Leadership: December 2, 2002

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The Pentagon has reinvented the wheel again and given it a new name. They are now calling "blitzkrieg," "Effects Based Warfare." For thousands of years, military analysts have noted that wars are usually won by the side that is most flexible and able to move more quickly. During the 1930s, European military writers noted that a "new" form of warfare was now possible because of all the aircraft, trucks, radios and armored vehicles that were now available. They were right, and Germans figured out how to make it work first. Thus we have the "Blitzkrieg" ("lighting war.") But most American generals didn't appreciate this well thought out, and rapidly executed, form of warfare. The exceptions, like MacArthur and Patton, were seen as somewhat eccentric, although effective. But coming out of World War II, most American leaders believed that the way to victory in the future was via "attrition warfare." America had more stuff, and in the future we'd just keep dumping bombs and stuff on the enemy until they gave up. Seemed to work in World War II, and there was no need for all those fancy theories and battlefield maneuvers.

But come the 1970s and a lot of people in the U.S. Army began to think that maybe there was a better way to do it. This was especially true because the Soviet Union had piled up more stuff in Europe and in any future war, America and its allies would initially be outnumbered. Noting that the Germans had, for a while at least, beat the Russians while outnumbered, American officers began to look more closely at how the Germans did it. At the same time, there appeared on the market dozens of commercial wargames on those World War II campaigns, and some possible future wars. These games used careful analysis of the historical situations, so they could be replicated in the game. This made it clear to many Pentagon officers how the blitzkrieg actually worked. The recipe was simple. You carefully analyzed who had what, and what each side could do with what they had. Then you formulated a plan that capitalized on your strengths and took advantage of the enemy's weaknesses. Finally, you executed your plan as rapidly as possible, thereby giving your opponent insufficient time to respond and cope with your plan. This worked in the past, it worked in these games and, hmmm, it would probably work in the future. 

For the past quarter century, the American armed forces have been reforming themselves into a faster moving, more flexible organization. The mentality has changed. Moving fast and quickly sorting out military situations became second nature. The result was the rapid victories in 1991 and 2001. 

There was one problem. What to call it? Can't call it "blitzkrieg," or we'll be called a bunch of nazis bent on world domination. We get called that anyway, but why make it worse. Can't call it "military strategy," as that sounds too mundane (even if that's what it is, military strategy done right.). So it was decided to call it "Effects Based Strategy." If nothing else, it's provided a few extra jobs in Washington, because now everything on military planning and strategy has to be rewritten to include the new wonder phrase, "effects based" everywhere. Pretty harmless stuff, and right up there with coming up with new packaging for a product that's already doing well, like Coca Cola. But don't mess with the formula.

 


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