The New War #1 – An issue of resolution


Over the past few months I have alluded to the characteristics of this ‘new war’ that fell out of our review of contemporary COIN doctrine a couple of years back. In From These Things We Draw Strength last week, I commented on GEN Mattis’ statements of obsolete thinking and William Astore’s illustration of flaws in the technology-dominated ‘shock and awe‘ philosophy that arose after DESERT STORM. While I don’t agree 100% with all their comments (I imagine that both will be devastated to learn this!!), I do agree that we are not teaching the right things to ensure a good foundation for successfully operating in the contemporary environment and that we remain too fixated on the philosophies and doctrines for defending the Fulda Gap. Over the next couple of weeks, I will list the key characteristics of this new war, especially how it differs from conventional force on force, state versus state conflict, under the heading of The New War.

An issue of resolution

My use of the word ‘resolution’ in this context is in terms of fidelity and granularity as opposed to resolving actual issues – although there is a clear link between the two.

The first and possibly most important of these differences is that originally passed on to me by USMC LTC Michael Scheiern at the ABCA Coalition Lessons Analysis Workshop (CLAW) in Salisbury in September 2005. Although this was a good two years before we even considered the conduct of the COIN review, I still consider that conversation with LTC Scheiern a tipping point in my grasp of operational concepts.

The Scheiern model, as I call it, essentially states that we have progressed from platform-based tracking to individual-based tracking; in other words we are now less interested in platforms like ships and aircraft, or groups like fleets, wings, and brigades, and much more focused upon individuals. This change reflects not only the nature of the contemporary adversary and the effects of popular support but also the potential of individuals within friendly forces to create disproportionate effects within the mission-space.

This has two immediate effects upon our preparation for and conduct of operations.

Firstly, we must ensure that each and every team member (soldier, sailor, airperson and Marine) meets minimum standards of skill, competence and behaviour. In a mass-oriented conventional force, we can accept a far higher level of adequate but below par personnel because we are mainly interested the performance of a collective group or platform. In the COE, the careless or unthinking actions of a small group of our people, as at Abu Graib Prison, or even an individual, like Hasan at Fort Hood, can have far-reaching effects, that are totally disproportionate.

Secondly, we must be prepared to manage information at a far higher resolution than was ever required in the less complex days of large-scale conventional conflict. It is not just the same geospatial (where and when) and general status information in more detail; in essence there is no limit to the type, nature and scope of the information that now must be tracked. This is further complicated by the fact that it is not even clear which information might actually be significant until after the fact.

In this particular area, I don’t claim to offer any solutions other than to champion those forums that do evaluate technical solutions e.g. CWID, and those, like the CLAW, that review and identify capability gaps so that at least we might know what we don’t know. If nothing else, we should now understand why ‘complexity and uncertainty’ feature so strongly in contemporary writings; we should be talking about how these issues affect us and our forces and how we think they might be mitigated.

The bottom line in all of these ‘new war’ characteristics is that we must continuously and consistently teach them; and equally so practice working in this environment whenever and wherever possible.

One Step Off Anarchy

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