Author Archives: don

About don

Military Historian, author of four books and 60 articles on military affairs, leadership, maneuver warfare, and the generations of war. Currently a day time employee of L-3 Communications in support of Army TRADOC, and on the side I run Maverick leadership

Leadership in action: when resource constraints meet conspicuous consumption, we just ignore the problem

Summary:  Rising population, finite resources.  Don Vandergriff asks if we have the creativity and wisdom to cope with these two colliding trends? 

“In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if, in tempestous seasons, they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.”
— John Maynard Keynes in A Tract on Monetary Reform (1923)

I don’t understand why we don’t confront these issues head on? Is that we suffer from hubris? Or, is it people are just so scared, they ignore the data? 

What pisses me off about lack of leadership on these issues, and our own arrogant ignoring the signs is that in no time in human history have we possessed the information and resources to fix problems before they get too bad. The problem is hubris, stupidity and organized religions, all of them. 

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Dragging American Military Culture into the 21st Century

Summary:  Our soldiers fight using 21st century weapons but ancient methods.  Under the stress of a decade-long and running long war against adaptive but poorly equipped enemies, our military slowly evolves from its WWI doctrines (massed firepower, 2GW), towards methods used by the Wehrmacht in WWII ( maneuver war, 3GW).  The origin of these doctrines lies in the century following Prussia’s defeat in the Napoleonic Wars.  Here Donald Vandergriff describes what’s happening and why it is necessary.

We’ll start with a look at the goal, described in this excerpt from “The Historical Linkage –  How German Captain Willy Rohr changed infantry tactics, weapons and doctrine within the World War One German Army“, by Dave Shunk (Colonel, USAF, retired), Small Wars Journal, 3 August 2010:

{This} is a remarkable story. He succeeded in his task as a result of the German Army’s ideas of operational adaptability, mission command and decentralized authority. This paper presents by historical example the basic ideas and inherent power in the Army Capstone Concept based on the German model. But first, a few Capstone Concept definitions as a baseline reference.

So what are mission command, decentralized operations and operational adaptability? According to Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Pamphlet 525-3-0, the Capstone Concept (dated 21 December 2009; Word document here):

Mission command is the conduct of military operations through decentralized execution based on mission orders. Successful mission command demands that subordinate leaders at all echelons exercise disciplined initiative, acting aggressively and independently to accomplish the mission within the commander’s intent.”  {From Operations (FM 3-0, PDF here)}

… Decentralized operations place a premium on disciplined, confident small units that can integrate joint capabilities and fight together as combined arms teams. Leaders must prepare their units to fight and adapt under conditions of uncertainty and, during the conduct of operations, must also ensure moral conduct and make critical time-sensitive decisions under pressure. Conducting effective decentralized operations will require a high degree of unit cohesion developed through tough, realistic training and shared operational experience. The Army must refine its capability to adapt training to the mission, threat, or operational environment changes while ensuring that individual and collective training fosters adaptability, initiative, and confidence.

… Operational adaptability requires a mindset based on flexibility of thought calling for leaders at all levels who are comfortable with collaborative planning and decentralized execution, have a tolerance for ambiguity, and possess the ability and willingness to make rapid adjustments according to the situation.  {It} is essential to developing situational understanding and seizing, retaining, and exploiting the initiative under a broad range of conditions. Operational adaptability is also critical to developing the coercive and persuasive skills the Army will need to assist friends, reassure and protect populations, and to identify, isolate, and defeat enemies.

So how did the Germany Army of World War One use decentralization, mission command, and operational adaptability to create infiltration tactics and revolutionize infantry tactics in World War I? The story revolves around a Captain Willy Rohr.

Vandergriff’s Analysis

Here is and has been my take about US Army application of Mission Command recently adapted by the US Army through the issuing of its Capstone Concept in December 2009, and attempted before in the 1980s through the publication of FM 100-5 (here) in 1982.

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Afghanistan war logs: Shattering the illusion of a bloodless victory

Summary:  Don Vandergriff looks at the significance of the Wikileaks documents about the Af-Pak War, borrowing the title from the Guardian article.

It is not as if the disaster described below, in the Afghan war logs released by Wikileaks to the Guardian, the New York Times , and der Spiegel, was not foreseeable.   For example, my close friend and mentor Chuck Spinney wrote an Op-ed for Defense Week in April 2001 “What Revolution in Military Affairs?”, well before we began the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  

I also told comrades about the disasters that would await us if we tried to occupy and convert Afghanistan into a democracy (trillions and years later, still no progress), and later when we invaded Iraq (and I describe in my 2002 book Path to Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs (Presidio Press)) regarding the failure of occupations by foreign armies. I prescribe to the doctrine of 3-3-3, described by William S. Lind in “An Operational Doctrine for Intervention“, Parameters, Summer 1995.

And I was hardly alone or invisible.  Readers familiar with the work of reformers Colonel John Boyd, Pierre Sprey, Colonel James Burton, Colonel Mike Wylie, Colonel GI Wilson, Colonel Bob Dilger, Bill Lind and Tom Christie, among others, will know that they have been highly visible canaries in the high-tech coal mine since the late 1960s.  For those unfamiliar with their critical analyses, I refer you to  James Fallows’ National Defense (Random House 1981), and Robert Coram’s Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War (Little Brown, 2002), or The Winds of Reform, Time (7 March 1983).

The Wikileaks about the Af-Pak War

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