Disruptive Technology and Reforming the Pentagon Establishment—Part III
“Back at Quantico, [LtCol] Wyly was beginning to realize that his radical ideas on [Maneuver Warfare] were unpopular with the new director of the [Amphibious Warfare School]. Wyly was not invited to meetings he should have attended. Numerous officers snubbed him. On February 25, 1982…Wyly came to work and was told he had been fired as head of Tactics…. He returned from one trip to find his office had been ransacked and his personal mail opened, the latter a federal offense…. A Marine officer fired from his job is considered wounded. He is prey for all predators.
--Robert Coram on LtCol Mike Wyly, Boyd, 2004.
Part III: Deconstructing Pentagon Establishment Opposition to MRAPs.
As stated in Part I of this series, my experience in a key role initiating MRAPs in 2006 (along with several other devices of counter insurgency warfare) suggests that little has changed since Col. Burton described the Pentagon Establishment as morally and ethically corrupt in 1993. My experiences between 2006 and 2010 in advocating a disciplined, transparent, rapid technology initiation process, and application of maneuver warfare principles to the support establishment also suggest integrity is lacking in the military portion of the industrial complex. Five internal audits from 2007 to 2011 form a serious indictment. The attempt to end GS-15 Franz Gayl’s career by removing his security clearance and spinning his performance as sub-standard underscores that the Pentagon Establishment is plagued with hubris and an inability to get beyond the siloed technology high-priests and their hyper-complex, hyper-expensive toolset approach to warfare. They are unable to overcome their “not invented here” mentality without extraordinary intervention.
In this article, the Pentagon Establishment’s rationale for opposing MRAPs in 2005, 2006, and even into 2007 will be explained. Anti-MRAP excuses will be deconstructed, with support of the judgments of the DoD Inspector General MRAP audit of December 2008 and the judgments of the MRAP Case Study from the Science Advisor to the Deputy Commandant for Plans, Policy & Operations at Headquarters Marine Corps (January 2008).
Pentagon Establishment Rationale for Opposing MRAPs
The Pentagon Establishment used four primary arguments against MRAPs in 2006:
1) MRAPs are too expensive.
2) There was no industry capacity.
3) The enemy will just build a bigger bomb.
4) MRAPs do not integrate with all our other toolsets.
Other arguments swirled around as the Pentagon Establishment turned on their smokescreens and legacy thinkers wrote with a kind of ungrounded confidence that often accompanies issues of technology, but these four arguments were the primary lines of thinking that were overcome in 2006-2007.
All four of these arguments fit the “musclebound” description of the Pentagon that James Fallows made famous in the early 1980’s. In my view, these excuses go beyond bad logic for toolset selection: they were specifically designed to protect the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program and they were a manifestation of the “not invented here” hubris of the Establishment. New programs like MRAPs do not have headwinds magically. People in permanent positions (often GS-15s and colonels hoping to retire and keep the same job) in the Pentagon Establishment deliberately create those headwinds, using bureaucratic protections such as the “program of record” to torpedo competing ideas.
One gentleman at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC) in 2009 explained, “the program of record is designed to be protected from all attacks, even from Congress.” I responded, “And that’s how you lose wars. Thankfully, Mr. Gates has already decided the issue—toolsets for the wars are being prioritized over Programs of Record.”
The Pentagon Establishment is habituated to buying whatever they want under any time frame that is convenient to them. These four excuses are the result of what Col Burton termed “incestuous” Pentagon Establishment thinking, and they were uncovered by today’s loose band of reformers. As described in The Fourth Star, this is why General Galvin encouraged a young David Petraeus to get a Ph.D., and why Gen Petraeus, in turn, valued his Ph.D. “brain trust” so much. In many ways, they had trained themselves to think outside the box.
These four Pentagon Establishment excuses for blocking MRAPs are still repeated by the same people who are proven to not be up to the task of military technology requirements definition if the situation requires an idea cycle time that is less than 10 years. I would suggest that these excuses are intended to protect individuals from embarrassment and to shield personal careers. The Pentagon Establishment’s goal over the past several years is obvious to me: marginalize or end the careers of critics—reformers like Mr. Gayl—and repeat these four arguments or their sequels until they are accepted as conventional wisdom.
Deconstruction of Pentagon Establishment Anti-MRAP Logic
Each of the four anti-MRAP arguments listed above will be addressed in this section.
Rather than focusing on warfighter needs, cost of MRAPs was typically the very first reason the Pentagon Establishment gave as to why we should not buy MRAPs. “Cost” always referred to sticker price “direct” costs. Indirect cost-drivers associated with the vehicle choices of the Pentagon Establishment were never mentioned: the cost of casualties, the cost to replace injured or killed service members, the operational and maintenance costs of overloaded HMMWVs, the strategic costs associated with the risk of losing the war all weighed heavily in the MRAP’s favor as the inexpensive solution. Logic supporting MRAPs in Ship-to-Objective maneuver had been around since LtCol McGriff’s 2004 brilliant MRAP thesis at the School of Advanced Warfighting and it addressed most of the correct cost drivers.
There’s no way vehicle sticker price could be pitted against the cost borne by the taxpayers of all the lives being lost on the battlefield, let alone the cost via the VA Hospital system for those who survived landmine attacks. Once MRAPs became a moral imperative, the Pentagon Establishment’s story changed. Repeating a standard retroactive reinterpretation of the Establishment, one senior leader flatly denied in 2007 that cost was a reason we did not buy MRAPs in 2005. But throughout 2006 the first words out of everyone’s mouth in the Pentagon Establishment middle management was concern about the cost of MRAPs. It was the middle-managers in the Pentagon Establishment who never got the MRAP requirement to senior USMC General Officers for typical requirements review.
The numbers were always some version of $150K per HMMWV v. $600K per MRAP. Even today, the cost issue survives: list price comparisons are presented as furrowed-brow, thoughtful military thinking, hoping that no one will notice that their approach to cost analysis (what the business schools call “management accounting”) has literally not been in use since Richard Nixon was President. The Pentagon Establishment never once expressed concern about the cost of casualties, or the real cost-of-ownership of HMMWVs, or strategic costs of losing the war, or the cost of MRAPs relative to the monthly cost of the war.
In all these years of list-price demagoguery one wonders if the Pentagon’s Operations Research/Industrial Engineering cost analysts have ever studied MRAPs from a cost perspective. Certainly the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment did not understand the problem at all in Oct 2007, when they published an MRAP study that glossed over the most important MRAP arguments, and tried to encourage us to consider just taking more casualties. Revealing what he really thought in Dec 2007, CSBA’s president criticized MRAPs as antithetical to COIN warfare despite General Petraeus using them in 2007, and thanking Congress for them in Sep 2007. In the following years, almost all other COIN commanders embraced them and Gen Petraeus personally thanked Mr. Gates for MRAPs in his retirement letter of June 2011. For some reason, that remains a mystery to some COIN theorists. MRAPs and “Don’t commute to work” are not antithetical concepts. This leads us with a rhetorical question: How did Mr. Gates have more insight on COIN technologies like MRAPs than COIN expert Andrew Krepinevich? In Dr. Cohen’s book, Supreme Command, we see this dynamic repeated with supreme commanders in previous eras. In 2008 I met a Pentagon OR/IE analyst while we were both transiting through Kuwait and struck up an MRAP conversation. He repeated the list-price arguments and I repeated the arguments above. He looked at his boots.
Secondly, it was obvious very early in 2006 that the “industry capacity” argument was just a cynical game the Pentagon Establishment was playing: they never let the Feb 2005 MRAP requirement progress get to the point of asking Congress for money because they knew Congress would support it. They kept issuing sole-source, low-volume, small-quantity contracts to a company without much experience in building vehicles, and then at least one leader acted surprised in Congressional testimony that the company’s assembly line had a low-volume capability, as if he did not know that when Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) bought a low-volume industry capacity that is what it would get.
Everyone who knows anything about business knows that industry capacity immediately follows appropriations and contracts (for mature technologies like trucks), and they know that American industry can rapidly maneuver. Certainly, they know the United States of America knows how to build trucks. They know that no defense manufacturer will ever build a high-capacity MRAP assembly line for free, or a bunch of MRAPs in the hope that someone will buy them. Perhaps that is why Congressman Taylor described the whole MRAP situation as the fourth verse in a really stupid song (19 July 2007 House Armed Services Committee Hearing). The Pentagon Establishment knows rapid creation of industry capacity has been entirely possible since Henry Ford and the assembly line, as was proven 70 years ago in WWII. That is why it was obvious in 2006 that they did not want MRAPs competing with their pre-war Programs of Record. Our choices for a description of the conduct of the middle managers in the Pentagon Establishment are either near-total lack of understanding of innovation, or perniciousness.
Thirdly, people in the Pentagon Establishment often told me in 2006 that we should not buy MRAPs because the enemy would just build a bigger bomb. Yet, one of the goals of the MRAP program was to force the enemy to build a bigger bomb just like we take other actions on the battlefield to channelize the enemy into an untenable position. The Establishment used arguments that presumed MRAPs had to work perfectly against a bomb of any size even as they audaciously suggested, in several meetings in 2006, that MRAP requirements could be rolled into the JLTV to be delivered six years later, in 2012. They wanted to set the bar so high we would not buy MRAPs. Imagine, suggesting an urgent requirement could be delivered six years later!
But we were confident (in 2006) that MRAPs would decrease casualties, a level of confidence that has been supported by actual battlefield results year after year after year. A Sep 2010 article showed that they are highly effective even in Afghanistan many years after we initiated them. MRAPs had a 15% casualty rate, HMMWVs had an 80% casualty rate over an 18-month period, Jan 09 – Jul 10.
As was stated in the DoD Inspector General MRAP audit, we used MRAPs and ubiquitous cameras (Intelligence, Surveillance Reconnaissance, or ISR tools) “to disrupt insurgent activities in the emplacement and employment of improvised explosive devices,” (page 25). Major General Lynch USA summarized a portion of this concept in a USA Today article that talked about MRAPs, “Sons of Iraq”, and ISR as keys to an almost 90% decrease in casualties: “If they're out there planting an IED, we can go whack them before they finish," he said. The former made the latter a more effective tool.
As the DoD Inspector General MRAP audit relates, “As a part of a combined arms strategy to defeat IEDs, the Marine Corps also fielded frequency jammers, the Mine Roller System, and the Ground-based Operational Surveillance System (G-BOSS),” (page 7). In 2006 and 2007 these dynamics were explained and briefed dozens of times to officers within U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). The synergies between these toolsets and their associated tactics, how they were fit together as combined arms in the counter-landmine continuum, was also explained.
Finally, in 2006 those who actually initiated MRAPs did not care if MRAPs integrated into the broader inventory of toolsets, processes and procedures, or not. It did not matter: winning the war more quickly was better and cheaper than losing the war. When the Pentagon Establishment expressed concern for what we would do with MRAPs after the war, I would tell them, “Store them at Barstow, give them to the Army, put them in a cave in Kentucky, clean them up and sink them next to WWII Aircraft Carriers, give them to the Iraqi Army.” It did not matter what we did with MRAPs after the war. When I told them this, they often looked at me blankly and continued worrying about the money. No wonder Mr. Gates found the Pentagon “not on a wartime footing.”
Every argument against MRAPs given in all my conversations with people in the Pentagon Establishment in 2006 and 2007 turned out to be incorrect. Thankfully, disruptive technologists in these proceedings had been trained in applying Boydian tactics to the support establishment as well as to the battlefield. By personal observation it was clear that if the Establishment middle management could have figured out how to block MRAPs again in 2006 as they had in 2005, they would have done so. Nothing reveals the Musclebound Pentagon Establishment more than their handling of MRAPs.
The rationale as stated by people in the Pentagon Establishment in 2006 has been reprised and debunked in this essay. However, an experienced change agent is taught to spot the hidden internal agendas. In this case it became clear that these arguments were mere pointers toward the real reasons: Hubris and Habit.
A story from LtGen Chesty Puller is instructive. In the book Marine, Gen Puller had just been promoted to Brigadier General and a case was brought to him. After the Inchon landing and combat in Seoul, two Marines had flagged down an Army Military Police (MP) jeep and asked for a ride. The MPs declined to take the infantrymen with them, and evidently one of the Marines shot “at” the MPs as they drove away, whereupon the MPs turned around and arrested the two Marines. Gen Puller’s opinion? They could not have been shooting at the MPs, because combat Marines hit their targets. Because the MPs were not hit, the Marines must not have been shooting at them.
This rather humorous story, in a nutshell, describes the Pentagon Establishment and MRAPs. They did not buy MRAPs in 2005 because they did not want them, plain and simple. If they wanted them quickly, they would have bought them quickly. They bought them slowly in 2005 and 2006 without contingency plan for rapidly increasing production, evidence that they wanted to buy them slowly. Their habit was to ignore suggestions from the operating forces, and their hubris in spiking MRAPs and attempting to spike other requirements in 2005 and 2006 was business as usual. They forced us to re-purchase the 30-year-old lessons of the South Africans with our own casualties. That is 18-24 months of casualties that suggest we need to be honest with ourselves about our lack of technological foresight. When 3M Corporation middle-management blocks Post-It Notes, the stockholders and employees have less revenue. When the Integrated Steel Mills ignore mini-mill technology, they lose money. When our Establishment repeatedly chooses not to support the warfighter in a real war, something altogether more serious results. And that is why some in the Pentagon Establishment act as if excoriating audits never happened, and why they have been willing to go to great lengths to shout down Mr. Gayl’s truth-telling with specious claims that he used a thumb drive, or that his performance as the civilian equivalent of a colonel magically deteriorated when he began informing Congress of what was really going on in the Pentagon Establishment.