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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.

Ullman’s Strategic Revolution?

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Strategist Dr. Harlan K. Ullman (best known for the concept of  “Shock and Awe“) had a piece up at Atlantic Council about which I have a mix of opinions, so I am going to break it down with some excerpts and comment:

Needed Now: An Intellectual Revolution in Strategic Thinking 

Toward the end of the Cold War, Soviet military thinkers coined the phrase “Military-Technical Revolution.” Based on a combination of extraordinary advances in precision strike and in information and surveillance technologies, the MTR was successfully transformed by the Pentagon into the “Revolution in Military Affairs.”

Meant to defeat the Red Army, the RMA was a real military revolution proven in the first Iraq War in 1991 when US arms pulverized Saddam Hussein’s army; in Afghanistan quickly routing the Taliban in 2001; and again smashing Iraq two years later.

There’s more than just a semantic difference here.

A “Military Revolution” is a rare thing in history, an epochal event, like the transformation of warfare in early modern Europe , which also dovetails with the Marxist-Leninist  economic deterministic conception of what constituted a world-historical “revolutionary” event in Soviet ideology. A “Military-Technical Revolution” was a terminological effort by Soviet general officers to reduce the ideological scope of the event discussed away from a sphere predominantly governed by the supreme authority of the Party (and in practice then, by politburo ideologist, Mikhail Suslovwho was deeply suspicious of any kind of reform) to one that emphasized that radical changes in warfare originated in or would flow from purely technological innovations and could therefore be safely managed by military professionals without encroaching upon political matters.  Self-interest and institutional interest of the Red Army general staff at work.

American defense intellectuals repackaged the Red Army’s “Military-Technical Revolution” as the  “Revolution in Military Affairs” – a much narrower concept than “Military Revolution” yet broader, more flexible and open-ended than it’s Soviet parent. Eminent strategist and military historian Colin S. Gray described RMA thusly:

Military Revolutions are preceded, implemented, and succeeded by RMAs. RMA refers to a radical change in the character of war. The engines of such change include, but are by no means limited to, technological innovation. Scholars note that most historically plausible RMAs have not obviously been led by new technologies [1].

The American RMA unlike the Soviet version was more closely tied to the force-multiplying effects of the information revolution and Moore’s Law  that was to reshape the global economy, and came to be shorthanded, under Rumsfeld, as “transformation“. However, like the Soviet MTR, RMA suited the growing fascination of American military officers with operational art as the acme of professional identity and a substitute for strategy and troublesome questions of policy and politics. While “transformation” was good for making the military more efficient at applying violence, the focus on technological magic in operations tended to anesthetize senior generals from the need to attend to the vital strategic-policy dimension of war.

Back to Ullman:

….Today, American and certain allied militaries are exhausted by a decade of war. All face large and looming defense cuts meaning far less money for defense. Under these circumstances, readiness and morale become early casualties.

With the exception of North Korea (or to some states in Europe, Russia), few hostile armies are around to fight in a conventional conflict making the case for defense more diaphanous. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated that while military force may have been necessary, it could not make either country more governable, hardly the best argument for defense spending.

The omission of China is simply weird. I am neither a ‘Panda hugger” or a “Panda mugger” and I don’t think China should be shoehorned into the role of near-peer competitor, which it is not yet, except in the fantasies of hypernationalistic Chinese and maybe blogger/salesmen from the Lexington Institute. But how do you ignore a nation like China and the PLA in in a military-geopolitical strategic analysis?

….How can militaries deal with these facts of life? The answer is that a new revolution is desperately needed. Given the bleak funding outlook, this revolution can only be accomplished through intellect and rejuvenating strategic thinking.

British Gen. Rupert Smith’s “The Utility of Force” skillfully interpreted war in the 21st century to be about and over people — to protect and defend them or to defeat or disrupt them rather than as modern armies squaring off against one and other.

Many assumptions to unpack from few words.

I welcome Dr. Ullman’s call for an intellectual renaissance in strategic thinking which, if badly needed among the professional military class, is even more urgently required in our political class who – with some exceptions – were largely AWOL from their responsibilities of senior partnership in fashioning strategy and grand strategy with the uniformed military in the past ten years. Perhaps in a generation or two, the proliferation of grand strategy programs at elite universities that are increasingly feared by anti-American intellectual leftists, will produce a large cadre of statesman with real strategic competence.

Regarding the second paragraph, while I am sympathetic to the assumptions that 4GW environments will increase with the erosion of state sovereignty and legitimacy, the future of warfare may very well be extremely “hybridwith well-financed polities, corporations and networks fielding impressively high tech military capabilities alongside atavistic and disorganized insurgencies wallowing in blood and entrails. The latter will invite intrusion by the former and the former are sometimes going to clash with one another, as well as against postmodern warlords, superempowered individuals, urban guerrillas and networked jihadis.

….Some 15 years earlier, the concept of “shock and awe” was created in which the goal was to affect, influence and ultimately control the will and perception of an adversary (hence Smith’s “people”) with the use or threat of military force. “Shock and awe” was inspired by the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu eons ago when he wrote that the really brilliant general wins without having to fight a battle.

Shock and awe posited four criteria: control of the environment, rapidity, (near) perfect knowledge and brilliance in execution.

The last two, combined with the realities and uncertainties of today’s international environment, form the foundations for this much needed intellectual revolution in strategic thinking.

If so, then the revolution fizzles out here.

Rapidity and brilliance in execution – or at least excellence – can be trained for, but in control of the environment, the enemy gets a vote (and so, for that matter, does the environment) and “(near) perfect knowledge” is a transient comparative advantage held (if at all) during the initial moments of a complete surprise attack. While it would be nice to have, “(near) perfect knowledge” cannot be a foundation for a strategic revolution as it is a largely unachievable standard in unhurried conditions of perfect peace, much less during the fog and friction of war.

….No one can be certain about the nature of future conflicts as the requirements for defense, once equated in largely military terms, have expanded to cover security with a far broader aperture extending well beyond armies, navies and air forces.

In future conflict, military force may or may not be necessary. But they have not been sufficient to achieve the strategic and political aims of bringing stability and security to Iraq, Afghanistan and so far Libya for example.

Further, given defense cuts, preparations for major conventional operations will be severely curtailed as both weapons and systems for those engagements as well as training will likewise be reduced, possibly dramatically. The strategic question that forms the heart of an intellectual revolution rests on how militaries can prepare for a future so filled with uncertainty while preserving traditional war fighting skills with far less money.

Ullman is correct that public expectations of “security” have expanded beyond military strength to encompass more of the DIME spectrum with, arguably, law enforcement, immigration/assimilation and cyber issues as well.

Disagree that the current political class dominated by aging Boomer fantasists will recognize that sharply curtailed military budgets mean fewer operations.It certainly has not worked that way in Britain where harshly punitive budgetary cuts to the British Army and Royal Navy have scarcely curbed Her Majesty’s government’s appetite for military intervention.  American politicians and Atrocity Boards will simply require the Pentagon eat it’s seed corn to pay for intervention piled upon intervention and when that runs dry, Congress will look at cutting veteran health benefits and pensions and hollow out the force until it breaks.

….First, militaries and strategic thinking must be oriented about obtaining (near) perfect knowledge not merely about traditional operations and employing weapons systems with far greater creativity. There must be far more learning about other, non-military tools and other regions and states round the world of import or interest to assuring national security.

The part  about creativity is spot on, but in a military where majors, colonels and brigadier generals feel they cannot sign off on something as mundane as a platoon, a company or a battalion using ATVs on patrol in Afghanistan without risking their careers, then bureaucratic micromanagement has already reached the state of military rigor mortis. Strategic thinking in the ranks cannot begin until the climate of fear is removed and the incentives for promotion changed to reward risk-taking. Just like the State Department, the Pentagon’s antiquated personnel system is out of alignment with the needs of American national security and  represents a systemic bulwark against positive change.

Pursuit of near perfect knowledge should be dropped. When Admiral Art Cebrowski helped conceive of network-centric warfare,  there was an opportunity present, through real-time sharing of  information across a military “system”, to maximize individual and unit initiative within their understanding of the commander’s intent and accelerate the operational tempo vis-a-vis the enemy. Instead, information technology, as I see it imperfectly from my far remove as a civilian kibbitzer, has empowered micromanagement with three and four star generals playing company commander, colonels playing squad leader and lawyers and powerpoint-inebriated staff officers hundreds  of miles away blocking artillery or air support requested by units under fire.

Perfect knowledge as a doctrinal benchmark encourages organizational paralysis in the face of uncertainty, rather than the fluidity, creativity and adaptiveness that Ullman seeks.

….Second, new means and methods must be created or strengthened that contribute to maintaining fighting skills that enable brilliance in operations. For example, as the British navy and air force lose both carrier and anti-submarine capacities for an interim period, units should be assigned to the US or French navies that will employ these weapons systems. The British army could deploy units to serve in Korea or Pakistan and India where conventional combat is central to those forces to maintain these skills. And new generations of war games and simulators must be invented and fielded so that many scenarios can be played out to keep skills at acceptable levels of readiness.

These are useful ideas, especially the wargames. I don’t think the British will bite though, except for “model” partnerships with the French. There’s really no good reason why there should not be an “Anglospheric” (UK, US, ANZUS, Canada) combined naval warfare planning staff and regular joint exercises.

….Third, to achieve these aims, a further revolution in military education from bottom to top is essential. Officers and troops must be prepared intellectually in order to obtain near perfect knowledge about a future that at best is opaque. And simultaneously, keeping combat skills sharp in an era of austerity when weapons and training will be in shorter supply is best done as Bobby Jones, perhaps the greatest golfer ever observed about that game — it is played in the 6-inch space between the ears!

Militaries will be reluctant to accept new or any revolutions when they are fighting for subsistence. Politicians find governing hard enough. And few are prepared to impose a revolution let alone make tough decisions.

If an intellectual revolution is to be wrought, it must come from within. But who will listen? And who will lead?

As of now, no one is leading and few understand the need to do so.

1. Colin S. Gray. Another Bloody Century. Orion Books Ltd. London. 2005.  117..

The US Army War College National Security Seminar 2011

Sunday, June 12th, 2011


As noted previously, I was fortunate to attend the National Security Seminar at the the US Army War College this year and wanted to relay my impressions while they were still fresh.

First, in terms of reception and cordiality, I have rarely experienced such an extensive and personal outreach as was demonstrated by the War College staff, faculty, administration and students. Every new member had a “sponsor” – a student, usually a colonel or Navy captain, who acted as a liason and personal guide from the time their plane touched down until the moment they returned to the airport. My sponsor, the former commander of the WolfhoundsColonel Richard “Flip” Wilson, whom I consider a friend, really extended himself on my behalf, making me feel welcome and a full member of Seminar Group 20. Most of the students have multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan under their belt and many can report the same for the first Gulf War, Panama, Bosnia or Kosovo.

The War College, the Commandant and the Seminar Group all hosted receptions and dinners designed to get students and civilian new members to mix and further discuss issues raised in the seminar sessions or lectures. At these events I had the opportunity to meet and talk to the leadership of the Army War College including the Commandant Major General Gregg Martin, the Deputy Commandant for International Affairs, Ambassador Carol Van Voorst, the Executive Director of the Army Heritage Foundation, Mike Perry, the Director of SSI, Dr. Douglas Lovelace,  the Chief of Staff and numerous faculty and seminar members. The New Members such as myself were exceedingly well fed at these events as I suspect the Army was attempting to prove that it really does march on it’s stomach.




The serious business of the National Security Seminar was divided into two segments, the talks given by distinguished speakers to the entire class of 2011 and the New Members and the Seminar Group sessions of approximately twenty students, New Members, academics and foreign visitors. We received a brief on the war in Afghanistan from the ISAF Chief of Staff, who was standing in last minute for General Petraeus who was called to meet with senior adminstration officials; and a very interesting concluding talk by Foreign Affairs Editor Gideon Rose, author of How Wars End, which covered issues of strategy, grand strategy and the disconnect with policy.


  The National Security Seminar is run strictly on a non-attribution basis, in order to encourage candor and frank exchange of views, which handicaps my ability to discuss specifics here. I can say that my views on Pakistan ( which I compared to “North Vietnam” ) riled more than a few people – Pakistan is the only country in the world given 2 exchange student slots at the Army War College at the request of the most senior leadership of the US Army – and several students and faculty members took the time, outside of seminar sessions, to make certain I heard countervailing POV regarding Pakistan’s value as an ally. Other topics included, but were not limited to:

Defense budget cuts and force structure
Narco-cartels in Mexico: Insurgency or No?
Civil-Military Relations
Repeal of DADT
AfPak War
al Qaida and GWOT/US Strategy
Critical thinking and Leadership
Libya and NATO
AWC Strategy Curriculum/Program
What the US public expects from their military
China as a peer competitor
Effects of ten years of war on officer corps/military
Illegal combatants and international law
Battle of Gettysburg and Grand Strategy
Differences in Armed Services strategy, command climate, discipline, leadership
The Arab Spring
US Global leadership and Economics
Interagency Operational jointness

Most of the discussion took place in the seminar groups, with Q&A periods in the mass sessions with featured speakers. I came away deeply impressed with the seriousness and insights as practitioners that AWC students brought to the table. The AWC strategic studies program seeks to broaden students who are assumed to arrive with tactical expertise and prepare them for higher command that carries operational, strategic and even policy responsibilities (at least in terms of interpreting and executing within policy guidelines). Many students were articulating ideas associated with Thomas P.M. Barnett, the “mission order” and “commander’s intent” style of leadership or Clausewitzian strategic premises during debates and discussion.

The National Security Seminar Week was for me, an enlightening and exceptionally enjoyable experience, one I would highly recommend to readers who may have such opportunities in future years.


Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron ]

It’s not exactly news —

Napoleon supposedly said “Even in war moral power is to physical as three parts out of four” — and these two quotes say pretty much the same thing, translated and updated, don’t they?


Kudos to my blog-friend Christopher Anzalone, who keeps the rest of us current on digital Taliban offerings, AQ graphics and more. His Views from the Occident: Twitter Specials blog is my source for the interview with Abdul Sattar Maiwand, web-master of the official Islamic Emirate [ie “Afghan Taliban “] site, while David Betz blogged on Gaming Social Networks for Influence and Propaganda at Kings of War (Department of War Studies, King’s College London).

The interview with Maiwand gets into detail that will interest students of information operations and/or contemporary uses of technology — here’s a taste of something close to my good (and frequently prophetic) friend Howard Rheingold‘s notion of wireless quilts:

The news that is posted on the website is converted to SMS messages and sent to a number of people, who send it to other people. Each of them sends it to his acquaintances inside and outside Afghanistan and so a chain of dissemination begins. Each ones tries to spread the news more and more. We have seen many people requesting their friends and relatives to forward the news they receive to at least 20 other people, etc…and so this news becomes widely circulated in popular circles. Through the grace of Allah, we have seen many among the general populace rejoice when news reaches them of the victories of the Mujahideen over their enemies.

But you might like to read the whole thing…

Hammes – Who Participates in War?

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

From the Strategy Conference…..

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