Robert Ashley, Lieutenant General, U.S. Army
Director, Defense Intelligence Agency
March 6, 2018
Chairman McCain, Ranking Member Reed, and members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to provide the Defense Intelligence Agency’s assessment of the global security environment and to address the threats confronting the Nation.
The United States faces an increasingly complex array of challenges to its national security. The military environment has shifted from the existence of the United States as the single power able to dominate challengers and to deter aggression through conventional means to one in which foreign militaries are emerging with near-peer and, in some areas, peer capabilities. Adversaries have studied the American way of conflict and have developed, and will continue to develop, capabilities to mitigate or upend longstanding U.S. military dominance in all warfighting domains—terrestrial, maritime, air, space, and cyber—raising the complexity of the threat environment and risk to the United States. Competitor states will employ all diplomatic, economic, political, and covert mechanisms of influence and coercion available to advance their agendas. Many states will continue to view nuclear weapons as both the guarantor of regime survival and a critical capability in a conflict with a conventionally superior adversary. This threat environment highlights the need for us to operate in close collaboration with our Five Eyes partners, NATO, and other allies across the globe. This Statement for the Record is organized regionally, followed by transnational issues. Taken together, these issues reflect the complexity, diversity, and scope of today’s challenges to our national security.
The men and women of DIA lead the Intelligence Community in providing strategic, operational, and tactical Defense Intelligence. They deliver decision advantage to warfighters, defense planners, the defense acquisition community, and policymakers. I am privileged to serve with them and present their analysis to you. My hope in this hearing is to help the Nation—through the important oversight role of Congress—to better understand these global challenges and to support this committee in identifying opportunities and possible responses to these threats. On behalf of the entire Defense Intelligence Enterprise, thank you for your continued confidence. Your support is vital to us.
Iran remains a primary nation-state challenger to U.S. interests and security within the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Iran’s national security strategy focuses on deterring and, if necessary, defending against external threats, securing Iran’s position as a dominant regional power, and ensuring continuity of clerical rule, economic prosperity, and domestic security. Iran is engaged in the region’s conflicts to further its security goals and expand its influence with neighboring countries, at the expense of the United States and U.S.-aligned regional partners.
Following Iran’s implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in January 2016, the International Atomic Energy Agency continues to verify and report that Iran has not enriched uranium above allowable levels, maintains limits on centrifuge numbers, and allows monitoring of nuclear fuel and heavy water stocks. We expect that the regime has distributed some financial gains resulting from the JCPOA to its security forces, although we believe domestic social and economic expenditures will remain the priority for Tehran in the near term, particularly in the wake of recent unrest sparked by economic conditions.
UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorses the JCPOA, established benchmarks for lifting UN restrictions on the import and export of certain advanced conventional weapons and ballistic missiles through 2020 and 2023, respectively—pending Iran’s continued compliance. Iran will look to Resolution 2231 dates as opportunities to expand its military modernization, and we believe Iranian military leaders are preparing their forces to begin receiving some advanced conventional weapons once UN restrictions are lifted by 2020.
Iran’s conventional military strategy is based primarily on deterrence and—if deterrence fails—the ability to retaliate. We believe that Iran’s military forces are incorporating lessons learned from operations in Syria and Iraq to refine some of their tactics, which could improve Tehran’s ability to combat terrorism and domestic insurgencies.
Iran continues to improve its conventional capabilities to deter adversaries, defend its homeland, and control avenues of approach—including the Strait of Hormuz—in the event of a military conflict. We expect Iran’s modernization priorities to remain its ballistic missile, naval, and air defense forces, with new emphasis on the need for more robust combat air capabilities. In 2017, Iran tested and fielded its Russian-made SA-20c surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, providing Iran the flexibility of a highly mobile, long-range, strategic SAM with a generational improvement in capabilities over its other legacy air defense systems. Both Iran’s regular Navy and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy will field increasingly lethal platforms and weapons—including more advanced mines, small submarines, fast-attack craft, and ship- and shore-based antiship cruise missiles—which further complicate U.S. freedom of navigation throughout Iran’s littoral.
Iran has the region’s largest ballistic missile arsenal, consisting of close-, short-, and medium-range systems that can strike targets throughout the region up to 2,000 kilometers from Iran’s border. Iran continues to improve the range, lethality, and accuracy of its missile systems to increase the systems’ effectiveness, which Iran probably believes enhances their deterrent and operational value. Tehran is pursuing long-range, precision land-attack cruise missiles, which present a new type of threat in the region. Iran is also developing more powerful space launch vehicles—boosters that would be capable of ICBM ranges if configured for that purpose—and technologies that enable development of long-range missile subsystems.
As Iran perceives that the threat to its allies is diminishing and Damascus and Baghdad consolidate control over their respective countries, we expect Iran to transition to efforts that secure and increase its long-term influence and to look for new opportunities to challenge its regional adversaries. In Iraq, Iran will leverage its aligned PMF and Shia militia groups as well as its longstanding political and societal ties as its main avenues of influence to pressure Baghdad to expel U.S. and coalition forces and prevent Kurdish separatism. In Syria, Iran will continue to work with Russia to administer deescalation zones while simultaneously supporting Syrian regime operations on the peripheries of these zones. Iran’s presence in Syria not only benefits the Assad regime, it represents a key step toward Iran’s goal of a land bridge from Tehran through Iraq and Syria into Lebanon. This increases Iran’s operational reach in the region, enabling greater support to its proxies. Increased lethal support to Lebanese Hizballah in particular is likely to amplify tension with Israel.
In Yemen, Iran will proceed with its low-cost, high-payoff support of the Huthis against the Saudi-led coalition, including through the provision of lethal aid, to expand Iranian influence while also indirectly confronting Saudi Arabia. Iran has helped the Huthis improve their military and missile capabilities, demonstrated through Huthi missile launches against targets in Saudi Arabia and Saudi-led coalition ships in the Red Sea. We expect Tehran will refocus on stabilizing its allies and look for new opportunities to challenge its regional adversaries, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Iran remains committed to modernizing its military; building the capacity of its partners across the region; and forging new partnerships, while balancing a desire to gain from its reintegration into the global economic system.
Fighting in Yemen will persist along the major battlefronts between Huthi-aligned forces, backed by Iran, and remnants of the Yemeni government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition that includes the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Neither the Huthis nor the government of Yemeni President Abd Rabuh Mansur Hadi, backed by the Arab coalition, has been able to achieve decisive results through military force. Efforts at peace talks are stalled, and the Huthis are unwilling to cede territory or disarm, and Saudi Arabia is unwilling to accept a perceived Iranian proxy on its southern border and weapons in the hands of nonstate actors. We do not expect a significant shift in 2018.
The Huthis continue to launch ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia and have improved their missile capabilities with Iranian assistance. The Huthis launched Iranian-origin missiles with an estimated range of 900 kilometers at Riyadh in November and December and at the Yanbu oil refinery in July 2017, illustrating Huthi intent to strike economic and infrastructure facilities as well as military targets in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia threatened Iran with retaliation should a Huthi missile strike a high-value Saudi target. The Huthis have repeatedly threatened the UAE with a missile strike, which suggests they are in the final stages of acquiring a longer range missile, probably with help from Iran. With Iranian support, the Huthis have improved their maritime capabilities—which include antiship missiles, explosive-laden boats, and mines—and consequently, the conflict remains a threat to vital international shipping lanes through the Red Sea.