CARVER is a system used to evaluate and prioritize targets by the amount of damage the target exposes an organization to, either to systematically secure the organization or to attack it. Like many concepts in the security world, the name of this one is an acronym. Since this article is a companion piece to the article on mid-level targeting my explanations will focus on that aspect of the system, though it is worth noting that CARVER has applications beyond military including software and personal security when used to evaluate the vulnerabilities of your self, family, or organization, and in management as a method of prioritizing tasks for resource allocation.
C – Criticality
The importance of the target to the organization. What is the role of the target? If this role goes unfulfilled, how will this impact the organization’s operations? Example questions: If the target is in charge of logistics, will the capture of this target cause a supply shortage? If the target is an IS local commander, could removing this target allow allied forces to launch a successful offensive?
A – Accessibility
The level of difficulty in approaching and leaving the target area. Proximity, geography, politics of the region, and forces along the route should be taken into account. Example questions: Would a kill/capture team have to pass through enemy lines? If the target is a lone operator, is he/she operating in a region friendly to our forces? Would there be local cooperation? Would a team have to approach by land, air, or sea? Would a drone strike be an option?
R – Recuperability
How quickly and/or easily the organization can either replace or work around the target. Lines of succession and alternative solutions that can be taken by the organization should be considered. Example questions: Does this target have a second-in-command who could quickly fill in? Is there another mechanism in the organization that could fulfill the same purposes as the target?
V – Vulnerability
Similar to accessibility, with an added focus on target defenses. Example questions: Does the target have bodyguards? How is the target building secured? Does the target have anti-aircraft weaponry?
E – Effect
Potential actions by the organization in response to losing the target. This aspect lies somewhere between criticality and recuperability, but should also include reprisal actions. Example questions: Are we vulnerable to a counterattack? If the operation is covert, could an ally be blamed and retaliated against in error? Could the attack lead to the enemy making an offensive? Would removing this target lead to a more aggressive/dangerous actor stepping into the same position?
R – Recognizability
Ability to confirm target identity. Knowledge of somebody’s identity and importance may not come with the ability to recognize the target as such. Example questions: Are there DNA records that can be used to confirm identity? Do forces know what the target looks like? Has the target changed appearance? Does the target have body doubles? If the attack is an airstrike, can the target be accurately identified from the air? Is there a mechanism in place to assess the success of the strike? If the target is material (vehicle, building, technology, etc.) can forces differentiate the target from the environment?
To illustrate the application of CARVER, I will put forward a hypothetical situation dealing with a narcoterrorist cartel made of 3 conspiring organizations operating in a developing, agricultural country. We are considering 2 targets:
1: The leader of one of the three organizations (Criticality 10/10). He is nationally famous (Recognizability: 10/10), and resides in a fortified villa (Vulnerability 2/10) in the nation’s capital where it is thought many if not most of the police forces are on his payroll (Accessibility 4/10). He has been mentoring his son and it is thought that the son is merely waiting in the wings to take over the family business (Recuparability 3/10). While the current leader has good relations with the other leaders in the cartel, his son is thought to be more ambitious and aggressive than his father and may challenge the other leaders to a bloody conflict, likely endangering the local population (Effect 2/10).
2: A mid-level leader in charge of smuggling finished cocaine out of the country (Criticality 7/10). He keeps a low profile (Recognizability 4/10), and usually lives near a remote jungle airbase (Accessibility 2/10) which is also thought to garrison around 40 narco-guerillas (Vulnerability 4/10. He trusts nobody, and closely guards operational details in fear of both counter-narcotic forces and challengers inside the organization . He has been smuggling goods out of this country for many years, and because of this has experience and skills that few if any in the organization share (Recuperability 9/10). If the target is removed, the cartel would likely have to decrease smuggling operations until a replacement could be found or trained, and a retaliation attack would be likely (Effect 7/10).
The CARVER system would tell us that, while not as highly placed in the organization, targeting the mid-level leader would cause more damage while risking less than targeting the organization’s head.