Celebrating 60 Years
The DSB in its 6th Decade


Protecting the Homeland: Against non-state actors; against enemy states in time of war; against weapons of mass destruction and cyber

Since 9/11, the US can no longer be considered a sanctuary. The highest priority for the DoD is protection of the homeland. The DSB has undertaken a series of studies to help clarify the DoD’s roles and to assess its posture for both defending the homeland and protecting it from new forms of threats that have evolved since the Cold War. The DoD’s dependence on critical infrastructure, the supporting capabilities it will need to provide to civil authorities, and shortcomings in the interagency have been highlighted.

With respect to the threat to the homeland, the DSB has produced over 20 years of studies characterizing how the threat has evolved since the end of the Cold War. Actors have proliferated beyond nation states, and so too have their tools. Missiles with range or delivery mechanisms to threaten the US homeland are in the hands of more nations. The cyber threat is growing exponentially in its presence and can be promulgated with serious harm by individuals. Advances in technology can place even weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, chemical, and biological – in the hands of any state or non-state actor that desires them. What to do about these threats, both defensively and offensively, at home and abroad, has been a subject of routine DSB investigation.

Preventing large scale war: Nuclear deterrence

Despite the “peace dividend” at the end of the Cold War, the DSB has been uncertain that downplaying the nation’s nuclear deterrent would lead other nations to do the same, even as advances in our non-nuclear warfighting capabilities proved their effectiveness. In fact, US conventional dominance demonstrated in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan appears to have catalyzed a greater interest in nuclear weapons by others who do not have the resources to overmatch us otherwise.

The Board has maintained steady attention for two decades on the health of the US nuclear enterprise, the advances and modernization efforts being undertaken by Russia and China, nuclear weapons proliferation to other nation states, and advances in technology that could both detect and hide proliferation. With the relatively recent recognition by DoD leadership of threatening nuclear capabilities and doctrine by many unfriendly to the US, a renewed commitment to the nation’s nuclear deterrent is being made. The DSB’s history in this area is helping the Department to re-teach a largely atrophied knowledge base to support both modernization of our forces and operational readiness to deter nuclear aggression.

Preparing for the new kind of war: War short of all-out war is becoming the norm

As nations have realized that they cannot match the US with conventional military might, they have adopted strategies and tactics designed to stay below the threshold of a major international armed response; witness Russia in the Crimea, China’s island-building in the South China Sea, and North Korean provocations. Their tools and techniques include information operations, using both disinformation and strategic communication aimed at their populace, neighbors, and the world at large; ambiguity of forces (‘little green men’, proxies, and naval forces labeled ‘coast guard’); and coercion involving economics, energy, and political corruption. The DSB has undertaken studies to identify the options for DoD in addressing this “new normal” category of threats and to highlight the role of other parts of the government critical to successfully countering such strategies.

Preparing for a new dimension of war: What the information infrastructure is enabling—for adversaries and for us

Information has become a decisive and discriminating enabler of modern warfare, and information superiority a potent deterrent. The DSB has undertaken a series of studies highlighting how DoD can achieve and maintain information superiority, focusing on intelligence collection and analysis, the use of unclassified ‘big data’, and the rapidly advancing technologies of information and communication infrastructures.

The criticality of information – its assured availability and integrity, and the vulnerabilities in providing it – has been realized by both us and our adversaries. The Board has advised on both offense and defense in this domain, including the growing threats and opportunities in electronic warfare and in cyber. As an example, the Board’s cyber efforts have addressed: matching our defenses to the sophistication of the threats and criticality of the target; managing cyber defense so as to make optimal use of funding and of scarce technical human resources; identifying the challenges and opportunities of cyber relative to new technologies, such as cloud computing; identifying strategies to mitigate cyber corruption of the supply chain, especially foreign supplied microelectronics; and how to deter cyber attacks when defenses are inadequate.

Anticipating new ways to wage war: Numbers and disaggregation; range; autonomy; danger on and above the surface is driving us under the sea

The unmatched capabilities of our joint forces depend on relatively small numbers of extremely capable, high value assets; e.g., the world’s most potent aircraft carriers. Predictably those unique assets have become lucrative targets of adversary states, calling into question some of our foundational operational tenets such as air dominance. The DSB’s work in this area has advocated ways to operate at greater range from the adversary to increase safety; use of large numbers of inexpensive assets to augment small numbers of costly assets (“quantity has a quality all its own”); and use of carefully managed autonomous systems to keep Service personnel out of harm’s way. In addition, capitalizing on our undersea dominance, the DSB has identified ways to maintain that superiority for some time to come through the use of large numbers of inexpensive unmanned undersea vehicles to conduct operations that would otherwise have to be undertaken with greater risk from the air, sea or land.

Supporting stabilization, reconstruction, peace keeping, and nation building

Taking lessons from history, the DSB has highlighted the importance of comprehensive planning and preparation before, through and after conflict in order to secure both short and longer term stability once hostilities cease. Issues the Board has addressed include: identification of the information and intelligence required to successfully conduct stabilization and reconstruction operations; best use of the National Guard and Reserves with their civilian sector skills; language and cultural training; and campaign planning and exercising for stabilization and reconstruction missions on par with what we do for combat missions.

Preparing for surprise: To us and by us

The world is an unpredictable place, and the galloping advance of technology is making it more so. No matter how well DoD plans and prepares, there will be surprises – and there is the ever present value of inflicting surprise on our adversaries. The DSB has provided studies advising DoD on how the Department can be better poised to swiftly respond to surprise with agility, adaptability and resilience (e.g., having a technology infrastructure which can be swiftly and inexpensively revectored to meet changing needs and threats; using more red teaming and free play in training and exercises). The Board has also identified potential technological surprises and advised on hedging strategies should those occasions arise.

Members of the Defense Science Board


Timeline of the Defense Science Board