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Capability Surprise (Report of the Defense Science Board 2008 Summer Study). Volume 1: Main Report

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Final rept.

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Instability and cultural complexities in todays world, the security challenges, and the capability of non-states and extremists to make bad things happen has reached new levels. As of yet the nation has found no simple form of deterrence to deal with this complex environment. Thus, the nation must be prepared to deal with surprise in new ways. This study addresses the issue of capability surprise - what it is, why it happens, what can be done to reduce the potential for its occurrence, and how the Department of Defense and the nation can be better prepared to respond appropriately. Capability surprise can come from many sources scientific breakthroughs, rapid fielding of a known technology, or new use of an existing capability or technology. A review of the past century suggests that surprises tend to fall into two major categories 1. Known surprises - those few that the United States should have known were coming, but for which it did not adequately prepare. We specifically include space, cyber, and nuclear. We might also have included bio, but chose not to. 2 Surprising surprises - those many that the nation might have known about or anticipated, but which were buried among other possibilities. In this case, the evidence and consequences are less clear, the possibilities many, and the nation cannot afford to pursue them all. In both cases, the biggest issue is not a failure to envision events that may be surprising. It is a failure to decide which ones to act upon, and to what degree. That failure results partially from the fact that there is no systematic mechanism in place within DOD or the interagency to help decide which events to act on aggressively, which to treat to a lesser degree, and which to ignore, at least for the time being. The principle recommendations of the study focus on developing the approaches and the talent to better manage surprise-to prevent it or, should surprise occur, to be in a position to rapidly mitigate its consequences.

Subject Categories:

  • Administration and Management
  • Information Science
  • Operations Research
  • Civil Defense

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