Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C., Dec. 27, 2019 —
Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley Jr. was interviewed by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius at DIA Headquarters, Dec. 20.
Ignatius’ questions were primarily focused on Russia and China and the threats posed by these near-peer competitors. He had a particular interest in space capabilities.
“We’ve seen significant investments in space because both the Russians and Chinese realize how we leverage space and how integral it has been to the wars we’ve fought,” said Ashley. “So they understand that to be successful in any major conflict they have to be a player in space.”
Cybersecurity was a point of concern and a topic Ignatius was interested in discussing further, specifically in regard to weapon system vulnerabilities.
“We’ve (Department of Defense) declared cyber a domain, and that’s one of those domains that literally has the ability to touch the technology in every other domain,” Ashley said. “It’s absolutely critical … to put a defense in place for our weapons systems and what we do with industry is absolutely critical to securing those systems.”
When asked whether our adversaries were developing tools that would allow them to threaten the connected world, Ashley talked about the fear of reciprocation as a deterrent.
“Part of it is their rules of engagement and it’s almost as if there are certain unstated things that someone is not going to do because of fear that you’re going to reciprocate and do it to them,” he said. “For a near-peer competitor to realize that you have a like capability … it serves as a deterrent.”
Defense-related headlines from national outlets have focused recently on the advancements of sophisticated weapon systems, like hypersonics. Ignatius asked if these capabilities pose a real threat.
“These are real capabilities,” replied Ashley. “In the decade coming up you will see these fielded as actual capabilities. There’s been enough tests over the last decade or so that the technology is maturing.”
And how do we defend against these threats?
“It creates a new challenge for us,” Ashley said. “It’s helping industry understand how it operates, its parameters, what’s the degree of maneuverability that it has. The defeat mechanism … we’d look at things through the whole chain of event that would allow it to launch.”
The interview then shifted to a discussion on China’s desire or intent to field a blue-water navy.
“I think they are moving that direction,” said Ashley. “Their focus remains in the Pacific and to be dominant, but to be globally influential it will require you to go beyond the Pacific.”
Ashley wrapped up the interview sharing his concerns over the proliferation of ballistic missiles.
“It used to be that you just had to watch the Soviets,” Ashley concluded. “The selling of that kind of technology to other nations and the proliferation creates complexity in our ability to understand global threats and capabilities.”
Editor’s note: David Ignatius writes a twice-a-week foreign affairs column for Washington post. He’s also written eight spy novels: "Bloodmoney" (2011), "The Increment" (2009), "Body of Lies" (2007), "The Sun King" (1999), "A Firing Offense" (1997), "The Bank of Fear" (1994), "SIRO" (1991), and "Agents of Innocence" (1987). Body of Lies was made into a 2008 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe.