Posted: April 4, 2017 3:00 PM

Near-peer Competitors Emerge to Challenge Navy

By WILLIAM MATTHEWS, Seapower Special Correspondent

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — After 15 years of focusing on counterterrorism, the intelligence environment suddenly is in the midst of a transformation, the Navy’s intelligence chief said April 4.

The Navy is now confronted by near-peer competitors that have growing power on and under the sea. There are potential enemies that have an increasing ability to collect and analyze information, including information about the United States and the U.S. Navy.

And there are adversaries increasingly adept at disinformation, said Rear Adm. Robert Sharp.  

“We are being challenged in the maritime domain in ways we have not been in a long time,” Sharp told an audience at the 2017 Sea Air & Space Exposition. Sharp is commander of the Office of Naval Intelligence and head of the National Maritime Intelligence-Integration Office.

The U.S. Navy had been unchallenged on the high seas since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Sharp said. But no more.

China is building a fleet of surface ships, submarines and high-speed anti-ship missiles. China has also built and militarized islands in parts of the South China Sea that it claims as its own. Russia, too, is constructing new submarines and surface ships, and both are developing advanced intelligence collecting and analysis capabilities, Sharp said.

U.S. adversaries are investing in technology to enable them to better know where U.S. forces are “in time and space,” Sharp said. As a result, the U.S. military will have to develop new approaches to operating in such an environment, he said.

A number of other nations also are investing in undersea technology. “There’s a lot of interest in knowing what’s going on undersea,” Sharp said. Some of the interest is commercial in nature, some is for military purposes, he said. But the result is, “we are being challenged in ways we have not been.”

The intelligence community also is dealing with an explosion of information — much of it is open source and available to anyone, and some of it is deliberately false. This new information environment creates opportunities, but also vulnerabilities, Sharp said.

The flood of information is so vast that the intelligence community must develop better analytical tools to derive useful meaning from it, Sharp said. Better analytical capabilities that lead to greater understanding of adversaries could also lead to a greater ability to predict their actions, he said.

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