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The US Army Has Its Own Open Source Magazine

August 13, 2015
Chinese Military Parade (via Xinhua)

This is the PLA by the way, the current fetish of US war planners. Via Xinhua.

And it isn’t Stars and Stripes.

Imagine a free monthly compilation of every interesting news item about your potential adversaries. This best describes OEWatch, an open source scrapbook on military affairs and modern wars compiled by the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) for the US Army.

In case you missed this crucial detail: It’s available as a free download every month!

Housed in historic Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where career army officers take advanced courses, the FMSO exists to leave no stone unturned when envisioning potentials wars the US will fight.

FMSO is also part of an enormous brain trust operating in Fort Leavenworth, which is the residence for USACAC–another department that studies modern warfare.

The FMSO’s origins date to the Cold War, when it was preoccupied with the Soviet Red Army and scrutinizing every bit of information about its nemesis that entered the public domain. As early as then, its salient features were ingrained–open source, worldwide focus, and analytical:

The FMSO at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is an open source research organization of the US Army. Founded as the Soviet Army Studies Office in 1986, it was an innovative program that brought together military specialists and civilian academics to focus on military and security topics derived from unclassified, foreign media. The results were unclassified articles and papers that provided new understandings and broad access to information from a base of expertise in the US Army, Department of Defense, and foreign and US defense communities and universities.

DIY Intelligence Gatherers

Its choice of name after the Cold War, however, is an interesting one. At the end of World War Two, the US Army’s Historical Division (now defunct) had a program called Foreign Military Studies. Its goal was to assemble and archive a vast retrospective of the Nazi war machine, its tactics and doctrine, with an emphasis on primary source accounts by German officers.

It seems when the Soviets disappeared, the old handle crept back except foreign militaries in the developing world became the new subject matter.

But these days, the FMSO isn’t very concerned with what has been. Rather, its preoccupation is framing the near future and the places where the US may fight a war. Thanks to digital age values like transparency and universal open access a dazzling multitude of FMSO publications are readable, albeit boring with their strong emphasis on antiseptic academic discussion.

The real treat from FMSO is the monthly Operational Environment Watch or OEWatch. The once mysterious collection of news items from around the world migrated digitally in mid-2011. Since then each issue is made available at the FMSO home page. OEWatch isn’t exactly the bible of open source knowledge, for there are many organizations that do the same, but it offers a compelling world view filled with menace and insidious plots against America.

It functions as a magazine in the most essential meaning of the term: as a knowledge repository. It passes as a journal and a newsletter as well given the academic heavyweights who contribute to its pages.

It Covers The Bad Guys

A quick scan of OEWatch’s latest issue–the outcome of the recent Turkish elections is on the cover–reveals it doesn’t diverge too far from the headlines peddled by news groups and press agencies. What it does instead is find “Underconsidered/Under-reported topics” beneath the news cycle. OEWatch presents these smaller details and adds substantial commentary that’s boxed out on the left-hand side of the page.

For example, there is a strong emphasis on Iran, a longstanding US adversary. This is understandable given the recent diplomatic coup in Vienna. OEWatch for August 2015 features news clippings on Iranian activities connected with the Taliban, cyberspace, the Syrian civil war, and ISIS.

The Russian and Central Asian focus in the August issue is equally prominent, with multiple entries dealing with Ukraine, terrorism, new capabilities and an illustrated discussion of Russian UAV tactics. Colorful maps and portraits of important individuals are mandatory. There’s surprisingly little on China in this issue and a lot more coverage on Southeast Asia, where military spending is on the rise. Latin America, wracked by violence, forms another section featuring entries about Venezuela–an unfriendly state with gigantic oil reserves–and drug cartel related incidents.

OEWatch is highly recommended for obsessive readers of current events and military professionals who want a US slant on global affairs.