The Information (R)evolution

I’ve been marking papers for the last week or so, some good, some indifferent and a couple, well, you know…I handed the last lot back on Friday and, on my way out of the office on Friday, tossed the September issue on C4ISR Journal in my bag to snap my mind back into reading structured material by people who at least know how to write…

I haven’t been disappointed in the content in this issue, although it has made me long somewhat for the free time to be able to read more if not ALL of the journals that we receive each month…the title of this thread comes from the editorial in this month’s issue…Keep the revolution on course…

In this item, editor Ben Ianotta, applauds the US Army’s initiative to adopt commercial ‘smart’ phones as means of distributing and sharing (they ARE two different functions) information to troops on the ground. The idea came from Army Vice-Chief Peter Chiarelli last year “Give troops the same power over information enjoyed by the average commercial iPhone user.” While I’m sure that Apple enjoyed the iPhone plug, it will have to move fast if it wants any significant share of this initiative. Already competitors using competitive operating systems like Google’s Android are hitting the streets and at considerably LESS cost than iProducts. Apple, I think, seems to have a habit of misjudging the market and relying on customer loyalty for expensive products that offer LESS interoperability for vague and illusory benefits.

Much like, perhaps, some military product developers…who have still not figured out that, since the end of the Cold War, primacy in technological development has reversed from military R&D leaders to the commercial sector…that it has taken two decades from the turning point for the Army to accept distributing commercial communication devices to soldiers as something that it MUST do is mildly disturbing and also somewhat ironic in that the information-based revolution in military affairs, the long-vaunted RMA, focussed on massive bloated central information systems that never really delivered. In the meantime, there was this thing called the internet…

Another change heralded by this programme is a long overdue acceptance that classifying any and all information relating to operations does NOT have to be classified up the wazoo, and even less so if you actually want it to get to those who need it…what was that definition of knowledge management, sorry…information management…that we use…

…the right information…

…to the right people…

…at the right time…

…AND ensuring that they know what to do with it…?

Of course, this does NOT mean that everything should be tossed on the intranet and levels of classification done away with – although it would be an interesting experiment post-Wikileaks to see if the sudden flood of information could ever be processed by an adversary fast enough to act decisively on it.

On page 12 of this issue, there’s a short item on a mobile 3G network access system known as MONAX that would allow soldiers to access information with less reliance on commercial cellular systems. MONAX base stations “…could be positioned as fixed mast antennas on the ground, on vehicles, or in airborne assets such as aerostats, C-130 transport aircraft or – potentially – unmanned planes…” immediately below this item, is another on a Google Android-based wearable computer known as Tactical Ground Reporting or TIGR. It’s intended to facilitate situational awareness for individual soldiers and although currently designed to work over a tactical radio network, Android is designed for smart phone connectivity so it’s probably not too hard to join the dots here.

And speaking of joining the dots, page 8 reports on the first flight of the AeroVironment Global Observer. Weighing in it less than 10,000lbs but with a wingspan of 175 feet and a payload of 380lbs, the Global Observer is intended to fly at 65,000 feet for 160+ hours (that’s over a week!) for customers who might range from weather services to cell phone companies and others that need persistent coverage over an area.

More and more commercial off-the-shelf is the way to go, simply to get something out there now, instead of tediously slow, often bloated and inefficient, development projects…

The cover article starting on page 16 advises that Global Hawk will probably NOT be able to meet the current target date of 2013 to replace the venerable U-2 for high altitude long-range surveillance and reconnaissance. The problem is not so much that there is anything wrong with Global Hawk except it was never designed to replace the U-2 and thus has not been integrated with a number of the key collection systems employed by the U-2. This all dates back to a 2005 directive by the Rumsfeld administration in the US DoD to retire a number of older aircraft types including the U-2 and hammered home in 2007 with Rumsfeld’s certification that the U-2 was “…no longer needed to cover intelligence gaps…” I wonder which of that administration’s cronies might have stood to gain the most from contracts for a fleet of new S&R platforms..?

Unfortunately there is no even any agreement that Global hawk is a suitable replacement for the U-2…another go-round of the efficiency (cheaper) versus effectiveness (does the job) argument in which the chair polishing advocates of efficiency still demonstrate that they simply do not get that people are actually useful…SKYNET has nothing on some of these drones in diminishing the value of the human component of military, and thus national, power…

Woman to woman

MG Michael Flynn, 2Lt Roxanne Bras

I’m a little cynical about this next item, leading off on page 34, written by MG Michael Flynn, of Fixing Intel fame/notoriety (I thought it was both very good and long overdue but many consider otherwise) and 2Lt Roxanne Bras on the value of Female Engagement Teams (FETs). The one question that kept coming back to me as I read and then re-read this article was ‘What do FETs really do?’ Don’t get me wrong…I’m sold on the concept as it’s one that was used to considerable good effect during the six year BEL ISI mission on Bougainville (giving the lie to the description in the article of FETs as “…the newest tool to emerge from battlefield innovation…”) and was also described as a key enabler in a recent brief here by a visiting UK psyops practitioner.

My first concern with this paper is that it feels like ‘spin’ – maybe I’m just a bit too set in my ways but I’m having trouble understanding why a two-star general and a junior officer would need to collaborate on a two page article (two and a half if you include the pictures) – paper? Yes perhaps. A book, definitely but this just doesn’t feel right or genuine. Perhaps a better approach would have been to have write the paper and the other provide comment from their own perspective? I always remember an instructor at Tac School who hammered into us the concept of ‘task with a purpose’ – what is something there to do. Reading this article, I wonder what the intent of the author’s is. Clearly there has been some resistance to the FET concept but I’m not sure that this article is going to help any…

The FETs are described as key to gathering information within Afghan village culture but are specifically excluded from collecting intelligence. This implies that there is some distinction between intelligence and information but surely ANY information on adversaries and competitors (once known as the enemy), the weather and terrain (physical, human, informational, whatever) might fall under the heading of intelligence…? And surely, by mere virtue of engaging Afghan women in conversation, FETs will be gathering elements of actionable information be it actionable in training, targeting, situational awareness, etc, etc…

The article even goes so far to distinguish between FETs and Human Terrain Teams which also gather information on social and cultural terrain on the grounds that “…FETs have not been trained in information gathering and they do not know how to vet the information they gather…” Huh? So a FET is not trained to vet information that it is not trained to gather but which is the primary raison d’etre for its existence in the first place i.e. “…the FET can provide valuable information to the commander…”. Moreover while FETs are (quite rightly) not “…working to change Afghan culture and ‘liberate’ the women…”, they “…are a strategic asset…” and  “…should be applied using the very same inkblot strategy applied to [the] wider COIN strategy…” However the inkblot in COIN is indicative of spreading change, typically in growing (hopefully) support for the government and security forces…so what FET-inspired effect will be inkblotted across Afghanistan?

I’m sorry but as much as I think MG Flynn hit the nail fair on the head with Fixing Intel at the beginning of the year, in this case, I think he would have achieved more stepping back and allowing 2Lt Bras to promote the case for FETs based on her own experiences than with this top-level ‘spin’.

Shifting Terrain

Enter a caption

Following immediately on from the FET article is a rather superficial one criticising both Flynn’s Fixing Intel and the human terrain concept by “…US Army experts Paul Meinshausen and Schaun Wheeler…” In arguing that “…information about the human terrain is not the information that decision makers need to be able to work with local populations or defeat insurgencies…” They argue (weakly) that “…more important than data…is an understanding of the influences that drive behaviour…

As near as I can figure, their concept is that physical terrain and, more broadly, the physical environment is the key factor that affects a population and if we understand that environment, we can not only understand but influence the population. “The US and its allies need to let go of the assumption that conventional operations are somehow fundamentally different from counterinsurgent operations and consider the possibility that the population is just another group of people that adapts to its terrain just like any other friendly, neutral or enemy…” Ya think? Is that the arrogant ill-informed assumption that the flawed shock and awe doctrine was based on; the same doctrine that proved so bloodily ineffective in the first three years in Iraq ? Are these two “…experts…” really trying to say that it’s that simple, that all the work in the last five years on the shift from platform-based to individual-based warfare was just wrong and we had it right all along? Give me a break, please…

Nowhere in this article do the authors actually define where such understanding might come from, more so in the absence on what they claim is worthless ‘data’. I wonder if they might stop to think one night about the simple concept that perhaps understanding might be based upon analysis of lots and lots of bits of data and the application of that data against the context of the local environment. While dismissing the means by which we learn about cultures, including the old chestnut about anthropologists specifically criticising the human terrain system programme (in reality only a very small proportion of very vocal anthropologists have done so – the remainder seem happy to go about their anthropological business), they tell us that we need to learn about those same cultures in order to be able achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.

In the last paragraph before the ‘The Human Terrain Fallacy’ heading, the article states that an abundance of information on Afghanistan already exists from a vast range of non-military sources. This is absolutely correct but it is false to say this removes any requirement for the intelligence community to collect its own information. If anything the real problem that the authors allude to but never pin down in this article is that the problem is not in the collection but in the processing and analysis of this data, as both individual data sets and/or as a collated fused national data set. That the authors don’t ‘get’ this is clear when they follow on to declare a finding (in isolation) like “Dispute resolution must remain adaptive and flexible to setbacks and changes” as “…uselessly vague…”. As a statement on its own, this does seem like a statement of the blindingly obvious but then so do many other doctrinal statement – which is probably why they are espoused in doctrine in the first place. Examining that “uselessly vague” finding through a doctrinal lens, one might expect the context from which it has been ripped to include:

Examples of how dispute resolution processes have been applied with varying degrees of success.

A description of how that finding was derived.

Some distilled best practice guidelines, tips and techniques to assist the practitioner in getting it right.

Having spent a decade or so in the lessons learned game, some many clear and distinct observations and issues are ultimately distilled into similarly “uselessly vague” lessons which then form the basis of doctrinal change and evolution. Nowhere has this been more or better validated than through the ABCA Coalition Lessons Analysis Workshop (CLAW) process which was first implemented in 2005 and is now a key driver in ABCA processes.

This paper actually (painfully) reminds me of some of the less sharp papers I have graded in the last week or so. Instead of tasking itself with a clear purpose, it has the feel of a couple of first-year students more focused on being clever and impressing the staff with their brilliance…or what we call IntCorps-itis: always searching for the crucial piece of intelligence that will win the war instead of focusing on simply delivering good solid intelligence product…

I note that on Page 42, C4ISR itself awards this article a red ‘DANGER’ comment in its Attitude Check column and I wonder if someone else cancelled and this was all the C4ISR staff could find to fill the gap…it’s an article that’s not just immature but outright wrong and which would struggle to get an ‘F’ for ‘Fantastic’ on the marking scale….

In other news (in this issue)

There’s also some interesting updates on semi-autonomous EOD robots, iris scanning biometrics, the Blue Heron airborne multi-spectral imager and US Cyber Command and its challenges and opportunities.

Generation Kill

generation killGeneration Kill started to screen down here tonight…at the end of Episode One, I had two first impressions…

First up, it blows The Pacific away – totally. Like many viewers, I lost interest in The Pacific before it was halfway through…the characters were wooden and difficult to identify with and all the pretentious hype months prior lead to expectations it just could attain. Conversely, after 58 minutes of Generation Kill, the characters are people, easy to identify with…if there is to be a classic to follow in the vein of Band of Brothers, it may be Generation Kill.

Second, even though the events covered in Generation Kill were ‘only’ seven years ago, the first episode reminds me of a younger, more innocent time…before the blood and the brutality we take for granted in our contemporary environment…

Hitting the target

Dartboard

Ironically, the Intentional Development website (edit 4 Feb 13: removed the link as it was dead as the proverbial door nail – managed to recover the image via the power of the Wayback Machine) from which I took this image specialises in…

Freeing the embedded wisdom of an organization’s most valuable assets (human resources) currently constrained by titles, roles, politics and procedures.

Mobilizing personnel at all levels to truly participate, become involved, and internalize objectives as their own so they willingly and eagerly contribute to solving their organization’s challenges.

Creating the circumstances and the environment to facilitate change.

Possibly there’s a job for them in Kandahar…?

The Canadian National Post has published Canadian Forces comment in response to Michael Yon’s criticism this week of security arrangements around an important bridge that was damaged in an attack near Kandahar this week. Interestingly, it is Michael Yon who disseminated the link to this article via his Facebook Page.

The release points out that “…all the land surrounding the airport has long been the responsibility of the Royal Air Force Regiment, a British infantry unit that specializes in protecting airports from attack. Most road checks in the area are carried out by Afghan National Police while sweeps for improvised explosive devices on the major highways in Kandahar are done by a U.S. Army Stryker brigade or by U.S. combat engineers attached to them...”

Although a whole three people have commented on the National Post Article, hundreds have offered comment on Yon’s items on his Facebook page, including this one on the RAF regiment in Kandahar…

Never seen this bridge Michael, but as a lowly British Inf NCO, am I making a fair assumption that as a natural/man-made choke point, this should have been identified as a weak point, in oh I don’t know…2 seconds? Therefore reinforced/defended accordingly?

On a slightly related note, there was some talk of the RAF Regt and their role. I personally have no love for them, being Infantry, but they do carry out a role that frees up our Army reservists who can get out and do their jobs. The RAF Regt’s mission is base/airfield protection and security up to 8km from the airfield. I believe this bridge was 10 miles out or something? Far from passing the buck, it should be asked then why this was not identified as an issue, and who was responsible for providing the security for a known high value choke point?

The article then goes on to link the Yon items with “…a growing frustration on the part of some Americans that NATO has put four U.S. battalions under Canadian command in Kandahar…the Americans answer to a Canadian who answers to a British major-general who in turn answers to an American. This is coalition warfare at its best…” At its best, huh? Sounds like an overly-complex recipe for buck-passing and gaps you could drive a LAV (or a VBIED) through…one mother’s comment on Yon’s Facebook page “…This was coalition warfare at its worst…a bridge was blown up! They should have to place the calls to us mothers…

Funnily enough, after presenting the current command and control  environment around Kandahar as hunky-dory, the National Post concludes “…the issue of who commands what in Kandahar is particularly sensitive at the moment, with NATO planning a major offensive in the province later this spring…

Meanwhile back in Kandahar…Michael Yon remains on the offensive… submitting two questions yesterday to Task Force Kandahar regarding the Monday bridge attack:

1) When will the bridge become fully operational?

2) What measures are being taken to prevent such attacks in the future?

A few hours later…Task Force Kandahar just answered the two questions I submitted yesterday. The TF-K answers beg for follow-up, which has just been submitted. Will publish in full when this is over. Something fishy going on.

And about an hour ago (all times are pretty lose as the Facebook clock leaves a lot to be desired)…

Bridge Update: Much information flowing. Just went through long conversations with key people. BLUF: the bridge has become an Orphan. TF-Kandahar says TF-K is not the father. We are waiting for U.S. Brigadier General Ben Hodges to say who is responsible for the bridge. BG Hodges is the Deputy Commander for RC-South. The British command RC-South. The Commanding General is Nick Carter.

My gut, based on what am seeing all over, is that this is between RC-South and TF-Kandahar. TF-K clearly has responsibility, as does their parent command RC-South. While the British command RC-South, the Canadians TF-K. The US is just sort of here under an obtuse command structure that can’t guard a strategic bridge ten minutes from the front gate of one of the biggest bases in Afghanistan.

Bridge situation — This smells like rotten fish. At a bare minimum, someone(s) at General Officer level dropped the ball. Going to take more time to sort this out and get the facts straight. One certainty: it’s not pretty.

A few minutes later…

Menard vs. Carter

Bridge failure heating up: TF-K has, for all intents and purposes, blamed RC-South for allowing the bridge to be attacked on Monday, resulting in the death of a US soldier and serious damage to a vital bridge. The controversy has reached the respective Generals at TF-K and RC-South. For those who understand the dynamics here, Brigadier General Daniel Menard (TF-K boss) has shifted the blame to Major General Nick Carter (RC-South boss).

This has become a dinosaur fight — Menard vs. Carter — wherein little people can get crushed.

If nothing else, ‘Bridgegate’ sends a clear message to ISAF that it needs to seriously up its Information and Influence Operations game…it is probably too broad a stretch to imagine that the Taliban planned or even anticipated this spatting between coalition partners but they must be loving it. It is a pretty simple question: who is responsible for the security of this bridge? Surely it must be in a clearly defined Area of Operations assigned to a specific formation or unit? That ISAF has resorted instead to bureaucratic tap-dancing and not released any comment on the issue is perhaps indicative of deeper rifts within the coalition. Jim Molan recounts in Running the War in Iraq that, prior to the final battle for Fallujah GEN Casey directed him “…in no uncertain terms to ensure that there was no more than a one-hour turnaround between an allegation appearing in the media and our response being fired back…the information fight required less physical courage and sacrifice, but was just as important as the combat on the ground…

Certainly from many of the comments on Yon’s Facebook posts, there is considerable anger in the US at Canada’s stated intention to withdraw from Afghanistan and at those NATO partners who do not pull their weight (which would probably be most of them). This latter issue was a theme in Yon’s posts last week before the bridge attack and I do wonder if the US, or some in it, are not running their own IO campaign to expose those who are not holding up their end of the stick…?

New word of the day

Thanks to Dean at Travels with Shiloh for today’s new word ‘fobbit’, replacing ‘poug’ and ‘REMF’ as a term of endearment for those personnel that spend the larger proportion of their deployment in camps and bases. This is not to say that these personnel do not perform valuable and vital functions in support of operations nor that it is their fault that higher minds decide to introduce as many home comforts as possible into these facilities. I do think however that it behooves such individuals to always remember where they are, why there are there and who they are supporting before bemoaning the quality of the GoatBurger at BK-Kandahar…

Edit: Oh, the joys of working in the information age!! Just as I was writing up ‘fobbits’ and hit the publish button, Michael Yon posted this link to a great description of the Life of a Fobbit in Afghanistan. Although humorous in nature, it is a reminder of the vital role that ‘fobbits’ play and I think that this blog, on the adventures of staff in a currently deployed Forward Surgical Team will be well worth watching…

Acronym of the day

From Michael Yon’s posts, BLUF = Bottom Line Up Front, not to be confused with that ultimate hearts and minds tool, the BUFF:

b-52-bomber-2.jpg

BUFF

Scooped

But in a good way.

Like 14,691 others, I have been following Michael Yon’s Facebook page as he reports from Afghanistan and had intended to promote him again yesterday as a great example of the Information Militia in operation – Tom Ricks beat me to it with Learn how to be a war correspondent. His website is Michael Yon Online. I’ve commented on him a couple of times before in Doing the Business, following an item on Neptunus Lex on pararescue teams operating in Afghanistan; and slightly later when I thought he was a well-intentioned meddler pressuring US DOD to release a Haitian-born Army officer from service in Afghanistan to deploy to assist in Haiti.

So who is this guy, Michael Yon?

Michael Yon was born in Florida in 1964 (a good year for writers) and joined the US Army when he was 19. He remains one of the youngest soldiers to pass the Special Forces selection process. He left the Army in 1987, after only four years. This is not that unusual and is somewhat typical of what many young men were doing at the time in joining the Army and leaving once they had gotten it out of their system, and/or to take advantage of other opportunities, many of which may have resulted from that military service. I saw many good soldiers in the same period who joined up, completed basis recruit and infantry corps training, spent 6-12 months in 2/1 RNZIR before deploying to 1 RNZIR in Singapore for two years. Many of them left the service at the conclusion of that posting, older, more mature and with much broader horizons.

He drifted through various activities until he began writing in the mid-90s. However it was not until the War in Iraq began that his name came to the fore as a correspondent in December 2004. from that point he has gone from strength to strength as an embedded reporter although his relationship with the military has not always been that smooth. He “…supports embedded journalism over traditional reporting, believing that the closer writers are to events the less likely they are to repeat military public relations spin” and this one of two common themes in his writing today. The other is an extremely strong compassion for soldiers and this comes through very strongly and effectively in his reports.

Happy news for the Left was that U.S. soldiers were demoralized and the war was being lost… Happy news for the Right was that there was no insurgency, then no civil war; we always had enough troops, and we were winning hands-down, except for the left-wing lunatics who were trying to unravel it all. They say heroin addicts are happy, too, when they are out of touch with reality.” Moment of Truth in Iraq, Michael Yon, 2008.

The War in Afghanistan has truly begun. This will be a long, difficult fight that is set to eclipse anything we’ve seen in Iraq. As 2010 unfolds, my 6th year of war coverage will unfold with it. There is relatively little interest in Afghanistan by comparison to previous interest in Iraq, and so reader interest is low. Afghanistan is serious, very deadly business. Like Iraq, however, it gets pushed around as a political brawling pit while the people fighting the war are mostly forgotten. The arguments at home seem more likely to revolve around a few words from the President than the ground realities of combat here. ~ Michael Yon Online

His 2006 article in The Weekly Standard, Censoring Iraq summarises his views well although it led to a major falling out with the US military. He has been criticised often for an apparent naivety in some of his releases, which I think could be attributed to his short period of personal military service, his habit of launching into text-based upon misleading or incorrect information (hence my comments re Haiti), and releasing the names of casualties before next of kin have been properly notified. This last point is interesting as Michael Yon has been accused of doing this during the current operations in Afghanistan however has come back strongly, supported by others, stating that the in-theatre information has been that notifications had been completed.

There is some confusion within the military regarding timing of releasability of names of the fallen. This confusion stems from apparently contradictory sentences within the embed guidelines. The guidelines are being clarified to avert misunderstandings with media, and within the military…Yes. This stems from the Garcia episode. The PAOs, through no fault of their own (other than Garcia blowing a gasket and talking publicly), have some confusion about the embed papers. CPT Adam Weece showed me the sentences and I agreed that the sentences are confusing and seem contradictory. Insofar as my release, I was completely cleared and broke no rules. Was well within the guidelines and what’s right, but the episode revealed some rough spots that need to be ironed out. And so the military is on it and will get it fixed. Should be good soon. ~ Michael Yon Facebook, Feb 10.

This latter point is interesting as it may have uncovered a lag between what happens in the theatre and the actual notifications in the US. While casualty notification is not an easy nor a pleasant task, it has to be sharp – quite simply there can be no fumbles or ball drops – and possibly this is an area that could be put under the Lessons Learned spotlight to make sure we have got it right. One would like to think that the process has come a long way from the Western Union telegrams in We Were Soldiers….Like so many things in the military, this is a function that must be regularly wargamed to ensure that we have it right – and it IS one of those areas where metrics CAN be set to define the standard e.g. family notification in XX hours by XX means by XX individual(s), media release(s) in XX time (relative to family notification) by XX individuals, etc etc.

In Running the War in Iraq, MAJGEN Jim Molan discusses how he and his staff had to meet very tight times lines to be ‘first with the truth’ or, if not, counter dis- and mis-information from any source. I think that the same onus rests with the public affairs staffs everywhere. Embedded media like Michael Yon offer great potential to conduct our own information operations – a function we have historically be very weak in – but they come with risk. Michael Yon’s great attraction is that he comes across as ‘the truth’ and not as PA-spin – if you try to take away the ‘on the edge’ ‘right here, right now’ pulse of his work, you defeat the whole purpose of having an embed. Yeah, sure, there’s this OPSEC thing but I’m not sure how far you can go down that path when the official mouthpieces are telegraphing pinches a week ahead of time. One of the strongest criticisms of the current wars is that ‘truth has become the first casualty’ again – pragmatic shepherding of embeds like Michael Yon can go a long way to mitigating this perception…

A crew from the United States Air Force spent Saturday night and Sunday morning airlifting different groups of wounded soldiers from Kandahar to Camp Bastion to Bagram, back to Kandahar, then back to Bagram, and back to Kandahar. These patients were from Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, and the United States. Here, an Air Force nurse caresses the head of a wounded, unconscious Canadian soldier while whispering into his ear. (c) Michael Yon Online 2010

The CoGs in the war go round and round…

Anyone with small children knows how invasive and persistent THAT tune is…

In Do Ideas Matter? Some thoughts… I commented on Adam Elkus’ paper on interpretation and application of the Centre of Gravity construct, and Adam and I have batted some comments back and forth since.. This has had me thinking more and more about centres of gravity, both generally and in specific regard to the complex environment. I think that we are wrong to consider a centre of gravity as a point of strength.

Many years ago, in the good old days (and they were!!) when I was a young soldier and we maintained a substantial presence in Singapore, I stumbled across a UK-based military book club that accepted overseas subscribers and offered a flat rate for shipping. The deal was that you had to buy so many books each year and – much like my current approach to Audible – I would get busy and let my obligation lapse until the last safe moment when I would have to make some snap selections from whatever was available in the most recent catalogue in order to stay in the club. As a result, I built up quite an eclectic library. One of the books that I acquired was David G. Chandler’s The Military Maxims Of Napoleon (Greenhill Books, 1987, ISBN 0947898646) It contains all 78 Maxims, the original 19th Century commentary and a new commentary by David Chandler applying “…the 20th Century perspective of two world wars, Vietnam, the Falklands and other conflicts…“. At the time, I read it, thought it of minor interest and it’s been on the shelf ever since. However one point, not even from the Maxims, has stuck with me in the succeeding two and a bit decades.

It regards what Chandler describes as one of Napoleon’s best known sayings “The principles of war are the same as those of a siege. Fire must be concentrated on a single point and as soon as the breach is made the equilibrium is broken and the rest is nothing.” The commentary in the book offers that most who seek to apply this ‘rule’ get it wrong in that they fixate on the word ‘point‘ and miss the whole implication of ‘equilibrium‘.

Chandler offers that it is highly probable that Napoleon actually meant the ‘joint’ or ‘hinge’ of enemy dispositions. There will always be issues of translation and interpretation when we seek to learn from those who gone before, especially when there is a significant temporal air gap – poor old Clausewitz and Mahan suffer in the same manner as does Douhet, when I ever get round to reading The Command of the Air.

Sometimes we fixate a little too much on the purity of original text and not enough on the actual content of the interpretation – to quote one of our Principles of Lessons Learned “Focus on what is being said and less on who is saying it“. One of the greatest examples of this is the Clausewitzian Trinity which is popularly accepted as ‘the people, the action arm, and the leadership’ – the actual Trinity from the original texts, as Adam and others have pointed out is much more ethereal. Regardless, the popular version of the Trinity still holds true, remains applicable today and, when you get right done to it, is probably more useful as a model than the original.

The modern definition of ‘centre of gravity’ is, according to FM 3-0,:

The source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act. The center of gravity is a vital analytical tool for designing campaigns and major operations. It provides a focal point for them, identifying sources of strength and weakness at the strategic and operational levels of war. Centers of gravity are not relevant at the tactical level; the tactical equivalent is the objective. At the strategic level, the center of gravity may be vulnerable to an operational-level approach; at the operational level, the center of gravity may be vulnerable to tactical actions. The enemy may shift a center of gravity to protect and sustain a source of power. Similarly, changes in the operational environment may cause centers of gravity to shift. Therefore, analysis of friendly and enemy centers of gravity begins during planning and continues throughout a campaign or major operation.

This is very much a Fulda Gapist definition and even then, in the context of Third World War, Red Storm Rising-like, high intensity conventional conflict, it is somewhat flawed. It neither states nor implies any of the characteristics one might expect of a centre of gravity like pivot, balance, or equilibrium. In describing the centre of gravity as a ‘source of power’ and equating it with a tactical objective, it logically but incorrectly follows that the centre of gravity is something that is struck. While it may be correct that centres of gravity apply only at the operational and strategic levels in conventional conflict, this does not apply in the much higher fidelity/granularity microcosms of the complex environment where influence may be applied at all levels. Now compare the military definition of a centre of gravity with an aeronautical one based upon the Archimedean centre of mass principle:

The center-of-gravity (CG) is the point at which an aircraft would balance if it were possible to suspend it at that point. It is the mass center of the aircraft, or the theoretical point at which the entire weight of the aircraft is assumed to be concentrated. Its distance from the reference datum is determined by dividing the total moment by the total weight of the aircraft. The center-of-gravity point affects the stability of the aircraft. To ensure the aircraft is safe to fly, the center-of-gravity must fall within specified limits established by the manufacturer. When the center of gravity or weight of an aircraft is outside the acceptable range, the aircraft may not be able to sustain flight, or it may be impossible to maintain the aircraft in level flight in some or all circumstances.

Placing the CG or weight of an aircraft outside the allowed range can lead to an unavoidable crash of the aircraft. When the fore-aft center of gravity is out of range, the aircraft may pitch uncontrollably down or up, and this tendency may exceed the control authority available to the pilot, causing a loss of control. The excessive pitch may be apparent in all phases of flight, or only during certain phases, such as take-off or descent. Because the burning of fuel gradually produces a loss of weight and possibly a shift in the center of gravity, it is possible for an aircraft to take off with the center of gravity in a position that allows full control, and yet later develop an imbalance that exceeds control authority. Calculations of center of gravity must take this into account (often part of this is calculated in advance by the manufacturer and incorporated into CG limits).

‘Strike the weak joint‘ is the defining point that I took away from Napoleon’s Maxims all those years ago and it has stood me in good stead since. During my very junior intelligence training ( which occurred as DESERT STORM was flashing across our screens, adding a whole new real-time perspective to intelligence doctrine), a common CCIR was to identify the boundaries between enemy elements. The answer to questions regarding the ‘why’ behind this was that it helped determine unit identities…but why? I’d ask again – I got to spend a lot of time sitting in the corner…

A few years later, on the Infantry Minor Tactics (so what? I like the old name!!) course, the other guys (this was before we had guyesses in the Regiment) ‘got it’ and we always paid extra attention to the boundaries between elements as potential weaknesses.

Consider the CoG construct against Napoleon’s advice to strike the weak point to break the equilibrium and the physical definition of a centre of gravity. You find a model that is considerably more robust and applicable to both conventional high-intensity traditional conflict and the complex microcosms of the COE. The centre of gravity is NOT a source of power, nor is it a weakness per se – it is an area that might be influenced by one of a number of simultaneous or sequential actions that create a higher potential for instability.

The effects may be incremental as those of Keenan’s theory of Containment or as immediate and catastrophic as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand or the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In chaos theory, this is also known as the Butterfly Effect where the slightest flap of the butterfly’s wings in time leads to unexpected and unpredictable results. Newton’s law of equal and opposite reaction does not apply as it is unlikely that there will be a direct proportion correlation between the size of the action and the subsequent effect(s).

Influencing one or more centres of gravity creates a tipping point, the physical definition of which is “…is the point at which an object is displaced from a state of stable equilibrium into a new equilibrium state qualitatively dissimilar from the first…” Although some definitions of tipping point consider the point tipped when the new state of equilibrium becomes permanent or irreversible, achieving and maintaining this state can not be taken as a given. Sometimes the effects are temporary, either because the influencing actions have ceased prematurely, because of other influences having a contrary effect, or simply because the inertia of ‘normalcy’ is too great to be overcome long term.

Even though a nuclear device might achieve critical mass, there are any number of factors that may prevent a full detonation. In COIN, there is a temptation to perceive positive change as steady state, and withdraw the critical influences before the changes in equilibrium and environment have fully taken hold. Hence, one of the core truisms of COIN and peace support operations is that success takes time, probably generations, before it can be safely said that peaceful equilibrium has been achieved.

A more practical definition of centre of gravity may be:

The point which, when subjected to influences or actions, effects change in the equilibrium or balance of an object, group of individual. The center of gravity is a vital analytical tool for designing campaigns and major operations. It provides a focal point for them, identifying sources of strength and weakness.

Centres of gravity may not be static and some may be in a state of constant flux. Similarly, changes in the environment may cause centers of gravity to shift. Therefore, analysis of friendly and enemy centers of gravity begins during planning and continues throughout a campaign or operation.

To achieve the desired ultimate effect, it may be necessary to be influence multiple centres of gravity sequentially and/or simultaneously.

The second point is important in all types and levels of activity and is endemic of weaknesses in intelligence apparatus. A snap shot of centres of gravity is only as current as the time it was taken; current apparatus are probably adequate for maintaining current pictures of centres of gravity in conventional platform-based activity but they have yet to adapt in any significant manner to the much higher granularity, global scope and complexity of individual-based activity and operations.

The final part of the definition requires a perceptional adjustment in how centres of gravity have been defined previously. While still holding true in traditional platform-based activity, it becomes vital in environments of complexity and uncertainty. Traditionally we speak of THE centre of gravity; now we must think and talk in terms of centres of gravity. Consider many cogs rotating in a machine: by applying subtle influences to specific cogs at specific points in their rotation and relationship to other cogs, the machine can be made to run faster, or smoother, or slow down or fly apart catastrophically…

Or, using the planetary model in Interbella, significant effects can sometimes only occur when the planets are in alignment….

And there I was…

…just standing in the library waiting for the nice young lady to log me into an Internet PC (I have 24/7 run of this magnificent library but have to get one of the staff to log me into a internet PC – go figure!) when I noticed a stack of papers and such on a table under a big sign “Please Help Yourself”…Always being in for a giveaway, I grabbed a couple of interest for later reading…

Some important people really need to have a serious read of Strategic Communication: A Primer, written by, of all things, a RN Commander, Steve Tatham…quite positively the best reference I have found for IO, Influence and Perception Shaping…it should be compulsory reading for anyone in the PR, IO or COIN games…

I would most interested to hear of anyone else’s thought’s on this treatise…

Another balmy (barmy?) day here at CLAWville – analysis and reporting is progressing well and I finally have a tick in the box to take photos of the big boys toys that are lined up all throughout the venue…