Jan. 9, 2018
The Future Is Plural: Multiple Futures for Tomorrow's Joint Force
The formulation of sound strategy is inherently tied to the art of forecasting. Rather than precise predications, any sound strategy has to be founded on embracing uncertainty, assessing risk, and testing hypotheses. This may be particularly true for defense strategies. Multidimensional challenges, like crafting a long-term defense strategy, cannot rely on dartboards or algorithms fed by Big Data. As RAND’s Michael Mazarr has perceptively noted, this is not the nature of the big national security challenges. “These are value-based judgment calls or one-off issues,” he has concluded, “where data and patterns will offer very limited guidance.” The central question for senior leaders in defense is improving their assessment of risk in ambiguous contexts.
As a gift for a significant approaching birthday, my golf widow gave me a new set of clubs that were the result of a 5-hour custom fitting at a local professional shop. For years I wrestled with the same issue: how to balance the expense of new equipment with my desire to get lower scores. I am now precisely aware of how average my swing and its results are using technology such as radar ball flight and swing tracking. And I now have the best available tech that is custom-fit to my game. The field results are not yet in, but the data from the fitting was clear that I should expect to achieve better results on the course in the coming year. As a longtime student of military operations, acquisition to support military operations, and the strategies developed for both, I found a number of similarities between my golf world and the military’s current issues regarding operations, strategy, and policy, especially as the Defense Department nears breaking the $700 billion mark in annual budgets.
Oct. 1, 2017
How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon
The reader of How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon will cheer, groan, and have core beliefs reinforced and challenged—everything a good book should do. Rosa Brooks argues that warfare is changing, the military is taking on way too much, and U.S. national security is in peril as a result. The book is especially timely given calls for increased military spending while simultaneously drastically cutting State Department and foreign aid funding.
G.S. Isserson and the War of the Future: Key Writings of a Soviet Military Theorist
On December 8, 1594, William Louis of Nassau, one of the commanders of the Dutch army, sent a letter to his cousin, Maurice of Nassau, in which he suggested a new way to deploy musketeers on the battlefield that significantly increased their rate of fire. He argued that six rotating ranks of musketeers could produce a continuous hail of fire, keeping the enemy at bay. This “volley” technique (known as the “European Countermarch” today) soon became the standard way of force deployment in European armies. It was part of the emerging military revolution that changed not only the ways to conduct wars but also the geopolitical balance in Europe and the general course of history.1 In 1532, 62 years before this pivotal work of the Counts of Nassau, another work of military significance was published—The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. While this book did not deal with military deployment per se, its significance as one of the fundamental works on political-military relations has been widely acknowledged through the centuries.
Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap?
Harvard sage Graham Allison has chosen to focus his considerable foreign policy expertise on the preeminent question of our age: how can we avoid a future war between its two most powerful nations? This book is a historically driven analysis of a topic he previously discussed in a prominent 2015 Atlantic article on the “Thucydides Trap.” In the classic work on the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides described the case of a disastrous conflict between a rising Athens and an established Sparta that brought Greek preeminence to a close. As a new U.S. administration grapples with a similar relationship, Allison provides key insights on the nature of the current problem while offering clues on how it can be successfully managed. He asserts a U.S.-China war is not inevitable, but conflict will continue to intensify as rising Chinese strength causes great concern for the United States and its allies.
Time in War
Time has always been considered a key element in war. Speed, by definition, derives from time: “distance traveled divided by the time of travel” is the usual definition. Over two millennia ago, Sun Tzu remarked on its importance, noting that “speed is the essence of war” and “divine swiftness” is to be “esteemed.”1 Carl von Clausewitz believed similarly, commenting that time had a major psychological effect that would help provide secrecy as well as speed.2 Not just theorists, but also practitioners (such as Napoleon as quoted in this article’s epigraph) have recognized the importance of time and timing in war. But what is time?
The Role of Space Norms in Protection and Defense
Over the past decade, the United States has participated in a variety of activities intended to shape international norms for outer space activities. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a norm as “That which is a model or a pattern; a type, a standard.” In the outer space context, norms have come to mean both “top down” high-level principles intended to inform the development of new international legal regimes and “bottom up” best practice guidelines intended to inform day-to-day operations.1 Both types of space norms have their value, but the latter have received the most attention in recent years because of their potential to enhance space safety and sustainability as the number of space actors grows and the nature of space activities changes. Much as roadway traffic rules prevent accidents and reduce congestion, safety-focused “space traffic management” norms, such as limiting debris, avoiding collisions, and sharing space surveillance information, can reduce the likelihood of accidents and protect valuable orbital regimes from the deleterious effects of long-lived space debris. All who operate in space will benefit from a more safe, predictable, and efficient operating environment.
Exploring a New System of Command and Control: The Case for U.S. Africa Command
The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) proposed several changes to improve the organization of the combatant commands (CCMDs) in its markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017. The first provision seeks to focus the CCMDs on their primary warfighting mission supporting the National Defense Strategy, limiting CCMD participation in other important, but nonessential, mission sets. A second proposal would “require the Secretary of Defense to conduct a pilot program on an alternative organizational structure at one combatant command . . . replacing the Service component commands with joint task forces [JTFs] focused on operational military missions. The Committee believes that this could provide lessons for improving the integration of operational efforts across the command, streamlining unnecessary layers of management, and reducing the number of staff.”1 Converting the command and control (C2) structure of a geographic CCMD from a group of Service component commands to a set of JTFs is achievable, despite congressionally mandated reductions in headquarters staff personnel and lack of a major combat operation in theater. While the final version of the NDAA removed this requirement, U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) would have been the ideal CCMD to test and evaluate this new C2 structure.
Are There Too Many General Officers for Today’s Military?
There are approximately 900 Active-duty general/flag officers (GO/FOs) today of 1.3 million troops. This is a ratio of 1 GO/FO for every 1,400 troops. During World War II, an admittedly different era, there were more than 2,000 GO/FOs for a little more than 12 million Active troops (1:6,000). This development represents “rank creep” that does not enhance mission success but clutters the chain of command, adds bureaucratic layers to decisions, and costs taxpayers additional money from funding higher paygrades to fill positions. As end-strength fluctuates, force structure and strength projections for the next decade show the uniformed Services maintaining substantial excess capacity at senior ranks. Although historical numbers are inexact guides and future threats could radically change circumstances, the case for reduction is strong. The Department of Defense (DOD) should reduce the numbers, billets, and percent of GO/FOs in each Service to increase efficiency, streamline decisionmaking, achieve modest cost savings, and enhance accountability of decisionmaking.
Human Terrain at the Crossroads
The U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS) was created in 2007 amid fears of defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Responding to clear needs expressed by military leadership, HTS was offered as an experimental effort to embed academic social scientists with Army and Marine Corps units to dramatically increase local sociocultural knowledge on the battlefield.1