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“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.”
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 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.
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.
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?
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.