Small Wars Journal

Versatility as Institutional Imperative

Mon, 05/04/2009 - 3:31pm
Dissecting war and placing it into various bins' may seduce us into believing that we have somehow discovered a way to make it coherent. However, we'd be wrong. War is war. The threats we face are always hybrid threats. Military operations always require capabilities across the spectrum of conflict.

--SWJ comment posted 10 March 2009.

Future conflicts will introduce an array of threats that defy simple categorization. We have at times tried to categorize threats in discrete operational themes such as conventional or unconventional, regular or irregular, high intensity or low intensity, traditional, terrorist, or criminal. However, the world is just not that accommodating. The security challenges we face are complex, and we have every reason to believe—based on our own experiences and on other conflicts we have recently observed—that our enemies will seek to employ a variety of threats in confronting us. Our model of the spectrum of conflict in FM 3-0 can be somewhat misleading in that it implies gaps among the different operational themes. What our model does not portray is the affect that time has on conflict and the likelihood that our enemies will seek to migrate among these themes. We cannot expect that we will have the option of selecting a category of conflict and then implementing a strategy confined to that category—the enemy gets a vote."

Hybrid, networked threats further blur the space among operational themes adding even greater complexity to the current and future operating environment. In response, our units and leaders in theater adapt from one theme to another frequently, sometimes day by day, often mission by mission and location by location. This occurs at all levels from the tactical to the strategic.

The hybrid threats we face are also increasingly decentralized in execution. Their objective is to exploit us by decentralizing operations and employing information operations as a weapon. In the book The Starfish and the Spider by Rod Beckstrom and Ori Brafman, the authors examine business models that provide insights into how open and decentralized systems operate: when attacked, a decentralized organization becomes even more open and systems can easily mutate."

The point is that the threat doesn't confine itself to a single operational theme. The enemy adapts to leverage their strengths and to exploit our vulnerabilities. I believe LTG Stan McChrystal—one of our truly innovative senior leaders—had it right when he said, to defeat a network, you have to be a network." So our challenge is to adapt our institutions and develop our leaders to confront the complexity and decentralization inherent in the future operational environment.

We must avoid either-or constructs about conflict and how we organize, train, and equip ourselves in anticipation of conflict. When we commit our campaign-quality" Army to a sustained operation in the future operating environment, it will need to be versatile enough to respond to all forms of contact. Even more important, it will need to be led by leaders agile enough to deal with complexity and anticipate the changes inherent in an extended campaign.

General Martin E. Dempsey is Commanding General of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command.


Ken White

Mon, 05/04/2009 - 5:14pm

As a product of several TRADOC Schools and a former Instructional Branch Chief in one of them, I'm extremely happy to see this post by General Dempsey. I wish him every success and hope that efforts will be made to reduce the well intentioned but still debilitating deterrents to initiative and decentralization which exist to, among other things, insure safety and the preservation of equipment.

Innovation and firm leadership will be required to accomplish that but the reluctance to trust subordinates that is a natural product of the Viet Nam war and our short tours in positions -- creating excessive personnel turbulence -- should be eliminated for the good of the Army.

We train better now than we ever have but further improvement and continuing the move to outcome based training will be great.