Small Wars Journal

Modern Warfare is a Thinking Officer’s Game: Why the U.S. Military Needs More Leaders with Technical Educations

Mon, 01/21/2013 - 3:30am

As a student in Command and General Staff Officers’ School (formerly called ILE), I have experienced that much discussion revolves around the future of wars and the need for officers who can think critically.  I strongly support this notion, but with a different perspective than a lot of the mainstream thinkers.  As an officer who has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, I see the value my personal education has on my ability to perform daily.  While there is an added emphasis on continuing education for officers in recent years, I think we institutionally miss the mark in that many of the degrees the Army encourages officers to focus on are in “soft science” and humanities topics like leadership, international relations, social science, and management.  While these degrees are fine, I think that all branches of the Army would benefit greatly from more officers with technical education in engineering and mathematics, or “hard science.”  The basic reason for this, which I will explain in greater detail below, is that hard science is about problem solving, and solving challenging problems is what the Army is often tasked to do in modern wars.

Though there are still vocal opponents of the need to provide Army officers with added academic education throughout their careers, the challenge of the last decade of war has mostly silenced such critics.  The notion that war is a thinking soldier’s game is absolutely true, and from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on down, support for smart combat leaders is quite clear.  However, I think we put too much emphasis on soft science and humanities type degrees. 

Certainly a solid officer corps needs leaders with diverse educational backgrounds, but the fact is that international relations experts are not necessarily good at solving military problems.  Having just completed an assignment teaching Mechanical Engineering at West Point, I heard regularly the propaganda that Social Science and Leadership officers vigorously promoted, centered on the notion that on today’s battlefield, these are the skills an ambitious officer should focus on.  I could not disagree more with this.  My personal field is dedicated to the study of solving complex problems.  Yes, many of them are math based, but not all of them.  I argue that if an officer can break down and solve a complicated engineering problem, there is nothing preventing them from using the same analysis methodology to dissect and understand a complicated tribal/political problem in Iraq or Afghanistan just as successfully. 

On a very personal level, I saw the value of my technical education from the very start of my career.  As a new tank platoon leader, I valued the fact that I truly understood how my tanks functioned.  I had studied the engine and transmission in detail in the classroom, and had an entire semester long course on ballistic design related to how the main gun and machine guns work.  When there were mechanical problems with my tanks, I often helped the mechanics solve them, helping keep the readiness rate as high as possible.  My Soldiers noticed these skills as well, and it really made them see me as a stronger leader and subject matter expert much more quickly than I expected.  The same was true when I was a Bradley scout platoon leader.  These skills are also the reason I spend more than a year as a cavalry troop XO, including staying in place for deployment to OIF 1 at the request of my troop commander. 

The value of technical education is not solely in mundane maintenance tasks either.  In Iraq, the fact that as an engineer I have a very solid grasp of how power grids and piping networks function as well as proper construction methods for infrastructure paid huge dividends.  I was assigned as the Squadron Civil Military Affairs officer because of the technical knowledge I brought to urban utility analysis and reconstruction efforts.  In my second tour as a cavalry troop commander, I experienced similar benefits from my ability to work with and manage construction contractors.  Also, in planning troop combat missions, I often approached the process using the basics of the standard engineering problem solving process, which was very successful. 

As we study Mission Command in the classroom now, I often see and comment on the fact that many of the basic premises of this “new” concept of leadership, from a problem solving perspective, are nearly identical to what I studied in Mechanical Engineering Design and later taught as an instructor.  The fact that six years of rigorous classroom engineering study has made me very comfortable with analyzing and solving complex problems I do not initially understand well makes taking on similar challenges in military operations somewhat familiar terrain from a mental perspective.  I absolutely benefit from a technical education nearly every day in the Army.

The well used quote by Greek philosopher Thucydides, “the nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools” perhaps applies now more than ever.  As we progress into a more and more technology driven Army, officers with strong technical educations are extremely valuable.  Just as engineers and scientists are actively recruited to lead the American business world, the Army should actively encourage its future officer leaders to pursue similarly rigorous courses of technical study. 

About the Author(s)

MAJ Jonathan Bodenhamer was commissioned a 2nd LT in Armor after graduation from West Point in 2000.  First assignment was 1-1 CAV, 1st Armored Division, in Budingen, Germany.  Was a Tank PL, Scout PL, and Troop XO.  Deployed to OIF 1 with 1-1 CAV.  Following the Armor advanced course, was assigned to 1-10 CAV, 4th Infantry Division (M) at Fort Hood, TX.  Took command of A Troop in May 2005, and deployed to south Baghdad, Iraq for OIF 05-07.  On return, went to the University of Texas at Austin for graduate school followed by 3 years teaching Mechanical Engineering back at West Point.  Transferred to Acquisitions Corps and presently assigned as an Assistant Product Manager for Joint Program Office Joint Light Tactical Vehicle in Warren, MI.


Vitesse et Puissance

Wed, 01/23/2013 - 1:45pm

I am an Armor officer by training with a social science education on the civilian side. Not an academy graduate, so hopefully the biases of my background will be taken into account by those who read this. In my day job, I work a lot with Navy folks, and I have learned to respect the excellence of the technical education that the Naval Academy gives to its graduates, much superior to USMA's engineering programs. This also applies to Navy ROTC, which in my day required its four year scholarship cadets to major in engineering subjects. Now, both academies were founded in the heyday of Enlightenment rationalism, and in my view, still retain the biases of that world view. If we look at West Point's instructional program of the 1830s and 1840s - the educational foundations given to the generation of officers who led the armies of the Civil War, there was as deep a foundation of math of physics as the Academy could muster - plus the cadets were required to learn French. The language of Napoleon, and the language in which the doctrine of the French Army, considered the best in the world, was written. In wake of the Second Great Awakening, this was as strong a secular education - and socialization - as one could get. For the purpose of this thread, I won't go into my usual diatribe about the influence of philosophical pragmatism on the officer corps - needless to say that (as far as I know) they still teach What You See Is What You Get at West Point, and that the intellectual culture of our Army is quite radical in its empiricism. Not the rationalism of the French, the doctrinal aesthetics of the German, or the carefree philistinism of the British for us. In this postmodern world, the US Army remains an institution that takes its science seriously, even at the expense of the truth.

Now, I've worked in the high tech industry for over two decades now, and certainly there are good practical reasons for officers (and enlisted soldiers) to attain as firm a grounding in STEM as we can afford to provide. In my own case, the engineering side of my education came late in life, and in many respects is not finished. (But this would also be true of my education in the social and behavioral sciences.) No doubt, there is much that education and training in mechanical engineering can bring to the understanding of how tanks function. Having undergone "hands on, performance-oriented training" that strips down the cognitive domain to the minimum required, I often felt that our gunners and drivers would be better at their trade if they understood their tasks at a deeper level. Firing a smoothbore Napoleon cannon in 1861 requires a certain knowledge that is now "engineered into" our complex fighting systems. On the other hand, it is in the art and science of rifle marksmanship that one finds the greatest proliferation of empirical data about ballistic performance - at least in open sources. In many respects what the Army has done to its training programs is the application of systems engineering practices to education - our late and great "systems approach to training". I think the one real advantage that the Army training system has over the Navy is that we do not imagine that training is only and always done in the schoolhouse - as our forces redeploy from the field of battle, I do hope that we will reinvigorate unit training, remembering that the Army is always and everywhere a learning institution.

A number of comments have been made about ORSAs. In reality, the foundation of operations research and systems analysis is math, math and nothing but math - everything else is application. The ORSA discipline is, now more than ever, just a branch of systems engineering. Both ORSA and systems engineering require strong logical skills and the ability to deal with abstractions.

Hubba Bubba

Wed, 01/23/2013 - 4:37am

In reply to by JBodenhamer

You should stick with the critical points here; don't get dragged into the personal attacks...and you really don't want to defend yourself other than sticking with what G.Martin and others are addressing. Don't forget that this is the internet and this will remain forever...

The best lesson for this relates back to when you first put your concept to pen; your thesis and the problem statement. Regardless of catchy titles or folks that throw in cool-guy quotes to lead with, what matters is what you are trying to say. If you get an avalanche of responses decrying you as elistist- it is not necessarily a personal attack on is that your thesis posed an elitist logic, whether you realized it or not.

So, consider your thesis, consider the logic (your paradigm, if you will) that shaped your thesis as well as what led you to a problem statement- how do you view problems? How do you solve them?

Lastly- did you throw a draft of this at peers- particularly those that do not view the world the same. Not asking you to respond here and defend; again, this is not about you as a person- it is about your work and the content, the context...something to think about next time.

Hubba Bubba


Wed, 01/23/2013 - 5:54pm

In reply to by JBodenhamer

I am not entirely certain of what you are advocating. On the one hand your article is very specific in the promotion of sciences/engineering. Yet in this response you highlight the need for "leaders with diverse educational strength." If your argument is that there is a deficit of math/science/engineering then I would say your article would be less contraversial. However, I (and I suspect many others) read your argument as a promotion of math/science/engineering not as remedy to a general skills deficit but as panacea to modern military problems. This logic is what has generated the strong response.

I would also like to comment on two specific points of your response:

1. <i>"I however disagree that delegating specific skills to lower levels(or at least not the officer corps) and having us only be managers is the right path. If a key decision maker cannot understand what they are making decisions about, then the likelihood of a good outcome is lower."</i>

How would you discriminate between what skills are necessary? Also, how do you ensure that a key decision maker is only ever faced with decisions he has training in? If your argument is that math/science/engineering are the keys to competent analysis of <b>any</b> situation, then you will always get the response you've seen so far in this thread. This claim is strong enough to demand strong evidence, which your article lacks.

2. <i>"...we as an Army need leaders with diverse educational strength to as a team make good decisions. In what I have seen, we are lacking in the math/science/engineering end of this team. Outside the Engineer branch, most BN sized units have few officers in this category, and even engineer branch is critically short of officers who are degreed engineers. I think we would be better off as a force with a little more depth here."</i>

As I mentioned, if this was the evident thesis in your article, this would be less of a discussion. However, you were quite specific in tying engineering to successful general problem solving, and said nothing about a lack of engineering backgrounds hampering our ability to solve engineering problems per se.

3. <i>"...we had to figure out who the truly important sheiks were and who was not significant, as well as dealing with other long standing problems. Not an engineering problem at all, but still a major problem to solve. Determining who was of influence in the area of South Baghdad around Hawr Rajab when I was a commander is a tactical example."</i>

This is the biggest point of departure. Was your success: 1. a result of your engineering background that is not reproducible with a humanities background? 2. Have other people with non-technical backgrounds been generally less successful than people with technical backgrounds? (this would need massive evidence) 3. How is your personal competence in your role as a US Army combat officer a direct result of your engineering background versus your general competence as an officer?

The problem here is a logical one, one you might appreciate, there does not appear to be any cause and effect, only correlation. Solve that and you will find many more allies of your thesis. I suspect, however, that answer will prove illusive. With my anthro background I have solved (successfully according to my OERs, but who knows) tactical, logistics, and political problems. Even in my current work I am neck deep in the types of complex problems that, according to your thesis, a technically more skilled person would do better. Tough sell indeed, when I would argue that they would suffer terribly at it. In fact, as recently as this month I had written a policy piece complaining of the fact that there were too many scientists and engineers involved in our policy problem, causing all kinds of havoc. In the end, your thesis is not as self evident as you seem to believe it to be, requiring a stronger argument.

dos pesos


Tue, 01/22/2013 - 10:21pm

In reply to by Sparapet

You make good points and your education is one I would consider highly valuable to today's Army too. I however disagree that delegating specific skills to lower levels(or at least not the officer corps) and having us only be managers is the right path. If a key decision maker cannot understand what they are making decisions about, then the likelihood of a good outcome is lower. This ties to my maintenance XO anecdote. Not to jump subjects but American industry has realized the fallacy of this exact method in recent years. That aside, I could give many examples of personnel situations I helped figure out and other garrison type issues that were easier to deal with as someone with a solid education. Maybe a good highlight for your question was in the summer of 2003 establishing town councils in Al Furat and some surrounding areas, explaining how to vote for and elect members, how to decide what type of people you need on a council, and then what they need to do for the community once they are in place. Not an easy task by any means and when you add translation, it was even harder. Plus, we had to figure out who the truly important sheiks were and who was not significant, as well as dealing with other long standing problems. Not an engineering problem at all, but still a major problem to solve. Determining who was of influence in the area of South Baghdad around Hawr Rajab when I was a commander is a tactical example. S2 had lots of data, and crunching that data along with what we were finding out on missions to gain an understanding of the AO is another example where my technical background made the process seem less daunting/confusing. I could cite many more. Your final statement hits the nail on the head, and is in large part the basis for my whole argument. Education gives people confidence. The more of it (and by far and away the best comes from traditional brick and mortar schools in the true classroom environment) someone has, the more confident they are as decision makers. However, and the reason I wrote this, is that we as an Army need leaders with diverse educational strength to as a team make good decisions. In what I have seen, we are lacking in the math/science/engineering end of this team. Outside the Engineer branch, most BN sized units have few officers in this category, and even engineer branch is critically short of officers who are degreed engineers. I think we would be better off as a force with a little more depth here.


Tue, 01/22/2013 - 6:03pm

In reply to by JBodenhamer

MAJ Bodenhamer,

Criticisms of your experience aside, I think you'll agree that the main flavor of the critique thus far is the boldness of your assertions based on, what seems to be, personal anecdote. By way of example...

As an OIF scout PL I had an anthropology background with some languages thrown in. I would consider my time as a Scout PL best served by my anthro background because in short order my local knowledge of politics and tribal issues made the continuity book I received at the RIP/TOA look like an ROTC-level joke (disclaimer: ROTC grad). I have also done relief aid logistics (with no log or tech background), and planned BN-level port operations (again, no log background). All this with only my anthro degree and whatever virtues anthro provides its students. My experience would lead me to the complete opposite of your conclusions. In fact, I could argue that the absence of the rigid technical training allowed me greater mental flexibility.

However, anecdotes have their limits. In a broader sense, your argument is an old one (as was pointed out by others) that treads on what is meant by adequate "education." The retort that we need a mix of all skills is a happy middle-ground, but one that I feel is a straw man. The acquisition of mechanical or industrial skills isn't at issue, that's called training. And to be sure the Army is best served by the broadest access to skilled labor as possible (whether in the person of an E-2 mechanic or a CW-3 network manager, or even a CW-4 civil engineer in a CA unit [hint to Army, make these!!!]).

But the Officer Corps is not the necessary repository of those skills. The only unique skills we need are the martial ones. The rest of what we as Officers MUST have is the ability to understand what skills are needed to solve our problems and then employ those best skilled. This requires logical, rigorous thought to be married to historical perspective, cultural perspective, economic perspective, etc. And that requires critical thinking above what any single mode of training might provide, it requires an education. Any specialization beyond that is icing on the cake.

Education in this sense provides not economically valuable skills, but fundamentally elevates the quality of a person's thought by exposure and constant forced breaking down and reshaping of mental walls and corridors. Your mechanical engineering background, by your own admission, narrowed you to mechanical problems. Whether they were water problems (would love to know more, as I had a huge water issue in my SW Baghdad sector), or electrical grid problems they were mechanical. A leads to B which leads to Z. The hard part, expertise, is in knowing how to get from B to Z, but at the end of the day it is mechanics. The anecdotes you omit are those where the mechanical engineering background helped you navigate the tactical enemy, or the political issues, or the training and discipline issues. Answering that in a persuasive argument would make your assertion more than just an anecdote.

dos pesos.

G Martin

Tue, 01/22/2013 - 11:45pm

In reply to by JBodenhamer

I would strongly encourage all military officers to look into the difference between positivist philosophy and post-positivist philosophy and contemplate what we as an institution might be- and how that might affect how we view the world. I submit that by not understanding the sources of our understanding of the world- we suffer from logical fallacies and make baseless assertions without even thinking of them. I submit we cannot be a profession until we explicitly address our institutional philosophy and acknowledge the issues with our philosophy and have a discourse about other candidates.

I personally think that we haven't been critical enough- we only pay lip service to the concept. I submit that a critical look at ourselves would reveal that we are stuck in Newtonian/Jominian constructs and are missing most of the rest of the science world's turn to Post-positivism:

For some reason sociology, political science, and the military have used this philosophy- one that relies on quantitative analysis versus qualitative. This is defined as the view that all true knowledge is scientific and that all things are ultimately measurable (if you've spent anytime in OEF or OIF this should be familiar to you with our love of metrics) and that biological organisms (and by extension- populations) can be analyzed just like physical systems- indeed, they are often talked about as if they ARE physical systems.

Unfortunately, most military theorists- much like social scientists- are not explicit about their epistemology- even though with some analysis most of them can be shown to be positivist in nature- the trouble is that without being explicit we fail to inform others about our fundamental assertions- and, as most writers will admit openly, they view their assertions as, if not facts, at least conventional wisdom that cannot be questioned (much less SHOULD be questioned). We compound this by not referencing most of our doctrine...

This attempt to make social science and military science as close to natural science presents us with some very troublesome issues- if we care to look.

Some have criticized positivism on the grounds that it does not correctly represent human social action and that it tends to ignore the role of the observer (something that Quantum Theory interestingly illustrates for the physical sciences and has thus caused the physical sciences to turn more post-positivist while leaving the social and military sciences behind in an outdated pseudo-scientific paradigm). It has also been criticized for being artificially and inherently protective of the status quo- not challenging the powers that be and thus being very useful to certain groups who wish to retain power (think the "yes-men" that seem to be attracted to formal meetings). This naturally tends to keep those who follow this philosophy from being self-reflective- a very worrisome trend to some in the military.

Some of the values of post-positivism are: skepticism, rigor, modesty, self-reflection (or reflexivity), qualitative and quantitative analysis being at least on par (if not qualitative being more useful with biological organisms), the acknowledgment of persistent observer bias, and the constant questioning of assertions (i.e.- critical thinking).


Tue, 01/22/2013 - 10:04pm

In reply to by G Martin

Well, I consider myself mostly a novice here too. It was a topic of much discussion at CGSOC (ILE) which I just completed, so I guess I "know" a little about it. To directly answer your two questions, at this point my take on what is it is most significantly to reflect on my personal thoughts about a particular situation and/or the decisions I made. Considering new information as it comes available can, and perhaps should, lead to a change in a decision for example. Also, realizing that some sort of bias or pre-conceived notion led to a specific action that might not be the best option can allow you to adjust. There is a lot out there on the whole process of synthesizing everything related to a situation to make the best decision or reason out a solution also. While I think that I do some of this, I am certainly no expert critical thinker. To me it was interesting to discuss in the group format and also having it in the back of my mind has helped me. So to address the second point, not too far down the rabbit hole would be my answer.

G Martin

Tue, 01/22/2013 - 5:48pm

In reply to by JBodenhamer

Great response!

First, I'd say ignore comments like "why did you run away from the real Army and to Acquisitions"- especially since no-one knows your reasons, no-one knows if the Army decided that for you, and Acquisitions- last I checked- is just as "real" as the rest of the Army. The bottom line is we need good folks in all areas- not just in Ops.

Second, I'd like to ask what your take on "critical thinking" is. That term is bandied about a lot today and I usually find that when one gets down to what people think it means it usually varies widely. For instance- some critical thinkers would question the use of the term "problem solving". So, for instance - a critical thinker that is only a surface critical thinker would use that as a starting point. 'I'm solving problems and to do that I've got to think critically'- might be the logic. A deeper critical thinker might go a step further and question why we have to believe there is a problem and why we think we have to and/or can solve it. One might come to the conclusion that problems only exist in our minds and thus solutions are a "problematic" way of looking at things.

Anyway, just wanted to ask how far down the rabbit hole you may have gone at this point. As I get more and more enlightened (and I believe I'm below novice level on this stuff) on critical thinking I realize how much further I need to go still. Questioning one's explicit assumptions or higher's implicit assumptions is one level of critical thinking. Questioning one's fundamental assertions is very difficult- because at some level it seems to never end...


Tue, 01/22/2013 - 4:56pm

I truly appreciate the comments left here so far. Despite some who asserted otherwise, I am in fact self critical and interested in personal development so I do not take offense to anything that was mentioned nor do I only heed the comments that agreed with my position. I will attempt to answer a few of the points raised.

1. I really did not want to come off as elitist. I did not mean to imply(nor did I ever directly state) that anything other than a science/technology education was worthless. Rather, I think we lack expertise in this area and to a terrible job as an instituion in retaining folks with technical backgrounds after their intial service obligations end. I stayed in the Army because I genuinely like it and figure that there is time to chase high paying jobs--if I ever opt to do that anyway--at some point after I retire at whatever rank/time in service that point comes. Personally I cannot imagine it being longer than 30 years for me, probably less, hopefully more than 20...

2. Some assertions of what engineering is on here are wrong. Different schools teach it differently--though due to accreditation requirements, the curriculum does not vary too widely. At its core it is about problem solving, and believe it or not, ciritical thinking. Engineers and math folks tend to take a more direct, and at times sterile, approach to problem solving, and this can lead to poor results. However, not all engineers are "good" engineers, just as not all historians are "good" at their craft, and the same can be said for all other academic disciplines. What I can definitively say about mechanical engineering specifically, having studied and now taught it, is that it forces its students to face problems they initially cannot solve for lack of having learned the tools, and then go about the challenging task of learning what they need to know, and then figuring out how to apply this knowledge, to solve the problem. The same process works for problems that do not involve math, but the educational challenge makes you, in my opinion, comfortable thinking on your feet and thinking clearly in the midst of confusion in any situation. In industry, and in the military I think, the best solutions to complicated problems come from teams, and I wrote this because I feel we are lacking some key members of the team in the Army, at least at times. One comment that really resonated with me was from someone that said they felt they "majored in ROTC" and minored in their education. I have heard this from a number of ROTC graduates and think it is unfortunate that they were not mentored by their PMS to follow whatever education they most desired during college. A couple of my LTs when I was a commander had made comments to me about this in discussing our college/comissioning experiences.

3. I suppose I could have quantified some of my experiences better. I did not want the article to come off as a chronical of my military career or something, thus I was brief. A few quick examples are work I did in OIF 1 assessing the baghdad power plant and neighborhood power distribution systems, municipal water distribution networks in the same area, and also reviewing contractor plans for work we were having done with CERP funds. I also managed the local national contractors who installed generators and power on our base. As a Troop commander on the next tour, I did more of the same. I also got involved in some down range analysis of different types of IEDs we were seeing and how electric circuits were being constructed that the EOD folks were working on. In the garrison field, desipite what was said, I did in fact get my hands dirty a lot as a PL and troop XO(I was an XO for 18 months). Granted, this goes beyond classroom engineering, but I have grown up working on and restoring cars, and I truly love maintenance. I was known for this, and not derided by my mechanics or soldiers either. They came to know I liked it and was good at working alongside them. I actually signed for and carried a mechanics tool box in my Bradley in OIF 1 and put it to use a fe times. No, I did not do this at the expense of my real jobs. It was in addition to them. I had the chance to study the actual Abrams turbine engine/transmission in the classroom, and I really know how military (and civilian vehicles) work. I was close with our FSRs and the squadron maintenance techs as a result, and it helped overall vehicle readiness of my unit(s) greatly. I still have 3 sets of very dirty OD green coveralls I wear in my own garage as proof of this. Not all mechanical engineers can do the above, I just happen to be able to.

4. The final point I will address, and it is a difficult one, is the question of my 7 years in the "real Army" and why I "ran away" from operations and true leadership. I know some readers will take this as BS or the comments of a failed officer in operations or something, but that is anything but the truth. I did very well in my cavalry time. My bio is short but in those 7 years, I had less than a year of true staff time and I was never above the Squadron level. At my first unit, I had two platoons and then was an XO for most of the rest of the time. The final few months in Iraq I was the squadron civil military affairs officer as I made CPT and was put in charge of the CA team. After the advanced course, I did less than a year as AS3 and then took command of an ARS ground troop for 2 years, including a year deployed. I do not say the above to pat myself on the back. Rather, I say it because I thought long and hard about transitioning to Acquisitions Corps. A mentor I still keep in contact with who I met as a cadet is AQ and talking with him had a major impact on my decision. I will always have some regret that I did not at least give myself a shot at being a BN/SQDN commander, but at the end of the day, the level of work it took me to get my two engineering degrees made me want to do something that applied them directly to hopefully bettering the future Army for the remainder of my career, so I chose this path. How this will play out is yet unknown. I certainly have my moments of buyers regret, but also have already had a lot of great experiences working on equipment soldiers will someday have in my AQ experiences. Like many here, I have been the recipient of some less than perfect gear, and I hope to prevent at least some soldiers from having that same experience someday in the future. Perhaps hoky, but there is the answer to that.

I will continue to read the responses to this with interest. What others say makes me think about and analyze my position on this for sure.

Move Forward

Wed, 01/23/2013 - 12:59am

In reply to by RantCorp

<blockquote>IMO owing to the enormous imbalance between the belligerents I don’t think science and technology can help more than it already does so that would suggest the Humanities are needed to change the enemy’s reasons for choosing selfless death.</blockquote>

Not every opponent is as primitive or willing to become suicidal over their or their leader’s cause. In addition, folks without analytical number skills tend to be selective and erroneous in interpreting history. We fail to compare 14000 lost Soviets (many that had heavy armor) in Afghanistan with 3300 lighter force coalition deaths over more than a decade. The Soviets lost over 450 aircraft while the coalition lost just 151, far fewer (27 rotorcraft) of those were shot down, and many more coalition aircraft participated increasing accident probability.

Little evidence exists that reasoning with radicals or their victims using training gained from the humanities would decrease jihadi desire for martyrdom. Ample evidence exists that the American way of war involving external airpower and fires saved many a small unit from certain disaster caused by enemy desire to become a martyr. In the book, “Lions of Kandahar,” the author described how their three A-teams took on over 1500 Taliban in no small part due to the 79 aircraft sorties that supported them over several days, lethally, bringing equipment/supplies, and providing MEDEVAC.

We also know Army doctrine describes simultaneous offense, defense, and stability operations when fighting overseas. Only the latter is most conducive to skills gained through liberal arts and it has become clear that no will exists to become involved in future long-term “stability” conflicts given the lack of clear outcomes and great expense of current ones. If we have ample officer degrees in the liberal arts, than why the lack of success in convincing the population through words and “build” deeds? Even when stability operations and FID are essential in shorter term wars and peacetime engagement, wide area security and stability operations are virtually synonymous. The information collection and screen, guard, cover, local, area, and route security aspects of wide area security do not necessarily require constant human interaction. Technology can support a great deal of the process of monitoring the patterns of daily life and discerning networks and trends.

As for the ego aspect on one side or the other, let me offer that one can recognize the need for both schools of thought without necessarily being an expert in either. I personally suck at technology. My past proficiency in reading paper maps far surpassed any capability to employ military GPS. I can’t even program the phone numbers in my cell phone but recognize the value and capabilities of others in exploiting information derived from a squad and Soldier level smart phone. The problem lies when non-techies like me reject technology’s benefits just because they don’t understand them or have not kept up with future capabilities outside and inside their branch.

Problems also exist when officers are the product of school systems making them appear inadequately prepared for basic analytical analysis using even high school math. If leaders cannot recognize B.S. when it is presented or promulgated, then the advertiser of those falsehoods wins and gains influence at the Army’s expense. Army force structure, R&D, procurement, and tech-based training become billpayers for other branches seeking to expand their sandbox. Military reporters also may be fooled by other branch and think tank false claims and purposely distorted analysis.

For instance, one notable reporter today published data about Cold War A-10 life expectancy. In fairness to the reporter, he mostly relayed claims made that 7% of every 100 A-10 sorties were expected to be shot down if we had fought the Soviets in Europe. Yet other numbers were inconsistent with 68 A-10s being based at each of six locations and with each base expected to fly 250 sorties per day. The numbers presented did not jive with reality or simple high school percentage multiplications. Yet the casual reader likely would not conduct further investigation and would tend to accept the reporter’s numbers.

If there are 68 A-10s at one base that does not mean all 68 can fly that day. Typically, an operational readiness rate of .75 of those 68 aircraft would be fully operational capable which on day 1 is just 51 of those 68 A-10s. Multiply those 51 by 4 sorties per day and you get less than the reporter-cited 250 sorties, although the USAF would probably say that they have more pilots than aircraft so some aircraft would be flown more than 4 sorties per day by the extra pilots. A 7% loss rate per 100 flights can be expressed by multiplying .07 by the 204 sorties to get 14.28 A-10 losses on Day 1 alone. Rounding losses down, subtract those 14 losses from 68 previously available A-10s and the new total A-10s available on Day 2 is now 54 before applying the maintenance readiness rate. Continue the process and get these results:

68 A-10s x .75=51…51 acft x 4 sorties per day=204 sorties on Day 1…204 sorties x .07=14.28 losses
54 A-10s x .75=40.5…41 x 4 sorties per day=164 sorties on Day 2…164 sorties x .07=11.48 losses
43 A-10s x .75=32.25…32 x 4 sorties per day=128 sorties on Day 3…128 sorties x .07=8.96 losses
34 A-10s x .75=25.5…26 x 4 sorties per day=104 sorties on Day 4…104 sorties x .07=7.28 losses
27 A-10s x .75=20.25…20 x 4 sorties per day=80 sorties on Day 5…80 sorties x .07=5.6 losses
21 A-10s x .75=15.75…16 x 4 sorties per day=64 sorties on Day 6…64 sorties x .07=4.48 losses
17 A-10s x .75=12.75…13 x 4 sorties per day=52 sorties on Day 7…52 sorties x .07=3.62 losses
13 A-10s x .75=9.75…10 x 4 sorties per day=40 sorties on Day 8…40 sorties x .07=2.8 losses
10 A-10s x .75=7.5…8 x 4 sorties per day=32 sorties on Day 9…32 sorties x .07=2.24 losses
8 A-10s x .75=6…6 x 4 sorties per day=24 sorties on Day 10…24 sorties x .07=1.68 losses
6 A-10s x .75=4.5…5 x 4 sorties per day=20 sorties on Day 11…20 sorties x .07=1.4 losses
5 A-10s x .75=3.75…4 x 4 sorties per day=16 sorties on Day 12…16 sorties x .07=1.12 losses
4 A-10s x .75=3…3 x 4 sorties per day=12 sorties on Day 13…12 sorties x .07=.84 losses
3 A-10s x .75=2.25…2 x 4 sorties per day=8 sorties on Day 14…8 sorties x .07=.56 losses

Add it up, and you get 948 sorties flown in 14 days multiplied by an assumed 3 armored vehicles killed per sortie equals 2844 armor kills. Multiply that by 6 bases (17,064) and it is difficult to fathom any of today’s armored threats lasting the two weeks required to expend most of those 68 aircraft at six bases. Of course you further should recognize that 6 x 68 aircraft is nowhere near the 700 total A-10s the reported cited and some would arrive from CONUS during the two weeks to nearly double the enemy armor kills, particularly as enemy air defenses were attrited.

Smart operational design proponents would immediately point to bad weather, missile attacks of bases, enemy attempts to use smoke and concealing terrain, and other factors such as dispersion to thwart the A-10s. However, that is why we have joint forces and combined arms. Army elements force a hiding and civilian-hugging enemy out into the open and support the JTACs required to find/attack the enemy from the air. No single service is dominant and JIIM capabilities offer the enemy multiple dilemmas to overcome.

The capabilities of 700 CAS-capable fixed wing aircraft, be they A-10s or F-35s, is certainly more than adequate for any foreseeable threat. An Army proponent in the Acquisition Corps might even point out that six Armed Aerial Scout at even $20 million each would likely equal the price of a single F-35. An argument then could be made that in exchange for 50 fewer F-35As of the 1700+ planned, the Army could buy 300 Armed Aerial Scouts and support at least six times the numbers of armor kills and sorties at 1/6th the price of each F-35 and 1/4 the price of an MV-22 (cheaper pilots, cost per flying hour, and bases too)...with cooperative employment between Army manned and unmanned aircraft thrown in at the same approximate total cost to increase synergy and kills/RSTA per sortie.

As for technology having no relationship to strategy, that just is unsupported by the facts. The fighter flying services are procuring the F-35 fighter to replace not only F-16s, Harriers, and older F/A-18s but also A-10s. Army leaders who fail to keep up with trends outside their branch will decry that move believing the A-10 is superior. The USAF would use threat analysis to point out that given the improvements in radar and IR air defenses since the 80s that the loss rate for A-10s today would be far higher today than 7% against a capable foe.

In addition, the F-35 can survive air defenses at altitude and fare much better against enemy fighters, flying air interdiction missions for shaping operations in all phases in addition to just the CAS the A-10 could support. A keen observer would note that using far fewer than the 68 aircraft per base, the three F-35 equipped services could easily down thousands of enemy fighters in two weeks using the same 3 kills per sortie. The Russians plan only 60 or so T-50s casting doubt on the claims of a need for more than 180+ F-22s and thousands of F-35s. Given the greater Pacific distances, the F-35 also could stand off to a greater degree on both large and amphibious carriers as well as from bases in Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Australia, and Guam.

Yet there was a rather infamous RAND study that attempted to twist reality on the ground, air, and sea by ignoring the contributions of sea-based fighter airpower, missile defenses, and the future F-35. Catchy slogans like AirSea Battle and exaggerated claims of conventional missile threats (relative to historical indirect fire and airpower damage that was far, far higher yet not decisive) distort the reality that the current Japanese Navy is more than a match for the Chinese PLAN, before you add the U.S, South Korea, and Australia. There is a clear A2/AD challenge for the PLA/PLAN to get to Taiwan, as well. Add the numbers of nuclear weapons on both sides and the trillion dollar trade between us, and what is the logic of war with China?

Unless Army leaders recognize that and dispute analytical claims of other services and “think tanks,” the agenda ends up as reality and the Pacific pivot becomes an excuse to rob the Army Peters to pay the Pauls of other services.

G Martin

Tue, 01/22/2013 - 11:48am

In reply to by RantCorp

Or, maybe we need to reframe our understanding in such a way as to fight the tendency to label things as "war" or "not war". Some readings of History tend to conclude that this false choice construct results in more problems than it solves.

To get philosophical, the "war and peace" paradigm- or its related, but more nuanced cousin- "the sliding scale between the two rare extremes of "total war" and... "total peace(?)" " may need to be replaced by a different type of construct- a different metaphor- to better address reality. I would first encourage us to look for constructs that others use to describe the situation: do the Taliban describe the situation as "war" (to use Afghanistan as an example)? In all areas of Afghanistan? If not- what do they describe it as? It would seem to me that limiting ourselves to what makes sense to us does us a disservice when attempting change in other places.

Second, I would encourage- as Hubba explained- to get above the fray and acknowledge our own paradigms and attempt to view things from a meta level. Is there really such a thing as "war"? How does this paradigm blind us from different levels of understanding? One example- since we are constructed as a Department of Defense, deployed and structured under certain paradigmatic constructs (deployment orders, OPORDs, FRAGOs, uniforms, weapons, etc.)- then it makes sense for us to see ourselves involved in a war in Afghanistan (we make more money in a war zone, cannot drink or have sex, etc.)- but does that construct blind us to the reality that the Afghans experience? Does that construct blind us to how others view the situation? (Pakistan, Iran, etc.)

Without that level of thinking, I'd argue, we won't be as effective. And, even though I'm not confident a liberal arts education today gets one there any more than a "hard science" one does- I do see Hubba's point about the Whiz Kids from the hard science philosophy damaging us more than a liberal arts philosophy. Unfortunately, as I stated below, our educational system- both military and civilian- has for some time now viewed things philosophically from a hard science point of view- regardless of one's educational background. That paradigm- regardless of what one's major was, is what I submit is a greater issue in our quest to be more effective.


Tue, 01/22/2013 - 10:03am

I have to admire Maj JAB for sticking his head above the parapet and jamming a flare on his helmet. The argument that science rather than the humanities can solve our problems is difficult to quantify – for me at least.

If you look at the level of science/technology the Taliban/ALQ etc are bringing to the fight you could be forgiven for thinking they have nothing in the way of technology and even less science. The technology gap in VN was considered as thirty years but I imagine a QM from the American Civil War would be shocked by the primitive level of technology possessed by the enemy in Afghanistan. Today the actual gap (as opposed to the level) would be nearer one hundred years. So IMO it is a brave soul who thinks a lack of science and technology on our behalf is the problem.

However there is something revealing about the way Maj JAB argued and equally significant the manner in which he was answered. What struck me was the emergence of egotistic based argument. Many acknowledge the toxicity of egotistic careerism etc in the military so it is interesting to see when a personal characteristic, qualification, career path etc. is questioned this much maligned problem shows itself.

One of the major root-causes of this problem comes about as a result of the Achilles heel which afflicts almost all individuals who have obtained a Western college education. Simply put, when you agree with them they think you are intelligent. Unfortunately whether in science or the humanities the problem is the same.

Helpfully the enemy’s attitude to egos and careers may offer us an insight to a possible solution. For the enemy individual the 4-star end of his career is lying in several pieces beside a fighting position or crater. He has achieved his ultimate ambition and more often than not we have comforted and aided him in attaining his place in paradise by killing him. For the enemy I don’t think there is much ego in that attitude and even less of a career.

So what?

In the duel between ego-tech at one end and selfless death at the other, it is a certainty that the former will win the combat. But who’s side will win the war? History suggests it is the latter. If we are to win the war (be a nice change) then we have to find an alternative to shooting the solution into the enemy’s brain - as the supply of brain is endless.

IMO owing to the enormous imbalance between the belligerents I don’t think science and technology can help more than it already does so that would suggest the Humanities are needed to change the enemy’s reasons for choosing selfless death.


G Martin

Tue, 01/22/2013 - 11:27am

In reply to by Hubba Bubba

Great points about being able to step back from one's speciality and reflect upon how that specialization (and one could include one's experience(s) as well) offers both clarity and blindness. 100% agree that most are not self-reflexive in that manner.

Hubba Bubba

Tue, 01/22/2013 - 6:15am

The author makes several logic failures, however this does reflect most of the military’s preferred paradigm, so it is rather understandable.
1. If I consider myself successful, then I should consider myself a mold; the Army can copy what I did, and mass-produce more of me, thus the overall Army will become more efficient.
a. This of course smacks of our western educational system, of which our military PME is rigidly based upon- the mass production of repetitive copies of a “model” in the traditional industrial revolution process.
b. Because I specialized in one paradigm, the post-positivist and categorical one, the “technical rationalist”- then all other paradigms, particularly those detested social sciences and human arts characters, must be invalid.
c. The curse of histiography; that young Field Grades in today’s modern military reflect back upon many different periods and falsely project their modern values, symbols, and paradigms onto former worlds that are incompatible- and they thus draw erroneous conclusions. In this case, the author fails to grasp the complete vigor in which the Whiz Kids of the Vietnam era applied mathematics and the scientific method (positivism) directly to military applications; they forced tactical logic (tactical rationalization) onto the strategic plane- and they failed. Yet our modern ORSA obsession continues in this failed direction, with more emphasis on technology that works exceptionally well in tactical applications- but cannot be simply indoctrinated into the strategic plane without an artificial, unstable, and incorrect application.
2. On paradigms and the author:
a. If one immerses in a preferred paradigm- such as science/positivism; or perhaps ideology; or others based on your cultural background, your values, your society, or your organization (Army, Navy, Air Force, Special Forces, etc), you tend to ignore, reject, or remain unaware of any other paradigms. Here, the author has no educational background in philosophy, history, arts, or another culture- yet he blindly and categorically rejects them as false…why? A poetry class might prove useful if you would just open your mind.
b. The designer requires ‘meta-cognition’ to understand and appreciate true linkage between strategy and tactics. This seems like a fancy word- but words matter. The ‘meta’ here requires the author to rise above their own preferred paradigm, reflect critically upon it- recognize it for what it is, with strengths and weaknesses, and conceptual boundaries. There are things a mathematician will believe, and will not believe in…the critical part is asking ‘why.’ Why does one paradigm reject superstition while others embrace it? Why is the notion of ‘zero’ critical to some, but irrelevant to others. To ‘meta-cognate’ requires one to not only rise above their own paradigm, in the author’s case, a positivist westerner, but to appreciate and understand the many other paradigms operating in the complex ecology. As they transform through time and space, he gains the ability to avoid the many cognitive pitfalls that this article demonstrates- he breaks through cognitive barriers and begins to see the world in a way that is ultimately very useful for his organization (the Army).
3. Most professionals never get there. I hope the author reflects upon the reaction his article generated in SWJ. The childish ones can be understood for what they are: you insult my field or preferred theory in favor of yours; therefore I dislike you and will publically ridicule you on the internet. Other comments here offer some profound thought- if one is willing to consider it. To reflect critically means one must recognize what one truly loves, and let go of it. If you love mathematics, if it is how you make sense of the world- you must recognize that, let go of it, and critically reflect on how it helps you see, and how it also blinds you. Different paradigms blind us in different ways…none of us are walking around seeing things clearly. Thus, for the military education system to adapt your recommendations would be akin to issuing the same lens for all military personnel to gaze upon the world and make sense of it…that would be a very, very bad thing.
Just blowing bubbles-

Hubba Bubba

The author is not wrong. But, he's not completely right, either.

Leadership is solving interpersonal problems. There are no problems that the military deals with that are not designed by other humans. We don't go to war with technology, we go to war with other humans.

You need guys to build, fix, and design tools. You need guys to do the things you don't have the time to do. You need guys who have expertise in fields that move, fund, talk, and yes, kill.

To win wars you have to understand humans. You need to understand how to lead the people who have expertise that you do not. How to understand the motives, assumptions, and thinking of your enemy.

A leader is not an expert on anything more than they are of the human condition. The leaders we remember the names of were experts on the human condition.

You don't learn about the human condition except for in the humanities. You don't gain experience with it except in living life.


Tue, 01/22/2013 - 12:30am

Much of the practice of engineering is about serving the needs of society safely, efficiently, and cost effectively. The argument in the article and the associated comments is an ancient and ongoing one, Greece vs. Rome, the merits and pitfalls of Technocracy, PPE vs. Engineering degrees, etc. . Whatever the path we choose individually, daily solutions to society's myriad problems are still required; everybody needs to pitch in and pull together.

<i>"For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall. "</i>…,_Politics_and_Economics…


Tue, 01/22/2013 - 12:03am

I would like to go ahead and thank MAJ B for sharing his insight as to why his particular breed of officers is so excellent at problem solving. He must have known that this was an awfully argumentative article that was bound to get many responses. What I would have like to seen in this article is his trials and tribulations of problem solving and what his mechanical engineering mind did to solve problems vs. the next guy's solutions. MAJ B comes off a little like an elitist in this article even though I know that is not his intent.
From what I can tell by his quick bio is that he has spent a total of 7 years in the actual Army. What we all fail to realize is that, degree aside, leadership is our core competency. To be an effective Tank PL, Xo, etc, did you have to have a background in mechanical engineering? No, your mechanics were probably just being nice and entertaining your intrusions because they respected your rank. Please do not confuse the fact about being a guy with a mechanical engineering background and being a tank mechanic. We all know you probably never had grease on your hands.
Leadership is what you do, and while you might feel comfortable in a technical arena because of your educational background what about your interactions with Iraqis,etc.? If your education was so sound and it provided you all the structure you needed for tactical problem solving why did you run away to the acquisition corps? Why are you not leading the next generations of Soldiers into conflict oh wise one? What did mechanical engineering teach you about cultures and history? I argue nothing, but that's okay because the Army promotes a breadth of education to round out its officer corps. You approach problems differently because of your educational background but for no better or worse. What you fail to mention are any instances of being right or wrong throughout your career. The problem with engineering is that there is usually a 100% solution but sometimes in the Army the solution is not so clean cut.

These comments against "technology" tend to be uniformed and knee-jerk. Often they come from Colonels, the most conservative rank in the military.

We have just completed a war in Iraq, and are continuing a war in Afghanistan, where Mr. Gates had to repeatedly spend the full force of his office to resist many Generals' and Admirals' notions of what technologies should be purchased, and how fast they should be purchased.

Perhaps 10,000 lives and limbs were saved by people who understood where technology and strategy intersect, and understood how to position those new technologies so that they would be adopted against the full headwinds of the Pentagon Establishment.

And yet some on these pages have the temerity to suggest technology is not important? Why would we want to go back to the strategic planning training levels that led to the results we saw in 2004, 2005, 2006?

Just a couple of perhaps opposing thoughts on the ideas presented in the article.

First we are far away from this quote, "The well used quote by Greek philosopher Thucydides, “the nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools” perhaps applies now more than ever." We probably have the best educated military we ever had, but are we educated in the right fields? I think Dave Maxwell's comments about focusing on history and military art are critical and if we had senior officers with this type of education in CENTCOM in the 2002 timeframe we may have avoided the major missteps we made in Iraq.

The Army doesn't dismiss technical education, in fact that is why they expanded the Warrant Officer Corp, especially in the Signal and UAS fields. They are the Army's expert technicians and it makes sense to invest in their technical education because they will work that field for their entire career. The other officers will work in a wide range of positions to ensure they're groomed to command or be staff officers at the senior level. Almost by necessity they have to be generalists in most cases.

On the other hand, I often wish we had more medical doctors and engineers in Congress so they would be focused on solving problems instead of pushing outdated ideologies. There may be some relevance to this last statement to the Army also.

Move Forward

Mon, 01/21/2013 - 1:32pm

Quoting President Barack Obama in his inaugural speech:

"We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries."

The problem lies when academics and environmental scientists with no foundation in business or the real world believe that the government alone can drive new industries and pick winners and losers.

The economy does that well enough on its own expending many trillions rather than government billions to grow economically viable jobs and industries. However, one (plus) trillion currently expended on defense spending over two to three years is an undeniable driver of our economy, exports and jobs that generally cannot be outsourced.

Defense jobs also are spread across 50 states rather than restricted only to coastal areas already sufficiently congested in talent and infrastructure to stand on their own on civil sector jobs. Servicemember defense jobs offer technology training and meaningful pursuits to raise even less educated and sometimes troubled youth into productive members of society who don't rely on handouts and safeguard our nation from those who would kill us...just because of who we are and what we represent.

Move Forward

Mon, 01/21/2013 - 12:31pm

Guess we should look at the skills that made/make America what it is and that are likely to lead it to a better future. When you look at Silicon Valley, do you see many folks affording $750,000 munchkin houses on the basis of liberal arts expertise? Did America become great by studying its nonexistent past or by always looking forward and building major railroads and interstate highways to connect the 13 original colonies with the rest of the nation?

When foreigners come to our university system, do they study the humanities or engineering and other STEM subjects? Is our current lack of STEM emphasis in U.S. schools a partial explanation for our lack of current success in manufacturing? When foreign STEM students leave and return home, do they build their nations using their gained expertise or spend all their time pondering means to overcome the weaknesses and uncertainties of the human condition?

Do we try to force square historical pegs into round current and foreseeable "hole" conditions (that they continue to dig deeper and we don't stop through talk/diplomacy) of other nations and <strong>their</strong> people. Is a shura going to change their history and lifestyle? Does touchy-feely diplomatic theory and language training circumvent facts on the ground that Pashtuns and Taliban will never get along well with the Northern Alliance and that Sunnis-Shia-Kurds can't share power peacefully?


Mon, 01/21/2013 - 10:15am

It is my opinion that this article is directly related to the author's experience as a) a tactical-level officer (PL, CO CMD, etc), b) a grad student in engineering, c) an instructor in engineering, and d) as a program manager. It's likely he focused on engineering solutions in his PL/CO CDR/AS-3 time because, well, that's his intellectual comfort zone.

But the fact of the matter is, none of these jobs requires a lick of strategic thought. And if he continues in the Acquisitions Corps, it's likely he never will.

Yet, it's at the strategic level (where those pushing "soft science" skills) operate where the social sciences come into play.

Again, your experience may vary.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 01/21/2013 - 2:46pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

To be clear I am in no way opposed to technical or engineering education. Just like everything we do there is no one size fits all and just as we have to seek to achieve balance and coherency among ends, ways, and means in strategy we need to achieve the right balance in education, skills, and capabilities within our officer corps. We definitely need technical experts but we cannot have an officer corps made up solely of technical or engineering experts just as cannot have it made up solely of officers educated in any other single discipline. And there is no educational discipline that has a lock on complex problem solving - at least on the complex politico-military problems we face. Not all problems have an engineering solution - especially those in the human domain or as Clausewitz (who loved using his engineer/physics metaphors) said of the paradoxical trinity - "composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone." We have to be able to work in the environment of passion, reason, and chance and no single educational discipline is suited to specifically to work in such an environment. (which is probably why Clausewitz also focused on the development of coup d'oeil - based on education and experience so that military leaders could cut through the fog and friction of war, with imperfect information and make sound decisions at the right time and right place.)

G Martin

Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:15am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Sir- agree 100%. In terms of education, I think we should encourage a minimum level around those subjects for all. As for specific subjects for majoring in - I think we should encourage a broad mix. But, with the caveat that these subjects get some sort of emphasis as a basis for everyone.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 01/21/2013 - 10:03am

Where you stand depends on where you sit.

My bias for officers is an education in History, Military (and Political) Theory, Geography, Operational Art, and Strategy with training in tactics.

G Martin

Mon, 01/21/2013 - 9:49am

<em>I argue that if an officer can break down and solve a complicated engineering problem, there is nothing preventing them from using the same analysis methodology to dissect and understand a complicated tribal/political problem in Iraq or Afghanistan just as successfully.</em>

Wow- what an assertion! Any references for this? Because it wouldn't take one long to do an on-line search to find lots of references stating the exact opposite. Even on SWJ- almost any article dealing with Design or complexity argues the opposite- and with lots of references. Human populations are not machines and they aren't governed by logical universal laws that are just waiting for an ORSA or political scientist to discover.

I submit that the line of thinking espoused in this post has much more to do with our lack of ability when faced with complex problems than a focus on the humanities does. Of course, if the humanities thought the opposite, then maybe we wouldn't have a problem. Unfortunately the liberal arts types have been attempting to make themselves appear more "hard science"- adopting outlandish mathematical models and attempting to break conceptual and complex things down into their coherent parts in order to better understand them.

I wouldn't advise increasing hard sciences or liberal arts. I would invest in some critical thinking, systems thinking, complexity theory, and Quantum Theoretical classes for all officers. This worship of all things mathematical and the related positivist approach of applying deterministic tools to the wholly indeterminate is- in my mind- at the root of most of our issues. It is why ORSAs have so much power today and why our acquisition folks can prove we have the best tools with metrics- but our troops and units buy other tools. We can't see the forest for the trees.

Move Forward

Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:37pm

In reply to by Fuchs

SOCIALISM: You have two cows. The state takes one and gives it to someone else.
COMMUNISM: You have two cows. The State takes both of them and gives you the milk.
FASCISM: You have two cows. The State takes both of them and sells you the milk.
MILITARY DICTATORSHIP: You have two cows. The State takes both of them and shoots you.
BUREAUCRACY: You have two cows. The state takes both of them, accidentally kills one and spills the milk in the sewer.
CAPITALISM: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.
PURE DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. Your neighbors decide who gets the milk.
REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. Your neighbors pick someone to decide who gets the milk.
AMERICAN DEMOCRACY: The government promises to give you two cows if you vote for it. After the election, the president is impeached for speculating in cow futures. The press dubs the affair "Cowgate".
ANARCHY: You have two cows. Either you sell the milk at a fair price or your neighbors kill you and take the cows.

The above come from googling Economics jokes-University of Notre Dame.

I'm assuming you are an economist and I think you are German. Because I lived there several years and have Germans on both my own and wife's genealogy, I find it ironic that you differentiate between the value of the STEM occupations of economist and mechanical engineer which both involve numbers and a typically German straightforward way of thinking. However, suspect that Economist is far more of a pseudo science than mechanical engineering. Also suspect judging by how our deficit numbers have been manipulated by key government economists to theorize that we have not gone over the legally allowed U.S. deficit numbers that it is an inexact science with lots of wiggle room.

Guess that makes being an economist kind of like psychology which you also seem to see as having great benefits and lots of answers. How many troops committed suicide last year? How is that cure for PTSD going? Would you say that a typical STEM or liberal arts mentality led to the military success of the German Army in two world wars. Would you further agree that only the craziness of your leader in starting a second front prevented Germany from winning WWII and exterminating lots of Jews, Brits, Americans, and others with superior equipment?

Now looking at the above definitions of different types of governments again. How would being a psychologist or economist help you force feed your view of the proper governmental method on others? How would a history degree? Philosophy? English? Literature? Foreign language...given that some Afghans speak Pashtu and others Dari of which you speak only one in a very, very rough manner.

Now as an economist, how are you going to make Afghans instantly rich by legal means so that they can exercise the demand for supplies you believe they need? You don't want to offend or starve farmers so you won't spray their poppy crops to force them to try pomegranates. When was the last time you ate one of those? You can't provide them fertilizer because it could be turned into IEDs. You can't give them farm animals because the Taliban will take some or force farmers to sell them to pay taxes. So how is this build thing going to work in clear-hold-build? Would you rather have a STEM expert working on that or someone with a liberal arts degree who will talk and think the problem to death...paralysis through analysis?


Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:02pm

In reply to by RVM

I've had enough semesters of mechanical engineering studies to know what I'm talking about here. You likely never studied at a non-technical campus and just don't see the contrast. I did.

Mechanical engineering deals with inanimate objects only. It simplifies with assumptions or leaves much of the work to finite elements or other simulations when it doesn't want turn the problem into a simplistic one.

The trade-off necessities and uncertainties faced by an engineer are a joke in comparison to what economists need to do, and their dealing with the human mind is a joke in comparison to what psychologists do.


Mon, 01/21/2013 - 3:45pm

In reply to by Fuchs

Fuchs, that is an inaccurate description of Mechanical Engineering. I have degrees in both Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and have taught courses in both, including Engineering Design. Your comments about ME being "repetitive practising" and "mostly memorising" could not be further from the truth. As the author points out, true engineering design is about solving complex problems, many times involving systems of systems. An optimal design must take into account such diverse aspects as aesthetics, performance, efficiency, cost, regulatory requirements, safety, and interaction with other designs, to name a few. Typically many of these attributes are in opposition to each other, requiring multiple tradeoffs and decisions with no 'right' answer. Good design clearly deals with uncertainty and incorporates that uncertainty into the process in the form of probabilistic design, uncertainty analysis, and optimization.

I also agree with the author's premise that much of what the military teaches in terms of MDMP and Design are closely related to the engineering design process that is applied across a range of engineering disciplines.

I couldn't disagree much more.

Mechanical engineering uses simplifications of reality and accounts for the unknowns with multipliers so the product does not break.
It's 90% math and most learning is repetitive practising of calculations along a scheme. The learning is mostly memorising.

It tells nothing useful about handling uncertainties, about handling subordinates with their specific characters and needs, little useful about cooperation, nothing about foreign countries/geographies/climates, nothing useful about improvisation, almost nothing about how others solve problems, nothing about how to handle (oneself in) a crisis.

The few advantages of mechanical engineering for an officer are
(1) a little bit more affinity to technology, which may help late in the career when the new technology is alien to one's age group
(2) an improvement of the short-term memory
Those supposed advantages he had in practice were likely more about being comfortable with math and having common sense, but he's too nebulous on them so I cannot discern which advantages he's really writing about.

Mechanical engineering is even less useful to an officer than learning accounting.