04 January 2014

Capability Surprise for U.S. Naval Forces: Initial Observations and Insights: Interim Report

National Research Council, Capability Surprise for U.S. Naval Forces: Initial Observations and Insights: Interim Report (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2013).

Committee on Capability Surprise for U.S. Naval Forces; Naval Studies Board; Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences; National Research Council


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) 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; 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.

For one of the sources cited in this study, see Andrew Erickson and Amy Chang, “China’s Navigation in Space: What New Approaches will China’s Space Tracking Take?” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 138.4 (April 2012): 42-47.