A letter dated December 21, 2011, to National Academy of Sciences President Dr. Ralph Cicerone from the Chief of Naval Operations, ADM Jonathan W. Greenert, U.S. Navy, requested that the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Naval Studies Board (NSB) conduct a study to examine the issues surrounding capability surprise—both operationally and technically related—facing the U.S. naval services. Accordingly, in February 2012, the NRC, under the auspices of its NSB, established the Committee on Capability Surprise for U.S. Naval Forces.
The study’s terms of reference, provided in Enclosure A of this interim report, were formulated by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) in consultation with the NSB chair and director. The terms of reference charge the committee to produce two reports over a 15-month period. The present report is the first of these, an interim report issued, as requested, following the third full committee meeting. The terms of reference direct that the committee in its two reports do the following:1
(1) Select a few potential capability surprises across the continuum from disruptive technologies, to intelligence inferred capability developments, through operational deployments and assess what U.S. Naval Forces are doing (and could do) about these surprises while mindful of future budgetary declines;
(2) Review and assess the adequacy of current U.S. Naval Forces' policies, strategies, and operational and technical approaches for addressing these and other surprises; and
(3) Recommend any changes, including budgetary and organizational changes, as well as identify any barriers and/or leadership issues that must be addressed for responding to or anticipating such surprises including developing some of our own surprises to mitigate against unanticipated surprises.
This first report highlights issues brought to the committee’s attention during its first three meetings and provides initial observations and insights in response to each of the three tasks above. It is very much an interim report that neither addresses in its entirety any one element of the terms of reference nor reaches final conclusions on any aspect of capability surprise for naval forces. The committee will continue its study during the coming months and expects to complete by early summer 2013 its final report, which will address all of the elements in the study’s terms of reference and explore many potential issues of capability surprise for U.S. naval forces not covered in this interim report.
In its initial three meetings, the committee received a number of helpful briefings from commands across the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as expert briefings from individuals working at a number of other government agencies, including the following: the Office of Naval Intelligence, Office of Naval Research; Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Rapid Fielding; the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); the U.S. Navy SSBN Security Program;
1The full terms of reference for this study are provided in Enclosure A of this report.
the Missile Defense Agency; MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Air Vehicle Survivability Evaluation Program (Air Force Red Team); the Naval War College; Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Research Development & Acquisition for Science and Technology; OPNAV N81; OPNAV N4; OPNAV N3/N5; OPNAV N2/N6; U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. Tenth Fleet; Combat Development Command/Combat Development and Integration, U.S. Marine Corps; the Assistant Commandant for Capability, U. S. Coast Guard; and the National Maritime Intelligence-Integration Office. In addition, the committee conducted preliminary data-gathering sessions on capability surprise-related issues with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, the U.S. Navy Warfare Development Command, and U.S. Pacific Fleet. When combined with the collective knowledge of the committee, these briefings are considered to constitute a sufficient basis for development of the initial observations and insights offered by the committee in this report.
Recent reports have addressed the issue of surprise, although not surprise specific to U.S. naval forces (i.e., the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Coast Guard). A 2009 Defense Science Board (DSB) report on capability surprise noted that: “[s]urprise can spring from many sources. It can arise in the laboratory—
a result of scientific breakthrough. It can arise during the transition from concept to fielded product: rapid fielding of the same technology can create tremendous advantage to whoever fields the system first. It can also arise when an existing capability is employed in an unconventional way or when low-end technology is adapted in unforeseen ways that create an effective capability against high-end U.S. systems.2
The DSB report reviewed many historical surprises experienced by the United States and categorized them as either known surprises (i.e., surprises that should have been anticipated and acted on because it was clear that they were in the offing) or surprising surprises (i.e., those that may have been anticipated by some but were not addressed—swamped by the thousands of other surprises possible—or were true surprises).3
In addition, a 2008 Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC) report titled Disruptive Commercial Technologies noted, among other things, that “the internet
2Defense Science Board. 2009. Report of the Defense Science Board 2008 Summer Study on Capability Surprise, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Washington, D.C., September, pp. vii-viii.
3The temporal and impact aspects of capability surprises vary widely and call for different approaches to prepare for and respond to such surprises. As additional background for this study, the committee examined several historical examples of ‘surprises” that have had significant impact on naval and military operations, including short lived surprises (such as the suicide bomb attacks on the USS Cole, and the 911 World Trade Towers); and longer term surprises, resulting in major changes in U.S. naval and military forces (such as the Monitor and Merrimac introduction of ironclad warships; as well as Russia’s launch of Sputnik (surprising use of space—leading to the creation of DARPA) and Germany’s Blitzkrieg (uniquely combining and exploiting the capabilities of known entities.))
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.
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.
surprises have been at least somewhat anticipated. In some cases both types of surprise can occur, for example, a much anticipated surprise capability found on the battlefield to have tactical war reserve modes.
The committee recognizes that a preponderance of intelligence-inferred surprise is being addressed (on a continuous basis) within naval program areas such as air and missile defense, antisubmarine warfare, and strike warfare. In such instances, the future threat is projected and upgrades to naval systems are developed and fielded to meet the threat. This report does not address this class of already-addressed intelligence-inferred surprises. It does, however, address intelligence-inferred surprises for which “cradle-to-grave” upgrades do not exist or for which the capability represented by the projected threat requires coordination among a number of program areas. An example of such a scenario surprise—denial of access to space—is discussed in the next section of this report.
The committee also recognizes two variants of disruptive technology and tactical surprise. One variant is the “pop up” emergence of a new capability enabled by a new technology or an unexpected application of a pre-existing well known technology, e.g., improvised explosive device triggers, as well as an unexpected tactic such as an adversary’s use of previously unknown war-reserve modes. The other variant—“black swan” events—may be self-inflicted surprises, e.g., an anticipatory “blind spot” that no amount of surveillance would have overcome.5 These may be the result of a sudden U.S. policy change or directed action, such as Operation Burnt Frost,6 or natural disasters that may have been anticipated, but not at the extreme scale of the event as it actually occurred, e.g., the March 2011 Fukushima Disaster.7
In the broadest sense, surprise grants the adversary the ability to take unexpected action and/or to produce consequences for which U.S. forces did not prepare in advance. In summary, surprises may result from new technologies or from the application of existing technologies in new ways, or may evolve from operational, social, natural, or political factors for which technology or lack of mitigating technology may not be the primary determinant of outcome.
5Nassim Taleb defines a black swan as “a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable, than it was.” For additional reading on black swan events see Nassim Nicholas Taleb, 2007, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Random House Press, New York.
6A nonfunctioning U.S. National Reconnaissance Office satellite was successfully shot down by a Standard Missile (SM)-3 on February 20, 2008. The code name for this mission was Operation Burnt Frost. See RADM Brad Hicks, USN, Program Director, Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, “Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense: Press Briefing, March 19, 2008,” presented to the committee by RADM Joseph A. Horn, Jr., USN, Program Executive, Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, and Conrad J. Grant, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, May 16, 2012, Washington, D.C.; and press release by the U.S. Air Force, 1st Lt. Angela Webb, USAF, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs, 2008, “Joint Effort Made Satellite Success Possible,” February 26; found at http:www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123087750. Accessed January 15, 2013.
7A partial profile of U.S. naval response to the Fukushima disaster—a combined earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor catastrophe—in a coordinated effort known as “Operation Tomodachi” is found at http://www.nbr.org/research/activity.aspx?id=121. Accessed June 13, 2012.