McMaster Busts Myths of Future Warfare

McMaster Busts Myths of Future Warfare by David Vergun, Army.mil

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 10, 2014) -- Americans and their leaders all too often wear rose-tinted glasses when it comes to assessing future warfare, said the deputy commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command for Futures and director, Army Capabilities Center.

Too often, people think battles can be won through engineering and technological advances: cyber, advanced weapons systems, robotics and so on, said Lt. Gen. Herbert R. McMaster Jr.

Big defense firms sell big-ticket systems that are supposed to win wars, he said. The firms use subtle and not-so-subtle advertising that you need this system for the sake of your children and grandchildren and if you don't purchase it, "you're heartless." Congress usually obliges.

The truth is that while overmatch is important, people win wars, he said.

McMaster spoke at the Association of the United States Army's Institute of Land Warfare Medical Forum, Sept. 10. His topic was the Human Dimension.

Although the Army has dominated the battlefield technologically in the recent past, that's no guarantee against an increasingly agile, adaptive foe. The enemy is becoming more adept at eluding firepower through dispersion into civilian areas, disrupting communications and adopting new technologies, he explained. And, non-state actors like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are already fielding capabilities once the sole domain of states.

The "zero dark-thirty" myth is another, he said. This idea uses systems theory to explain warfare as a series of linked nodes. The idea is to selectively take out nodes that are critical to the enemy's network.

In systems theory, the U.S. would simply conduct air strikes or a special operations raid of limited duration to disrupt the network, he said. The systems theory goes back to the Spanish-American War in 1898, when sea power was supposed to win the war, but it took boots on the ground, he said.

In 1940, there was an article in "Look" magazine touting the role of long-range bombers like the B-29s, which could win World War II, should America get into the fight, he said. Same thing happened in the early years of Vietnam, but the North couldn't be bombed into submission.

Another myth about future conflicts, he said, is that America can choose whether or not to "RSVP." The U.S. can simply "opt out by saying 'thanks for your kind invitation, but we cannot attend your war.'"

The opt-out was used before Pearl Harbor, as well as before 9/11. "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you," McMaster said, citing Leon Trotsky.

A final myth is that the U.S. can just advise and assist other armies and let them do the fighting. The problem with that myth, he said, is the other army might have a different agenda that's incongruent with U.S. interests. Besides that, the other military and government might be corrupt and not inspire loyalty from its people and soldiers. Furthermore, the military capabilities may be lacking.

All of these myths are attractive, but they are no substitute for boots on the ground, he said, adding that he's the "biggest fan of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps," meaning it will take a joint team with all capabilities brought to the table to win.

PEOPLE POWER NO MYTH

While the air, space, maritime and cyber domains are important, warfare is essentially a "contest of wills," a "human endeavor," McMaster said. From the earliest time, people go to war out of "fear, honor or interests."

Understanding the psychology of the enemy, partners and civilians is essential, from the generals down to the privates, he said. Tomorrow's Soldier will need to be better prepared through education and realistic training.

Soldiers need to understand the cultural, tribal, religious, ideological and economic drivers at the nation and local levels, he explained, to have the situational understanding that is needed.

The enemy already has that understanding, he added.

In the past, America has not generally understood the psychology of the enemy or even their own, he said. In Pentagon war games conducted in 1964 and 1965, the gamers discovered that in a few years the war would escalate with half a million troops on the ground in Vietnam. The game outcome also predicted an American public losing faith with the war and that lies about winning the war would further erode support. But leaders disregarded the findings, which eventually were borne out.

While the American public and its leaders need a better understanding of conflict, Soldiers do as well, he said.

Soldiers need realistic training that includes sustained operations in confused and chaotic situations, such as in an urban environment, he said. Soldiers also need special cultural education which emphasizes a sense of empathy for the civilians.

Leaders too need special training to conduct these types of scenarios and try to "recreate traumatic stress and persistent danger for extended periods of time," he said.

Leaders also need to have a better understanding of combat trauma and its effects, as well as the stigma that's often associated with those stressors, he added.

As the science of human behavior advances, the Army needs to continue incorporating those findings into the human dimension, he concluded. While hi-tech weaponry is essential, battles are won or lost by people.

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The author implies rather incorrectly that:

"In 1940, there was an article in "Look" magazine touting the role of long-range bombers like the B-29s, which could win World War II, should America get into the fight, he said. Same thing happened in the early years of Vietnam, but the North couldn't be bombed into submission."

There never was a military strategy aimed at "bombing North Vietnam into submission." In fact all targets bombed in the North resulted from those selected from a weekly list recommended by a group of military officers reporting to General Wheeler when he was Chairman of the JCS. That group of Officers did not include a single USAF or Naval Aviator among its staff -- as they were opposed to the mission they were given for bombing the North. McNamara, Wheeler, and Taylor came up with the idea they could select a rather limited number of targets to be bombed -- that somehow would (possibly) convince North Vietnam's political leaders to cease sending men and supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail in to the South. It was an absurd strategic approach -- but one of their making, not one that originated with or was supported by the USAF or USN despite the fact they were ordered to carry it out.

McMasters, like many, seems to be oriented towards winning battles and wars. This country has had a rather poor record in that arena in the past seven decades. The question to be asked, instead, is why do we need to win battles or wars in a given region? We need to ask ourselves what are the strategic national interests that this nation has at risk in a given turbulent area that would require the U.S. to there invest in a ground campaign, i.e. employ ground combat units, to secure those strategic national interests? If there are strategic national interests at risk in a given geographical area, that are of sufficient value to this country or the West, then we should determine if there are diplomatic or military means to secure that strategic interest short of inserting American ground forces in a combat role into a given area.

This nation's political and military leaders need to recognize that American armed forces are committed to a particular effort to secure a political goal, not to fight battles or win wars.

The recent events in Iraq provide an example of how this country can secure the availability (to the West) of at risk strategic interests deemed necessary for our economic health and well being -- without our needing to participate in winning some military contest between local forces.

ISIS / ISIL forces advancing into or heading towards the major oil resource areas of Kurdistan and Shiite Iraq posed a potential threat to those oil resource -- which in part help fuel Western Economies. This country was able to stop the ISIL advance toward the above noted oil resource areas -- using (from our perspective) only air power plus providing advisers and weapons provisioning to local forces. American air power and advice from advisers enabled the Kurdish and Iraqi Shiite military forces to halt the advance of the ISIL forces toward the at risk oil resource areas -- and that is all from an American perspective that is necessary to secure that strategic interests for this country.

The outcome of the war between the Sunni ISIL forces on one hand and the predominantly Shiite / Hezbollah / Iranian forces on the other hand is of little strategic interest to this country. If for some reason or other this nation is displeased with the advance of one side or another in the above noted inter-Arab conflict, it can act to bring that forward movement to a halt simply by bombing the advancing forces, providing the defenders some limited number of defensive armaments including shoulder fired missiles or anti-tank weapons, etc. That effort would be aimed at merely shaping the battlefield (so to speak), not to determine the outcome.

At no point should this country send its ground forces into that arena in a combat role -- there is nothing worth winning (for this country) in that arena that would be worth the hundreds of billions that would be spent in such an effort.

American policy should be to invest limited military means to secure limited objectives in support of some political goal -- and that political goal should rarely, if ever, include more than securing some material interest of benefit to the West which is at risk due to the actions of a locally competing armed force acting in a hostile manner aimed at obtaining control of that resource.

CB Calif said:

"This nation's political and military leaders need to recognize that American armed forces are committed to a particular effort to secure a political goal, not to fight battles or win wars."

I suggest that the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- and the previous war in Vietnam -- were not undertaken to fight battles or to win wars but, instead, to secure an enduring political goal.

This enduring political objective (to be achieved by "containment" during the Cold War or via "expansion" presently) being:

To transform outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines. This, so as to provide that these states and societies might become less of a problem for/burden on the West and the global economy and more of an asset thereto. (Our enduring national interest.)

It is within this context (not to fight battles or win wars but, rather, to secure the political goal outlined in the paragraph immediately above) that America's armed forces -- then as now -- were/are commited to various efforts in various places around the world.

Herein, continually relying on the (irrational?) idea that populations everywhere, liberated from their non-western regimes, would quickly, easily and mostly on their own:

a. Throw off their current ways of life and governance and, in the place of these

a. Adopt our specific and unique ways of life and governance.

Via the insights provided above, to understand:

a. Why this country has deployed its armed forces to such places as Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

b. Why we have such a good record at fighting and winning battles in these locales.

c. But such a poor record at winning wars and achieving our enduring political goal (see my fourth paragraph above).

Thus, the "bottom line" problem here being our inability to understand other people and their not such much "universal" -- but, rather, "individual" -- wants, needs, desires, ambitions and ideas?

McMaster describing/emphasizing this "bottom line" problem in terms our failure to understand that we have a -- not a "liberation" problem here but, rather -- a classic conflict/contest of wills?

CBCalif,

I enjoyed your comments and I share your alarm at the implications impacting our current state posed by the attempt to revise our military and political defeat in Vietnam. However if you can forgive me for saying so your statement -

‘That group of Officers did not include a single USAF or Naval Aviator among its staff -- as they were opposed to the mission they were given for bombing the North. ‘

- I find somewhat disingenuous; especially the latter half.

More than 5 million sorties meant an enormous number of USAF and Naval Aviators rode the pay grade up to General and Admiral on the back of so much folly. Such a huge number of sorties and not one resigned despite the opposition you suggest existed in their ranks? Forgive me but it was not as if there wasn't anyone else protesting the war.

Lt-Col McNamara (Ret) was long-time pals with LeMay, Thornton & Dantzig and other strategic bombing gurus who were all ex Air Force and many considered as brilliant as McNamara. But once again I don’t recall too much public opposition from any of that distinguished lot.

Gen D M Shoup was probably the most prominent establishment critic. Many believe only the MOH he won at Tarawa kept him out of prison, but he too waited until he’d retired from the USMC before publicly condemning the VN War.

I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment regards the cause of the defeat in VN and I also agree the current attempt to revise those reasons currently pose enormous risk. However I believe there was more than enough blame in Vietnam to be cast over all the senior leadership of all the services and not just the morons directing the grunts.

Regards,
RC

It is important to separate the failed Rolling Thunder from the later Operation Linebacker which was partially successful, and may have resulted in a different outcome if used in 1965. Of course we'll never know, but it did validate that gradual escalation rarely if ever works against a determined adversary. Rolling Thunder was the first application of what the military later called EBO (fit in perfectly with the McNamara/Rumsfeld mindset that war could and should be waged via measurements). Fortunately, Gen Mathis killed it, but its negative effects (pun intended)still permeates our doctrine.

I agree with your comments on limited political objectives, but our political and defense cultures tend to reject this idea. Instead they seek grander strategic goals via decisive battle (rarely will it present itself), and perhaps more dangerous, or misleading, is our desire to identify and solve so-called root causes. Remember "The Pentagon's New Map" by Barnett? His proposal in my words was to integrate all countries into the process of globalization. A process that has often been labeled cultural and economic colonialism. If you want to make more enemies, and continue to erode our economic power, then it is a great proposal. This approach is similar to building a road to nowhere just to create jobs. We fail to see that we often are the core of the problem. When we're not, it is unlikely we will correctly identify the underlying core problems, and more often than we will not be able to fix them. Yes, this means in some cases we may have to return and fight again, which isn't unknown throughout history. So what? In many, if not most, cases it is still a more pragmatic approach then building our own quagmire. Pursuing limited objectives protects our reputation and is an economically sustainable approach to protect our national interests. The other approach is attempting to do more than is possible, developing a persistent drain on our economy, and reducing our influence globally. It also creates strategic paralysis where we refuse to take action, when action would be wise, because we convinced ourselves that using military power doesn't work. It certainly works if used wisely to pursue appropriate objectives.

deleted (by me :)

More on the intellectual worlds of the Henry Jackson Society, the Hoover Institution, etc.:

Accepts that we have to set priorities and that sometimes we have to compromise, but insists that we should never lose sight of our fundamental values. This means that alliances with repressive regimes can only be temporary. It also means a strong commitment to individual and civil liberties in democratic states, even and especially when we are under attack.

- from the 'About the Society' section

and

By kind invitation of Bernard Jenkin MP, the Henry Jackson Society was pleased to host Pakistani political activist, and former world cricket champion, Mr Imran Khan. Mr Khan spoke on the issue of Pakistani politics being both in a state of crisis, but also at a moment of opportunity. In spite of the corruption and failings of the past, Mr Khan enunciated his belief that democracy, supported by an independent judiciary and a free media, can take root in Pakistan, and that this was much closer to becoming a reality than many people outside the country believe.

Lots of MPs with lots of invites to Imran Khan.

Democracy promotion is important. Also, the perfect way to obsfucate, cultivate, and plain old manipulate. And I'm talking about the old PNAC crowd, although, any time groups like this get together there are so many mixed impulses, it's hard to know what any of it means.

Did the old PNAC crowd know, or not know, or did they think they could manipulate this all from the air, so to speak, or did they just not care? NATO or Iran or Russia or having bases in Afghanistan or whatever matter more, or the dreams of ideology or silk routes or whatever caught the fancy?

http://henryjacksonsociety.org/2010/06/07/the-politics-of-pakistan-democ...

Oh, why pick on them? Who doesn't want to be the leader of NATO, whether British or American, or a leader via a forever constabulary forward presence?

A more Hoover-y link:

There is earnestness in Musharraf, yet he can barely keep his nation intact. Few can truly believe, however, that a more benign, more orderly, history would await Pakistan were its preachers and officers to roll the dice yet again and cast him aside.

Fouad Ajami teaches at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. His most recent book is “The Foreigner’s Gift: The Americans, The Arabs, and the Iraqis.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/07/books/review/ajami.html?pagewanted=all...

At least Robert Kagan was one up on Ajami on this topic, give him credit for that at least. But again, the strange belief in the ability to manage anything with words typed on paper, and, weirdly, the words typed on paper were underscored with boots on the ground so that it never quite all came together. The words typed on paper had to direct the boots on the ground in the correct way, to begin with.

I think this belongs here. I very much think this all belongs right here, right with this conversation of the myths of war. The only problem is, which myth, and how do we tell the correct myth from the incorrect myth?

Not just the Right, however we think about it in the US and the UK, but antiwar (the libertarian site) with its Eric Margolis fascinations often seemed interested in Imran too, especially in the past. Who can even begin to understand the intellectual milieu of all of this.

For people who don't follow the arguments back-and-forth. How do we get mixed up in all this again?:

Imran Khan, the Pakistani opposition leader, plotted with army chiefs to oust the country’s elected prime minister, his own party president claimed on Monday.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/11068811/Imran-K...

I went to look up that MP on YouTube, politicians often put up little pieces, and I think this was the MP where I came up with a homey local meeting of British Asians, Indian-origin and Pakistani-origin, and it was, well, I don't know. Instead of my usual skepticism and hardness, I had a flood of nostalgia for my childhood for those immigrant gatherings in flyover, so well-meaning, the way it's always been done in the US, German, Italian, Polish, Irish, Filipino, the way it always happens. The way you become American or British or whatever. And how, the closer to power you go, it somehow becomes corrupted, if not corrupted before without you even knowing it.

Once again, from the interview/article:

The opt-out was used before Pearl Harbor, as well as before 9/11. "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you," McMaster said, citing Leon Trotsky.

Because Henry Jackson Society type commentators, activists, and activist-journalists, don't like the word neoconservative, let's do this differently. Let's use actual names, actual testimony, actual writings, and so on.

Public speculation about the complicity of the Pakistani government or security services either in harboring bin Laden or in supporting the U.S. operation that killed him is idle. Policy-makers and strategists would do much better to focus on the demonstrable facts about the threat militant Islamists based in Pakistan pose to Pakistan itself, its neighbors, our forces, and our homeland.

-

"Frederick W. Kagan
May 3, 2011

Testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence hearing entitled, "The Threat to the U.S. Homeland Emanating from Pakistan."

http://www.criticalthreats.org/pakistan/frederick-kagan-house-testimony-...

Once again, this is not about Pakistan. I could do this for India, Russia, Poland, Saudi Arabia, the UK, you name it. And the Pakistani people have just as much a right to be upset with the process between elites.

The point is to look at our intellectuals, and to mine their thought processes a bit.

Remember, the Kaganites are obsessed with appeasement and sneak attacks, to threats to the homeland (such a weird word for an AMERICAN to use, for heaven's sake), and so on. Yet what do we find when we look at what has actually happened and when we compare it to the natural intellectual environment of the Kaganites?

Well, friends, I am busy looking through old copies of Military Review but you all might like to look through, what is it called, Policy Review, the now-defunct Hoover magazine. See if you can find anything about South or West Asia that accurately predicts events.

We will all have our homework to do, won't we?

Another myth about future conflicts, he said, is that America can choose whether or not to "RSVP." The U.S. can simply "opt out by saying 'thanks for your kind invitation, but we cannot attend your war.'"

I never understand the popularity of this "Kaganism" within military intellectual circles. Is there any more problematic theme throughout our post WWII (US) foreign policy than our inability to say, "no thanks," especially toward those that know how to game our system? Chalabi knew to go right to the Council on Foreign Affairs and cultivate the likes of Bernard Lewis, he knew exactly how to do the years-long work of working the DC consensus. You can't blame one person, events are too complicated, but why the continued popularity of this idea, the idea of not thinking things through, of being forever reactive?

Opting in or opting out is known as prioritization, an important aspect of a successful foreign policy.

It's amazing to read the Kagan's or other hawks of either neoconservative or liberal interventionist bent, because for all their fascination with preventing another sneak attack like Pearl Harbor, there is nothing in the 90's era writing to suggest where OBL would eventually be found. It's really the most fascinating blind spot.

Team B thought there was only Arabic in the world, poor things.

And what's a little ISIS/IS/ISIS or AL Q if we can get at Assad or the Iranians? Dear Hoover, please rethink :)

PS: And because no one ever gets me, I know McMaster is brilliant. Am I supposed to be so stupid I don't know that?

Likewise what must be discarded/discredited I believe, and never again relied upon as it was recently, is the myth of the universal appeal of the western way of life -- and the myth of the universal appeal of western values, attitudes and beliefs -- these providing that populations, liberated from their oppressive regimes would, essentially on their own, become (1) politically, economically and socially westernized, (2) peaceful and (3) prosperous virtually overnight.

This allowing that only a very small military force -- employed for only a very short period of time -- would be needed to (1) decapitate the oppressive regime and (2) turn the country over to the "waiting-with-baited-breath-to-be-westernized" populations.

The above approach (get rid of oppressive/hindering regime; rely on the waiting-to-be-westernized population) being the way that we believed that we would achieve our strategic objective (transforming outlying states and societies more along modern western lines) in the post-Cold War era.

This was tried in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and all we got was chaos. This requiring that significant military forces had to be sent in to restore and keep order.

These examples and this understanding, I believe, taking us back to "square one;" wherein, we understand -- as we did in days past -- that to achieve our strategic objective (state and societal westernization) it is better to work with oppressive but reliable regimes rather than with unreliable, fickle and inept populations.

Now understanding that "the shinning house on the hill" does not have the overwhelming appeal that we thought that it would have post-the Cold War, we must now again come to rely on our other "instruments of power and persuasion;" capabilities which were and are designed more to influence regimes rather than populations.

Concur?

LTG McMaster is taking over as TRACOC Deputy for Army Futures and Army Capabilities and Integration Center Director. I'm wondering how much he is in agreement or otherwise with the RDECOM/DARPA concept for the GXV vehicle. I downloaded a briefing from RDECOM that I got off of military blog and have read several descriptions that need addressing.

I found a new link to it although it originally was on War is Boring maybe:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/237850225/Ground-X-Vehicle

First, I read that the GXV would weigh about 30 tons or 60,000 lbs. Then I look at the briefing that depicts 8 such vehicles in one C-17 and the personnel for it a separate C-17. Somebody must relook at that math because a C-17 can reasonably transport 160,000+ lbs with aerial refueling. Only two GXV would fit on each C-17 or maybe four if you split both vehicles and personnel between two C-17s...if you can carry both equipment and their Soldiers simultaneously (?). But you already could do that with a Bradley, too. If the GXV is only 20,000 lbs you could put eight on a C-17...but that is JLTV territory.

Then the briefing depicts a GXV being carried by a CH-47 Chinook. Well the CH-47F is mighty strong but it won't be lifting a 60,000 lb GXV anytime soon.

The briefing depicts airdrop of a GXV and has a novel depiction of dismounts sitting along the sides in flip down seats similar to how 160th little birds carry some troops on the sides. The problem is the obvious danger to such troops from IEDs and machine gun fire or artillery raking the sides of the GXV. It seemingly briefs well but probably isn't that feasible in real conflicts.

LTG McMaster is the ideal leader to align his own experiences with RDECOM and DARPA to come up with real world solutions. The airborne mafia will need to be reigned in on one end because initial airdrop just isn't that safe anymore against radar and other air defenses let alone ground fire. JSEAD suppression and destruction will be part of an airborne entry but may or may not find/jam everything. An initial air assault of lower-flying Army future vertical lift and Marine MV-22 to seize a drop zone or amphibious landing zone with less troops at risk per aircraft may be essential prior to bringing in airborne troops and equipment.

On the other end of the spectrum is the armor mafia who probably don't like the idea of smaller vehicles without a large main gun. One slide depicts a GXV hiding in urban defilade as a threat tank rolls by. At the range depicted a small rocket or missile could work on GXV. At greater range, a fast but not fast enough missile/rocket may not be sufficient against a tank firing a round at a mile a second.

On the plus side, the idea of sliding armor, active defenses against incoming rounds and a small area making it harder to hit are great ideas. The depiction of a tracked layout on four corners instead of wheels solves the off-road problem. The ability to raise the GXV to reduce IED lethality while being able to rapidly lower it hydraulically and scoot even diagonally when incoming rounds or artillery are detected was also well thought out.

I'm just wondering how this fits in with tank-sized GCV Bradley-replacements? The JLTV also appears to be on track as the CH-47 liftable vehicle of choice for the near future. Could a version of JLTV be modified with the four-corner tracks to become the GXV? Could a version be used with paddles on all four corners to become an amphibious vehicle for Marines?

Finally, how does all this fit in with unmanned and driverless ground vehicles? One aspect that seems to be deterring civil leadership from deploying boots on the ground is the cost and logistics thereof. Could the Army use the USAF idea of remote-split operations to operate ground vehicles from distant locations using unmanned aircraft as data link relays? When faced with mines and IEDs, does night patrolling using unmanned ground vehicles make more sense saving JLTV and dismount patrols for the daytime when civilians are out and about?

Does LTG McMaster buy the idea of Iron Man style body armor to protect dismounts. How does all this fit into cost of ground forces? When you add up the cost of E-4s who make as much as my Step 10 GS-5 wife with 30 years experience, the insurance cost if that Soldier is killed, and even greater disability cost if just maimed, maybe more unmanned substitutes for dismounts makes sense?

From what I have heard LTG McMaster say, he is an advocate of the GXV, or at the very least for a tracked replacement to the M2/M3 Bradley. I interpret what he has said as a desire for something of a cross between a medium tank and a heavy troop carrier. You can look up any number of his conference speeches and panels on youtube when he was the MCoE Commander.

This is a good article and I get the message. I appreciate the emphasis on people power as not a myth. Warfare is essentially the contest of wills and the human endeavor. Technology is no guarantee. Even with systems approach and systems theory, boots on the ground are necessary. We can't advise and assist and let others do the fighting. However, as a Vietnam Veteran, I see the General retreat from his myth thesis when talking about Vietnam and credit a 1964/65 Pentagon War Game as a predictor of outcomes in Vietnam. The leaders just disregarded the findings and lied about winning.