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Near-Peer Competition Shapes Military Intelligence Priorities

The services continue to pivot information gathering and intelligence efforts to meet rising threats from China and Russia.
Panelists at the Intelligence and National Security Summit discuss the military’s intelligence needs. Credit: Herman Farrer

Panelists at the Intelligence and National Security Summit discuss the military’s intelligence needs. Credit: Herman Farrer

Since the National Defense Strategy identified the risks to the United States and its allies from Russia and China, the nation’s military intelligence departments have shifted to meet changing intelligence needs, leaders said, speaking on the first day of AFCEA and INSA’s Intelligence and National Security Summit .

“China is pouring on tremendous military capabilities, and they’ve actually made their intentions known,” reported Vice Adm. Jeffrey Trussler, deputy chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare-the N2/N6, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, and director of Naval Intelligence. “It is what they say publicly what their goals are, …. reunification by force, if necessary, coercive and maligned behavior on their neighbors in their region, and around the world. And they are putting military capability behind that. That is something we have to pay attention to.”

Russia, meanwhile, despite its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine six months ago, has not decreased its naval activities, the vice admiral pointed out. “Their navy has not actually slowed down,” he said. “It is almost like nothing else is going on in Ukraine, with the type of activity they are doing in the maritime domain. All those interesting weapons that Putin bragged that they have, or they are going to have, they are continuing to test and develop.”

The Navy’s intelligence leader acknowledged that intelligence operations are “a bit more complicated” now.

“But in talking about how we are going to invest in [intelligence] capabilities, we are never going to get to a pause where we are going to focus on one thing, so we better make sure that our priorities and the capabilities that we develop and the resources we have, are focused on that near-peer adversary, and that is China,” Adm. Trussler said.

According to Maj. Gen. William Seely, director of Intelligence, Headquarters Marine Corps, the service is pursuing a comprehensive Force Design 2030 effort, and for the intelligence department, that means examining how it trains and equips Marines performing intelligence and how they are connecting intelligence to the rest of the force, “especially as we operate out forward, as a potential stand-in- orce,” Gen. Seely noted.

With the Marine Corps operating out forward on behalf of the joint force, and possibly as a so-called "stand-in force," Marines will uniquely have access to forward intelligence, given their placement.

“It has also forced us to look at the concept that we are moving forward with, called reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance,” Gen. Seely stated. “And that really is the mindset that reconnaissance is a battle for information. It is about intelligence. It is about that forward edge.”

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Vice Admiral Jeffrey Trussler
In talking about how we are going to invest in [intelligence] capabilities, we are never going to get to a pause where we are going to focus on one thing, so we better make sure that our priorities and the capabilities that we develop and the resources we have, are focused on that near-peer adversary, and that is China.
Vice Adm. Jeffrey Trussler
Deputy Chief of Naval Operations and Director of Naval Intelligence

The Air Force’s new intelligence leader is Lt. Gen. Leah Lauderback, deputy chief of staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Cyber Effects Operations. She is looking at a new element in her portfolio: electronic warfare and electromagnetic spectrum operations.

“We are about to do a sprint on some analysis on what is it that we need, and what are the gaps, what are the requirements, and how it is we can resource them,” Gen. Lauderback stated. “The other big thing that is new and different for us is the secretary of the Air Force’s seven operational Iimperatives, necessities we need in order to deter China or defeat China, if it comes to that.”

China’s growth has been astounding, said Brig. Gen Gregory Gagnon, U.S. Space Force, Headquarters, director of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance. In 2001, that country’s economy ranked 19th in the world behind Italy. “Today, they are the second largest economy in the world,” he stated. “It is a very steep growth curve. What makes you rich, can make you strong and we see deliberate investment in all elements of their military force.”

In the last three years, the People’s Liberation Army of China, with its new space force, has doubled the number of satellites on orbit, Gen. Gagnon said,

“They now have over 600 satellites that do things that all of you do, they take pictures, they listen, they provide PNT [position, navigation and timing],” he warned. “They connect their joint force, and alarmingly, they connect to their weapon systems with greater and greater range, to hold our [military] at risk.

Lastly, Leonel Garciga, director of Information Management for the Army, offered that there is a lot of alignment going on across the entire joint force and intelligence community.

“There is a hard push forward on operations and intelligence convergence,” Garciga noted. “And really democratizing intelligence data across the board and those capabilities and taking it down to the lowest levels. That is where we see a lot of the work today, whether it be just inside the Army, with maneuver forces in intel, or across the services. And it makes sense to me as a data guy.”