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The Espionage Threat to Military Exercises

Military organizations around the world routinely participate large-scale exercises in order to achieve a variety of objectives, making exercises highly appealing targets for espionage collection by adversaries. Moreover, some countries may conduct low-level collection activities against fellow participants. This paper will provide a brief overview of military exercises and the potential for associated intelligence collection activities. Additionally, this paper will examine case studies involving three (3) major exercises through the lens of espionage threats.

Military Exercises and the Espionage Threat
Per the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), exercises are defined as “a military maneuver or simulated wartime operation involving planning, preparation, and execution that is carried out for the purpose of training and evaluation.” Some objectives of exercises may include testing new systems/capabilities, training personnel, strengthening alliances, testing interoperability with allies, and geopolitical signaling to adversaries.1

Adversaries may seek to collect against exercises to better understand their likely opponents in the event of conflict. Exercises may reveal valuable insights such as the operational structures, strategy/tactics, and equipment utilization of opposing militaries. Adversaries may deploy technologically-advanced assets such as spy ships, aircraft, and satellites in order to successfully collect this intelligence. In turn, participation in exercises could create opportunities for participants to collect against one another. Such collection activities may include more overt forms of collection such as elicitation or unauthorized photography/videography. However, it is likely that any such activity occurs in a low-level fashion, in order to gain insights without jeopardizing crucial alliances.

Large-scale exercises frequently involve joint forces (incorporating ground, air, and naval units), as well as integration of multinational partners. Exercises can also serve as a useful platform to test new or emerging technologies in a simulated operational environment. The presence of these platforms (which could include stealth technology, unmanned systems, or advanced radars) likely draw the attention of adversaries and friendly collectors alike.

Case Study: RIMPAC
Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) is the world’s largest international maritime exercise, bolstering relationships among dozens of participating countries to safeguard sea lanes and secure the world’s oceans. Shortly after its founding in 1971, RIMPAC became a biennial exercise in 1974 due to its expanding scale. Hosted by the U.S. Pacific Fleet, RIMPAC’s 28th exercise (2022) in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California included 26 nations, 38 surface ships, three (3) submarines, nine (9) national land forces, more than 30 unmanned systems, about 170 aircraft, and over 25,000 personnel. In late March 2024, personnel from 29 nations expected to participate in RIMPAC 2024 attended the final planning conference at Naval Base Point Loma Annex, San Diego. The 29th RIMPAC is expected to be executed in summer 2024.2,3,4

Reports over the past decade highlight potential intelligence surveillance activities by U.S. adversaries in the vicinity of RIMPAC activities. In 2014, China’s first time participating in RIMPAC, China sent an uninvited surveillance ship in addition to its four (4) People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ships. According to a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet, China’s Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) ship (designed to collect electronic and communication data from nearby vessels and aircraft) operated within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) during the exercise. Some experts were confused with China’s decision to send an uninvited spy ship with other PLAN vessels participating in most levels of the operation; however, the former commander of U.S. Pacific Command viewed the move as a positive sign that the Chinese vessel operated within another country’s maritime zones according to international law. Two (2) years later, Russia also sent an AGI ship into international waters off Hawaii during RIMPAC 2016 after not receiving an invite due to its annexation of Crimea and aggression in Eastern Ukraine. In addition to the spy ship, the Russia destroyer Admiral Vinogradov (DD-572) shadowed the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) for two (2) days during the 2016 exercise.5,6,7,8

In 2018, the U.S. disinvited the PLAN from participating in RIMPAC 2018 in response to China’s militarization of the South China Sea. Nevertheless, U.S. Navy officials indicated that a PLAN AGI ship was spotted off the coast of Hawaii during RIMPAC 2018, causing no disruptions to the exercise. Given China’s continued military activities and the potential risks offering the PLAN to view American naval platforms, tactics, and capabilities up close, China has not been invited back as a RIMPAC participant since 2016.9,10,11

Case Study: Talisman Saber/Sabre
Talisman Saber (or Sabre) is a biennial military exercise held by the U.S. and Australia, along with a number of partner nations. The name of the exercise varies from year to year depending on which country leads the exercise (Saber for a U.S.-led exercise and Sabre for an Australian-led one). The 2023 iteration of the exercise included approximately 30,000 personnel from 13 countries, including regional first-time participants such as Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and Tonga. The exercise seeks to enhance cooperation among nations in the Indo-Pacific, particularly given increased threats from China.12,13

In the lead-up to the 2023 iteration of Talisman Sabre, a PLAN AGI ship was spotted approaching Australia and specific areas where the exercise was expected to be held. An Australian military officer stated that this type of activity has occurred since 2017. The vessel ultimately proceeded to just outside Australia’s territorial waters in order to monitor the exercise. An Australian maritime patrol plane made contact with the vessel, and the encounter occurred without incident. The same Australian military officer stated that “[China will] passively collect, and we’ll adjust” adding that ”there’s some things we don’t necessarily want to give away and we have methods of being able to employ our forces without giving those more sensitive aspects of our training away”.13,14

In addition to the AGI vessel, China reportedly utilized “hundreds” of its satellites to monitor the 2023 exercise. While open-source details regarding this activity are limited, satellites provide a platform to conduct collection of imagery and signals intelligence. Satellite imagery could reveal details about weapons systems, military formations, and logistics processes. Signal collection could potentially reveal information related to command and control, as well as information on communications, radar, and other systems that operate on the electromagnetic spectrum.15

Case Study: BALTOPS
Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) is an annual military exercise that is conducted in the Baltic Sea region. The exercise typically occurs once a year and has been held since 1972, which makes it one of the longest running multinational maritime exercises in the world. The timing and specific details of each BALTOPS exercise can vary slightly each year depending on logistical and operational considerations. However, participants generally expect the exercise to take place on a regular basis, providing an opportunity for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies and partner nations to enhance interoperability, strengthen defense capabilities, and demonstrate collective deterrence in the Baltic Sea.16

BALTOPS 23, which took place from 04 June-16 June 2023, comprised of 20 countries which was four (4) more than the previous year. The exercise was comprised of more than 6,000 personnel, including nearly 1,500 sailors, marines, and airmen which was more than twice as many as in 2020. 50 ships, and more than 45 aircraft from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, and other NATO allies were able to train and conduct high-intensity defense activities to help enhance capabilities within the alliance. BALTOPS 23 was a significant exercise as it served as Finland’s first joint exercise since becoming a NATO member in April 2023.17,18

During BALTOPS 16 in 2016, two (2) Russian intelligence gathering ships were spotted shadowing U.S. Navy and NATO vessels. While the Russian vessels showed no signs of force or aggression, they came as close as 1 mile from NATO forces. With Russia invading Ukraine in 2022, BALTOPS has served as a major push in tightening the alliance within NATO. Russia almost certainly perceives increased NATO cooperation as a geopolitical threat, which in turn increases the appeal of the exercise as a target for intelligence collection activities.16,19

Large-scale military exercises will almost certainly continue to serve as highly appealing targets for intelligence collection. Adversaries will seek to collect on exercises in order to gain valuable insights into military capabilities that they may be likely to face in a conflict situation, while low-level collection may continue to occur among participants. RMC’s Intelligence & Climate Analysis Division continues to monitor relevant developments related to large-scale military exercises, to include potential espionage activities.


1. U.S. Department of Defense. (2017). DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. Retrieved from

2. U.S. 3rd Fleet Public Affairs. (2023, December 5). U.S. 3rd Fleet Hosts RIMPAC Mid-Planning Conference. Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Retrieved from

3. U.S. 3rd Fleet Public Affairs. (2022, August 5). RIMPAC 2022 Concludes. Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Retrieved from

4. Llanos, M. (2024, March 28). U.S. 3rd Fleet Hosts RIMPAC Final Planning Conference. Defense Visual Information Distribution Service. Retrieved from

5. LaGrone, S. (2014, July 18). China Sends Uninvited Spy Ship to RIMPAC. USNI News. Retrieved from

6. Harper, J. (2014, July 29). PACOM chief: China spying on RIMPAC brings ‘good news.’ Stars and Stripes. Retrieved from

7. LaGrone, S. (2016, July 06). Russian Spy Ship Now Off Hawaii, U.S. Navy Protecting ‘Critical Information.’ USNI News. Retrieved from

8. Eckstein, M. (2016, July 17). RIMPAC 2016: Russian Destroyer Shadowed USS America Near Hawaii. USNI News. Retrieved from

9. Eckstein, M. (2018, May 23). China Disinvited from Participating in 2018 RIMPAC Exercise. USNI News. Retrieved from

10. LaGrone, S. (2018, July 13). Navy: Chinese Spy Ship Monitoring RIMPAC Exercise, Again. USNI News. Retrieved from

11. Werner, B. (2018, May 24). China’s Past Participation in RIMPAC Didn’t Yield Intended Benefits of Easing Tensions. USNI News. Retrieved from

12. U.S. Department of Defense. (n.d.). Talisman Sabre 23 reflects U.S., allies’ commitment to Indo-Pacific.

13. McGuirk, R. (2023, July 21). US navy secretary says Australian multination military exercise demonstrates unity to China. AP News. Retrieved from

14. Greene, A. (2023, July 23). First image emerges of RAAF’s encounter with Chinese spy ship during Talisman Sabre. ABC News. Retrieved from

15. Hundreds of Chinese satellites spying on US-Australia military exercises. (2023, August 21). WION. Retrieved from

16. U.S. Navy. (2023, May 30). U.S. Sixth Fleet, Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO to Kick Off BALTOPS 2023. U.S. Navy. Retrieved from

17. Moore-Carrillo, J. (2023, June 16). US, NATO wrap up joint exercises in the Baltics, Europe’s High North. Military Times. Retrieved from

18. NATO. (2023, June 07). NATO ships participate in exercise BALTOPS 23. NATO. Retrieved from,T%C3%BCrkiye%2C%20the%20United%20Kingdom%2C%20and%20the%20United%20States..

19. Tomlinson, L. (2016, June 16). Russian Spy Ships ‘Shadowing’ US Navy During Large NATO Exercise, Navy Admiral Says. Fox News. Retrieved from

April 2024

Threats include:

  • China’s New Ten Dash Line Map | Foreign Nation-State Military
  • Chinese National Charged in Alleged Plan to Steal Google’s Artificial Intelligence Trade Secrets | Foreign Intelligence Entities
  • Hackers Target Sewer and Water Systems | Cyber
  • Cyberattack Against Commercial Prescription Program Hamstrings Military Pharmacies Around the World | Cyber
  • Haiti’s Main Port Closes as Gang Violence Continues | Gang Activity
  • New “Zombie Drug” Spreads in West Africa | Narcotics

Hazards include:

  • Atmospheric River Hits California, Prompting Mudslide and Flooding Concerns | Natural Hazards (Meteorological)
  • Largest Wildfire in Texas History Burns Over a Million Acres | Natural Hazards (Meteorological)
  • Potential Measles Exposure at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport | Natural Hazards (Biological)
  • Biological Research Laboratory Leaks in the U.S. | Natural Hazards (Biological)
  • U.S. Air Force F-35A Suffers Millions in Damage After Ingesting a Flashlight at Luke Air Force Base, AZ | Accidental Hazards (Human or Technologically Caused)
  • Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapses | Accidental Hazards (Human or Technologically Caused

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Submarine Communications Cables (SCCs) and the Associated Threat/Hazard Environment

Submarine Communications Cables (SCCs) are a vital part of global communications infrastructure. SCCs are also known by a variety of other names, to include underwater/undersea communications cables. However, for consistency, this paper will utilize the acronym SCC. This paper will examine the various threats and hazards that have the potential to affect SCCs, as well as a few recent case studies highlighting threat/hazard events involving SCCs.

SCC Overview
Modern SCCs consist of a fiber optic cable laid at the bottom of the ocean to connect two (2) or more landing stations. They are comprised of the optical fibers that carry data traffic, including internet and phone service. The fibers are typically covered in silicon gel and sheathed in plastic, steel wiring, copper, and nylon for insulation and protection. Many SCCs are no thicker than a household garden hose.1

Cable landing stations connect continents and provide the point where SCCs meet terrestrial networks. This enables internet service providers (ISPs), telecommunication networks, and other data centers to communicate across the globe. SCCs support commercial, economic, and national security ventures, and they also transmit the majority of civilian, military, and government offshore communications traffic. Over 95% of international data and voice transfers are routed through SCCs. They connect the continental U.S. with Alaska, Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as the rest of the world. SCCs are laid using ships outfitted for laying the optical cable on the ocean floor. A subsea plow is used to trough and bury SCCs near the shoreline to avoid damage from ships anchoring and fishing.1,2,3,4

Some cables are short, like the 131-kilometer CeltixConnect cable between Ireland and the United Kingdom. Others are significantly longer, such as the 20,000-kilometer Asia America Gateway cable. The 2Africa project connects 46 cable landing stations in 33 countries in Africa, Asia and Europe, at a length of 45,000 kilometers. It is the longest SCC in the world.5,6

In 1995, the traffic between satellite and submarine cables was evenly split. Today, SCCs carry over 97% of data traffic. Satellites are useful as an emergency backup during disasters, to expand mobile coverage, and to connect isolated areas. However, satellite communications are expensive, less reliable, and are becoming less common as SCC coverage grows. However, while SCCs are equal to landlocked cable systems in their capacity for data transmission, routing through multiple sovereign territories requires satellite communications to bridge gaps.7

There are only four (4) major companies in the world that manufacture and lay SCCs: The U.S.’s SubCom, Japan’s NEC Corporation, France’s Alcatel Submarine Networks and China’s HMN Technologies (formerly Huawei Marine Networks). In November 2020, Huawei Marine was rebranded as HMN Technologies Co. This followed Hengtong group completing its 81% shareholding acquisition of Huawei Marine. The remaining 19% was held by New Saxon 2019 Ltd. In December 2021, HMN Technologies was added by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) to its Entity List because of national security and human rights concerns. For sensitive projects, the U.S. government reportedly only works with U.S.-based SubCom. Several other companies are sole or partial owner of SCCs or are major capacity buyers. These include Amazon, Meta, Google, and Microsoft. Content providers include Apple, LinkedIn (owned by Microsoft), Dropbox, IBM, OVH, Chinese content providers like Alibaba and Tencent, and content delivery networks like Akamai, Cloudflare, and Limelight.8,9,10,11

As of early 2024, there are nearly 1.4 million kilometers of SCCs worldwide. Europe, Asia, and Latin America all have significant volumes of data to communicate between their shores and North America. Conversely, there may be less data that needs to travel between other countries. SCCs are placed according to market demands. For example, if an emerging industry required extensive communications between Australia and South America, demand for a new cable in the South Pacific would likely drive construction.4

SCC Threat Environment
Due to their critical importance to global communications, SCCs are likely a highly appealing target to various threat actors. Because SCCs carry government/military communications, they are a potential target for espionage and sabotage by foreign nation-states. During the Cold War, the U.S. reportedly gained valuable intelligence by conducting a covert operation to tap an SCC that connected two Soviet naval bases. In early 2023, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization stated that Russia may seek to target SCCs following a suspected Russian attack on the underwater Nord Stream pipeline.12,13,14

Concerns have also been raised regarding China’s ability to tap into cables due to the market share held by HMN Technologies (formerly Huawei Marine). As previously noted, HMN Technologies has been flagged by the U.S. as a potential security risk. While Huawei had historically been scrutinized due to its ability to support China’s intelligence-gathering efforts, the sale/rebranding to HMN Technologies does not appear to have mitigated these concerns. A key stakeholder in HMN Technologies has notable ties to the Chinese Communist Party, and could potentially facilitate use of HMN infrastructure for espionage purposes.15,16

Non-state actors such as terrorist groups could also potentially seek to target SCCs and associated infrastructure. However, such groups likely have significantly lower capabilities than nation-states, and may seek to target shore infrastructure such as cable landing stations. Any significant disruption to international communications could serve as a symbolic victory for militant groups.

Malicious cyber actors could also seek to target SCCs for a variety of purposes. Cyber actors operating on behalf of a nation-state could be pursuing similar espionage/sabotage objectives as described above. However, other cyber actors may be pursuing financial gains (such as in a ransomware attack) or may be acting in pursuit of political objectives. Other cyber activity could affect the infrastructure that supports SCCs (such as cable landing stations), causing inadvertent disruptions.

SCC Hazard Environment
Estimates by telecommunication market research firm TeleGeography indicate an average of more than 100 SCC faults each year. Accidental hazards account for approximately 75% of the yearly SCC breaks. Natural hazards and equipment failure account for 14% and 6% of SCC breaks respectively with intentional damage making up the remaining 5%. While the recent Red Sea attack resulting in damage to three (3) SCCs is drawing attention to the vulnerabilities of SCC’s, accidental and natural hazards are far more likely to cause breakage.17

The most common accidental cause of SCC breaks is from fishing and anchoring. Anchors, when dropped directly onto the cables, cause damage to a relatively short section of the cable. When anchors, fishing gear or trawl nets hook onto a cable and drag it for some distance, the damage occurs across a much longer section of the cable and often requires the entire section of cable to be replaced. Although very rare, a vessel running aground or sinking can also cause damage to SCCs.18

Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) attempts to balance the use of maritime space by traditional and emerging sectors while preserving the proper functioning of marine ecosystems. MSP can help reduce the accidental risk to SCCs by deconflicting marine areas used by fisheries, shipping, and SCCs. The appropriate burial of SCCs below the sea floor can help avoid accidental hazards, however natural hazards can expose buried cables over time. The shortest route possible across shipping lanes should be used for the planning and installation of SCCs. Creation of well documented zones where anchoring, trawling and certain forms of fishing are prohibited can also reduce the number of accidental breaks. Currently there are no universally accepted cable protection standards across the private sector and governments worldwide.17,18

Natural hazards to SCCs include earthquakes, volcanic activity, tsunamis, submarine landslides, tropical cyclones, storm surge, flooding, and rising sea levels. These natural hazards can displace large volumes of sediment, exposing cables to damaging turbidity currents. Tropical cyclones increase waves and currents creating higher potential of damage to SCCs. Storm-generated movement of sand, gravel and other seabed sediments can erode surface-laid cables. Sediment flows from river flooding, earthquakes and submarine landslides have caused sufficient movement of SCCs causing them to break. Sea floor vibrations from earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have cut SCCs in several incidents. Although natural hazard damage to SCCs is not common, they often cause multiple faults on multiple cables across long sections of the cable due to the broad geographic nature of many natural hazards.19,20,21

Cable landing stations are also susceptible to the risks posed by natural hazards. Cable landing stations are located in coastal areas which have an increased risk of tropical cyclones, storm surge, tsunamis, and flooding. The equipment associated with cable landing stations include telecommunications equipment, power generators, battery plants, and computer controls. These systems are sensitive to moisture and must be kept dry. Roofs can be damaged by high winds or rising water from floods and storm surge can enter the station and cause damage to equipment. Various types of storm surge and flooding are worsened by the effects of rising sea levels. Climate and natural hazard projections should be considered when planning and developing new SCC infrastructure which generally has a 20-30 year operational lifespan.

Case Study: 2022 Tonga Volcanic Eruption
On 15 January 2022, a massive underwater volcano eruption severed an SCC in Tonga, a remote island located east of Australia in the Pacific Ocean. The cable linked Tonga to Fiji, then onward to other cable networks. With the cable severed, Tonga lost the vast majority of its internet connectivity, with only limited satellite capabilities available. Restoration efforts took approximately five (5) weeks.22,23

The lack of connectivity hindered eruption-related response and recovery efforts, as an estimated 85% of Tonga’s population was affected by ash fall and limited access to safe drinking water. The lack of communication capabilities also made it difficult for Tongans and those visiting the country to contact friends and family outside the country.22,23

This incident highlights the potential for natural hazard-driven disruptions affecting SCCs, many of which can occur with little to no warning. Additionally, the incident highlights the reliance on SCCs in remote locations; particularly in island nations.

Case Study: 2022 Hawaii Hack
In April 2022, a cyberattack on an unidentified Hawaii-based SCC was stopped by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). A hacking group reportedly targeted a private company’s servers on the island of Oahu. HSI agents acted on a tip from out-of-state colleagues, identified the attack, and blocked access. An international hacking group was allegedly responsible. HSI worked with law enforcement in other countries to identify and arrest a suspect, whose name was not revealed in open source reporting, nor was the country where the apprehension occurred. Neither the goals of the attacks nor the nature of the charges have been made public.24

There are eight (8) SCCs that run through Hawaii connecting the mainland to foreign countries, including Japan, Australia and New Zealand. There are contingencies in the event of a successful hack or kinetic attack on an SCC. Communications can be rerouted to another cable. In the case of the attack on Oahu, there was no damage to the SCC or related infrastructure. However, that SCC and others in the area are still fundamentally vulnerable.25

While details surrounding this incident are limited, Hawaii is home to a dense concentration of U.S. military installations, assets, and personnel. Additionally, current reporting noted that the hacking group responsible was based internationally. It is possible that this activity could be related to espionage efforts or other malicious activity targeting the DoD.

Case Study: 2024 Houthi Attack
In early 2024, the Yemen-based Houthi militant group publicly threatened to target SCCs that pass through the Bab al-Mandab Straight, where there are at least 15 cables that carry approximately 17% of the world’s internet traffic. The Houthis posted an image depicting SCC routes in the Red Sea on the Telegram app, claiming that the maps were easily accessed. The legitimate (U.N. recognized) government of Yemen issued warnings due to the Houthi threats. Some dismissed the warnings, stating that the Houthis did not have the capability to target the cables.26,27

Three (3) of the undersea communication cables in the Bab al-Mandab Strait were damaged on 24 February 2024. Some early reporting on the incident speculated that the Houthis were responsible although the group denied any involvement. The latest reporting indicates that the SCCs were cut by the dragging anchor of the UK-owned cargo vessel, Rubymar. The ship was struck by a Houthi missile on 18 February 2024 causing significant damage. The crew dropped the anchor prior to abandoning the ship on 19 February 2024. The ship drifted, dragging the anchor across the Red Sea bottom, until it eventually capsized on 2 March 2024. These damaged SCCs belong to separate systems that connect Europe with Asia and Africa. The communications on the three (3) cables were rerouted through other cables, limiting the impact of the incident. Repairs may be delayed due to the availability of cable repair ships, which are usually scheduled in advance.26,27

Some analysts who dismissed the Houthi capability to carry out an attack on SCCs based their assessment on the premise that a threat actor would need the technical expertise and equipment to dive or use a manned or unmanned submersible to be successful. While the damage to SCCs in this incident was almost certainly an unintentional secondary effect of attacking local shipping, it highlights the vulnerability to SCCs. Threat actors aware of marine areas where SCCs are present would simply need to drag a ship anchor or pose as a fishing vessel to intentionally damage SCCs while providing the appearance of an accidental hazard.26,27

SCCs will continue to serve a key role in the global communications infrastructure, while remaining susceptible to a wide variety of manmade and natural threats and hazards. SCCs will remain a highly appealing target to nation-state and non-state threat actors alike, while the natural hazard environment will persist, and many natural hazards are expected to be exacerbated by the effects of climate change. RMC’s Intelligence & Climate Analysis Division continues to monitor the global threat/hazard environment, to include incidents that may affect SCCs.


1. Swinhoe, D. (2021, August 26). What is a submarine cable? Subsea fiber explained. Retrieved from

2. Huston, G. (2023, March 14). Submarine cable resiliency in the face of disruptions. Retrieved from

3. EXA Infrastructure. (n.d.). Cable landing station. EXA Infrastructure. Retrieved from

4. TeleGeography. (n.d.). Submarine cable frequently asked questions. TeleGeography. Retrieved from

5. Submarine Networks. (2020, May 15). 2Africa: a transformative subsea cable for future internet connectivity in Africa. Submarine Networks. Retrieved from en/systems/asia-europe-africa/2africa.

6. NOAA. (n.d.). Submarine cables. NOAA. Retrieved from

7. Detecon Asia-Pacific Ltd. (2013, February). Economic impact of submarine cable disruptions. APEC. Retrieved from

8. Technavio. (2017, October 30). Top 5 vendors in the global submarine fiber cable market from 2017 to 2021. Business Wire. Retrieved from 20171030006219/en/Top-5-Vendors-in-the-Global-Submarine-Fiber-Cable-Market-from-2017-to-2021-Technavio.

9. Converge Digest. (2021, December 16). U.S. adds Huawei Marine Networks to entity list. Converge Digest. Retrieved from

10. Brock, J. (2023, March 24). U.S. and China wage war beneath the waves – over internet cables. Reuters. Retrieved from

11. TeleGeography. (2017, November 9). A complete list of content providers’ submarine cable holdings. TeleGeography’s Official Blog. Retrieved from telegeographys-content-providers-submarine-cable-holdings-list.

12. Wall, C., & Morcos, P. (2021, June 11). Invisible and vital: undersea cables and transatlantic security. Center for Strategic and International Studies. Retrieved from

13. Carle, M. (2022, June 29). The mission behind Operation Ivy Bells and how it was discovered. Retrieved from

14. Siebold, S. (2023, May 3). NATO says Moscow may sabotage undersea cables as part of war on Ukraine. Reuters. Retrieved from

15. Clark, E. (2021, July 23). Undersea cables bring Pacific nations online, but there are concerns China is trying to tap in. ABC News. Retrieved from

16. Hasler, J. (2019, June 5). Huawei Marine is being sold. That’s unlikely to change the threat it poses. Washington Post. Retrieved from

17. Congressional Research Service. (2023 August 7). Protection of Undersea Telecommunication Cables: Issues for Congress. Retrieved from

18. European MSP Platform. (n.d.). Cables and Fisheries. European Union. Retrieved from

19. Drew, S. (2009, October.). Causes of Cable Faults and Repairs in Regional Seas. International Cable Protection Committee. Retrieved from

20. Dr. Clare, M. (2023, May). Submarine cable protection and the environment. International Cable Protection Committee. Retrieved from

21. Clare, M. et al. (2023). Climate change hotspots and implications for the global subsea telecommunications network. Earth Science Reviews. Retrieved from

22. Menon, P., & Westbrook, T. (2022, January 18). Undersea cable fault could cut off Tonga from rest of the world for weeks. Reuters. Retrieved from

23. British Broadcasting Company. (2022, February 22). Tonga volcano: Internet restored five weeks after eruption. Retrieved from

24. Boylan, P. (2022, April 12). Cyberattack on Hawaii undersea communications cable thwarted by Homeland Security. Star-Advertiser. Retrieved from breaking-news/cyberattack-on-hawaii-undersea-communications-cable-thwarted-by-homeland-security/.

25. Hawaii News Now. (2022, April 13). HSI agents in Honolulu disrupted cyberattack on undersea cable critical to telecommunications. Retrieved from

26. Monaghan, S. et al. (2024, March 7). Red Sea cable damage reveals soft underbelly of Global Economy. Center for Strategic and International Studies. Retrieved from

27. Vigliarolo, B. (2024, February 27). Underwater cables in Red Sea damaged months after Houthis ‘threatened’ to do just that. The Register. Retrieved from

Foreign Object Debris (FOD) and the Hazard to DoD Aviation

Per the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), foreign object debris (FOD) is defined as “any object, live or not, located in an inappropriate location in the airport environment that has the capacity to injure airport or air carrier personnel and damage aircraft.” When FOD interferes with aviation operations in a manner that causes damage, it is often called foreign object damage (also abbreviated as FOD). This paper will utilize the former definition, although the terms can be used somewhat interchangeably. FOD has caused countless aviation-related incidents, including a significant number affecting Department of Defense (DoD) aircraft.1

This paper will provide a brief overview of FOD and the potential impacts to aviation operations. Additionally, this paper will briefly examine the policies, precautions, and equipment that are currently available in order to mitigate the effects of FOD. Finally, the paper will examine two (2) recent case studies involving FOD-related mishaps affecting DoD aircraft.

FOD Overview
FOD can come in a variety of forms. Tools, nuts/bolts, and other maintenance-related items are required for aircraft maintenance and are ubiquitous in hangars and throughout airfields. Maintainers, flight crew, and airfield personnel also have a number of personal items (such as cell phones, wallets, identification badges, hats, sunglasses, and pens) that could potentially be dropped/misplaced in airframes, maintenance areas, or on the flightline. Small FOD items can also be introduced to airfields via the treads of tires on vehicles entering the airfield area. Items located off of the airfield (such as vegetation or garbage) could also be blown onto the airfield, creating a FOD hazard.1

A primary FOD concern is the presence of birds and other wildlife. A well-publicized incident involving bird strikes was the 2009 water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 by pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger on the Hudson River in New York. Prior to the water landing, the aircraft had struck a flock of geese, resulting in the loss of both of its engines. During a 24-year period from 1995 to 2019, the U.S. Air Force experienced over 100,000 wildlife strikes, resulting in 27 fatalities, the loss of 13 aircraft, and over $800 million in damages. Per the FAA, over 90% of reported bird strikes occur at or below 3,000 feet above ground level (AGL), though strikes at higher altitudes are common when birds are migrating, with ducks and geese frequently observed up to 7,000 feet AGL.2,3,4

A related emerging concern is the potential for events similar to bird strikes involving small drones which are frequently flown by hobbyists and commercial entities. In September 2017, the first confirmed incident of a drone colliding with an aircraft in the U.S. occurred in New York. In the incident, a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter was operating in support of security for the U.N. General Assembly when it collided with a DJI Phantom drone, resulting in damage to the helicopter’s rotor and one of its doors. Drone-related incidents are likely to continue and may increase in frequency as the technology continues to proliferate.5

Inadequate maintenance of paved surfaces on airfields (as well as the effects of geological and meteorological hazards) can lead to pavement degradation, creating FOD concerns. When concrete or asphalt ages and/or is subjected to hazards such as extreme heat/cold or flood events, it can crack and create fragments that can become a FOD hazard. DoD aircraft with vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities such as the F-35B variant and the V-22 Osprey can accelerate the degradation of paved surfaces, exacerbating this hazard. By design, these aircraft create high heat and jet blast oriented toward paved surfaces in order to takeoff and/or land, requiring specialized concrete to mitigate pavement damage and related FOD concerns.6,7

Some meteorological factors can also be considered to be forms of FOD. Snow and ice can affect aircraft similarly to other types of FOD. Likewise, sandstorms/dust storms driven by high winds can create FOD concerns. Volcanic eruptions can create ash clouds that severely disrupt aviation activities due to safety concerns.1,8,9

While the above categories of FOD are not all-inclusive, they provide a basic overview of some of the primary sources of FOD.

FOD Impacts
FOD impacts may occur at various phases of flight, to include taxi, takeoff, mid-flight, and landing. Additionally, FOD-related incidents can occur during ground testing activities, or when an aircraft is being powered up or shut down.

Jet-powered aircraft may ingest FOD directly into engines or air intakes, while propeller-driven aircraft can sustain damage to propeller blades or other components. Helicopters can experience similar damage to rotors. FOD can damage windscreens/canopies on various types of aircraft, obstructing pilot visibility and potentially causing temperature or pressurization shifts that pose a risk to life safety. Flight control surfaces could potentially be affected by FOD, affecting the aircraft’s ability to properly and safely maneuver. FOD can also affect the landing gear assembly or tires on aircraft, preventing safe takeoff and landing.

Though the above list is not all-inclusive, it highlights some of the impacts FOD can have on various forms of aircraft. Any of these scenarios could result in damage to the airframe and/or loss of systems that directly affect flight safety, potentially leading to damage to aircraft/ground infrastructure, as well as injury and/or death.

FOD Mitigation
The DoD currently employs a number of different policies, precautions, and equipment in order to mitigate the hazard posed by FOD. During maintenance activities, it is advised that personnel remove personal items from pockets as well as worn items such as rings and watches. Tool/part accountability is also paramount during maintenance activities, as one of this paper’s case studies will show. Pens and other office supplies may also become FOD hazards in maintenance areas. “FOD walks,” in which personnel conduct a visual FOD sweep on foot, can be an effective practice. Additionally, FOD bins can placed in convenient areas in order to provide receptacles for safe disposal of FOD.10

The FAA encourages airfields to utilize land use planning, habitat management, and landscaping efforts in order to mitigate the hazard posed by birds and other wildlife. The U.S. Air Force utilizes weather radars to detect and monitor bird activity as a preventative measure. A variety of countermeasures are available to deter and/or disperse wildlife. Passive measures include decoy birds, bitter-tasting substances and audio broadcasts of bird distress calls. More active dispersal methods include the use of dogs, pyrotechnics/cannons, remote-controlled vehicles, and lasers. Some airfields use less-lethal methods such as paintballs and plastic projectiles in order to disperse wildlife, while some airports have employed live ammunition to hunt birds that pose a hazard to aviation.11, 12, 13, 14

Various commercial products are also available to mitigate FOD hazards. Towable runway sweeping devices are available. Vehicle-mounted blower devices utilize turbines to blow high-pressure air that removes FOD from surfaces. FOD mats are available to remove FOD from tires on vehicles entering the airfield perimeter.15, 16, 17

An effective FOD management program utilizes a combination of training, policies, and equipment in order to mitigate the hazard posed by FOD. Additionally, it should be noted that the acquisition and employment of aforementioned technologies can vary by installation and military branch. Moreover, DoD aircraft routinely utilize non-DoD airfields, which also may have varying FOD management programs. While no program or piece of technology is 100% effective, a multi-layered approach can address the various sources of FOD in order to achieve an acceptable level of FOD mitigation.

Case Study: 2023 F-35 Incident at Luke AFB, AZ
On 15 March 2023, an F-35 undergoing maintenance at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona experienced FOD-related damage. In the incident, “abnormal noises” were heard during a ground engine test. Further investigation revealed that maintenance personnel left a handheld flashlight on the lip of an intake, which was then ingested into the engine. While no injuries were reported, damage was noted to the F-35’s “second stage rotor, third stage rotor, fifth stage rotor, sixth stage rotor, fuel nozzle, bypass duct, high pressure compressor, high pressure turbine and fan inlet variable vane,” resulting in nearly $4 million in damage. According to media reports, the damage was so extensive that the aircraft could not be repaired locally.18, 19

The investigation into the incident found that maintenance personnel had all necessary qualifications, and drug/alcohol testing of personnel came back negative. Instead, the incident was attributed to a failure to clear the inlet of foreign objects, as well as a failure to complete required checklists (to include tool accountability). The report also cast some blame on “complacency” related to the F-35’s “unnecessarily lengthy” maintenance checklists, as well as a lack of network connectivity on the flightline.18, 19

Case Study: 2022 T-38 Crash in Mississippi
On 07 November 2022, a T-38 trainer aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff near Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. The pilot ejected from the aircraft and was taken to a local hospital with minor injuries. A subsequent investigation revealed that a “large’” bird collided with the aircraft’s canopy. Fragments from the canopy (and potentially pieces of the bird) were then ingested into both of the T-38’s engines. One engine failed outright, while the other was only able to produce reduced thrust inadequate to safely maneuver the aircraft. The investigation found that the incident was “unavoidable,” and was handled well by the experienced pilot. Columbus AFB “was following regular bird strike prevention and awareness protocols at the time of the mishap, and the pilot knew the risk that birds posed to his jet,” according to the Air Force’s report on the incident.20, 21

FOD-related incidents will continue to affect DoD aviation activities due to the various causes and sources of FOD, the unpredictability of such incidents, and the varying effectiveness of countermeasures. RMC’s Intelligence and Climate Analysis Division continues to monitor and assess aircraft mishaps involving the DoD, to include those caused by FOD hazards. Additionally, RMC’s transportation subject matter experts maintain the capability to conduct detailed assessments of airfield infrastructure, to include potential FOD hazards.


1. The Basics of Foreign Object Debris. (2023, May 10). Aviation Pros. Retrieved from

2. Stephey, M.J. (2009, January 16). The US Airways Crash: A Growing Bird Hazard. Time Magazine. Retrieved from,8599,1872175,00.html.

3. Losey, S. (2019, May 23). This is the Hefty Toll Bird Strikes Have Inflicted on the Air Force Since 1995. Air Force Times. Retrieved from

4. Aeronautical Information Manual: Chapter 7 (Safety of Flight) Section 5: Bird Hazards and Flight Over National Refuges, Parks, and Forests. (2023, October 05). Federal Aviation Administration. Retrieved from,at%20lower%20altitudes%20during%20migration.

5. Wright, T. (2017, September 27). Army Blackhawk Collides With Drone Over NYC. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from

6. Sweetman, B. (2017, April 14). Why Can’t America’s Newest Stealth Jet Land Like It’s Supposed To? The Daily Beast. Retrieved from

7. High-Temperature Concrete Takes Flight at Miramar Marine Air Station. (2014, August 04). For Construction Pros. Retrieved from

8. Veillette, P., PhD. (2020, October 23). Winter Ops: Freezing Temps, Precip Can Have Serious Consequences. Aviation Week Network. Retrieved from

9. What Can You Do About Aircraft Engine FOD?. (2017, August 28). Pratt & Whitney. Retrieved from

10. FOD…Foreign Object Debris Leads to Foreign Object Damage. (2019, October). Flightfax: Online Newsletter of Army Aircraft Accident Prevention. Retrieved from

11. Wildlife Management. (n.d.). Federal Aviation Administration. Retrieved from

12. Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard. (n.d.). Air Force Safety Center. Retrieved from

13. 9 Ways to Deter Birds at Airports. (2020). Federal Aviation Administration. Retrieved from

14. Stock, S., Villlarreal, M., & Nious, K. (2015, September 4). Birds Shot Daily by Bay Area Airport Workers. NBC Bay Area. Retrieved from

15. The FOD Boss Ultimate Airfield Sweeper (n.d.). AeroSweep. Retrieved from

16. V10 Blower. (2022, June 2). Aviation Pros. Retrieved from

17. Aviation FOD Control Mats (n.d.). FODS Trackout Control System. Retrieved from

18. Svan, J. (2024, January 22). Flashlight Left Inside Air Force F-35 Engine Causes $4 Million in Damage. Stars and Stripes. Retrieved from

19. Sicard, S. (2024, January 22). Misplaced Flashlight in F-35 Engine Results in $4 Million in Damage. Air Force Times. Retrieved from

20. Mitchell, E. (2022, November 8). Pilot Ejects Ahead of T-38 Training Jet Crash in Mississippi. The Hill.

21. Cohen, R. (2023, July 26). Bird Strike Caused T-38 Jet Crash Last November, Investigators Say. Air Force Times. Retrieved from

Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) and the Force Protection Threat to DoD

The proliferation of small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS), also known colloquially as “drones” has drastically expanded in recent years. SUAS are widely utilized by hobbyists for purposes such as aerial photography/videography and competitive racing events. Additionally, sUAS are widely used for commercial purposes (such as media, agriculture, and mapping/surveying), as well as government purposes (to include law enforcement and firefighting). However, threat actors utilizing sUAS also pose a unique force protection concern for Department of Defense (DoD) installations. This paper will examine potential threat actor uses of sUAS, as well as an overview of sUAS characteristics and capabilities. This paper will then examine the legal framework and various capabilities available to counter potential sUAS threats. Finally, the paper will detail DoD-specific sUAS case studies, as well as additional examples of sUAS threat activity from around the world.

sUAS Threat Overview
Threat actors may seek to utilize sUAS for activities for a variety of malicious purposes. Individuals seeking to collect intelligence on DoD facilities or operations could use sUAS (and associated cameras/sensors) to gather imagery/video and other information. Terrorist actors (both foreign and domestic) could utilize sUAS to carry a weaponized payload (such as explosives or chemical/biological agents). Individuals intent on interfering with aviation operations could fly sUAS near airfields or testing/training ranges in order to disrupt or potentially damage aircraft. Furthermore, protestors opposing the DoD could utilize sUAS for various messaging efforts, for harassment, or to collect imagery/video in furtherance of their causes.

The nature of modern sUAS platforms allows for significant standoff distance, which can allow threat actors to conduct malicious activities from off-installation locations which may be more difficult to identify and/or access. This complicates security forces’ ability to identify and apprehend malicious sUAS operators. Additionally, it should be noted that even non-malicious actors (such as a young or misinformed sUAS operator) could have similar effects on operations as a malicious actor. Security forces responses and other protective measures could be implemented following an sUAS incursion, temporarily disrupting operations regardless of the sUAS operator’s intent.

sUAS Capabilities
The DoD classifies UAS into five groups based on maximum gross takeoff weight (MGTW), normal operating altitude, and airspeed. Group one is the smallest UAS with an MGTW of 20 pounds or less, normal operating altitude of 1,200 ft and airspeed less than 100 knots. Group 2 has an MGTW of 55 pounds or less, fitting the FAA definition of sUAS, with a normal operating altitude of less than 3,500 feet and airspeed of less than 250 knots. Group 3 has an MGTW of less than 1,320 pounds, operating altitude of less than 18,000 ft and an airspeed of less than 250 knots. DoD considers groups 1-3 as sUAS, although group 3 has significantly greater capabilities and would generally be operated by government agencies or commercial enterprises. This white paper will focus on groups one and two with an MGTW of 55 pounds or less.1,2

The sUAS market is growing rapidly. There are more than 600 manufacturers producing over 1,700 different systems built for purposes which include recreational, imaging, disaster response, agriculture, mining, research prototypes, and military applications. The majority of sUAS platforms are fixed wing or rotorcraft with a small minority of platforms being a hybrid design or lighter than air design. Most rotorcraft sUAS are multicopter designs. Hobbyist sUAS are the easiest to procure and provide threat actors the most anonymity when making the purchase. More capable sUAS can be found at high-end hobby shops and industrial suppliers. These purchases are more expensive, require more interpersonal contact and involve record keeping requirements which complicate and may deter threat actors from purchasing these systems. With the proliferation of online communities, do-it-yourself sUAS are being built by hobbyists. Online sources educate builders on designs, and where to purchase components and systems from online retailers. 3D printing technology including metals and composite materials, allows the construction of airframes and other sUAS parts with designs being available on the internet. These custom built sUAS offer threat actors increased anonymity in procurement while allowing them to design and build sUAS to fit their specific needs.3,4

Rotary-wing battery electric sUAS make up approximately 41% of the total sUAS variants currently on the market. The most commonly purchased sUAS variants have a mean endurance of 21 minutes, mean maximum range of 1.8 miles, and mean payload weight of 4.6 lbs. While this represents the capability of the most likely sUAS that may be encountered it is worth noting that hybrid-wing hybrid-propulsion sUAS platforms have a range of up to 419 miles and endurance of up to 520 minutes. These hybrid platforms have fixed wing surfaces that produce lift along with quadrotor multicoptor rotors. Rotary-wing internal platforms that use internal combustion engines have the highest mean payload of 13.6 pounds. While these platforms are less likely to be utilized by a threat actor, they represent the most dangerous platforms due to their increased capabilities. Advances in battery technology including Li-Metal, Flow and Solid-State batteries could double sUAS endurance and range as early as 2028.3

Other types of sUAS exist that are uncommon but may present viable options for threat actor use. Powered parachute sUAS use a propeller while a parachute produces lift, just like manned paraplanes. Inexpensive and easy to control, these sUAS are easily deployed and can be packed into very small spaces for transport. There are some tiltrotor sUAS designs that operate like the U.S. military’s V-22 Osprey. These provide vertical take off and landing capability while possessing fixed wing speed and endurance. Lighter than air sUAS operate much like a blimp and radio-controlled blimps are easily converted into this type of sUAS. Although they operate at low speed, they are capable of long endurance.3

The command, control and communication capabilities of sUAS are also developing rapidly. Drones are no longer fully dependent on human input for their controls for all aspects of flight. Many sUAS platforms have proven capable of path-following, follow-me, obstacle avoidance, small-team coordination, and swarm formations. Path-following, sometimes referred to as self-flying or autopilot, requires the sUAS operator to pre-program the flight path, often using waypoints to adjust altitude, direction and speed. Follow-me flight uses remote control bracelets or a phone app that emits a global navigation satellite (GNSS) signal for the sUAS to follow. Some sUAS with high quality visual sensors can track an object or person that has been selected in the user interface. Small-team coordination and swarm formations require pre-programmed flight patterns and is basically a complex version of path-following control. All of these types of flight are precursors to fully autonomous sUAS flight where the machine itself is capable of adaptive autonomous control. The rapid growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will likely aid and hasten the development of such flight technologies. Autonomous flight capability removes the requirement of a signal to control the aircraft making it radio silent and much more difficult to detect and intercept.3,5

Frequencies used to control sUAS are relatively broad and multiple frequencies are required to control the sUAS in flight, broadcast telemetry and communicate with any potential payload. Most sUAS are controlled on spread-spectrum bands such as 2.4 gigaherz (GHz), 5.8 GHz and other GHz bands that offer significantly reduced interference and detectability. Controlling sUAS using 3G, 4G, or 5G cell phone signals is also possible. Although this form of control is more likely to have lag in the control response, using cell phone signals makes detecting the source of the signal more difficult as it is mixed in with normal cell phone transmission traffic. Some sUAS can be controlled by satellite communications (SATCOM). SATCOM options are currently limited and expensive making their use by threat actors less likely. However, projects such as OneWeb and Space X’s Starlink are building microsatellite constellations that will reduce the cost of SATCOM and reduce the latency of the signals.3

The rapid proliferation and miniaturization of various technologies give sUAS sensing payloads significant capabilities that could be exploited by threat actors. Sensing payload types can include:

  • Still and Video Cameras: Current cameras are capable of 4k resolution, however communication bandwidth generally limits real time image transmission to 2k resolution. Some cameras are so small and lightweight that a second payload can be carried on some sUAS. Infrared (IR) cameras are less common and more expensive, however their use in agriculture and other industries makes them readily available. The capability of still and video cameras give threat actors the ability to gather images and information at greater distance and in low light conditions.3
  • Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR): LIDAR allows for highly accurate 3D imaging and measuring. There are multiple commercial applications making this technology available albeit expensive. Highly accurate 3D imaging produced by LIDAR can be used for mapping, determining line of sight, target tracking and detection, and navigation including the autonomous navigation of unmanned vehicles.3,6
  • Hyperspectral Sensing: Hyperspectral sensing is becoming more widely used in agriculture for their ability to inspect crops quickly and accurately, providing information on soil quality, water stress and early detection of crop diseases. Hyperspectral sensing can simultaneously collect hundreds of narrow and contiguously spaced spectral bands of data including visible light, near infrared, shortwave infrared, mediumwave infrared and longwave infrared radiation. Not all Hyperspectral cameras can cover his entire range of the spectrum. In military applications, Hyperspectral sensing can be used to support reconnaissance, surveillance, and targeting. It can also be used for defensive purposes as it can detect threats from incoming missiles to chemical agents.3
  • Radar: Miniaturized radar systems as small as 1.65 lbs with a three (3) km range. Developments in autonomous flight are causing changes in regulations which now require radar navigation of aircraft in certain situations. This will likely drive further research and development into the miniaturization of radar making it more suitable for use on sUAS.3
  • Electronic Intelligence (ELINT): The freedom of movement and agility of sUAS make them a superb platform for cataloging electronic signals. This collection could be passive, active, or possibly the disruption or spoofing of electronic signals.3
  • Electronic Jamming: Radio Frequency (RF) electronic payloads could be used to jam air traffic control signals as well as Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) and Global Navigation Satellite (GNSS). The mobility of sUAS gives the threat actor the ability to affect receivers over a wider area than a ground-based jammer. Although the use of this technology is illegal in the U.S., jammers as small as a few inches long and weighing only a few ounces can be purchased on the internet.3
  • Acoustic Sensors: Currently, the use of acoustic sensors is mainly theoretical, but work is being done to develop the ability of acoustic sensors to detect obstacles and other sUAS to aid in autonomous flight.3
  • Radiation Sensors: sUAS have been fitted with radiation sensors to detect gamma, X-ray, alpha and beta particle radiation.3

Non-sensing payloads carried by sUAS range from propaganda leaflets, nuisance and noisemaking devices, illegal drugs, conventional weapons and chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) weapons. Below are examples of payload delivery methods:

  • Kamikaze / Suicide / One-Way Attack Drone: An explosive payload is attached to the sUAS and both the payload and UAS are crashed into the target. Most often, there is an associated video feed allowing the sUAS to gather information prior to selecting the target.3
  • Payload Release: Releasable payloads vary depending upon the mission. Explosive devices, often hand grenades and small mortars are used to conduct kinetic attacks. Cyber-enabled devices (such as Wi-Fi sniffers) and unmanned ground sensors can be released, increasing the reconnaissance and surveillance capability of sUAS. Illegal narcotics, weapons, or other contraband can be flown over borders and released at predetermined drop points.3
  • Sprayers: Lawful use of sprayers for commercial and agricultural use is growing. Threat actors could use this type of delivery method for attacks utilizing chemical or biological agents.3

Counter-UAS Legal Framework
The legal environment surrounding counter-UAS (C-UAS) capability employment is in its early stages and continues to evolve. With DoD installations located worldwide, it is important to note that legal frameworks vary by jurisdiction.
Within the United States, the DoD’s C-UAS efforts are largely governed by Chapter 3 of U.S. Code Title 10, Section 130i. Section 130i authorizes DoD installations “to take certain actions with respect to unmanned aircraft systems, including using reasonable force to disable, damage, or destroy them.” While the exact DoD policies authorizing such actions remain classified, Section 130i mentions specific “covered facilities or assets” which may warrant protection. These facilities/assets must be “identified by the Secretary of Defense,” must be “located in the United States (including the territories and possessions of the United States)” and must relate to various national security missions, to include “nuclear command and control, integrated tactical warning and attack assessment, and continuity of government; the missile defense mission of the Department; or the national security space mission of the Department.”7

In host nation environments where the DoD has installations/assets located outside of U.S. jurisdiction, legalities regarding C-UAS vary widely. Per the DoD’s 2021 Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Strategy, “host nation environments have a diverse array of statutes and regulations that could inhibit effective force protection efforts.” The Strategy further notes that “[DoD] bases and operations in host nations must work with local airspace control authorities while complying with local laws and obligations of treaties or other agreements.”8

In contingency environments where DoD personnel are forward-deployed and engaging in active military operations, C-UAS legalities defer toward the laws of war and self-defense. Per the aforementioned 2021 DoD Strategy, “contingency locations are generally the least restrictive operating environment but potentially carry the highest risk.” Since active hostilities may be present, commanders will ensure that appropriate roles of engagement are utilized for C-UAS issues.

Counter-sUAS Capabilities
Counter-sUAS (C-sUAS) systems are specifically designed for the detection, tracking, identification, and defeat of group one (1) and two (2) sUAS. Several technologies including radar, RF scanners, electro-optical sensors and infrared cameras are commonly used for detection. Options to defeat sUAS include jamming sUAS RF control or payload links, jamming sUAS GNSS signals, or kinetic attacks such as lasers, projectiles, or interception with another sUAS. The most effective fixed site systems use multiple detection methods, increasing the likelihood of detection and have multiple defeat methods giving commanders and operators more options based on circumstances. Mobile systems generally have limited detection and defeat methods, but can provide C-sUAS capability during movement, in austere environments, and fill gaps not covered by fixed site systems.9,10

Detection of sUAS systems is difficult due to the myriad of factors involved. Differences in sUAS size, speed, transmission frequencies, and operational environments impact the effectiveness of the different sensors used by C-sUAS systems. Sensor types include electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR), ELINT, acoustics and LIDAR. Each has a range of capabilities with unique strengths and weaknesses, and all can have issues with false alarms based on the environment in which they are deployed.3

  • Radar: The effectiveness of radar as a detection method is dependent upon the shape, surface material and motion of the object the radar is attempting to detect. Many sUAS are being built with plastics and carbon-based materials for their strength, flexibility, and reduced weight. However, these materials can reduce an objects radar signature. Doppler radars can separate moving target signatures from other background clutter. Rotor blades used on sUAS produce unique Doppler signatures that can aid in detection and identification. As sUAS control and navigation capabilities improve, threat actors may have more ability to use terrain to mask the movement of sUAS, particularly in crowded urban environments. Radars with wider bandwidths, advance digital signal processing and agility with respect to frequency and waveform are likely to be the most effective for the detection of sUAS.3,11
  • EO/IR Sensors: Like radar, EO/IR sensors are affected by atmospheric effects, and the shape, surface material and motion of the object the sensor is attempting to detect. These sensors operate at much higher frequencies in the electromagnetic domain and generally fall into two broad classes, imaging and non-imaging.
    • Imaging Sensors: These sensors can create still or full motion images to detect, identify and track targets depending on the resolution of the sensor. Imaging sensors have a smaller field of view and are most effective when being cued by other detection sensors.3
    • Non-imaging Sensors: These sensors do not have the resolution required to produce an image. However, they can detect and track targets as point targets. The advantage is the increased field of view allowing for more efficient searches of larger areas. Battery powered sUAS have lower radiant intensities than internal combustion or jet powered counterparts making them more difficult to decipher from the environment by non-imaging sensors. Reduced battery temperature can improve battery life, providing incentive for manufacturers to use cooler batteries, leading to reduced thermal signatures in the future for sUAS.3
  • ELINT Sensors: ELINT sensors passively detect signals of interest emitted from both the controller and the sUAS. Signal identification relies on prior knowledge of the signal of interest. ELINT sensors use digital libraries containing waveform parameters of threat emitters. When a signal is detected, it is compared to the signals in the library for identification. If a threat actor uses a signal not in the library of the ELINT sensor it will be ignored. ELINT sensors can also produce false alarms from other emitters such as wireless hotspots or GoPro cameras. While one ELINT sensor can provide relatively accurate bearing to the source of the signal, multiple ELINT sensors can work together to triangulate a signal. The more sensors and wider angular spread increase the accuracy of location finding capability. ELINT sensors can be largely defeated by reducing signals emitted. This can be accomplished by sUAS flying preplanned routes and recording data onboard the sensor instead of transmitting data. Threat actors can also use decoy sUAS or swarming techniques to overwhelm ELINT sensors. Lastly, the use of cell signal controls make ELINT detection difficult as the signals are mixed amongst other cell signals.3
  • Acoustic Sensors: These sensors are most effective at closer ranges as sound power decreases by six (6) decibels for each doubling of distance between the source and receiver. There is market demand for quieter sUAS systems, particularly for commercial use in urban areas. As a result, C-UAS manufacturers are beginning to turn away from acoustic sensors as a primary method of detection.3
  • LIDAR Sensors: These sensors use pulsed laser light to illuminate a target and then collect the reflected pulses to accurately measure distance to target. LIDAR sensors typically use ultraviolet, visible or near-IR light to illuminate targets. LIDAR sensors can quickly and precisely locate targets, providing range and azimuth during both day and night. LIDAR is also very effective at separating targets from other foreground and background clutter. Atmospheric conditions such as rain, fog and haze negatively affect LIDAR because of the two-way transmission of the pulsed lasers. When used near people, the maximum laser power should be limited to make the lasers eye-safe, decreasing its potential capability. Research has indicated that LIDAR has the ability to detect sUAS at ranges out to 30 meters. Future research and development being conducted is likely to make LIDAR more effective C-sUAS option in the future.3

Since each of the above sensors have different strengths and weaknesses, a “system of systems” approach to C-sUAS is likely to provide the most effective results. This is especially true for installations where fixed site systems can be employed and tailored to the environment and potential threats. Since all systems produce false alarms, training of operators and technicians is critical to the overall effectiveness of the systems.3

Case Study: NAS JRB Fort Worth
At Naval Air Station (NAS) Joint Reserve Base (JRB) Fort Worth in Texas, leadership has expressed concerns regarding the installation’s encounters with unauthorized sUAS in their airspace. Open-source reporting indicates that drone reports have increased from approximately 100 encounters to more than 300 monthly. In addition, including sUAS maneuvering through their airspace multiple times, the installation has reported more than 700 incidents a month. According to a former Commanding Officer of NAS JRB Fort Worth, most observed drone operators are younger individuals unintentionally flying recreationally in the area. However, these unauthorized sUAS are considered hazardous for aircraft at NAS JRB Fort Worth, as there have been two (2) incidents in which DoD aircraft had to maneuver around unauthorized drones to avoid a crash. Furthermore, a crash in September 2021 involving a bird flying into an aircraft’s engine, which damaged three (3) houses in the Lake Worth neighborhood, highlights the potential damage unauthorized objects pose to NAS JRB Fort Worth’s single-engine aircraft.12

While the former Commanding Officer indicated that leadership does not believe the unauthorized drone flights in NAS JRB Fort Worth’s airspace demonstrate “hostile intent,” sUAS in the vicinity of the installation could pose potential surveillance concerns. NAS JRB Fort Worth hosts dozens of units, including the Air Force’s 301st Fighter Wing. In January 2021, the Secretary of the Air Force named the 301st Fighter Wing, NAS JRB Fort Worth, the first Air Force Reserve Command F-35 unit-equipped wing. According to the press release announcing the decision, the F-35s are being assembled at the Fort Worth Lockheed Martin Plant, across the runway from the 301st Fighter Wing. At the time of the announcement, the wing was expected to receive the first F-35A aircraft in summer 2024, replacing its aging fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons. In November 2023, a few F-35s with interim software flew for the first time at NAS JRB Fort Worth. Any unauthorized sUAS surveillance into the production or testing of F-35s (which are designed with stealth technology, advanced aerodynamic performance and integrated avionics to bolster U.S. air dominance) could potentially disrupt U.S. defense advantages.13,14,15,16

Case Study: NAVBASE Kitsap
Naval Base (NAVBASE) Kitsap is the third largest U.S. Navy installation in the United States. It is home to all types of U.S. Navy submarines, two Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and the largest fuel depot in the Continental U.S. NAVBASE Kitsap is located on the Kitsap Peninsula, approximately 20 miles West-Northwest of Seattle, WA and is composed of multiple installations including Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Naval Submarine Base Bangor, Keyport Underwater Warfare Center, Naval Hospital Bremerton and the Manchester Fuel Depot. The sensitive and strategic nature of NAVBASE Kitsap makes foreign intelligence activities a legitimate concern. After repeated flights of private drones over these installations, the U.S. Navy requested the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners pass legislation to prevent such flights. On 10 September 2019, Ordinance 571-2019 went into effect, requiring operators to notify the U.S. Navy in advance of UAS operations within 3000 feet of these installations. Notification is made through an online form located on the Kitsap County website. Requirements include the location, time, drone description, FAA registration number and contact information of the operator.17

While the FAA continues to adapt regulations regarding recreational and commercial operation of sUAS to fit the rapid growth of technology, their efforts cannot address the specific concerns of individual military installations. A myriad of factors including the environment around an installation, civilian encroachment, signals encroachment, installation and tenant missions, and the equipment and technology aboard the installation must all be taken into account when determining the risk associated with sUAS operations near an installation. The communication and cooperation between Naval Base Kitsap and the Kitsap County government is a good example of how installations can partner with local governments to mitigate the threats associated with sUAS while balancing the rights of law-abiding citizens. C-sUAS programs are bolstered by such efforts because they provide insight to the installation on expected honest and legal use of sUAS in the area, making identification of potential threat actor use of sUAS easier.

Additional Examples
There have also been a number of significant sUAS kinetic attacks across the Middle East. Installations across Syria and Iraq as well as U.S. Navy warships in the Red Sea have been targeted numerous times since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war on 07 October 2023.18

Open-source reporting on the attacks against U.S. interests in Iraq and Syria indicate the majority of attacks involved drones, indirect fires (rockets or mortars), or a combination of the two. Very little reporting on the types of drones used is available, however two sUAS systems identified in the attacks were the Qasef-2K and the Shahed-101. The Qasef-2K is an Iranian attack drone with a range of 150 km, endurance of two (02) hours, ceiling of 9,800 feet and can carry a 66-pound payload. The Shahed-101 is a larger Iranian attack drone with a delta wing design. It is usually guided by a preprogrammed flight path to a predetermined target, eliminating the need for a constant control signal and reducing it’s ELINT signature. This design has been copied by Russia and China and has been used often by Russia against Ukraine. Some of these variants have been observed with carbon fiber components and a black coating. These changes are likely attempts to reduce the radar signature and engine heat signature.19,20,21

Houthi rebels in Yemen have also utilized one-way attack drones to target merchant ships in the Red Sea shipping lanes. While information on what types of drones are being used to carry out these attacks, two of the most common one-way attack drones used by the Houthi’s are the KAS-04 and the Shahed-136. The KAS-04 is produced at by Iran’s Kimia Part Sivan Company, has a range of 1,700 km. The Shahed-136 is also Iranian produced and is a loitering munition or suicide / kamikaze drone capable of drone swarm attacks with a range estimated between 1,000 km and 2,500 km.18

Hamas used multirotor sUAS to great effect during their 07 October 2023 attack on Israel. The majority of these sUAS would be categorized as Group two (02) sUAS by DoD standards. Small explosive munitions were dropped on Israeli border security towers which housed cameras, communication and machine gun emplacements. One video released by Hamas shoed a commercially available quadcopter attacking an Israeli tank. Targets deeper into Israeli territory were attacked with larger one-way attack drones of various types.22

The contrast between the kinetic attacks conducted using Group two (02) and Group three (03) sUAS show the limited capability for kinetic attacks by the smaller Group two (02) sUAS. However, kinetic attacks by smalls sUAS can be highly effective when coordinated against softer targets such as camera systems and communications equipment. Even an attack on a main battle tank can render the electro-optical sighting systems and communications equipment inoperable, making the tank significantly less effective. Group three (03) sUAS carry larger, more powerful payloads over much larger distances making them more effective in kinetic attacks against larger targets. Technology is being applied to make them more difficult to detect by C-UAS systems, further increasing their lethality. In depth study of these sUAS attacks across the Middle East, along with the wars in Ukraine and Azerbaijan is critical for the future of C-UAS systems to keep up with emerging technology.

The widespread proliferation of sUAS will continue to pose a force protection challenge for the DoD. Threat actors will almost certainly continue to utilize sUAS for malicious activities around the world, to include areas with a DoD presence. While there is currently limited publicly available evidence suggesting a specific sUAS threat to the DoD outside of active conflict zones, the continued evolution of sUAS systems and ongoing challenges regarding C-UAS legal frameworks and C-sUAS capabilities creates an environment conducive to future threat activity. RMC’s Intelligence & Climate Analysis Division continues to monitor relevant developments related to threat actor use of sUAS platforms, as well as potential threats to DoD installations, assets, and personnel worldwide.


1. U.S. Air Force. (2022, March 14) Air Force Small-Unmanned Aircraft Systems Guide and Reporting Procedures. Retrieved from

2. Penn State University. (n.d.). Classification of the Unmanned Aerial Systems. Retrieved from

3. Wilson, B. et al. (2020). Small Unmanned Aerial System Adversary Capabilities. Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center. Retrieved from

4. Smith, C. (2018, October 10). 3D Printing Trends to Watch in 2018. Retrieved from

5. Mastrola, M. (2023, October 9). As Drone Traffic Increases, Researchers Turn to AI to Help Avoid Collisions. Retrieved from

6. Ball, M. (2023, February 27). Military LiDAR Solutions. Defense Advancement. Retrieved from

7. The military can now use force to “Disable” Pesky drones near bases. (2017, November 28). Retrieved from

8. Department of Defense. (2021). Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Strategy. Retrieved from

9. Director Operational Test and Evaluation. (2020). Counter-Small Unmanned Aerial Systems. Retrieved from

10. Board on Army Science and Technology. (2018). Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems (CUAS) Capability for Battalion and Below Operations. Retrieved from

11. Ruiz-Perez, F. et al. (2022, September). Carbon-based Radar Absorbing Materials: A Critical Review. Journal of Science: Advanced Materials and Devices. Retrieved from

12. Rahman, T. (2023, November 15). Drones are messing with training at Fort Worth military installation. NBCDFW. Retrieved from

13. Commander, Navy Region Southeast. (n.d.). NAS JRB Fort Worth Tenant Commands. Commander, Navy Region Southeast. Retrieved from

14. 301st Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office. (2021, January 8). 301 FW Selected to Receive F-35A. 301st Fighter Wing. Retrieved from

15. Owens, S. (2023, January 19). Aircraft Mishap Highlights NAS JRB Partnership with Lockheed Martin. DVIDS. Retrieved from

16. Losey, S. (2023, December 30). New in 2024: F-35 program eyes key upgrade, delivery restart. Defense News. Retrieved from

17. Kitsap County, Washington. (2019, September 10). Drone / Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Regulations. Retrieved from

18. Lagrone, S. (2023, December 18). ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’ Set to Protect Ships in the Red Sea, Carrier IKE in Gulf of Aden. USNI News. Retrieved from

19. Knights, M et al. (2024, January 11). Tracking Anti-U.S. Strikes in Iraq and Syria During the Gaza Crisis. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Retrieved from

20. Kyiv Post staff. (2023, December 10). A Technophile’s Guide to the Evolution of Russian Shahed Drones. Kyiv Post. Retrieved from

21. Hanna, A. (2021, June 30). Iran’s Drone Transfer to Proxies. United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved from

22. Jankowicz, Mia. (2023, October 10). How Hamas likely used rudimentary drones to ‘blind and deafen’ Israel’s border and pave the way for its onslaught. Business Insider. Retrieved from

January 2024

Threats include:

Air Force Disciplines 15 Over Alleged Leak of Classified Documents | Insider Threat
Taiwan Reports More Chinese Weather Balloon Incursions | Foreign Intelligence Entities (FIE)…

Threat Primer: Hizballah

In early October 2023, the Palestinian political and militant group Hamas launched a large-scale attack into Israel from the Gaza Strip. Following the initial attack, the Lebanese political and militant group Hizballah immediately became involved in the conflict, primarily along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. This paper is not intended to address Hizballah’s ongoing involvement in conflict between Hamas and Israel, but rather is designed to provide historical context regarding Hizballah and its activities. In this paper, RMC’s Intelligence & Analysis Division will examine Hizballah’s origins, ideology, leadership, funding, organization, and strength. Additionally, this paper will provide an overview of Hizballah’s political and militant activities, and briefly review some of the group’s notable attacks.

Hizballah (which translates to “Party of Allah” or “Party of God”) is a Lebanese Shia militia. In 1943, Shia Muslims were among the groups within the National Pact (an agreement that designated different official positions among the many sectarian groups in the region as part of Lebanon’s state formation process). As the third-largest sectarian group and among the poorest, Shia Muslims frequently felt underrepresented. In the early 1960s, Imam Musa al-Sadr formed Amal, the Shia militant organization from which Hizballah would eventually split. Amal and other groups arose in the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War, which pitted political, religious, and ethnic groups against each other in shifting alliances affected by outside influences and multinational peacekeeping forces. This includes Israel’s invasion of Lebanon following the Coastal Road Massacre of 1978, in which Palestinian militants based out of Lebanon murdered civilians near Tel Aviv. Following conflicts with the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), several leaders of Amal, led by Husain al-Musawi, broke away to form a new, more militant organization called Islamic Amal, which recruited from other revolutionary Shia organizations. After its own revolution, Iran wanted an alternative to the original Amal, which refused obedience to Ayatollah Khomeini. In late 1982, following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, 1,500 members of the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrived to support and train Islamic Amal. It remains unclear whether a group of Islamic Amal members split away from the lager group to form Hizballah or whether Islamic Amal was simply an earlier iteration of Hizballah. Many date the formation of Hizballah in late 1982 (concurrent with these events), but the group’s official manifesto was not released until 1985. Led by religious clerics, including Sheikh Subhi al-Tufayli and Sayyed Abbas al-Musawi, the group wanted to adopt Iranian doctrine in Lebanon, including the use of terror. Hizballah is often credited with being among the first groups to use suicide bombings, including the 1983 attack on the United States Marine Corps (USMC) barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. Iran helped develop the group to support its jihad against Israel. Located in Ba’albek in the northern Beqa’a valley, the combined forces that would become Hizballah brought Iranian-Islamic influences to the area and constituted the core of the organization in Lebanon.1,2,3,4

Hizballah follows a form of Shia Islam, which asserts that the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin (and son-in-law) should have been his successor. This belief evolved into Imamah, which holds that descendants of Muhammad are Islam’s rightful rulers. Shia Islam is the second-largest branch of the faith, with 10–15% of believers. Twelver Shi’ism is the largest, comprising about 85% of them. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran espoused a unique strain of Twelverism called Velayat-e-faqih, which calls for theocratic government in accordance with Sharia law. Hizballah continues to espouse similar politics to those of the Ayatollah, which drove the Iranian Revolution.

Despite its hardline stance, Hizballah has made common cause with other Islamic and secular Arab groups, along with left-wing organizations. Like Iran, it calls for the eradication of Israel. Its animosity towards the Jewish people is rooted in religious conflicts dating back to the ancient world. Hizballah officials have tried to distinguish between their hostility towards Israel and outright antisemitism. However, most observers doubt these assertions. In addition to operating as an armed militia, Hizballah also functions as an active political party within Lebanon. In 2009, the group updated its manifesto with language that called for “true democracy.” In 2022, Hizballah maintained its 13 seats in Lebanon’s 128-member Parliament. The U.S. Department of State still designates Hizballah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).1

Hizballah’s organizational structure is composed of nesting committees and subcommittees. The Shura Council is at the top, with five (5) subordinate Councils. These include the Executive, Judicial, Parliamentary, Political, and Jihad Councils. Their respective chairs are five (5) of the seven (7) members of the Shura Council, along with the Secretary General and the Political Advisor to the Secretary General. The current Secretary General is Hassan Nasrallah, who has held the position since 1992, with Hussein al-Khalil serving as Political Advisor. Each member of the Shura Council oversees sub-entities within their own branch that handle Hizballah’s affairs across multiple domains.5

The Shura Council’s decisions (which can be made either unanimously or by majority) are final and religiously binding. The Council is subordinate only to the Supreme Leader of Iran, who has the authority to resolve deadlocks. The Shura Council first began convening in 1986. It was later integrated into Hizballah’s general reorganization. In 1989, a rule was adopted whereby the Council would have nine (9) members, each elected for a single year by Hizballah’s internal leadership. The Council’s membership was later reduced to seven (7) members serving two (2)-year terms, then extended to three (3)-year terms sometime between 1993 and 2003. There are rumors of an eighth member who remains anonymous, who may be the head of Hizballah’s military affairs. When the Council votes on matters of war and peace, it is presided by two (2) members of the IRGC.

Hizballah has its own investment portfolio, and it receives donations from individuals, companies, and organizations. It also operates a global organized crime network of illegal drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, and money laundering. It reportedly has hubs in Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Of particular interest is its trafficking of an amphetamine-type stimulant, sold as “captagon,” along the Syria-Lebanon border. It is a popular recreational drug among the young affluent populations of the Middle East. 3,6,7

Iran has spent billions to fund Hizballah’s activities, in addition to other militant groups such as Hamas. Some, like Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), act as proxies for Tehran’s efforts to destabilize the Middle East and target Israel and American assets in the region. Iran’s funding reaches groups such as Hizballah through shell companies, front groups, fake charities, virtual currencies, real estate, investments, money laundering, and hawala networks. Between August 2021 and June 2023, Hamas and PIJ reportedly raised over $130 million in cryptocurrency and moved millions among themselves. This reportedly included $12 million in cryptocurrency from PIJ to Hizballah.7

In May 2022, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned an “oil for terror” network between Iran and Syria that benefitted Hizballah and other proxies. The scheme involved the shipment of Iranian oil to Syria via Russian companies. Syria would furnish the profits to the IRGC, who would distribute the funds to Hizballah and Hamas. This arrangement enabled Russia to evade U.S. sanctions and allowed Iran to fund terrorism.7

Organization and Strength
Hizballah’s Executive Council manages the day-to-day operations of the group (with the exception of military operations). The Executive Council’s activities are all designed to support the Jihad Council’s military operations in some form or fashion. The Executive Council oversees a social unit which supports infrastructure projects, programs for wounded and deceased (“Martyred”) Hizballah fighters, and other social projects aimed at garnering support and good will towards the organization. The Islamic Health Unit operates several hospital systems complete with local clinics, dental facilities, and other social health programs. The Education Unit provides scholarships and financial aid for college and technical programs, as well as operating multiple primary and secondary schools for children. These educational opportunities coincide with the need for technical skills for Hizballah operations. The Executive Council also oversees numerous companies which are deeply rooted in the Lebanese economy providing an appearance of legitimacy while providing funds for Hizballah operations. Many of these companies are currently under economic sanctions by the U.S. and other countries.5,8,9

Hizballah’s Political Council operates both independently of, and intertwined with, the Lebanese government. Lebanon’s poor economic conditions and multiple factions within the Lebanese political system leaves the legitimate government relatively weak and disjointed. Hizballah actively participates in this system and continues efforts to increase influence in the Lebanese government. Hizballah will act alone, without support of the Lebanese government, when opportunities arise to further Hizballah’s political, social and militant goals that otherwise would not find support or consensus within the Lebanese government.5,10

Hizballah’s Judicial Council operates independently of the Lebanese government in Hizballah-controlled areas, especially in Shia communities. This council is made of tribunals responsible for the implementation and enforcement of Sharia Law and can impose fines, imprisonment, and corporal punishment including sentence of death. The structure of the Judicial Council includes local courts, regional courts and a Supreme Court appointed by the Shura Council.5,11

Hizballah’s Parliamentary Council is responsible for the selection of the group’s candidates running for election in Lebanon and ensuring that Hizballah’s elected representatives follow the will of the Shura Council. Hassan Nasrallah has made public statements explaining that Hizballah’s elected leaders are subordinate to the Shura Council’s authority. Under the Parliamentary Council is the Governmental Committee, which advises Hizballah’s ministers and seeks to improve Hizballah’s presence in Lebanese internal affairs.5,12

Hizballah’s Jihad Council is also known as the External Security Organization or Unit 910. The Jihad Council is responsible for military operations including the planning, coordination and execution of terrorist attacks, operations supporting the war in Syria, intelligence operations along the Israeli border, and the coordination of logistical support from Iran. The commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force routinely attends meetings of the Jihad Council. The structure of subordinate units closely resembles a military structure consistent with foreign nation-state militaries and including headquarters, training, logistics, intelligence, communications, infantry, armor, air defense, special operations, and specialized units such as electronic warfare.3,5,13

Estimates of Hizballah’s military strength range 20,000 to 40,000 from various sources. According to Israel Defense Forces estimates, Hizballah has a total strength of 30,000 of which 15,000 are active fighters. Hizballah also has an international network of supporters and operatives engaged in various political, social, financial and criminal activities estimated by the U.S. Department of State to number in the tens of thousands.3,5,14

Political Activities
Domestically, Hizballah is part of the elected Lebanese Parliament. Hizballah does not hold enough seats in the Lebanese Parliament to elect their nominee to the Presidency but has enough votes to prevent any other political faction from electing their Presidential nominee. The presidency has remained vacant since October 2022 due to the political deadlock and caretaker government with limited powers is maintaining governmental operations. This allows Hizballah to continue operations without government interference and to use their influence within the Lebanese government to further their goals.15

Internationally, Hizballah has expanded its influence beyond Lebanon, particularly supporting militant operations in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Iranian influence is the driving factor behind Hizballah’s expansion. This expansion leaves Hizballah weaker domestically in Lebanon as precious resources and funding are being used abroad during a time of turmoil at home. Hizballah has established operations in the U.S., Europe, South America, and Asia. Much of this activity is focused on spreading their ideology, as well as criminal enterprises, particularly narcotics, to raise funding for the larger organization.14,16

Militant Activities
Hizballah was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State in October of 1997, followed by more than 60 other countries since. Notably, the Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council also consider Hizballah a terrorist organization. While Hizballah is known for bombings, aircraft hijackings, kidnappings, and narcotics smuggling, it also resembles a nation-state military. In recent years Hizballah has participated and supported conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. Approximately 1,700 Hizballah fighters have been killed and 6,000 injured in these conflicts since 2011. While these losses are significant, the extensive combat experience gained potentially makes Hizballah a more potent paramilitary force. Coupled with training and logistical support from Iran, Hizballah is capable of operating military equipment not typically associated with terrorist organizations. Hizballah fighters have experience with a variety of older Soviet tanks, anti-tank missile systems, artillery, rockets, and explosive devices. Hizballah also has a robust intelligence collection network to support their kinetic capabilities. Since Hamas’ attack on Israel on 07 October 2023, Hizballah has conducted limited attacks that have led to skirmishes with the IDF along the Israel-Lebanon border. These attacks include Hizballah’s first use of Burkan missiles and attack drones.4,14

Notable Attacks
Hizballah has conducted several attacks in Beirut that brought the organization to the forefront of terrorist activity, including the April 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon, the aforementioned October 1983 bombing of the USMC barracks, and the September 1984 bombing of the U.S. Embassy annex. Since then, Hizballah has conducted multiple attacks, often targeting Jewish interests and political rivals in Lebanon. Hizballah has been credited with the July 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which killed 95 people, and the July 2012 bombing of a tour bus carrying Israeli tourists, killing six (6) and wounding 33. Examples of political attacks include the February 2005 bombing, which killed the Lebanese Prime Minister and 21 others, and the October 2012 bombing, which killed the Lebanese Internal Security Forces Information Bureau chief and eight (8) others. Recently, attacks of this nature have been sparce due to Hizballah’s involvement in Syria and support for operations in Yemen and Iraq.2,17,18

An understanding of Hizballah, its origins, its structure, its capabilities, and its historical activities are fundamental to understanding the group’s role in the ongoing conflict in Israel. RMC’s Intelligence & Analysis Division continues to monitor the ongoing conflict and relevant geopolitical developments. Additionally, the Intelligence & Analysis Division continues to analyze potential threats to the U.S. and its interests as a result of the conflict, to include Iran-backed militia attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East, as well as potential terrorism, hate crime, and protest activity/civil disturbance concerns in the U.S. homeland. Finally, the Intelligence & Analysis Division acknowledges the potential for Iranian involvement to escalate the current situation into a wider conflict.

Additional White Papers regarding the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict and associated developments may be produced as the situation continues to unfold.


1. Robinson, K. (2023, October 14). What is Hezbollah? Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from

2. Mapping Militant Organizations. (2019, July). Hezbollah. Stanford University. Retrieved from

3. Congressional Research Service. (2023, January 11). Lebanese Hezbollah. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved from

4. Jewish Virtual Library. (2023, November 08). Hezbollah: History & Overview. Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved from

5. Eye on Hezbollah. (2023). Organizational Chart. Eye on Hezbollah. Retrieved from

6. U.S. Department of Justice. (2003, September). Fenethylline and the Middle East: A brief summary. Office of Justice Programs. Retrieved from

7. Monroe, B. (2023, November 01). Unraveling a complex web: A primer on Hamas funding sources,
Iranian support, global connections and compliance concerns, considerations. Association of Certified Financial Crime Specialists. Retrieved from

8. Beeri, Ti. (n.d.) Hezbollah Executive Council. Alma Research and Education Center. Retrieved from

9. Flanigan S. and Abdel-Samad, M. (n.d.). Hezbollah’s social jihad: Nonprofits as resistance organizations. Middle East Policy Council. Retrieved from

10. Beeri, T. (2022, June 06). Hezbollah – the Political Council. Alma Research and Education Center. Retrieved from

11. Beeri, T. (2022, June 02). Hezbollah’s Judicial Council. Alma Research and Education Center. Retrieved from

12. Beeri, T. (2022, June 06). Hezbollah – Parliamentary Council. Alma Research and Education Center. Retrieved from

13. Beeri, T. (2023, November 27). Hezbollah’s General Staff – The Jihad Council and its main subordinate units. Alma Research and Education Center. Retrieved from

14. Israel Defense Forces. (2017, February 13). Hezbollah: Get to know our most complicated adversary. Israeli Defense Forces. Retrieved from

15. Kotrikadze, E. (2023, November 03). Hezbollah’s record on war and politics. The Wilson Center. Retrieved from

16. Byman, D. (2022, November). Hezbollah’s dilemmas. Brookings Institute. Retrieved from

17. U.S. Director of National Intelligence. (n.d.). Lebanese Hizballah: Select worldwide operational activity, 1983-2017. Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Retrieved from

18. U.S. Director of National Intelligence. (2022, September). Counter terrorism guide – Lebanese Hizballah. Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Retrieved from ftos/lebanese_hizballah_fto.html.

Threat Primer: Hamas

The Palestinian political and militant group Hamas re-entered the international spotlight in early October 2023 when the group launched a large-scale attack into Israel from the Gaza Strip (a Palestinian territory that shares a border with Israel). This paper is not intended to address the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel, rather, it is designed to provide historical context regarding Hamas and its activities. In this paper, RMC’s Intelligence & Analysis Division will examine Hamas’ origins, ideology, leadership, funding, organization, and strength (in terms of manpower). Additionally, this paper will provide an overview of Hamas’ political and militant activities, and briefly review some of the group’s notable attacks.

In December 1987, Palestinian cleric Sheikh Ahmed Yassin founded Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (commonly known by its acronym “Hamas” or the all-capitalized “HAMAS”) as the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm in Gaza. Initially, Hamas was established as an alternative to Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a group whose violent resistance of Israel threatened to drive Palestinian support away from the Muslim Brotherhood. Following the first intifada (a Palestinian uprising against Israeli possession of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem) Hamas emerged as the primary domestic opposition force to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his secular nationalist Fatah movement. Hamas differentiated itself from Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), who were negotiating with Israel in the early 1990s, by using violence against Israeli civilian and military targets to disrupt peace talks. Following efforts to bolster its violent resistance, including engaging in suicide bombings beginning in April 1993, the United States designated the Sunni extremist movement as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.1,2,3,4

Since Hamas’ founding, the group has preserved its primary base of political support and its military command in the Gaza Strip. Following Arafat’s death in 2004, Hamas began engaging in politics. Shortly after the election of Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian Authority (PA) president and Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections over Fatah in 2006. Following the victory, Hamas acquired control of PA ministries in Gaza and violently expelled the PA and Fatah from Gaza in 2007.1,4,5

The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement, a document signed in August 1988, details Hamas’ ideology and goals. According to the covenant’s introduction, Hamas’ ideology is rooted in fundamental Islamic principles, as the group looks to fulfill its responsibilities by “striving for the sake of its Creator.” Hamas’ primary goal in its “struggle against the Jews” is to “raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine” through an allegiance to Islam and support from the Arab and Islamic world. Furthermore, Article Eleven of the covenant specifies that the land of Palestine would be governed under Islamic Sharia (law) and preserved for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day. Therefore, Hamas strongly opposes the idea of a secular Palestine and believes that no part of the land can be given up.6

Hamas believes that Palestinian liberation cannot be achieved through peaceful initiatives and international conferences, as they directly contradict Hamas’ principles and are a “waste of time.” Therefore, peace agreements between Arab countries and Israel are viewed as “treacherous.” Lastly, while Hamas states in its covenant that all religions can safely coexist under Islamic rule, Article 28 declares that “Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people.”6

In an effort to soften its image and better connect with the outside world, Hamas released a new document of principles and policies in May 2017. While Hamas’ maintained its goal to completely liberate the land “from the river to the sea” (referring to the entirety of the land that comprises Israel, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank), the new document did not mention the Muslim Brotherhood, sought to distinguish between Jewish people and Zionism, and accepted the provisional establishment of a Palestinian state “with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of the 4th of June 1967.” However, Hamas advocated that “resistance and jihad” continued to remain a right and did not acknowledge Israel’s right to exist in any part of the land.7,8,9

Hamas’ leadership is comprised of officials operating in exile, such as Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Doha, Qatar, and Cairo, Egypt, and individuals managing the affairs in Gaza and the West Bank. The current political chief, Ismail Haniyeh, has been the group’s leader since 2017. Haniyeh has served from Doha, Qatar, since 2020, as Egypt reportedly prevents his movement into and out of Gaza. Open-source reports also note that some Hamas officials operate in Qatar and Turkey. Other leaders include military wing leaders Marwan Issa and Mohammed Deif, Lebanon branch head Saleh al-Arouri, and Political Bureau External Region chief Khaled Mashal. In Gaza, Yahya Sinwar manages day-to-day affairs as the Political Bureau chief, while Issam al-Da’alis serves as de facto prime minister.2,3

Hamas is restricted from receiving funds that the U.S. and European Union provide to the PLO in the West Bank. As a result, the group’s financing is reportedly driven by Palestinian expatriates and private donors in the Persian Gulf, Islamic charities that channel funds to Hamas-backed social service groups, and a few foreign nations. Furthermore, after Egypt and Israel initiated a blockade of Gaza in the 2000s, Hamas started taxing goods transported through tunnels from the Egyptian crossing into Gaza. While most tunnels were shut down on Egypt’s territory when Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi took power in 2013, Egypt started permitting the importation of some commercial goods into Gaza in 2018. Lastly, Hamas has increasingly used cryptocurrencies, credit cards, or contrived trade deals to fund their operations. Between December 2021 and April 2023, Israel seized about 190 cryptocurrency accounts that it indicated were associated with Hamas.2,5,10

According to open-source reporting, Hamas has historically received significant funds, weapons, and training from Iran. While the Hamas-Iran relationship suffered after Hamas refused to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war, their alliance was reportedly revived around 2017. Per the U.S. Department of State, as of February 2023, Iran contributes up to $100 million annually in combined support to groups such as Hamas, PIJ, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. In addition to Iran, Hamas has the political support of Turkey. Turkish President Erdogan has permitted Hamas’ leadership to live in Turkey, has met with Hamas officials, and refused to describe the group’s actions as terrorism. Despite Turkey’s claim that their support remains political in nature, some have accused the country of funding Hamas’ actions, including through aid diverted from the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency. Qatar has also been accused of financing Hamas, with a U.S. Treasury Department official stating publicly in 2014 that Qatar “has for many years openly financed Hamas.” While Qatar has provided fuel and cash to address electricity and funding shortages in Gaza, Qatari officials have denied directly financing Hamas.11,2,4,5,12

Organization and Strength
Although the group is largely known for its militant activities, Hamas also has a variety of sociopolitical functions. Hamas governs more than 2,000,000 people in Gaza, administering various public services to include healthcare, schooling, and food banks. The general policy of Hamas is set by the group’s aforementioned Political Bureau, which is comprised of 15 members and is led by Ismail Haniyeh. The Political Bureau is elected by the Shura Council, an overarching, consultative body. The exact number of members on the Shura Council is unknown, but it is comprised of members from four (4) regional shuras. The Shura Council is elected by Hamas members and prisoners in Israeli jails. Of note, Osama Mazini, the head of the Shura Council was killed in October 2023 in the Gaza Strip during the ongoing conflict between Israeli forces and Hamas13,14,15

The armed wing of Hamas, named Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (known as the al-Qassam Brigades for short), has an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 fighters and has existed since 1991. As of September 2022, the U.S. government’s National Counterterrorism Center estimated Hamas had a strength of 20,000 to 25,000 members.3,16,17,18

Political Activities
Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006, narrowly defeating rival political party Fatah (a more moderate/secular western-backed political party. This was the first time Hamas participated in elections and was also the last time that the elections were held. Hamas took over the Gaza strip the following year after Fatah forces. Hamas fighters successfully pushed out all Fatah politicians from Gaza which allowed them to prevent further political elections from occurring. The fighting between Hamas and Fatah’s militia lasted for a week, resulting in a split of the Palestinian territories. With Hamas’ new reign came new restrictive laws. Initially, they governed in accordance with the sharia-based Palestinian Basic Law. Furthermore, Hamas has made the law much more restrictive by enforcing gender segregation and putting restrictions on the way women were allowed to dress in its initial years of rule.19,20

Open-source reporting shows that the Hamas group lacked structure in its government in relation to transparency for its procurement, funding, and operations. According to a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in June 2023, one-third of Palestinians in Gaza believe that the Hamas government has been one of the most damaging organizations developed since 1984. Additionally, it was also found that while one-third would choose the PA President Mahmoud Abbas in a presidential election, more than half would vote for Hamas’ Haniyeh over Abbas.13

Militant Activities
The U.S. State Department designated Hamas (and by association, its al-Qassam Brigades) as a foreign terrorist organization in October 1997. The al-Qassam Brigades mainly participated in suicide bombing campaigns when it was first created. In recent years, Hamas has demonstrated uses of rockets, long-range missiles, and drones. The advancement of their military capabilities has influenced the damage they have been able to inflict on their targets. Prior to the recent advancement of their military capabilities, they heavily relied on guerrilla warfare tactics. Rockets, explosives, snipers, and even underground tunnels were also used to carry out attacks.3,16

Open-source reporting indicates that Hamas still maintains and utilizes its extensive underground tunnel system in Gaza to this day. Hamas uses these tunnels to store their arsenal of launch platforms, rockets, weapons, and other supplies. The tunnels are also used to house and transport Hamas militants, giving the group the capability to operate “under the radar” in the event of a major ground attack.16

Notable Attacks
In recent years, Hamas has had a demonstrated history of surprise attacks on Israel. In December 2008, Hamas fired rockets at the southern Israeli town of Sderot. In July 2014, Hamas kidnapped and killed three (3) Israeli teenagers. In May 2021, Israel launched air raids on Gaza in retaliation to what it said were rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas. Hamas had fired rockets towards Israel after Israel refused to withdraw their security forces from the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem. At the compound, security forces demonstrated acts of violence against Palestinian protestors leading to Hamas giving an ultimatum. Consequently, Hamas fired more than 4,000 rockets which led to an 11-day war with Israel.21,22,23

The University of Maryland’s Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START)’s Global Terrorism Database (GTD) tracks and categorizes terrorist attacks worldwide. For the 10-year period from 2011, the START GTD reported 218 terrorist attacks associated with Hamas and the al-Qassam Brigades, for an average of 10.9 attacks annually.24

An understanding of Hamas, its origins, its structure, its capabilities, and its historical activities are fundamental to understanding the ongoing conflict between the political-militant group and Israeli forces in and around Gaza. RMC’s Intelligence & Analysis Division continues to monitor the ongoing conflict and relevant geopolitical developments. Additionally, the Intelligence & Analysis Division continues to analyze potential threats to the U.S. and its interests as a result of the conflict, to include Iran-backed militia attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East, as well as potential terrorism, hate crime, and protest activity/civil disturbance concerns in the U.S. homeland. Finally, the Intelligence & Analysis Division acknowledges the potential for Iranian involvement to escalate the current situation into a wider conflict.

RMC’s Intelligence and Analysis Division also plans to release a companion Threat Primer White Paper focused on the Iran-backed militant group Hizballah in next month’s edition of the White Paper Series (dated January 2024). Additional White Papers regarding the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict and associated developments may be produced as the situation continues to unfold.


1. Zanotti, J. (2010, December 02). Hamas: Background and Issues for Congress. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved from

2. Robinson, K. (2023, October 31). What Is Hamas? Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from

3. National Counterterrorism Center. (2022, September). Hamas. Retrieved from

4. Congressional Research Service. (2021, March 18). The Palestinians: Background and U.S. Relations. Retrieved from

5. U.S. State Department Bureau of Counterterrorism. (2023, February). Country Reports on Terrorism 2021. Retrieved from

6. Hamas. (1988, August 18). The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement. The Avalon Project. Retrieved from

7. Hamas. (2017, May). A Document of General Principles & Policies. Retrieved from

8. BBC. (2017, May 01). New Hamas policy document ‘aims to soften image’. Retrieved from

9. Wilson Center. (2023, October 20). Doctrine of Hamas. Retrieved from

10. Sayegh, H. A., O’Donnell, J., & Howcroft, E. (2023, October 16). Who funds Hamas? A global network of crypto, cash and charities. Reuters. Retrieved from

11. al-Mughrabi, N. (2017, August 28). After Syria fall-out, Hamas ties with Iran restored: Hamas chief. Reuters. Retrieved from

12. Barkey, H.J. (2023, October 25). Turkey, the United States, and the Israel-Hamas War. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from

13. Murphy, K. (2019, March 03). Hamas victory is built on social work. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from

14. Robinson, K. (2023, October 10). What is Hamas? What to know about its origins, leaders and funding. PBS. Retrieved from

15. Mapping Palestinian Politics. (n.d). Shura Council. European Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from

16. Axios. (2023, October 21). What to know about Hamas’ military capabilities. Retrieved from

17. Marcus, J. (2021, May 12). Israel-Gaza Violence: The Strtength and Limitations of Hamas’ Arsenal. BBC. Retrieved from

18. ITV. (2023, October 13). How Do the Israeli Military and Hamas Compare in Size and Strength?. Retrieved from

19. Salam, Y. (2023, October 09). What is Hamas?. NBC News. Retrieved from

20. Reuters. (2023, November 06). What is the Palestinian group Hamas?. Retrieved from

21. Hutchinson, B. (2023, November 07). Israel-Hamas conflict: Timeline and key developments in month of war. ABC News. Retrieved from

22. Wilson, R., de Acosta, R., Leeds Matthews, A., & Newman, A. (2023, November 07). These charts show the scale of loss in the Israel-Hamas war. CNN. Retrieved from

23. Al Jazeera. (2021, July 27). HRW accuses, Palestinians of ‘apparent war crimes’ in Gaza. Retrieved from

24. National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (n.d.). Global Terrorism Database. Retrieved from 

October 2023

Threats include:

Air Force Contractor Investigated for Breaching Military Communication Networks and Theft | Insider Threat
Australian, Philippine, and U.S. Militaries Conduct Drill Following Incidents Between Philippine and Chinese Vessels | Foreign Nation-State Military (FNSM)
Military Exercises Provide Opportunities for Intelligence Collection | Foreign Intelligence Entities (FIE)
CISA Releases 2022 Top Routinely Exploited Vulnerabilities | Cyber

The Changing Climate and Human Health

In this paper, RMC’s Intelligence & Analysis Division will examine some of the ways in which the changing climate has impacted human health. The hazards discussed in this paper will be extreme heat, wildfires, insect-borne disease, and drought. While there are many other environmental factors that impact human health, these four were chosen to highlight the interrelated nature of hazards tied to increasing global temperatures. Analysis of both the history, current status, and likely future of these hazards will provide insight into the importance of these environmental factors on human health.

Extreme Heat
Extreme temperatures associated with heat waves and extreme heat events can impact human health in several ways. Extremely high temperatures can compromise the body’s natural ability to regulate internal temperatures. Illnesses such as heatstroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and hyperthermia are the result of high internal temperatures. Chronic conditions such as respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes-related conditions, and cerebrovascular disease can be exacerbated by extreme heat. Most individuals can adapt biologically and physically to incremental increases in average normal temperatures. However, children, older adults, and pregnant women are less able to regulate their body temperature, making them more susceptible to the adverse effects of extreme heat. Athletes as well as outdoor and manual laborers are more likely to experience heat injury due to the amount of time they spend outdoors exposed to high temperatures, and the level of exertion expected of them.1

The effects of extreme heat on human health are more apparent now due to advances in modern technology. Evidence suggests that although there is an increase in climate-related hazards including extreme heat, there is a decline in global vulnerability. Advances in technology and the availability of information mean that mankind is better prepared for environmental disasters than ever before. With respect to extreme heat, the ability to go or remain indoors with air conditioning, education on proper hydration, the recognition of signs of heat injury, and modern medical treatment of heat injury help reduce the effects of extreme heat on human health. While these mitigation actions may be readily available in developed countries, less developed countries may have greater challenges related to infrastructure, water availability, and medical care.2,3,4

Heat waves are projected to become longer and hotter in the future, increasing the need for adaptation and mitigation measures. Effects of extreme heat should be considered when planning future urban design and development. Urban environments can create heat islands due to the amount of land covered by concrete and asphalt. This heat island effect causes cities to be an average of 1-7°F warmer during the daytime. City development plans that increase the amount of tree canopies and greens space can help mitigate heat island effects. Localities should have heat action plans that include essential services such as fresh water, air conditioning, electricity, and healthcare. Healthcare systems should be designed to handle a potential increase in heat injury casualties. Emerging research is also beginning to link the increase in extreme heat events with observed declines in mental health. Rising temperatures appear to coincide with societal declines in cardiovascular health, homelessness, and drug abuse as well. Considering that an estimated 60% of the world’s population is expected to be living in cities by 2030, urban planning will become more important.4,5,6

Large-scale wildfires are becoming more frequent. The U.S. has experienced a yearly average of 70,072 wildfires burning an average of 7 million acres since the year 2000. That is more than double the yearly average of 3.3 million acres burned from an average of 78,600 wildfires per year in the 1990’s. The U.S. is not alone. In 2020, Australia and Russia saw one of the worst wildfire seasons ever recorded in those countries. European and African nations are grappling with the problem as well. Extreme heat events and drought reduce moisture and increase the amount of dry vegetation, the fuel that drives these larger wildfires.7,8,9

Wildfire smoke contains a mix of solid and liquid particles suspended in the air known as particle pollution. These particles are no larger than one third the diameter of a hair follicle. The miniscule size of these particles allows them to enter and lodge deep in the lungs. Children, the elderly, and those with chronic conditions such as COPD, asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, and diabetes are more likely to have significant adverse effects from breathing wildfire smoke. Studies after California wildfire indicate that children exposed to wildfire smoke exhibited more coughing, wheezing, bronchitis, colds, and were more likely to receive medical treatment for respiratory causes. Particle pollution can trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes which can be deadly. The tiny particles in wildfire smoke can stay suspended in the air and travel long distances depending on wind conditions. Plumes of smoke from wildfires can rise to 14 miles, well into the stratosphere and spread across the globe. The 2020 Siberia Wildfires spread across the Pacific Ocean and caused air quality issues in Alaska and Washington State.10

As wildfires increase in frequency and size, so will the impacts to human health. Cities in British Columbia experienced particulate levels twenty times higher than would be expected on an average day during recent Canadian wildfires. Studies on the long-term impacts of exposure to wildfire particle pollution are ongoing, but the work suggests that some people may never fully recover after experiencing just one severe wildfire season. This is especially true with children because their lungs are still developing. Researchers are also finding that smoke particles become more toxic the farther they move away from the fire. The particles oxidize over time and convert into highly reactive compounds that have a greater capacity to damage cells and tissue. One study in Greece indicated that toxicity of smoke compounds can double in just a few hours after the smoke was emitted. Wildfire emission mixing with existing air pollution in populated cities further exacerbates the problem.8

Insect-Borne Diseases
Mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, flies, and other insects can spread diseases that range from mild to severe. Some are untreatable with vaccines or medication. Mosquitoes spread malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, yellow fever, Zika, chikungunya, and lymphatic filariasis. They cause more deaths than any other animal worldwide. In 2021, 619,000 people died from malaria and over 247 million others became ill in 84 countries, with nearly 3.2 billion worldwide still at risk. However, West Nile is the most common disease spread by mosquitoes in the continental United States (CONUS), with an average of 2,400 cases each year. Dengue outbreaks occur worldwide (OCONUS), including elsewhere in the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. In 2019, the U.S. experienced the highest number of travel-associated dengue cases since 2010. Dengue is still common in some territories of the U.S., including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Chikungunya occurs in tropical and subtropical areas. It can cause long-term joint issues and poses a hazard to infants and older adults. In 2023, there was an Chikungunya outbreak in Paraguay of over 115,000 cases. Additionally, lymphatic filariasis is transmitted via repeated mosquito bites over several months. The World Health Organization estimates that 51 million people in 44 countries are infected with the disease.11,12

Tickborne diseases range in severity and symptoms. Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through blacklegged ticks (deer ticks). Anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis are closely related bacterial diseases that are also transmitted by infected ticks. Babesiosis is a parasite that infects red blood cells and causes flu-like symptoms. It can be fatal in the elderly and the immunocompromised. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a bacterial disease that can be transmitted via the American dog tick, the Rocky Mountain wood tick, and the brown dog tick. Powassan virus is transmitted to humans via groundhog ticks, squirrel ticks, and deer ticks, which are found primarily in the Northeast and upper Midwest of the U.S. It can also be transmitted via blood transfusions. Other tickborne diseases in the U.S. include southern tick-associated rash illness, tickborne relapsing fever, tularemia, and Powassan virus. However, tick-borne diseases are not only found in CONUS, but worldwide, including. Canada, Europe, Africa, and Asia.13,14

Some fleas carry pathogens, including those that cause the bubonic plague. The pathogens are commonly transmitted in CONUS by ground squirrel fleas and in OCONUS by infected rat fleas. Pathogens are sometimes transmitted by the handling of infected animals. Most CONUS cases occur in rural areas in the West, including Texas, California, and even Hawaii. Flea-borne (murine) typhus can be transmitted via cat fleas, rat fleas, and their feces (“flea dirt”). Cat scratch disease is often transmitted by the Ctenocephalides Felis flea, or, again, through flea feces. Flea-borne parasites, such as tapeworms, can also spread by the accidental ingestion of an infected specimen. Most fleas with public health and veterinary relevance spread via human travel and the movement of livestock, pets, and rodents.15,16

Houseflies are found worldwide. They can transmit over 100 pathogens including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. The evidence supporting the role of flies in transmitting diseases is mostly circumstantial. There is a correlation between a rise in diarrhea within a geographic area and an increase in the fly population. The pathogens carried by flies depend on the area. In hospitals or on farms, they often carry antimicrobial resistant bacteria and fungi. They may also transmit nosocomial infections, which are illnesses acquired by being hospitalized itself. Flies mechanically transmit pathogens, in which a host transmits an illness without being infected. House flies feed and reproduce in feces, carrion, and other decaying substances. They then carry microorganisms on the surface of their bodies from breeding sites to humans and animals.17,18

Insect-borne illnesses will continue to pose a hazard in various countries and regions throughout the world. The hazard is exacerbated by climate change, human travel, and wildlife migration. There is evidence that temperate regions, such as the United Kingdom, are now receiving invasive mosquito species and their associated illnesses. This short-distance spread has occurred in Western Europe and throughout the Mediterranean basin. Over the past three (3) decades, insect-borne diseases that were once controlled have emerged in new geographic locations, causing new and reemergent outbreaks.19,20

Dehydration is the primary risk associated with droughts. Dehydration occurs when the body uses or loses more water than it takes in, negatively affecting health. This is especially dangerous for young children and older adults. The most common cause in young children is diarrhea and vomiting. Older adults already have a lower volume of water in their bodies, increasing the risk from minor illnesses and certain medications. However, droughts pose other hazards. Some effects are short-term, but others are long-term. These effects can include unsafe drinking water; poor air quality, sanitation, hygiene, food, and nutrition; and diseases, including those carried by mosquitoes from stagnant water.21,22

Reduced precipitation and increased evaporation of surface water can result in less groundwater over time. Many areas within the U.S. use groundwater as their primary water source. Other drought-related factors affect air quality, including airborne toxins originating from cyanobacteria in fresh water, which can become airborne and cause lung irritation. Drought can also limit the agricultural growing seasons and lead to insect and disease infestation in crops. Low crop yields cause food shortages and increase food prices. This can contribute to malnutrition, particularly in populations dependent on subsistence farming. Drought can also affect livestock, which can become dehydrated, malnourished, and diseased, further reducing food availability.22

The frequency and intensity of droughts are expected to increase as evaporation rates and average temperatures continue to rise. Trends in precipitation rates across the globe vary, with some regions projected to see greater rates of precipitation as other regions see a reduction in overall precipitation. Areas with increased precipitation are at risk of flooding, while areas with less precipitation have an increased risk of drought. However, higher temperatures may affect the frequency and magnitude of drought elsewhere due to increased evapotranspiration, which is the combination of evaporation from the ground surface and transpiration by vegetation.23,24

August 2023 was the warmest August in the 1910-2023 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s records for Africa, North and South America, and Asia. It was also notably dry over parts of the Americas, Africa, Australia, India, the western Mediterranean, and Russia. Climate change is expected to increase the risk of drought conditions worldwide. These consequences are more pronounced for countries in the developing world. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia will likely face the greatest risk of more frequent and more intense droughts in the future. As global temperatures rise, those areas will also experience not only dehydration, but the secondary effects of drought, including disease and negative impacts on plants and animals, which can result in food shortages.23,25,26

Weather and climate are closely intertwined with human health. As climate patterns change across the globe, so too will extreme heat, wildfires, insect-borne disease, and drought impacts on humans. As these hazards are all being driven by increases in global temperatures, it is important to keep in mind that average temperatures have been increasing in recent years and are projected to continue to do so. While the severity of the increase cannot be precisely quantified, the observed trends and their impact on health will become continue to become more apparent and impactful. The potential climate-related causes of illnesses and danger to individual human health are imperative to track to enable appropriate mitigation efforts. RMC’s Intelligence & Analysis Division will continue to monitor relevant developments and research in order to inform potential impacts to RMC’s government and commercial clients.


1. National Institute of Health. (n.d.) Temperature-related Death and Illness. NIH. Retrieved from

2. Formetta, G and Feyen, L. (2019, June) Empirical evidence of declining global vulnerability to climate-related hazards. Global Environmental Change Volume 57. Retrieved from

3. Hanna, E and Tait, P. (2015, July 15). Limitations to Thermoregulation and Acclimatization Challenge Human Adaptation to Global Warming. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from

4. Khatana, S. (2023, May 22). Extreme Heat and Health: Understanding the Scope of the Problem. University of Pennsylvania Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. Retrieved from

5. 2023 Global Shifts Colloquium Report. (2023 March 21-22). Living with Extreme Heat: Our Shared Future. University of Pennsylvania Perry World House. Retrieved from

6. Gregory, J., Azarijafari, H. n.d.). Urban Heat Islands. MIT Climate Portal. Retrieved from

7. Hirscchlag, A. (2023, June 7). The long-distance harm to health caused by wildfires. BBC. Retrieved from

8. Moore, A. (2022, August 29). Climate Change is Making Wildfires Worse — Here’s How. North Carolina State University College of Natural Resources. Retrieved from

9. Congressional Research Service. (2023, June 1). Wildfire Statistics. Retrieved from

10. Editorial Staff, American Lung Association. (2016, January 1). How Wildfires Affect Our Health. American Lung Association. Retrieved from

11. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. (2022, May 11). Avoid bug bites. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from

12. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. (2023, August 17). Fighting the world’s deadliest animal. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from

13. Yale Medicine. (n.d.). Tick-borne illnesses. Yale Medicine. Retrieved from

14. John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (n.d.). Geography, ticks, and you. John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Retrieved from geography-ticks-and-you/.

15. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. (2020, August 13). Fleaborne diseases of the United States. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from diseases.html.

16. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. (2021, November 9). Fleas (Siphonaptera) – factsheet for health professionals. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Retrieved from

17. Honarvar, B., Khamesipour, F., Kwenti, T.E., & Lankarani, K.B. (2018, August 22). A systematic review of human pathogens carried by the housefly (Musca domestica L.). BMC Public Health. Retrieved from

18. WebMD Editorial Contributors. (2021, November 27). What is a nosocomial infection? WebMD. Retrieved from

19. Hernandez-Triana, L. (2023, July 6). Exploring the rise of vector-borne diseases. APHA Science Blog. Retrieved from

20. Mack, A. (2016). Global health impacts of vector-borne diseases. National Academies of Science-Engineering-Medicine. Retrieved from

21. Mayo Clinic. (2021, October 14). Dehydration. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from

22. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. (2020, January 16). Health implications of drought. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from implications.htm.

23. NOAA National Integrated Drought Information System. (n.d.). Historical drought. NOAA National Integrated Drought Information System. Retrieved from historical-drought.

24. USACE Hydrologic Engineering Center. (n.d.). Evapotranspiration. HEC-HMS Users Manual. Retrieved from

25. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. (2023, August). August 2023 global drought narrative. Global Drought Information System. Retrieved from access/monitoring/monthly-report/global-drought/202308.

26. Elkouk, A., Lhoussaine, B., Pokhrel, Y, & Satoh, Y. (2022, September 1). Implications of changes in climate and human development on 21st-century global drought risk. Journal of Environmental Management. Retrieved from S0301479722009513?via%3Dihub.