French General Challenges Military Transformation  Annotated

tags: ncw, transformation

  • Oh look, like so many "experts" in the U.S. defense community, the French do not seem to "get" transformation or network-centric warfare either.  It’s a pattern in military thought that I have noticed over and over and over again in my research into the role of science and technology in U.S. military thought over the last century.  Important debates are quite often based in ignorance, legitimate or willful, with critics attacking "straw man" positions instead of the positions actually articulated by their opponents.

    In the U.S. recently, this has included persistent misunderstanding of network-centric warfare, transformation, what each is and how they relate to one another.  Instead, critics continue to attack straw man versions of each that have little or nothing to do with either.  This is not to say that NCW and/or transformation are beyond criticism or are perfect.  It is to say that we cannot criticize them if we do not, in fact, know what they are!
     – post by TransTracker

A new book by a serving French Army general argues that military transformation is largely irrelevant to future conflicts, which are likely to be waged against irregular fighters in cities, and in which adaptability, not planning, will deliver the political prize of stability.
  • Wait, how is the identification and adoption of ideas, technologies, and organizational structures meant to allow information sharing and adaptation (a.k.a. transformation) irrelevant to fighting irregulars in cities or to adaptation? – post by TransTracker
“There has been a disconnect between the military effect and political effect,” said Desportes
  • Right. Which is why NCW theorists are always talking about "effects-based operations." – post by TransTracker
He argues that the U.S. focus on weapon technology and operating tempo have led to confusion over means and ends.
  • While I agree that the focus on "tempo" or "speed" for its own sake can and has sometimes led to what I call the "back-flipping chihuahua syndrome," the idea that acting quicker relative to the adversary is still essential. Next, NCW cannot be said to have been focused on WEAPON technology as much as on INFORMATION and/or NETWORK technology, which is not necessarily the same. Which explains some of the criticism: it’s harder to visualize and sell a network to soldiers or Congressmen than it is to visualize and sell a tank or an airplane. – post by TransTracker
Moreover, the Army has warned the Joint Chiefs of Staff risks losing “operational coherence” if spending continues weak. The concern is that money is to be diverted into big platform programs.
  • Well, if the French effort at transformation is leading to "money being diverted into big platform programs" then this is further evidence that they didn’t get it. NCW and transformation advocates argued AGAINST being "platform-centric" in procurement. – post by TransTracker
He argues that sending small expeditionary forces that sought lightning victories delivered instead the continued crisis in Afghanistan and the calamitous aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
  • And what would heavy, non-expeditionary forces that were unable to reach Afghanistan or Iraq in a timely manner have delivered? – post by TransTracker
The Lebanon war showed the Israeli high-tech approach to be inadequate against an agile and inventive Hizbollah, which refused to engage in ways that would have given the advantage to the Israeli Army, expert in network-centric warfare.
  • The problem was not the technology but the strategy. The assumption here, which underlies so much military thought (including, unfortunately, much of NCW), is that the technology determines the tactics and strategy. Technological determinism in NCW is a little more forgivable because it assumes that flexible or adaptive technologies lead to flexible or adaptive forces. At least there is the willingness to admit that technologies can be flexible, an assumption that is typically missing in these kind of critiques, as it is here. However, it is still deterministic. It is possible for a force to use flexible technologies in rigid and unimaginative ways. Might it be that this was Israel’s problem? – post by TransTracker
Desportes says an excessive reliance on transformation, which puts a premium on destructive technology over manpower, is the equivalent of the Maginot line, the static defense that failed to protect France from German invasion in 1940.
  • Oh. Good. Lord. This argument again?!?!? This was a favorite of the military reform crowd in the U.S. in the late 1970s: The U.S./NATO strategy of forward defense which relied on firepower and attrition is a "Maginot mentality." First, "transformation" is not a tactic or a strategy. Transformation is a set of policies meant to implement a set of tactics and a strategy known as network-centric warfare. And NCW does not focus on destruction; nor does it advocate being static. Rather, it focuses on information to promote greater situational awareness so that forces can use destructive force more judiciously and precisely, and so that forces can disperse and move. NCW is about information and movement, not destruction and stasis. – post by TransTracker
But in Desportes’ view, future wars will be against an enemy that seeks to outflank the Western technical and industrial armory. That undercuts the effectiveness of the transformation effort
  • Just because they will seek to "outflank" our technical capability does not mean that we should abandon technology. Let me see…we can prevent them from outflanking our technology by not developing our technology? Does that make sense? of course not. Any worthy adversary, potential or actual, will try to "outflank" our technology. The appropriate response is not a static, "Maginot mentality" where tech is concerned, but rather, to just keep moving….hopefully forward. – post by TransTracker
Transformation has been ineffective against nonstate entities like the Taliban, now fighting from caves, insurgents triggering roadside bombs in Iraq and suicide bombers. In Afghanistan, small groups of combatants avoid attacking in open ground.
  • Transformation is NOT strategy or tactics!!! It makes no sense to say that "Transformation has not been effective against nonstate entities." Transformation is about implementing NCW. It could make sense to say that NCW has been ineffective against nonstate actors, but not transformation. Next, NCW has had a great deal of success, especially ially in Afghanistan. The appropriate question is, "Would armor-heavy, Cold-War era forces have fared better against nonstate actors?" No. NCW compared to some sort of ideal or perfect force completely optimized for irregular warfare might not stack up. But we don’t have that force. We have what we have, and we had what we had. And what we have is probably more appropriate for what we’re doing than what we had would have been! Yep. It’s confusing. But sometimes life is confusing. But if we engage our brains we can figure it out. – post by TransTracker
Thus, while precision-strike weapons are necessary, they are insufficient to winning the war
  • Yep. And no one would argue against that. But admitting that they are NECESSARY is not a logical basis for argue that we should ignore them! Too many times the argument that I find in military discourse is that if something is not sufficient but merely necessary, then it is unnecessary. Necessary = unnecessary. Yeah. Illogical. I know. News flash: No one thing will ever be sufficient!! It’s all only necessary. That means that you have to think about more than one thing at a time and make tough decisions and trade-offs. – post by TransTracker
Technology is useful, but troops must be able to fight without sophisticated networks, because such systems are vulnerable to cyber attacks.
  • So then, I guess the best way to ensure that they know how to fight without a network is to not give them a network in the first place? That’s like saying that because my car might break down I should just forget about the car and ride a bike. Of course, my bike could break too. So, I guess the best thing to do would be to just walk. Because bad things might happen in life, we should just not try really. Yeah. That sounds like a great plan. Agreed: soldiers need to know how to fight minus their network…or their tanks….or their guns…or… X. But that does not mean we should not give them a network…..or tanks….or guns….or… X in the first place!  – post by TransTracker
a network-centric Army is one that is geared to destruction, and therefore counterproductive in the strategic sense
  • It CAN but must not NECESSARILY be geared towards destruction. How are information sharing and greater situational awareness NECESSARILY all about destruction? They are not. They can benefit any kind of force, destruction oriented or not. – post by TransTracker
Rather than putting faith in planning, troops need to be adaptable, taking hits and responding quickly to new situations, he said.
  • No kidding? Really? Adaptation and acting quickly is important? HAVE YOU READ ANY OF THE NCW LITERATURE?!?!!? That’s what it’s all about!! BUT…didn’t you just tell us at the beginning that we have focused too much on acting quickly?? So which is it? Act quickly or not? And how will soldiers be adaptable and quick if they don’t have the capability to share information and situational awareness? – post by TransTracker
The government needs to be able to buy in small batches and off the shelf, rather than be locked into long production runs.
  • Again….DO YOUR HOMEWORK!! This is exactly what transformation advocates have called for! – post by TransTracker
Because French troops have not been in front-line combat operations, they have not been able to buy new armored vehicles as the Germans and British have, he said.
The Army needs helicopters
Army numbers are an issue
There are calls for UAVs and satellites, but the question, he said, is, “Have we got enough soldiers?” It would be a big mistake to cut Army numbers.
  • Ah…so there’s the rub, right at the end of the article. He’s platform- and numbers-centric. He wants more money for tanks, helicopters, and soldiers, not networks to connect them all together. First, the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. Second, will the French actually spend the money for more tanks, helicopters, and soldiers? If not, then forgoing networking what you do have in favor of supporting what you don’t and won’t have does not make any sense. Networking is not meant to replace platforms and people. Rather, it is meant to make the platforms and people we do have (new or old) more capable by connecting them and allowing them to share. – post by TransTracker