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Unlikely (?) Intersections

Saturday, July 21st, 2018

[by J. Scott Shipman]

“To flourish and grow in a many-sided uncertain and ever changing world that surrounds us, suggests that we have to make intuitive within ourselves those many practices we need to meet the exigencies of that world.” John R. Boyd, Colonel, USAF, Ret (1937-1997), Introduction to Conceptual Spiral Abstract

Friends, I’ve been noodling the intersection of ideas for the last couple of years. Based on the classic Boyd quote above (and other works), I’d offer that:

(1) most of our problems (let’s stick to military) can be derived from a lack of tacit knowledge

(2) a lack of respect/perspective for the differences between tactical and strategic uncertainty.

I’m not suggesting any sort of novel discovery, as I’m standing on the shoulders of several other authors/thinkers, but Boyd’s little introduction manages to provide a scaffold of thought we’d be wise study.

New Book: Redefining the Modern Military by Finney & Mayfield

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Friend of ZP, Nathan K. Finney who with Tyrell O. Mayfield are among the co-founders of the excellent The Strategy Bridge blog, have edited an important compilation entitled Redefining the Modern Military: The Intersection of Profession and Ethics (due out October 2018). From Finney and Mayfield:

Major Nathan Finney (USA) and Lt Col Tyrell Mayfield are founding members of The Strategy Bridge, an online professional journal for national security, strategy, and military affairs. The Strategy Bridge is in its fourth year of publication and has since incorporated as a 501c3 Non-Profit. Multiple The Strategy Bridge articles have appeared in PME curriculum.

In 2015 The Strategy Bridge ran a series on Profession and Ethics. Nate and Ty took 12 of the articles and worked with the contributors to expand them to chapters, and then edited the work into a book. The book, entitled Redefining the Modern Military: The Intersection of Profession and Ethics, will be published by US Naval Institute Press with a release date of 15 October 2018.

Gen (Ret) Martin Dempsey wrote the forward for the book, and it has been endorsed by Gen McChrystal, Admiral Stavridis, RADM Peg Klein, USN (Ret) former Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Defense for Military Professionalism, LTG Robert Caslen, USMA Superintendent, MAJGEN Mick Ryan, Commander of the Australian Defence College, and others.

Summary:

This edited collection will expand upon and refine the ideas on the role of ethics and the profession in the 21st Century. The authors delve into whether Samuel Huntington and Morris Janowitz still ring true in the 21st century; whether training and continuing education play a role in defining a profession; and if there is a universal code of ethics required for the military as a profession.

Redefining the Modern Military is unique in how it treats the subject of ethics and the military profession, as well as the types of writers it brings on board to address this topic. The book puts a significant emphasis on individual agency for military professionalism as opposed to broad organizational or cultural change. Such a review of these topics is necessary because the process of serious, intellectual self-reflection is a requirement–especially in a profession that involves life and death of people and nations.

Pre-Order now here.

A Modest Proposal

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

by J. Scott Shipman

Our Navy has not experienced war against a peer competitor since 1945. War at sea differs significantly from what our Marine Corps and Army brothers have learned over the last 17 years. Naval warfare is attrition warfare, for at sea there is no place to hide. To quote the late strategist Herbert Rosinski: “At sea there is no halfway house between victory and defeat, because there is no difference between what is needed for defense and what for attack. One side only can gain security at the cost of the other—or neither.”

The United States Navy doesn’t have enough submarines (or surface ships, for that matter). Our highly capable fleet of SSNs is the best in the world, but we’re retiring the old LOS ANGELES Class boats faster than we’re replacing them with the VIRGINIA Class. These new submarines are expensive (~$2.5B USD) and the high costs are translating into fewer platforms with the number of attack boats shrinking from 50 today to as low as 42 by 2030—with only about 25 projected to operate in the Pacific—while China is building both SSKs and SSNs at a pretty aggressive rate with up to 70 attack boats on the horizon.

Under current forces structure plans and budgets the USN cannot afford the number of platforms needed to meet existing security threat requirements. Given our top-heavy force of large multipurpose warships, most are too expensive to send in harm’s way—but that does not change the need for presence. As William Beasley wisely suggested in the November 2015 issue of Proceedings, the US Navy needs to “close the presence gap.” Beasley “steals” a line from former Naval War College Dean CAPT Barney Rubel and defines “presence” — “it means being there.” Costs are limiting our numbers, thus our presence. As marvelous as the VA Class is (and it is a true marvel), it can’t be in two places at once.

The USN attack submarine force is all nuclear. These ships are complex and take years to construct—and only two shipyards are currently certified to build them. If many predictions are correct, in a future great power war we cannot assume the sanctuary of CONUS and these shipyards would make irresistible targets.

Our ally Japan may hold a potential subsurface solution which could be an almost “turn-key” solution to the USN’s presence crisis and the growing threat of China. The Japanese Soryu class submarine (pictured above) is the most advanced conventional submarine in the world and the first to transition to ultra-quiet lithium batteries for submerged operations. Further, these boat could be built for at least half the price of a VA Class.

Japan faces a common adversary in China, though without a Pacific Ocean buffer. What if we made a deal with the Japanese government to license the Soryu class design? Further, as part of the deal, construct boats for their navy in our shipyards. We would gain needed numbers and our ally would gain an “extra” production yard. This seems a great way to reassure our allies, increase our subsurface numbers, and send a message to the world that our bonds as allies are deep and resolute. This line of thought is not unprecedented, as we are building the next generation of SSBN (the COLUMBIA Class) in collaboration with the UK.

Whatever the USN decides (and doing nothing is a decision), time is growing short for alternatives and more of the same isn’t affordable.

New Book: Strategy, Evolution and War

Sunday, May 6th, 2018

[mark safranski / “zen“]

Strategy, Evolution and War: From Apes to Artificial Intelligence by Kenneth Payne

This book by Kenneth Payne of King’s College  is newly released by Georgetown Press. I saw it mainly by chance while perusing my twitter feed and ordered a copy. At first glance, it looks very promising, albeit I have a bias toward cultural evolutionary frameworks. Perhaps it will get me more up to speed on the implications of Ai for emerging warfare.

Just thumbing through, Payne has a solid bibliography and some intriguing chapter and section headings. For example:

The Hoplite Revolution:Warriors, Weapons and Society
Passionate Statesmen and Rational Bands
The Ai Renaissance ad Deep Learning
Chimps are Rational Strategists, Contra Humans

Enough to whet the appetite. May discuss Strategy, Evolution and War further after I finish it.

What have you been reading in the realm of strategy or war lately?

Probability and Risk of a Second Civil War

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

[mark safranski / “zen“]

See the source image

Fascinating post by B.J. Campbell, a stormwater hydrologist who crunches numbers for risk probabilities of flooding, who applies his tools to a simple (very simple) historical data set (hat tip Scholar’s Stage ):

The Surprisingly Solid Mathematical Case of the Tin Foil Hat Gun Prepper

….While we don’t have any good sources of data on how often zombies take over the world, we definitely have good sources of data on when the group of people on the piece of dirt we currently call the USA attempt to overthrow the ruling government. It’s happened twice since colonization. The first one, the American Revolution, succeeded. The second one, the Civil War, failed. But they are both qualifying events. Now we can do math.


Stepping through this, the average year for colony establishment is 1678, which is 340 years ago. Two qualifying events in 340 years is a 0.5882% annual chance of nationwide violent revolution against the ruling government. Do the same math as we did above with the floodplains, in precisely the same way, and we see a 37% chance that any American of average life expectancy will experience at least one nationwide violent revolution.

This is a bigger chance than your floodplain-bound home flooding during your mortgage.

Note, by using the American Revolution and the Civil War, Campbell has adopted an extremely conservative data position. Other events that would meet the threshold would include Bacon’s rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion and John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry. Possibly meriting inclusion would be Aaron Burr’s Conspiracy, Nat Turner’s Revolt and the Nullification Crisis.

….In 2010, 8.5 million tourists visited Syria, accounting for 14% of their entire GDP. Eight years later, they have almost half a million dead citizens, and ten million more displaced into Europe. They didn’t see this coming, because if they did, they would have fled sooner. Nobody notices the signs of impending doom unless they’re looking carefully.Further, the elites of a nation rarely take it on the chin. They can hop on a plane. The poor, disenfranchised, and defenseless experience the preponderance of the suffering, violence, and death. They’re the ones that should be worried.
Pretend you’re someone with your eyes on the horizon. What would you be looking for, exactly? Increasing partisanship. Civil disorder. Coup rhetoric. A widening wealth gap. A further entrenching oligarchy. Dysfunctional governance. The rise of violent extremist ideologies such as Nazism and Communism. Violent street protests. People marching with masks and dressing like the Italian Blackshirts. Attempts at large scale political assassination. Any one of those might not necessarily be the canary in the coal mine, but all of them in aggregate might be alarming to someone with their eyes on the horizon. Someone with disproportionate faith in the state is naturally inclined to disregard these sorts of events as a cognitive bias, while someone with little faith in the state might take these signs to mean they should buy a few more boxes of ammunition.

Americans have been insulated from untoward events such as civil wars, famines, coups, epidemics and insurgencies for so long that they forget that such things are accepted as normal if distant risks by most people on Earth. Whether you wish to dispute Mr. Campbell’s odds or reasoning in his scenario the chances are and remain non-zero.


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