By Christopher Whyte
Best Defense office of unmanned history
The question of whether or not the increasing deployment of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) is going to radically alter the nature of warfare and weapons development in the world has been given a number of different answers recently.
Noel Sharkey argued in the Guardian that minimal risk and advancing drone technologies will lead to a global unmanned arms race. My colleague Joseph Singh countered by pointing out that narrow focus and still-considerable expense means that drone forces will likely remain in niche roles, with great powers realizing that peer competitors will probably be able to deploy effective airspace defenses to counteract unmanned threats. But regardless of which point of view one subscribes to, the truth is that drones are quickly becoming a viable option for many countries looking to expand military capabilities.
To date, drones have proven to be effective in non-traditional theaters of war like Iraq and Afghanistan, performing in reconnaissance and strike roles alike to support anti-militant and other asymmetrical mission profiles. And though there has also been a clear move towards "navalizing" UCAVs, it is fairly clear that such platforms won't replace traditional manned combat platforms at sea wholesale anytime soon. The challenge of both taking such technologies from research to operational readiness and of replacing existing assets virtually ensures that any transition en masse to a drone-centric force posture will happen long-term, and would represent a major paradigmatic shift.
So what practical impact will drones have on the global military balance in the next couple of decades? One answer is simple. UCAVs in their present form may, and should, have most impact in the near-term as a tool for the U.S. to devolve commitments and to encourage the development of security forces that can effectively meet a number of challenges.
In particular, the U.S. should be encouraging allies in Europe and other relatively stable regions to develop and deploy drone technologies over other conventional aerial platforms. Poland's recent announcement that its near-obsolete bomber fleet will be replaced by three squadrons of combat drones in the next few years shows that such a move can be politically feasible. Moreover, the strategic incentives to go for drones are fairly clear. With the "pivot" to Asia underway, America is perceived to be moving both its policy focus and the bulk of its preponderant military strength from Europe and the Middle East towards the Pacific. And though Europe does not face threats as great as it did during the Cold War, there is still a need to maintain the regional capacity to respond to crises like those in Libya or, potentially, Syria.
The upshot of Europe's needs and Washington's move to rebalance in the Pacific is, of course, that the potential political, logistical, and financial steps needed to support a major operation in any of the theaters surrounding Europe become increasingly complex over time. Pushing allies to take a greater role in providing for regional security would largely solve that issue, but financial constraints and diminished popular backing for increasing military spending has meant that coordinating such an effort has been difficult.
The proliferation of drones to fill particular conventional roles in the militaries of Europe's security stakeholders could change that. UCAVs are significantly cheaper than conventional manned fighters. Moreover, UCAV effectiveness has proven to be contextual, with drones from the Predator to the Global Hawk thriving in environments where airspace is not heavily disputed and missions draw up short of invasive campaign.
This profile of capabilities clearly fits the needs of America's European allies, with the majority of the continent's near-term security challenges likely to revolve around the need to target asymmetrical threats or to protect civilians in civil warzones. Indeed, considering the general paucity of instances in which European military forces have had to engage advanced air defenses in recent years, it could be said that reliance on expensive manned aerial platforms for reconnaissance and strike operations is wasteful.
It is also the case that removing the human element from allies' air force operations could lead to reduced reliance on American military power and more balanced partner commitments. Though drone forces would still act in concert with smaller numbers of conventional manned fighters to penetrate defended airspace, a greater percentage of the risk involved in militarily intervening would be taken up by unmanned units.
This could reduce domestic aversion to involvement in international interventions amongst alliance partners and increase the action potential of those European countries that have traditionally played smaller roles in coalition campaigns.
The proliferation of UCAVs in their present form could even bolster the effectiveness of Europe's navies. Though the transition towards entirely-unmanned air wings and the infrastructural move away from manned combat aircraft is likely years away, the use of select drone platforms like the Sea Avenger could bring some of these advantages of cost, operational flexibility and willingness to the naval air forces of countries like Britain, France and Spain.
Ultimately, the broad deployment of UCAVs in the militaries of those partners left behind in the "pivot" makes substantive sense. Policymakers in Washington should realize that encouraging drone development could be a boon to U.S. security endeavors, and that unmanned platform could allow alliance partners in Europe to both maintain operational effectiveness and reduce costs.
Christopher Whyte is a researcher at the Center for a New American Security.
I've been reading No Easy Day, which I find a well-done but fairly typical tale by a Navy SEAL who by luck and hard work happened to be in on the bin Laden kill.
What worries me is all the talk of pre-publication review by the Pentagon. I know CIA does that sort of thing, but I don't remember the military doing it much. I read all the books by guys like Hugh Shelton, Tommy R. Franks, and David Crist, and I don't recall much talk of the Defense Department getting to peek at the books first. I mean, I doubt that Eisenhower submitted Crusade in Europe to some lawyer at the Pentagon before it went to press.
So I think it would be a bad thing if people came to expect some sort of right of the military to review memoirs. I suspect that a lot of the criticism of the book is being provoked not by legal concerns but by anger among SEALs and the like that the author violated the cultural code of the Special Ops community and blabbed.
Necessary disclosure: My books are published by Penguin Press, which is under the same corporate umbrella as Dutton, which published No Easy Day.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Maxx, an improvised explosive device detector dog, licks the face of his handler, Lance Cpl. Stephen Mader, during a convoy in southern Helmand province, Afghanistan, July 26. Mader, an IDD handler with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 6, volunteered for the job. He's an infantry mortarman by trade, but deployed to use Maxx to help sniff out IEDs and other explosive before they can damage vehicles or Marines."
Good for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs:
And one of the things that marks us as a profession in a democracy, in our form of democracy, that's most important is that we remain apolitical. . . . That's how we maintain our bond and trust with the American people.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Spencer Attackerman wrote last month somewhat mockingly about the Pentagon cracking down on soldiers watching porn on official computers. I actually think there is a clear and present danger in porn: I suspect it is the vehicle by which the Stuxnet virus was introduced into the computers running part of the Iranian nuclear program. (Reading Henry Crumpton's memoirs, I began to wonder if the CIA is a major buyer in the porn market, for use with North Korean diplomats, among other contacts. They probably have a "chief acquisition officer, pornography.")
If I were managing any official office that used computers -- which is to say all of them -- I would make watching porn on them a firing offense, not for moral reasons but for security reasons. And I would consider bringing criminal charges against anyone who actually used a thumbdrive to transfer porn into an official system.
And we're back. Some events since the beginning of July, when I took a breather from daily blogging.
--The Russians convicted the female punk band Pussy Riot of hooliganism (what a great word). Apparently beating and killing journalists to stop unfavorable coverage of those in power isn't a problem, but singing in the wrong place must be stopped. I think Putin is the world's biggest shmuck, edging Robert Mugabe. The Financial Times says the trial of the band should worry even investors. As one member of the band said in her closing statement, "This trial is highly typical and speaks volumes. The current government will have occasion to feel shame and embarrassment because of it for a long time to come. At each stage it has embodied a travesty of justice. As it turned out, our performance, at first a small and somewhat absurd act, snowballed into an enormous catastrophe. This would obviously not happen in a healthy society. Russia, as a state, has long resembled an organism sick to the core."
--The son of a senior Communist Party official in China was involved in a deadly crash in his Ferrari, perhaps whilst engaging in sex games. I am not sure this is what Marx and Lenin had in mind. More here about the Party's image.
--In the Navy's continuing Command Sweepstakes, the skipper of the USS Pittsburgh was hurled overboard after a just a week in command. Apparently the officer, who is married with a family, had gotten his 23-year-old girlfriend pregnant and then tried to end the affair by pretending to be dead. Also a helicopter squadron commander got the heave-ho, making 16 for the year.
--The former inspector general of the Air Force's 31st Fighter Wing in Italy was charged with sexual assault. Must be something in the water: A major in the 173rd Airborne, which also is based in Italy, apparently went down the same road with a female PFC.
--Wired's "Danger Room" had a thoughtful piece on Strator, which, according to the article, used its role as an information provider to tout an intelligence product in which it had a financial interest.
--McDonald's is opening some vegetarian-only outlets in India. I'd love to try the McSpicy Paneer. But in the long run I think I'd prefer a pizza Domino's sells in India, the "pizza keema do piazza," with spiced lamb.
By Kenneth E. Blackman
Best Defense guest commenter
The Defense Department, the veterans administration, and the Obama administration are missing an enormous opportunity to help wounded warriors, indeed every serviceman and woman returning from battle overseas.
There's a hugely successful program in North Carolina called the Citizen Soldier Support Program (CSSP) that maps data about the deployments of service members down to the local level, trains civilian health professionals to identify and treat those in their communities in need, and then connects the military, veterans, and their families with knowledgeable providers to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and other behavioral problems that result from combat and repeated rotations overseas.
Here's the rub: Federal funding has run out and the program is about to go out of business, despite memos of support from former Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, two letters from North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan, another from four influential Tar Heel Congressmen (David Price, Mike McIntyre, Walter Jones, and Larry Kissell), and applause from virtually all who have looked at this effort.
The Citizen Soldier Support Program began with $9.8 million dollars from Congress in 2005-2007. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill serves as host (who says academe doesn't care about the military?). The focus is on military members and their families, especially in the reserves and National Guard, and especially in rural, sparsely populated, and other under-served areas -- in other words, those areas where the military and the veterans' administration aren't reaching the people who need help.
Check it out at www.citizensoldiersupport.org. It's unique -- no other program like it in the country. It starts by mapping the service populations by home zip code. For example, there are currently reservists and National Guardsmen and women in all but 12 U.S. counties (out of 3141 nationally). There are reserve/Guard vets of the Iraq, Afghanistan, and other deployments in all but 27 counties. So the first contribution is locating all those eligible, and their dependents. Take a look.
Then the program trains behavioral (and other) health providers onsite and online -- to date, over 20,000 practicing in all 50 states. Then it tracks the distribution of those trained and matches them against the needs identified in the mapping of deployment data. CSSP offers nationally recognized courses on PTSD, TBI, issues relating to women in combat, issues of importance to military families, and the like. There's training focused on primary care physicians and optometrists to recognize these injuries during routine examinations. All courses are available for free and the cost of continuing education credits is covered.
Last, the program contains a web-based, searchable database of providers to connect them with service members and their families who are in need. This database is modeled on the one developed for North Carolina, where there are more than 1200 total providers in 96 of the 100 counties. The goal is three trained health providers within 30 minutes of every service and family member who needs it -- nationwide.
For over two years, CSSP has sought re-funding from the Defense Department, Veterans Administration, and other government agencies at the highest levels, including speaking directly with the Secretary of Defense, the current and former Joint Chiefs Chairmen, and the Staff of the First Lady. They have had ample opportunity to act but have not, despite White House efforts to marshal the involvement of the nation's leading professional medical associations. The issues facing our returned and returning military population, veterans, and their families are not a government problem; they are a national crisis that is only going to get worse.
The Citizen Soldier Support Program is led by Bob Goodale, a retired CEO of the Harris Teeter supermarket chain, and retired LTC Bill Abb, a veteran of 21 years on active duty in the army. They have been working cooperatively with all these agencies, including the White House Joining Forces effort, and countless others at the local, state and national levels -- not as competitors but to complement and to help.
What puzzles CSSP, and its distinguished advisory board led by a retired Chief of the Army Reserves and a retired Adjutant General of the North Carolina National Guard, is why with all this support, after all these efforts at the highest levels of government, this program will die. It needs immediate funding to continue and then long-term money to realize its national potential -- in total, some $18 or 20 million over five years.
From the start of his first presidential campaign in 2007, Barack Obama has reached out to the military, emphasizing the needs of our soldiers and our military families. His bureaucrats say "they have it covered." But they don't -- not like this, not at the community level, not training local health providers, not focusing on the Guard and reserves and their vets. Last Friday the president essentially admitted that by issuing an executive order full of plans for interagency cooperation, partnering with community mental health services, new plans for more planning, hiring more therapists, creating pilot programs, and more -- proof positive of the crying need to expand mental health services to the military.
Everybody knows that Active Duty Service Members have overwhelmed the military's mental health resources, forcing referrals to local civilian providers. Everybody knows that deployments affect far more than those who went overseas: parents, spouses, siblings, significant others, children, and more. Everyone knows that it takes weeks or months for far too many wounded warriors to get help and that many vets are hours away from the nearest VA facility -- and that help often requires months of waiting and involves terribly frustrating runarounds. Suicides among current and former military have skyrocketed -- July just saw the worst monthly total on record among those on active duty, and those suicides are only the tip of the iceberg.
In that same month of July, the Pentagon asked Congress to allow $708 million appropriated for TRICARE, the health insurance for service members and vets, to be reprogrammed for use elsewhere. Twenty-four members of the House Armed Services Committee asked that the money be focused on PTSD, TBI, and related problems. What better use of the money than to find and connect health providers to those wounded, and their families, who aren't getting help from the VA or the military health system?
The president and first lady will soon be in North Carolina for the Democratic convention. His Executive Order sets in motion all sorts of good efforts but they will take months and years to implement. The Citizen Soldier Support Program is up and running, succeeding, and using the private sector -- health providers in local communities all across the country -- to identify those who need help, and getting it to them through professionals practicing right next door. If the president wants to be consistent with everything he's doing to support our military, and his own Executive Order, he will order the Pentagon or the VA, or both, to continue the Citizen Soldier Support Program, and announce it loudly to the Convention and the country. If he won't act, then Congress should. Not a single soldier or family should be left to suffer if help can be provided.
Kenneth E. Blackman, PhD, served four years in the Air Force Security Service and has spent a career in the biomedical and substance abuse treatment field. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Alcohol Drug Council of North Carolina and as a volunteer veteran representative in the Jail Diversion and Trauma Recovery Program.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on December 2, 2011.
I found this essay, which until now has only been available on an internal Army website, quite striking. It essentially asks: How could a place that prides itself on its honor code tolerate sadism?
Just FYI, the author's own title for this piece is "Cool on Honor: Sadism, Cruelty, and Character Development at West Point."
By Lt. Col. Peter Fromm, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Best Defense department of military ethics
Cool on Honor: Sadism, Cruelty, and Character Development at West Point
I have had one serious unanswered injustice done to me in my life, and it occurred when I was 21 years old. I mean "unanswered" in the sense of reciprocity-there has been no accounting for this injustice. I have always wanted to write about it, not because of self-pity but because of something I learned from it that has grown on me over the years. This personal essay describes it as a snapshot from the Army's troubled times in the 1970s. The story surfaces one important aspect about leadership and stewardship in the modern Army: the antithetical relationship between gratuitous cruelty and honor and the duty to do something about it. In my experience as an Army ethicist, having been sent to graduate school for that purpose, I have seen this antithetical relationship as potentially the most important ethical failure the institution faces. I say this because the institution puts weapons in the hands of young, inexperienced people and then gives them the power of life and death over others. If we do not do all that we can to get this part of Army culture right (the relationship between cruelty and honor), we stand convicted of hypocrisy of the worst kind.
When the Army educated me to teach ethics (a sign of health in the organization that it actually does such a thing), I developed an eye for institutional moral window dressing. That's mostly what I want to talk about here. In the Odyssey, Homer says that "the blade itself incites to violence." I want to rephrase that beautiful observation to say that "power over others incites to cruelty." When one exercises power over another, if there is a lack of moral sense, of maturity, or of wisdom in the execution, it inevitably becomes entangled with that most basic of impulses, sexual dynamics.
Best Defense TV reviewer
I'm embarrassed to admit, I recently watched a long portion of the second episode of the new "reality" TV show Stars Earn Stripes. The premise of the show is that eight D-list "celebrities" -- predominately reality TV returnees, washed up actors, and athletes -- train with former U.S. military servicemembers and first responders and take part in "missions" to demonstrate their prowess and nominally learn/appreciate something about military life. There's also a Survivor element to the "contest" where a non-performing team is dismissed each episode. The "stripes" the remaining teams earn equate to $10,000 donations to service-oriented charities like the Wounded Warrior Project and their ilk. NBC claims the show will "pay homage to the men and women who serve in the U.S. armed forces."
I found the program
lame and somewhat sad. Anyone with military experience would laugh at the
canned explosions -- M203 rounds do not blow up like that, especially when the
blue training round lands under rather than in the target. ( I'm looking at you,
Picabo Street.) The "tasks" that the "celebs" were charged to execute
were laughable. Indeed, the marksmanship demonstrated (even by the military
professionals) wasn't that impressive given the high powered rifle sights,
supported firing positions, and short distances to the target.
But the real kickers were the unconvincing hostess Samantha Harris -- who previously co-hosted Dancing with the Stars, wearing sexy combat chic clothing that would make the Scud Stud blush, and General (Retired) Wesley Clark -- the opportunist flag officer and onetime presidential candidate everyone loves to hate. The two co-hosts, respectively, bat their eyes and look grim and try to sell the concept as a credit to the troops, but the show devolves "combat" down to a series of Darby Queen obstacles with embedded squibs and targets that don't shoot back.
How sad to see General Clark leering over a fake TV screen (badly overlaid on a circular table) in a fake command post, giving orders and commentary with fake gravitas. But Clark is well known for narcissism and never finding a camera he didn't love. The late David Hackworth once called Wes Clark a Perfumed Prince -- and later retracted his comment -- but this made-for-TV endeavor seems to validate the moniker.
What's most worrisome about this show is that it is a show, sold as entertainment. A squad of Nobel laureates has already criticized the program calling Stars Earn Stripes a "sanitation of war ... likening it to an athletic competition." They called for the show's cancellation stating: "It is our belief that this program pays homage to no one anywhere and continues and expands on an inglorious tradition of glorifying war and armed violence. Real war is down in the dirt deadly. People -- military and civilians --die in ways that are anything but entertaining."
I have to agree with their sentiment, especially given the ham-handed nature of the exercises. There's no real danger, and no real consequences. I'm sure the celebs retire to their Hollywood mansions after each camera shoot, whereas, somewhere in Afghanistan, PFC "Snuffy" finishes his real "shoot" and retires to his tent built for 6-8 of his closest squadmates. Surprising no one, I hope, there's no reality in this reality TV. Even if this show was a well-meaning effort to bridge an increasing civil-military divide (as Clark claims), it is so poorly executed that it marginalizes the efforts of U.S. troops in the field. That's what makes Clark's involvement all the more worrisome. The public doesn't know that Clark is not overly respected within the ranks, and likely accepts his involvement as a military stamp of approval.
The Army Profession campaign has spent almost two years trying to discern the impact of a decade of war on the profession. One of the ideas the campaign members have been considering is the concept of a "non-acting professional." In this case, they have been trying to analyze the role of the military retiree (p. 24) within the profession. This need arose as many general officers (e.g. Clark and Honore) took to the papers and the airwaves commenting on military operations and politics (e.g. Newbold, Batiste) from the safety of their retirement. The ongoing concern remains allowing for the proper balance of dissent, First Amendment rights and the role of former government servants -- who, it should be remembered, remain subject to recall to active service. This is a continuing discussion that will not be resolved anytime soon.
Clark's latest TV endeavor is more embarrassing than harmful, and likely grazes but does not fall within the area of concern which the Army Campaign is exploring. But I do think Stars Earns Stripes undermines the hard work of our servicemembers around the globe, by turning combat-lite into a game show. The fact that the show is giving money to veterans groups doesn't redeem it in the least.
The best way to get rid of such a show is not to watch it. Unfortunately, an estimated 5.4 million Americans watched the Stars Earns Stripes first episode. We're rapidly headed towards the world hypothesized in Mike Judge's Idiocracy, where the top TV show was Oww, my balls. [Note: Another reality TV show, this season's America's Got Talent, actually featured a segment that easily could have been titled Oww, my balls].The quality of what passes for entertainment is worrisome and getting worse.
I've often argued for a Sunday primetime reality TV show (probably on the fourth place network), filming soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines with all their glory (and warts) in theater. Each week would spotlight a different unit, in a different place -- not unlike news reels from World War II. If it was honestly handled, I think that would be a hit show that really better communicates what combat and service means while drawing some much needed attention to the troopers in the field. That would also be a worthwhile bridging effort for that civil-military divide we are always so concerned about. I'll keep waiting; meanwhile, I'll hope that Clark gets his face off of TV and Stars Earns Stripes goes AWOL.
"Hunter" is an Army officer. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, the federal government, the College of Cardinals, the bullpen of the Washington Nationals, or "The Itchy and Scratchy Show." Then again, they might. Especially the bullpen guys.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on April 18, 2011.
Here's a thoughtful response to the post I had last week about where the post-2011 U.S. military presence in Iraq might be based.
Meanwhile, on the Southern Iraq watch: Someone bombed a U.S. convoy near Hilla the other day.
By Adam L. Silverman, Ph.D.
Best Defense guest Iraqi affairs analyst
While I appreciate both Ambassador Ryan Crocker's remarks and forethought on this, as well as Mr. Ricks' commentary, and keeping in mind that I've not been in Iraq since the end of 2008, I think that any meaningful attempt to renegotiate the security agreement, or parts of it, are very unlikely.
I do think that you're going to see an ongoing, but comparatively small U.S. presence of trainers covered under the Security Force Advising concept, but we're talking relatively small footprint here. The Iraqis, and here I'm referring to every major faction, have made it very, very clear beginning with our Sawha allies out in Anbar starting back in 2007, that they are waiting for us to leave. They are waiting for us to leave in order to settle scores. The Sunnis and non-expatriate Shiite that make up the Sawha and primary opposition that composed the Iraqiyya Party (which was disenfranchised from forming the most recent Iraqi government after winning the largest plurality due to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's directing the power of the state at them in a successful attempt to reverse the electoral outcome) know they can't really win a head on confrontation, but they've made it repeatedly clear that they are ready to fight (back). Maliki is waiting for us to go so that he can cut his forces loose on these folks once and for all and put an end to them. The Sadrists want us gone -- badly! The Kurds want their own state and are just waiting for us to stop paying attention long enough so that they can find an opportune moment to declare independence. Moreover, given past and/or ongoing Iranian support for the bulk of the parties in the governing coalition (Dawa, Sadrists, the Kurds, ISCI/Badr) they won't allow their proxies to agree to anything that significantly prolongs any significant U.S. presence. They'll tolerate training of security forces as a large number of the Arab portion of the Iraqi Army (IA) are Badr Corps, which is tied directly to the Quds Force. So whatever we teach the IA, we're teaching the Iranians. No need for subterfuge at all.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on March 25, 2011.
There's a good new study out of interagency high value target teams and the role they played in Iraq in 2007. Secret Weapon: High-value Target Teams as an Organizational Innovation, by Christopher Lamb and Evan Munsing, argues that the interagency targeting teams are neither well understood nor much liked inside the national security establishment. It also is one of the most interesting monographs I've read in some time.
The study's core conclusion is that, in Iraq in 2007, "the interagency teams used to target enemy clandestine networks were a major, even indispensable, catalyst for success" (6) Even so, the authors note, the bureaucracies in Washington were not much interested in supporting them. "Cajoling parent organizations for support was a major preoccupation of senior leaders in Iraq." (58)
The most compelling part of the study is the discussion of interviews with former members of the high-value targeting teams about what worked and why. Some highlights:
--The single greatest variable of success was "access to the most senior decision makers...because it allowed the interagency teams to bypass multiple layers of mid level approval and obtain cooperation that otherwise would not have been forthcoming " (40)
--Middle management at the home headquarters and agencies of team members proved to be an impediment to information sharing, which was not the case with top management. The way to get around this, the study says, was to recruit personnel with enough seniority and experience to enjoy direct access to top level officials.
--Smaller teams generally worked better than large ones. "Team members we interviewed ...agreed that smaller teams, usually 8 to 15 people, were more effective and allowed greater cohesion and trust."
--The safer the area in which a team was based, the more pronounced bureaucratic differences became, with the Green Zone being the obvious example of a bad environment in which the sense of a common purpose was undermined.
--Teams that tried to operate "virtually" were far less effective than those that were physically co-located, eating and living together.
--One area that required constant attention resulted from the different view points of SOF and intelligence analysts. "There was a constant tension between the desire of the intelligence organizations to develop sources and targets and the desire of ... operators to take out targets even at the expense of compromising sources." (45)
--The SOF general overseeing the joint targeting teams found that in order to get cooperation from CIA, FBI and other officials, SOF culture had to change to become more transparent. "SOF Task Force personnel were directed to set the example by being first to give more information. They were told to ‘share until it hurts.' As one commander explained it, ‘If you are sharing information to the degree where you think, "Holy cow, I am going to go to jail," then you are in the right area of sharing.' The point was to build trust, and information-sharing was the icebreaker." (46)
--The leadership of the teams was hand-picked by the SOF general. He knew that the team leaders had only limited authority over their team members and so could not order, but only ask, their members to do things, so he chose officers he thought were hyper active Type As who could pull back to Type B as needed.
It took several years for the teams to become effective, but "By 2007, the interagency high-value target teams were a high-volume, awe-inspiring machine that had to be carefully directed." (50) As it happened, there was a new top American commander who came, Gen. Petraeus, who embraced the teams and used them effectively.
Unfortunately, they conclude, once the crisis passed, the bureaucracies back in Washington who were contributing to the teams began to lose interest in supporting them. They also began to re-assert their own priorities. "By 2008, other departments and agencies, particularly one unidentified intelligence agency, began pulling back people and cooperation, believing information-sharing and collaboration had gone too far." (54)
It reminds me of something I once read about the British defense against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain, that the real trick was not radar but the organization that was able to combine radar, radio and aircraft to get the right planes to the right places at the right times, and keep doing it for months.
The U.S. Army/Flickr
By Joseph Singh
Best Defense diplomatic desk
The U.S. may be seeking an unconditional partner in its effort to rebalance towards Asia, but it shouldn't hedge its bets on India. "We want strategic autonomy. We don't want to be identified with U.S. policy in Asia, even if we secretly like it," Ambassador T. P. Sreenivasan, retired Indian diplomat and former Permanent Representative for India at the United Nations, said at an August 9 event hosted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
Sreenivasan painted a complicated picture of U.S.-India relationships, mired by domestic political pandering, a history of distrust between the two countries, and a concern that a firm commitment to the American rebalancing effort will further aggravate tensions in a rapidly changing Asian strategic landscape.
Despite these challenges, however, U.S.-India cooperation is closer than ever. Indeed, as Sreenivasan sees it, the rebalancing effort has incentivized a more accommodating U.S. approach toward India. In 2010, President Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to endorse permanent membership for India on the U.N. Security Council. He also reversed previous U.S. policy opposing India's application to join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation economic forum. The U.S.-India strategic dialogue, launched in 2011, included a host of agreements on a wide range of issues including collaborative endeavors in higher education and clean energy to increased cooperation on cyber security. And earlier this year, the Defense Strategic guidance specifically acknowledged that a "long-term strategic partnership" with India is vital if the U.S. is to achieve its goals in East Asia.
To be sure, there are concrete reasons for India to support the U.S. rebalancing. Its relationship with China is handicapped by a host of intractable issues, including a disputed border between the two countries, increasingly close Sino-Pakistani relations, and Chinese access to India's Himalayan water supply, which the government fears it could one day divert.
But ultimately, U.S. policymakers believe that an increasingly muscular China will most magnify tensions in the congested maritime landscape. A U.S. naval and air presence would be India's best parry against a China that could use its growing military prowess to resolve regional schisms -- or so American policymakers have tried to convince their Indian counterparts. U.S. strategy, as laid out in the guidance, is to draw India into a regional alliance to hedge against China through gradually increasing military cooperation, beginning with humanitarian missions, and then progressing towards high-profile operations, such as naval special warfare exercises. Strong intergovernmental and interagency cooperation, intelligence sharing and collaborative efforts in weapons development will herald new and historic strength in partnership, according the guidance.
No doubt, military cooperation between the two countries is at an all time high. Yet there are reasons to question that the Indians that the Indians will translate this increased cooperation into concrete strategic alignment. For one, India remains skeptical that the U.S. would actually defend core Indian interests in the face of Chinese aggression. It sees U.S. involvement in the region as fundamentally self-serving, with the transactional arrangement between the U.S. and Pakistan constituting the case-in-point. Indeed, the rebalancing will do little to assuage Indian concerns about growing Sino-Pakistani cooperation. Instead, India believes its foremost interest is in retaining its "strategic autonomy" to retain the capacity to respond to potential threats on its own terms. But as a recent CSIS report notes, "Rather than being guided by an overarching national security strategy or strategic planning documents, these decisions are usually made on a case-by-case basis."
Second, India fears that the U.S. move away from the Middle East will result in sparse resources for Afghanistan and counterterrorism efforts writ-large. India has already poured billions of dollars into reconstruction and development aid in Afghanistan, and has committed to training Afghan security forces as the U.S. drawdown continues. A rushed withdrawal or scant deployment of residual forces could leave the country unprepared to provide for its own security and serve to reignite insurgencies, spark civil war and close a crucial gateway for trade in Central Asia. If the Indians are preoccupied with guaranteeing stability in their own backyard, they will be unable to look eastwards.
Finally, increased U.S.-India defense cooperation is complicated by India's close defense relationship with Russia. India, which is the world's leader in defense technology imports, purchases over three quarters of its military technology from Russia. Recent efforts to increase U.S.-Indian defense cooperation haven't been successful, the most notable example being India's decision to deny American firms a $12 billion contract for fighter jets. Thus, bold policy pronouncements relaxing export barriers on U.S. defense technology, for example, while potentially fruitful for long-term cooperation, will be unlikely to unravel Russian industry's grasp on the Indian defense apparatus.
At the moment, it seems the Indian government's insistence on strategic autonomy may be concealing what is more likely a state of policy paralysis. On the one hand, India is concerned by increased Chinese assertiveness in the region, but also fears that throwing its military heft behind U.S. rebalancing efforts will induce further economic and military instability and hurt relations with Asian countries that feel Chinese growth is benign. Until India reasons that these latter risks are outweighed by the threat posed by Chinese regional hegemony, its strategic calculus is unlikely to change.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on March 14, 2011.
The more I study President Johnson's handling of the Vietnam War, the more nervous I get about the Obama Administration.
I am still thinking this through, but when I read the history of LBJ and Vietnam, I see him looking at the world through congressional glasses. He seems to thinks that Hanoi is like the opposition in the Senate, something to be cajoled and manipulated. He does not realize he is fighting a limited war but that his Vietnamese enemy is not, and that the Communist leadership really thinks and lives outside his known world. They are not into "signals."
I don't think President Obama is excessively congressional in his outlook. But I fear Vice President Biden is. What's more, they've compounded the error by stocking the White House staff with like-minded people, such as a national security advisor who was a lobbyist and a deputy national security advisor who was a Hill staffer. That comes on top of a president, a vice president and a secretary of State who all came directly from the Senate. That is a very narrow, very peculiar range of experience to bring to the task of dealing with the world out there, especially as Congress has been unusually weak in national security over the last 15 years, to the point that if often has been irrelevant to the discussion. I can't think of a national security team with a background as narrow as this one. Why put on blinders voluntarily? Whatever happened to the "Team of Rivals" concept? How about mixing in some academic knowledge, military experience, journalistic savvy, or business acumen? And if they are so good on the politics of it, which is the one thing they should be, how could they screw up Guantanamo so badly? And why have they left a dysfunctional team in place in Afghanistan?
In addition, Hill staffers who move into the executive branch tend to worry me a bit. I remember covering Les Aspin as a defense secretary and being surprised at how little he really knew about how the military operated, especially beyond the Pentagon. I think former Hill people often focus too much on Congress, and sometimes defer to it in a way that I suspect is inconsistent with the Founding Fathers' intent in creating an adversarial system of competing branches of government. In addition, I suspect that some former Hill staffers retain the habit of excessive deference to the boss, when sometimes the job for the head of an executive agency is privately telling the boss he is wrong before he goes public with it. Exhibit A is George "Slam Dunk" Tenet, who gave his president too much of what that president wanted and too little of what he needed.
Most of all, the congressional mentality sees little danger in inaction. On Capitol Hill, there's always the next term. That's not the case in foreign policy, where opportunities slip away never to return. Lost time is not found again. I think Obama handled Egypt well, but he didn't have to do much there except speak well, which he does consistently. On Libya, though, dithering is dangerous. If you wait for an international consensus to emerge, it probably won't. I am not saying we should do a no-fly zone. I am saying there are many other steps we could take, as I have written aboutbefore.
If we have a foreign policy disaster on Obama's watch, I think historians will zero in on the dangerous lack of diversity in the backgrounds and viewpoints of his key national security advisors. I wonder how Samantha Power, the former journalist who is the NSC's director for multilateral affairs and human rights, stands it.
So, while I haven't turned in my Obama fan card yet, I am not sure I am gonna renew it.
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith became our first openly gay general on Friday when she was promoted from colonel. It is an interesting moment, in part because it is so uncontroversial.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Military working dog handlers with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, I-MEF, have been participating in Large Scale Exercise-1, Javelin Thrust 2012. From left to right: Cpl. John Brady, with his patrol explosive detector dog, Tesa. Cpl. Fidel Rodriguez, with his combat tracker dog, Aron. Cpl. Dwight Jackson, with his patrol explosive detector dog, Hugo. Lance Cpl. Isaiah White, with his specialized search dog, Moxie. This photo was taken in July at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, CA.
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Free Press.
By Andrew Borene
Best Defense office of non-human resources
In the coming decade we face an economic choice. If America buys robots from the world, America saves millions of dollars and nets some efficiency gain. If we make and sell robots to the world, America creates millions of jobs in a technology revolution.
Let's exert some national energy on developing a U.S. strategy for global leadership in robotics. Like computer science in the 1980's, today's robotics technologies are becoming an important piece of our economic infrastructure -- if we ignore this trend it will be a great lost opportunity for our nation.
The time is now to secure America's place in the supply-side of the global robotics economic curve. America's leadership needs to start thinking about how we can design, build, and service robots in the U.S., and sell them around the world.
Global demand for robotics is surging. In our lifetime, all developed countries will be forced into positions as net robotics consumers or net robotics producers. All will benefit, but the robotics producers will be on the receiving end of millions of high-paying jobs to be created in the coming decades.
Europe, Japan, and South Korea are well aware of these 21st
century opportunities. The South Koreans have already committed government
investment on the order of $750 million into the very broad mission of becoming
the world's #1 robot exporter. This year, the U.S. is looking at about $70
million in a narrowly-focused president's National Robotics Initiative.
Predator drones have increasingly grabbed international headlines, but the urgent need for government action in robotics is not on military frontlines -- it's on American assembly lines.
The Economist magazine's recent quarterly technology report included a breakout section on robotics in war and the important considerations about using deadly force and international humanitarian law. The documented rapid proliferation of military robotic systems raises important policy and ethical considerations as these technologies become larger parts of military, security and police force structures around the world.
Yet a narrow focus on military robotics will distract us from the enormous benefits robots and robot-assisted solutions already also provide in agriculture, medicine, manufacturing, and other industries around the world. Soon robots will also move into U.S. civilian transportation arenas, whether by air (as a result of the recent FAA bill which opens civilian U.S. airspace to drones) or on the ground (with self-park technologies embedded in automobiles and Google's driverless cars).
American leadership should be focused on developing more stories like the headline, "From Rust Belt to Drone Belt" in the Atlantic magazine, which highlights one Midwestern community college's efforts to train workers for the robotic economy of the future.
What's needed now is action to establish the United States as a strong leader in the robotics industry. Improved science education, forward-looking industrial development, and partnerships that bring international elements from the private sector together with government and scientific community leaders are well advised.
Andrew Borene is an executive at ReconRobotics, Inc. in Edina, Minnesota and adjunct professor of political science at Macalester College. He is the Executive Director of RoboticsAlley.org
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on February 4, 2011.
The fun I had helping a neighbor at Christmastime with the Audubon annual census of birds on our island inspired me to read Sibley's Birding Basics. As I did, I was struck by how you could read some of his instructions as a supplement to David Kilcullen's recommendations on observing insurgents.
--"Watch the edges of the flock and pay special attention to outlying birds or those that act differently; they may be a different species."
--"Consider the time of day."
--"Anticipate the birds' needs."
--"Follow the birds. If you find a number of birds in an area, consider why they might be there. Is there a concentration of food? Is it a warm or cool spot?"
--"Another important point for beginners to understand is that bird identification is not an exact science and often does not involve absolute certainty."
--"Looking at a bird with prejudice, having already determined that it is likely to be one species and leading only to confirm that identification, will lead you into error.… Guard against forming an opinion until all of the evidence is in."
Also, be ready for the unexpected: I was surprised that Sibley lists Central Park, smack in middle of the concrete canyons of New York City, as great bird-watching spot. The reason, he writes, is that migrating birds gravitate toward it, as "the largest patch of natural habitat in the area" -- not unlike, he writes, a desert oasis.
Of course, both bird-watching and dealing with insurgents began by hunting them down and killing them, until those doing the shooting realized there often might be a better approach. With knowledge comes the understanding that hawks act differently from shrikes, and a strong tribe differently from a marginalized one.
Speaking of growing understanding, I finished reading Senator's Son, which takes that as its theme. I enjoyed it enormously. More next week about that.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on January 27, 2011.
On the metro into DC I read Roger Spiller's essay on how wars end, in the Col. Matthew Moten volume about how wars end that I mentioned a few weeks ago. Spiller is a mighty quotable writer, so here are some of the things I underlined:
--"military doctrine is above all a modern army's way of thinking out loud about what it must do next." (p. 20)
--"wars are defined not by their extremes but their limitations" (p. 25)
--"The Civil War was to all intents and purposes a West Pointer's war: Academy graduates commanded on both sides in fifty-five of the sixty largest battles, and on one side in the rest." (p. 28)
--"From Tet onward the United States was on the strategic defensive." (p. 39)
--"the course by which a war ends, if embarked on without care, can be as dangerous to a nation's vital interests as the war itself, regardless of the war's military results." (p. 41)
By Mackubin Thomas Owens
Best Defense department of civil-military relations
It is fair to say that most Americans do not pay much attention to civil-military relations (CMR) and on the rare occasions when they do, they equate the term almost exclusively with civilian control of the military.
There are a couple of reasons for this:
First, U.S. CMRs appear to be fairly healthy, especially in terms of civilian control. The U.S. military as an institution seems to have internalized a commitment to civilian control. Second, most of those who have written about U.S. CMR, from Sam Huntington to Richard Kohn and Peter Feaver, have focused on civilian control.
But this is problematic: It may cause citizens to miss other signs of unhealthy CMR.
For soldiers, this focus, especially as articulated by Huntington in The Soldier and the State, which provides an "ideal" formula for maintaining civilian control while also keeping the military strong, means that they will tend to focus on operational factors -- how to fight wars -- at the expense of strategy, the purpose for which a war is fought. In other words, they may fail to connect operational art, at which the U.S. military excels, to political goals.
My own argument is that it is necessary to take a broader perspective on CMR. Civilian control is important but it is not the only dimension of CMR. For citizens and soldiers to ignore the other dimensions of CMR runs the risk of placing the Republic in peril.
What do we mean by Civil-Military Relations?
The term "civil-military relations" refers broadly to the interaction between the armed forces of a state as an institution, the government, and the other sectors of the society in which the armed force is embedded. Civil-military relations have to do with allocating responsibilities and prerogatives between the civil government and the military establishment. It can be seen as "two hands on the sword." The civilian hand determines when the sword is drawn. The military hand keeps it sharp and wields it in combat, always guided by the purposes for which the war is being fought.
It appears to me that U.S. civil-military relations constitute a bargain, regarding the aforementioned allocation of prerogatives and responsibilities between the civilian leadership on the one hand and the military on the other.
There are three parties to the bargain: the American people, the government, and the military establishment. The bargain must be periodically re-negotiated to take account of political, social, technological, or geopolitical changes. There have been several renegotiations of the U.S. civil-military bargain over the past 70 years, including:
The central question we face today is whether another renegotiation is in the offing.
TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Somewhere in the Marshall Islands, cute aren't they?
We mean the puppies of course! These four Marines have taken over the job of being foster mother to the pups, after their real mother left behind by the Japanese, gave birth to a litter of 13 and couldn't take care of all of them. The Marines are (from left to right): 2nd Lt. G.H. Hoffman Jr., Corporal Louis R. Bonini, Corporal Edward J. Frankenbech, and Master Sergeant Harold "Porky" May. Their recipe for raising good, healthy puppies --plenty of C rations. All four Marines and puppies were attached to an aviation group with 4th Marine Air Wing."
This photo is taken from the Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections, ca. 1941-1945.
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Free Press.
By Ryan Woods
Best Defense office of packing light
Speaking of personally acquiring civilian gear to use (I have zero idea how common it is or what kinds of limiting/precluding rules there are, it sounds like it happens a fair bit) I have some tips for saving money:
Everyone in the military can get a promotive.com account with a DoD email account (it is a manufacturer's proform clearinghouse...generally 40 percent off MSRP, a great deal for some brands and more expensive than common retail on others, caveat emptor). Even if you don't want it for any kind of tactical gear, there's some sweet rec gear open to that team as well. (I am not affiliated with them in any way but do have an account.)
Along similar lines, a quick call to other brands (tactical or rec) might well yield access to their actual proform, often at much deeper discounts than 40 percent off. Usually marketing or customer service controls access.
Failing that, it is often possible to get wholesale/proform prices by going directly to a manufacturer with a group buy (generally need 10+ purchasers), eg: if everyone in a unit wants a pack (or one of several packs) from a manufacturer.
BTW, I appreciate all the responses they have been very interesting for me. One thing that still sticks in my craw a bit is the insistence that the weight of stuff is a given and/or necessary. The weight of a thing is not generally a feature, it is rather a byproduct of other engineering requirements or lack of thought. So far, I've got bullets and probably some minimum weight on a hand grenade where the actual mass of a thing has a beneficial component, not that both can't be optimized to be lighter necessarily. Sorry to hammer on this, but I cannot count the number of things where I didn't think about the weight of a thing until I got something lighter and realized how much better it was both in use and in the carrying.
By Janine Davidson
Best Defense officer of strategic corrections
Much has been made about the Defense department's January 2012 Strategic Guidance documents, (Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense and Defense Budget Priorities and Choices) and what they do and do not say about stability operations and counterinsurgency (COIN). Critics have misinterpreted DoD's decision not to size the future force for large-scale Iraq or Afghanistan-like stability operations as a rejection of COIN and stability operations as a key mission-type the military must be ready to conduct. Given America's preponderance of power, it is understandable that some may wish to plan for a world in which conventional war is the only type on offer. But military leaders who misinterpret the document's language as some sort of permission to throw out the lessons of the last ten years in order to organize, train, and equip for the types of conventional conflicts everyone would prefer to fight would be abrogating their responsibility to prepare the next generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines for the types of fights they will surely face.
The fact is, whether we call it "COIN," "stability operations," "peacekeeping," or "irregular warfare," such frustrating, complex, population-centric, and increasingly urban operations against and among savvy and networked non-state actors are simply a modern version of an age-old phenomenon. And they are here to stay. Contrary to what some might wish to believe, DoD's new guidance document recognizes this reality and directs the military to sustain competence and learning in this priority mission area.
Understanding the Guidance
To be fair to the critics, the language on COIN and stability operations in the guidance is a bit tortured, reflecting both the very strong sentiment among military leaders that such messy missions are something to be avoided or prevented if at all possible, as well as the cold hard reality that the military does not get to choose the types of wars it will fight or the enemies it will face.
The language that has people so worried is this:
Conduct Stability and Counterinsurgency Operations: In the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States will emphasize non-military means and military-to-military cooperation to address instability and reduce the demand for significant U.S. force commitments to stability operations. U.S. forces will nevertheless be ready to conduct limited counterinsurgency and other stability operations if required, operating alongside coalition forces wherever possible. Accordingly, U.S. forces will retain and continue to refine the lessons learned, expertise, and specialized capabilities that have been developed over the past ten years of counterinsurgency and stability operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations. [Italics original to document]
Critics zero in on the italicized line at the end of the paragraph referring to sizing the forces and infer the military will be "scaling back" or "shunning" stability operations. Such misinterpretation reads the line out of context, equates size with competence, and fails to appreciate how America raises its army and otherwise organizes, trains, and equips the force.
First of all, this paragraph is in the key section of the document, entitled "Primary Missions of the U.S. Armed Forces." So obviously the president and the secretary of Defense view these as key missions for which the force must be prepared.
Second, not sizing the force for large-scale operations like Iraq and Afghanistan is a responsible and prudent strategic approach. As these two huge wars wind down, of course the force will be down-sized. This is what we do after every war, no matter the type. It would irresponsible, and in fact unconstitutional, to do otherwise. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States clearly indicates the power of the Congress to "raise and support Armies..." but to "provide and maintain a Navy." This language is deliberate, as the founders did not want to maintain large expensive standing ground forces in peacetime. The Congress is empowered to appropriate money to expand the force as needed to fight wars. And that is exactly what happened during the past decade. Our force planning can and should account for our ability to do this again when needed.
For operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the army grew from just over 480,000 soldiers in 2001 to a peak of 570,000 just a couple of years ago. Likewise, the marine corp grew from approximately 170,000 to 210,000. Following redeployment from these wars, the new strategy calls for downsizing back to about 490,000 soldiers and 182,000 marines by 2017, (assuming we manage to disengage in Afghanistan) which is slightly larger than the what President George W. Bush inherited eleven years ago. And still, it is nearly four to five times the size of the ground forces of any of our NATO allies.
Third, let's not confuse size with competency. Not sizing for Iraqs or Afghanistans does not, and should not, mean forgetting how to conduct such missions -- no matter the size. Learning from this experience and sustaining competency is exactly what the guidance calls for the military to do: "U.S. forces will retain and continue to refine the lessons learned, expertise, and specialized capabilities that have been developed over the past ten years of counterinsurgency and stability operations in Iraq and Afghanistan."
But aside from clear strategic guidance to the military to organize, train, and equip itself with these missions in mind, there is clear historical precedent and emerging trends to suggest that failing to plan accordingly for these missions would be folly.
Avoiding mistakes of the past
Throughout its entire 250-year history, coin, stability operations, and nation building have been far from an "irregular" occurrence. The U.S. has conducted such missions -- on a large scale -- about every 25 years since the Mexican War in the 1840's. U.S. ground troops conducted nation-building, peace-keeping, and a series of counter-guerilla wars against American Indians on the western frontier throughout the 1800's. They conducted a bloody counterinsurgency in the Philippines (1898-1902), a number of "small wars" in the Caribbean (1930's), and occupation duty after the American Civil War and the two World Wars. Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has deployed every 18-24 months in response to complex crises of various size, with the average duration of these endeavors becoming increasingly protracted.
From the beginning, these missions have been frustrating and ill-defined, and they have always been controversial. Repeatedly, after each painful episode, the military has sought to avoid having to do them again by forgetting its doctrine and failing to plan, leaving the next generation to re-learn on the fly.
The U.S. army was so fed up with counterinsurgency after its bloody and protracted experience in the Philippines that it eagerly -- with the support of the secretary of War -- managed to turn the whole mission set over to the marines in the early 20th century. While the army focused on "real" war, the marines were sent to the Caribbean for the "Banana Wars," where they had to re-learn all the hard-learned lessons from old U.S. army manuals that were being discarded. The marine corps did allow a small team of officers to capture this Caribbean experience in the 1940 Small Wars Manual; but the mainstream corps had little appetite for these missions and was already trying to reinvent itself as specialists in amphibious operations. Once WW II began, the marines discarded its doctrine, training, and education for small wars in order to focus intensely on amphibious operations. This left the Vietnam generation to re-invent relevant doctrine once again.
Although the U.S. military was just as ill-prepared for its experience in Iraq and Afghanistan as it was for Vietnam, the current generation was arguably better able to adapt due to the lessons-learned processes and organizational culture that had evolved in the decades since Vietnam. Still, adaptation is not the same as organizational learning, and the aversion to these missions is a powerful force. Military leaders might be tempted to assume (or hope) that the past will not be prologue this time around; but that would be a mistake, again.
The Future Fight and the Force We Need
Today we face a global environment characterized by transnational criminals, terrorists, insurgents, and myriad illicit and violent bandits and traffickers. Some of these "bad guys" are aligned with nation states, but most operate in the gray space between what we consider crime and war. Importantly, our future enemies have been paying attention to our struggles against low-tech, high-impact fighters in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere and have been sharing their own "lessons learned" across global social networks. One lesson is clear: Go asymmetric and "irregular" against the U.S. military, because taking it on head to head conventionally would be just plain stupid. Tactics such as remotely detonated road-side bombs and suicide bombers are only the beginning, given the potential proliferation of new and increasingly less expensive unmanned vehicles, cyber technology, nuclear materials, and the enhanced ability to mobilize populations via social media. Demographic trends such as urbanization, the youth bulge, resource scarcity, and radicalization ensure that future conflicts requiring ground forces will occur in cities and slums and among populations, where differentiating friend from foe, and victim from "combatant," much less just trying to navigate through the crowded urban "battle space" will continue to plague traditionally-minded and conventionally trained ground forces.
Fortunately, preparing for these likely future missions is more about thinking, learning and organizing than about major high-dollar weapons systems. Yes, we should continue to invest in unmanned vehicles, Strykers, MRAPs, and other types of hardware that have proven valuable in these environments. But, just as important is the need to sustain education and training to ensure future military leaders are well versed in the latest doctrine on COIN, stability operations, peacekeeping, and mass atrocity response. Military institutions must continue to study and revise their doctrine in order to ensure that capabilities and innovations that enable ground forces to operate in urban environments among civilian populations and against "irregular" forces are retained. The Marine Corps' Lioness program, which places small, specially trained units of women marines among the population reflects the need to work among diverse populations, while respecting cultural customs regarding women. Likewise, the army's regional alignment of its force structure will enhance its ability to engage with real people on the ground when the time comes. The military should continue to develop special operations and civil affairs capabilities as key components for security force assistance, conflict prevention, and crisis response. Army modularity, which allows ground units to be scaled and tailored for various operations should continue to be developed, and competencies in foreign languages, interagency coordination, and human intelligence collection and analysis should be sustained and enhanced. Nothing in the recent guidance instructs or encourages the services to stop developing these key capabilities or otherwise abandon them. In fact it instructs the military to institutionalize these innovations.
Back to the Question of Size
So how then, do we size this new more enlightened and capable force to ensure success in future coin or stability operations missions? With 490,000 soldiers and 182,000 marines on active duty, plus the forces in the selected ready reserve (560,000 in the army and 39,000 in the marine corps), America's ground forces will arguably be large enough for stability operations of significant size even without needing to add to the force once a crisis hits. Still, there is no crystal ball to predict the exact scenario our military might face. Moreover, despite much debate, there is still no consensus over the question of how many ground troops are required to bring stability to a country of a given population. Clearly neither sizing the peacetime force for the largest imaginable stability operation, nor down-sizing and hoping we won't face another large-scale mission of this sort, is no way to plan. Because we have the demonstrated ability to grow the force and adapt once a war begins, the trick is to find the right size that allows us to conduct smaller and medium scale operations and to initiate an operation while scaling up for something larger if and when needed.
The Budget Priorities document makes this approach pretty clear:
While the U.S. does not anticipate engaging in prolonged, large-scale stability operations requiring a large rotation force in the near-to mid-term, we cannot rule out the possibility. If such a campaign were to occur, we would respond by mobilizing the Reserve Component and, overtime, regenerating Active Component end strength. Additionally, even as troop strength draws down, the Army, Marine Corps, and U.S. Special Operations Command will preserve expertise in security force assistance and counterinsurgency training.
But to do this, we need to be confident that we can access the capable and ready forces we need, when we need them. Being able to grow the force for large-scale missions if required means having a reserve component that is ready for mobilization and an active duty-training cadre that can deliver the expertise on demand. The DoD's plan to, "... leverage the operational experience and institute a progressive readiness model in the National Guard and Reserves in order to sustain increased readiness prior to mobilization," is aiming in the right direction. On the active duty side, the army and marine corps are both planning to retain a greater percentage of mid-grade NCO's and officers even as they downsize, reflecting their understanding that a slightly more senior force is not only required in the conduct of these complex missions, but is also the seed corn needed to train and grow a force if required.
Far from rejecting stab ops and coin or throwing out the lessons of the past ten years, the secretary's new strategic guidance and budget priorities clearly reflect the understanding that these missions are not likely to be avoided. Together, the documents present clear direction to the uniformed military not to repeat the mistakes of the past by planning for only the fights some might prefer to face. Such willful misinterpretation of the secretary's guidance would only be planning to fail.
Janine Davidson is assistant professor at George Mason University's Graduate School of Pubic Policy. From 2009-2012, she served as the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Plans, where she oversaw the development of guidance for military campaign and contingency plans and the review and assessment of plans. Before all that she was a pilot in the air force.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
I came across this wonderful photo of Butch and war-dog tribute in his honor on United States War Dog Association's Facebook page this week. I got in touch with the owner of the photograph, Tonja Dubois, and not only did she graciously give permission to share the image here (a photograph her father carried in his wallet until the day he died), but offered more of the story.
"According to my dad, Butch, a French Bulldog, was the unit mascot (sadly, I don't know the unit's identification information) and he was with the Air Force from the time he was a puppy. The whole unit took part in raising him.
Butch was a true companion to my dad and, according to Dad, 'one smart fellow.' He would accompany the men to the garage and "work" with the crew, fetching tools for the mechanics. He was a beloved dog among all the men but was clearly attached to my dad. They were tremendous friends and my dad doted on him with playtime, tricks, belly rubs, and walks.
Butch had such an impact on my father, that Dad developed a love for dogs that I have seen unmatched in other people. He didn't care what kind of dog it was; he loved it unconditionally.
From the way my father spoke of Butch, he was probably the first real confidante he had. He was also Dad's first dog. No other compared to him. Butch reigned supreme in my dad's heart until his death in February 2010."
Tonja writes that he father was allowed to adopt Butch when he left the military -- the Air Force relented after much begging. Butch lived at home with his favorite Airman until his death that, in a remarkable if not sad coincidence, came to pass on the very day Tonja was born in 1965.
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Free Press.
By Col. Chuck Bowes
Best Defense guest respondent
I challenge your premise that low-cost high school graduate conscription is a better way of staffing our military services.
Today's high school graduates suffer from systemically deficient abilities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) that poses considerable challenges to our increasingly technological military force. Research findings reported by the United States Mission to the Organization for Economic and Co-operation Development (OECD) reveals that U.S. middle school and high school students are habitually under-performing their international peers in STEM achievement measures.
President Obama, Secretary of Education Duncan, and Bill Gates also express concern that too few young people are acquiring the knowledge they need to use technology in creative and innovative ways. As U.S. student STEM achievement continues to race to the bottom of all industrialized competitors, adding non-volunteer recruits worsens the problem.
Today's graduates may quickly master the user-interface on commercial technologies, but if one of those competitors becomes a future adversary then our military recruits must be competent in the underlying STEM areas in order to adapt specialized military technologies to gain a competitive edge in cross-dimensional domains. A competitive edge is increasingly dependent on America's innovative edge. Absent another "Sputnik moment" that generates self-inspired reform for STEM achievement, the U.S. requires new concepts, new organizations, and new long-term strategies to develop agile young minds in order to retain our dominant military position.
For the U.S. to maintain
its competitive edge it must carefully develop children with high IQs to
achieve high levels of creative productivity. Intellectually gifted (IQs above
130) people have an above average innate ability to learn significantly faster
than their cohorts. The National Science Board also recognizes that gifted
students will form the next generation of STEM innovators.
Instead of reinstating a draft, I propose that our Defense Department train all of its officer candidates in ROTC programs and transform its military academies to become prep-schools that offer 3,000 intellectually gifted old youth a no-cost in-residence opportunity to specialize in STEM subjects during their early education. Further, we could provide many more free non-resident academies at public universities across the U.S. for just the cost of President Obama's $1.35 billion Race to the Top campaign.
An operating budget of
$1.35 billion equates to $11,000 per pupil yearly, which is 9 percent less than the
2010 national high school average of $12,018 per pupil, and 59 percent less than the
District of Columbia school system spends per pupil. These opportunities
should be specifically reserved for the students with the highest cognitive
potential, just as varsity teams are reserved for athletes with the highest
This proposal would provide the opportunity for the estimated 120,000 highly gifted students to participate in a highly challenging ability-based curriculum that accelerates their learning commensurate with their higher intellectual aptitude. Similar to the National Security Education Program and the CIA's Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholarship, graduates merit a "priority placement" hiring status and are excepted from competitive service under law as an incentive for long-term employment in the armed services and military industrial complex.
Since this proposal is an additive intervention, not a voucher system, it relieves pressures to provide special accommodations for gifted students without stripping money from public schools. Accordingly, the more gifted students in attendance, the more that public schools can fully focus their resources on educating the ‘vulnerable' students whom they commendably target now. Most colleges eagerly accept gifted students and leveraging their existing underutilized infrastructure benefits the college and offers a shrewd dividend to taxpayers created by decades of investments from many federal sources.
Colonel Chuck Bowes is an Air National Guard aviator and graduate of the U.S. Army War College. He is currently serving on active duty at Headquarters 18th Air Force, Scott AFB.
By Col. Larry Wexler (U.S. Army, ret.)
Best Defense department of first person experience
I served in Iraq from 2008-2009 and served as the deputy program director for LOGCAP Iraq. I was relieved of my duties in March 2009 after having apparently performed them just fine from October 2008 to March 2009. In January my supervisor recommended me for a Bronze Star for the work I was doing. He was stationed at Rock Island and came for a theater visit in February 2009. At no time did he mention any performance issues or his intentions to relieve me of my duties. What had transpired up to that time was I reported fraud, waste, and abuse on the part of the SERCO Management Contract and certain of the contractors and a failure to perform on the part of KBR on their contract. Prior to all this I had served 30 years in the Army in both active and reserve and extended my retirement a year to serve on the LOGCAP contract, had been promoted to Colonel, had command assignments up to 06 level and had attended the U.S. Army War College. I was also mobilized for two years on a joint assignment as the chief of staff of a deployable joint task force headquarters core element. In my civilian career I served as a vice president of corporate infrastructure -- essentially purchasing and contracting.
Up to the third week of March I had no communication that I was not performing my duties to my supervisors' satisfaction, in fact I had accomplished 90 percent of my performance objectives on my OER support form. I had built out a new life support area to improve the quality of life for those assigned to my detachment, have developed a better training plan, had developed a reception plan, had created a functional chain of command to provide better customer service, developed an SOP to ensure standardization across the detachment, and yet in March I received a call from my supervisor that I was being relieved (he wouldn't say why) and that I had one week to get my affairs in order and be on a plane out of Iraq. My predecessor, who was also relieved, as well as the DPD for Afghanistan who had been relieved, were all given a month to get their affairs in orders. I was given a week because KBR and SERCO wanted me out of country before the arrival of the Congressional committee on wartime contracting the first week of April. They did not want me to brief them on the fraud, waste, and abuse on both contracts. KBR also wanted me out of the picture because instead of just handing the base at Basra to them, I worked with JCC-I to bid out the base life support as fixed price contracts. KBR did not like losing Basra from the LOGCAP contract. They also wanted me out because I would have presented my case that the fraud, waste, and abuse -- and failure to perform in accordance with the respective contracts -- would cost them their award fee bonus. The retired general in charge of the KBR LOGCAP Contract in Iraq worked with his active duty general counterparts to have me removed, not for having failed to perform my duties, but for having the integrity not to look the other way when contractors behaved badly.
The Army still relieves commanders or those in positions of leadership, but as you can see not always for a good reason and those that should be relieved for condoning fraud, waste and abuse are not relieved because generals today for the most part look out for each to protect each other.
Col. Larry Wexler (USA, Ret.), is an Armor Officer with over thirty years of commissioned service, both active and reserve. He has served at all levels of command from platoon through group and is a U.S. Army War College graduate. He was mobilized and deployed twice to Iraq.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on May 27, 2010.
I had a couple of flights yesterday so I caught up on my reading of military magazines -- Proceedings, Marine Corps Gazette, Air Force, and Army. Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, the Army's highest-ranking psychiatrist, tells her service's magazine what sort of homecoming soldier worries her most:
As a psychiatrist, I must say that an individual who comes back from 12 to 15 months, moreover a series of repeat tours over the last nine years, and says, 'It hasn't affected me at all' -- that's the person I'm most concerned about.
By Maj. David Rittgers, U.S. Army Reserve
Best Defense guest respondent
From my desk as a trial counsel (military prosecutor), your "Let's Draft Our Kids" proposal looks more like a full employment act for military attorneys than a productive use of taxpayer funds. A few of the hidden costs associated with your proposal:
1. Not everyone who starts the program will want to finish, and not everyone who signs up will want to work all that hard for the generous benefits you're offering. I doubt this will be a very efficient workforce. Between the malingerers and the shift toward a pro-welfare state attitude of the young folks who would be stuck in this program, you've also perpetuated the myth that we can continue to grow government at a time when we're over a trillion in the hole each year with no end in sight. The ironic outcome is that your future overpaid janitor is someone who started in the Defense Service Corps in 2013 and never quite got off the government dole, staying in a menial labor position with excellent benefits his whole life.
2. Criminal prosecutions: I don't know of any data on the topic, but it is my impression that there is a higher rate of criminal activity and administrative separation with the 'moral waiver' folks let in during the increase of the ground forces during the war in Iraq. These folks never would've gotten in if not for the relaxed standards in place in the mid-2000s. Proposing to put an extra million or so folks (or more, I'm not sure what the numbers look like on this) under UCMJ authority with lowered screening standards is a recipe for courts-martial as far as the eye can see. I suppose we could exempt them from the UCMJ and put them in some special status where they are treated like any other person on a federal reservation, but federal courts already have enough on-post DUI's that we send them and their caseload is already significant, so that seems like a bad idea. Plus, if you exempt them from UCMJ, you lose the ability to maintain good order and discipline, which is implicitly part of the national service rationale under which we're enacting this program.
What about drugs? Do we conduct urinalysis screenings on these folks? If not, we're not maintaining good order and discipline. This is another several thousand administrative separations a year that major posts would have to do, meaning more work for both government and defense lawyers. Plus, the other services besides the Army don't always do separations for drug use, they are more willing to take a "naked" urinalysis -- no other evidence beside the positive test -- to a court-martial. That's a lot of work to get rid of a janitor or gardener. I suppose we could have a lower standard of discipline with regard to drug use in the service corps, but this double standard undermines the good order and discipline we're trying to maintain, and reinforces the perception that the civilian conscripts are second-class citizens on-post.
3. Plus, do we let them marry? You refer to them as "unmarried conscripts," but what if they don't want to stay that way? If they get married, do they qualify for off-post housing with tax-exempt basic housing allowance? Do we kick them out? Is there a 14th Amendment substantive due process claim that allows them to stay in? Do we separate them the same way we do for folks who fail to maintain a valid family care plan for dependents while deployed? The JAG attorneys still have to make this happen, in an adversarial process, that takes months. That's not a lot of bang for the buck if the conscripts only sign up for 18 months to begin with.
4. Setting aside the above concerns, this would bring into the armed services a lot of young people who will require legal assistance -- they're going to buy too-expensive cars, enter into questionable contracts, and generally make a bunch of legally dumb decisions. Adding, say, another 25 percent (at least, given the small percent of the general population currently serving) to the youngest and most legally needy demographic to major installations will be a nightmare for a JAG Corps already with plenty to do.
The libertarian opt-out doesn't solve these issues. We've already got a relatively small all-volunteer force that has plenty of problems along these lines, and increasing the population of folks in the military with what will certainly be lower admission standards will remake the military's purpose from winning the nation's wars to mentoring a young cohort of folks in order to instill in them discipline and a positive work ethic. We already do enough of the latter, and I fear that this proposal would impair our ability to do the former.
Which is why, if you ask the generation of officers who presided over the birth of the all-volunteer force, we got rid of the draft in the first place.
David H. Rittgers, Legal Policy Analyst, Cato Institute. Mr. Rittgers is a Virginia attorney and former Special Forces officer. He is currently mobilized as a Major in the U.S. Army Reserves. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Army or the Department of Defense.
From Octavian Manea's interview of Maj. Fernando Lujan in Small Wars Journal:
An eager 23-year old all-American lieutenant, full of energy, would be trying to talk to a local villager through an interpreter. And inevitably, the conversation starts sounding like a tactical interrogation: "Hello I am Lieutenant Jones and I am from America. Can you tell me where the Taliban is? Have you seen any IEDs? Have you seen any suspicious people?" We don't do small talk. And of course the patrol doesn't get any useful information. Everyone is terrified to talk to them. But to the American soldiers, the silence makes it seem like the whole village supports the Taliban. They feel like every patrol is Groundhog Day, and like they're just out there walking around.
Yet during embeds we started to notice that while the young lieutenant was struggling through his conversation, there would almost always be an Afghan Army soldier -- born and raised in the Pashtun areas of the country -- standing a few meters away. And he'd usually be relegated to pulling security and staring out over his rifle instead of engaging with the locals. After the patrol, we'd ask the young lieutenant, "Do you know how many native Pashto speakers (vice Dari) you have in your Afghan platoon? Had you ever considered training them to talk to the locals and get information?" I can literally count on one hand the number of times the lieutenant knew... and this was out of maybe a hundred platoons over 14 months.
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
By Maj. Joseph Bruhl
Best Defense department of leadership studies
Growing up, if I wasn't playing sports, I was building model airplanes or gardening with my father. Both were captivating exercises, but for different reasons. Building models was a drill in precision and attention to detail. Gardening was a complex experiment in give and take. Both developed important skills, but as a leader I return most frequently to the lessons of my father's garden. Leaders who think like gardeners are better equipped to adapt, reason creatively, and approach challenges with humility than those who think like model airplane builders. Unfortunately, many in the army prefer fabricating P-51 Mustangs to nursing tomatoes.
Model airplane building supports an "A+B=C" mentality that is familiar to many in the military. Assemble the right tools, carefully study directions (read doctrine), and work with exactitude. For the model airplane builder, nothing is beyond his control. The only measure of success is: Does the model mirror the standard?
Gardeners, however, do not possess complete control. Their craft is affected by a host of things beyond their control. Gardeners' crop output is graded, not on exactitude, but on an ability to adapt, think creatively, and remain humble enough to try new methods.
Like the gardener, today's combat leaders understand that progress can be affected by a host of things beyond one's control: historic feuds, dysfunctional institutions, and even past mistakes by U.S. forces. Here again, adaptability, creativity and humility are keys to success.
Adaptive leadership, however, is not limited to the counterinsurgency fight. It is a timeless military model. To support the development of "gardener-leaders," the army should do three things: develop a profession of arms that values thinking, writing, and education; adapt its personnel system to support diverse experience; and renew mentorship as a foundation to the profession of arms.
1. Developing a Profession of Arms that values education, thinking, and writing:
Access to civilian education for both officers and NCOs must be dramatically increased. Education develops a leader's identity, mental agility, cross-cultural savvy, and interpersonal maturity. This is why universities are often analogized to gardens, where minds are cultivated and ideas are the harvest.
Increase the importance of non-divisional assignments in an officer's professional development. Assignments to the Army Staff, the Combined Arms Center, and branch school houses are not "take a knee" assignments; they are investments in the institutions that support our profession and broaden a leader's vision.
Encourage officers and NCOs to write and publish. In a recent article, Admiral Stavridis offers some "common sense guidelines" to consider when writing. Army leadership, following these guidelines, should be pushing folks to write and share; there is a wealth of untapped wisdom that will add richness to the army's intellectual debates.
2. Adapting personnel systems to support diverse experience:
The army must transition its personnel systems from an industrial-aged model that views leaders as interchangeable parts to one that manages talent on an individual basis. In the absence of complete personnel system overhaul, the army should allow officers who self-select for civilian education, teaching, or internships to "slip-back" a year group or two in order to avoid missing key developmental jobs in their operational specialty.
By adapting its personnel system to allow officers to pursue opportunities that develop "gardener-leader" skills without hampering competitiveness for command, the army encourages its best officers to broaden their experience. When officers who pursue opportunities outside traditional career paths command more frequently, the army demonstrates a new set of values to junior officers.
3. Renewing mentorship as a foundation to the profession of arms:
In a culture that promotes "gardener-leaders," mentorship is critical. Model airplane building provides step-by-step instructions for the novice to follow. Gardening is something that can only be learned through experience and tutelage.
Lack of mentorship appears near the top of many surveys to explain the decision of junior officers to leave. To reverse this trend, the army should include mentorship in its holistic review of the profession of arms. What better way to build adaptive, creative, and humble leaders who reflect Army values than through active and genuine mentorship?
These three steps cultivate a culture where leaders are not wedded to "the way we do things," but are able to adapt, think creatively, and approach challenges with humility. All are "must haves" if the army expects to apply the right lessons from the last decade and safeguard its profession of arms.
For more on this, read the longer version of this article here.
Major Joseph Bruhl is a strategic planner in irregular warfare and security force assistance at the army's Security Cooperation Plans and Concepts Division. He holds a B.A. from Truman State University and an M.P.A. from Harvard. He is a Next Generation National Security Leader fellow at the Center for New American Security.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
In this photo, Maggie, a military working dog, plays with an abandoned kitten before departing for a census and security patrol with U.S. Marines at Patrol Base Detroit, Afghanistan, May 17, 2011. The Marines are assigned to 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1.
In the spirit of today's photo here's a link for animal lovers on Facebook, called Helped By Animals. If you have a good MWD photo -- or pics of a soldier stray -- from the front you think deserve a viewing here, send 'em to wardogoftheweek(at)gmail.com.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Christopher M. Carroll
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.