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American Caesar — a reread after 30 years

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

[by J. Scott Shipman]

American Caesar, Douglas MacArthur 188-1964, by William Manchester

Often on weekends my wife allows me to tag along as she takes in area estate sales. She’s interested in vintage furniture, and I hope for a decent collection of books. A sale we visited a couple months ago had very few books, but of those few was a hardback copy of American Caesar. I purchased the copy for $1 and mentioned to my wife, “I’ll get to this again someday…” as I’d first read Manchester’s classic biography of General Douglas MacArthur in the early 1980’s while stationed on my first submarine. “Someday” started on the car ride home (she was driving), and I must admit: American Caesar was even better thirty years later. Manchester is a masterful biographer, and equal to the task of such a larger-than-life subject.

MacArthur still evokes passion among admirers and detractors. One take-away from the second reading was just how well-read MacArthur and his father were. When MacArthur the elder died, he left over 4,000 books in his library—both seemed to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of history and warfare. Highly recommended.

PS: I visited the MacArthur Memorial, in Norfolk, Virginia, recently while in town for business and would recommend as well.

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War on Speed

Monday, August 26th, 2013

[ by Mark Safranski a.k.a. “zen”]

“When a man is lying in a shell hole, if he just stays there all day, a Boche will get him eventually. The hell with that. My men don’t dig foxholes. Foxholes only slow up an offensive. Keep moving.”

                                                                                                      - General George Patton

“In large-scale strategy, when the enemy starts to collapse, you must pursue him without letting the chance go. If you fail to take advantage of your enemies’ collapse, they may recover.”

“Speed is not part of the true Way of strategy. Speed implies that things seem fast or slow, according to whether or not they are in rhythm. Whatever the Way, the master of strategy does not appear fast”

                                                                                                          – Miyamoto Musashi 

“Two basic principles . . . underlie all strategic planning. . . .The second principle is:  act with the utmost speed”

                                                                                                             – Carl von Clausewitz

Soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division charge [ Photo credit: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Travis Zielinski]

SWJ Blog published a link to  2013-14 Key Strategic Issues List put out by the Strategic Studies Institute to US Army War College students and researchers regarding the critical questions that the Chief of Staff believes need to be answered for the US Army to adapt to changing circumstances. It’s a good institutional practice and an interesting document to peruse. My attention was drawn to the subset entitled “Chief of Staff of the Army Special Interest Topics”. General Odierno’s second topic begins with an appropriately broad question:

                                       “How important is speed—both in terms of maneuver and information?”

We should look at the question first in a general sense and then in the light of the U.S. Army and the circumstances in which it is likely to find itself in the next few decades.

Common sense tells us that in any conflict, the ability of a single combatant, an armed group or an army corps to move and fight with speed is generally an advantage. This applies in other forms of conflict aside from warfare; for example, the boxing legend Muhammed Ali was great in his early career not merely because he was a big man and a gifted boxer but because he was also incredibly fast compared to his opponents, running rings around them in a match, taunting and humiliating them. When age removed the edge of speed, a slower Ali was forced to change his tactics and absorb a great deal of punishment that he had formerly escaped. Slow moving armies are like Muhammed Ali past his prime -they make for good targets.

In the history of warfare, many great fighting forces were also fast moving ones. Stonewall Jackson’s Confederates averaged close to fifteen miles per day in the Shenandoah Valley campaign; Roman legions frequently marched twenty miles in five hours while the armies of Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte drew closer to thirty a day. The fierce and elusive Apache topped them all, reputedly covering an astonishing seventy miles a day on foot in harsh desert terrain. Nor are the advantages of great speed limited to land armies, speed at sea and in the air is a tremendous equalizer for numerically inferior forces. It is good to move fast. The US Army, or at least parts of it, should be able to move fast, but this comes with a few caveats:

  • First, speed is always relative advantage. Being the fastest army in the world is a great thing but it is not quite so great if you are fighting the second fastest army in the world and the difference between the two is marginal.
  • .
  • Secondly, really optimizing speed for an entire army (vice specific units) is likely to come with trade-offs in terms of force structure and operational costs. Fast is fine, but fast with firepower is better, unless you think Operation Market Garden is the model to emulate.
  • .
  • Third, distance is often antagonistic to speed (i.e. imposes greater friction costs).  The ability to sustain a campaign in Afghanistan from the Western hemisphere does not mean it will be cheap to run your strykers and helicopters on imported fuel.  Zipping your panzers across France is not the same as slogging them through the vast and roadless expanse of Russia.
  • .
  • Fourth, speed and agility are not the same thing.  Maneuver in battle depends on other things aside from linear speed; the ability to execute fast transients by rapidly shifting what your force is doing on the fly is unlike simply moving them from point A to point B at a high rate of speed. 
  • .
  • Fifth, moving at one easily predictable speed and operational tempo, even at a high rate, is not as good as purposefully changing up both to throw the enemy off of their game. Sometimes employing a slow or erratic tempo is useful for imposing costs on enemy forces, deceiving them or constraining their freedom of action. 

Speed of information is not at all the same as the speed of material things, in part because the qualitative value of the information determines the utility of receiving it faster. An army that could move information and communicate more effectively – by having mastered writing, messenger systems, secret codes, the telegraph, shortwave radio or the internet – usually has a comparative advantage, but only up to a point. Much like medicine, the right dose of information can cure what ails you but too much or the wrong kind at the wrong time can kill you.

Even valuable information – much like Robert E. Lee’s battle plans for Antietam wrapped around some cigars – is simply unconnected data unless it is received by someone (Observation), who unlike General McClellan, is competent to discern the importance, put the information into context (Orientation), plan (Decide)and take appropriate action (Act).  Knowledge is contextual and actionable ( or it is a prerequisite for effective action) while information is isolated, raw and could easily be irrelevant trivia or distracting “noise”.

Quantity of information and the velocity with which it circulates through an organization can undermine the comparative advantage of having greater informational speed. Communication often expands to fill the bandwith allotted to the detriment of organizational effectiveness.  What is useful intel for a squad leader entering a seemingly abandoned village becomes a drowning sea of minutia for a battalion, brigade or theater commander who can only grasp coup d’oeil by focusing on essential components of operational or strategic problems as they are expressed on the battlefield.

Every transmitted message is a form of transaction requiring time, attention and energy from a commander and his subordinates, taxing their ability to prioritize effectively and inevitably creating “fog” by increasing the ratio of useless, incorrect or irrelevant data to crucial information. Improvement comes both from becoming increasingly effective at distilling knowledge from masses of data and from paring back the traffic in informational garbage and “busywork” and legalistic “CYA” communication. Greater informational speed shows it’s true value when an organization (military, business, political etc) can systematically move critical knowledge to the person who needs it at the moment it is required.

How Should the US Army think about Speed?

The US Army, in my view, faces some probabilities in the next few decades in terms of thinking about speed, force structure, potential conflicts and other questions:

  • Barring a resumption of conscription, austerity and domestic politics will mean a smaller active duty peacetime force that will have to formally shed some of the Cold War legacy missions it is no longer capable of executing  or willing to fund. 
  • .
  • Any major land conflict the US enters is likely to be expeditionary against a much more numerous opponent ( North Korea, Iran, Pakistan,  China or a proxy war – likely in Africa) while our technological edge over near-peer and second to third tier adversaries, while remaining, will be less than in previous decades.
  • .
  • The US may face more than one “small war” at a time with an allied or friendly state requesting FID/COIN help against an insurgency of some kind. 
  • .
  • The US may face an insurgency at home from Mexican narco-cartels that may begin as a law enforcement matter and be escalated by cartels into a serious paramilitary insurrection and terrorism problem before political authorities are willing to acknowledge the gravity of the threat (i.e. American politicians will behave much like their Mexican counterparts did in the 2000’s. Indeed they are already doing so in regard to massive cartel infiltration of American cities)
  • .
  • The US will retain sufficient nuclear deterrent, Naval and strategic air capability to make a conventional or nuclear attack on the American homeland extremely unlikely.

The US Army, even in a reduced size,  will probably retain the role of “mailed fist” land force with a core of  armor, motorized infantry, artillery units along with infantry that could conceivably be scaled up to much larger levels of personnel in a grave crisis. But the reality is the politicians will always try to fight foreign wars with peacetime forces, so to be of real use, the Army must be able to go to war “as is” and win it very quickly.  It is unlikely that a serious opponent like Iran, if it’s leaders believe the US intends regime change, will permit America a leisurely 6-12 month build-up of an invading host in a neighboring state the way that Saddam did [ can you imagine PLA generals sitting on their hands as the US Army put, say, 10-15 divisions of American and coalition troops on their border with Vietnam?]

So if the US Army is to be operationally relevant by virtue of speed, there must be a deep all-services investment in the unsexy air and sealift capacity to move a substantial amount of troops and their heavy equipment in days or weeks instead of months ( most likely combined with even greater efforts at pre-positioning ). Speed and maneuver in operations depends on getting there in the first place.

Assuming we have many divisions or brigades (if we stay “modular’) arriving somewhere, increasing operational speed is partly a work of the Army’s leaders spending years changing  the organizational culture to give subordinates real room to take initiative within their commander’s intent. This will help improve both physical maneuver as well as information flow by reducing the institutional incentives to create paralysis by micromanagement.

Accepting loose reins may mean more American casualties, far more enemy combatant casualties and consequent civilian collateral damage as field grade and junior officers take greater responsibility and the tempo of operations accelerates. ROE will have to be simpler and hew closer to what is permitted under the Laws of War vice what overly complex guidance prevailed at certain times in Afghanistan. This will require ruffling the feathers of international law professors, lefty NGO activists, anti-American journalists and some members of Congress.

On the other hand, we might start winning wars again.

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“Optimizing the Potential of Special Forces”

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

[ by Mark Safranski – a.k.a “zen”]

A remarkably blunt article on SF/SOF (“special forces” is being used as an umbrella term for both) in the context of policy and strategy, from the perspective of an emerging great power by LTG Prakosh Katoch of the Indian Army. The American example of SOCOM in Afghanistan/Iraq/GWOT has obviously had an impact here, as has the negative example of Pakistani use of terrorists as proxy forces and ISI covert operatives for direct action in Indian territory and elsewhere. Quite aside from global conflicts and the bilateral rivalry with Pakistan, India also faces more than a dozen long term irregular conflicts with their own dynamics, such as the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency , which Katoch places in the context of Chinese strategic ambitions against India.

A must read.

Optimizing the Potential of Special Forces

….In India, the lack of strategic culture, more on account of keeping the military out from strategic military decision making, has led the hierarchy to believe that conventional forces coupled with nuclear clout can deter us from irregular threats. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Pakistan, though conventionally inferior, has been successfully playing her ‘thousand cuts policy’ knowing full well that India has failed to develop the required deterrent. It is our inability to find a cure to this Achilles’ heel, that has led China, which was hitherto using Pakistan as proxy to wage irregular war on India, now directly aids and supports insurgent and terrorist outfits inside India.

….Why the US has managed to secure its mainland post 9/11 is not only because of an efficient Homeland Security organisation but because the US Special Forces (USSF) are operating in 200 countries including India. Significantly, USSF have undeclared tasks such as conducting proactive, sustained ‘man-hunts’ and disrupt operations globally; building partner capacity in relevant ground, air and maritime capabilities in scores of countries on a steady – state basis; helping generate persistent ground, air and maritime surveillance and strike coverage over ‘under-governed’ areas and littoral zones and employing unconventional warfare against state-sponsored terrorism and trans-national terrorist groups globally. Before 26/11, Al-Qaeda had planned similar operations against New York but could not because the USSF had infiltrated Al-Qaeda. One cannot guard the house by simply barricading it. You must patrol the streets and the area outside.

Growing inter-dependence and interlinking of terrorist groups regionally and internationally should be a matter of serious concern. It is not the US alone that has deployed its Special Forces abroad. This is the case with most advanced countries including UK, Russia, Israel, China and even Pakistan. Pakistan’s SSG was operating with the Taliban in Afghanistan and has been active in Jammu and Kashmir, Nepal and Bangladesh, primarily training anti-India forces. There is a strong possibility of their presence in the Maldives and Sri Lanka as well, aside from presence within India. The Chinese have been smarter. For all the development projects throughout the globe, including in Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan-POK, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Seychelles, contracts underway by PLA-owned/affiliated companies employ serving and veteran PLA soldiers and disguised Special Forces with assigned tasks, including evacuation of Chinese citizens from that country in case of emergencies. 

Read the rest here.

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On Time and timeframes

Monday, July 1st, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — 48 hours, Egyptian time, can mean many things, also DoD foresight, next 48 hrs ]
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We seem to have at least four “times” here, ranking from 12 to 72 hours — or zero to 72 if you take the Army’s announcement itself as a sort of starting pistol — and they’re operating, obviously enough, under different frames. The army likes nicely rounded numbers like “48 hrs”, PERT chart thinking gives you the least time available in which to take the first step towards a desired aim, here “12 hours” — and “24 hours” is the latest target time for serious, visible progress to avert “worst case” response preparations. Or something along those lines.

And “72 hours”? That may be Egyptian elastic time, and thus roughly comparable to Lakota time

The Lakota view of time was simple. “Time was never a specific minute, but rather spaces of time,like early morning, just afternoon or just before midnight. The real meaning of time could be summed up by the phrase “nake nula waunyelo” loosely translated it means:

“I am ready for whatever, any place, any time, always prepared”.

When work needed to be done, people were prepared to work late inthe fields or stay up until 3 am to finish goods to be sold at market.When no work needed to be done, they didn’t work.

The irony is in the next comment:

Policy makers saw an opportunity to improve things by installing awestern time ethic and a respect for the clock.

I don’t know Egypt — but I have spent time “on Lakota time” and don’t wear a watch or carry a phone these days… The piece I drew those quotes from, Lessons from the Lakota: Time lessons for today’s managers, may or may not be useful advice for managers, but its overview-with-graphic of different time systems is worth a quick look. Anthropologists would be able to tell you more about individual cultures, but my point is that differing timeframes are among the major features of different worldviews, and we need to have a decent sense of them when we interface with them.

So “72 hours” may be an instance of relaxed but purposive time, okay? Which wouldn’t necessarily fit well with starched and pressed military time.

**

And here’s the blockbuster:

According to the Congressional Budget Office’s Analysis of DoD’s Future Years Defense Program from 2013, military foresight time runs five years ahead, while USG foresight time runs to 2030 at least:

In most years, the Department of Defense (DoD) provides a five-year plan, called the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP), associated with the budget that it submits to the Congress. Because decisions made in the near term can have consequences for the defense budget well beyond that period, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) regularly examines DoD’s FYDP and projects its budgetary impact over several decades. For this analysis, CBO used the FYDP provided to the Congress in March 2012, which covers fiscal years 2013 to 2017; CBO’s projections span the years 2013 to 2030.

That’s confidence of a kind… but consider this:

I know, I know — whatever happens in Egypt “momentarily” may turn out to be no more than an eddy briefly interrupting a larger time-flow in the “mid-term” — a phenomenon I’d like to map nicely with some river graphics one of these days.

**

But time? What was it St Augustine said of it?

What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks me, I do not know.

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Two Readings, and If You Read It, Why Not Review It?

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

[by J. Scott Shipman]

One Hundred Days, The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander, Admiral Sandy Woodward

For professional reasons, many trusted colleagues have recommended One Hundred Days, and I finally finished it a few weeks ago. They reminded me the Falklands War “was the first modern anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) war, pitting a joint expeditionary force against a regional power with modern land, air, and sea capabilities.” [sourced from Proceedings magazine, May 2012, by Commander Jim Griffin, U.S. Navy—strongly recommended] In other words, the scrap in the South Atlantic in 1982 was the last time a “modern” expeditionary force faced a credible adversary with modern capabilities. 

Admiral Woodward reminds that no one expected Argentina to invade the Falklands, and even if they did, no one expected the UK to respond with force (even the Royal Navy (RN) was surprised, and many had to find the islands on a map). Woodward departed with the two remaining UK carriers, the Hermes and Invincible which were already on the chopping block due to budget problems (sound familiar?). Fighting was such a distant memory for the RN, having not engaged in significant action since WWII, and Woodward recounts that many of his men had difficulty making the transition from “a sea-going job” to fighting, and possibly dying. I wondered as I read if the U.S. Navy has prepared/is prepared for this transition; and truly both officer and rates proved susceptible. The personal nature of Woodward’s account was bit of a surprise, but provides valued insight into the challenges and frequent frustrations faced by naval leaders.

Commander Griffin’s account in Proceedings referenced above has a very good list of lessons learned, and a few observations and questions are added for consideration:

  1. Naval warfare is war of attrition. Attrition can occur as a result of sinking or disabling an opponent. In the case of the Brits, many of their ships sustained non-fatal hits that, for practical purposes, removed the ship from any offensive or defensive action. Many of our enemies, while not sophisticated, understand and plan accordingly. As a result numbers are important; numbers of ships and weapons.
  2. In the age of the missile, response times were/are measured in seconds, so ships and aircraft will be lost…often, quickly.
  3. Are our systems susceptible to electro-magnetic interference (EMI)? 
  4. Could our ships navigate or fight without GPS or other satellite-dependent technologies?
  5. Can sailors onboard fix systems when they break (and they will break, see #6 below)? One RN ship had a contractor embarked who made the difference, which was blind luck. Over the last 20 years, the USN has tended towards “operators” over technicians.
  6. “Murphy” is alive and well. When things can fail (including technologies), they will, at the worst possible time.
  7. Is the theater commander in command? In the Falklands, Woodward had command of ships, but not submarines—which hampered the effectiveness of his battle group.
  8. Ship preservation (preventive maintenance) is often paid for in battle. At least two RN ships were unable to use weapons because of salt corrosion rendering missile hatches inoperable. This is engineering problem, too, to be sure, but also an example of how preventive maintenance can pay-off when it counts.
  9. Damage control training for all-hands; rigorous and often. RN sailors did a masterful job of saving several of their wounded ships.
  10. Anti-missile capabilities on logistic/support ships.
  11. Homefront politics and posturing provides fog in war as does the enemy. One curse of modern communications; having the White House Situation Room second-guessing/micromanaging the war.
  12. The press is often not your friend. On a couple of occasions, the BBC broadcast orders of battle and goals, and the Argentineans planned and acted accordingly.
  13. The motto of Captain John Coward, RN, of HMS Brilliant, “The essence of war is violence. Moderation in war is imbecility.”

Woodward’s book is the clearest account we have of naval warfare in the missile age. If it is not already, One Hundred Days should be required reading for every naval officer. Strongest recommendation.

National Security Dilemmas, Challenges & Opportunities, Colin S. Gray

Colin Gray is no stranger to the readers of Zenpundit. I read this title over the Christmas break, and have returned to review with some frequency. In fact, my copy is so littered with underlining and marginalia, these periodic “reviews” can take a couple of hours. As the title suggests, Gray outlines the challenges and opportunities facing policymakers, and in so doing provides an accurate glimpse of our current state of political-military affairs. He encourages policymakers to reacquaint themselves with the importance of the concept of victory, and on how to successfully navigate a transition of our military from our previous focus of regular warfare to the realities introduced by enemies using irregular methods. Gray discusses “revolutions in military affairs (RMA)” and deterrence and the implications of both in our thinking and planning. Gray’s concluding section on preemption and preventative war is exceptionally well-presented.

For example, Gray’s section on Achieving Decisive Victory includes:

  1. Better armies tend to win.
  2. No magic formula for victory.
  3. Technology is not a panacea.
  4. The complexity of strategy and war is the mother of invention.
  5. Know your enemies.

This book is imminently quotable, so I’ll share a few with my highest recommendation.

The idea that strategy has an essence is deeply attractive. Strategy sounds incredibly rare and valuable, like something that could be bottled and sold. Unfortunately, American understanding of and sound practice in strategy is desperately rare. Strategic thinking and behavior are endangered activities in the United States. This is hardly a stunningly original insight. However, familiar though the criticism should be, it loses none of its bite for reason of longevity. Much as the U.S. defense community periodically is prodded by irregularist anxiety to worry about insurgency and terrorism, so from time to time it remembers the value of strategy. Though American defense professionals do not know what strategy is or how it works, they know that it is a matter of grave importance. The pattern has been one wherein a politician or a senior official with a personal interest has lit the fire of genuinely strategic discussion. The fire briefly flare brightly but then dies away for want of fuel. The fire is not fed, because there is not much demand for the heat and light of truly strategic argument in the United States. Although America is not quite a strategy-free environment, such a characterization would err in the right direction. (page 169 of paperback edition)

Since, inter alia, warfare is a competition in learning between imperfect military machines, fortunately one need only be good enough. (page 178; this is a personal favorite of mine)

There needs to be a continuous, albeit “unequal,” dialogue between civilian and soldier. War and warfare are permeated with political meaning, and consequences. A competent supreme command knows this and behaves accordingly. However, this relationship carries implications for civilian participation in military decisions in wartime that run contrary to the traditional American way in civil-military relations. If the strict instrumentality of force is not to be neglected, there has to be a constant dialogue between policymaker and soldier. Policy is a nonsense if the troops cannot perform “in the field,” while the troops may be so effective in action that policy is left gasping far behind unexpected opportunities by events. (page 179, emphasis added)

Gray’s National Security Dilemmas is a must read for policymakers and practitioners. [btw: it has been my custom to provide selected referenced works in book reviews. Gray’s bibliography is so excellent and comprehensive, I could not make a list that would do it justice.]

That said, I’ll close with more questions, and an apology: Does anyone read anymore? I’m rereading Manchester’s classic American Caesar after an absence of 30+ years, and I’d forgotten how much time both MacArthur the Elder and MacArthur the Younger (Douglas) spent reading. That said, how often do we see military leaders review the books they recommend? A reading list is one thing, explaining why the book made the cut another. With blogs, the internet, and social media, there are no barriers to entry. Recommendation to senior officers, including the General Officers and Flag Officers who post required reading lists: let your folks know why, write it down, explain it—the exercise will do you good, and give your subordinates insights into your thinking.

Now for the apology: there are four of us here at Zenpundit, but I’ve been the anchor man. This is my first post in too long, and I apologize to my colleagues and you, the reader. I’ve been on a tear reading naval stuff, mostly associated with my business endeavors. That said, I’ll endeavor to eat my own cooking and review what I read/have read with greater frequency.

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