Small Wars Journal

Killebrew on US Defense Thinking

From Armed Forces Journal - SecDef has signaled a turning point in U.S. defense thinking by Colonel Robert Killebrew (USA Ret.).

Gates' speeches to AUSA and his subsequent "soft power" speech at Kansas State University indicate a turning point in U.S. defense thinking since the neo-isolationism of the "pre-emptive warfare" strategies of the early Bush administration. In many ways, the secretary's call to empower our allies to defend themselves returns to a consistent theme of U.S. foreign policy first employed in the early days of the Cold War, with the Marshall Plan, the Van Fleet advisory mission to Greece and the beginnings of foreign military assistance to U.S. allies.

For the military services, this should be nothing new. Since 1947, U.S. military assistance and advisers have been deployed to wars in Greece, Korea, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, Central America and now Southwest Asia, and in hundreds of almost-wars around the globe. American uniforms have been seen, and still are seen, in mud-hut villages and on river deltas worldwide, where individual soldiers or small teams of sweating GIs work alongside local forces to reinforce shaky new nations. But in fact, for the mainstream military generation raised since the end of the Cold War, this is new, since advising foreign armies, providing military assistance and working in harness with the State Department have been out of style for the top leadership of the services for decades.

The defining events, of course, have been the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the failure of the U.S. to plan adequately for the rebuilding of Iraqi and Afghan security forces put us at a grievous disadvantage for the first several years of warfare in those two countries, a disadvantage that is only now being made up by the hard work and sacrifices of dedicated men and women in recently created advisory jobs. Much more remains to be done, but the reconstruction of Iraqi and Afghan security forces is finally on firmer ground.

Iraq and Afghanistan are worst-case examples of "enabling and empowering" allies. The secretary's real thrust — and the topic of debate in Washington, D.C., today — is how to merge military power with other government agencies to support allies in emerging states before events reach crisis proportions, and to help our friends manage their own affairs without U.S. conventional forces. This is a challenge the U.S. has successfully faced before, yet the Washington policy establishment appears singularly ill-informed about how to go about it. Here are some fundamentals...

Read the rest at Armed Forces Journal.

Discuss at Small Wars Council.


Rob Thornton

Tue, 02/12/2008 - 1:18pm

The challenging of changing the paradox.

Id like to thank COL (R) Killebrew for providing the means to discuss some real challenges we have to overcome. Just getting something up on the board for people to cogitate on is in itself a real challenge. Id heard a comment attributed to a senior leader recently who asked the question: "are we changing the paradox, or just massaging it?" That seems a very appropriate question to ask, because I think the potential of real change rests within the answer.

We often point fingers at the bureaucracy and the institutions - we say they are inflexible, and make adaptation too hard. This is probably true, but it is also worth pointing out that when you build something to be enduring, so that it can resist attacks or is sturdy enough to withstand harsh storms; its also going to be resistant to other types of changes. A useful analogy might be the way a healthy body fights infection - it develops an immune system with white blood cells that challenge most everything, unless you convince it that what you are introducing is beneficial and not a threat.

That is part of the challenge for people trying to make changes - if you push on the walls from the outside (assuming you are not doing it with a wrecking ball and willing to tear it down) you stand a chance of wearing yourself out - everybody inside the greater institution sees you as a potential threat and the resistance is greater. If you try and push from the inside you first have to overcome all the interior walls. The third option is maybe to convince the other cultures within the walls that change is both inevitable and beneficial - as well as not being the threat is was perceived to be. The last I think stands the best chance of success, but requires a clear articulation of risk, and a strategy to mitigate it that everyone can understand - so you can leverage their strength.

Killebrews article and LTG Caldwells SWJ Blog on Organizational Culture are strongly related. Both address the challenges and the need to overcome resistance, and what the stakes are for not doing so. Other posts on SWJ and the SWC have discussed the need to reform OPMS and our HR strategy. I think SWC member Ken White is 100% correct when he says you must start there. Why? Because the regardless of the external reasons we have articulated for change, in our heart and soul, our practices will not allow us to apply our most precious resource - people - where we say they need to be. What I mean is that there is a dichotomy here. We have identified our heart as the combat soldier, combat leaders and combat formations - this is the cultural identity we have developed and hold close. The path to advancement to the very top is tied to it - and as long as the requirement remains identified as being to engage in close combat, and the conditions associated with it, it will probably remain so - and maybe that should be the case. We have further created specific gates through which leaders must pass before they can be considered for positions of greater responsibility - there is also wisdom in this - Im not sure you want a BCT CDR who has never had to command a company or a BN, nor am I sure you want a Regional COCOM CDR who has never had to command something smaller then a Division or its Joint equivalent - there is an appreciation required for such things - an appreciation for the complications that arise at the tactical level - why the simplest of things can be terribly difficult in the context of fog, friction and chance.

This creates a limited amount of time for a leader to hit those gates and qualify to move up. We have further added certain other gates and requirements - such as those that came out of the GN Act - e.g. we decided Joint certification was of such importance as to require it along the path - this seems like a small thing, but it is still another gate, and I believe its an important one.

So when COL (R) Killebrew writes:

"Third, within the Defense Department, a system of schools to train and educate officers and NCOs headed for MAAG assignments must be established and maintained to ensure that advisers, though chosen for their military skills, are also schooled in U.S. policy aims and in the language and culture of their hosts. Schooling will probably best be accomplished on two levels -- the lowest for service members on an initial tour, who will return to their mainstream specialties after a two- or three-year hitch in the host country. The second level should be for those more senior service members who desire to make MAAG work a career, and who will return to the region for multiple tours, eventually culminating as a MAAG executive officer or commander. Since the Army has experience training and educating advisers and will eventually provide the greatest percentage of adviser personnel, it should be designated the service executive agent for establishing MAAG training and education, and should be funded by the Defense Department.
Fourth, at the combatant command and service proponent level, commanders and staffs should ensure that channels of communications and support are established to reinforce and back country teams -- not just MAAGs -- by all legal means. Since MAAGs traditionally have low-overhead administrative capability, service components can and should provide administrative backup for members, maintain channels of support back to the appropriate services and, with the authority of the combatant commander and their own authority, support MAAG and COM requests for MTT and other service expertise. "

I think we must consider what the other implications, complications and challenges are - if were ever going to leverage the strength of everyone inside the institution - and operationalize it in a way that changes us at our heart - not just some good cosmetics to an appendage. There has been some great discussion about what we really want out of our advisors - the traits and qualities that allow us influence in a way that builds partner capacity and helps us meet our policy goals - no matter if we our pursuing a direct strategy or an indirect one, it must be in pursuit of a political goal (i.e. those outlined in the NSS) or you cannot justify the expenditure of resources - both in a material sense and in a political one - youll quickly run out of Schlitz.

We say that advising requires both a technical set of skills on the topic of which they advice is given, skills that make the advice more transferable (language and culture), but also that advising is best suited to those with a level of emotional maturity and natural ability to communicate and influence. While we have said that the "A" type folks who find success at the tactical levels of command may not be well suited for advising, we should also accept that the ones who "excel" at command possess the same attributes we want in our advisors - they are able to influence beyond just being directive, they are able to inspire. They are able to see the big picture and distinguish between the important and the trivial. I believe those folks that "excel" in command would also be those who would probably excel at advising.

Unfortunately, I think we may be at odds with our-self, and may be designing something that keeps us from the type of changing that really helps us operationalize an indirect strategy. While it may be easier to take a post command CPT in the operations career field (meaning hes still doing what we consider the heart of our trade) and make him an advisor because he has probably 2 years before he makes MAJ - that only gets us part way. There is a window here - but be it a tour as an advisor or a tour as an instructor at a branch school house or OC (Observer Controller) at a CTC (Combat Training Center), it gets harder the higher up you go - the importance placed on the job by the CPT and by his rater and mentor often coincides with the perception of how well it will prepare that officer to succeed at his next job - that drives choice.

The MAJ must compete for the various jobs that will distinguish him from his peers - often described as the "King Maker" job - the BCT S3 is both coveted by many who wish to command again, and is a very tough job - lots of hard work and lots of extra hours. From there you might get a couple of years before getting picked up for LTC - but there are some other gates the guy needs to knock out - maybe its a Joint job, or maybe he makes LTC early and grabs a BCT XO job. The perception is its better to stay in an operational billet and build experience that will help you in your next operational job. This is a tough bias to overcome because there is some truth in it - and because many folks have succeeded following that formula, it has been perpetuated. There will be a few who willingly look for something different - they just like doing different things, or they are looking at the world in a different light, but they risk something every time they do - if the perception is that whatever they have done can be clearly tied back to being better, or giving them some advantage that helps them become a more competent commander - then the risk is less - and if its clearly accepted as being beneficial by their rater and mentor, then youll have guys competing to go and do that job. Ill be the first one to say that my time as an advisor has benefitted both me as a professional and the jobs the Army might give me to do.

There is also a requirement for ILE (Intermediate Level Education ) which will take about year no matter if you are an operations guy and go to Leavenworth or an equivalent, or are a functional area guy, and go to something like I did - 4 months at BSAP and 4 months at an ILE Satellite Campus. If were investing in a guy with ACS (Advanced Civil Schooling) as a CPT or MAJ, or investing in SAMS (School of Advanced Military Studies) then there is about another year to 18 months hes unavailable (however - we get a more capable leader as a result)

After MAJ - the combat arms pyramid starts to take hold and guys go into other jobs. There are TDA Commands vs. MTO&E Commands, primaries vs. alternates, etc. This is also a point where 05s start to get close to 20 and are considering their options - retirement, contract jobs etc. These folks might be more amenable to alternate career paths - certainly the chance to command is always attractive be it a MTO&E, a TDA or a potential MAAG. These leaders are by no means duds, it is simply that the competition is intense and the field is full of amazing potential.

This I think is where the challenge resides. In order to really change the paradigm, the buy in is required by our heart, this means in order to operationalize an indirect strategy on par with our ability to execute a direct one, we have to inculcate it within our core beliefs. If you cant do that, you run the risk of this being a "lesser" then - one that is filled with "who is available", or a double tapping of existing personnel and commands outside the core. We have (and I think require) good people in career fields other then operations. Its taken time and pain to build those up with good folks who can support our core - when you have commitments like the U.S. military does, its not as simple as maintaining a self-defense force, and our requirements reflect the policy objectives by our government. If you dont find away to reflect the importance of "advising" in our core, you are potentially going to perpetuate a system that outside of the core is "see a hole, fill a hole. This is at odds with the importance we say "advising" and "enabling partner capacity" should have in our strategy.

What is the alternative - it goes back to change from within, and convincing the immunity system that what is being introduced is required, beneficial and not a threat. The Marines have long touted the MAGTF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) as a centerpiece in their power-projection. They also have a SPMAGTF - Special Purpose. What is the difference - on its face itd seem that one has a more special purpose. The Army also has a center piece, its the BCT - we now call it modular so that it is scalable and can be equipped in a modular sense with additional capabilities to operate across the full spectrum - offense, defense, stability and civil support. Could the SP MAGTF concept be applied to a BCT and to the TAA (Train, Assist & Advise) mission - I think so, and I think it would not only send a message to those on the outside about what is really important, but also to the folks on the inside. This is important to us particularly since weve decided to increase our force structure by additional BCTs and probably not invest in a specialized force.

If a BCT were to be given a geographical specialty that it could focus on (this should not be seen as exclusive to contingencies or other possibilities - just more of a focus then the whole world) would this permit it to leverage local resources like partnerships with the private sector, or a more habitual relationship with a regional COCOM? Could it cultivate a particular language program and through return trips to that area develop long standing ties - and maybe even encourage partnership in a broader sense by facilitating relationships between private enterprise in its home station community with its geographical partners - there is a broader strategic communications aspect associated with this - that goes beyond building physical security capacity - but creates other ties and communicates what we really hold highest in our social ideals, and reinforces stability.

Time is probably the toughest resource to come by - time to invest in a BCT to take on this mission. Time can probably be more readily procured with the acceptance of risk - which would have to be initially purchased by civilian leadership who told uniformed leadership what their priorities were clearly and in such away that not everything was of equal importance. As long as everything is equally important, and risk is unacceptable anywhere, we will have a hard time establishing what is the priority and determining where to accept risk - were just not resourced to be equally the best at everything that we could possibly do - but because of our unequal dialogue with the weight going to the civilian side (a good thing) we cannot simply switch emphasis. What we can do is default to what weve always done - and that means we wager our side bets with less then optimal which ultimately means satisficing. While side bets look pretty good in simulation - where the conditions mostly reflect the way wed prefer them to be, or well change them to reflect it, the truth remains that outside of that - well default to "see a hole, fill a hole" - the best we can do unless we change our heart - that would be real transformation.

Im not trying to poke holes at COL(R) Killebrews thoughts, much like LTC Nagls original thoughts it takes courage and vision just to get something out there - but I do think we have to talk about whom we are, and the challenges of overcoming our organizational culture and overcoming our heart. Do we really want to change the paradigm, or just massage it?

Best, Rob