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Going Green: HPSCI’s Opportunity to Restore DIA’s Partner Military Analysis Capabilities By Tommy Ross




According to recent reports, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) is finishing its work on a comprehensive reexamination of the roles and missions of the Defense Intelligence Agency. This oversight effort is much needed and long overdue: as the committee’s report accompanying the Fiscal Year 2018 Intelligence Authorization Act noted in announcing the review, “today’s defense intelligence apparatus is cumbersome, duplicative, and expensive.” DIA has taken on a broad assortment of missions that have, as the committee notes, “detracted from DIA’s ability to execute its primary mission: providing intelligence on foreign militaries and operating environments that delivers an information advantage to prevent and decisively win wars.”

Yet, even this primary mission has become out of balance. Available public documents, such as DIA’s most recently released public strategy, assert that DIA’s driving focus is on understanding adversaries, preventing strategic surprise, and supporting current military operations—all missions built around analysis of threats. Such a threat-centric focus risks overshadowing “green force” analysis—the collection and analysis of information and intelligence about the defense enterprises of U.S. partners. At a time when the United States is as reliant as ever on building integrated military coalitions, green force analysis is a vital discipline. HPSCI’s DIA review offers a golden opportunity to elevate emphasis on green force analysis and the substantial benefits it can bring to partnered and coalition operations.

Challenges to DIA’s Capability Analysis

For many years, DIA has been pulled in two different, and often contradictory, directions. DIA was established as a military intelligence agency, designed to deliver collection and analysis of foreign military forces and operating environments to military customers. Yet, due to two simultaneous trends—the deepening integration and heightened profile of the U.S. intelligence community in the post–9/11 era, and the growing political engagement and influence of the U.S. military as conveyed through the figure of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—DIA has increasingly been tugged toward expanding its aperture to address concerns that go beyond strictly military intelligence. This challenge has deepened as the United States has fought sustained military operations for nearly two decades, and relatively new threats such as terrorism and malicious cyber actors have risen in prominence. As current DIA Director Robert Ashley said in a recent speech, “When [Major General] Mike Groen [director, Joint Staff J-2] goes in to see the Chairman everyday he doesn’t say, “Mike, tell me about the military things. I’m not worried about the other stuff.” He says, “Mike, tell me about diplomatic, the information, the military, the economic things that are happening with China. What am I not seeing and what am I behind on? How do I get ahead of that?”

A declassified 2013 defense department inspector general’s report confirms this trend. Among its findings were that “requirements today range far beyond traditional threat capability analysis and have increased granularity or detail requirements, along with significantly shortened response time demands,” and that the current national security landscape has created “an environment where the demand signals for other non-general military intelligence, such as socio-cultural and cyber threat analysis, [is] constantly increasing.”

The IG report suggests that this trend has detracted from the DIA’s ability to conduct military capability analysis generally, and green force analysis specifically. It notes that, among military combatant commands, a common concern was that DIA’s “focus on supporting tactical counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, and other crisis-action priorities left little enterprise analytic capacity for the longer-term analytic efforts required for other command activities, such as theater campaign planning.” Moreover, the DIA’s Military Forces Analysis (MFA) Office, which provides foreign military force analysis and validates foreign military order-of-battle data in the military intelligence database (MIDB), “confirmed that MIDB and other data-basing efforts had been negatively affected by the responsible production organizations prioritizing crisis support over database maintenance. This was especially true for the lower priority countries.”

As HPSCI finalizes its review of the DIA’s roles and missions, this atrophy of green force analysis deserves special attention.

Why Green Force Analysis Matters to U.S. Security

Green force analysis involves collecting and analyzing information about the capabilities, vulnerabilities, strategic interests and priorities, institutions, leadership, and culture associated with a friendly military force. One could be forgiven for wondering, if a foreign military is friendly, why we should divert resources toward analyzing its effectiveness and away from assessing strategic competitors such as Russia or China. Yet, green force analysis brings insights that can dramatically strengthen coalition and partnered operations, as well as U.S. diplomatic and capacity-building efforts designed to prepare partners to participate in and effectively contribute to such operations. As Stephen Tankel puts it in the conclusion of his new book With Us or Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror, “Optimizing cooperation requires augmenting a threat-centric paradigm with a partner-centric one that dedicates sufficient time and resources to assessing what the United States can expect in the way of cooperation from other countries, and at what cost.”

Green force analysis can contribute to the success of U.S. unilateral, coalition, and partnered operations in a variety of ways. Analysis of a partner’s military capabilities allows us to understand where its strengths and weaknesses lie. Such information is invaluable. Knowing a partner’s strengths enables the United States to help integrate that partner into coalition roles in which it is most likely to succeed.  Understanding weaknesses helps avoid strategic surprise in coalition settings; moreover, it generates insight into how the United States can best target security assistance or other capacity-building efforts to address pressing partner needs.

Assessing a partner’s strategic priorities can also yield important insights for U.S. strategy formulation, such as the likelihood of a partner choosing to participate, or sustaining participation, in a particular coalition operation, the commitment of a partner to a capacity-building initiative, or how a partner might view and respond to U.S. military actions. Partners often have obscure or complicated motivations for the strategic interests they share with the United States, or may not share strategic interests at all, and failing to understand these differences can lead to costly operational challenges or strategic errors.

Beyond analyzing partner strategy and capabilities, green force analysis can illuminate for policymakers the critical dynamics characterizing partner military institutions, leaders, and culture. Understanding institutional structures can help policymakers shape institutional capacity-building, identify institutional weaknesses that could impact partner military contributions to coalition operations, and navigate competing power centers in advancing U.S. defense interests. Understanding partner military leadership and culture can help policymakers conduct military diplomacy, identify where risks of corruption or political instability exist and how to mitigate them, shape military-to-military engagements, and integrate partners into coalition forces.

Green force analysis can guide the United States toward successful approaches to structuring relationships to support the overarching U.S. strategy of working by, with, and through partners. As Tankel notes, “a partner-centric paradigm would also account for how the partner in question would respond to coercion, incentives, or the assignment of conditions to incentives.”

Most strategically though, helping partner militaries develop into competent and ethical guarantors of their citizenry’s security advances both internal and external stability—internally because competent militaries provide a safety umbrella for the society to progress in other spheres, and externally because they can act as a deterrent to aggression and chaos in their own regional neighborhoods.

As the 2018 National Defense Strategy observes, “Every day, our allies and partners join us in defending freedom, deterring war, and maintaining the rules which underwrite a free and open international order.” Working “by, with, and through” such partners has become a mainstay of U.S. strategy. Yet, the atrophy of green force analysis means that the United States often risks operating with a limited or erroneous understanding of partner capabilities, intentions, strategic priorities, and institutions. As HPSCI completes its comprehensive reexamination of DIA’s roles and missions, the committee—along with leaders from across the defense intelligence enterprise—should seize this important opportunity to correct a critical knowledge gap and build a stronger foundation for future U.S. and coalition military operations.

Tommy Ross is a senior associate (non-resident) with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2018 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.


The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a bipartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 1962 and headquartered in Washington, D.C. It seeks to advance global security and prosperity by providing strategic insights and policy solutions to decisionmakers.

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