The "Perception Transformation"

By Ash, Eric | Air & Space Power Journal, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

The "Perception Transformation"


Ash, Eric, Air & Space Power Journal


TRANSFORMATION IS A hot issue, but the one that really counts is the "perception transformation." Since the dawn of military history, perception has been a paramount factor in both the cause and termination of war. It rules morale, determining one's will to continue or discontinue the fight. Often more important than the reality it may or may not reflect, perception transcends rationality, influencing both genius and moron. It is key to deterrence and compellence, and it is the articulation of effects-based operations. Therefore, the ultimate strategy for any sea, land, air and space, joint, or coalition force is to transform the enemy's perception.

That strategy begins at home with our own perception transformation. Of course this is nothing new-Sun Tzu's advice in 500 B.C. was to know both the enemy and oneself. Proceeding further, however, we must transform our perception of the enemy as we also attempt to affect the enemy's perception of us. Post-Cold War enemies are getting smarter, exploiting vulnerabilities by breaking the "rules." The Air Force is also getting smarter about these enemies, realizing that for a vast percentage of the world, we are not the "good guys." Tremendous sacrifice on the part of America and its coalition partners is wasted if the end result is the wrong enemy perception.

How is a perception transformation engineered into the enemy? Traditional airpower has done it either directly or indirectly. Kill the enemy, and he has no perception. Sometimes, however, direct application is impossible, or political objectives (linked to perceptions) require indirect methods. Consider the possible perceptions of B-52 bombing, a method of airpower that can be either direct or indirect. First, one could take such bombing to mean that the Air Force has turned "serious," a common historical interpretation of the impact in Hanoi during the Christmas bombings of 1973. Or another perception could be that the Air Force considers the situation of minor importance and not worth risking more expensive aircraft, such as B-2 bombers. A third perception might be that the Air Force has run out of targets or has lost patience trying to bomb surgically. Finally, the enemy could even perceive that the Air Force is the evil tool of an enemy giant, employed to carry out indiscriminate punishment on innocents. We know better, but so what if we do, when the enemy has the wrong perception? …

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