WASHINGTON — As military leaders in the US and elsewhere continually discover new lessons from watching Russia’s flawed invasion of Ukraine, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall described today the lessons he would “prefer” China to take away.
“First of all, that the economic consequences of doing an aggressive act may be much more severe than you would prefer,” he told the audience at the Reagan National Defense Forum. The second lesson, he said, was “that your military may not be quite accurate when they’re telling you how good they are… [and third] that the short war you anticipate might not be the war you get.”
Kendall said he believes that while Russian President Vladimir Putin wasn’t necessarily deceived about the strength of his military, “he certainly overestimated dramatically” its capabilities, including in the cyber realm. He later added that conflict is inherently unpredictable, there are “a lot of unknown unknowns,” so tactics that seemed viable in experimentation don’t pan out in a real fight.
“Now those may not be the lessons that are being learned. Those are the lessons I’d prefer [they’d] be learning,” he said.
What Beijing may actually learn, he feared, was that “if we’re going to go and do an act of aggression, we have to do it in a way which [is] much more decisive and learn from the Russians that way.”
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Since the outset of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February there has been concern China would take the opportunity to mount an invasion of Taiwan. Earlier this week the Pentagon released its China Military Power Report, in which it said that there were no immediate signs Beijing was preparing to launch an invasion anytime soon, but said China had established a “new normal” in terms of military activity surrounding the island.
On Cyber Ops, A Deterred Russia And ‘The Dog That Didn’t Bark’
Kendall made his remarks today during a panel about hybrid threats, where he spoke alongside Sen. Angus King, NSA Director Paul Nakasone and Booz Allen Hamilton President Horacio Rozanski. Elsewhere in the discussion, the group was asked about the curious lack of relatively major cyberattacks from Russia, contrary to early predictions.
Though Nakasone said Russian operators “were trying,” he suggested they were running up against good defenses in both Ukraine and the West in general. Nakasone said a year ago a team from the CYBERCOM’s Cyber National Mission Force to Kyiv, where they stayed for weeks bolstering Ukrainian defenses.
December marks a year since the Cyber National Mission Force deployed a hunt forward team to Ukraine. Elite cyber forces worked with our partners to find malicious activity in their critical networks. We continue to support Ukraine in this effort. 🇺🇦🇺🇸https://t.co/YkHrBlmK51
— U.S. Cyber Command (@US_CYBERCOM) December 1, 2022
King, for his part, credited Nakasone and the two organizations under his command, the National Security Agency and US Cyber Command, with scaring the virtual Russian bear.
“I’m convinced that the reason that has not occurred is because of this guy,” he said, nodding to Nakasone. “We have literally deterred Russia from cyberattack because they know that we have the capacity to make them pay a high price.”
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King acknowledged that when it comes to cybersecurity in general, it’s hard to tell why something didn’t happen. But he likened the question to a saying from a Sherlock Holmes story about the “dog that didn’t bark” — the absence of evidence, in this case, was evidence CYBERCOM’s efforts were paying off.
“You’re keeping that dog quiet,” King said of Nakasone.