Old doctrine never dies…

Over the weekend both Neptunus Lex and Small Wars Journal have commented on the address by ADM Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, at Kansas State University which has been heralded as the death of the Powell Doctrine which dominated US military policy from the 1991 Gulf War. The Lex item links to a LA Times article Top U.S. military official outlines tempered approach to war which doesn’t quite get the right end of the stick in opening with “…The U.S. military must use measured and precise strikes, not overwhelming force, in the wars it is likely to face in the future, the nation’s top uniformed officer said Wednesday in outlining a revised approach to American security…” That’s not quite correct – the full text of ADM Mullen’s address is online and what he is actually advocating re overwhelming force is “…We must not try to use force only in an overwhelming capacity, but in the proper capacity, and in a precise and principled manner…” That is not discounting the overwhelming force option at all – he is saying the force and the approach should be customised to the threat – and inline with a philosophy of comprehensively employing all instruments of national power where they can have the best effect.

The SWJ item is actually a CNP of Robert Haddick’s article Foreign Policy The Long Death of the Powell Doctrine; unfortunately this story has been combined with another story re the potential for Myanmar to build a clandestine breeder reactor on behalf of the North Koreans and/or other bad  people – didn’t they learn from one visit from John Rambo…? The Mullen story is significant of a column all its own, more so when it appears that many are only drawing what they want in isolation from the entire speech. SWJ has a robust discussion on the speech.

The ‘Mullen Doctrine’ which supplants the ‘Powell Doctrine’ rests upon three principles:

The first is that military power should not – maybe cannot – be the last resort of the state.  Military forces are some of the most flexible and adaptable tools to policymakers.  We can, merely by our presence, help alter certain behavior.  Before a shot is even fired, we can bolster a diplomatic argument, support a friend or deter an enemy.  We can assist rapidly in disaster-relief efforts, as we did in the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake.  We can help gather intelligence, support reconnaissance and provide security. And we can do so on little or no notice.  That ease of use is critical for deterrence.

No arguments there – this finally goes someway to closing the artificial gap between peacetime engagement and operations…there should only really be two types of military operations (always under a national policy framework a la Clausewitz): stability operations which counter any destabilising influences (irregularity) in national areas of interest (domestic or offshore), and war-fighting where specific and intense use of force has become necessary.

Force should, to the maximum extent possible, be applied in a precise and principled way.

I would be more comfortable with this point if it stated ‘military options’ in lieu of ‘force’ as all actions should be applied in a precise, principled AND tailored way.

Policy and strategy should constantly struggle with one another.  Some in the military no doubt would prefer political leadership that lays out a specific strategy and then gets out of the way, leaving the balance of the implementation to commanders in the field.  But the experience of the last nine years tells us two things:  A clear strategy for military operations is essential; and that strategy will have to change as those operations evolve.

I’m not sure that I agree with this last point – the wrangling between senior US military and government officials since 2003 has absorbed and diverted national focus and effort from the job at hand. Perhaps what ADM Mullen means is that the military and government need to have a clearer idea of where each is coming from. We don’t want a military that blindly follows policy without discussion, nor government that blindly ignores concerns from professional operators (this applies in government departments other than the military). The real issue arising from both high level policy strategy is knowing the answer to two key questions:

Why are we here? Clear objectives and the means by which to measure when they have been achieved.

What’s our plan for getting out? Apply the Princess Leia Doctrine “…when you broke in here, did you have a plan for getting out?” A clearly-defined exit strategy, based upon best and worse cases, that is developed as part of initial planning and robustly and regularly reviewed…

What does my boss expect me to achieve and why?

What freedoms enable me?

What constraints restrict me?

Has anything changed since I last thought about this?

My first thought when people start talking about the death of a doctrine is that doctrine never dies – it just gets filed for future reference. This first came home to me at  doctrine working group in Australia in 2006. There was a call from a number of operators and schools for doctrine NOW on convoy escort, roadside IEDs and other pressing contemporary topics and there was certainly a feeling that ‘someone’ had dropped the ball (not New Zealand as it wasn’t a World Cup year) in this regard. One of the things that the Aussies did then – and which I hope they still do – was to have a representative from the Army History Unit attend such working groups; when this call for contemporary doctrine was made, the elderly gentlemen from the AHU called for some semblance of order and advised all assembled that the Australian Army already had such doctrine “…ask your dad, young XXX [the officer who raised the original inquiry] , when he was in Vietnam…none of those topics is new and we have been here before. I suggest you review what’s in the archives and go from there…” In Australia, the Centre for Army Lessons is the default archive for retired doctrine (strangely, not the Doctrine Centre) and over the space of a coffee break, had located a number of Vietnam-era publications that certainly provided a useful start point for contemporary TTPs. I think is because of this, that the NZ Army’s Doctrine Centre (based not far from here in sunny Waiouru) maintains a doctrine library with publications that extend back to between the (world) wars classics like MAJGEN Charles Gwynn‘s Imperial Policing (strangely the only Wikipedia entries on this publication are in Spanish and German).

In last month’s The CoGs in the war go round and round… I discussed the applicability today of some of Napoleon’s writings in his Maxims as part of a broader piece on the Centre of Gravity construct. In this forum, doctrine as defined as what we teach on courses, expand and develop in collective training, and apply with judgement (implied in the real world, not solely on operations) so the traditional ‘out’ that doctrine is only a discussion of fundamental philosophies does not apply here. In purist terms, the Powell Doctrine will not die – the closest it may come is to be quietly filed away until such time as circumstances cause it to be dusted off and reviewed. That so many US pundits are joyous at its ‘death’ is indicative of the urge in the US to disassociate itself from the false beliefs in overwhelming technology, ‘shock and awe’, and adversaries who would cooperatively fold when confronted with the immutable logic of the manouevrist approach that ultimately drew them into the seven years of pain in Iraq.

I selected an image of Trafalgar as the header for today’s post because it is illustrative of both dogmatic application of doctrine (perhaps the  first lesson in any course on doctrine is to emphasise the difference between dogma and doctrine?) and the application of doctrine with judgement. In 1805, it was a capital offence for any captain or commander to not rigidly adhere to the Fighting Instructions in vogue at the time which essentially required opposing fleets to close up in parallel lines and hammer the living bejesus out of each other until a victor emerged or it got too hard due to weather, wind or nightfall…Looking back, this is really not too much different from our approach to state v state warfare where we lined up on respective sides of borders or other lines drawn in the sand until someone pushed the button. Certainly I believe that this linear approach dominated our thinking for the past four to five decades and to a large extent still does as we wrest with the geometrically more complex environment of today.

Nelson opted to disregard the Fighting Instructions at Trafalgar and break the French and Spanish lines in order to defeat them in some detail. Trafalgar was a hard-fought battle and the issues was in doubt for some time – certainly neither the French nor the Spanish were so devastated by this tactic as to strike their colours immediately; if they were devastated by anything it was good British gunnery…It is this ability to appreciate a specific situation, draw from relevant historical and personal experience, and develop a plan tailored to the current situation that we need to (re-)develop and foster amongst our planners and operators. In an area where the military is but just one of a number of instruments of national power, the growth must be applied across government…

Things are Blowing up but no more than usual

Coming Anarchy has an independent view of the progress of the elections in Iraq that is not polluted by the mainstream media’s need for sensationalism and loud noises…it would be nice to think that all the casualties and loss since 2003 will have a positive outcome…


The Ironman 2 trailer will screen after the Academy Awards today


Still waiting for Michael Yon’s Dispatch resolving the Tarnak Bridge episode and publicly apologising to Canada’s GEN Daniel Menard…as his tempo of releases has not slowed, it seems that it is easier for Mr Yon to get rounds of accusation in the air than it is to equally publicly tidy up the mess he makes when he gets it wrong – interestingly still no US or ISAF PAO comment on this story…

The plot thickens

The Strategist has released Part III of The Doomsday Machine…this story just gets better and better – I think Peter may be once of those hidden talents about to be discovered…

Holding the High Ground

Travels With Shiloh has a very insightful piece on torture…for me the quote from MAJ Nathan Hoepner says it all…

As for ‘the gloves need to come off’…we need to take a deep breath and remember who we are…Those gloves are…based on clearly established standards of international law to which we are signatories and in part the originators…something we cannot just put aside when we find it inconvenient…We have taken casualties in every war we have ever fought–that is part of the very nature of war. We also inflict casualties, generally many more than we take. That in no way justifies letting go of our standards. We have NEVER considered our enemies justified in doing such things to us. Casualties are part of war–if you cannot take casualties then you cannot engage in war. Period. BOTTOM LINE: We are American soldiers, heirs of a long tradition of staying on the high ground. We need to stay there.

Drop ‘American’ from his bottom line and this statement applies across the Anglosphere.

Dumbing Down

Neptunus Lex carries a disturbing item on a US initiative to reduce the number of common tasks that all soldiers must be capable of doing.. if it is as stated, it represents a major setback for the US Army – the list of tasks referred to is a distillation of lessons learned the hard way since 2003. For a long time it has been clear that there are two parts to US TRADOC – the hard-charging sharp thinkers in Ft Leavenworth and ‘the rest’ who produce bland corporate speak. Unfortunately there are probably those who will latch onto this as an excuse to slash back training, probably based on the false premise that they can always play catch up in PDT. So much for the non-contiguous mission-space and if we are not careful, the training pendulum will swing back to the good old days of the 1990s and the Fulda Gap…

Mattis on thinking

Meanwhile, back at this ranch, I am working up an essay on GEN Mattis’ comments last week on the need to revitalise the American officer corps…unfortunately the weather is too good and the nice folk at ITM Taumarunui dropped off a load of wood for Phase II of the man-cave so I am somewhat distracted…

Mattis: Obsolete Thinking Worse Than Obsolete Weapons

By John J. Kruzel

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2010 – The only thing worse than obsolete weapons in war is obsolete thinking, a top U.S. commander cautioned in remarks on revitalizing America’s military officer corps.

Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command, yesterday emphasized the role education plays in enabling military officers to adapt quickly to strategic and tactical changes they encounter.

“It’s opening the aperture,” he said, describing the value afforded through education. “Once you stretch the mind open, it’s hard for it to go back to how it was before.”

Mattis delivered his remarks at an event hosted by the Center for a New American Security, a policy think tank, in conjunction with a study by the center on improving the way military officers are trained, evaluated and promoted.

“The U.S. military must develop a model that trains and educates officers for the complex interactions of the current threat environment while being agile and versatile enough to adapt to a swiftly changing world beyond,” contributors John Nagl and Brian Burton wrote in the CNAS study published ahead of yesterday’s panel discussion. Mattis underscored the importance of complementing experience operating as part of a coalition on a battlefield with study of history and wars of the past.

“Through education built on an understanding of history and through experience gained on joint coalition operations, and probably commencing earlier in officers’ careers,” he said, “we can create an officer corps at ease with complex joint and coalition operations.”

Mattis stressed the need for a new “strategic reawakening” among military officers, making an apparent reference to the design in place before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

“By setting the problem first and spending a lot of time up front getting it right, you don’t invade a country, pull the statue down and say, ‘Now what do I do?’” he said, in an allusion to the iconic image of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein’s likeness being pulled down by a U.S. military recovery vehicle.

Focusing on the culture of the senior military officer corps, Mattis bemoaned that senior-ranking military members aren’t allowed ample time to reflect critically on important issues.

“I believe the single primary deficiency among senior U.S. officers today is the lack of opportunity for reflective thought,” he said. “We need disciplined and unregimented thinking officers who think critically when the chips are down and the veneer of civilization is rubbed off — seeing the world for what it is, comfortable with uncertainty and life’s inherent contradictions and able to reconcile war’s grim realities with human aspirations.”

First thoughts are that the mind is more like a rubber band – you can stretch it open but if you don’t maintain the tension, it will snap shut again; and as I said in the previous item, there are places like Ft Leavenworth that are already well down this path…

Accepting risk

Who hasn’t heard this answer to a curly question “We’ll carry the risk“? Yeah, that’s nice but who’ll be accepting the responsibility?


This is the first in a series that will progress throughout 2010. The idea comes from Dean at Travels with Shiloh who has invited a group of commentators to discuss the twelve questions asked in this article Changing Homeland Security: Twelve Questions From 2009 from the Homeland Security Affairs Journal (HSAJ). Yours truly is one of those privileged to be invited to contribute to this discussion.

The first question is Why is it so difficult to make risk-based decisions in homeland security? Other contributions on this question so far are:

Risk based decisions in homeland security issues

I’ve been working on this for over a week and, to be honest, have really struggled with it. What follows is still tortorously prolonged but I’ve left it ‘as is’ to show the process by which I got to the answer. In a couple of weeks, I will rework it into something a little more coherent.

Defining the question

Before launching into discussion on the topic at hand, I first thought it would be an idea to define my interpretation of the terms in the question.

  • Difficult is the opposite of easy although it may be more correct to swap out ‘difficult’ for ‘simple’ and the degree of difficulty is directly linked to the level of complexity now common in such equations.
  • I cast the net pretty wide to define risk-based decisions. Although there were few, if any, military or HLS examples in first 100 hits when I searched ‘risk-based decisions’ on Bing; the most common seemed to those relating to auditing, insurance, health and event management. There was enough material there for me to comfortable with the R = T x V x C; Risk is the product of Threat, Vulnerability, and Consequence equation in the original HSAJ article.
  • Homeland Security is very much a US term with specific definition, membership and connotations. For our more global audience, I am using ‘HLS’ as the collective grouping of domestic, i.e. non-expeditionary,  military, security, intelligence, law enforcement, and emergency management agencies. I don’t believe that the establishment or not of an overarching agency like HLS affects the decision making process either way.

The Question

My first thought is whether it is actually difficult or, as implied in the question, if it is correct that risk-based decisions are not being made in homeland security. I would argue that they actually are, across our nations, thousands and thousands of them daily.

One approach I have found very useful when working through issues relating to the Contemporary Operating Environment (COE) by establishing a comparison with the more traditional and conventional environment that many of us are still more comfortable with or in.

If we were gearing up for yet another defence of the Fulda Gap at the operational level or even analysing intentions at the state on state level, such assessments are relatively simple and we still get them wrong with monotonous regularity, as Argentina found soon after taking Port Stanley in 1982, and Saddam found after reclaiming Kuwait in 1990. Characteristics of assessments at this level and in this environment might include:

  • Limited number and type of threats.
  • Gradual build-up and lead-in indicators.
  • Motivators/catalysts are usually understood strategies, policies and philosophies.
  • Most players are known values.
  • Big hands, big arrows, small maps.
  • Platform-based i.e focused on tracking ships, units, and formed groups; less focus on personality than major capability.
  • Unified organisations on both sides.
  • Geographic areas and boundaries are well defined.
  • The three organisational functions/groups derived from Clausewitz (people, leadership, action arm) are clearly defined and visible.

‘Simple’ as used in the paragraph above does not necessarily mean easy, just less complex in comparison to today’s environment.

Compare then this model against that faced in the HLS environment. The most obvious change is that we now need to track individuals a la the Scheiern model, not just those that we know might be players or even those who might be, but also those who might just have had a bad day, or just have had ‘enough’. The most recent example of this might be the shootings in Ft Hood and Seattle last year. Although some commentators immediately heralded the Ft Hood incident as the beginning of a domestic 4GW campaign, there has been no evidence to support such claims. Both incidents instead are illustrative of both the unpredictable and micro natures of the domestic environment.

HLS organisations are also not formed and formal organisations like the DoD, NATO, or even the Warsaw Pact. At best it is a bureaucratic umbrella sitting over a diverse collection of agencies all with their own priorities and outputs, and generally very tactically focused. Certainly there is not the same degree, not even a hint thereof, of the command and control arrangements to be found in a single agency in its own right or a large organisation like the DoD with defined roles and responsibilities

Mix in with this nature’s fickleness, for example, earthquakes in Haiti, bush fires in Australia and snow in the Washington DC area. Although the probablity of such incidents is a given, assessment of incidence and severity leans more to the arcane than the scientific: for now, Poughkeepsie Phil probably remains our best indicator for seasonal change.

To use a household analogy, you used to have three dogs and a couple of cats that normally got on with each other. The causes of discord were well-known and it wasn’t too much of a task to prevent major conflict. Then Great Aunt Anastasia dies and left you her ant farm and  ‘tame’ wasp hive; for various reasons, and as tempting as it is at times, investing in a couple of gallons of Raid is not a socially acceptable option. You’re stuck with it. You’re not impressed, the dogs and the cats aren’t impressed, and most likely the ants and wasps aren’t that thrilled either. Oh, and the boiler’s sprung a leak, taxes have just gone up, and old Mrs Grey next door has just lopped off her leg with a chainsaw. Welcome to the world of homeland security – please start your risk-based decision-making process HERE.

HLS as an entity will always find it difficult at best to conduct risk assessment as we and Third Shock Army (8th Guards for some folk) understand them from the Fulda Gap. But that is not to say that risk based assessment does not occur daily across the spectrum of homeland defence in law enforcement, emergency response, security and intelligence fields. I doubt that there are any agencies under the homeland security umbrella where the staff just sit back, bite into another donut, sip on their lattes and just wait around for something to happen. Just because it doesn’t happen in the comfortable macro format that many of us are used to, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen…it just happens at the micro level necessary for these agencies to fulfill their primary roles

At that’s the thing, most homeland security agencies have local or regional responsibilities and meeting these is their main priority. Unlike perhaps military organisations which generally devote a reasonably large proportion of time and resources to things that might happen, most HLS agencies are fully committed to meeting real-time outputs like catching bad guys, saving lives, fighting fires and rescuing kittens (think that last one isn’t important? – try telling that to old Mrs Smyth and still keep ‘the people’ on side). Most of them do this well.

Their world may be too complex for precise prediction but something else they also do well is respond. Within those contingencies that they know from past experience are most likely, these agencies can and do turn out and perform credibly thousands of time every day…and against these contingencies there is quite robust risk-based assessment and decision-making…why do police surge for New Years Eve activities, firejumpers have winter leave and paramedics specific tools and treatments over others? These people think, with some justification, that they are quite good at such decisions within their respective areas of expertise and responsibility.

Where they are weaker perhaps in in working and interfacing with each other beyond local relationships, especially where there may be issues of command and control or jurisdiction. HLS is never going to be the uber-C2 construct that DoD is – I think that FEMA perhaps tried this and we all saw how well that worked. Where HLS might begin to add real value is in championing the interoperability cause and facilitating communications, cultural awareness and information sharing between agencies.

An interesting insight from the 2004 Manawatu flooding (look it up – it made the top ten natural disaster list for the year) is that the civil defence plan went out the window only 30 seconds after the state of emergency was declared. BUT the value of the plan was in the planning; in bringing the various agencies together prior so that at least key staff had met, there was a general awareness of potential resources, and an awareness of issues from other perspectives. We saw the same again when the Mt Ruapehu lahar (finally) went in 2007. The event itself was almost anticlimatic because all the agencies involved (none of whom could agree on the probability or severity of the lahar happening) had been required to hammer out their difference and develop a collective response to the threat.

Where risk-based decisions really are difficult in HLS is on the terrorism side of the house. This won’t be news to Europeans, most of whom have endured domestic and/or third-party terrorist acts on their territory for decades. Terrorism itself is still subject to the same variables of complexity and uncertainty found across the HLS functional spectrum. What changes with terrorism is the false assumption that terrorist attacks can be prevented and the resulting pressure upon to HLS make this so. King Canute might offer some topical observations on this after his seashore experiments went wrong.

The Answer

The R = T x V x C equation for risk-based decision making is of little value so long the only acceptable answer is zero. Risk based decisions are made thousands of times every day in HLS – we’re just not interested in the answers. Perhaps the question that should have been asked is not Why is it so difficult to make risk-based decisions in homeland security? but When will we learn to accept risk in HLS?

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….

Credit where credit’s due

The Strategist has really made a job of his rethink of that chap Lind’s 4GW idea and come up with a really robust and supportable model that he has called ‘cohorts of war‘. Not to steal any of Peter’s well-deserved thunder, but for purposes of enlightenment a cohort is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as:

  • an ancient Roman military unit
  • a band of warriors
  • persons banded or grouped together, esp. in a common cause

Works for me…I’m not so sure about the links to the Rand papers on swarming that are referred to in some of the comments but will, of course, withhold judgement until I have had a chance to read them…

I do feel though that the Fifth Cohort does need a little more polishing as I think that the key binding  relationship is one of profession, guild almost; and that, depending on their structure and motivation, insurgent groups can be fitted comfortably into one of the other cohorts. Still, well done that man, and I hope to see many references back to this model in the next months and years…

More on the 4GW scam…

…I don’t think The Strategist is a fan either…he has run two articles already, with the promise of a third tomorrow, also critical on this scam:

Roots – the origin of “generations of war”

On the bullshit of “generations of war”

So it’s not just me, although maybe it is a Kiwi thing to pass comment on the Emperor’s new wardrobe?

Anyway, have a read of Peter’s posts and the follow-on comments and please contribute to the discussion regardless of where you sit on this charlatanism. For those who are unsure what the 4GW model is, this is direct from The Strategist:

  • 1st generation (1GW): the massing of musket-equipped troops on the battlefield, in line and column formations – essentially the way people fought at Austerlitz and Waterloo during the Napoleonic wars.
  • 2nd generation (2GW): the linear concentration of firepower (artillery, machine guns etc) against fixed defences and mass troop formations – essentially the way people fought at the Somme and Passchendaele during the First World War.
  • 3rd generation (3GW): the use of manoeuvre to break through weak points and collapse enemy defences from behind – exemplified by the German invasion of France and Belgium in May/June 1940.

I agree with Peter’s comments and personally far prefer the Toffler’s Wave model (no relation to JB’s Wave model!) which covers societies as opposed to forms of war. From memory, the waves are:

  • First Wave. Tribal, not much more than every man/group for themselves. Sound like any current theatres of war you may know?
  • Second Wave. Society organised into what we might now recognise as states.
  • Third Wave. The full harnessing of society to support national aims and objectives, industrialisation.
  • Fourth Wave. Nichism (no relation to dead German philosophers!). Society transforms into groups that adapt and evolve according to need and opportunity.

If that isn’t the Toffler Wave model or close to it, then it must be my model – please remember you saw it here first….

Unlike the Toffler Waves, which love ’em or hate ’em, are still the result of some pretty heavy duty intellectual effort, the Lind 4GW (I keep typing it as ‘$GW’ – is my subconscious trying to tell me something?) is based upon logic that would get tossed out of a Fifth Form History class (I enjoyed 5th Form History – it was so much more interesting than later classes even though I appreciate the exposure to pre-20C history as a foundation for later life). I suspect that the primary motivator for it was ‘publish or perish’.

I’ll wait for Peter’s third 4GW post tomorrow before commenting any further on Mr Lind’s little scam…I am sorry if I sound just a little wound up about this 4GW thing but Lind’s attempt to twist what happened at Ft Hood to support his weak hypothesis is sordid and cheap – oh, yes, and jack too…

While YOU were sleeping…

Amir stirred at his post and sat up…he always hated this last stint before Salatu-l-Fajr…with the Americans, bad things always seemed to happen when it was dark. All the faith in the kingdom couldn’t overcome their cursed technology.

A faint rumbling filtered through the mist. Probably the brothers in the next valley getting a bounding from NATO aircraft again – he hated the German Tornados with their time-expired MW-1s that scattered a deadly rain over the fields for a kilometre or more. A intermittent groaning rose through the rumbling – it sounded nearer. That, whatever that was, wasn’t in another valley, it was here!

He should wake the others but what would he say? What if it were only the wind – they would laugh at him and make him do more sentries, like the time he had mistaken chickens for soldiers crawling towards their position. He squinted thought he could make out a dim shape, or was it just a shadow? There, again!

A squat shape emerged from the mist, carrying the distinctive H antenna of the New Zealanders. Had they deployed a new secret weapon? Over the sandy camouflage, he could barely make out a word stencilled on the hull: What in Allah’s name was Interbella? A head that could have come off a Roman coin 2000 years ago emerged from a hatch. The devil El Josh! He had heard whispers of this wily foe from the elders but it looked like that day had come….

The Kiwis had deployed their Think Tank…

In a war of ideas and ideologies you have to come to the party armed. There is also no monopoly on good ideas and the US Army in particular has realised this. As a result it was a Kiwi conducting an online presentation to a COIN Center audience at 0300 this morning…the topic? An alternative method of considering issues and influences in the complex environment we now live in…

It’s name? Interbella…

And now the embarrassing bit – I’m in Singapore at the moment and have just realised that I brought the wrong flash drive with me so don’t have a copy of the presentation to post here – will fix this as soon as I can get a new copy sent up…