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A History of the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO)

The Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), based at Ft. Leavenworth, KS, is part of the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC)’s G-2 element. For over 30 years, FMSO and its predecessor have conducted open-source research on foreign perspectives of the international operational environment (OE), focusing on those topics that are understudied. FMSO’s mission is undertaken in line with TRADOC G-2’s mandate to describe, deliver, and assess the conditions of the operational environment for the purposes of creating Army doctrine and training future Army leaders. 

The Soviet Army Studies Office (SASO) (1986-1991) to the Foreign Military Studies Office FMSO (1991-Present)

FMSO’s predecessor was the U.S. Army’s Soviet Army Studies Office (SASO). Founded in 1986 and modeled on the U.K.’s Soviet Studies Research Center (SSRC), FMSO’s forebearer brought together a cohort of experienced U.S. Army Foreign Area Officers (FAOs) and academic experts to study the military capabilities, politics, and culture of the Soviet Union. These staff spoke Russian, had lived in the Soviet Union, and had previously published on Soviet topics. 

SASO experts conducted open-source research based on materials including Soviet newspapers, books, training manuals, and archives, and published their findings in peer-reviewed academic and military journals. SASO also worked with senior Army leadership and the National Training Center (NTC) at a critical time of change to help the U.S. more effectively train for a potential war and an uncertain peace. SASO experts further helped build trust during tense times, conducting many personal exchanges and visits to the Soviet Union as well as hosting visiting Soviet Generals, many of whom would soon find themselves in the service of entirely different countries. SASO experts’ deep understanding of the Soviet system also allowed them to provide warning of the impending dissolution of the Soviet Union.

After the Soviet Union fell apart, SASO was rebranded as the Foreign Military Studies Office in 1991. FMSO’s mission expanded beyond SASO’s focus on Soviet and European affairs to include tracking global developments. A new cohort of regional subject matter experts and linguists joined the team. Under its guidance, FMSO established itself as a leader in providing key insights about China, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. While FMSO retained SASO’s focus on military strategy, operations, and tactics, it also began to produce research on newer areas such as cybersecurity, insurgency, terrorism, natural resources, and border conflicts and trans-border crime. 

FMSO Today 

Today, FMSO continues its mission of helping the U.S. Army to understand and define the operational environment through primarily open-source research. Our analysts come from backgrounds in the military, academia, government, and think tanks. FMSO analysts continue to produce research, both for FMSO as well as for professional military education (PME) journals, academic journals, and with think tanks and in the popular press. Additionally, FMSO staff regularly conduct trainings and briefings for members of the broader force, including with the Marshall Center, the Command and General Staff College, the Defense Language Institute, the National Training Center, and many other organizations. FMSO’s members have testified before Congress, been interviewed by domestic and international press, written widely-cited books and studies, and continue to support the evolution of U.S. Army doctrine and thinking in numerous ways.

Some Notable SASO/FMSO Milestones 

  • 1986: Soviet Army Army Studies Office (SASO) opens under the direction of Dr. Bruce Menning. 
  • 1996: FMSO analyst Lester Grau publishes a seminal study of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan.
  • 1997: FMSO pioneers the creation of the World Basic Information Library (WBIL) database, whose mission was to collect and organize open-source information to support the accomplishment of intelligence community and Department of Defense (DoD) requirements.
  • 2003: FMSO creates the Open Source Intelligence Research and Analysis (OSIRA) Course, which received praise from the intelligence community (IC) and which was foundational to the modern practice of open-source intelligence (OSINT) in the Department of Defense and IC. 
  • 2010: FMSO creates its flagship publication, OE Watch. Intended to equip the force with digestible analysis of important developments based on under-considered foreign-language sources, OE Watch publishes monthly analyses spanning the world. The latest issue of OE Watch can be accessed on this website.
  • 2010: FMSO analyst Cindy Hurst publishes China’s Rare Earth Elements Industry: What Can the West Learn which helped garner attention on Chinese investments in this domain.
  • 2016:  Following the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, FMSO analysts Charles Bartles and Lester Grau publish The Russian Way of War: Force Structure, Tactics, and Modernization of the Russian Ground Forces.
  • 2020: In 2020, the Global Cultural Knowledge Network (GCKN), a group of sociocultural scholars with a parallel mission to FMSO, joins FMSO as a sister organization.