I just read one of the best short articles I have read in a long time. The piece deals with lessons from the last decade of war and is noteworthy for its outside-the-box, thought provoking conceptual observations. It offers no solutions but brilliantly points out issues that are utterly basic at heart but, seemingly, beyond the grasp of institutional military thinking.
The author is Capt. Chris Barber, USMC. He makes no claims of rigorous statistical validity for his assertions, offering only his own anecdotal observations but they are priceless. Please follow the link below and read the piece. I’ll now attempt to highlight and amplify some of his observations.
The first lesson concerns the attempt to apply very costly, high tech solutions to simple and straight forward, though deadly, problems. The specific example in the article is the attempt to solve the IED threat via technology rather than simple tactics and training. This observation is right on the money. The
military tends to approach every problem from a technology point of view rather than considering basic level alternate solutions such as training, tactics, judgment, ingenuity, or simple enhancements of existing technology. We spend inordinate sums of money to produce minimal gains, if even that, via technology when simpler approaches could work just as well. Did we have to build the several billion dollar Zumwalt in order to provide fire support for troops ashore or could we have placed the already developed Mk71 8” gun on a Burke and been done with it? US
The second lesson concerns networks and data. Today’s military has access to huge amounts of data. Of course, much of it is of no value and is not applicable to the problem at hand and the data that is useful is often not obvious among the thousands of useless bits of data. It all comes back to the ability of the user to decipher the meaning of the data and then apply it in a useful manner. The bottleneck remains the individual user. All the data in the world is useless unless the user can make sense of it. For example, every time there is a terrorist incident, investigation invariably reveals that the various agencies had sufficient data to prevent the incident but did not recognize the data for what it was among the reams of useless data. Despite this, the military continues to pursue networks and data as the Holy Grail of warfare. It’s not the data that’s important, it’s the interpretation and use of the data that’s critical.
The third lesson, while specific to COIN operations, offers the observation that a decade of small unit actions, largely peacekeeping and policing, have resulted in a generation of soldiers – and future commanders – who have no experience with large scale war. We see this in the Marines/Navy attempt to relearn amphibious warfare. We see regimental, battalion, and brigade commanders who have never commanded their entire units as a cohesive force even in exercises. There is not a Captain or Admiral who has ever commanded ships or fleets in battle nor even exercised for a high intensity, theater wide conflict. Our military has become specialized in small unit conflict and forgotten how to wage total war.
Capt. Barber’s observations are insightful, on-target, and totally at odds with our official military philosophy. I can’t help but wish he was running the military!