Small Wars Journal

The Army's Starfish Program and an Emphasis on Decentralization

The past 8+ years of war has taught us many things as an Army. One particular lesson we've learned is that decentralized threats are best countered by also decentralizing our own capabilities. To adapt to what we've learned, the Army is training its leaders to think, act, and operate more decentralized. Now, through the promotion of mission orders, commander's intent and a new pilot program titled "The Army's Starfish Program", we are taking additional steps to promote decentralization as yet another tool to counter decentralized and networked threats.

The Army's Starfish Program evolved through an opportunistic collaboration between the USA Training and Doctrine Command and Ori Brafman, best-selling author of The Starfish and The Spider. A select group of leaders took part in the pilot program earlier this year and are now reaching out across the Army to share their insights from this unique experience. On 26 April, Ori Brafman will be joined by select students at a Town Hall Meeting at Fort Monroe in the post theater where they will discuss the tenets of the program, their experiences, and the results.

The Town Hall Meeting is open to all servicemembers, their families, and garrison personnel. For those unable to attend due to geography, it will be webcast at For those unable to attend the townhall or see the webcast, a tape of the townhall will be hung on the TRADOC webpage in the days following the townhall.

We encourage you to join us to get a sense for how the Army is seeking to learn from its experiences after 8+ years of war.

GEN Martin E. Dempsey


SWJ Editor's Note: General Martin E. Dempsey is Commanding General of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command.


Ken White (not verified)

Thu, 05/13/2010 - 4:41pm

Yet again. :(

Anonymous at 1538 is me...

Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 05/13/2010 - 4:38pm

<b>CPT Doherty:</b>

That 'doctrine' long precedes FM 3-07.22. Fortunately it comes to the fore in each war as Commanders raised in a peacetime environment (e.g. 1975-2002. Desert Storm doesn't count) slowly discover they cannot control everyone and everything and begin to trust their subordinates.

That systemic flaw has been the cause of the Army bleeding talent for a good many years and notably so in the latter half of the previous Century. The rate has always been problematic and is actually not as bad today as it was during Viet Nam or the mid 90s.

The departure rate and the over control is worse in the post Viet Nam period due to the pathetically poor training system we adopted in the mid-70s. That system of Tasks, Conditions and Standards did and does not cater well to wildly varying conditions or to combining those discrete tasks to complete an action. Hopefully, that will be corrected by a move to Outcome Based Training and Education.

The resultant essentially poor training resulted in already over controlling Commanders being truly unable to trust most -- not all -- of their subordinates to execute missions correctly. The current wars have changed that for the better; the key is not to lose that improvement.

Ideally we would embed and practice what we preach in peacetime. Though it should not be, that may be too much to ask...


Thu, 05/13/2010 - 12:46pm

So if I understand this correctly we are going to conduct a study to see if we should follow our COIN Doctrine/ Command style of the winning side.
-FM 3-07.22 Counterinsurgency Operations PAR. 2-34.:
"C2 during counterinsurgency requires greater decentralization to small unit leaders. Normal operating methods focused around a single commanders approval often prove inefficient, untimely, and ineffective for the situation. Commanders must develop a level of trust and communication with subordinates and foster their initiative well before arriving into the theater of operations. Commanders must empower their subordinates with clear authority for specific operations. The subordinate leaders must clearly understand orders, missions, and the commanders intent down to the squad and fire team level. ROE must be clear enough for subordinates to act appropriately. If C2 and decision making become slow processes, the insurgents can exploit this. Additionally, commanders often coordinate with other agencies that will not be present on a conventional battlefield."
Wonder why the Army is Bleeding talent at unsustainable rates?


Tue, 04/20/2010 - 4:48pm

I see the decentralization themes as the backbone of Advisor capabilities. You can virtually replace the word catalyst with advisor in CHP 5.


Tue, 04/20/2010 - 3:39pm

This will occur from 1300-1400 EDT on 26 April.

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 04/20/2010 - 12:00pm

I'm unable to access the link. When will this take place?