Thursday, May 27, 2021

People Not Technology

The US military likes to talk about how their advantage is people but they really don’t believe that.  What they believe is the primacy of technology.


C4ISRNet website has an interesting article that talks a bit about the consequences to the US if China – or any enemy – can disrupt our assumed dominance and reliability of data and networks.  They liken this to the boxer, Mike Tyson, who said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”.  The US military has a plan and it’s a beautiful, wondrous thing full of flawless data, seamless networks, real time awareness, and instantaneous flow of information from the very top to the lowest grunt on the ground.


The problem which the article ponders is what happens when our command and control and networks are attacked and fail?


Today, China and Russia channel Tyson through strategies that attack U.S. military information and command systems and exploit the resulting cognitive and psychological disruption. (1)



After 30 years fighting below its so-called weight class, the Pentagon has largely forgotten how to deal with opponents that can disrupt its information and command-and-control systems. (1)


So, what is the solution to this potential punch in the mouth disruption?  As always, it’s technology.


U.S. armed forces desperately need a new network architecture … (1)


The solution, as the military sees it, is more technology and more advanced technology.  It’s not better trained people who can function without being micromanaged.  It’s not using commander’s intent instead of voluminous orders (Air Force Air Tasking Order, anyone?).  It’s not training people to operate in total EMCON.  It’s not encouraging independent thought and actions at the low level.


Train people well and you don’t even need technology.


Slightly encouraging, the article recognizes that trying to maintain our assumed data and network dominance is a fool’s errand and suggests, instead, that the military strive to be better at degraded operations than the enemy.


… the Pentagon should aim for degradation dominance: operating effectively enough with degraded systems. (1)


I give partial credit and recognition to the article’s author for this insight.  Indeed, I’ve said the exact same thing many times and even wrote a story illustrating the concept (see, “Piece It Together”).  The reason I give only partial credit is that the author, after correctly stating the problem and the required solution, then goes on to suggest that the path to the solution is, again, via technology rather than people and training.


We absolutely do need technology that has degradation resilience built into it but the more important aspect is training people to operate in a degraded environment rather than expecting technology to compensate for the degradation.






(1)C4ISRNet website, “The Pentagon needs a plan to get punched In the mouth”, Christopher M. Dougherty, 20-May-2021,


  1. You're as good as the relevant technology that your people can use. Can't use it in confusion, no good. Can't use it because you can't maintain it, no good. Can't use it because it offers no useable solution to the problem at hand, no good.

  2. Well, training people to work effectively in the presence of degraded networks and whatnot isn't going to help much if everything is unmanned. I'm being a bit sarcastic here. But probably not much.

  3. When I was in the army we had something called a 5-paragraph operations order. It could be very detailed, or it could be simplified to a few sentences down at the squad level.

    One of the things that often would be added at the end of the execution paragraph (#3 if I recall correctly) was something called 'Commander's Intent'.

    Even if everything falls apart into chaos, if you know the commander's intent you can still improvise to accomplish the mission/goal.

    I think that navy needs to give commander's intent to their leaders and let them run with it.


    1. SMEAC, drilled into us at officer training.

  4. The Navy does the things which will keep the politicians happy.

    The politicians are happy if money gets spent in their districts, and they get campaign contributions.

    If the Navy spends lots of money on technology, the politicians are happy. Spending money on better training doesn't produce TV footage of cool-looking things, and doesn't produce large piles of money in one place from which large political donations can be drawn.

    Any pangs of conscience felt by anyone involved are dismissed on the grounds that it is inconceivable for the US to lose a conflict.

    The current Navy is the result of the current US political system and recent history. To change for the better, the US needs to change its system, or lose a war.

  5. "Train people well and you don’t even need technology."

    If only more people in the US armed forces knew this.

    I thought you would bring up the Vincennes incident in this blog post too. Would you characterize the shooting down of Iran Air Flight 655 as the personnel on the Vincennes having sufficient technology needed to make the right decisions but not the right training to actually recognize what they were dealing with?

    1. Vincennes was a case of too much technology (overwhelmed with data) coupled with scenario fulfilment where the people saw what they expected to see.

    2. Interesting thing about training and the Vincennes is that in the very deep dive into the indecent I read a while back was that it was more of question of what kind of training. I seems the US while the crew were competent at their stations none had ever been faced with training to parse the Aegis data while the ship maneuvering at high speed and blazing away with its guns. The crew of the Stiles (whose commander politely declined to chase tiny gun boats into Iranian waters) with the same data did in fact reach the correct conclusion before the Vincennes fired

      Fact is the kind of training is the kind that burns money and ammo and time fitting out planes from the bone yard and old civil jets as remote and boats and ships. Such that that day is not just a surprise to a crew but a event that at least have played out for real w/o scripting and clues more than one time in a career.

      But that might mean not having another new shinny Ford in the budget vs a boring lines on ammo and drones and automated targets etc.

    3. Correction above I meant USS sides.

  6. We need to train people and upgrade technologies at the same time. You cannot do one without the other. You cannot train a person to use knife to fight a gunman.

    Pentagon keeps researching on how to break others' networks. What makes them uneasy is that other nations have also developed technologies which they are not confident to defend.

    It is competition on technology competency. At the same time, train people to use latest technology well is also important. This also comes down to "quality" of people. You cannot train a computer illiterate person on advanced network offense/defense. You also have difficult to train people with very poor math capability on them.

    1. "We need to train people and upgrade technologies at the same time. You cannot do one without the other. You cannot train a person to use knife to fight a gunman."

      And the third leg is that the training has to provide realistic feedback to the technology developers about what works and what does not. It's a loop--you develop technology, to train on it and test it, and you take the feedback from the training and testing and adjust the technology based upon that. Without any one of the three--technology, training, or feedback--you are simply playing stupid games with yourself.

  7. How did the US military go from emcon is the 80s that was a few brief code words on frequency hopping radios, to blasting more bandwith than all of NYC including the TV and radio stations?

  8. This is one of my speculation based on circumstantial evidences but I believe the issue lies with the lack of diversity - not in racial diversity - but in thinking.

    Anyone who is even slightly opposed to the Navy's vision (the focus on technology for instance) are pushed out and eliminated, often under the guise of trimming down the force. That's the only way I could explain the overwhelming amount of Yes-man with not a single person expressing doubt on some of these crazy concepts. It's hard for me to believe that these officers/enlisted are uneducated but instead, turn a blind eye to what's happening to keep their job. What else could explain the elimination of the Space Force commander for his opposing views? What else could explain the Navy officer getting reprimanded for the AK-47 incident?

    It feels more like a purge and it shouldn't be. The strength of the military is often thanks to the value of its own member ideas and vision. If everyone is a yes man, what are we REALLY preparing for? Getting a bigger budget slice? Only a war can save us from ourselves.

  9. What the Navy really needs is a green-energy, gender-sensitive, trans-racial, carbon-neutral, post-feminist, reality-bending fairy-powered network linking all the ships to each other.

    Bet China doesn't have THAT!

  10. I'll bet you're right! ;)


  11. OT (sorry) but it seems the navy is killing its shiny new MK VI patrol boats to apparently keep the Cyclones company in retirement. But is still trying to keep the colossal waste of money that is the LCS afloat.

    1. Adding. OK so neither the Cyclones nor the MK VIs nor the allowed to atrophy Avenger class (or retired early Osprey class)MCM ship were going to win the war with Iran if it occurred. But they were all functional ships that could do the boring not war tit for tat dick waving that is involved in our current stand off and are a far better choice to run around and chase away annoying Iranian gun boats vs some super expensive Burke, new small Burke or Ticonderoga.

    2. Adding more - Nelson may have won at Trafalgar with his ships of the line the UK had a ton more frigates and unrated sloops (and bomb ketches and any number of brigs, etc) doing the grunt work of global blockade.

    3. But Kath, sinking all the Iranian speedboats in the final reel, is what the unloved LCS and its assorted but heroic crew is for! That's been in the script since the beginning of production!

      What? This isn't a film?

      Somebody call NAVSEA and tell them they're buying ships for real combat, not making movies!

  12. Strategy drives mission. Mission drives CONOPS. CONOPS drives design. Or at least that's the way it is supposed to work.

    But we don't seem to have any identifiable grand strategy. So we don't have well-defined missions. And we've pretty much punted in-house design. So we buy whatever shiny object defense contractors put in front of us and hope it works for something.

    We had a great grand strategy 1945-1989. Obviously it was great because it worked famously well. Truman bribed up an alliance to stop the spread of Soviet Communism, and 40 years later Reagan put pressure on their economy and collapsed the evil empire. Perhaps too well, because once the Berlin Wall fell, our grand strategy was outmoded. And here 30+ years later, we still haven't come up with a new paradigm.

    We need to figure out what we are trying to accomplish, what missions support that objective, and what kit we need to accomplish those missions. Then build it and train on it and maintain it.

    I don't have the grand strategy, but I do have some principles:
    - In the post-Cold-War era, economic power is more important than military power.
    - Treat your friends better than you treat your enemies.
    - Never fight a war that you don't intend to win.
    - Put your money into combat and combat support, not admin and overhead.

  13. "Satellite photos from Planet Labs Inc. analyzed by The Associated Press showed the Kharg off to the west of Jask on Tuesday. Satellites from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that track fires from space detected a blaze at the site of the Jask that started just before the time of the fire reported by Fars."

    Apparently, Irans largest warship just caught fire and sank.


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