Small Wars Journal

Strategic Speed

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Strategic Speed

Daniel Sukman

“Strategy is the art of making use of time and space. I am less concerned about the later than the former. Space we can recover, lost time never.”

-Napoleon

Speed has become the catchword for concept developers over the past couple of years.  Speed has focused on how fast a unit can move from one physical location to another.  This paradigm for speed needs to be re-thought.  How quickly a force can achieve national endstates is the speed that is vital to our nation’s elements of national power.  This speed may mean slower operational and tactical speed in terms of unit movement and deployment timelines.  What is vital is how quickly a force can serve the needs of the nation. 

The Levels of Speed

Speed is defined as “Swiftness of action as measured in units of time.  The Speed at which information can be gathered and transmitted, decisions made, and material forces delivered are decisive elements contributing to victory[i].”  As the Joint force looks at speed, the critical piece missing is how speed affects each level of war.  There are three types of speed in modern warfare, tactical speed, operational speed, and strategic speed. 

Tactical speed is where the military executes plans and operations.  Tactical speed occurs at lower echelon units and often is enabled by advancements in technology.  Our current force posture and current demands of policy makers tend to focus on how to improve tactical speed.  While this speed is relevant, achieving this speed will not be a guarantee of success . 

Operational Speed is the middle ground.  Operational speed is characterized by the speed of deployments and the speed associated with military objectives.  As the Army moves towards the mid and far term, operational speed will increase, albeit at moderate advances.  Operational speed is dependent upon the Joint Force, as only the Navy and Air Force have the capability to move large Army formations across the globe in the form of strategic lift.  Operational speed will always be influenced by the constants of physical distance and [ii]physical space available aboard platforms that move icons on the battlefield.

Strategic Speed is the speed at which the military and other elements of national power (Diplomatic, Economic, and Informational) achieve its desired end states and war termination criteria.  Strategic Speed is the speed that the Army, as a part of the joint force must achieve.  How fast the Army can Win, and achieve war termination criteria is dependent upon many conditions, to include mass, the synergy with the joint force, and simultaneity of action factors that influence Strategic Speed. 

The Environment and Why Speed is Necessary

The speed of human events, defined at which how fast events happen across the globe as the world has flattened has increased in pace over the years and is not forecasted to slow down its rate of acceleration.  Innovations such as the internet, social networking, and networked and leaderless organizations have increased the speed at which the United States and its elements of national power can react.  The speed and methods with which people and organizations can collect and convey information to the public makes it possible for the world populace to quickly become aware of an incident[iii]. As the pace of human interaction increases, the risk becomes that the speed of events will outpace how fast policy can be formulated and implemented. 

The speed of environment is related to the speed understanding.  This is impacted by individuals and organizations being able to share information which may yield an uprising or an event that requires a response in a relatively short amount of time.  All this requires the US to be able to collect intelligence faster, pass info to higher faster, to enable decision makers to make decisions early enough to make an impact. 

As fast as events unfold in the modern world, the day remains fixed at 24 hours.  Military commanders and national level decision makers alike must process all the information and intelligence they receive to make the right decision.  On today’s battlefield, there is more information, more intelligence to digest, but time remains a constant.  Understanding the constant of time allows you to grasp what speed is essential. 

How fast information and intelligence can be processed, and how fast plans, operations, and strategies can be implemented is dependent upon intellectual and conceptual speed.  This speed is influenced by a variety of factors to include education, and the effective communication of leaders to their subordinates.   An effective response at the lowest level of execution relies on intellectual and conceptual speed.  You cannot achieve Strategic Speed, reaching your required termination criteria if you cannot effectively communicate what that criterion is.

Increasingly, our policy makers and national decision makers will feel the pressure to act quickly.  As the speed of events unfolds, and crisis plays out on television, social media, and the internet, the pressure on policy makers’ national level decision makers to act quickly is intensified.  When it comes to the adversarial two party system in America, the opposition party will always claim that the party in power is acting too slow, this will in turn put the pressure on the military to provide any type of response, as long as the response is fast.  Translated to what we do, the Army must be able to respond quickly, but properly.  Getting there fast is not an end in itself.  We must have the correct options available, and when they are not, ensure policy makers understand the time it takes to put the proper plan into action.  The military must ensure that we cure the illness vice the symptom; we must avoid mitigations and find the solution.  We must focus on Strategic Speed.

Current Joint doctrine focuses speed at the tactical and operational levels, specifically in how we relate speed to the principles of war and principles of joint operations.  Within the nine principles of war, the word speed only appears in how we influence the principle of surprise.  Speed in decision making is one of the factors that enable surprise.[iv]  Speed must not be limited to tactical and operational maneuvers on the battlefield, or limited to how fast a unit can move from one location to another.  Speed must move beyond tactical thinking and into the realm of strategy. 

Description and Examples of Each type of Speed

Tactical

Tactical speed is the least influential form of speed, yet retains important aspects that enable the Joint Force to successfully conduct a mission.  Tactical speed is enabled by advances in technology and tactical level TTPs.  An example of technology enabling the Joint Force would be direct energy weapons.  A direct energy ADA system would reduce the lift required for Patriot Missiles, the boots on the ground and sustainment required for an Ordnance unit to store the missiles. 

Faster moving tactical units may be able to reach their objectives on the ground quicker and may reduce the casualties incurred on the battlefield.  Quick tactical victories with few casualties could assist in maintaining support of the American people for the conflict.    

Operational

On the Western Front in the Second World War, Operational Speed was on displayed during the Battle of the Bulge.  German forces staged a surprise counteroffensive in the Ardennes region against unsuspecting American forces.  The 101st Airborne Division, rushed in to stabilize the American lines, was quickly enveloped at Bastogne by the German Army.  The American Third Army, under Lieutenant General George Patton, showed exceptional Operational Speed by quickly moving from south of Luxembourg City to relieve the besieged 101st Airborne Division and begin to cut of the German salient.  This operational speed, although critical to solving the problems in the Battle of the Buldge, was not influential on the overall timing or termination of the Second World War.  Nazi Germany was well on its way to defeat in 1945, their last ditch effort hastened their demise, but not in the strategic realm. 

In 2003, the Unites States Military made an unprecedented two-hundred mile march from Kuwait to Baghdad in a mere six weeks time.  The joint force was able to overwhelm the Iraqi military and occupy an entire nation.  In this case, the Operational Speed also achieved the strategic objective of bringing about the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government, although it could not achieve the larger policy goal of a stable, democratic Iraq.  Arguments persist to this day if better strategic patience, containing Hussein and preparing for his eventual downfall would have been the better strategic decision and have achieved our policy goals faster.

Operational speed, while important, is still not the paramount speed that the Joint Force should seek to achieve.  Much like tactical speed, operational speed can ensure that the full support of the American people is maintained.  Proper operational speed can lead to successful strategic speed as in the case of raids and surgical strike type missions.

Strategic Speed

Again, World War Two provides examples of Strategic Speed.  Many American military planners pressed for the invasion of the France as early as possible.  President Roosevelt understood that getting to the continent fast was less important than the ability to bring sufficient forces to the fight.  Roosevelt deliberately delayed the invasion of France, instead engaging in the peripheral on Axis territory in Africa and Italy while building the necessary combat power to achieve victory over the German Army in France and northern Europe[v].

In 2010, a major earthquake hit the small island country of Haiti.  The international response was to favor tactical speed over operational and strategic speed.  Many NGOs quickly descended upon the island with good intentions; however their tactical speed led to confusion and an uncoordinated response effort.  Airfields were packed with supplies that could not be delivered to the needing populace.  Speed of response was valued over speed of achieving objectives and endstates causing more human suffering on the Island.  Had the speed of response been sacrificed for strategic speed, knowing and understanding what was required, the delivery of assistance to the populace would have been attuned to what they needed.

The kicker behind strategic speed is that tactical and operational speed may be sacrificed to achieve strategic speed.   Massing and providing an overwhelming force to decisively defeat an enemy force can achieve termination criteria faster than a smaller force that gets into theater quickly and is not prepared to operate seamlessly with the joint force. 

When policy makers, military, and interagency planners come together, understanding culture becomes paramount to effective speed.  Each culture will have its own perspective on speed.  The United States and other Western Nations have a different vantage point of speed than Middle Eastern or Far Eastern nations.  Speed may also be measure by where an operation takes place.  12 years of fighting may seem like a long time to the American public, but to a citizen of Iraq it is a just a fraction of their lives.   

Strategic speed does not always involve the deployment and employment of a force.  Understanding the factors of the human domain, and influencing the decision calculus of adversaries can achieve desired national objectives.  When the president has the option of sending in large scale ground forces that can remove a hostile regime, our adversaries know and understand that challenging U.S. interests is not in their best interests.

The President and national decision makers must be informed of all options on how quickly the force can achieve termination criteria, not just how fast it can respond to events.  If the response to an event is not decisive, what is the point?  

Conclusion

As the Joint Force looks to meet National Objectives, paving the way to meet those objectives will require a fundamental shift in where the military makes investments.  Strategic speed is not accomplished with faster tanks, more precise munitions, or larger aircraft.  Strategic speed is accomplished with leaders who can think through problems and develop solutions to meet national endstates.  With the impending cuts in the size of our force, America’s military will have to think through the wicked problems it faces. 

Gaining speed as an Army requires investment in people.  The Army, and the Joint Force must avoid the trap of focusing on just “doing things faster,”  resulting in short term tactical gains but in the end will not achieve the desired end states of our elected leaders.

Achieving strategic speed will require the long term investment in people.  As warfare remains a conflict between people, how well our military invests in leaders who understand strategy along with tactics and operations will define our success in world affairs.

This article represents the author’s views and not necessarily the views of the U.S. Army or Department of Defense.



[i] Keane, Michael.  Dictionary of Modern Strategy and Tactics. (187)  Naval Institute Press 2005

[ii] The U.S. Army Capstone Concept 19 December 2012

[iii] Joint Publication 3-0.  11 August 2011, III-17.

[iv] Joint Publication 3-0.  11 August 2011, A-3.

[v] Atkinson, Rick.  Ten Things Every American Student Should Know About Our Army in World War II.  The Newsletter of FPRI’s Wachman Center.  May 2009.

 

About the Author(s)

Major Daniel Sukman, U.S. Army, is a strategist at the Army Capabilities Integration Center, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Eustis, Virginia. He holds a B.A. from Norwich University and an M.A. from Webster University.  During his career, MAJ Sukman served with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and United States European Command. His combat experience includes three tours in Iraq.

Comments

SWJED

Mon, 09/23/2013 - 4:07pm

In reply to by slapout9

No, I think he better explained a OODA loop-like philosophy (which is more tactically and operationally oriented) than Boyd did himself.

slapout9

Mon, 09/23/2013 - 2:58pm

Good article but it sounds you just rediscovered Boyd's OODA Loop.

Move Forward

Sat, 09/21/2013 - 10:29am

MAJ Sukman, nice effort with a few counterarguments to follow:

<blockquote>Tactical speed is where the military executes plans and operations. Tactical speed occurs at lower echelon units and often is enabled by advancements in technology. Our current force posture and current demands of policy makers tend to focus on how to improve tactical speed. While this speed is relevant, achieving this speed will not be a guarantee of success.</blockquote>

What is overlooked is that speed, <strong>distance and range</strong> are interrelated. An infantrymen can cover very little tactical distance without aircraft or wheeled/tracked vehicles. In contrast, infantry units are far easier to move and resupply over strategic, operational, and tactical distances. If achieving speed is no guarantee of success, the counterpoint is that lack of speed and range can allow adversaries to culminate and establish effective defenses before we can react and deploy.

Given sufficient time, adversaries can occupy port and airhead cities, intermingled with the population to preclude air targeting. They also can target slow moving ships en route and as they approach ports while mining and sabotaging such ports. Marines do not need ports but the range of area denial weapons requires greater standoff now than in years past. Cruise and anti-ship ballistic missiles, submarines, and aircraft also can target amphibious ships. In contrast, airlift and air assault generally can get infantry to adjacent allied territory fairly rapidly, with aircraft exiting the area prior to any reaction by the enemy to target airheads. From there, infantry can secure allied ports and airheads in what still is essentially a pre-conflict condition. The problem is getting more than a "speed bump" airlifted to an area before the adversary decides to interdict such air deployment.

<blockquote>Operational Speed is the middle ground. Operational speed is characterized by the speed of deployments and the speed associated with military objectives. As the Army moves towards the mid and far term, operational speed will increase, albeit at moderate advances. Operational speed is dependent upon the Joint Force, as only the Navy and Air Force have the capability to move large Army formations across the globe in the form of strategic lift. Operational speed will always be influenced by the constants of physical distance and physical space available aboard platforms that move icons on the battlefield.</blockquote>

No other nation has the number of airlifters and aerial refuelers the U.S. possesses. Cargo civilian aircraft also are available. The problem is that the Army often needs a diet or at least must recognize that what they air deploy must be smaller than full armored, Stryker, or infantry BCTs. They can be a mix of all three but that requires planning and practice to include the sustainment of such task forces using primarily airlift for some period of time. Army helicopters and Marine MV-22s can move infantry forces intratheater distances and C-17s and C-130s can transport heavier armor and JLTVs to smaller airfields once the major intertheater movement of tailored task forces covers the bulk of the distance.

There is no argument that Strategic and Operational speed for larger armored BCT forces and multiple divisions is not a fast process, even if the National Command Authority wants it to be. That's why we forward deploy Army forces in Korea and once had multiple divisions in Germany along with prepositioned equipment. Many future contingency areas likely will be in areas close to but not in areas where we forward deploy and preposition Army elements. Ships required to get Army BCTs of multiple types to the conflict are more likely to sail to adjacent allied territory first. From there, intratheater lift or cross-border attacks across an international border may be the ultimate solution.

Three examples are the airlift of equipment sealifted to Diego Garcia and Desert Storm/OIF border attacks from Saudi Arabia. The trickier scenario is landlocked Afghanistan that required overflight and cross-country rights. The nightmare scenario is something like Taiwan that would require forces landed in the Philippines, Japan, and Australia to be intratheater sea and airlifted to Taiwan at some point...or to the South or East China Seas. If we cannot get some Army forces onto Taiwan rapidly, the adversary would have time to deny access to eastern shores by sealift and to move substantial armor and infantry to the island to intermingle with urban civilians and hide under trees along coasts to thwart airpower.

Of course then the PLA/PLAN must resupply those forces and deal with their own Taiwanese insurgency. That could be where your Strategic Speed and overall Strategy starts to take shape. Light Army and Marine forces, and SOF lifted by helicopters and MV-22 and airdropped prior to the PLA securing the east coast could be highly effective as insurgents. However even a few tanks and GCVs/Strykers that airlanded on the island early could wreak havoc in many ways...if we could supply and eventually reinforce them.

<blockquote>Strategic Speed is the speed at which the military and other elements of national power (Diplomatic, Economic, and Informational) achieve its desired end states and war termination criteria. Strategic Speed is the speed that the Army, as a part of the joint force must achieve. How fast the Army can Win, and achieve war termination criteria is dependent upon many conditions, to include mass, the synergy with the joint force, and simultaneity of action factors that influence Strategic Speed. </blockquote>

What irritated me about a CRS study a few years back (and I know ARCIC did one too) was the idea of using either just airlift or just sealift and comparing the speed of each. Obviously with MOG and airlifter constraints it takes just as long to airlift many units long distances as it would to sealift them, and armored BCTs are impossible to airlift. However, <strong>it isn’t an either/or choice.</strong> We can do <strong>both</strong> moving smaller task forces by air to secure ports/airheads before threats seize them while simultaneously sealifting other active duty forces. If you solely sea deploy Pacific distances you have <strong>nothing</strong> on the ground for months whereas airlift can close smaller units in days to a week.

Army elements also must be sufficiently large that we can mass to achieve Strategic end states knowing that most conflicts probably will take more than one year to realize a peaceful outcome worth fighting for in the first place. That last reality means additional different active and reserve force structure must be available for the second and third years of stability operations. If we cannot achieve such mass, the Army is doomed to more long wars which the public and policy-makers cannot stomach. In addition, I don't understand why it never is publicly argued that if the Army was forced to endure 12-15 month tours for most of these wars at 570,000 and less end strength, while other services had 4-7 month tours, it should indicate which service has inadequate rotational force structure, and which services have too much. How would the Army possibly sustain 9 month tours with under 490,000 active Soldiers?

<blockquote>Translated to what we do, the Army must be able to respond quickly, but properly. Getting there fast is not an end in itself. We must have the correct options available, and when they are not, ensure policy makers understand the time it takes to put the proper plan into action. The military must ensure that we cure the illness vice the symptom; we must avoid mitigations and find the solution. We must focus on Strategic Speed. </blockquote>

Yet there also is paralysis through analysis. The State Department does not help matters when/if it recommends that we telegraph our intentions as we have done recently in Syria. The deployment process must begin because the distances are great and ships are slow. Air-deployed forces can move to allied territory before U.S. forces commence active combat. That forces adversaries to decide whether it is in their best interests to attack an adjacent U.S. ally immediately or wait to see what the U.S. is planning to do. There is value in the uncertainty of our actions. There is little value in sitting stateside waiting to deploy until it is publicly debated what our intentions are.

<blockquote>Current Joint doctrine focuses speed at the tactical and operational levels, specifically in how we relate speed to the principles of war and principles of joint operations. Within the nine principles of war, the word speed only appears in how we influence the principle of surprise. Speed in decision making is one of the factors that enable surprise. Speed must not be limited to tactical and operational maneuvers on the battlefield, or limited to how fast a unit can move from one location to another. Speed must move beyond tactical thinking and into the realm of strategy. </blockquote>

And good Strategy would indicate that forces have more value to the National Command Authority if they can limit resupply and over-the-shore deployments outside of ports and larger airheads. If we are implying that armored BCTs have more value because they are not speed bumps and can mass to attack when they finally arrive, it ignores the key problem of resupplying those units, now with 3 CABs and more engineers versus the prior heavy BCT. That was the problem with those in Desert Storm who wanted to go on to Baghdad. It was not planned and the fratricide problems of bypassing Iraqi units and shooting back at enemies behind us would have compounded that fratricide and threatened our logistics forces.

In OIF there were fewer heavy BCTs than in Desert Storm and the initial logistics were better planned. What was not planned was the logistics for a long occupation due to an insurgency with allies defending with gas-guzzling armor tearing up streets and commuting to war from FOBs. We could not have done heavy armor in Afghanistan like the Soviets did because they could drive theirs and their supplies in from much closer “sanctuary” and had fewer scruples about collateral damage.

<blockquote>The kicker behind strategic speed is that tactical and operational speed may be sacrificed to achieve strategic speed. Massing and providing an overwhelming force to decisively defeat an enemy force can achieve termination criteria faster than a smaller force that gets into theater quickly and is not prepared to operate seamlessly with the joint force. </blockquote>

The “smaller force that gets into theater quickly” is absolutely essential to secure ports and airheads of adjacent allies so that forcible entry is not immediately required. As in WWII, we can bide our time then in England and in the future in the Philippines, Australia, and Japan while armored BCTs deploy. From shorter intratheater distances we then can deploy smaller armored/light task forces to multiple points of entry closer to the adversary or straight to ports/airheads defended by lighter forces. Dispersed light and Stryker forces that dig in alongside armored forces are less affected by A2/AD missile attacks compared to soft-skinned jet fighters and eggs-in-one-basket carriers and amphibious ships. Army helicopters are unaffected by runway craters and can disperse in hard-to-detect assembly areas.

Effective tactical intratheater and rotorcraft aircraft that combine speed and range become operational and strategic tools for getting light and Stryker forces to more dangerous airheads along with limited armored teams. Such assets can mass sufficiently to protect a port and airhead long enough for heavier armor BCTs to arrive and come to shore. Attack helicopters, assault and cargo helicopters, and MV-22s can move light forces and JLTVs by island- and ship-hopping if practiced and making exceptions for rapid shipboard qualification.

The new LCS and JHSV can complement this function and provide a degree of off-shore refueling and arming support. The Marines already practice this but Army helicopters are far more numerous and in the case of AH-64s, have better lethality. Marine rotorcraft are more limited in number yet have complementary capabilities given the unique MV-22 and future CH-53K. However, high altitude flights that MV-22s and helicopters have flown during recent wars will prove deadly against effective air defenses. A return to lower terrain flight altitudes that the Army and USAF CSAR Pedros always have practiced will pay benefits.

Let’s not forget that lighter forces protected from the air by F-22s and F-35s and at tactical altitudes by AH-64s and Cobras are not a weak combat element. Recall the major air assault of the 101st in OIF and that Marines/others apparently accomplished overflying Pakistan in initial OEF. I would offer that such an assault easily could occur from Philippine Islands and Japan to the east side of Taiwan...but that’s just my speculation. As I mentioned in another post it would be an even more effective lighter U.S. insurgency force if the Long Range Strike Bomber was not a single mission aircraft. Such a stealthy large aircraft most certainly could be designed to include aerial refueling for our stealth fighters closer to the fight and airdrop of special mission units and their supplies. Now that would be an AirSea Battle aircraft worth funding beyond 100!

<blockquote>Gaining speed as an Army requires investment in people. The Army, and the Joint Force must avoid the trap of focusing on just “doing things faster,” resulting in short term tactical gains but in the end will not achieve the desired end states of our elected leaders. </blockquote>

Investment in people easily can mean investment in adequate force structure. As a former officer who also had enlisted time and who currently works a lot with smart enlisted folks, I would argue that grad school, language and culture training, and the teaching of Design to a few Jedi knights is no substitute for adequate, capable enlisted boots on the ground and warrant officers supporting from the air. Both are considerably cheaper than the RLOs in other service in the air and at sea. Army bases also are a bargain and national asset insofar as most are located in less expensive areas thus contributing to local rural economies without busting the housing BAQ supplement bank.

Also, while this article was a fine effort, I suspect there is a degree of advocacy for more Design and less trust in “a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan delayed until next week.” In the case of Design, the delay more likely will be months and could involve national debates broadcast worldwide with pundits predicting actions. Value exists in Decisive Action with early deployment to allied territory and preplanned contingencies for conflict and stability operations. Whether that conflict and stability operation is ordered immediately or in a modified manner by the President is not our call, however being able to be there in a timely fashion is a Joint military responsibility.

Getting there firstest with the mostest still appears to have value. If we can make the “mostest” a lighter-but-lethal infantry-oriented force with JLTV, Stryker with double V-Hull, and Army aircraft then the Army and Marines can combine to hold the line until the big guns arrive. Current wars have illustrated that precision airdrop and unmanned aircraft resupply are great tools for the future. We just need a stealthier aircraft to support that GPS airdrop in contested environments and a modified LRS-B requirement document could fit that bill.

G Martin

Tue, 09/17/2013 - 9:51pm

Great article. Made me wonder how to have speed at strategic level when we are always advocating for more complex and convoluted C-2 arrangements. McChrystal was given kudos for flattening JSOC in Iraq- but for some reason was unable to do the same in Afghanistan and SOCOM wargames seem to struggle with that as well. Too many folks protecting rice bowls IMO.

I'd advocate a situation-unique C-2 construct that has at the most 1 C-2 node in between SECDEF and the units on the ground when the mission is a priority. At the most I'd do 2 in between- but that's when it isn't that much of a priority. Instead we seem to have multiple layers and unclear relationships between the entities. How can one have speed in that environment? Seems we add complexity to something that is already complex...