Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Transforming How We Fight: A Conceptual Approach

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Transforming How We Fight: A Conceptual Approach

Article excerpt

Tansformation has been defined correctly as a process rather than an end state. Still, nagging questions linger. What is the purpose of transformation? Toward what goal is military transforming headed? What do we want the future military to do? What should it look like? How should it fight? The transformation, to be meaningful, must lead coherently from a present state toward an envisioned future condition. Transformation, therefore, is most precisely a strategy designed purposefully to achieve a cogent vision of the future. Absent this articulation of purpose, transformation risks moving in the wrong direction-or in no direction at all. The key, to paraphrase Secretary of Defense Donald R. Rumsfeld, is to have the right ladder standing against the right wall.

The struggle from which such a purpose may be derived has been a powerful subtext of the transformation debate and has indeed informed arguments over war planning against Iraq. In the meantime, the services have pursued a disaggregated transformation-each trying to improve what it does best. Problems naturally arise with this approach, particularly in areas such as joint interoperability and lift, by air and sea-areas that are crucial for effectiveness at the joint level but that might get low priority from an individual service perspective. Still, it is important not to rush; making the intellectual effort to get the vision right is crucial. Heading, however purposefully, in a self-defeating direction would be disastrous.

Up to this point, unfortunately, the debate about transformation and the future of the military has remained largely rooted in technology. We need to update our understanding of the nature of war and use it as a touchstone. The future will belong not necessarily to the most technologically advanced combatant but the one that understands the nature of war and can most effectively cope with and exploit it. Such understanding is a necessary backdrop for the development of vision and thereafter the intellectual, cultural, organizational, and technological components of transformation.

This article seeks to expand the debate to the necessary scope by proposing a set of ideas to synthesize the enduring nature of war with contemporary technological realities, to bridge the gap between new technology and broad transformation. These ideas emerge from five critical postulates about the enduring nature of war:

1. Information in war is "essentially dispersed."

2. War is Chaotic.

3. Combatants in war are complex adaptive systems.

4. War is a nonlinear phenomenon.

5. War is the realm of uncertainty.

The insights from those postulates suggest that our armed forces will be most effective if we master the following concepts:

1. Decentralization: create and exploit a knowledge advantage by empowerment at the appropriate levels.

2. Complexity: gain a complexity advantage by maximizing the number of meaningful interactions with which the enemy must cope simultaneously or nearly so.

3. Resilience: sustain balance and equilibrium in our own force while creating and exploiting instability and disorder in the enemy.

4. Tempo: sustain an intensity of operations over time with which the enemy cannot cope.

The apparent lessons from conflicts over the past ten years point to an emerging paradigm about transformation, known as the "information technology revolution in military affairs" (IT-RMA). Simply put, this increasingly popular thesis suggests that information superiority plus precision munitions equals victory.1 Decision makers will have a "near-omniscient view of the battlefield" that will enable them to direct precision munitions onto targets with such rapid and lethal effect that enemies will be reduced to "awe," "shock," or "paralysis," and in any case be "locked out" of the objectives they wish to pursue. Either way, in this view, the enemy will have no choice but to give up. …

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