WASHINGTON — It is not just the military personnel in the field with the most advanced weapons that will provide the Pentagon the new lethality being demanded. Those who can take data, analyze it and transform it into the ammunition of information for war will lubricate that desired prowess, a key general said.
Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), said great power competition means understanding what the opponent’s forces consist upon, how capable they can be used and being smart before a conflict so there are no surprises.
“We enable those kinds of kinetic strikes,” Ashley said Monday during remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. That analytical strength enables DIA to be “a sentinel” for the nation in advance and during military operations, he said.
Kinetic strike is a euphemism for military action involving active warfare, usually focused on lethal force. The phrase was popularized by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and has morphed to distinguish more traditional warfare from cyber warfare.
“My core mission is to make sure that the secretary of defense is never surprised,” Ashley said.
Ashley said he expects advances in artificial intelligence can help the DIA from being caught unaware, as well as open more information available to analysts in ways easier to process.
“Part of the challenge we have now, and I think really the opportunity is, as we look at algorithms, as we look at machine learning and AI, is developing a degree of confidence within the AI, a degree of confidence within the algorithm,” he said.
Ashley said the DIA is watching efforts by Russia and Turkey to demilitarize the area around Idlib in northwest Syria as a first step to avoid a bloody assault in the rebel-held area.
He said Russia and Iran “are looking to posture themselves … to leverage what a follow-on regime will be.” He said it is critical to determine what the landscape in Syria will be once hostilities cease.
“We want to see the factions and the different parties come together to be able to start to look at a way we can start setting peace and start working to a sense of normalcy,” Ashley said.
He also said the moves in Syria are classic Moscow maneuvering. “The Russians were not strangers in Syria before the conflict, but part of when we talked about that great power competition, that is an opportunity for them to increase their presence in Syria whether it’s through airfields, ports, access in the Mediterranean,” Ashley said.
“For Putin is, you know, part of being a great power is that he sits at the table with other great powers. And so, that’s part of the intent behind what he wants to accomplish,” Ashley said. “He gets himself to the table in some way, shape, or form to make a decision.”