Knowing…

…me, knowing you…it’s the best we can do…

Thanks, ABBA….it’s all about knowing when to do something and more importantly sometimes, when not too…

This idea for this post came from observing so many of the comments made in the immediate aftermatch of the February 22 earthquake and that we’re starting to hear again from Japan…it was reinforced again by the Daily Post question last week When is it better to be sorry that safe? As posts go, I’d rate it as less than average – if all you have to do to meet a Daily Post obligation is ask a question, I’d be in like Flynn but I think that any post worth its electrons needs to be a little more substantive than that…

Knowing… in her blog piece Three Times You Have To Speak Nilofer Merchant argues that there are three times (in bold print) when we ought to speak up:

When it will improve the results of the group.

When it gives others permission to speak their truth.

When the costs of silence are too high.

But her key point is hidden away in her summary text “…knowing when to speak is an art, and like any art, requires skill….” Conversely, knowing when to shut the hell up is equally as much a skill that requires practice…

Yeah, whatever, Mike...

 

A more pertinent observation from a more professional organisation...

Not really picking on Mike Yon this time…it’s just that he happened to launching off when I first started to draft this…what actually got me going on the subject was rather vocal comments from a number of sources regarding the Civil Defence effort in Christchurch in the immediate aftermath of the Feb 22 quake…calling for reviews and investigations and labelling staff as incompetent is simply not productive when responding to the most major natural disaster ever to hit the nation. There is a time for all hands to the pump to just get things done and another for later introspection and review…

In a similar vein, are all those second-guessers and self-appointed experts who, possibly with the best of intentions, promulgate such guff as the discredited Triangle of Life technique to save oneself during an earthquake or those who, like at Pike River, state it would have better to rush into collapsed buildings to try to rescue trapped and injured people. The harsh truth is that there is bugger-all to support such ideas and plenty to prove that they are more likely to hinder than help. Like we say it the doctrine world, it’s all about ‘applying with judgement’ and not just charging in – or applying by rote…thinking thinking thinking….

No doubt there are some major issues appearing in, not just Civil Defence, but most agencies involved in the recovery effort as they adjust from the initial response to the long haul of recovery and clean up…now is the time to start collecting the raw OIL (observations, issues and lessons) across the entire response force to identify what we did that we shouldn’t have done and what we didn’t do that we should have done…it’ll be interesting to see how a government-level lessons learned project might emerge from this…

//

As you can see this was a post that was started and never quite polished off…I’m still a bit behind the 8 ball on this one as well but completing ‘Knowing’ also meets another WordPress Daily Post challenge – even if it was from last Friday – Go to your drafts folder and finish an old post…I have to say that the Daily/Weekly Post challenges are great motivators to keep up the momentum…I get an idea and launch into a draft but then either get distracted or want to polish just a little bit more before publishing that it never really gets done…as it says in today’s daily challenge, “…Writing is therapeutic…” Yes, it is and although I now have more writing tools, I don’t write as much…ten years ago I had a good half dozen scripts bubbling away, was prolific in a number of online forums and was writing reviews and papers on a range of subjects. Today, the ideas are still there but the delivery mechanism seems to be jammed on ‘Start’ and locked out of ‘Develop’ and ‘Complete’…all I can say is that I’m working on it…

Getting back on top

Nobi XF-103 and XB-51

I didn’t build these and that’s part of the problem: just like with blogging, sometimes it is all too hard to just get on with things (I should be mowing the lawns at the moment but I’m telling myself it is too hot) and so one just keeps putting them off again and again and again…

I bought these two models from Thaipaperwork when I first discovered paper models in 2008…they are both well-designed models and the scale of 1/48 makes for impressive completed sizes. They print out in grey but can be printed on silver-tinted or aluminium-coated paper for the results you see above…I started off with a big hiss and a roar and never really went anywhere with them. Of course, part of the problem is that the selection of paper models that are legally available is amazing and it is also to easy to be distracted by new releases, more so when many are free downloads or inexpensive in either digital or printed forms…my largest one to date, an unstarted Tu-160 Blackjack that is 1.7 metres long when complete was only US$20….

But the real issue is really one of motivation, of committing to doing at least one smaller thing each day…a senior officer for whom I have a ton of time once advised me to aim to do two things each day – I very likely might do more but achieving two things a day is always mild progress…

So when WordPress kicked off the Postaweek and Postaday challenges for 2011, I felt I really had to rise to the challenge – or maybe give up the blogging game is I couldn’t do it justice…

WordPress has The Daily Post that contains, each day (as the title may suggest!), a challenge that a blogger may or may not take up. It was Erica’s post on 8 February that really invigorated me to give this Challenge a shot – she quotes Jamie Wallace of Live to Write – Write to Live:

I had intended to get back to journaling…I had meant to get back to work outlining my novel, working on character studies, and creating a fabulously retro “map” of my story using markers, sticky notes, and some very large pieces of paper. But, these intentions were all summarily slaughtered by the demands of my Real Life.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I felt disappointment, anger, and guilt.

Yeah, baby…tell me about THAT feeling!!! Been there and got a drawer full of T-Shirts…fortunately, I’m not a criminal mastermind bent on taking over the world (I’ll leave that to Dean and the Squirrels to do all the hard work first!) but am prone to monologuing my ideas but often not really going much past that point…something always comes up, I’m too busy with this or that, or have deadlines for someone else to meet…first lesson, I guess, is that if it’s worth monologuing it might be worth recording is some form…just like the old tip to keep pen and paper by your bed for those world-beating ideas that come to mind at 3am…the second lesson is that it is quite definitely OK to set deadlines for yourself to meet for your projects i.e. deadlines are just not things that other people can set for you – just keep it all practical and achievable – it is unlikely that you will achieve world peace by next Tuesday…

Jamie Wallace covers it pretty well in A confession and 7 steps to better writing habits summarised here from the Daily Post’s coverage of it the following day:

1. Find, make, or steal writing time
2. Have a purpose
3. Avoid the shoulds
4. Start small
5. Be consistent
6. Measure progress
7. Find your joy

For the detail read the full text on Live to Write – Write to Live….it’s worth the effort…

And the ‘so what’ for me…well….

1. I’ve been letting everything else steal writing time from me – time to reset the balance…I need to spend at least as much time as I give myself each day for reading – guarantee myself 5-10 minutes each night for recreational reading: writing will be the same…Make better use of the tools that I have – more on this in a future post – there’s more to it than just a desk and a PC…

2. Have a purpose? Yes, but if not one, then only a few – Vegemite’s mean to be spread thin not writing skills…

3. I should avoid the shoulds – ha! Joke(tte)…Jamie defines shoulding really well in her post…something to identify and avoid…sense and avoid is as important in the study as it is in the cockpit…

4. Start small – as above – work within your limitations…

5. Be consistent – form (good habits) for writing as you should(!) for healthy eating, physical fitness or financial prudence (if you are a guy)…

6. Measure progress – hey! I know this one – right out of COIN 101…keep your measure of success and performance practical, relevant and well-grounded in reality…

7. Finding my joy? Hmmm…once upon a time it was telling stories (in a good sense, of course)…I think we’ll just have to see where the journey takes us on this one…

Some of the blog post ideas on The Daily Post leave me cold but that might be a tinge of comfortzonitis kicking in…we’ll see…there are some that appeal and there’s a new one every day…my travel routine won’t let me do one a day but I can certainly do a post a week and grow from there….

Masterchef Update

Serious advertising for NZ Masterchef 2011 has now kicked in…hopefully I’ll be able to schedule myself to follow it again this year – due to work commitments, I missed almost all of the last Aussie Masterchef except the final…

Meanwhile, here in the heartland, we continue to investigate buying a local cafe so that Carmen can live at home again and also do what she is so good at for a living…

In Colour Me Scared last year, I mentioned my foray into the scary world of combining chili and sardines – pretty safe really as chili, like tomato sauce, is a great ‘coverall’ for culinary not-quites…I hadn’t actually tried it again since then but late last night after a crap afternoon wresting with connectivity issues and losing the better part of a day’s productivity – and thus forgetting to take something out of the freezer to thaw – I gave it another shot… definitely a great but very simple and fast (longest thing is waiting for the rice to cook) meal for when you really don’t want to put yourself out…what’s left will be combined into a fried rice tonight…so is one less thing to worry about while I’m doing the home alone thing…

The big difference between home along last year and this year is that this year I actually have work to do and don’t quite so much have the luxury of time to spend in the kitchen experimenting…the absence of any fast foods in easy distance means that I still have to look after myself and plan ahead…my major culinary issue at the moment is what to do with so many damn eggs …

Secret Stash

Since we keep stealing, them the chickens have taken to concealing their eggs around their run…this one was buried beneath layer of blackberry and is a good week and a half to two weeks work for them…24+ eggs recovered here! Carmen took a bunch back up the road but, combined with what we had already, I’m really scratching for good simple egg recipes…had a great omelette on Friday night after I got back from a meeting with Hawkeye in Palmerston North that afternoon (and resisted the temptation to treat myself in Mr Models) that meet two key objectives: a. it took five eggs and b. it very neatly wiped out most of the leftover vegetables and venison left in the fridge…I can see scrambled eggs coming back onto the breakfast menu which will go nicely on a slab of freshly-made bread, followed up with muesli and homemade yoghurt (well out of the packet but just as good, if not, better than the prepackaged stuff)…just so long as I don’t become a creature of habit…

As you probably guessed, I having a  bit of a no news day today – I’ve spent most of the day doing ASIC administration, psyching myself up to complete the draft doctrine review I had planned for yesterday…we’ve taken to using the NATO doctrine review template, which, although, involves more typing, promotes a far deeper review of a publication and which also provides the author feedback in a standard format that can be combined with similarly-formatted feedback from other reviewers…one of these days, I WILL complete that touch-typing programme…

Not quite

I mentioned in My Fellow Americans that I had first met Martyn Dunne while working on a number of Army clothing and personal equipment projects; one of these was reviewing the camouflage pattern then in use, especially the colours (of which there had been 17 distinct variations since it was first introduced)…needless to say, our testing and evaluation wasn’t as dedicated as this…talk about taking your work home with you…

Still…I guess if you’re looking at optimising for urban combat…

Bursting Bubbles

I subscribed to Fast Company ten years ago and collected 4-5 years worth of the magazine. The trouble was that it is very advertisement-heavy which is not necessarily a bad thing in itself as many of the ads were insightful and thought-provoking in their own right; the problem was that each issue was really thick and at 12 issues + specials every year, the stacks weren’t getting any smaller. As stimulating as the articles were (and I assume still are) and despite my own proclivity for accumulating paper, something had to go and so Fast Company disappeared off my radar. I suppose I could have tried to keep track of it online but, dial-up connection or not, I struggle to maintain situational awareness with the current blog roll and distribution lists…

Curzon @ Coming Anarchy asks some questions about a Fast Company finding that the gap between our social and economic beliefs is much the same as when we are teenagers just setting out in the world, and when we hit middle age, even though the beliefs themselves are diametrically opposed. I think the answer to his question is pretty simple and that is consequences. As young people, we are often oblivious to the concept of consequences and wreak merry havoc with our lives and often those of others. If you took the Fast Company survey further, it is likely that you would find that the same permissive approach extends to just about every aspect of a young person’s life, not solely social and economic… in fact, the social and economic head line is a bit of a red herring

So the real finding is actually a lot simpler – when we are young, we take more risks, and are less considerate of consequences…by the time we hit middle age, we have been burned a few times, may be a lot of times and are only too familiar with the Newtonian inevitability of consequences…

Perhaps the real story behind the Fast Company report is the issue that I commented on at Travels with Shiloh earlier this morning…

Regardless of the topic, I think that root cause behind the issues you raise is that for well over a decade now, maybe two or even more, we have stopped teaching people how to think critically and objectively. Today the ‘rule’ is to seek that information that supports the case you want to put up and to ignore or mitigate that which does not. Once upon a time, we would consider all the information and draw a conclusion based upon what was, not what we wanted it to be…and if that meant our report did not reflect the beauty of the Emperor’s new cloths then so be it. Better a sour mouthful up front than a diet of sand later on…perhaps if some senior ‘thinkers’ had been more objective, the mess in Iraq would never have occurred and the campaign in Afghanistan would have been a done deal one way or another by the end of 2004.

The superficiality of many contemporary researchers and their reports was something we saw again and again in the lessons learned world; and it was only when ABCA developed the CLAW that some light appeared at the end of the tunnel. As of the 2009 CLAW, that light was clearly brighter as many participants already had their heads around the processes and the need to disregard the symptoms on the surface and drill into the core issues.

I keep harping on about the CLAW (and the follow-on OUTLAW process) because they are the only ones I have seen in ten years in the LL game that actually work and get to the heart of an issue. The key however is that you still need people with the honesty and courage to run with oft-unpopular and unpalatable findings…perhaps if the authors of this report in New Jersey gangs had stepped back from the issues a bit more and been a bit more open-minded they would have produced something more worth reading?

Maybe I’m on a bit of a roll today (possibly the effects of a long weekend and/or a number of large G&Ts last night – ran out of beer and it’s 40km to the local) but this also ties into my hobby-horsing over at Neptunus Lex about my most-hated quote “…amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics…

I don’t think this post is really about logistics at all but I just have to add my 2 cents re that amateurs and professionals line…it is an absolute crock!! The log fraternity have spent two decades crowing from the top of their dung heap about how THEY won the Gulf War and have forgotten that, in the final outcome, they are but a supporting act to operations…

This is a theme that I have come across a number of times in my work in the last couple of weeks and I think that it is way past time that the loggies dragged themselves out of the Fulda Gap Railway Station and got into the 21st Century; stopped dictating what can and can not be done got into the game of supporting operations. My current bug bear is the falseness of ‘one fuel’ policies which might look all very nice and efficient in the hallowed halls of the G-4 (anyone’s G-4 not just that in the five-sided building) but which reduces effectiveness at the sharp end where operators are unable to introduce the niche capabilities needed for operations because they won’t run on the ‘one’ fuel…

In 2000, a MAJ Morris from the USMC wrote a staff paper on contemporary use of flying columns as part of OMFTS doctrine In it, he debunks many of the logistic myths/obstacles to operations, using Rommel and Monty as examples of a. just getting on with the job and b. keeping log staffs in their subordinate boxes…This is not to diminish the importance of logistics to successful operations just to keep it in perspective with other supporting functions like personnel, intel, plans, comms, training, and doctrine/lessons.

The Morris paper is a great read and I recommend it without reservation and more so because it was written pre-911 but still holds true through the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq. It is delivered in three parts:

  • A general history of the use of flying columns in the 20th Century.
  • A dedicated case study on the SADF’s Operation MODULAR into Angola in 1984.
  • An exploration of how the flying column/bubble concept might be applied in a MEU or MEB.

Thinking out of the square, getting the facts and bursting conceptual bubbles…that’s what we need more off…

On learning

(c) Peter Hodge @ The Strategist

This amazing photo was on Peter’s latest post @ The Strategist…my only comment is WOW! To learn more, click on the image…

This post also carried a link to a recent Business Day article Unhappy workers the key to corporate culture which states organisations that wish to learn about themselves,  for example, what’s working and what’s not, could do worse things that seek out and listen to “…malcontents and marginalised workers in the firm…” Often these people are marginalised or malcontent because they are frustrated in their efforts to improve or progress their work environment. As I commented on Peter’s post, so often I have “…seen a visiting reviewing, audit, info gathering team sat down with the happy-happy joy-joy people in an organisation when they really need to to be getting together with those who have issues (real or perceived) with how the organisation operates…

Most organisations have a fundamental expectation that equipment and processes and staff will function as advertised. To be continually told that this is occurring really achieves little except perhaps a warm fuzzy feeling in the executive washroom. What organisations really need to know is what is NOT functioning as it should, or where things could be done smarter…you won’t get this from the mindless clones of the happy-happy joy-joy brigade. This is the foundation of any Lessons Learned or organisational learning process of system: to get over fear of bad news and actually welcome and seek it out. All to often though, the catalyst for this cultural shift is a king-size punch in the nose.

The most notable example of such cultural change is the US Army in the year from the end of the official war-fighting phase in May 2003 until the true scope of the insurgency was grasped in 2004. In no more than a year, this organisation of 500,000 plus was transformed from one where it was not cool to advertise screw-ups in your area of responsibility to one where it was no longer acceptable NOT to share what went wrong on your patch in order that others might learn and lives be saved…if the pie-in-the-sky plans of Rumsfeld, Cheney et al had actually worked and Iraq had snapped into a functioning democracy as soon as Saddam was toppled, I don’t think that even a quarter of the issues identified in the various post-Phase One AARs would have been addressed, and certainly any cultural shifts arising from those issues would have been incremental at best.

The first step in any Lessons Learned system is to consistently and continuously and honestly capture what’s not working and what could be done better. We found that the format for this is:

What happened? A simple statement that defines the problem or issue, e.g. boot laces keep snapping.

What does it mean? I.e. the ‘so what?’ factor…you can not assume that everyone else will perceive the same or any issues arising from the ‘what happened’ so this needs to be explained. e.g. affects soldier’s mobility as boots don’t fit properly until such time as laces are replaced or repaired – this is not always immediately possible i.e. at night (light discipline) or if spare laces are not available/accessible.

What do you think should be done about it? This is the originator’s recommendation from their perspective and may often serve only as a start point for investigation and bear no resemblance to the final solution e.g. replace the current crap boots with a new brand.

This was an OIL that we came across through direct contact with some of the afore-mentioned malcontents and marginalised who expressed their frustration that this problem was prevalent and nothing seemed to be happening about it. When we pulled on a few threads, we found that higher levels were prone to removing such low-level ‘trivia’ as reports drifted up the hierarchy, based on a misperception that high-level issues should be disseminated up to high levels. The response back down was more than often the good old ‘harden up!’

Investigating the actual issue was very frustrating because there was a continual stream of ‘no fault found’ with every test conducted on the laces held in stock. It was only in examining the boots that it was found that the fault was not in the laces but in a batch of lace eyelets that had an exceptionally sharp inner edge – the action of pulling a lace tight also pulled the lace over this edge which cut into the fibres of the lace. Murphy’s Law of laces states that they will always give way at the least convenient time, typically 0300 on a frosty no-moon night on a patrol in the tussock.

The solutions that were put in place were to:

Withdraw the affected boots and have them repaired by the manufacturer.

Review Quality Assurance processes for future boot shipments.

Review the defect reporting process.

Discuss with headquarters staffs the importance of NOT attenuating reports as they rose through the chain of command, including those issues that perhaps they could actually resolve at their own levels. By keeping these to themselves they constrain the ability of others to learn from them.

Man’s Best Friend

Neptunus Lex has a touching story about a boy and his dog…things you wouldn’t see your cat doing for you…

Bridgegate

Still waiting on Michael Yon’s Dispatch in which he winds up the Tarnak Bridge drama AND apologises to Canadian general Daniel Menard…

Getting out of the square

Travels with Shiloh discusses the need for intelligence operators to have training in snapping out of conventional squares to consider problems in the complex environment. I agree and think that his 2007 suggestion of using movies like John Carpenter’s The Thing as the basis for scenarios to achieve this has considerable merit. I had a similar idea in the early 90s when i was just getting into PC gaming that young officers could be given certain games to play that would broaden their problem-solving thought processes…TacOps springs to mind immediately but for some reason Megafortress springs to mind – will have to see if I can find my old notes on this…to add a pain/risk factor, it was suggested that they play for places (or not) on the monthly duty/orderly officer lists…

I also agree with Dean’s comments re using tactical decision-making games (TDG) – the Marines have been using them for years – I think they still publish one at the back of each issue of the Marine Corps Gazette? – but everyone else seems a little slow on the uptake. The zero defects people seem very cool on the idea unless each TDG comes with a 17 page ‘white’ sheet that details all the possible permutations and variations of solutions so that the supervising staff would be put on the spot and find their own knowledge and or capabilities challenged. I think this is a fundamental lack of understanding of what TDGs are for which is to allow students and instructors to explore the application of principles and considerations in different environments and scenarios and to totally NOT focus on any perceived need for the solution to be a thing that Norman Schwarzkopf would be proud of…

The double standard of nice war

Coming Anarchy discusses the drone ‘war’ in Pakistan. The acceptance of civilian casualties in this campaign against the Taliban seems to be in stark contrast with ISAF’s squeamishness in engaging Taliban hiding behind civilians in Marjah. Maybe it’s only OK to kill civilians in a war zone by accident where you (and the media) can’t see the bodies…? It’s probably all the same to the dead…

Getting it together?

Afghan police officers and the U.S. soldiers, bottom, gather at the scene of a suicide attack in Kandahar south of Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday, March 1, 2010. A suicide car bomber attacked a NATO convoy Monday outside the major southern Afghan city, killing one NATO service member and four Afghan civilians, officials said. (AP Photo/Allauddin Khan)

On Michael Yon’s Facebook page this morning:

Sad and Sickening: A General Officer should be fired.

This morning, we lost a soldier to a suicide bomb on a bridge just a short drive from this massive military installation called Kandahar Airfield. The bridge, which is important to us, was badly damaged and remains impassable to military traffic. Meanwhile, on this bustling base, under-employed soldiers from various nations crowd around hockey games, live bands, and coffee shops. The damaged bridge is just a bicycle ride away from soldiers who are too busy celebrating Olympic medals to safeguard this bridge. The bridge is so close that I felt the explosion and saw the mushroom cloud. Our mission, and no doubt others, was cancelled because we could not get over the bridge.

The General in charge of security for this bridge should be fired.

Coupled with another attack in Kabul involving NZSAS troops, one wonder if there might not be something to the idea of secondary effects of the surge in Afghanistan?

On ‘science’

Coming Anarchy discusses the ‘science’ of global warming, a topic that has also been slammed by Neptunus Lex. Portable Learner while covering another example of misapplied science, “…In an interview for On The Media, The Lancet’s editor Dr. Richard Horton weighs in on the state of open scientific debate:

We used to think that we could publish speculative research which advanced interesting new ideas which may be wrong, but which were important to provoke debate and discussion. We don’t think that now. We don’t seem able to have a rational conversation in the public space about difficult controversial issues without people drawing a conclusion which could be very averse….The 19th-century days where you could sit in the salon at the Royal Society and have a private conversation amongst your fellows just doesn’t exist anymore. So I think yeah, too much information in this particular case is a bad thing, which seems to go against every kind of democratic principle that we believe in. But in the case of science, it seems to be true.

But it is not. I can’t help but wonder if we had had this conversation, in public, ten years ago when the study was still “speculative research” we may well have averted the flawed decision to publish it in the first place. We need more information, not less, and more inclusive conversations, not narrowly confined to the medical community. The public may well have to engage the medical community in the public space “difficult conversations without drawing a conclusion that could be very averse…

I tend to agree – far better to have the discussion early and draw out all of the available information out to make as informed a decision as possible than to disregard potentially relevant stakeholders and abdicate responsibility what may be perceived as an overly-elite group.

‘The people’ can be really dumb at times…

The Strategist comments on the ignorance and stupidity of those who opted to ignore tsunami warnings along New Zealand’s coast after the earthquake in Concepcion. One might argue that this is only natural selection in action and I might have agreed if it were not for the risks implicit to those who might have to attempt to rescue these losers and to the children they took to the beach with them; at best, it is wasting Police time, at worst, manslaughter. An interesting discussion at NZ Herald here and I wonder if this naivety and complacency is linked to the questions asked in the Timings paper mentioned above? Are we a nation that only learns the hard way…after a punch in the nose…?

People ignore tsunami warning at Mount Manganui. Photo/ Christine Cornege.

A good way of doing business

Peter also has an interesting item on the Byzantine Lessons Learned process…1500 years ago, the Byzantines developed theatre-specific handbooks for each of their current and likely mission spaces…if they could do it then, it really makes you wonder why it appears so hard today. I’ll have more on this when I complete my paper on GEN Mattis’ comments re obsolete thinking.

Progress

I made my first pastry ever yesterday afternoon and my first all homemade pies last night…some tuning still required but very YUM!!!

Into the Blue

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Yes, it’s cool; yes, it was in Die Hard 4.0; but it just has way too many dangly bits to do the business. Image (c) http://www.telegraph.co.uk

“We are shackled by the past and never has the future been more difficult to divine. What we must do is to quite ruthlessly discard ideas, traditions, and methods which have not stood the test…each of the fighting services must go for speed, mobility and economy, and develop the whole time with an eye on the other two members of the team in co-operation, not in competition.” This 1947 quote from Marshal of the RAF the Lord Tedder opens an article by the new UK Chief of Air Staff, The Future of British Air and Space Power: A Personal Perspective, in the Autumn 2009 Air Power Review. He follows this with a quote from Darwin on the second page of the article “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most adaptable.” I did comment briefly in this article in Resuming Normal Services last month but have only really considered the issues more fully today…

It is indeed good to see a newly-appointed service chief (appointed on 31 July 2009) publicly stating his opinions and intentions. Certainly, as a general rule across government, this is not something that we do well in New Zealand – tons of internal marketing and engagement but not too much with the poor old public or our friends and allies…I actually think that it should be mandatory for CEOs and chiefs within government and its ministries and agencies to release a public stance on where they think they will go during their tenure as ‘boss’.

The new CAS will most likely achieve much of what he sets out in this paper. He has steered clear of the ‘boots on the ground’ versus ‘ships at sea’ spat between the Chiefs of Army and Navy and it is only in late January this year that he issued a cautionary note regarding the risks involved in focusing Defence acquisitions too much on ‘the’ war and not enough on ‘a’ war “…the point is to have those discussions in the context of a proper review so we don’t end up making short-term decisions on the financial (question) of the availability of money in the current environment or the short term rationale. We need a long-term view…” This is somewhat of a contrast to the previous CAS who, only a month or so before handing over the role, predicted that the RAF would take over Royal Navy jet operations. While this may be the current situation through the establishment of the Joint Harrier Force, it certainly created waves as the Royal Navy anticipates the introduction into service of two new ‘real’ aircraft carriers equipped with brand spanking F-35 Lightning IIs. Lightning is the US name for the F-35 which the RAF has adopted although nothing published as yet defines whether they see it as the successor to the Lockheed Lightning ‘I’ which the RAF wasn’t that impressed with; or  as a possible successor to the English Electric Lightning ‘I’ which is and will always be one of the all-time grunter fighter aircraft.

I have my own reservations regarding the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, all versions; it seems reminiscent of the McNamarist one-size-fits-all-roles aircraft in the F-111 debacle and comes across as an attempt to (ap)please everyone and will end up pleasing no one. Even though the RAF has stood fast in its procurement of the Eurofighter which lies in capability somewhere between the F-35 and the now-cancelled F-22, it has already shrunk its fleet from the 232 originally needed to only 123  aircraft. This seems scarcely enough for the RAF’s primary mission,as described by CAS’ article,  of controlling and protecting British airspace, let alone to support any but the most benign expeditionary operations. Even though the Typhoon will eventually be joined by the F-35, reading between the lines of the UK MOD’s current financial stresses, it is likely that its numbers will also be dramatically reduced from the 150 originally planned. This number has already been whittled down to 138 and there is speculation that this number will be reduced again.

While the Air Power Review article  sees the F-35 Lightning II as “…primarily an ISTAR asset…with hugely effective built-in Attack and Control of the Air capabilities...”, it does caution against the risks of “…putting all our investment into a small number of highly capable platforms…that we will field a ‘middle-weight’ force structure which is too sophisticated to fight low technology insurgencies in a cost effective manner but equally, is unable to be completely effective against the high technology equipment that future state adversaries…are likely to deploy…” Unfortunately, as costs spiral upwards passing budgets spiraling the other way, it does not seem like that the RAF as it is currently being structured will be able to meet its obligations to “…capitalise on air power’s ability to acquire and process intelligence, and to strike with proportion and precision…” The article concludes by listing ten key propositions for the future of British air and space power:

  1. Air and space power is all about creating influence.
  2. Control of the Air and Space remains the paramount air and space role.
  3. Air and space power is about the provision of capability, not the generation of platforms.
  4. Time is a weapon: air and space power offers the mean to dominate it.
  5. Combat ISTAR will lie at the heart of the RAF’s future capability.
  6. Unmanned Air Systems are here to stay. UAS are an integral part of the UK’s air power capability.
  7. Space and cyber are joint domains but the air component is best-placed to lead in coordinating the defence effort in these areas.
  8. Technology and air and space power are synergistically related.
  9. Agility and adaptability are the key to the delivery of capable, relevant and affordable air and space power in a complex and uncetain world.
  10. Network Enabled Capability is critical to unlocking air and space power’s potential.

First things first: the UK does not have a space capability – it got out of that game in the 60s.  Any interdiction and control of space will be reserved for those nations that can get into the operating environment: the US, Russia and maybe China and India one day. Even the EU is not a real player in the 21st Century space game which is a shame because there is not reason that it should not be, other than general apathy and too great an interest in keeping the here and now nice and comfortable…

ISTAR and cyber are and MUST be a Joint, Interagency, Multinational and Public (Bring out the JIMP!) responsibilities. As soon as any one player declares it is ‘their’ role and grabs for primacy in either role, it only demonstrates a total failure to grasp this fact. Both ISTAR and cyber relate to facets of information; attempts to cram them into legacy single service stovepipes only cripples the wider effort. There is not one single whit of evidence to suggest that any service is better or worse in these domains than any other. If our children are to be believed, it is the unkempt, Gen Z-ers with their trousers habitually halfway to their knees who rule in the information domains…

Technology and air and space power may be synergistically related but possibly not in the way intended in the article. I am a big fan of Alfred Thayer Mahan; in fact, The Influence of Seapower Upon History is one of only two books that I have as both Audible files and hard copy publications – the other being William Manchester‘s American Caesar. I first read The Influence of Seapower in the mid-90s when the third frigate debate raged across Defence. Although Mahan was oft-quoted by the frigate lobby, I always suspected that those doing the quoting hadn’t actually read the book as one of the key points I took away from it was that, in order to control the seas, you must actually be capable of doing so. Thus, the French and Spanish talked it (seapower) up but we never able to quite deliver whereas the Dutch and most definitely the Royal Navy were very much able to enforce their will on and dominate the waves. If the RAF seeks to control the Britain’s air space or the air space of an operational theatre, then perhaps it simply can not afford these high tech platforms like Typhoon and F-35. More importantly, it might not be able to afford to replace them should an opponent adopt an attritive strategy. Even if an adversary lacks its own air power capability, conflicts in Zimbabwe, Vietnam and the Falkland Islands have demonstrated how small groups of soldiers can apply their own counter-air campaigns on aircraft on the ground. Similarly, an over-dependence on UAS will come a cropper as an adversary targets the links between the UAV, its controllers and its ‘clients’.

In defining the way ahead for the RAF, I am not at all sure that the CAS has fully considered where it has been. Scene-setting early paragraphs in the paper cite the air policing of no-fly zones over Iraq from 1991-2003 as a relatively cost-effective (no loss of coalition lives and $1 billion annually) method of neutering Saddam compared to the 4000 US KIA and $12.5 billion monthly cost of OIF. This is very much a chalk and cheese comparison: the no-fly zone campaign was at the bottom end of a containment strategy that did little to curbs Saddam’s aspirations, power or depredations against his own people. OIF, on the other hand, was very much a high intensity state on state conflict that, rightly or wrongly, deposed Saddam’s regime and heralded significant change and consequences for all Iraqis. While I could by no means be accused of land-centricity, the simple fact is that there are few campaigns where the employment of air power in isolation has been a deciding factor in a conflict. The bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the Berlin Airlift, and Operation EL DORADO CANYON are three rare examples where this has occurred.

Immediately following this example, the article states that “…even where a significant presence is required on the ground as part of a joint campaign, air power is able to act as a force multiplier to dramatically reduce exposure. Ideally, the ‘boots on the ground’ required in a counterinsurgency operation will eventually be provided by indigenous forces after suitable training...” It cites no example to support this statement and it is unlikely that many examples exist. These two statements overlook two fundamentals of COIN (as opposed to Countering Irregular Activity as Op ELDORADO CANYON did) , namely the need to close with and engage (not necessarily ‘strike‘ or ‘attack‘) the people in the campaign theatre, and that, for the purposes of shaping UK forces for the future, the ‘long war‘ nature of COIN requires a long term commitment of land forces. It is only in the very late stages of a successful COIN campaign that air power might become the primary form of aid to the host nation.

Like Friends in High Places, this article only pays the barest lip service to the less kinetic aspects of air power. Instead of ‘engage‘ it still displays the archaic mindset of  ‘attack‘. The force multiplying value of RAF fixed and rotary wing transport capabilities is only skimmed over and does not earn so much as a mention in the ten key propositions for the future of British air and space power listed above. Relationships with the other services receive little mention, and even less is awarded to allies and coalition partners.  The RAF has yet to fully consider the final part of Lord Tedder’s advice that opens the article “…and develop the whole time with an eye on the other two members of the team in co-operation, not in competition...” In the frantic scrambling for the remnants of the British Defence budget, the RAF may have been a little too quick to “…ruthlessly discard ideas, traditions, and methods…” without fully considering the nature of the test that each should have withstood.

Indications of this are evident in the article in that there is not one single mention of control of the sea lanes upon which Britain relies so much. Although Mahan wrote of naval control of the sea, it is not difficult to extrapolate his principles to include control of the sea from the air as well, regardless of who, RAF or RN, might own that air power. The US Navy integration of air power into control of the sea is probably the most powerful example of Mahan’s work being put into action. From its earliest days, the RAF has played a key role in control of Britain’s sea lane’s; although it could be argued that this might fall under one of the ISTAR principles listed above, that does not include any capability (apart from F-35?) to actually inflict control on those areas i.e. the roles filled by the Hudson and Liberators of Coastal Command and now assumed by Nimrod today. The sea is the other ‘space’ the RAF should be seeking to control both as one of its core traditional roles and also as one directly linked to the prosperity and growth of Mother England.

The RAF has some tough decisions ahead of it, as do the Royal Navy and British Army. The simple fact is that Britain is no longer the world power that she once was and has not been for decades: the Falklands Islands campaign almost 30 years ago could easily be regarded as the last gasp of an Empire. Sometime less = less and more = more: maybe the RAF needs to be less swayed by the attractions of technologies it can no longer afford e.g. Typhoon and F-35 – who exactly might be the threat against which such capabilities maybe required? It may well be that such high-tech platforms are now solely in the bailiwick of those that can afford to operate them like the US and Singapore (sorry, Australia). In their place, perhaps the RAF should be considering adoption of  greater quantities of the 21st Century equivalents of the Hawker Hunter,  Douglas A-4 Skyhawk and Northrop F-5…?

[PDF version]

In other news

Peter @ The Strategist has released Part 2 of the Doomsday Device.

Paper Modelers has now been down for almost two days and I am most definitely missing my fix. Apparently the ISP lost (how careless!) a drive in its RAID array and is having trouble restoring the site – as the twins would say, uh-oh…what makes this double or triply frustrating is that I have news to share and no one to share it with: where it was thought that the Kalinin K-12 released a couple of weeks ago might be some seven inches short in wing span, I have now measured the relevant parts and the span, less skin thickness, in my opinion, is 606mm which is close enough to the correct 635mm span. Of course, that meant absolutely nothing to anyone but at least I have it off my chest now…

Neptunus Lex has a thought-provoking item on the “…moral continuum between killing our terrorist adversaries where we find them, detaining them as unlawful combatants and giving them the same constitutional rights as any US citizen…

To the stars…

@ The Geek, John Birmingham lashes the global warming denial crew i.e. the big business that stands to lose so much if unrestrained pollution and reliance on fossils (from under the ground and in office) continues unchecked. Money talks and twice as loud when Al Gore is the leader of the opposition. To paraphrase Barnesm’s comment “…this way of life is unsustainable, but after millions of years of evolution and hundreds of years of science and engineering the best we can come up with is “Ride bicycles everywhere, grow and eat only local vegetarian food and essentially go back to living like we did before the industrial revolution”. This is not how you build a star spanning civilisation…” Barnesm goes on to list some technologies that they think could advance both the global warming cause and that of general civilisation. You’ve got to admit, we have become a bit stagnant and stuck in the rut over the last two to three decades…a little too focussed on the now and not the future…if I was to classify myself (while still able to tell you stuff without self-terminating), it would probably be as more a technological utopiast than a ‘grow more veges’ sort of greenie…

At the Chief of Army’s Seminar at Massey last year (note that the Massey site has a ‘less is less‘ approach to pushing information out – hardly doing its bit to win the information battle) , Dr Adrian Macy, the NZ Ambassador for Climate Change,  spoke on New Zealand’s approach to global warming in the international arena. The question that only popped into my head on the drive home afterwards, and noting that this presentation was at a defence forum, was “At what stage might we need to start considering compelling compliance with global warming accords?” Perhaps the NZDF might consider what part it may play in actively saving the planet… After all, we do only have the one…

Had more to say but it’s a beautiful day outside already so I’ll be back later – off now to flea bomb the house, let the goats and sheep loose on the back garden (fitted, of course, with state of the art methane filters), spray more buttercup, and mow the front lawns…

Do Ideas Matter? Some thoughts…

I really enjoyed Adam Elkus’ article Do Ideas Matter? (full PDF) on the Small Wars Journal blog – right up to the paragraph before the conclusion. The author articulated and made his points well, concluding with logical sentence: “… For better or worse, American strategic culture embraces an engineering mindset, and the joint doctrine conceptualization of COG may or may not be the best tool for American strategy…

I thought from here he might be going to connect the dots between whatever doctrinal constructs you adopt and the need for a responsive delivery system to get that doctrine to where it is needed. Nope…what follows is a disintegration of the original issue into a mishmash of random thoughts and ideas. I get the feeling that the author had a bunch of lines that he’d been hanging out to use and hit us with all of them at once. The conclusion is almost a separate article and scarcely relevant to the good points made in the first two pages – the purpose of a conclusion is to conclude, not introduce new material.

I wonder if this was bounced off anyone else before it was published or just churned out in isolation, maybe after too many coffees and very late at night or early in the morning…That’s been a theme of mine here pretty consistently: the need for a good editor to cause an impartial eye over a draft BEFORE there is any thought of it hitting the streets. Even if it only picks up a couple of minor typos (one of my idiosyncrasies is transposing ‘now’ and ‘not’ – hands up if you can see that causing some strife?) or some logical disconnects, sharing your work with someone else before going live is a good thing.

Typos, errors in grammar, loose logic, inconclusive conclusions…all minor details that can irretrievably harm the (possibly quite valid) argument that you are making. This post originally started out as a comment on this post at the SMJ but after reading and rereading the absolutely crap conclusion in this paper, I had such a head of steam up, I figured I’d achieve more with it here. Bottom line: Mr Elkus needs an impartial sounding board before he launches off again…this paper gets a mark of D for Do it again…

The other reason I got so wound up about his non-conclusion was that it takes so much away from the first two and half pages which discusses the relevance of the Clausewitzian trinity to US centre of gravity doctrine. I don’t agree with his bottom line “… For better or worse, American strategic culture embraces an engineering mindset, and the joint doctrine conceptualization of COG may or may not be the best tool for American strategy…” because it reeks for building an Army best suited to fight itself – but I like the way he got there, especially in reminding us what Clausewitz really defined as his trinity and describing quite well the minefield that it interpreting Clausewitz.

I like Clausewitz, or at least those interpretations and translations of his work that I have read – certainly I would rate his influence as far greater than the homogenised drivel that Sun Tzu has become in the last decade or two. I think that most if not all of Clausewitz’s ideas remain applicable today and any that may not, are only temporarily out of vogue – doctrine never really dies, it just fades in and out of relevance from time to time. But, applicable or not, the issue that Adam Elkus was trying (I think) to unravel is that it’s all well and good developing all these new ideas and concepts – or polishing up old ones – but it’s largely irrelevant unless we  have a responsive and effective system to ‘inject’ for want of a better word those ideas and concepts into how we think and behave. FM 3-24 is a great publication but only useful for keeping the dust off the shelves if the ‘education (theory)and training (doctrine)’ (as defined by Phil Ridderhof in his comments on this paper on SWJ) doesn’t pick up on and deliver them before they are actually needed. Remember Simon’s soapbox…It’s all about the right information, to the right people, at the right time – and ensuring that they know how to use it.

I use that phrase regularly in discussions on intelligence, lessons learned, doctrine, training, and knowledge management. I wonder if they are all somehow connected?