functions effectively as both a research and development (R&D) resource and supply chain for irregular forces throughout the world. Commercial technologies pose a real and enduring threat to Marine forces.”4 In summary, the NRAC report concluded that globally available commercial technologies exist that might be used in adverse ways against Marine forces. Although it did not focus on “technology surprise” per se, the NRAC report did examine, in part, the power of unconventional and unconstrained imagination that can be brought to bear against Marine forces operating around the world.

This committee has found that addressing surprise as it might impact U.S. naval forces is a complex subject with multiple dimensions, including time, mission and cross-mission domains, anticipation of enabling technologies, physical phenomena, and new tactics that may enable surprise. In terms of time, surprises may come over scales ranging from seconds up to minutes in a complex engagement, to the evolving, break-through surprise that might have been secretly developed over decades. The mission domains such as air defense and undersea warfare, which require that U.S. naval forces operate across the open ocean and littoral (land, air, space, and cyberspace), all have myriad entry points from which capability surprises can originate. There are also accelerating new technological advancements globally, which again, alone or in combination, can constitute the basis of a capability surprise.

Given its complexity, there is no simple answer regarding how to guard against surprise. A number of explicit actions are needed. First and foremost, leaders must help others recognize the importance of understanding capability surprise and what it means to U.S. naval forces, such as ensuring that organizations include preparation for and mitigation of surprise as part of their functions, including scanning and related activities in order to advise naval forces of potential emerging surprises. It is important that organizations are timely and diligent in examining the scope and seriousness of potential emerging surprises, and that they are capable of identifying other organizations that might be able to help anticipate, mitigate, or respond to potential emerging surprises.

Defining “Surprise”

From a military operational point of view, surprise can be an event or capability that could affect the outcome of a naval mission or campaign for which preparations are not in place. The committee believes that there are two classes of surprise that fall within this military operational context and can be described using the terminology provided in the study’s terms of reference: (1) intelligence-inferred surprise and (2) disruptive technology and tactical surprise.

Intelligence-inferred surprise is an event or capability developed on a relatively long timeline—years—whose looming operational introduction naval forces were aware of in advance, but might not adequately have prepared for. Disruptive technology (including disruptive application of existing technology) and tactical surprise are types of short-timeline—hours to months—events or capabilities for which naval forces will likely not have had sufficient time to prepare contingency counters in advance unless the


4Naval Research Advisory Committee. 2008. Disruptive Commercial Technologies, Assistant Secretary to the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, Department of Defense, Washington, D.C., June 26, p. 15.

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