In light of the number of global threats and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ambitions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the U.S. needs to bolster its allies on NATO’s eastern flank with military technology and invest in systems that are affordable, numerous and survivable–such as drone swarms–and that are able to provide rapid information to forces that need it, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said on Feb. 24.
The U.S. is facing threats to the world order and the rule of law from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and transnational terrorism.
“All five [threats] are on the table, and we have to worry about them to varying degrees,” Smith told a Wilson Center forum. “The nature of modern warfare and modern conflict–the devil of it is we’re seeing what’s happening in Ukraine so certainly your basic massing of force for mechanized warfare has not gone away, but a whole bunch of other things have emerged–technology and innovation, information and survivability.”
“To me, the way those threats have emerged comes down to those two words–information and survivability,” he said. “Our ability to move information and get it to the people who need it most instantaneously and protect it is key to being successful in warfare. And the second thing is, ‘What is a survivable system?’ The swarm of drones issue brings this home. A swarm of drones can get into areas that an aircraft carrier or F-35 can’t. Think about that for a second. We spent all this money–certainly on the F-35 and other things–trying to come up with a platform that’s going to be more survivable. That’s the whole point of the F-35, but there are air defense systems that are going to make it difficult for the F-35 to survive that a much cheaper swarm of drones can penetrate.”
Smith mentioned the conflict in Ethiopia in which foreign-built strike drones, including Chinese Wing Loong drones supplied by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iranian drones, Israeli drones, and Turkish Bayraktar TB-2s, have helped Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reverse gains made by Tigrayan rebel forces over the last several months, according to published reports.
“Ethiopia went out to Turkey, UAE and Israel, bought a bunch of drones, and turned it like that,” Smith said, snapping his fingers. “Now they’ve pushed the rebel group back into the territory they were in before. How expensive do you think that was? We’ve got to be able to innovate, use AI (artificial intelligence), meet all five of those threats, and also be aware of how warfare is changing on cyber, information, on new systems, on more survivable systems. The challenge is right there in front of us, but nobody in the world is better positioned to meet that challenge than the United States of America, and it’s not even close.”
U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, for one, said this month that his department is to move out on fielding a significant combat drone force. In Kendall’s approach, the future Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) sixth-generation fighter, the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35, the Northrop Grumman [NOC] B-21 Raider bomber, and the Boeing [BA] F-15EX could have a complement of one to five strike, communications, and surveillance drones controlled by a manned fighter or bomber (Defense Daily, Feb. 7).
In the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. is moving a number of assets, including F-35As, Boeing F-15Es, KC-135s, KC-10s, and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to support NATO’s eastern flank, including Poland, Romania, and the Baltic nations.
“We have to shore up our NATO allies in the region,” Smith said on Feb. 24. “I don’t think we’re in a position anymore to just sort of negotiate with Russia. They’ve made it clear that they will use military might so we have to have the same level of deterrence to protect our new NATO allies in the east that we had in the rest of Europe during the Cold War. Putin has presented that grave of a threat.”
Among the sanctions announced by the White House on Feb. 24 are measures against 49 Russian military end users.
“Exports of nearly all U.S. items and items produced in foreign countries using certain U.S.-origin software, technology, or equipment will be restricted to targeted military end users,” the White House said. “These comprehensive restrictions apply to the Russian Ministry of Defense, including the Armed Forces of Russia, wherever located.”
The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry (BIS) said on Feb. 24 that its “Russia-specific export control measures impose a policy of denial on sensitive items Moscow relies on for its defense, aerospace and maritime industries.”
“These items, many of which were not previously subject to controls when destined for Russia, include semiconducors, computers, telecommunications, information security, equipment, lasers, and sensors,” BIS said.
BIS said that the European Union, Japan, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand “have announced plans to implement substantially similar restrictions and are exempted from new requirements for items produced in their countries.”