What you need to know about Trump's proposed military budget

What you need to know about Trump's proposed military budget
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure MORE just released the proposed military budget for 2020. Even after adjusting for inflation, it’s one of the largest peacetime defense budgets since World War II at $750 billion. Already there is contention over the 5 percent increase from 2019. The all-too-assured fight between the House and Senate has budget analysts predicting only a 2.4 percent increase, landing at $733 billion instead.

President Trump says it’s just right. Democrats say it’s too much.

They’re both wrong. It’s not high enough.

In a recent World War III war game scenario run by RAND, the United States continues to lose against Russia and China. RAND analyst David Ochmanek put it bluntly: “In our games, when we fight Russia and China, blue (the U.S.) gets its ass handed to it.” The flaw in this analysis is that RAND and the military thinks Word War III could be fought in the mid-2020’s.

They’re wrong too. It’s being fought now, and we’re still losing.

In 2012, the Pentagon knew our technological advantage was being eroded. A new office called the Strategic Capabilities Office, or SCO, was part of a larger strategy to deploy advanced technology known as the Third Offset.

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According to the Department of Defense (DOD), an offset strategy is “part of a long-term competitive strategy; a peacetime competition between rival defense establishments that aims to generate and sustain strategic advantage. Offset strategies are not about formulating a general unified theory for armed conflict. They instead aim to bolster and extend U.S. conventional deterrence against great powers able to produce or acquire technologically advanced weapons systems.”

The First Offset began at the start of the Cold War in the early 1950s. The former Soviet Union had the advantage of geography over the United States in Western Europe. We offset their advantage by exploiting our nuclear superiority. That worked until the Soviets caught up to us.

The Second Offset was adopted by DOD in the mid to late-1970s. NATO and the United States realized they couldn’t match the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact soldier-for-soldier, plane-for-plane and tank-for-tank. To offset Soviet strength, the ability to look deep and shoot deep required the development of new long-range sensors and precision-guided munitions that were supported by a modernized C4I grid (Command, Control, Communications, Computer and Intelligence).

However, the dominance we’ve enjoyed for the past twenty-five years is coming to a grinding halt at an alarming rate. In the first two offsets, we were only worried about the Soviet Union. Now as the Russian Federation, we still have cause to be concerned, as well as with China. This is the reason for the Third Offset, a strategy that looks to exploit advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and autonomous systems so that the U.S. can maintain, and in selected areas expand, our advantages. But it’s not going to be easy.

Our technological advances and military superiority are being stolen under our very noses. Russia and China don’t have to invent anything. They’ve become quite adept at stealing everything in sight. In an assessment delivered to Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer last week, and reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, the Navy and its industry partners are “under cyber siege” by Chinese and Russian hackers primarily. This massive intellectual property and military secrets theft “threatens the U.S.’s standing as the world’s top military power.”

According to the report, “China has derived an incalculable near- and long-term military advantage from it [the hacking], thereby altering the calculus of global power.” How could this have been achieved so easily? Simple. The Navy, as well as many parts of DOD, has a failed policy of allowing contractors self-reporting breaches and any vulnerabilities. According to the review, “That after-the-fact system has demonstrably failed.”

China and Russia are both preparing for an even greater confrontation. And, yes, our military even has a term for that. It’s called “Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield”, or IPB, and it’s defined as “the systematic process of analyzing the mission variables of enemy, terrain, weather and civil considerations in an area of interest to determine their effect on operations.”

The issue with this definition is that we expect our adversaries to play by the same rules. China is making their own rules. They have used commercial companies, like Huawei and ZTE, to help prepare the next battlefield. 

In 2012, the House Intelligence Committee issued a finding called the “Investigative Report on the U.S. National Security Issues Posed by Chinese Telecommunications Companies Huawei and ZTE.” Even before that report came out, there were significant concerns, going back years.

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In 2008, the Treasury Department, through its Committee on Foreign Investment, blocked the sale of 3com, an American company that makes anti-hacking computer software for the military, to Huawei on national security grounds. In 2010, Sprint said security was the official reason it would not consider bids from Huawei and ZTE for the $7 billion upgrade of its network. And in 2011, the U.S. Commerce Department announced Huawei "Will not be taking part in the building of America's interoperable wireless emergency network for first responders due to U.S. government national security concerns."

Most recently, in January of this year Huawei, their Iranian subsidiary Skycom, and their CFO Wanzhou Meng were indicted for numerous offenses including “money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction of justice and sanctions violations.” But while we fight them in court, China is expanding their muscle in other areas that will affect all future battlefields.

The next front in this escalating technology war will be fought through the air and under the sea. Not with planes, ships and submarines, but with 5G and submarine cables that connect the world to the internet. Numerous countries are blocking the deployment of Huawei and ZTE 5G equipment over espionage and security concerns. But as we fight the air wars, China is also making aggressive moves against the infrastructure that connects continents to each other.

Submarine cables are fiber-optic lines that are wrapped in armored sheathing and laid on the ocean seabed. According to the Wall Street Journal, these cables “carry about 95 percent of intercontinental voice and data traffic, making them critical for the economies and national security of most countries.”

Huawei Marine, a subsidiary of the parent company Huawei, just finished a 3,750-mile cable between Brazil and Cameroon. It just started work on a 7,500-mile project to connect Europe, Asia and Africa. China is slowly and surely preparing for the next battlefield now. Information, and the free flow of it, is power. So too would be the ability to monitor the traffic on such cables or even to remotely disable them, “to sever links to entire nations.”

It’s hard to compete against Chinese companies who steal their way to market dominance, assisted by a never-ending supply of credit from government banks and guarded by the opaqueness of being a privately-held company.

So rather than fiddling while Rome burns, the United States needs to put the cybersecurity of our national secrets and our technological superiority at the forefront of our preparation for World War III. That means putting companies like Huawei out of business, and imposing strict oversight of contractors who are getting pilfered at will.

And it means spending more now.

If you think cybersecurity is expensive, wait until you fight a war you’re wholly unprepared for.

Morgan Wright is an expert on cybersecurity strategy, cyberterrorism, identity theft and privacy. He previously worked as a senior adviser in the U.S. State Department Antiterrorism Assistance Program and as senior law enforcement adviser for the 2012 Republican National Convention. Follow him on Twitter @morganwright_us.