View Full Version : The Opportunity of Failure

11-09-2006, 10:18 PM
John at the OPFOR Blog - The Opportunity of Failure (http://op-for.com/2006/11/the_opportunity_of_failure.html) or The Death of Transformation Could Very Well be the Birth of Victory - Let's Seize the Opportunity.

... Rumsfeld had the same effect on the military. To some, his leadership was inspirational. To others, he was the guy who was single handedly dismantling a force that had barely survived eight years of Clinton-era defense cuts. The name for the pain was Transformation, Rumsfeld's baby. The Pentagon's "bridge to the 21st century." And before September 11, it sounded and felt pretty slick. A lighter force, with emphasis on flexibility, technology, and force multiplication. Maximum effect, minimum loss cheered supporters.

In Afghanistan, Transformation was looking pretty good. A couple of hundred SPECOP warriors exploited our new, network-centric approach to warfighting and accomplished what the much-feared Soviet juggernaut could not. Who needs tanks? Who needs divisions? One foward air controller with a horse, a laptop, and a MILSTAR uplink to a B-52 could now do the heavy-lifting of an entire mechanized brigade.

And that's when Transformation blasted off. The Air Force started delivering Raptors and Global Hawks while BRAC cut our fighter force by 20%. Money poured into the Army's Future Combat Systems, the Marine led V-22 procurement, and the Navy's new Littoral Combat Ships. New tankers for the Air Force, new EELV heavy lift rockets to facilitate our budding space weapons program, a new class of aircraft carrier and a new class attack sub. All very useful weapon systems, but all very expensive weapon systems.

Operation Iraqi Freedom was supposed to get the Transformation concept over that final, sizable high-cost hurdle. Afghanistan was mostly asymmetric, fought almost exclusively at the platoon and company level. OIF was Transformation's real test. State v. State conflict, a real army -albeit ill-equipped and poorly trained- to prove the mettle of the new force. And again, Transformation worked. Less troops, higher tech did the job. Mission accomplished.

And like a Shakespearean tragedy, Rumsfeld's bold new vision for a brave new military collasped at the height of its success. The insurgency dug-in, and with each IED blast another hole was punched in the Transformation concept. Billion-dollar B2s flew helpless overhead as suicide bombers and roadside bombs took the lives of troops who lacked armor on their Humvess and on their bodies. 100 dollar bombs killed 100,000 dollar weapon systems. The highly touted, highly financed UAV force could only watch as car bombers exploded Iraqi marketplaces. What we needed was more troops. What we got was more gizmos.

Transformation has failed us in fighting the Iraqi insurgency. It takes troops to sustain an occupation. When you are trying to win hearts and minds, heartless and mindless technological gadgets can't win the day. Victory takes boots on the ground. It takes Soldiers and it takes Marines. And, as Iraq has proven, it takes a hell of alot of them.

And that may be the deep dark place that this Long War is forcing us to visit. Terrorists only stop terrorizing when they are dead, dictators do as they please until they are forced to otherwise, and the disease of militant Islam spreads until it is stopped. That takes men with guns. It takes the clashing of swords and shattering of shields. And, tragically, it takes casualties.

Secretary Rumsfeld served honorably and had the vision to push the force in the right direction. But his resignation is an opportunity for us to rededicate ourself to this fight. Winning wars means sacrifices, and sacrifices mean greater defense spending, a greater number of troops, and a greater committment to victory from the American people...

Rob Thornton
11-10-2006, 06:29 AM
I think the last QDR holds the key to both what our military organizational structure should be, and how our acquisition strategy should be driven. I love good tech, but if you don't have good people and enough of them, you will come up short. Since we know good people cost money (recruiting, training, retention, sustaining, education, etc.), it means we will not be able to buy all the tech, in all of the quantities on an existing budget that relies on additional appropriations to get us over bumps in the road.

As such, we'd probably better be realistic and decide to either adjust our appetite, our strategy or our budget. In my opinion that either means holding industry to some tighter standards about fiscal responsibility with some stiff penalties and the occasional disappointment; increasing taxes to pay for it; adjusting our strategy in terms of application of military force with a greater reliance on "soft power"; or some combination of all of the above, plus some others I know I missed. Each have their problems and concerns, each are affected by politics.

While the public is familiar with Transformation as synonymous with doing more with less, there are some very bright folks in the military, or recently retired who understand that Transformation was really about people. Hardware was really limited to Evolution. The potential for "Revolution" could only occur in a military culture entrenched in the conventional application of kinetic lethals. Our over-reliance on technology as a solution led to us always framing the problem in the context of attrition. Words worth retaining from the Transformation wave include: Agility, Adaptive, Innovative, and a few others that describe traits in people which will enhance mission accomplishment.

If you take our recent lessons on the friction of COIN, and apply it to the projections of the QDR you might come to the conclusion that in order to successfully meet this strategy you will need a large pool of talented people with good equipment that allows them to overcome diversity and odds that are generally not in their favor.

Regards, Rob

11-10-2006, 05:08 PM
Fighting a state is not the same thing as occupying one. Armored divisions and F-22 's will not stop al Qaida. Reducing the question of " transformation" to an either-or choice is a false dichotomy.

The military needs the flexibility of being able to use multiple approaches to fit different tactical environments. We will be dealing with nonstate actors and must be conventionally preeminent to deter the reemergence of state vs. state warfare between the great powers.

Preferring one task doesn't make the other one go away.

Rob Thornton
11-10-2006, 06:32 PM
Concur, if you create a vacum, somebody or something else will fill it. There are lots of state's looking for the opportunity. Rob

Bill Moore
11-11-2006, 05:47 PM
I continue to believe that non-state actors pose increasingly greater threats to our national interests, but that other states pose the gravest threat to our national interests. While many principles of war apply to both state versus state conflicts and state versus non-state threat conflicts, they are two different types of warfare.

Prior to the grossly excessive force cuts in our military forces after the wall came down our military was well suited (always room for improvement, but we were pretty darn good) to wage a state versus state war; not simply in force structure, but we also have a well developed joint doctrine for fighting this type of war. The next war always seems to come out of left field, so any speculation on what the next threat will be is that, simply speculation. My simple speculation thinks we will see a shift from wars of ideology (Cold War) to wars of economic advantage (perhaps over access to national resources such as water, precious metals, and energy sources). Regardless of the casus belli we must remain prepared to win these critical conflicts, and winning these will require substantial conventional war fighting force structure. Oddly enough, winning so called small wars also requires substantial force structure (sustainable boots on the ground).

Even prior to the GWOT we were undergoing a rapid transformation in hopes that a digital Army would provide a right sized force that was extremely lethal, economical, and could be sustained by letting contracts with various beltway bandits. After 9/11 the push for transformation became even more aggressive based on what was perceived to be new threats, although this 5th column threat has always existed, what was now new is that it shifted from a supporting effort to the primary threat, and it is being carried out primarily by non-state actors (this shift is what 4GW theorists are attempting to define).

The dilemma we must wrestle with is how to do we adjust, not transform, so we are still prepared to handle legacy state versus state threats to our national interests and yet find a way to mitigate to an acceptable level (not defeat, because we can’t define defeat in this case) 4GW type threats to our national interests.

The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are poor examples, because they were poorly conceived and poorly managed by our leadership. Our war fighting doctrine didn’t fail; we failed to follow our doctrine. Our doctrine in the end may have failed, but we can’t use OEF-A and OIF as case studies to justify evolving it significantly. What is interesting is that we said this would be a different type of war, yet in both cases we decided to implement regime changes, which by any definition are a state versus state conflict, but we approached both on the cheap and we’re paying the price.

What type of force do we need to mitigate the impact of non-state actors? First we have to a strategy (first define the problem, develop the solution, then task organize, not vice versa). That strategy should not castrate our conventional war fighting capabilities, because they remain the vanguard of our national defense. However, we should develop our ability to better implement unconventional warfare as a means to mitigate these 5th column in the lead (or 4GW) threats. That doesn’t mean growing Special Forces substantially, because to do so will seriously degrade their quality. However, we should be able to put Special Forces in charge of some of these fights, with conventional forces (as required) in support. Furthermore, in many cases the main effort should probably be the CIA with DoD in support based on current authorities. State Department should (but they need to be resourced) take the lead in countries where the main effort is FID, again as we have done so many times in the past with DoD in support. Funny it all comes back to a functional interagency process, the one process we simply don’t have. If other agencies cannot transform to perform their diplomatic, information, military, and economic (DIME) functions, then perhaps the transformation required isn't so much at brigade level as it is at DoD level. Maybe DoD needs the force structure and authorities to be the lead agency for all these functions?

Steve Blair
11-11-2006, 08:11 PM
I would disagree when it comes to not using OIF and OIF-A as case studies. They are far more valid for the types of conflicts we will be seeing than Desert Storm was or will be.

One thing to really watch for, and this is where I think our current doctrine needs work, is an over-reliance on technology. Boots on the ground is NOT the same thing as having a few pairs of boots linked up with digital comms to a single headquarters. I would also argue that the next generation strategic bomber is NOT something we really need. Our reliance on overly expensive silver bullet systems does not really prepare us to do anything other than fund the next upgrade or product improvement.

If a conflict is poorly conceived and poorly managed, then we need to take a very hard look at the processes that allow that to happen. I happen to agree with the military personnel system reformers who argue that the main problem is embedded in the basic personnel system itself. By that I mean we promote generalists who lack a deep knowledge about any one issue but have a wide smattering of knowledge and political skills. Technical transformation is all fine and dandy, but the more basic and deep flaws lie within the personnel side.

I would further argue that the non-state actor is nothing new, and has been with us for ages. We tended to ignore them, or lump them in with other types of conflict, but that does not mean that they didn't exist prior to Sep 11.

Bill Moore
11-11-2006, 09:42 PM
Steve, I know we haven't found common ground on 4GW opponents yet. I still think there is enough newness in how non-state actors can organize, raise money, act globally etc. to warrant relooking our doctrine. This isn't your grandfather's terrorist group, but that is another discussion.

My point about not using OIF and OEF-A as models on why we need to change our military (our government and interagency definitely need to change) is we ignored our own doctrine. If we followed a more traditional approach and commited the necessary forces, and actually planned for and resourced a post combat phase the situation would "probably" have turned out much differently locally. However, regime changes in Afghanistan would not have defeated Al Qaeda's global movement, and they would have (and they continue to do without a victory in sight) tied down a considerable portion of military power, limiting our ability to address other security concerns else where.

I think we could have won in Iraq if we committed enough forces, didn't demobilize the Iraqi Army, and had a realistic transition plan to establish a government (not a democracy) based on local and regional realities. As stated many places in this great forum most of the problems we're dealing with are not new, we just ignored the lessons of the past. I hate to give Sen Kerry credit, but his "intended" statement was correct, if you don't understand history you end up with a mess like Iraq.

11-12-2006, 01:42 AM
Steve Blair and Bill Moore I found this article in July 1966 issue of military review I think you both may find it interesting and is relevant to the ongoing discussion.


I hope good discussion follows.

Steve Blair
11-12-2006, 05:45 PM
We need to overhaul aspects of our doctrine, but it shouldn't stop there. We really need to take a hard look at the way the services manage their personnel, especially officers, and overhaul it. The system we have is a relic of the early 20th century and is intended for a small professional army that will be rapidly and drastically expanded in time of war through the use of conscription. This needs to change.

There are other areas, too. We're seeing a rising need for what could be called "non-traditional" officers...people who may come into the service slightly older than in the past but with wider life experiences and background skills. One of the best places to get these people is ROTC, but the Air Force is cutting their funding for scholarships. I would argue that the service academies are not the places to produce future foreign area officers, or to find people who have police experience or prior military service and want to make that transition to officer.

The more you cut the non-traditional avenues, the more traditional your officer corps becomes. In an era of non-traditional warfare, this can't be considered a good thing.

Rob Thornton
11-12-2006, 06:54 PM
Bingo! I wish we could say we put round pegs in round holes, but I think our officer management is more in line with road crews working round the clock to fill holes. Occasionally when somebody asks for somebody because they know that person is the right person, we get it right, and sometimes we just get lucky, but by and large we fill holes. Before we can get officer management right, we need to examine all the reasons we just fill holes.

Some of the problems:
1) Attrition
2) Op-tempo
3) Juggling competing "glass" balls - when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority
4) Parochialism
5) Lack of incentives in relation to 1 & 2
6) Failure to review personnel files (could be due to 2, 3 or 4), I think they are calling this "whole person assessment" or something along those lines

I do not blame the HRC folks. They are the proverbial one armed switchboard operator trying to keep all the calls connected. In light of current conditions they are probably doing better then we should expect. However, I do think as Steve mentioned, our system is out of date with the current resources and requirements. We have not only "mass" based requirements, but also extensive & increasing "technical" (covers the myriad of skills) requirements. Unless you increase the numbers of people who have the latter, the former will get "filled" with what is available. To boot, we are competing for these talents with the same incentives we had when all we had were mass based requirements. If you want good people, they are going to cost you.

11-12-2006, 07:16 PM
Hi Rob,

I think there may be another problem to add to your list. As Steve pointefd out, most of the HR doctrines are predicated on an Industrial Age model of mobilization. This is probably one of the reasons that we are thinking aboutr a "professional" officer corps. While I totally agree that it is absolutely necessary to have such a professional core of practitioners, there is always a danger of exclusion amongst any professional body.

Most of the talk seems to be centered around the idea of training current officers in outside skill sets - frequently professions in their own right. If we (i.e. Western militaries) go down that road, we end up with an officer corps that is capable of doing a lot of things poorly.

There was another thread (sorry, can't remember the particular one), where we were talking about the idea of career paths progressing to Captain and then shifting to other branches / specialties. This is certainly one model that has promise. There is another model that may have promise, and that is the much older militia model from the War of 1812 (hey, we had it too :)). I think that this type of model, applied to non-Combat skill sets only, would be a useful avenue to consider.


Bill Moore
11-12-2006, 08:10 PM
Human resource management has been the crux of the military evolution issue since the fall of the Iron Curtain, if not before. Steve's points on how we produce officers being a large part of the problem are interesting. Having a fair amount of time in our Army, I find it “generally” true that officers produced in West Point tend to engage in a form of dysfunctional group think. In many cases they’re more loyal to preserving a pseudo caste system than they are to doing the right thing for the Nation. Of course they produce their share of out of the box thinkers, but they tend to the exception instead of the rule. The academic agenda at West Point is superb (much better than their football program), so the problem must lie with the socialization process.

I wasn’t aware that the Air Force was cutting funding to non-traditional routes to become an officer. I wonder if it is a budgeting issue, or fear that they’re getting too many non-conformists within their ranks?

In any type of war leadership with talent is the key, and potential leaders are not identified at 18 years of age. Following up on Steve’s points about getting officers with life experiences, it would be nice if we could break the mold from picking kids that have a decent GPA in high school and a desire to be an officer, to picking men who have a proven ability to lead, then educate them appropriately.

Marc said our human resource management is a relic of the industrial age, I would argue that our officer corps is a relic of our British legacy (our military was influenced equally by the Germans and French, but our cultural heritage e.g. caste system, more so by the British) prior to our Revolution.

I see too many talented NCOs leave the force because they know they can contribute much more outside the military. It is a shame, we need entrepreneur spirits with proven leadership ability, life experiences, etc. to lead our force into a very complex 21st century.

Slapout9, I read the article you posted and will comment on it later. In short it addresses the legacy unconventional warfare I was taught in Special Forces training, which focused on UW (including guerrilla warfare) as a 5th column to support larger conventional objectives. Much of the article is still relevant, but there have been several changes due to the information age and globalization.

11-12-2006, 08:32 PM
Hi Bill,

In any type of war leadership with talent is the key, and potential leaders are not identified at 18 years of age. Following up on Steve’s points about getting officers with life experiences, it would be nice if we could break the mold from picking kids that have a decent GPA in high school and a desire to be an officer, to picking men who have a proven ability to lead, then educate them appropriately.

I have to agree with you here, although it may be a chicken and egg type distinction. "Leadership" ability isn't always transferable between different areas of endevour since it is partially conditioned by the culture of the organization in which it is embedded and the environment in which it operates.

Marc said our human resource management is a relic of the industrial age, I would argue that our officer corps is a relic of our British legacy (our military was influenced equally by the Germans and French, but our cultural heritage e.g. caste system, more so by the British) prior to our Revolution.

I certainly don't disgree with your point of where that heritage comes from :). My point was more along the line of retaining a professional corps with a levee en masse mentality, and that derives from both the French Revolution and the beginnings of the Industrial Age which drew most of its social organizational forms from the Dutch military anyway (e.g. the reforms of William the Silent).

Part of the reason I raised the issue was to try and address the problem of skilled people leaving or not joining in the first place. Honestly, the levee en masse model just doesn't work in the current threat environment, and I think we have to look towards other models - hence the pointer towards the early militia model. Another one that might prove beneficial is the Roman concept of the cursus honourum, but that would be trickier to implement.

I see too many talented NCOs leave the force because they know they can contribute much more outside the military. It is a shame, we need entrepreneur spirits with proven leadership ability, life experiences, etc. to lead our force into a very complex 21st century.

Too true. Still, I have to wonder how well today's officer corps, to say nothing of the politicians, would react to an entrepreneurial spirit in the armed forces <wry grin>.


11-12-2006, 09:34 PM
I don't generally have much faith in technology answers, I believe in people answers and tech to support. After reading the above posts it makes me feel better that there are alot of good people in the military, if they just get to the top slots to effect lasting change.

As for "Irregular education" during the late 1980's the CIA waved the college degree requirement and heavily recruited Spanish speaking detectives from several large police departments to become operations officers, because of the need in central and south America. The college degree people were not cutting it in the real world. Judging by the complaints from police chiefs about having their ranks depleted it was a very successfully program.

Maybe the military should try something like this. "Irregular education credits" for the "Irregular officer" to fight an "Irregular war".

Steve Blair
11-13-2006, 12:54 AM
I wasn’t aware that the Air Force was cutting funding to non-traditional routes to become an officer. I wonder if it is a budgeting issue, or fear that they’re getting too many non-conformists within their ranks?

I think it has more to do with the Air Force's traditional response to budget cuts - they cut people FIRST and programs SECOND. It could be argued that the AF never really took ROTC as seriously as the other services, which makes it even easier to cut. The AF hierarchy is still dominated by fighter pilots or bomber pilots, and a great number of them are Academy graduates. In the 1980s it was common in the AF for people to joke about ROTC being around so that they could have supply and personnel officers. That has changed (our det alone has produced a high number of pilots in the last 5-6 years), but the mindset may still be stuck in the 1980s.

Within ROTC there are a number of scholarship programs designed to be used with those students who are not fresh out of high school. However, I fear we may see those reduced. And that would be a great loss.