re not creating vulnerabilities” by sharing sensitive information.

In addition, he said Congress has asked the FBI and Pentagon “to gather information to understand the magnitude” of Chinese information collection and espionage. They “are absolutely opportunistic and aggressive” in gathering data down to “a small town’s water supply.”

“We also see [Chinese] activities” in sports and entertainment, Whitman said, mentioning China’s blocking telecasts of NBA basketball games after the Houston Rockets ownership criticized Beijing’s crackdown on democracy protests in Hong Kong. “They are very much about how people view them.”

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense, GovExec.com, NextGov.com, DefenseOne.com, Government Executive and USNI News.

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