Military Transformation and the Limits of Uncertainty: 2 Views
Military Transformation has been a hot buzzword over the past decade, fueled by underlying trends that are driving a regular drumbeat of quantum leaps in electronics capability, and by an confluence of international trends that have severely weakened the nation-state. As force planners try to look ahead and assess how to adapt, the question naturally arises – how should the military change?
One view revolves around the concept of Net-Centric Warfare, which can be crudely described as information/awareness dominance leading to military dominance. Under one interpretation of that concept, smaller, lighter networked forces with advanced electronics and precision munitions would be used to outmaneuver and destroy heavier, less advanced forces. Hence the USA’s $160+ billion Future Combat Systems program, with its 27-20 ton tanks and armored vehicles, as the expected backbone of America’s future Army.
That approach does not enjoy universal acceptance. Experiences like Objective Peach in Iraq, war experiences before and since in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon, are causing some officers to question it. DID brings our reader a pair of thought-provoking essays on this topic. One looks at current US Army transformation plans in light of recent combat experience. The other looks for lessons from the last revolution in military affairs – before World War 2…
Col. H.R. McMaster has an article in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s fall 2008 issue of Obris magazine, whose theme is “The Future of War.” An excerpted version is available for public viewing at FPRI. McMaster’s core contention in “Learning from Contemporary Conflicts to Prepare for Future War“:
“The U.S. Army, despite having fought for six years under conditions that run counter to the orthodoxy of defense transformation, is still finding it difficult to break away from years of wrongheaded thinking. The Army brigade organization, designed using mainly computer simulations to validate a smaller, lighter, more efficient organization that could “see first, understand first, act first, and finish decisively,” has not undergone significant revision. That “quality of firsts,” based on the assumption of dominant knowledge in future war, has gone largely unchallenged. Indeed, the quality of firsts, despite being exposed as unrealistic by combat experience, continues to provide the primary conceptual justification for the Army’s Future Brigade Combat Team (FBCT) organization and some acquisition programs.
Recent combat experience has had no discernible effect on the FBCT or current Army Brigade Combat Team (BCT) organizations, largely because of flawed doctrinal concepts and a continued fixation on futuristic experiments in constructive simulations even as U.S. forces are at war. Forces equipped only for self-defense under the assumption that information superiority will protect them and permit the destruction of the enemy at a great distance are certain to suffer a high number of casualties when they engage in close combat. In war, the enemy makes decisions that help determine when, where, and how our forces will fight. If a force optimized for operations under conditions of information superiority loses communications, it could become isolated and unable to access remote fires. Any ambiguity will necessitate reallocating sensors and an analysis effort to avoid risks associated with encountering the enemy unexpectedly. While much of the transformation literature stresses speed, adaptability, and initiative, the force’s inability to overmatch the enemy in a close fight will predispose leaders toward waiting for information rather than taking resolute action in uncertain conditions. Ironically, a force that was supposed to be fast and agile will operate ponderously.”
As a bookend, DID recommends a March 2006 article from The Commonwealth Institute that might be unfairly described as a light French whine. “We Can See Clearly Now: The Limits of Foresight in the pre-World War II Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA)” examines the choices and decisions made by France, which lost to Germany despite quantitative superiority and qualitative parity.
This subject has been extensively discussed, but Carl Conetta manages to create a fresh take. One that’s highly relevant to critiques advocating a revised American transformation plan based on threat-based assessments and a national grand strategy. The Maginot Line, says Conetta, was the product of exactly that approach:
“With the benefit of hindsight, France’s preparations for war with Germany are an easy target of critique. It is another matter, however, to derive guidelines that might reliably help us avoid errors in our present efforts to envision future war and prepare for it. In fact, French planners conformed in a general way to dictums that are today supposed to help planners avoid obvious mistakes. They sought to “learn the lessons of the last war” and not prepare to re-fight it. But for the dominant clique in French leadership this meant resisting the “cult of the offensive” that had sent millions to their deaths against barbed wire and artillery during the Great War.
This disposition did not imply the abandonment of offensive capabilities and operations altogether. But it did place emphasis on defensive preparations and defensive operations in the opening stages of war as a way of buying time and setting the stage for a subsequent counter-offensive. This approach also accorded with the French leadership’s assessment of what types of support it might expect from its allies, how much, when, and under what circumstances. In other words, France’s strategic disposition reflected its view of its strategic circumstances.”