Researching China's expeditionary capabilities with Chad Peltier
Terry Pattar: Hello, and welcome to this episode of the Janes World of Intelligence Podcast. I'm Terry Pattar. I lead the Janes Intelligence Unit. I'm joined on this episode by my colleague Allison Evans, also from the Janes Intelligence Unit, and by our colleague Chad Peltier. Chad, who has been working with us for a number of years now has worked in an interesting variety of roles at Janes. But firstly, welcome. Thanks for joining us on this podcast. We're going to be talking about a really interesting topic that I'll come onto. But it'd be great to get a sense of your career background, and what you've been doing up till now, because you held a number of different roles in Janes. And it'd be great to get an idea and a sense of your background as an analyst.
Chad Peltier: Absolutely. Thanks, Terry. I joined Janes pretty quickly after finishing graduate school in International Relations. That was about seven years ago now. I first started as a aerospace and defense solutions advisor here at Janes, then moved into consulting role where I've been for the past three and a half years. In consulting I primarily specialize in projects that focus on emerging defense technologies. So analyzing things like hypersonic weapons, quantum technologies, and how they fit into countries' procurement programs. In the last four months of so, I've actually moved into a new role where I am focused on data analysis. I focus on the structured data and integrating that within our customer systems.
Terry Pattar: I think you touched on, just briefly there, some of the hot topics that a lot of our customers have been interested in, certainly over the last couple of years. Hypersonic weapons, development of new technology, connective data, how we're bringing together different types of data, etc., to help solve intelligence problems. Those things are really all of interest I think. But specifically on this episode, we want to talk about a briefing you gave to the China- U. S. Economic Security Commission looking into China's military logistics, and specifically looking at their expeditionary capabilities. It'd be great to get some background from you on how that came about. How did you come about to research that topic and talk us through the process. How did you actually go about addressing that subject? Because it's not an easy one, it's very challenging. For anyone who's not familiar with China, it can be a very difficult and challenging area to research, and look at, and get information. So how did you go about doing it? How did you go about starting with it?
Chad Peltier: Sure. I'll talk a little bit first about the process for just getting the project in the first place. The Economic and Security Review Commission released an RFP late last year, and they were interested in proposals for a report that was roughly about 40 pages that looked into China's expeditionary capabilities with a particular focus on the logistics capabilities, and network, and supporting that made expeditionary capabilities possible. This included really four primary areas of interest for the Commission. I should note that this Commission is part of the U. S. Congress, so this was a congressionally set up Commission. Every year they produce an annual report that goes to Congress that informs policy and policy decisions. This intelligence product is designed to inform their annual report, and the individual Commissioners in their advice to Congress. The four things that they were most interested within this project topic are the structural or organizational reforms in China that supported expeditionary capabilities. Overseas bases. I'm sure we can get into the weeds in just a few minutes. But they were interested in what potential locations might be good options for Chinese military bases outside of China. The third topic is current and future military expeditionary capabilities. Then the fourth is any civilian and/ or dual- use expeditionary capabilities that the PLA might use to further their military goals.
Terry Pattar: As you mentioned, you and I have worked on the consulting side at Janes for a number of years. But this is quite an unusual requirement for us in terms of it actually been public, the research that we produce. And not only being public, but you had to go and brief it to the Commission and talk through your key findings. We'll maybe come onto that in a bit. But yeah, it'd be great to understand, okay, how you went about tackling those questions. Where did you start, and how much of it relied upon your existing knowledge of the topic versus how much did you need to go out and get information, and how much did you use supporting analysts on this?
Chad Peltier: Great questions. I should say first of all, that we... I guess, I, as the leader on this project, was really lucky, because we have a lot of really great subject matter experts at Janes that I was able to turn to with particular areas of expertise in expeditionary combat and concepts of operations on the one hand. So we have former Marine Corps officers that I could turn to you for the nitty gritty details about how a Marine expeditionary unit works. What are the actual logistics behind how an MEU operates? It's invaluable to have an SME to turn to for those kinds of questions. But, of course, all of the data that we have both internally that I was able to pull, and access that, and gain insights from our structured and unstructured data. That was really key. But, of course, I would say the primary task for this project was taking a mountain of unstructured open- source intelligence from outside of Janes, and either structuring it or analyzing the unstructured data in a systematic way in order to answer the questions that the Commission was interested in. So really, and this could just reflect my particular methodology, I suppose, for doing OSINT, but I was really interested in structuring as much data as possible. Creating visualizations to help in my analysis, and being as systematic as possible to make sure that I didn't miss anything, because there's, like you mentioned, there's so much content that could be analyzed, that a structured process for scraping that for and analyzing it was really key.
Allison Evans: That's something we run into a lot when we're also doing OSINT training courses. Trying to focus on the planning and structuring of your output, and also the collection side of things. Did you find, in the process, having to go back and revise your plan based on what information was or more likely wasn't available in the open source?
Chad Peltier: Absolutely. I would say, for instance, if I could just start with one of the first tasks that I focused on, which was analyzing potential bases, for instance. I started with a review of literature. This is English language analyses and news reports of potential basing sites. But that only gets you so far, especially because some of these open- source reports were of varying quality. Some of these were on the ground, almost opinion pieces really. It was really difficult to trust these headlines, whether they were just reactionary, oh, China's going to build a military base in this particular city or in this port. There were a number of English language and non- Chinese but foreign language documents that we reviewed that seemed to suggest those kinds of things. But you have to take those kinds of things with a grain of salt, and you have to look at the data to actually make a judgment about the quality or the potential of a base actually happening. Overall, I think I had about close to 80 different potential sites worldwide. To create that in the first place, did a large literature review in both English and Chinese sources and, in particular, I found some really awesome sources from essential Military Commission chief of staff who talked about short- term, long- term, and medium- term goals for Chinese expeditionary forces. That's gold right there. But from there, he specifically talked about the Belt and Road Initiative, and connecting investments in BRI countries and BRI locations with military and civil fusion partnerships. That specific example was then, of course, validated with other sources. But that was one of the core insights that drew up a lot of our thinking in the project about Chinese overall strategy for their expeditionary bases. So things like protecting overseas workers. Chinese nationals living and working abroad, the actual physical infrastructure of BRI sites supporting existing humanitarian assistants and disaster relief operations, and, of course, strategic considerations, like the strategic plans of communication, and also where makes sense just from a feasibility point of view. So whether there's local support for China in the area, or if the country has signaled some kind of openness to other countries operating a foreign military base in their country. Those kinds of concepts, I wanted data to all those concepts. Like I mentioned, I had 70 different potential locations to analyze. But obviously, that's, number one, way too many to really think... that are going to be realistic options for China. And like I mentioned before, the quality of some of the reporting around those locations was doubtful at best. So we had to narrow it down, and I think that that narrowing down process was really key. I'm happy to get into that if you'd like.
Terry Pattar: Was that all about refining the scope so that it was achievable within the timeframe you had available, and with the scope of, I guess, of actually producing a 40- page report as you mentioned? Yeah, it'd be good to unpack that a little bit. How did you go about prioritizing where you were going to focus for your research efforts?
Chad Peltier: Sure. That is a really key point. We were operating under a tight time window for this project. While 40 pages doesn't necessarily seem like that long of an intelligence project-
Terry Pattar: Correct me if I'm wrong, but it was quite an estimative analysis, wasn't it? In terms of you were looking at where they were likely to establish bases from 2030 onwards. Was that part of it?
Chad Peltier: Yeah, that's right. I mean, there were some short- term projections as well. But the Commission was also very interested in longer- term forecasts, too. So having to think probabilistically about all these things was really key. And despite the fact that we have lots of SMEs who are great and have a lot of insight into these areas, it's a lot of information to synthesize. So again, putting data to this and continually testing our assumptions about those long- range forecasts was really important. One of the key things that we used for the bases, in particular, was a data set we put together on replenishment port calls. China has been deploying their various naval vessels to the Gulf of Aden on counter- piracy missions. Throughout these counter- piracy missions, we were able to collect, and this was aided... I have to give a shout out to the work from Andrew Erickson. His work on the Gulf of Aden missions was really impactful for this project. But yeah, so we put together a data set of all these missions including their composition, what ships were part of this, the actual individual vessels, how long the mission was, how long they were deployed for, what ports they stopped at, whether those port visits were for replenishments of supplies, or if they were just a good will visit, which was something that the PLA frequently reports on official sources. Yeah, we were able to take all that information and really get a surprisingly clear picture of what their concept of operations were like. And we were able to get some really interesting insights about, for instance, from the composition of the ship packages that were sent. We saw that there were three types of ships that they used. One constant was a Type 054A frigate, that was on every single mission. Then there was a second replenishment ship. This varied just between a few models of replenishment ships due, in part, to the constraints that the PLA Navy has in terms of the replenishment ships they have access to and that were available for the missions. Then the third is frequently a combat ship that was much more capable than any counter- piracy mission would require. So these were destroyers, these were guided missile destroyers, or sometimes a second frigate, or an amphibious landing ship, or an amphibious assault ship. Obviously, for a counter- piracy mission, these things are, they're just unnecessary. But one of the key things that we can gather from that is that by using their current logistics base in Djibouti, as well just having out- of- area experience, they're gaining operational experience both for the crew and the ships. And for the replenishment, they tested numerous kinds of concepts about operations for supporting these ships. By structuring all that information, and seeing it all together, and knowing that we have a comprehensive look from the very beginning of these deployments to the present, we were able to get a really clear picture of what this looked it.
Terry Pattar: It's interesting how you then refined your scope. And you looked at how to set it up as a framework for collecting that information and analyzing it and coming up with those sorts of key bits of analysis. Like you said there, that they didn't need that level of resourcing for counter- piracy missions, but it was useful for them in the broader context of what they're trying to achieve. Just coming back to something you mentioned earlier, which I think is really interesting in terms of how this topic is developing and how China is developing it it's overall strategy, you mentioned that they were using a combination of civilian and military in some cases, and that's a big part of their strategy and their plan. That's in many ways different to how other countries do these types of things, or how they do military logistics, how they develop military capabilities. What were the key points that you came up with as a result of the research? And what were the key findings really, that you came up with at the end that demonstrated how China's expeditionary logistics were developing or likely to develop in the future?
Chad Peltier: Sure. So I'll touch on the dual- use component bit of that first.
Terry Pattar: Yeah, sure.
Chad Peltier: Sure. Like you mentioned, China has instituted a number of new laws that provide incentives and sometimes requirements for civilian organizations to provide the capability for dual use by the military. So some of these things are cargo ships, container ships, refueling ships, future ships going forward that are being built are built to military standards for in terms of can they support a tank on them, or transport these various kinds of military equipment? Some of them are designed to have particular refueling rigs that are modular in nature, so they can be installed on the deck of a ship, and then be used for underway replenishment to naval vessels. So things like that, the structural and organizational changes that are designed to support the PLA and PLA Navy, in particular. These are really key. We took a look at some of these civilian companies, like shipping companies, their fleets, where they have physical port facilities, and the routes that these ships take. So where in the world are there shipping terminals? Do they have petroleum and oil and lubricant locations where they could use this as a logistics node to support naval operations abroad? That was one of the key things that we looked at, was that the PLA was very interested in conducting underway replenishment where they could have either an already deployed naval vessel, or civilian ship that could then rendezvous with a task force or an expeditionary force in open waters. So having those pre- positioned logistics nodes were really key. Obviously, China is blending their military and civilian capabilities there. But overall, I think the key takeaway from the report is that China is not necessary interested in, at least in the immediate term or perhaps the middle term before 2030, it's not necessary interested in establishing a large network of covert military bases. There was long running theory, called the String of Pearls theory, that China was developing these secret or covert facilities where they were stashing weapons, or they might stash weapons, or quickly convert a seemingly innocuous facility into something that was designed for offensive capabilities. So these kinds of locations worldwide, particular throughout the Indian Ocean region and the east coast of Africa could be turned on a darn into these really threatening locations. We really didn't see too much evidence of that from the various data that we collected. Instead, while China does seek to exploit civilian and dual- use resources, that's a little bit different than having a covert facility that houses offensive capabilities and platforms. Instead, we believe that China is looking to develop, what we would call inaudible. That's a term or that's phrase that we saw in some of the literature from some prior great work by the National Defense University here in the U. S. And we thought it really applied in this case, because China is really looking to have particular sites that, in the event of open conflict, that they could use for logistics and refueling, but really to primarily support their humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions. It seemed that China is really interested in it's overall status as a world power, right? Not necessarily having offensive capabilities for a surprise attack against a peer or near peer. That was a really important finding, and I think directed a lot of the conclusions that we had.
Terry Pattar: In terms of the competition, like you said, it's not about China being a threat directly, but it's about actually being able to compete for influence in many ways, I guess? In terms of being able to deploy to do humanitarian assistance, disaster relief missions in locations that otherwise they wouldn't have been able to reach gives them a level of influence that they previously wouldn't have had. That's a really interesting angle on this. And debunking that String of Pearls theory as well is really interesting, because I think they don't necessarily... Well, the way you're describing it and from the research you produced, I guess it almost seems the case that they don't need to be that covert.
Chad Peltier: Yeah, that's right. I think that a lot of their aims are also driven by their economic interest, primarily, right? Status is really key, but really protecting that BRI and the BRI investments that they've made are really important. That showed up again, and again, and again across Chinese language sources that we used. For instance, we took a look at a lot of academics sources, in particular, and articles that were produced by Chinese think tanks and Chinese military studies. It was just an overwhelming majority of them explicitly mentioned BRI interest for, not only China's... the need for expeditionary capabilities in the first place, and, specifically, to defend them from any kind of threats whether man- made or natural disasters, but also specifically to incorporate dual- use capabilities in the protection of those assets and infrastructure and individuals, too. Those were really interrelated and key. I should also note that one of the key threats that we saw that China was worried about is threats from non- state actors around some of these locations. If China has an investment in a port in Pakistan, for instance, they might be concerned about threats from non- state groups that could use terrorist attacks or something like that to harm the physical infrastructure. So that was a really key consideration that they were worried about. I think that that comes from their concern about the growing recognition of the situation with the Uyghurs in Western China. As various non- state groups learn more about the abuses happening to the Uyghur population, the Chinese and the PLA, in particular, are concerned about a backlash and violence from non- state groups.
Terry Pattar: Yeah. That reminds me of, I mean, it was almost one of the first things I looked at when I first joined Janes was some online propaganda that had been produced by I think it was the East Turkestan Islamic Movement at the time. But it was in relation to an attack that had occurred in Pakistan on Chinese workers for exactly that reason you mentioned. So yeah, that's always going to be, I think, an important part of their thinking around defending those interests, those economic interests. You mentioned some of the different sources you used then. You touched upon using Chinese language sources, think tanks, etc. How difficult was it to verify some of the information you were using? Was that a big challenge, or was that relatively straightforward? Talk a little bit about how you went about it perhaps.
Chad Peltier: So Chinese language sources were really key for this project. Unfortunately, I do not speak Mandarin. So that was obviously a pretty big challenge. Frequently, I had to use various translation tools to get a sense for the documents. Then I had to then reach back to other SMEs in Janes who do speak Mandarin and can verify this translation is incorrect, this interpretation you have, this document, is not quite right. That as a starting point was obviously a pretty big challenge.
Terry Pattar: Yeah.
Chad Peltier: I did find some work arounds that seemed to help, though, for searching in foreign languages, especially when you don't speak the language. The strategy that I eventually got to was, if I have a Chinese language document and I can isolate particular characters in that document, and until I know that they're what I'm actually trying to find. I often found that I would get better search results across the various searching platforms that I was using if I searched using the Chinese characters in the original language of whatever I was trying to find, whether that was a particular organization within the PLA, like the Joint Logistics Support Force if I was trying to find a JSLF unit or something like that. Finding the actual Chinese characters in a PDF, and then searching based on those produced far better results than just typing in English the same thing. I would suggest if there are any analysts listening who are challenged to do any kind of open- source research in a language that they're not familiar with, maybe that's an avenue that inaudible to.
Terry Pattar: That's a really good point. Because you know what? That is one of the questions that over the last 10 years has come up more often probably more often than any other on our OSINT training courses. People ask her here how do I research content in language that I can't speak, or how do I find key words? Like you mentioned there, essentially key words in those languages to be able to do some of that searching, identify content, and then maybe turn to a linguist who can answer it for you. My first answer is always, " Well, hire some analysts, hire some colleagues who speak those languages." That's number one. If you can do that, then far and away that's going to make life easier. Second, exactly the message you mentioned. I mean, I think that's something that hopefully people can try and use to help them identify content, even if they're not able to immediately understand what it is. Allison, you've got more experience in this area though. It'd be good to get your thoughts.
Allison Evans: Yeah. I mean, obviously I'm a bit biased being a linguist and a regional specialist myself. So I think speaking the language, spending time in the country, it gives you that inaudible of the culture and the history that's really important for contextual knowledge. Yes, obviously, we've got lots of tools at our disposal these days that we can use to find results in the native language, even if we're not quite sure what that is. But I think in order to get the nuances, you said some of the other Janes SMEs would tell you, " Okay, your interpretation of the tone of this document isn't quite right." I think its always important to have people who know the country, who know the language on your team to help with this kind of thing. That collaboration is also important, especially for countries like China or, obviously, I've worked covering North Korea, for example, where domestic sources will only give you part of the picture or a very specific angle on the picture that you're trying to get. It's great, obviously, that you used Chinese language sources and worked with colleagues who have that background, that expertise. Even then, were there other languages, you mentioned foreign language sources, perhaps in Japanese or from some other Asian countries, that are also writing about China's operations and it's military development that were particularly useful for you in this project in a way that English language sources weren't?
Chad Peltier: I would say that other non- Mandarin and non- English sources that we used were primarily related to investments in Africa actually. These were business focused articles and news reports that we would read that would talk about the terms of a particular deal in terms of investment in a particular port. That was really key for us in understanding China's interest and strategy in BRI investments and whether these particular sites could have the physical infrastructure or potential for an actual base or a logistics node. I would say that was primarily the focus that we used, or the reason why we would use non- English and non- Chinese language sources. Those were very valuable for sure.
Allison Evans: Yeah, actually that reminds me of something else I wanted to come back to which was those metrics. Obviously, you mentioned the BRI in Chinese business interests. But I was wondering if you could be a bit more specific about the metrics that you used to reduce the initial 70, 80 potential sites down to a manageable number for the database that you were creating, where you were collecting much more information on all of the potential sites for 2030?
Chad Peltier: Yeah. Essentially, what I had... I started again with that list of maybe 70 or 80 sites. I had about six different areas that I wanted to operationalize and to put actual data to. I was left with what started out as just a list and turned it into a real data set with variables for each of these concepts that I was trying to put data to. So for instance with the BRI, was able to get investment data on how much money was spent on BRI tagged projects inside the country. Debt to China. So there are some sources for the ratio of debt specific to China that we were able to pull. I already talked about the replenishment port calls and visits by the various task forces by the PLA navy. Government support for Chinese presence. For those we essentially created an ordinal variable where we tracked the level of support based on various sources and news releases. But one of the things that went into that, too, was also things like arms sales. So whether the particular country is buying Chinese arms. Obviously, we have plenty of data on international defense exports, so we were able to leverage a lot of that. And then data on foreign military bases, using Janes data on bases. From that, was able to have a sense for, okay, this particular country is willing to house a foreign military base inside its borders. Then I just had also a tag for whether or not the particular site was mentioned in open- source supporting as a potential base, military facility as well. So I think that that's six different variables that we were able to capture. Then from there, it was actually a pretty clear idea of... It reduced the data set from 70 or 80 to about 20 different sites that we were able to look at in more detail. From those 20 sites, I worked with our satellite imagery analyst Sean O'Connor, who was able to pull satellite imagery data from our imagery providers, and actually do assessments of the physical infrastructure that supports these locations. For instance, do they have enough existing docks or runways to support transport aircraft or naval vessels beyond what is needed just for either commercial operations or for that particular country's naval vessels? Are there support facilities like hangars, POL infrastructure? And is the physical area conducive to further development in the future? Because, again, we're looking for not just the next 10 years, but even beyond. So after 2030 is there enough existing land even for further development of port facilities or runways for these kinds of aircraft and ships? From there, we were able to construct a... Using that physical data, based on the imagery analysis, we were then able to pull in our specifications data. So the length and width and displacement and refueling points and runway and takeoff information, the runway links that were needed to aircraft. inaudible pull in all the specification data to say, " All right, here's all of the PLA Air Force and naval platforms that would be able to actually use these facilities." So even if they're not a Chinese military base, could they be used even if they were just a civilians logistics node. Combining all those data sources was really, really valuable for this project.
Terry Pattar: Did you come across any elements where you looked it, and you thought, " Okay, this seems interesting, but actually the information just isn't reliable here." Or actually you came across even elements of maybe even disinformation. I don't know if there was any or not. But anyway you thought they're talking about an area or a location, but actually there's no evidence that there will be any activity there or bases built or anything like that?
Chad Peltier: Yeah, I would say that some of the locations in Africa, I think, would fall into that category. There were locations on both the eastern and western coasts that I think a lot of maybe local media were skeptical of Chinese intentions. However, I think in a lot of those scenarios, the level of investment is low at this point, and the physical infrastructure might be more limited. So it was clear that these locations weren't going to imminently become an actual Chinese military base, that, at the most, they might serve as just a stopover point for civilian refueling and innocuous humanitarian mission, or something like that. So if they were to become something more than up the level of what we're seeing in Djibouti, for instance, it would have to be after 2030.
Terry Pattar: Yeah, no. In the report itself, I mean, the different types of sources and information you talked about, the different analysis you produced, bringing together satellite imagery analysis that Sean produced, and other types of data and information is really impressive, I think, in terms of how you were able to draw all of those different strands together to reach the conclusions that you did. What were the biggest challenges you found in terms of just the process you were going through?
Chad Peltier: Well, I think, like you mentioned, there were a lot of moving pieces here. I would say that this was the time constraints, and the actual space constraints, too, were challenging. Each one of these sections, the organizational changes, the bases, the military capabilities, and the dual- use capabilities themselves could be an individual report of even more length. Getting all this information together in a digestible, ready- to- use format for the Commission was, itself, a really big challenge. Working across language and across sources, bringing together all this data it was definitely a challenge. As well as just working in a larger team, right, of SMEs. All of those are common problems I think for OSINT projects, but nevertheless, they definitely applied here.
Terry Pattar: Interesting. I've got to ask. In terms of actually going and briefing the Commission, what was that like? It must have been nerve wracking, I guess? Even though you know the subject inside out, you know the report. What else did you have to do to prepare for the briefing?
Chad Peltier: Yeah, that was a really great experience. I was happy to get a chance to do that. I think first, too, that I was on a panel with two other experts who had also produced written testimony, though their testimony was not necessarily based on a report in the same way that ours was. So it was really excellent to hear how the perspectives of these other two analysts, and the groups that they represent, were different and similar to the work that we had done. I found that we used a lot of the same sources, for instance, Chinese language sources, which is in a lot of ways reassuring. But just the particular analytical focuses that we had were interesting to hear and to compare and contrast. In terms of actually delivering the report to the Commission, I think preparation for that was actually pretty straightforward, to be honest. We had spent a long time, had this rush effort to get this report finished in time for delivery of the report. Like you said, we had it locked down. It was really a matter of distilling all of the information into really key takeaway points. Because in my opinion, at least for this inaudible, the point wasn't necessarily to get into all the weeds unless asked by the Commission. The point was to make sure that we had really key takeaway points, so that we're actionable, right? Before it was all about synthesizing and organizing information to produce a report. The presentation of the report was about distilling all that information that we had made into a couple of key takeaways.
Allison Evans: That's a really great point. Because I think, again, this is something that's quite difficult, especially when you're under such time pressure, is to deliver something concise and clear. Especially, orally. Often, if you ask someone to brief for one minute instead of five, or 20 instead of 45, that's more difficult. So was that something you specifically carved out time for in the days ahead of the briefing, or was it something you worked with along the way? As you were coming up with the recommendations, you thought, " Okay, these are the key elements that I'm going to make sure I include if I only have a few minutes time to brief on the day?"
Chad Peltier: The Commission itself, for the report, they were very clear that there had to be those top- line takeaways at the very beginning of the document, and also, recommendations for Congress at the end of the document. So in some sense, the Commission, just in the report process, forced us to think about distilling the information down to a couple of key talking points. That was pretty helpful. But yeah, I do think that after producing the report itself, that was actually when I wrote the beginning and ending sections, those key takeaway points. It was combined into prep for the presentation. But yeah, it was seperate processes. Write the rest of the report the first time, then write the key takeaways for both the report itself and for the presentation at the end.
Terry Pattar: You make it sound easy, Chad. All these years of experience-
Allison Evans: Yeah, clearly not.
Terry Pattar: ...definitely coming in to play. Yeah, no it's not I don't think. It's a tough skill actually. I'm thinking, Allison you mentioned, that is one of those things I think again that analysts can struggle quite often, and that we get asked a lot about on our courses. And I think that it's sometimes actually harder to do when you know a lot about a subject rather than if you're approaching it as a generalist, and you know you're very deliberately trying to just deliver a briefing. But in this case, obviously, you've got quite a bit of expertise in this area anyway, Chad, and you've obviously built up a huge amount by doing the research. But then you've got those different outputs. You've got the report itself, and then you've got that briefing. Am I right in thinking the briefing is still available online? You can still watch the video?
Chad Peltier: Yes.
Terry Pattar: crosstalk
Chad Peltier: The report and the briefing.
Terry Pattar: For anyone who's interested. Yeah. Excellent.
Allison Evans: Going back to the previous work that you've done, and how this went so well. You and I had a conversation earlier this year Chad about doing a bit of work on space and counter space. So I'm wondering if looking at those related topics, specifically, obviously, to do with China, helped you in this case as you were working out, okay, not only where to go for sources, but also how to structure your time and plan the whole process of gathering information, verification, and then pulling together the report and recommendations.
Chad Peltier: Yeah that's a good point. I would say that my particular analytic focus is on data, number one, and then on the actual emerging technologies. So obviously China's a huge player in emerging technologies. But, like I mentioned, I'm not necessarily a China analyst, so having other people who are was really important for this. I would say that in terms of structuring my time for the project, I really wanted to make sure that people were spending their time on things that they were inaudible, right? So I tried to focus as much on data collection and analysis and on the technology side of things, and let the Chinese analysts focus on those kinds of things. One thing that I felt was really valuable, and this comes back to something that you mentioned about the value of a language or regional specialty, is that if you have that contextual knowledge about the language and the culture, then it really can help you organize the overall project, because you already have a mental layout of what sources you might turn to in the language, what the organizational structure is like. So you can structure the whole rest of your project if you have that regional focus. So again, I think that it's possible that even regional specialists are maybe even underappreciated because of how much value they can bring onto projects like this. Then having specific subject matter experts fill in the gaps for whatever thing that they specialize in.
Allison Evans: Yeah, I definitely think, again, perhaps I'm biased, I definitely think it helps to have that framework for how this, for example, China's expeditionary capabilities fits into the broader perspective. You mention in the report China's diplomatic efforts. And I do think having the regional expertise allows you to understand where whatever you happen to be looking at at that point in time, fits into the broader picture from multiple different disciplines.
Chad Peltier: Right. Yeah, I do think there can be a tendency to view things just through a military analysis lens. But if you zoom out and look at it through a Chinese grand strategic point of view, having that cultural understanding really helps with that kind of thing. Because a country is not thinking of military things in isolation, or at least they shouldn't inaudible their strategy. So incorporating an analysis of the diplomatic situation and economic situation was really key.
Allison Evans: I think that touches on another important point that you alluded to, which is where when you're tasking other analysts, or you're just collaborating with other analysts, an important point is trying to organize that and make sure you're all working on the same thing. And there's not too much duplication of effort, and that you're creating a consistent output. That's a whole another skill with the delivery of OSINT that we haven't talked about too much today.
Chad Peltier: Yeah, I think that that's right. It's how much of producing OSINT is really product management, too? To just ensure that all the different analysts that are working on a project are on deadlines that make sense, so that the pieces can be stitched together, and that you have processes in place for verifying conclusions and challenging conclusions within the team. Those kinds of things are really important, and I think easy to overlook.
Terry Pattar: I definitely think that's really important and you hit the right term in terms of project management. Because when you are bringing together those multiple inputs you've got that intersection of regional expertise, inaudible expertise, with yourself focused on emerging technologies. You have a good friend of ours, Tate Nurkin, contributing as well, who's obviously another expert in emerging technologies in that type of area. Plus the specialist skills, Sean O'Connor and others working with satellite imagery analysis. All of those things. We talk a lot in intelligence circles about fusion and creating these fusion teams and bringing together these kinds of expertise, but whether on a project basis or on a regular monitoring basis. But this is a great demonstration of that, this is great demonstration of where those things come together to produce an output which actually provides some really interesting conclusions and findings, in terms of things that, otherwise, people might have missed or not seen, or actually which might run counter to what other people think in terms of what China's strategy is, and where they're going to be focusing their efforts. I'm a particular fan of people who work within intelligence teams generally, open- source intelligence teams like this, or when you're working collaborative efforts. Learning some basis project management skills. I try to couch it in different ways because I know, I'm not talking about you here Allison, but I know some members of my team start falling asleep as soon as I mention project management. But they know who they are. But yeah, I mean it's important, because you've got to be able to bring together all of those different talents in a way to be able to produce something like this. This isn't the kind of output that somebody can necessary produce on their own. So I think that's definitely one of those challenges that needs to be addressed and overcome in terms of the planning of how to approach this. Was that something that you were conscious of right at the outset, you needed all those people involved and those skills involved, or was it just as you were going through you realized, oh, actually now we need to go draft somebody in who can help out with the imagery analysis, or actually we've come up with a problem here, we need somebody to come in and help with this? How much of that was set at the outset versus how much did you build it in as you went along?
Chad Peltier: Yeah, I think a lot of the analyst support we had was from the very beginning, because we had to put together our proposal for the project and list what analysts that were going to be a part of the project. So I did a lot of the thinking through at the beginning of who within Janes and outside of Janes, like you mentioned Tate, would be a good fit for this project? But even saying that, there were cases where I had to reach out to specific analysts as unexpected things popped up. I mentioned earlier, for instance, that understanding U. S. Marine expeditionary units was a key component to understand how the U. S. concept of operations for amphibious assaults compared with whatever's happening with China's growing PLA Marine Corps. So understanding the different capabilities and potential concepts of operation for amphibious operations was not something that I necessarily thought that I would need to dive into the details as much as I did. But thankfully we have an SME, Nelson Fisk, who is a former Marine Corps officer, who I could turn to who specializes in not just the actual physical land equipment that would be involved in such a thing, but also has first- hand experience in actually conducting these kinds of operations. Yeah, we definitely had to be, I guess, flexible in terms of understanding when we needed to reach out and bring someone in to the team.
Terry Pattar: It's interesting, even for people who aren't necessarily looking into this topic. It's just really informative in terms of getting a geneal understanding of, and as you said, in terms to drawing upon those broader themes around what is China doing with the Belt and Road Initiative, and what are the more strategic elements that come in to play? Not just the operational aspect of, okay, where are they focused, and what are the bases physically, how are the set up, etc., what is available at those bases and locations? All those sorts of details, which are all really important, but the other things that come into it as well that help you understand it in it's context. I've not particularly focused on China much in terms of the research that I do, but reading through it I found that actually, there's a lot that I can take away from it, and learn, and help me understand what's going on in the world more broadly. Yeah, it was a great piece of work.
Chad Peltier: Thank you.
Terry Pattar: Yeah, it's all right. And I think the briefing went well. Where do you see the topic going next in terms of is this something that you think actually analysts should remain focused on in terms of how China's capabilities develop? Or do you think it's something that is almost set, that they've set their plans, and they're going to more or less execute those plans now? I guess, a lot has changed with coronavirus this year. I don't know. That may have thrown off some of those plans or pushed things back. But yeah, it'd be good to get your thoughts on how much might change.
Chad Peltier: Yeah, so even setting aside any potential impact and ongoing impact from COVID, it's a very dynamic situation. So I think this is something that really needs to be constantly monitored. In particular because the PLA Navy and PLA Air Force are introducing new platforms all the time. Some of these platforms are really key for China's expeditionary capabilities. So for instance, the PLA Air Force is beginning to introduce Y- 20 transport aircraft in sufficient numbers, and transport necessary equipment and personnel to conduct these operations and rapidly respond to crises as they erupt. One of the things that we saw in our research was that PLA planners and tank journals would often talk and study U. S. operations for expeditionary deployments. So how the U. S. military transported supplies to Iraq for instance, and the end- to- end logistics, capabilities, and end network that they used. I think we have to be constantly monitoring how these things are changing now that new capabilities and new platforms are being introduced. Is China beginning to have Type 055 destroyers regularly going on these Gulf of Aden missions? Are we starting to see physical infrastructure being inaudible particular ports that might suggest, hey, this actually is moving beyond just a use of a civilian port, and might be something more dedicated to a military force? It's a really dynamic situation so even absent any kind of considerations from COVID, this is something that has to be studied ongoing.
Terry Pattar: What's really interesting there is that you touched on also, not just the importance of keeping an eye on this topic from the perspective of anyone who's interested in following what China's doing, but also anybody who's interested in following how emerging technologies are developing, and how things like military applications of those technologies are changing, and what it means for logistics. Because China's at the forefront of a lot of this, I guess?
Chad Peltier: Yeah. That's another great point, because all other research is in unmanned systems that can automate some of these end- point delivery, for instance. So you might have a ship and have automated unloaders to actually get it from the end point to the actual deployment area, or just unmanned combat systems, too. So there's been a lot of Chinese research into unmanned amphibious vehicles, for instance, and how these might be used in amphibious operations. So absolutely China is at the forefront of a lot of these unmanned applications for military operations. So how these plan to logistics is really interesting.
Terry Pattar: That's fantastic. That was pretty much comprehensive, I think, discussion covering a lot of the things that you raised in the report, and a lot of other things besides. I think that's given us a really good insight into what goes into actually a report like that. Because I think very often people see a finished product, and then they may not understand a lot of what's been done behind the scenes to actually get it to that stage. So that's been really, really interesting, Chad, and it's been fascinating talking to you about it. Was there any other things you wanted to highlight or touch upon? Or have we covered everything?
Chad Peltier: One thing that I'll mention is that there were a couple of other OSINT forces that given the time I would love to have investigated. So just maybe some ideas for future work. One thing might be looking at RF emissions. This is a growing area of open- source intelligence is understanding radio frequency emmissions. So that might give us clues about Chinese troop movements and ship movements even when typical open- source, like AIS tracking, when those go dark, still being able to keep track of where these platforms are, and why might we be hearing some transmissions from a particular location. As those sources become available, incorporating those. There's a lot of social media intelligence that we just didn't get a chance to dive into, that I think could be interesting. So Chinese social media use for deployment PLA members might be something to look into. Again, didn't have too much time to really dig into that whole world of sources. There's a lot more that we could have done with civilian ship tracking data, too. I mentioned that we looked at civilian ships and routes and port facilities. But there's a wealth of open- source information that Chinese shipping organizations put about their ships and about their routes and things online that could be collected and structured into a really interesting product. Then I think I would love to dive deeper into, well, maybe not me personally, but a Chinese language specialist could dive into some of the academic literature, because there's a lot. And even though we incorporated a lot of it, and it was incredibly valuable, I still feel like we only scratched the surface of Chinese academic writing.
Terry Pattar: You've just touched on a whole range of information that's out there and available for people to use. Again, I think that speaks to the utility of open- source information. But then also the challenge of trying to get on top of everything and do it within the timeframe you might have available. And the importance of being selective, I guess, and making sure you're able to prioritize information but thanks so much for your time. Thanks for joining us.
Chad Peltier: Thanks for having me on.
Terry Pattar: No problem. Thanks Allison as well for joining. Hopefully people have enjoyed this episode. Please give us your feedback and let us know what you think. And yeah, hope you enjoy future episodes of the World Intelligence Podcast.
In episode 25 of The World of Intelligence, Terry Pattar, head of the Janes Intelligence Unit is joined by Chad Peltier, Data and Integration Analyst at Janes to discuss recent research into China's expeditionary capabilities.