Why is Vandergriff’s work an important contribution to preparing America for 21st century warfare?

Summary:  The second chapter in Donald Vandergriff week on the FM website, introducing his work to those readers not already familiar with it.  This chapter briefly sketches out why his work is critical.  People — not doctrine or technology — are the key to winning 4th generation wars (the many factors are always important, of course).  Recruiting, training, motivating, and retaining our men and women in uniform.

For one perspective on the significance of Vandergriff’s work, it helps to understand our responses to the challenge of fourth generation warfare (4GW).   Since WWII 4GW has become the dominant form of warfare, so mastery of it might prove necessary for America’s prosperity or even survival.   Our efforts to understand and solve it come in layers (this the following is an excerpt from Arrows in the Eagle’s claw – solutions to 4GW (18 November 2008):

  1. Analysts – foundation of the pyramid
  2. Visionaries — building on the analysts work
  3. Hardware — solutions of the first kind
  4. Ideas — solutions of the second kind, new ways of thinking to defeat new modes of war
  5. People — solutions of the thrid kind, moving from ideas into practice

… (5)  People — solutions of the third kind, moving from ideas into practice

The key is organizational change.  A focus on technology and ideas ignores the structural basis of present institutional behavior, giving too little attention to the methods which drive reform – and the countervailing forces which must be overcome.  Military organizations are conservative, for good reason. Change is difficult to do and its results uncertain. The cost of failure is high.

One of the few works to grapple with these issues is Challenging Transformation’s Clichés by Autulio J. Echevarria II, Strategic Studies Institute, December 2006 — Excerpt:

The first cliché is that military transformation is about changing to be better prepared for the future, as if we could somehow separate the future from our current agendas, and as if we had only one future for which to prepare. In fact, transformation is more about the present than the future.

More importantly, grasping new ideas is hardly the most difficult part of any transformation. The ideas behind Gustavus Adolphus’ reform of the Swedish military during the 17th century — which included mobile artillery and greater use of musketry — were not hard to grasp. Likewise, Napoleon’s tactical and operational innovations — which involved combining mass and firepower with self-sufficient army organizations called corps — were not difficult to understand. Nor were the concepts implemented by the German military — which stressed speed of movement and decentralized decision-making — difficult to comprehend.

In fact, the truly hard part about change is managing the change. That requires backing up vague visions and lofty goals with concrete programs that can provide meaningful resources for new roles and functions, and offering incentives or compensation packages capable of appeasing institutional interests, especially the specific interests of those groups or communities most threatened by change.

Heading the list of “people” solutions we have Donald Vandergriff.  He identified a powerful point of leverage to change the Army:  its personnel system.  For example, the Army’s individual replacement system affects not just soldiers, down to the newest recruit, but the quality of units — especially cohesion .   Even more critical is the process by which a service recruits, trains, and promotes its officers.  Change this and the effects ripple outward through the entire organization over time, as the nature and behavior of its leaders evolve. 

The Army is making changes in both these areas, responding to the ideas of Vandergriff and others.  This success puts them on the cutting edge of America’s 4GW sword.

For more about 4GW

  1. A solution to 4GW — the introduction
  2. How to get the study of 4GW in gear — About the two kinds of insurgencies
  3. Why We Lose at 4GW – the two types of 4GW
  4. Theories about 4GW are not yet like the Laws of Thermodynamics
  5. How often do insurgents win? How much time does successful COIN require?, 28 May 2008
  6. The key to success in Afghanistan: independence, 11 April 2010
  7. Max Boot: history suggests we will win in Afghanistan, with better than 50-50 odds. Here’s the real story., discussing 7 alleged victories by foreign armies fighting insurgencies (Columbia, Iraq, the Malaysian Emergency, the Philippines-American War, Northern Ireland, the Dhofar Rebellion in Oman, and the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya).
  8. A major discovery! It could change the course of US geopolitical strategy, if we’d only see it, a review of the present and past analysis of  counter-insurgency.  This could change the course of American foreign policy, if we pay attention.
  9. A look at the history of victories over insurgents. How often do foreign armies win? – About a RAND study examining the victories of foreign armies over insurgents. It holds powerful lessons for us.

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