Fourth Generation War — Was I Wrong?

When I proclaimed the death of 4GW in this very blog about a year ago? Of course not. But there are disturbing developments, at least in its decline-of-the-state/road-warrior variant (aka, the Bill Lind definition).

Did you know, for example, that groups espousing an ultra-orthodox salafist interpretation of Islam, those iconic 4GW warriors we call “al-Qa’ida,” now control an area larger than that of the United Kingdom? This zone includes much of western Iraq and eastern Syria. It’s worth reminding ourselves that before March 2003, they controlled exactly none of this (or any other) territory. Patrick Cockburn offers his explanation of how we got ourselves into this mess in “Al-Qa’ida’s second act,” a five-part series in The Independent. Continue reading

Another ring?

John Boyd really liked Miyamoto Musashi’s 1645 treatise on swordfighting, A Book of Five Rings. In that same vein, he was a big fan of The Japanese Art of War by Thomas Cleary, a work that includes excerpts from Musashi and quotes from several other samurai and Zen masters of that period. Both of these books emphasize preparing an opponent mentally before risking an attack, a theme that also runs through Sun Tzu and that forms the foundation for much of Boyd’s Discourse.

As an aside, the parallels between fencing and dueling in the skies over southern Nevada are too close to ignore.

It’s always good, then, to receive a paper by someone who knows both fencing and Boyd. Here’s a new one for you, Nick Johnson’s “Boyd’s Real OODA Loop and Fencing,” which I’ve uploaded to the Articles page.

Boyd for Business & Innovation — Final Report

Chuck Spinney explaining some obtuse point about the OODA loop

Chuck Spinney explaining some obtuse point about the OODA loop

After my presentation, retired Marine Colonel Mike Wyly joined us from Maine via Skype to relate how the Marine Corps adopted the doctrine of maneuver warfare. Mike gave us a blow-by-blow description of a process in which he played a major role. Successful doctrinal changes by large organizations are rare: If you are the CEO of an organization considering such a change, you could do a lot worse than spending some time with Mike. His paper, “Thinking Like Marines,” is conveniently available on the Articles page. Following Mike, Sean Bone, co-founder of Adaptive Leader, demonstrated tactical decision games (TDGs) they use for training leaders in mental agility and timely decision-making under conditions of stress and uncertainty. This is real-world, practical stuff that I’m sure will be a great help to many of the participants.

Finally, for a successful implementation of Boyd’s ideas in business, Dean Lenane, then-CEO of CRH North America, described how he and his small team built CRH from no presence in the US market to a major player in their industry, explicitly using the principles of Boyd’s Discourse. Absolutely fascinating. Dean has written a thinly disguised novelization of one episode in this adventure, The Turnaround, which you can (and should!) also download from the Articles page. Continue reading

Boyd for Business & Innovation — 2

Before I forget, Chuck Spinney made a point about the OODA loop that bears repeating: Boyd did not want to draw the thing! In fact, he didn’t, until the penultimate chart in his very last briefing, less than a couple of years before he died.

Why not? Probably because he was afraid any “loop” he drew would become dogma, a reasonable assumption. Chuck finally persuaded him by using the logic that if he didn’t, others would. Most likely the circular O – O – D – A loop would become fixed in people’s minds. So Boyd agreed, but he insisted on calling it an OODA loop “sketch,” and putting “Loop” in quotes.

If you look at that briefing, the purpose of “OODA loops” (not “the OODA loop”) is simply to represent the process of evolving new implicit repertoire. Now, that’s a big purpose because our ability to survive on our own terms and increase our capacity for independent action rests solidly upon it. But it also suggests that people can create other OODA loops that serve their purpose better than Boyd’s sketch, at least in specific instances. All I ask is don’t make them more complicated than what we already have.

I have uploaded my presentation, slightly edited, to the Articles page. It’s a 3.1 MB PDF, and each element of each animation is saved as a separate slide, so don’t let the number of slides put you off. You can also download all of Boyd’s briefings, including the one we were just discussing, The Essence of Winning and Losing, from that page.

Defeated by our own technology?

Paul Lewandowski suggests so in a recent blog on ForeignPolicy.com (registration required):

Insurgent techniques became simpler, low-tech. Military-grade munitions gave way to homemade explosives. Cell phone detonators regressed back to command wire. Suicide bombers and insurgents disguised as Afghan army or police proved more efficient than complex, electronic IEDs or expensive VBIEDs. After nearly 13 years of war, the terrorists have learned that the best counter to a techno-savvy force is simplicity.

While this is certainly true, another, perhaps better way to characterize what’s happening is that the Taliban, al-Shabab and others confronting Western military forces aren’t so much out-innovating us as out-learning us. In other words, they aren’t coming up with better and simpler technology to counter ours. Instead, they’ve just stopped playing that game entirely. What’s most interesting is that they’re getting away with it, that is, they’ve found another game to play that works better.

As Lewandowski notes, what they’ve done is return to the roots of insurgency:

deeply embedded in the local culture, regional in focus, and urban in operation. The new insurgent will be so low tech he will be virtually untraceable. Another face in a sea of faces.

Compare with Boyd’s description of guerrilla warfare:

  • Guerrillas must establish implicit connections or bonds with people and countryside.
  • In other words, guerrillas must be able to blend into the emotional-cultural-intellectual environment of people until they become one with the people.
  • In this sense, people feelings and thoughts must be guerrilla feeling and thoughts while guerrilla feelings and thoughts become people feelings and thoughts; people aspirations must be guerrilla aspirations while guerrilla aspirations become people aspirations; people goals must be guerrilla goals while guerrilla goals become people goals.
  • Result: Guerrillas become indistinguishable from people while government is isolated from people. (Patterns 95)

Or, as Lewandowski puts it:

The counterinsurgent could see them walking to their target, weapon in hand, and never register him as a threat … The counterinsurgent can’t tap into the local, informal network the way the insurgent can. No one talks to the uniformed government official, but everyone talks to their neighbor.

And that’s the real problem. Until “counterinsurgents” solve that one, all the technological innovation in the world is just expensive wheel spinning. Another example of incestuous amplification.

Competition Rules

A little double entendre to start your Thursday.

First, an op-ed by Jacques Gansler in the NYT, “To Save on Defense, Hire Rivals.”

If monopolies are created in a quest for short-term savings, taxpayers eventually pay more and our country is less safe.

This is a favorite theme of mine, expressed as “If you can’t afford two suppliers, you certainly can’t afford one.” The question would be, “Who really wants to save on defense?”

And then there’s a short piece on LinkedIn by David Edelman on a favorite theme of Boyd’s, “Don’t be ruled by rules.”

And in a world of rule-based contacts, there is still important space that needs to be made for two people just being allowed to discuss a customer’s need and develop a solution. No one likes to sit through a canned set of questions when they agree to enter a chat window on a site or when they call a representative. We want a human, free-flow interaction. Many clients of ours have actually found that they resolve issues faster on the first round, cut call times, and have happier customers when they loosen the rules and give smart reps more leeway.

Slavishly following rules makes you predictable. This can be fatal in a conflict, and boring, and hence also fatal, in sales & marketing. It’s worth noting that a lot of this argument goes away if you replace most of your rules with an EBFAS-type culture.

I’m off to the Boyd conference in San Diego. More on that as it happens.

Can America Win Wars?

The answer, according to Andrew Bacevich in a new LA Times op-ed, is a clear “No.” He writes:

Confusing capability with utility, the United States knows how to start wars but has seemingly forgotten how to conclude them. Yet concluding war on favorable terms — a concept formerly known as victory — is the object of the exercise. For the United States, victory has become a lost art.

While it’s impossible to argue with the facts — Fallujah, for example, has been captured by forces connected to al-Qa’ida, an organization that didn’t exist in Iraq until after our invasion — the good colonel is wrong in his conclusion that we lost a war in Iraq. The war in Iraq was handily won in a three-week campaign ending with the capture of Baghdad in April 2003. What happened next, and what we lost, was the occupation.

We shouldn’t feel too badly about this. Since the end of WW II, successful occupations are few indeed. The only one that springs to mind is the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and that’s a chapter still being written. The Soviet Union, with force and brutality at its disposal that we could only dream about in Iraq, failed to hold Eastern Europe, for example.

The problem with using the war metaphor where it doesn’t apply shows up in Bachevich’s recommendations, in which he wants to conduct war, just do it in a smarter way:

Take force off the metaphorical table to which policymakers regularly refer. Rather than categorizing violence as a preferred option, revive the tradition of treating it as a last resort. Then get serious about evaluating the potential for employing alternative forms of power, chiefly economic and cultural, to advance American interests.

As an alternative, how about using American power to further American interests here at home? I’m thinking of things like our expensive but statistically mediocre health care system, fading economic prospects for the middle class, ballooning (and profitable) population in privately run prisons, crushing student debt, and exploding pension obligations in many of our states and municipalities?

For more on the difficulty of holding on to conquered populations in this day and age, I recommend Martin van Creveld’s The Changing Face of War (Presidio, 2006).

Adaptive leadership in law enforcement

Don Vandergriff and Fred Leland have published their new book for law enforcement: Adaptive Leadership Handbook – Law Enforcement & Security: Innovative Ways to Teach and Develop Your People (Volume 1).

From the book’s description on Amazon:

A practical handbook to develop adaptive thinking and leadership abilities in those on the bleeding edge of today’s law enforcement and security challenges. With techniques and methodologies proven over years of real-world application, this book will bring to life “how to think” under stressful, ambiguous and often dangerous circumstances. By improving the speed and accuracy of your decision-making and problem solving, you can adapt and respond effectively to any situation.

Vandergriff: Selfless vs. Selfish Service

Here’s a guest editorial by my friend and colleague, Don Vandergriff. Consider it my Christmas present to you all.

Chet


I read MG Bob Scales’s piece on Anton Myrer’s wonderful novel Once an Eagle in Tom Ricks blog “The Best Defense.” I wholeheartily disagree with his assessment. Despite his recommendation to do away with it, it is necessary and should be a mandatory book for all cadets to read regardless of commissioning source! In sum, Scales (and Ricks) interprets the whole book as a command-vs-staff conflict. It is not, as I point out in the review below. The first thing someone has to do to understand this, though, is to read Myrer’s 1200 pages (I have done it twice in 13 years). Then, they must understand the evils of self-serving careerism pitted against the honorable selfless service that the services all claim they promote Their incentives, however, all work the other way.

While it is a nice fantasy to believe that MG Bob Scales (ret.) has had such an impact on COLs and LTCs at the War College, the Army culture from the time right after WWII, but institutionalized in Vietnam, had already set a course of self-serving careerism (Once an Eagle was published in 1969). It is a route toward rampant careerism based on out-of-date assumptions on ambition and talent management drawn from new Human Resource theories developed in the Progressive age, codified in the wave of emerging theories written in the 20s and 30s, and later taught in the leading business schools to the new captains serving in HR (now AG) after WWII. Anton Myrer’s insights toward this trend are remarkable given the time he was writing this and based on his own service in WWII; but he also saw the reflecting trends in American society going this way (and unfortunately continuing today).

Again, why I laugh at all the people that say there is such a cultural gap between US society and the military — there is not one. We are reflective of the emerging values of today’s society’s focus on the new values system of money, things, and time. Anton Myrer points out in vivid detail in many of the non-military scenes that he puts Sam Damon through in the interwar years and his conflict of getting out, at the constant demand of his wife Tommy Damon, in order to ride the wave of greed in the 20s! Damon (Myrer) sees the shallowness in this trend, which by the way is appearing again today, but even worse as the kings of the big banks and Wall Street (while using their political cronies to pave the way) simply rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic (to buy an additional 7th home at the expense of everyone else). They know it, the data is there, and they are still doing it, while using our own elective officials to do it (and I am a libertarian, hating both parties). Despite countless opportunities to ride this way, Damon refuses, because the honor of leading soldiers and serving them and the nation he believes in always draws him back.

Additionally, the book’s focus is at the heart of selfless-serving versus selfish-serving. It has little to do with command vs staff, except only as a vehicle to demonstrate the former conflict. Courtney Massingale seeks the most prominent staff and command positions, always on someone’s coat tails, to avoid the responsibility of having to make the risky decisions when leading and commanding soldiers (regardless of branch type) at any level unless and until it only serves him (Corps Command in the Pacific in late 44 when the war is already decided and the ability to gain all the glory while avoiding the hazards of the frontlines).

In reverse, Sam Damon always does seek these tough assignments, but as you read the bylines, the system is not rewarding of this (so the lesson taken away can have the opposite effect that he, Scales, claims it has). Damon is constantly viewed by the Army establishment as a maverick and is only put in regimental and division command in the worse place possible, New Guinea northern coast in late 42/43 (Read the book America’s First Battles on the disastrous campaign there) out of desperation and because no one else of prominence wanted it. The chosen ones are all trying to go to Europe to serve in the real war with Nazi Germany. Also, Courtney serves in many aide-de-camp and executive officer for GO positions as well. Another prominent step to the top today.

No, data and research have shown that the value sets of most officers toward service or selfish service are set in stone by the time they reach the War College. This book will have little or no impact on anyone other than confirm their own deep seated feelings on who they really are or have become. When asked about this book in 2012 by the CG of Cadet Command for continual reading by cadets, I said “YES!” it needs to be, there is still a chance to mold these aspiring leaders before being corrupted by our own personnel system.


As with so much of Don’s work, these comments apply not just to the military but to any large bureaucratic organization.

Formlessness in space and time

In chapter six of the Sun Tzu text, we read:

Therefore, when you induce others to construct a formation while you yourself are formless, then you are concentrated while the opponent is divided. (Cleary trans., p. 106)

Boyd loved this concept. He called it the principle of dispersion, parodying the Army’s emphasis on concentration. The idea is that the opponent has to be on guard everywhere, while you know what you’re doing. Boyd took it even further: You can disperse not only in space, but combine it with dispersion in time, so that the opponent cannot recover from the first attack before the second is upon him. And the third. And the fourth. Think of how you reacted the last time things started happening faster than you could cope. Against a linear formation, you don’t need every attack to succeed. Often one will be enough, if it can penetrate and cause the opponent’s formation to begin to collapse. The next group of forces streaming in can complete the job. Boyd called this “operating inside the OODA loop.”

Where else do we see formations? How about football? What would Boyd’s principle of dispersion / operating inside the OODA loop look like there? For a great example, check out “Ditka vs. Ryan: The Feud That Fueled the ’85 Chicago Bears” (in the print edition as “Hate, Jealousy, and Da Bears,” p. D10) by Rich Cohen in Friday’s Wall St. J. (paywall). This should give you the idea:

“As organized and experienced as that group of players were from the Chargers, they’d seen nothing like it,” [Chicago safety Doug] Plank said. “Mad dogs. Wild men. Coming from every side. A jail break. By the end, Dan Fouts did not know where to look: Should he try to find the open man downfield, or should he simply brace for impact?”

It was this confusion, planted in the mind of the quarterback, that made the 46 [the Bears' code name for this type of defense] hum.

When briefing the section of Patterns of Conflict that deals with Clausewitz and Jomini, Boyd would critique these guys for their emphasis on order. He usually told the story of how despite this obsession, Jomini almost discovered the idea of operating inside the OODA loop. Jomini had written of a cavalry attack, where the usual tight formation broke down, and in the resulting confusion, the attackers broke through and won. Jomini concluded that the attack had succeeded in spite of the breakdown in the formation. Boyd said, “No! It succeeded because of it.” The Union attack on Missionary Ridge, November 25, 1863, is another example. In each of these cases (and many others) there was confusion, and one side could exploit it before the other could figure out what was happening.

So it isn’t that there is a balance or trade-off between structure / form and agility / formlessness. Formlessness, as the Sun Tzu text insists, creates its own form, and as Boyd noted, this often happens in time as well as in space.

Incidentally, the idea that only one attack has to succeed also carries over into football. Here’s Plank again:

“Football is chess,” Plank said. “You can capture all my pawns, but if I tip over that king [the opposing quarterback], I win.”

[By this way, perhaps this will answer the question of why Ender's Game is so popular among the maneuver warfare crowd.]