Investing in the Military’s Future Through Strategic Research by Steve Metz – USAWC War Room
Should military institutions pursue research that is not directly tied to immediate organizational needs? The case for applied research is clear, since it seeks to solve defined problems. But what about basic research, which advances knowledge more for its own sake, often with only a vague sense of its application potential? Leaders both inside and outside the professional military education system are often skeptical of basic research. It is inefficient by nature. Much of it never pans out – full of dead ends and wasted effort. Yet it is also essential to the military, a vital investment in its future and a core function of the service academies and war colleges. Indeed the war colleges need more of it.
The American military is a well-educated organization – especially the officer corps. By the time an officer completes a career of twenty years or more, he or she often has multiple civilian college degrees and has taken several courses of study in the professional military education system. For the most successful officers, the pinnacle is attendance at one of the war colleges – the Army, Air Force, Naval, Marine Corps, National, or Industrial College of the Armed Forces–or an equivalent fellowship. This makes war colleges particularly important shapers of the U.S. armed forces, important not only to the military itself but also to the nation which the military serves. In a very real sense, war colleges are important to American security.
Yet they also are peculiar places, in part because they overlap two distinct worlds with very different organizational cultures – they are military entities, and they are accredited graduate schools. Balancing these two sides of the war colleges’ personalities is an enduring challenge for their leaders, which at times pushes them outside of the organizational culture in which they are most comfortable. Some leaders, whether because of experience in non-military settings or simply a more flexible and adaptable mindset, prove effective at this. Others find the adjustment difficult and prefer making military educational institutions as much like an operational military unit as possible…