Murphy's Law: June 7, 2002


24/7 Micromanagement- Before "24/7" became a cultural icon in the 1990s, the military was working on fighting that way. Keeping things going 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was more effective, in war or peace. The Internet popularized 24/7, which was a social trend spreading beyond the major cities, like New York, where it had existed for decades. In the 1980s, the U.S. military developed an improved version of the World War II "blitzkrieg" ("lightening war") that emphasized 24 hour operations. The fast moving, blitzkrieg style of warfare was made possible by the development of warplanes and armored vehicles in the decades before World War II. The concept of 24/7 war was made possible by the development of better and cheaper night vision and communications equipment. It had long been known that night operations can be particularly advantageous. Successful ones are even mentioned in the bible. But your troops have to be particularly well trained, led and rehearsed to make night attacks work. For that reason, night operations were rarely used, except by commando type troops. Cheap and effective night visions devices began to show up during the Vietnam war. These devices made it easier for average troops to operate at night. After the Vietnam war, the U.S. Army began to emphasize night operations more. It was not much of leap to add 24 hour operations as well. The American generals were also propelled in that direction by indications that the Soviet Union was already training its troops for the same kind of round the clock fighting. The Soviets, however, were using a brute force approach. Their largely conscript army didn't have night vision and communications gear to the same extent as the now all volunteer American forces did.

The navy had long practiced 24/7 operations. They have no choice. Unless you're in port, you have to be ready for whatever the ocean throws at you around the clock. Given the usual reluctance of the different services to learn much from each other, the army, and later the air force, went out and reinvented how to run a battle night and day. This was not necessarily a bad thing, except for two other items. First, there was the lack of realistic practice. The navy has a huge advantage in that when they are at sea, they are doing most of what they would do in wartime. That is, just dealing with the weather and the ocean. This keeps the sailors on their toes and provides plenty of realistic situations, and an occasional tragedy. The second problem, which affects all the services, is the tendency to micromanage. Better communications means that someone in the White House can easily be in touch with troops anywhere in the world, even when the troops are under fire. 

The micromanagent problem first showed up during the Vietnam war, and the troops did not like it at all. It wasn't just someone back in Washington DC telling you what to do while you're fighting for your life, but all the commanders in between. Veterans of Vietnam, who are now nearly all retired, did not like the micromanagement at all and sought to avoid it themselves as they rose in rank. But now the micromanagement is creeping back into use. The Afghanistan war is the best example, as troops found that they often had to get permission from higher headquarters back in the United States before hitting a long list of target types. Oddly enough, some people in the military are blaming this, not on micromanagement, but on the fact that so many of the senior decision makers are back in North America. CENTCOM, the American military command in charge of operations in South Asia, has its headquarters in Tampa, Florida. CENTCOM established a headquarters in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War, but decided to stay in Tampa for the Afghanistan war. This decision made sense, as there was a severe shortage of air transportation to move military cargo to the Persian Gulf or Afghanistan. Moreover, many people and governments in the countries surrounding Afghanistan were against American military operations over there. In 1991, Saudi Arabia already had well equipped headquarters for CENTCOM to move into. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. military has not only been moving to 24/7 operations, but also towards global operations. This sort of thing requires lots of air transport (which the United States is rather short of at the moment, but that's another matter) and good communications. The current plan is for the CINC (Commander IN Chief) headquarters (of which CENTCOM is one) to have very good communications, including plenty of satellite and high speed lines. Equipped like this, a CINC should be able to take care of supervising his troops half way around the world. But micromanagement is another matter. Historically, the higher the rank of a commander, the more general his orders. If you have well trained officers, the lower ranking commanders can take care of the details. But, as happened during Vietnam, the senior people don't trust their subordinates. It's as simple as that. The troops in Afghanistan have been complaining more and more of having to wait for hours for authorization to attack certain targets. It's not a problem with getting generals and lawyers out of bed because of the different time zones, but of allowing the senior people to micromanage in the first place. It's poor leadership, and the fact that this is not obvious to the practitioners only reinforces the point.


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