2012/04/14

Strategy discussions and learning require that we get the basics right

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(The following text is a slightly modified version of a draft for an anglophone publication. The editor liked it, and asked me to add more to it, but I refused. He left me with the perception that I was supposed to cure hunger and cancer with a short article.
As far as I can tell, few readers would have followed me on the core of this article if I had added more debatable content.
The article draft was aimed at a U.S. audience and to a lesser degree at UK and Australian audience. The mentioned issues have only marginal parallels in Germany and most of continental Europe.)

Strategy discussions and learning require that we get the basics right

The foreign and especially the American military involvement in the domestic conflicts of the Iraqi people has already come to an end. The foreign -and again especially American- military involvement in the domestic conflicts of the Afghan people appears to come to an end or to switch to a lower level of involvement as well. Articles and editorials about a withdrawal or a change towards a smaller footprint – keyword "Biden plus" - are beginning to pile up quickly these days.
The time is coming when all that's left to do in regard to these conflicts is to care for the wounded veterans and to learn (and hopefully memorize) lessons.

A recent SWJ blog post titled "Mission Can't-Complete" recounted the personal experience of Mr. Evans; how he first rooted for a pro-war advisor and then learned to regret this because the hopes were simply not met, and said advisor just keeps cheerleading for more of the same.

The end of a war or even the aftermath is a horribly late date for finally paying enough attention to critical analysis and lessons learned on the political level. It would be best if mistakes were avoided by recognising bad advice before crashing with what amounts to a trial & error campaign.

The one weakness that casts the darkest clouds on the horizon is the inability to discern bad from good advice, bad from good advisors. Sadly, the tolerance for bad advisors whose only great talent is in getting attention has been way too high.

This is probably so because the think tank and media contributor system keeps such people in pay until they're almost entirely disrespected. A think tank trying to acquire funds and a TV station trying to maximise its 18-49 demographic viewership are more interested in show talent and entertainment value than in good advice. A brilliant and boring speaker won't rise high, while a brilliant attention-seeker with a track record of consistently bad advice becomes a millionaire.

The community of people who are deeply interested in national security for the purpose of security, not paychecks, should confront this with a parallel system; a system in which good and bad advice are recognised.

Consistently bad advice needs to be recognised and it needs to have decisive consequences on the pundit's chances of getting attention again.
Likewise, good advice needs to be recognised and be rewarded with attention in the future – no matter how entertaining or boring, well-connected or isolated the expert is.

For example, 33 scholars of international relations published an anti-OIF advertisement titled "War is not in America's national interest" in September 2002, all in capital letters. Few of these 33 scholars and almost no-one else who spoke out against that war of choice early on did rise to great prominence as national security pundits.

Instead, this pundit community is still riddled with people who went on TV shows and conference panels and who wrote Op-Eds with the same recurring theme; invade, add troops, do some changes in strategy, give it some more time. Rinse and repeat.
They dug a deeper and deeper hole, and the military filled it with the bodies of American troops. Yes, bad advice has consequences!

It is absolutely essential to get the basics right before the popular discussions of strategies and doctrines -such as "COIN"- can yield real benefits.
Without the basic skill of discerning good advice from bad advice, no amount of doctrinal discussion will succeed. You need to root out the bad advisers from the community first, or else they will taint any discussion with their ineptitude.

S Ortmann
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8 comments:

  1. Not listening to bad advice is a bit like admonishing someone not to make mistakes. In an ideal world, yes, of course.

    The reality of conflict is that political and human factors confound best practise.

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  2. Not limited to military circles.

    Find an economics pundit who lost his job for saying sub prime was contained. Or a politician for saying its debt crisis has anything to do with lazy southerners.

    "Prestige" trumps results.

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  3. I think you should consider using "far too great" instead of "way too high", this will make your tone more coherent throughout the above text (at least, probably most other post as well as you keep a pretty formal language).

    As for the issue, I must point out the distinction between a "pundit" in the sense of "someone who offers to mass media opinions or commentary" and an expert in the sense of "someone widely recognized as a reliable source of technique or skill". Keeping track of these two kinds of advisors are two very different things, done for, I presume, different (but possibly similar) reasons.

    That the experts you employ should have some sort of documentation, validated by peers, to ascertain their quality is pretty straight forward as this is essentially what a CV and some references seeks to accomplish.

    It is an entire different matter for pundits, as they essentially are not tasked with more than create rumours. Regulating them by law is pretty heavy censorship as the media doesn't really have any regulated obligations. The best that can be done is to employ good pr people to counter the pundits with well sold facts, but alas this just means you've gotten your own pundits and nobody is better off except the pundits.

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  4. 'The time is coming when all that's left to do in regard to these conflicts is to care for the wounded veterans and to learn (and hopefully memorize) lessons.'
    The only real tactical lessons learned in that clusterf#$k was at the wanat action, where the talis (among other things) wiped out a camouflaged MG nest within a minute of it opening fire. Lesson? Camouflage don't mean s#$t if your MG doesn't have a blast suppressor. If the talis can do this, then you'd better bet your ass that the russians and chinese can, too.

    'Likewise, good advice needs to be recognised and be rewarded with attention in the future – no matter how entertaining or boring, well-connected or isolated the expert is.'
    I tend to agree with what think defense was recommending in: The summer of strategy, a call for papers. If its not to be superceded by rival nations, the industry MUST become more willing to accept advice from independant sources. I, for one, have decided to start writing a paper on the nature of future camouflage tactics and technology for the infantry branch, with an emphasis on simplicity and bang for the buck.

    I have you to thank for this, sven. Your warning about the lethality of indirect fires really lit a fire under me. It won't be as sensationalist as the stuff written by charles dunlap, and will only apply to a niche audience, but nonetheless, I have high hopes that once it gets across to some members in the community, it can spark a shift in beliefs and attitudes.

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  5. "blast suppressor" You mean flash hider? The only 100% flash hider is a 'silencer', and that's troublesome in regard to high volume of fire and zeroing.
    Additionally, you need to prevent dust (difficult with camo or with unprepared position), avoid visible movement, you need to avoid overheating (=smoke visible) and finally there are thermal sights that spot a MG muzzle anyway.

    "I, for one, have decided (...)"
    And you are??
    Btw, I have some infantry stuff in that direction already. Just look up "infantry camouflage" in the search box (blog: top left).

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  6. Hah, I knew that would catch your attention. Its me, kesler. I used to log in with my live journal account to make comments, but it went inactive or something. Anyway, yes, I'm obviously familiar with your work, since I've read about three quarters of the posts here, and even some of the stuff you did on other sites. Very unique and (all too often) hard to follow. Part of the problem with being ahead of the times... Regardless, I doubt you'd be impressed by what I have to write. Too amateurish and hardware oriented, probably, though I do mention some tactics -like your contact breaking drills- that would dovetail in with it all.

    'that's troublesome in regard to high volume of fire and zeroing.'
    Yes, because both it and the barrel get rod hot after firing at their cyclic rate for any length of time. Which, in addition to the mechanical problems that heat build up causes, exposes the guns position to thermal imagers. I've already found a way around that problem. An engineering friend and I (well, technically hes a ceramist, but materials scientists are quite well rounded in their knowledge) have been devising a water cooled heat sink for use in an assault rifle. I took inspiration from the old vickers gun.

    The heat sink would weigh in at a hefty one kilogram, which is a pain, but thats the price to pay for a low IR footprint. We were going to do a final draft on the contraption, but then I went and got him all flustered, trying to question him about why he still believes in the official story of 911. We all know it was an inside job...

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  7. Water-cooled barrels are not simple heat sinks. The water adds mass to mass cooling, but its greater cooling effect stems from evaporation cooling: It takes an insane amount of thermal energy to evaporate water (phase change).

    Now think about what hot steam does to your IR signature...

    I'd look into connecting the other gun parts (right to buttstock) better (thermal conductor connection) with the barrel (and use parts with a good thermal capacity).
    Or save ammo by enforcing aimed single shots (a leadership issue), which also saves weight.

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  8. You are probably much better off putting in some heat reflecting foil in your cammo surfaces and just poking a bit of suppressed barrel out than trying to carry around enough spare heat capacity to dump heat into.

    Just don't expect it to work if the enemy is behind you, but then you probably shouldn't be staying there anyway.

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