Saturday, October 13, 2012

The need for surprise

An interesting article at Danger Room about the use of commercial satellites revealing potentially secret sites:

It's not just commercial satellites that are causing OPSEC problems. The internet and new technology is making it increasingly harder to maintain military secrecy.

Want to see military drones in action? Just go to YouTube!

Want to connect with the Free Syrian Army? Like them on Facebook!

(Heck, we had Americans fighting in Libya. All you need is a plane ticket.)

Changes like these, while drastic, haven't changed our ability to pull of operational surprise. They simply mean we must update our thinking and get smarter about the environment we operate in. If President Bush can pull off a trip to Baghdad, then we can continue to achieve operational surprise...we just need to change some fundamental thought processes.

1. The enemy fights the way we do. Lots has been written about guerilla warfare on land, but it happens at sea too. Some of our enemies use suicide craft, or mines, or civilian trawlers, things that are too often discounted in our own military planning. Unless it's changed recently, submariners and SWOs memorize visual recces of frigates, destroyers, and cruisers, since we have those kinds of ships and can identify with them, even though our enemies may not prize them like we do. We need to think of the enemy on their terms, or else we'll continue to be surprised when they don't stand up and fight like we expect them.

2. Deception doesn't work in today's era. Apparently we haven't learned from history. Military deception has been winning battles since humans have been conducting warfare, from ancient China into the modern day. While the methods will change (I doubt a dropped haversack will work these days), the concepts stay the same. We need officers that can think asymetrically and use deception to achieve surprise in today's era of high speed internet and information sharing. The Navy's typical response to deception is deceptive lighting, but there is much more, and we need our junior officers to think asymetrically to fool and defeat our future enemies.

At the very least, the Army has continued to offer it's Military Deception Planning Course (, which in one week puts real rigor behind deception planning. If you can't take the course, I recommend at least reading:

Deception In War, by John Latimer
Learning to eat soup with a knife, by John Nagl

Both books are great and cover events beyond WW2 (which permeates way too much thinking in the military even today).