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News | June 1, 2001

Managing Change: Capability, Adaptability, and Transformation

By Hans Binnendijk and Richard Kugler Defense Horizons 1


The Bush administration defense review is pointing to an era of far-reaching change in military strategy, forces, and technology. To succeed, this effort must be guided by a new set of strategic precepts. Since 1997, the precepts of shape, respond, prepare have helped guide how national security policy has approached change. In the coming years, capability, adaptability, and transformation can perform a similar function. The first and third precepts are well documented. The second, however, needs greater attention—not only because adaptability is important although easily overlooked, but also because it is a bridge between the other two precepts. These three precepts incorporate the main characteristics needed by the Armed Forces:

A core military capability to win wars today and support peacetime goals—a near-term concern.
The adaptability to modify that existing core capability to meet new strategic conditions—a mid-term concern.
A wise transformation that reorients the military to take advantage of new technologies for the long term.

These precepts are compatible but must be pursued in a balanced and integrated manner that reflects their interconnection. The pursuit of near-term capabilities should be accompanied by enhanced efforts to create broader options for the mid term, in ways that establish a sound strategic foundation for longer-term visions. The near-term capability of the military can be preserved by keeping them sufficiently large and ready and by improving them in selected areas. In the mid term, their flexibility can be strengthened by adopting broader employment plans, reengineering current organizational structures, and fielding emerging technologies. In the long term, they can be transformed not only by modernizing existing weapons, but also by acquiring new types of platforms and technologies. Even in an era of tight fiscal constraints, this threefold challenge can be met if a balanced approach is followed—thereby preserving the hard-won strategic effectiveness of the military not only in the coming years but the distant future as well.