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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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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“Trash talk raises the psychological stakes of the game”

I don’t know how this podcast slipped under my radar for so long.

In this episode we are joined by Rafi Kohan, the author of “The Arena” which is a deep dive into wide ranging and interdisciplinary examination of the modern American sports stadium. Rafi is currently researching for his upcoming book on competitive banter a.k.a. talking trash, a human behavioral phenomenon that has existed throughout time, across cultures, and across the world.

Pineland Underground Ep. 4 Competitive Banter

I’ve listened to a couple of episodes now and they’re pretty good. This one was on “trash-talking” and the author spent some time speaking with folks at SERE school.

What’s the thesis? Why do we trash talk?

“Trash talk raises the psychological stakes of the game.”

That makes sense to me.

Also makes me understand the incredible emotion surrounding the Army/Navy game.

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The Truth Sandwich

you have to beLIEve me

Last week I wrote about the illusory truth effect – the psychological phenomenon wherein a lie that is repeated – even in refutation – is more likely to be remembered than the truth.

It turns out that there is a counter to this – the “truth sandwich.”

How to use it?

  1. Start with the truth. This is the frame.
  2. Introduce the lie – clearly stating that it is a lie.
  3. End with the truth.

It doesn’t always work. Especially if the recipient is no longer engaging in critical thought.

But for those who might be swayed, those who are still among the few willing to be wrong from time to time, it may nudge them towards the truth.

In the race to correct false information, the lie often gets too much air. You have to frame it in the right way.

And even then, most of the time the lie is not even worth refuting. Patience and trust will win the day.

Leaders – especially military leaders – need to suppress the urge to “do something” all the time.

“How are we countering this!?” screams the agitated military leader.

“We’re not, sir. It’s nonsense. And it will pass.”

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“Nicotine and bullets bring the world together”

soldiers in the film mosul

Finally got around to watching Mosul, which I felt shamed into watching after reading this article that declared it “the best Iraq War film ever made.”

It was good. I enjoyed it.

It’s a different kind of Iraq War movie, though. It felt like the ruins of something that came before. It felt like an alternate reality of what would happen if it all went wrong.

Except it’s true.

I’m not sure that the world recognizes the incredible sacrifice shouldered by young Iraqi men and women in their battle against ISIS. Especially in Mosul. It all kind of happened in the back of the newspaper while we were otherwise distracted.

I especially appreciated the scene below, which captures the absurdity of the whole thing, in a blown-out dark room. The Mosul SWAT team meets with an Iranian Colonel who is in Mosul supporting the ha’shd al-sha’abi – the “Popular Mobilization Forces.”

They’re trading cigarettes for bullets.

This is what “strategic competition” looks like on the ground.

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An information “something” article that gets it right

trivial information is accumulating every second, preserved in all its triteness

A great, tightly written article over at MWI that looks at information through the “man, train, equip” construct of preparing the Army for war.

While emphasis on operations in the information environment and the cyber domain are certainly increasing, the balance of the military’s attention remains focused on force-on-force engagements during declared conflicts. Much of the time, information and cyber are given supporting roles for kinetic operations but recently, US Army Cyber Command announced a shift in focus from information warfare to “information advantage” for “decision dominance,” and is working to bring the concepts to the forefront of how the Army fights.

RETHINKING “MAN, TRAIN, AND EQUIP” FOR INFORMATION ADVANTAGE, Modern War Institute

Co-written by a PSYOP and Cyber officer, no less – folks in the game.

What I love about the article is that it’s not about the shiny stuff or promising some panacea through the right combination of “words and images.” The Army’s mission is to win land wars. Everything supports that. Instead of focusing on how this or that “information” tool can be used to support that, they focus on demonstrating how information already plays a key role in recruiting, training, and equipping the Army for war.

They talk about disinformation campaigns that target the military.

They talk about how lies spread faster than truth, the so-called ‘illusory truth’ effect.

How should the Army deal with this?

They write:

Specifically, to become proactive in the information environment, the Army needs to understand and predict how and what our competitors and adversaries are going to say, and be ready to deploy solutions ahead of, and in response to, competing and malicious narratives. One solution is teaching critical-thinking skills and inoculating the force by teaching soldiers to become more thoughtful consumers of media and information, especially regarding social media.

I love this.

Critical thinking is key. This isn’t going to be solved by artificial intelligence – at least not anytime soon. We need humans in the room who are astute across multiple domains and who understand the potential impacts of publishing that “edgy” Tweet or highlighting that training or social event.

This has application at both the individual and organizational levels.

Yes, we’re talking about “optics.” Optics are easy to dismiss, but they are actually important. What isn’t optics after all?

Doing the right thing is also important. We need critical thinkers who understand which way to lean at a given time. Is the juice worth the squeeze? What are the potential second and third-order effects?

That’s hard. That takes time.

On training, the authors write about how just about everything we do is now exploitable. Training is not just training anymore. It’s operations.

Specifically, they write about the Jade Helm exercise in 2015 which was the canary in the coal mine.

The information warfare tactics used against Jade Helm could be applied throughout the world, whenever and wherever the US military trains with partners and allies. In fact, we should assume those tactics will be used in the very locations that US servicemembers may be fighting the next war.

The idea of perfect secrecy is diminishing. If we want to compete, we need to recognize that now and start playing the actual game instead of the one we want to play.

Again, they offer a solution:

To gain and hold information advantage, the Army must assess the information environment before, during, and after domestic exercises—just as it does internationally—to understand the narratives surrounding the training and troop movements and to predict, preempt, and ultimately prevent false narratives from taking hold.

They close with the following:

Ultimately, the Army has taken the first steps toward recognizing the vulnerabilities inherent to the ubiquity of the information environment by pivoting away from information warfare—a term that preserves the peace-war dichotomy that is irrelevant in competition—toward achieving information advantage—a term that appreciates the information environment’s moral and cognitive aspects and its relevance to military readiness.

I’m growing to like the term “information advantage” as I get to understand it better. And couching it as they did – a term that “appreciates the information environment’s moral and cognitive aspects” – helps in understanding.

However, information advantage is such a big tent that it starts to lose some of its meaning. There are terms that we should lump and terms that we should split.

Information warfare is something that can be “done” – it’s an activity.

Information advantage – as I understand it – is a state, a confluence of things that puts a decision-maker in an advantageous position.

Information Advantage: A condition where a force holds the initiative in terms of relevant actor behavior, situational understanding, and decision-making through the use of all military capabilities.

What I’m saying is that I don’t think information advantage replaces information warfare (or psychological warfare). It’s something different, something bigger.

Kudos to the authors for a terrific, thought-provoking article.

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What if the PLA doesn’t need NCOs?

chinese flag that says ai on it

I’ve been a long-time reader of the Army’s “Mad Scientist Blog,” but I’m fairly certain I’ve never shared anything of theirs before – at least not on this blog.

From the ‘about’ page:

The Mad Scientist Laboratory blog is a marketplace of ideas about the future of our society, work, and conflict.

There’s something about the old-school ‘Web 1.0’ style of the posts that gets me all kinds of nostalgic.

Anyway, they also have a podcast that I only recently discovered. I started with this episode on How China Fights.

The format of the podcast is a bit different from many other national security podcasts I’ve listened to. There really isn’t a host that is driving the conversation – although they have a pretty intense announcer. Each episode has a main topic and then subtopics which are addressed by “subject matter experts.” It flows nicely.

There were a few things that struck me in this episode. The first is what gives this article its title:

What if the PLA doesn’t need NCOs?

This was said in response to a common retort one may hear about what makes a good Army. They may have the tech, and they may have the numbers, but they might be missing something. In the US, we hold our NCO corps in high regard and assume that is one of the things that gives us a qualitative advantage.

What if our adversaries can find a way to function without that? Is that possible?

Probably – but it’s an assumption that doesn’t often get challenged.

Two other things: China’s establishment of the “Strategic Support Force” and the concept of “information superiority” (think “air superiority”) during a crisis. I’ve never really thought about information that way – but I think there can be some relevancy – as the guest stated, in a crisis.

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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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The Premier Partnered Irregular Warfare Force

group of egyptian soldiers and an orange flag

Super-short episode from the Indigenous Approach (16 mins) that lays out the command’s new vision.

It’s all in the title: “We are the premier partnered Irregular Warfare force.”

I like it. It’s simple, short, and has enough meaning baked in without making me scratch my head.

And like many mission or vision statements, the words might mean nothing to some but everything to others.

I didn’t quite get the true nature of the ‘indigenous approach’ until I had a boss who told me just before a deployment:

“You won’t be graded on the things that your team does – you’ll be graded on the things that your partner does.”

That’s when it clicked for me. This is different.

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