Murphy's Law: December 9, 2003

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In the United States, the Department of Defense is making a big deal out of transformation. What exactly is this, and how likely is it to succeed? The basic idea behind transformation is to take maximum advantage of the many new technologies becoming available, and to do it before real or potential foes do so. At the moment, its generally agreed (world wide), that the U.S. is the leader in applying new technology to military matters. The transformation program wants to keep it that way.

To do this, the Department of Defense has focused on four areas (the transformation strategy);

1-Strengthening joint operations. This means getting the four services (army, navy, air force and marines) to work together more effectively. This is not easy, as each of the services would rather spend time, effort and money on improving their own capabilities, rather than learning to work better with the other services. This includes getting the services to spend more time and money training with the other services. In addition to the ancient reluctance of the services to work better together, there is the equally ancient problem of spending more money on training. The natural inclination is to spend money on developing and buying new equipment, and forming additional units. In peacetime, the effect of training is largely invisible. You only see the effects of training in wartime. But in peacetime you can show off new weapons and new units to Congress and the taxpayers. People are more likely to believe in, and be happy with what they can see. Because of the recent Afghanistan and Iraq operations, the services have fresh experience with the need for strengthening joint operations. And doing just that has been a hot topic since the end of the Cold War. The appearance of the Internet and the widespread acceptance of being networked has made it easier for the services to seriously think about being connected all the time. But making it happen has been slow going and progress is more fits and starts than leaps and bounds.

2-Exploiting U.S. intelligence advantages. The United States has put more money into intelligence gathering than anyone else. Not just the really expensive things like spy satellites, but also UAVs of all sizes (including rather tiny and inexpensive ones). This has provided advantages, but the transformation here has more to do with the people collecting the information, than with the tools they use. All the billions that went into the spy satellites also attracted thousands of bureaucrats that have tended to concentrate more of their efforts on the technology than on the troops. Its been forgotten, over the years, that the point of intelligence is to get the information to your troops when they need it. This has not been the case in the past, and the growing popularity for UAVs is partly because these aircraft often belong to the combat units that need the intelligence. The transformation here is all about getting the intelligence bureaucracy to speed things up a whole lot and get the customer what they need, when they need it. This will not be easy, as the intelligence bureaucracy has a lot of long established habits and procedures that will be hard to change. This can be seen with what happened when American generals complained after the 1991 war, and most of those complaints were still unattended to when the American army returned to Iraq in 2003.

3-Concept development and experimentation- This is another way of saying, let's try out a lot of new ideas and see what works. This is a good thing, because in the past, many new ideas were swatted down by a Department of Defense bureaucracy that felt it was more prudent to stand by for directions from the White House or Congress. The transformation here is encouraging more new ideas from below. This makes a lot of sense, because the troops have a better idea of what they need than someone sitting behind a desk in Washington. The Internet has played a role here, putting more like minded troops in touch with each other so they can agree on an idea being great, and start agitating to get it implemented. Before the Internet, new ideas from the troops traveled slowly. No more, and it has made a difference,

4-Developing transformational capabilities. This means taking the new ideas that have been tested and found worthy, and putting them to widespread use. This happens naturally during wartime, but is much harder (and nearly impossible) during peacetime. Again, the war on terror and operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have made it easier to get new stuff made and delivered to the troops. The transformation is making the procurement process move fast all the time. That wont be easy, as too many people in government are more comfortable with avoiding risks. In the procurement business that means taking lots of time. But this no longer works, because technology changes so quickly that too many delays means you will deliver an obsolete system.

Basically, transformation is all about taking advantage of new technologies to develop new tactics and equipment and to do it before the opposition does. Actually, the United States has been doing this for decades. But it wasnt always so. Before World War II, Germany and Japan (and other countries) were faster to get the new ideas into action. Transformation is all about not letting that happen again.

 


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