U.S. Air Force Col. Nick Hague completed his first spacewalk, March 22, 2019.
Credit: NASA

A new report suggests that because the US military edge over prospective opponents is eroding, the United States now needs every advantage it can get. Inflicting surprise on our adversaries is one tool for regaining strategic advantage.

Mark Cancian, Senior Advisor to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) International Security Program, explains how the United States has used surprise in warfare in the past and how best to do it again in the future.

The new report, Inflicting Surprise: Gaining Competitive Advantage in Great Power Conflicts, highlights several components of a successful surprise, including exploiting adversary vulnerabilities, using intelligence and technology, employing secrecy and deception, and doing the unexpected. The report also contains over a dozen vignettes illustrating potential future surprises.

Anti-satellite painting by William K. Hartmann

Domain of outer space

Regarding the domain of outer space, Cancian notes that a CSIS’s Aerospace Security Project identified four types of weapons that states or even some non-state actors can use to disrupt satellite networks:

— kinetic counter space

— non-kinetic counter space,

— electronic weapons, and

— cyber weapons

The authors of that earlier CSIS report —Harrison, Johnson, and Robinson—also identify how each great power competitor has made advancements in their offensive space capability. The Chinese, for example, have continued to develop anti-satellite weapons since the 2000s. Russia is also making a concerted effort to develop and test new anti-satellite technologies.

General John Raymond, U.S. Space Force chief of space operations.
Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Melody Howley

Use space creatively

“In December of 2019, the United States formally established the U.S. Space Force (USSF) as the sixth branch of the armed forces,” Cancian points out. The USSF joined USSPACECOM to enhance U.S. capabilities in space. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Milley acknowledged: “our adversaries are building and deploying capabilities that threaten us, so we can no longer take space for granted.”

“As with the cyber domain, space has few legal restrictions,” Cancian adds, underscoring a CSIS report noting that “few international norms exist.”

“The major treaty forbids operating nuclear weapons in space but not much else,” Cancian says. “As a result, there is broad scope for operations of all kinds. Space Command is working on ways to use space creatively. Surprise is one operational concept that might fit.”

To read Inflicting Surprise: Gaining Competitive Advantage in Great Power Conflicts, go to:


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