Future Warfare Attributes

mass effect female warrior

I love this slide.

These are the types of attributes we want in our leaders to be effective in future war.

I don’t think anyone would argue against them. Would love to know the story about how these were decided on.

But boy! What an ask!

Is our system designed to select for these types of attributes? Or to train them?

Unfortunately, I think the answer is a resounding no.

How do we fix that? Is it even fixable? Are we asking too much?

Worth thinking about.

  • Nonlinear thinking – Understanding, working with, and making predictions using complex, asynchronous ideas and patterns over time and space.
  • Strategic patience/inaction – Willingness and ability to inhibit action and tolerate ambiguity in order to be able to act decisively at the right moment in order to increase the effectiveness of action.
  • Fast cognitive fusion – Analyzing, synthesizing, and making decisions based on high volume, high velocity, multisource information in order to monitor, understand, and direct multiple, interdependent, semi-autonomous units and systems.
  • Inductive/abductive reasoned action – Ability to observe, analyze, and willingness to act on partial information in the environmnet, drawing inferences about generalized rules and patterns (inductive) or likeliest cause-effect relationships (abducitve) given data observed.
  • Technological fluency – Ability to comprehend and control multiple, integrated semi-autonmous technological systems and evaluate and integrate multiple information streams from battlefield sensors, cyber, etc. to effectively operate these systems.
  • Psychophysiological durability – Physical, psychological, and cognitive robustness, endurance, self-awareness, and self-management in the face of the prolonged stresses of extended, autonomous operatoins and exteme stresses of extended high-intensity combat.
  • Teamwork development and synchronicity – Ability and willingness to rapidly develop and sustain strong teamwork onds and working relationships to be effective in dynamic, extended combat operations.
  • Complex spatial awareness and visualization – Developing and sustaining awareness and visualization of spatial relationships and movements in complex three dimensional, subterranean, and urban environments.
  • Predictive social reasoning – The ability to understand and predict the perspective and likely perception of actions/activities by other groups and individuals in order to enhance the effectiveness of combined/synchronized cross-domain actions.

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Future war sure seems like old war

a soldier in a trench in ukraine

Something to pay attention to, especially if war actually happens.

How “futuristic” does it look?

Probably not very.

Tech tends to cancel out tech.

In the end, it’s human versus human, trying to bludgeon the other to death in the mud.


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11 Men 1 Mind

rangers kneeling on a street in iraq

I recently revisited this paper (11 Men 1 Mind, p. 17) by General William DePuy. I read it back in OCS, but was recently discussing tactics at the squad level with a colleague and it popped back into my head.

Written in 1958, the paper starts as a defense of the infantry. This was written at a time when some believed the concept of infantry combat was soon to become obsolete. We now had nuclear weapons and long-range missiles – what role would be left for the infantry?

The past sixty years have proven DePuy right.

And we’re living through another period where similar arguments are being made.

“Future war” is going to be something different, right?

DePuy didn’t think so, and neither do I.

It’s a terrific article that captures what makes the infantry relevant and what makes the infantry squad so good.

One of the opening lines:

No, Mr. Infantryman, you are not obsolete – you have never been more relevant to your country’s need, nor more important to its future. For no one yet has discovered how to acquire or defend land areas without you.

It’s a short read and worth revisiting, but I’ve pulled out a few of my favorite pieces below.

To the infantry small-unit leader the larger strategic situation is a matter of complete indifference.

You know when you hear the argument about why we fight? We do it for the guy standing to the left and right? Yeah, that’s true down at the soldier level. It’s a terrible casus belli, but it is true on the ground.

The leader has a scheme which he must transmit by word of mouth, to create a facsimile of his scheme in the minds of his subordinates.

For the small unit leader – and often to the strategic leader – the plan only exists in the head. That plan needs to be communicated to those charged with executing it in the simplest manner possible. Complex plans fail.

A squad is an organizational idea jointly held by its members. It does not exist physically – you can’t see a squad – you can only see the individuals who man it. To illustrate this point, it is impossible to distinguish a trained squad from a random collection of individuals if both groups are equal in number, similarly equipped and standing idle alongside a road. The difference is lying quietly hidden in their minds.

It is absolutely terrifying what a well-trained small group of people can do when they share the same objective.

A squad is here this moment, gone the next. It congeals around a common purpose, fully understood, and it melts away in the presence of uncertainty, confusion, or the absence of direction. 

Here and gone. Here and gone. Over and over again. The best units can hang in there for just a little bit longer – despite the pressure and confusion.

For all of these reasons, both theoretical and practical, most squads are poorly commanded, if at all. Only too often in training, inept squad leaders exhort their men during an attack with such pseudo-commands as “fire and movement”or “keep it moving, men.” No soldier has ever heard the command “fire and movement”on the field ofbattle and no man alive gets a very useful picture in his mind from such a command.

I love this, and it’s true. I remember my First Sergeant coming over the ICOM radio and telling us about a paragraph in FM 7-8 which suggests we fire at “know or suspected” enemy positions to get us going. It worked.

Battle drill reduces by a large factor the necessity for battlefield explanation.

The more we train the less we need to talk.

Notwithstanding some American mythology to the contrary, there is very little initiative demonstrated on a battlefield. When the bullets start to fly the average man lies low. He stays that way until he is ordered to do otherwise. For example, the main difference between green and veteran units is that in green units it is customary for everyone to lie low waiting for the others to get up and do spontaneously what they have been trained to do for so long, and what our folklore tells us they will surely do-and this is often a long wait. In the veteran unit some man, who has learned the hard way that nothing happens unless someone takes measures of some sort, looks a few soldiers straight in the eye and orders them personally and individually to do some very specific task like “Move up to that hedgerow”-“Throw a grenade in that window”-“Cross that field”-“Fire at that house.” Lacking such orders the soldier does what comes naturally-nothing.

Someone needs to be brave. All it takes is one. Deep breath and start making decisions. Slow and deliberate. Then things really start moving.

The single characteristic which differentiates veteran infantry units from green ones is the predominance throughout the ranks of dominant leaders. 

Here we’re talking about aggressiveness and initiative.

The bulk of the fighting is always done by a handful of men who view fighting as a practical matter. They use no signals or magic words. They talk it over – decide who will do what and get on with it.

This is true beyond the infantry. I’d argue that in most units, in garrison, the field, or in war, it’s always a small minority that does the heavy lifting. That’s not a knock, that’s just the way it is.


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“It’s psychological warfare, just done with modern tools”

soldiers in a tank from the animatrix

There was a good segment on information warfare in one of the recent Mad Scientist podcasts.

The character of warfare has consistently changed over time, with technology evolving from edged weapons, bows and arrows, gunpowder, and battlefield mechanization, to more advanced technologies today, including long-range precision weapons, robotics, and autonomy.  However, warfare remains an intrinsic human endeavor, with varied and profound effects felt by Soldiers on the ground.  To explore this experience with those engaged in the tactical fight, we spoke with the following combat veterans, frontline reporters, and military training experts for this episode of The Convergence.

48. Through the Soldiers’ Eyes: The Future of Ground Combat

“It’s psychological warfare, just done with modern tools.”

Always has been.

The statue of liberty is kaput.

“Before the Russians conducted the major offensive, they were all getting cell phone messages saying ‘You’re all going to die,’ ‘Your commander betrayed you.’ It’s the equivalent of dropping leaflets over your enemies in other wars.”

“A lot of the aspects of airpower, for which it was originally conceived has been replaced by these modern electronic tools – whether it’s taking out infrastructure, degrading morale, [or] interfering with the command and control process.”

Nolan Peterson

Here’s what it looks like from someone on the receiving end.

“We got these messages saying something like ‘Ukrainian soldiers go home…’ – Really stupid stuff, it wasn’t effective, but we knew that they had the equipment that could pick up the cell numbers, scan, and send the message.”

Denys Antipov

There was also mention of how states engage in information warfare against one another, targeting not just each other, but those who are watching.

This is political warfare.

“That sort of thing is going to be background noise in future war and we need to figure out how to counter it because it’s going to be there. Our opponent is going to think that we’re in the right and that they’re winning and we’ve got to figure out how to deal with it.”

COL Scott Shaw

This is absolutely right. My only addition here is that for the most part, we don’t have to counter it, we have to ignore it.

Commanders everywhere feel a pressure to “do something” whenever something pops up in the information environment. That inclination is almost always wrong. It’s noise. It’s designed to get you to act.

Be patient.


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In-person, on the phone, or via email — in that order

carrying the gun

Staff work entails lots of coordinating. Lots of communication with people inside and outside of your organization. Today, much of that communication occurs via email.

I bet you think you’re “good” at email.

It feels like work, doesn’t it?

It’s not work. It’s the illusion of work.

The other day, I fired off an email with some information and some questions to someone outside of my organization – hundreds of miles away. After I sent it, I didn’t think much of it. I figured I’d get a response in the next 24-36 hours.

A few minutes later, I found myself surprised when my office phone rang (hardly anyone ever calls me) and when I answered it was the person I had sent the email to. I was surprised.

In about 5 minutes, we covered all of the ground we needed to and were ready for the next step.

This is a lesson I learned many years ago. When it comes to getting things done (from other people), the priority should be in-person, on the phone, or via e-mail: in that order.

When someone comes to visit you, you stop and politely see what they need.

When someone calls you, you answer the phone and have a conversation.

When someone emails you, you likely process it through some system you have developed for managing the correspondence. Flag for later? Move to folder?

Delete?

Of course, every organization has formal and informal business rules. I’m not going to just walk into the office of a superior because it is more efficient for me.

But it is worth pausing from time to time and asking – “Can I accomplish this more quickly through a phone call?”

“Can I just walk over to their office and ask?”

You may be surprised by the results.


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The Redundancy Effect

a powerpoint presentation

If you are part of an organization that does lots of briefing, then you have likely had a boss who can’t stand it when the briefer reads verbatim the text that’s on a slide.

“Thanks, I can read.”

This is a common pet peeve. Anyone can read text from a slide. People start to wonder, is the text simply there as a crutch for the briefer?

If you’ve been around long enough, you may have come across a briefer or a boss who takes this one step beyond and states that actually, reading the text from the slide helps solidify the information – because it is being read and heard at the same time.

Strong opinions abound on the topic.

If you actually care, there is research into this. Out of it comes something called “the redundancy effect.”

Basically, it has been determined that reading the text on a slide verbatim does not assist in information retention as it tends to overload the short-term memory of the recipient.

Better, is a mixed approach, where the briefer augments text with narrative.

Better still is to reduce the use of text on the slides altogether and instead use images, charts, or data to augment the narrative of the briefer.

What’s your opinion? I know you have one.


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Human Dynamics in Great Power Competition

a crowded market in the middle east

Interesting article over at MWI on the role of the ‘human domain’ in strategy.

The US military flounders in the human domain of conflict, with respect to foes, friends, and bystanders alike. Failure to engage with the building blocks of humanity—culture, society, politics, economics, and religion—leaves our strategies and plans untethered to reality. The result has been on display to the world for decades. The Afghan collapse provided a final exclamation point.

GETTING COMPETITION WRONG: THE US MILITARY’S LOOMING FAILURE

There is a lot I agree with in this article – like the importance of understanding human dynamics in warfare. The authors don’t really talk about language – but I’m coming around to believing that you can’t call yourself a “regional expert” if you don’t have some language ability in the region in which you claim expertise.

However, I’m skeptical about the idea of building strategy on all of the granular human stuff.

It seems like the powers that be should set the goals, set the objectives, set the end states. And then it is the role of the rest of us to use what we can to achieve those.

I’m not sure it works any other way.


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“Getting after it”

I don’t have much to say about this, other than I’m not a fan of the phrase “getting after it.”

I’ve seen it used too often in briefs as a cheap way of not explaining what is actually happening and instead leaning heavily on an inference that good work is being done, but it’s just kind of hard to explain.

Worse, I’ve seen commanders watch someone brief them, seemingly perplexed or confused, and then have that confusion wash away when the briefer attests that they’re “getting after it.”

Getting after what?

It’s a term that seems to make more sense describing a fitness enthusiast’s zeal for exercise than a complex military operation.

This is also a relatively new term. I don’t know if it originated in the military, but it’s all over the place now.

It’s only a matter of time until someone makes a military movie titled “Getting After It.”

You can add this to other terms that stand in for things that require nuanced explanations, like “setting conditions.”


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Tom Brady and Self-Discipline

ny giants sacking tom brady

This post is a little difficult for me. I’m a life-long Giants fan.

And as such, I experienced everything I needed to experience as a football fan when the Giants beat the Patriots the first time.

Even watching this today, it still hits.

But I have to give credit where credit is due.

Tom Brady is good.

Damn good.

Maybe the best.

It’s not raw talent. It’s not luck.

It’s hard work and consistency over time.

I admire that. And we can all learn a lot from it.


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The Battalion Commander Effect

battalion commander on the radio in vietnam

Catching up on podcasts.

Great interview over at From the Green Notebook with COL Everett Spain on his research and paper concerning the “Battalion Commander Effect.”

Recently, U.S. Army Colonel Everett Spain coauthored an article in Parameters titled, The Battalion Commander Effect. Spain and his coauthors found that evidence suggests Army battalion commanders are a major factor in whether or not high-potential lieutenants stay in the Army.  In this episode, Joe and Everett discuss the research and dive into why self-awareness and humility are important traits for military leaders.

S3, Ep8: Everett Spain- The Battalion Commander Effect

The research and interview is focused on the effect battalion commanders have on junior officers specifically when it comes to retention. The research shows – not surprisingly, I think – that battalion commanders have a tremendous effect on junior officer retention, for a variety of reasons.

It was only recently that I actually began to fully understand how important the battalion commander is in an organization.

Yes, of course I know their role is important – but I didn’t quite realize how critical it is. I used to think that if the subordinate leaders (company commanders, first sergeants, and beyond) were good, a battalion could make up for the shortcomings of a weak BC.

Kind of, but not really.

That battalion commander represents the battalion – inside and outside the organization. It’s hard to get past that.

It wasn’t until I’ve had both good and bad battalion commanders and numerous different positions within different battalions over the course of many years to see just how critical the battalion commander is. It affects professionalism. It affects morale. It affects retention.

Have you ever been in an organization where people like to ask “Where’s the BC?”

The chief thing that I’ve learned, and what is discussed in the interview, is that the battalion commander set the culture.

There really is something special about that role – battalion commander – that I don’t think many people truly appreciate. The expectations are so high. We want that person to be the epitome of professionalism.

To inspire us and lead by example.

To put in the work but also go home at a reasonable hour.

To be an expert in their field – technically and tactically proficient.

To be in just as good shape as the much younger leaders.

To be firm and fair but also display empathy.

All that, at a time when the said leader is often in a mature family with older children.

I think about the leaders taking command now who grew up in the GWOT.

What ghosts have they accrued?

It’s a huge responsibility. I’m glad that the Army is doing more to find the right people for this position with the introduction of the Battalion Commander Assessment Program (BCAP).

One of the things that stood out to me in this episode was a short conversation on giving feedback – something Joe has discussed in the past as something he is working on (me too!). It’s hard to tell someone they are failing in an area or they are not hitting the mark in a certain domain. How can we do it more effectively?

COL Spain recommends leading off with a statement like “I care deeply about you, so I want to tell you…”

I like that. I think that works. For whatever reason, whenever I am ready to give a critique, I feel my body tense up and steel itself for a rebuttal – I get pre-defensive.

This other way – leading with care – disarms that.

There was a short aside towards the end discussing what the equivalent might be for the enlisted side – which leader in an organization has a significant effect on junior soldier retention?

I love that they hypothesize that it is the Sergeant First Class.

If we’re talking about retention – especially for first-term soldiers – it is that Sergeant First Class who will shape the impression of a junior soldier. I was fortunate to have a cadre of amazing platoon sergeants when I first joined the Army. Professional, firm, but with the right amount of empathy.

In Kuwait, just before the invasion of Iraq, my platoon sergeant scooped me up one afternoon to bring me to a tent that had a television because he knew that I was a news junkie. He knew who I was and he had an interest.

Those things stick with you.

And here I am.

Lots to think about from this episode – check it out.


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