Crafting novel approaches for addressing adversary actions in the gray zone

U.S. Navy Sailors and U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Law Enforcement Detachment Team personnel approach a Chinese fishing vessel

U.S. Navy Sailors and U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Law Enforcement Detachment Team personnel approach a Chinese fishing vessel in 2016.

Photo by Bryan Jackson/U.S. Navy

Event Details


Wednesday, November 29, 2023


10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Eastern


Registration for this event has closed.

About the Event

China, in its blockade of the Spratly Islands, has fired water cannons and blinding laser dazzlers at, and even rammed, Philippine vessels attempting re-supply of its Second Thomas Shoal. Swarms of Chinese fighter jets have breached Taiwan's air-defense identification zone. These are just a few of the tactics China is using to assert its influence and control over the South China Sea. Effectively countering such gray zone operations has proven an enormous challenge given the critical need to limit potential risks of escalation.

This virtual symposium event will feature an expert panel on Chinese Gray Zone operations, non-lethal weapons, and intermediate force capabilities. It will also provide an opportunity for registrants to participate in break-out sessions that will be structured to solicit insights and develop novel approaches to countering adversary gray zone operations while managing escalation below the level of armed conflict.


10:00 a.m.
Initial Observations
  • Ray Powell, Stanford University
10:05 a.m.
Panel Discussion
  • Dr. Krista Romita Grocholski, RAND (Moderator)
  • Dr Michael J. Mazarr, RAND (Panelist)
  • Dr. Scott Savitz, RAND (Panelist)
  • John Nelson, Senior International Defense Analyst, American Systems (Panelist)
10:45 a.m.
Break-out discussions to identify new solutions
11:45 a.m.
Break-out group out-briefing

Speaker Biographies

Dr. Krista Romita Grocholski is a physical scientist at RAND and is the principal investigator of a series of studies examining the use and impact of Non-Lethal Weapons (NLWs) and Intermediate Force Capabilities (IFCs). She also serves as the lead principal investigator of the NOAA Mid-Atlantic Climate Adaptation Partnership (formerly RISA) program. Romita Grocholski's work at RAND has also focused on climate adaptation and resilience, emerging technologies, commercial space, military readiness, and building data tools/visualizations. Prior to joining RAND, she completed her Ph.D. in observational astronomy at the University of Florida. Romita Grocholski received her M.S. in astronomy from the University of Florida and her B.A. in astronomy and physics from Vassar College.

Dr. Michael J. Mazarr is a senior political scientist at RAND. Previously he worked at the U.S. National War College, where he was professor and associate dean of academics; as president of the Henry L. Stimson Center; senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; senior defense aide on Capitol Hill; and as a special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His primary interests are U.S. defense policy and force structure, disinformation and information manipulation, East Asian security, nuclear weapons and deterrence, and judgment and decisionmaking under uncertainty. Mazarr holds a Ph.D. in public policy from the University of Maryland.

Dr. Scott Savitz is a senior engineer at RAND. His research focuses on how to improve the effectiveness and resilience of operational forces through the use of new technologies and modified tactics. Recently, he has assessed the impact of intermediate force capabilities, the use of artificial reefs and naval mines in the defense of Taiwan, maritime domain awareness, Coast Guard operations and the use of uncrewed Naval surface vehicles. He has led exercise-observation teams around the globe, and supported the Navy in Bahrain from 2001-2003, addressing counter-terrorism, political-military, and chemical/biological/radiological defense issues. Savitz earned his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Yale University, as well as a master's degree and Ph.D. in the same field from the University of Pennsylvania.

John Nelson is a senior international defense analyst with more than 30 years of experience. He has led many high-level United States and NATO initiatives. Currently, he serves as Vice Chair of SAS-MSG-180, a NATO Science Technology Organization activity to improve M&S-Wargame integration including intermediate Force Capabilities. He serves as Vice Chair of the NATO Army Armaments Group's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Capabilities Group and has been nominated to be the Chair. He is one of the leads for a new proposal to the NATO Defence Against Terrorism Programme of Work on Layered autonomous/semi-autonomous protection of critical infrastructure including remote infrastructure. His NATO Awards include the NATO Medal for Service for analysis support provided to COMIFOR and COMSFOR in Bosnia, 2008 and 2017 NATO Scientific Achievement Awards, and the 2018 NATO Science & Technology Organization Panel Excellence Award.

Ray Powell is the Director of SeaLight, a project of the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation at Stanford University. SeaLight’s objective is to “light up the maritime gray zone” to deter and defeat malign activities through “assertive transparency”. Ray retired from a 35-year career in the U.S. Air Force in 2021, which included assignments as U.S. Air Attaché to Vietnam and Senior Defense Official/Defense Attaché to Australia. He also served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Contact Krista Romita Grocholski with questions about the event.