In 1997 the Navy energized its antiterrorism program. The report on Khobar Towers had been released, J34 Force Protection Directorate had been created, and civilian and military leaders declared combating terrorism a priority. Today, the antiterrorism effort is on the cusp, equally likely to succeed as it is to fail. The problems are paradox, prejudice, and lack of situational awareness.
The primary paradox is that terrorism is an unconventional psychological operation that the Navy confronts with conventional security means. The terrorist is involved in extended operations to achieve his organization's long-term goals, but the Navy is defending an infinite number of single moments, with that short-term achievement as the only defined goal. The Navy is fighting a strategy with tactics. As a result, it is very difficult for the Navy to "win" an engagement--where the outcome is visible to the world, and it looks like both a victory for the United States and a defeat for the terrorist. Anything less leaves the terrorist's strategy unaffected. Say, for example, the Navy reinforces a pier area to deter a terrorist attack. The reinforcement does deter an attack, but if that "win" is not made public as a defeat of the terrorist, does not result in the compromise of the terrorist organization, etc., there is no win; only no loss.
Although senior leaders are quick to declare antiterrorism force protection a "number one" priority, they are slow to respond to proposed solutions or requirements. The most likely way today's Navy is going to take catastrophic casualties is through a terrorist attack, but prejudice will not allow that threat to be predominant. The air, sub, and surface threat always will be more important.
Over the past two years the Navy has had a hard time defining threats. The result is a tendency to be concerned about every possibility, with no clear direction on what assets must be protected from what threats. Does the Navy fear vehicle bombings of ships and facilities? Is it more concerned with assassinations? Without a clear definition of which threats are of real concern, the Navy's situational awareness will continue to suffer.
The Navy derives its antiterrorism doctrine from the Department of Defense. The closest DoD comes to stating a mission is declaring that DoD should be able to detect, deter, and defend against terrorist actions. At best, that is a weak foundation. It provides no strategic vision and does not chart a course for clear, effective, coordinated joint planning and action. Navy instructions are equally shallow.
The first step in defeating terrorists is to declare that as our intention. All of the United States' major contingency plans contain a phrase similar to "defeat the enemy on the battlefield." A similar phrase is conspicuously absent from our antiterrorism efforts. A broad mission statement, such as "to defeat terrorism by denying terrorist organizations the ability to conduct effective operations," would allow for the development of long-term strategy, operational concepts, effective tactics, and meaningful doctrine.
Recognize that a terrorist act is a low-probability/high-impact event and build a program that is specific to probability, threat, and political/fiscal restrictions. An effective program would identify the mostly likely and highest impact possibilities and then detail actions taken/risks mitigated and actions not taken/risks not mitigated, along with a logical rationale for each. This would allow the Navy to set achievable, measurable goals and would be key to controlling an event should one take place.
The most likely way the Navy is going to take catastrophic casualties in peacetime is through a terrorist attack, but we must keep the threat in perspective. The damage of a terrorist attack cannot affect the Navy's ability to project force. It would be imprudent to draw down any combat capability or decrease funding for combat equipment to support the antiterrorism effort. However, dual-use training and equipment and funding drawn from noncombat expenditures should be considered.
The Navy does security "things" to prevent terrorist attacks. For Threat Conditions Alpha through Delta, for example, there are various measures to be implemented. The measures are not threat specific, however, and many requirements do little to increase security. By operationalizing antiterrorism efforts, specific goals can be defined that will generate specific requirements and capabilities. The desire not to be attacked by an explosive-laden boat while pierside, for example, is operationalized to the goals of being able to track, identify, interrogate, intercept, and engage surface contacts while pierside. Once the goals are clear they can be changed into requirements. Capabilities then can be developed. At that point combating terrorism is in the war fighter's hands, where it belongs.
The Navy still will have vulnerabilities, but it will have carefully considered the threat and its capability to counter that threat, established a quantitative value for risk, and then made a conscious decision to accept the risk. Terrorism no longer would be a vulnerability but a risk the Navy accepts in the furtherance of operational efficiency.
It is important to be specific about what the Navy fears. Defining fears will allow the Navy to better bring its limited assets to bear. An example is pier access control. A Navy fear is that an explosive-laden vehicle could be detonated close enough to a ship to cause it to be destroyed, with significant loss of life. By defining that fear, the Navy can take specific action to prevent it from happening. The Navy is not concerned that sailors are walking on the pier, or that the commanding officer is driving on the pier, so it should not waste assets on controlling those actions. By defining its real, operational concerns, the Navy can concentrate assets on stopping specific threats, resulting in both better antiterrorism security and economy of force.
The Navy that was built to confront the Soviets on the high seas cannot be stopped by terrorists. Even if a terrorist could sink an aircraft carrier or pierce her reactors, he could not prevent the Navy from conducting its core mission. Even if a terrorist makes a chemical attack against a port, the Navy still will be able to get clean and under way. The redundancy built into the Navy's Cold War force serves it well in regard to combating terrorism. We cannot afford to be passive or negligent, but the nature of our force allows the Navy to accept greater risk at the strategic and operational levels.
Left of the Attack
In the long term, the Navy needs to look to the left of the enemy's "actions at the objective area" if it hopes to succeed. Today, the Navy spends nearly all of its time and energy combating the terrorist at the moment of attack--a time frame measured in minutes. Consider the current antiterrorism mission of detect, deter, and defend in terms of a battle group at sea. The battle group deters attack through exercises, demonstrations of power, and the assurance that an attack will not deter successful completion of its mission. It strives to detect threats before they reach weapons-launch position. Defense takes place in successive layers beginning a few hundred miles out and concluding with the close-in weapon system and a damage control ability. In combating terrorism the Navy executes all three of these missions at the same time and in the same place, at the target area well within the terrorist's weapon release envelope.
For the terrorist, the most dangerous part of his mission is insertion and infiltration. During these phases, not only is he most vulnerable, but discovery would be an embarrassing and costly defeat. At the end of infiltration, some mission success is guaranteed, and any success could be a saleable commodity in terms of future operations funding. The Navy needs to affect the operations of a terrorist before he makes any money. If we can inflict mission kills on a terrorist, with no detonation of his weapon and no loss of U.S. life or property, the Navy will begin to discredit him. A mission kill is defeat of the terrorist's operation prior to his actions at the objective area. These kills can be strategic, operational, or tactical. If a terrorist poses a high threat to the Navy in a particular port and, after properly preparing, the Navy enters port regardless, that is a strategic mission kill. If a terrorist shows up at a target site and the target has moved, an operational mission kill is effected. If shore patrol, having received in-depth countersurveillance training, is able to provide prestrike information to both the host nation and the Navy, a tactical mission kill results. The intent is to build defense in depth to engage the terrorist as early as possible. The goal is to make terrorist efforts ineffective and thus insupportable.
Change the Mind-set
The Navy always has considered its mission to be at sea; when the lines went over and the plant shut down, there was no real consideration of unconventional attack. Clearly, this no longer is the case. As the United States makes itself less vulnerable to conventional attack, our enemies will seek unconventional means to strike us. The Navy needs a program that places the proper emphasis on this emerging warfare area. The antiterrorism force protection officer should be at least a department head who has had training. Combating terrorism itself should be a planning entity within the Operations Department. A 20-year career should encompass all aspects of antiterrorism, from firearms, watch standing, and ground defense to understanding and profiling the terrorist. Professional advancement as an antiterrorism officer should be available.
Terrorism Is Not Magic
A terrorist attack is not asymmetrical. The terrorist has a mission essential task list that he must fulfill to conduct operations. He has to recruit, train, and deploy--all points at which he is vulnerable. The Navy may not know when or where the next attack is going to take place, but that does not prevent us from preparing. We can estimate the attributes of the force--small, covert, highly trained, and committed. The attack likely will be close in and rapid. The weapon most likely will be a vehicle bomb or small arms, with a good probability of future chemical or biological capability. In combating terrorism, the only thing the Navy does not know is when and where, two variables that training, requirements, demonstrated capabilities, preparation, and resolve can marginalize.
If the Navy does not wallow in defeatist rhetoric and doomsday scenarios, chances for success against terrorism are excellent. The keys are to maximize the effectiveness of the current force, identify specific threats, recognize the nature of the threat, and use technology and skill to develop capabilities that will affect the terrorists. This must be backed up with training, exercises, professional development, and antiterrorism warfare proficiency. Of utmost importance is the need to meet the enemy, both psychologically and physically, on the battlefields of our choosing, having given our commanders clear guidance, capabilities, and doctrine to win. Until such a program is fielded the Navy will continue to leave itself unduly vulnerable to the drastic effects of a terrorist attack.
In the Wake of the Attack on the Cole
While conducting legal trade with a sovereign country, the USS Cole (DDG-67) was attacked by a small explosive-laden boat. The close-in attack was carried out by a covert, well-trained, and committed force that had infiltrated to the target area undetected. The Navy was and has been aware that small boats are a possible delivery platform for an attack on a Navy ship, particularly in areas of restricted maneuverability. Although this event was a surprise, that it was a potentiality was not.
Tactical. Seventeen sailors were killed and several wounded. Severe damage to the Cole has degraded her ability to conduct combat operations, but she is not sunk or a mission kill. Her striking capacity has been hindered, not eliminated.
Operational. The battle group and Fifth Fleet are unhindered in their ability to conduct combat or other operations.
Strategic. Yet to be determined.
Psychological. Among others, the following actions were the result of the psychological impact of the attack:
All of these items should raise concern. They may seem prudent, but we must ask, Why? Is there intelligence to indicate further attacks? Is there any history of multiple, uncorrelated attacks? A minute before the attack there was no indication that other ships in the area should be making preparations to get under way. A minute before the attack the warnings had been processed and the Navy was willing to put people in harm's way. A minute after the attack, nothing had changed for anyone but the Cole.
By ordering other ships under way we sent a clear signal to the enemy. Terrorism works.
If we change our fueling policy with Yemen or our engagement strategy, we send a clear signal to the enemy. Terrorism works.
If we stop going into harm's way or increase restrictions on ourselves without a defined strategy, we send a clear signal to the enemy. Terrorism works.
A Way Forward
The outcome of this action has yet to be determined. The terrorists who conducted it have a great deal riding on our reaction. They already have committed and lost forces, spent money, and used ordnance stockpiles. They will be unable to use the same channels for logistics and infiltration. They are on the run. They are counting on being able to use this attack to reconstitute their force. The Navy must seize the initiative and prevent the enemy from gaining any extra benefit. For example:
We must show our enemies that there are things we are willing to lay down our lives for. Make sure the message to the world is clear: This despicable act took 17 brave people from our ranks, but it will not change us. If we do not do this, we will continue to lose tactical engagements and eventually lose operational and strategic ones as well.
Editor's Note: This article was accepted for publication in July and already was in production when the attack on the USS Cole (DDG-67) occurred. We asked the author to address that terrorist attack in the sidebar above.
Commander Rancich was Expeditionary Antiterrorism Force Protection Officer for Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet.
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