Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Auftragstaktik: a concept with a context

I'd not seen the Jorg Muth post on Auftragstaktik until Jason wrote about it yesterday, and it's a good thing: I probably would've ruined my girlfriend's whole weekend fulminating about it. As it is I particularly enjoyed the title of Jason's post – "Dead Germans did not perfect war" – both because 1) it's true, and 2) there's a sort of winking irony to it: the very concept of Auftragstaktik springs from the Clausewitzian and Moltkean realization that any efforts to "perfect war" were doomed to failure by the churn and friction of combat. The elder Moltke was indeed the first to put into words what every modern planner knows: no plan survives first contact with the enemy. (He put it more, well, German-y, as "no operation plan extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main body of the enemy.") To this way of thinking, there is no perfect solution because no two situations in war are the same.

Jorg Muth has written what sounds like a very interesting book contrasting the early-20th century officer education systems in Germany and the United States, arguing that the differences largely account for disparities in tactical effectiveness during the Second World War. (I've not read the book, only some summaries and review blurbs.) It's plain to see that he's used this essay on Ricks' blog as an opportunity to pitch the thesis of his book. But in doing so he fails to sufficiently account for the influence of strategic context and intellectual history on each army's concepts and methods of operation; accordingly he goes much too far in his single-minded critique of formal officer education.

Muth opens his essay by making the important point that "Auftragstaktik does not denote a certain style of giving orders or a certain way of phrasing them; it is a whole command philosophy." One could argue that it's even more than that: not just a command philosophy, but a theory of war, a leadership ideal, and a warfighting philosophy. Auftragstaktik was not simply the principle of minimalist orders and freedom of action in line with commander's intent, but an entire operational culture. (This point is very effectively made in then-MAJ John T. Nelsen's September 1987 Parameters essay, "Auftragstaktik: A Case for Decentralized Battle" (pdf), which is essential reading on this subject.) As such, it can't be abstracted from the conditions that produced and propagated it, nor understood when examined from only one perspective as Muth attempts to do. We can't pretend like the idea simply never occurred to American officers, or that they failed to register its evolution in foreign armies. Here's Muth:
Interestingly, the literally hundreds of American observers who were regularly send to the old continent during the course of the 19th century to study the constantly warring European armies completely missed out on the decade long discussion about the revolutionary command philosophy of Auftragstaktik. Instead they focused on saddle straps, belt buckles and drill manuals. This is one reason why the most democratic command concept never found a home in the greatest democracy. The U.S. officers simply missed the origins because of their own narrow-minded military education.
This is a staggeringly limited and insufficient explanation. Let's look at a few of the other reasons that, in Muth's words, "never has it been attempted to introduce the most effective command philosophy ever invented into the U.S. Army."

1. Auftragstaktik didn't spring into being fully-formed from Moltke's warrior-brain (nor from the inspiration of Frederick—a curious assertion): it was a product of a specific set of historical circumstances that the German army faced in the latter part of the 19th century.

Developments in the technology of war – notably the newfound ability to concentrate overwhelming and accurate firepower on massed troops – combined with the proliferation of railroads and the creation of a dense road system to both allow and force the geographic dispersion of armies over distances not previously envisioned. (Certainly Napoleon didn't have to deal with such complications. He embodied perhaps the Platonic antithesis of Auftragstaktik, and you could argue he had a pretty effective command philosophy.) As such, commanders had to delegate and devolve authority while imbuing subordinate leaders with a meaningful sense of purpose and intent in order to ensure that slow communications and distance from the commander-in-chief didn't render their formations immobile and useless.

These developments had an impact on the American way of war, too, of course. Sherman operated with tremendous freedom thanks to "mission orders" from U.S. Grant, and Lee often granted his cavalry commanders similar discretion. It would be difficult for anyone familiar with the Indian wars (and particularly the demise of Custer's 7th Cavalry) to assert that the late 19th-century U.S. Army was dominated by doctrinaire centralization of command and overcomplicated execution orders.

2. Germany's strategic context – that is, its geographic position and relative weakness – mitigated in favor of warfighting concepts that emphasized speed of decision.

By the turn of the 20th century, it was clear to the German general staff that any war with France would of necessity become a continental war. The famed Schlieffen Plan was a response to this realization: in order to survive a general war on two or more fronts, Germany would need to act decisively to defeat the main enemy through envelopment and a battle of annihilation, then concentrate its resources and offensive effort eastward. Only France's total defeat and surrender would suffice; there could be no limited political objectives or negotiated settlement, for the German army was too small and weak in comparison with its adversaries to survive an incomplete commitment of forces or an extended war of position and attrition.

This meant two things: first, that operational speed and initiative were vital to exploit early tactical success, and second, that the "commander's intent" was quite simple and required little interpretation. Commanders in the field had to be given the authority to operate without explicit direction so as to translate victory in battle into strategic decision through unrelenting pursuit and destruction of the remnants of the enemy force. (Guderian would later adopt the same approach in the east, only to learn that the tactically and operationally sound concept of Blitzkrieg failed at the strategic level, where in Gunther Rothenberg's words, the enemy "could trade space for time" and mobilize nearly endless reserves in a defense-in-depth.)

3. Moltke's views on decentralization and initiative at the tactical level were inextricably tied to a Jominian belief in the autonomy of the military within the confines of war. Rothenberg again:
[Moltke] argues that once the army had been committed to war, the direction of the military effort should be defined by the soliders alone. "Political considerations," he wrote, "can be taken into account only as long as they do not make demands that are militarily improper or impossible" (Paret 298).
Such an approach is sensible if we imagine that the Moltkean ideal of rapid decision through a battle of annihilation – one that "deprived the adversary of the means and the will to fight further" (Paret 302) – could render the military's contribution to policy clean, discrete, and self-contained. As far as the U.S. Army is concerned, such clarity may be preferable but has rarely been seen. (World War II is the obvious exception.) This wasn't a prescription for total war, however: Moltke did view war as policy and the army as the government's instrument, and believed that his conception of autonomous action within a defined and appropriate space would limit and professionalize violence.

But this mode of thinking, so important to the German ideal of military professionalism, would later inform the eventual divorce of operational concepts from strategy and fuel the evolution of Germany's senior officer corps from strategists into mere technicians of violence. The army's desire to preserve war as its separate, autonomous space led it to abstract the methods of war from its functions, working simply to solve the problem of how to maximize the application of combat power to the enemy. War had its own space, but it lost its linkage to policy. Hitler completed this slide by ideologizing state policy, eventually rendering German strategy nonsensical and ultimately hopeless. (This is a complicated argument and there's no space to flesh it out fully here; read Michael Geyer's chapter in Paret if you're interested.)

4. U.S. Army operations in World War II were similarly informed by history and strategic context, not just officer education.

From the middle part of the 19th century, the U.S. has been – for all intents and purposes – an island nation. This has led to brief periods of fascination with fortification and coastal defense, and more generally with a strategically defensive orientation. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point was founded and evolved in this context, and its (particularly early) focus on producing engineers and military technicians rather than spirited maneuver warriors is reflective of that. (It's no coincidence either that the Army has for quite a long period of its history been essentially Jominian, what with interior lines secured by manifest destiny.)

When we look at the different command philosophies in the German and American armies of WWII, it's impossible to ignore the plain fact that those armies were operating in wildly different strategic contexts. As I've already mentioned, Germany's need for quick and decisive victory led to an offensive orientation and an emphasis on initiative to exploit tactical success; but U.S. forces in that war were expeditionary and part of a multinational effort—they could not afford to endanger operational and strategic plans through well-intended tactical blunder. While the U.S. population was large and geographic distance from the fighting would have allowed for steady resupply and an extended campaign of attrition, it's difficult to envision continuation of the war if the Allied armies had been annihilated in 1944 and a continentally hegemonic Germany sued for peace. To put it more simply, U.S. commanders were less inclined to allow initiative because they didn't need (like Germany) to accept tactical and operational risk to have a hope of strategic success.

Let's also not forget that the U.S. officer corps (and army in general) was largely non-professional by the time of its landing in Europe; even if officer education and professional culture in the pre-war had emphasized the sort of freedom of action within a framework of consistency of thought that characterized Auftragstaktik, it's hard to believe such concepts could've been implemented across the 1944 force, or that they would have been decisive.

5. Auftragstaktik is fundamentally unsuited to the operations of the modern joint/combined arms force or the realities of modern recruiting and retention.

Niel Smith discussed this in his excellent rejoinder to Muth, but it's worth repeating and elaborating: while modern Army forces may operate in geographic dispersion and with significant responsibility devolved to them, the integration of supporting fires, ISR, and other enablers requires a sort of coordination and centralization that simply isn't possible when you give independently operating platoon leaders carte blanche. Muth's illustrative hypothetical is instructive for how it underlines the differences between 1945 and today: simply give one guy responsibility for accomplishing a discrete mission, assign him tanks to support his force, and let him get it done how he wants. But in the modern operating environment, you can't just give the tactical commander control of allied units, strike assets from different services, ISR platforms with a broader mission in the AO, and so on. All those enablers help him get the job done, but now he has to do the job in a more predictable, structured, and coordinated way. It's the trade-off for combat multipliers.

When we talk about moving toward an Auftragstaktik-style approach in the modern Army, we have to remember the point I made up front: this isn't just about "mission tactics" or mission orders or commander's intent, but a culture shift. Part of the reason it worked so well for the Germans, that they were able to tolerate initiative and independent thought and resort to non-"book" solutions is that both the officer education system and the entire way of doing business in the German officer corps contributed to the development of similar analytical frameworks. Moltke might've argued that you can account for your uncertainty about what the enemy will do through supreme confidence in what your own guys will do: even if you don't know how they'll do it, you have a sense for how they'll look at the problem and confidence that they'll accomplish the objective. But how do you embed this sort of collective thinking and cultural identity in the consciousness of a group of officers that turns over so quickly (I'm talking here about both the brevity of individual assignments and the low percentage of career officers)?

I couldn't help but let out a disbelieving grunt when I read Muth's assertion that in U.S. military schools, "doctrine reigned and not free independent thinking," accompanied by the helpful bromide that doctrine "is either based on past wars or on theory and thus can be no guideline for an officer in a present-day conflict." Guffaw. First of all, U.S. Army doctrine is authoritative, but not prescriptive: it provides a guide for action, not a template to be followed. It exists to distill best practices and boil down the collective wisdom of the service into basic principles from which specific tasks can be derived and training developed. Second, I wonder what Muth would think of this paragraph from the introduction to FM 3-0: Operations (pdf), the Army's capstone doctrinal manual:
Chaos, chance, and friction dominate land operations as much today as when Clausewitz wrote about them after the Napoleonic wars. In this environment, an offensive mindset—the predisposition to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative to positively change the situation—makes combat power decisive. The high quality of Army leaders and Soldiers is best exploited by allowing subordinates maximum latitude to exercise individual and small-unit initiative. Tough, realistic training prepares leaders for this, and FM 3-0 prescribes giving them the maximum latitude to accomplish the mission successfully. This requires a climate of trust in the abilities of superior and subordinate alike. It also requires leaders at every level to think and act flexibly, constantly adapting to the situation. Subordinates’ actions are guided by the higher commander’s intent but not circumscribed by excessive control. This is a continuing tension across the Army, aggravated by advanced information systems that can provide higher commanders with the details of lower echelon operations. The temptation for senior leaders to micromanage subordinates is great, but it must be resisted.
Sounds a lot like Auftragstaktik, huh? You can talk all you want about mission orders and initiative, but it doesn't work without the whole surrounding culture. That means building these ideas into doctrine and concepts, but also building them into the structure of the institution, individual and collective training, and yes, officer education.

I know this has gone on much, much too long and deals with a lot of complicated subjects, so I'm grateful if you've made it this far. I suppose in the end I'm grateful to Ricks for running Muth's essay, and for the discussion and thinking it has prompted. (I still think his argument is oversimplified and silly, though.) Stuff like this is essential to the process of sorting out what the Army of the future ought to look like, how it ought to be structured, how it ought to think and train and fight. It's interesting to see century-old concepts invoked in this context if only because it wasn't so long ago that the Revolution in Military Affairs crowd was trumpeting a future of Net-Centric Warfare, information dominance, and all the inevitable centralization that would be associated with it.

In some sense, Auftragstaktik represents one extreme on a spectrum that spans all the way across to the other extreme of perfect information and centralized mission command: one end believes there's no such thing as perfect information and that junior leaders ought to be empowered to operate in an environment where they can react to circumstances more quickly and coherently than could echelons above, while for the other side there's still a hope of understanding the enemy's thinking before he does and acting on a decisive point to near-bloodlessly defeat him. This latter idea, present throughout history (in the guise of strategic bombing, maneuver warfare, NCW, and other forms of "the indirect approach") and eminently un-Clausewitzian, will hopefully be consigned to the scrap heap at some point, but shows no sign of doing so just yet.

24 comments:

  1. "(...) the integration of supporting fires, ISR, and other enablers requires a sort of coordination and centralization that simply isn't possible when you give independently operating platoon leaders carte blanche."

    That's one way to see it.
    We could just as well say that it requires "coordination" - without centralization.

    Some things - many, actually - can be done by cooperation instead of centralization.

    A formation's staff may detail an order for synchronising an action, defining boundaries etc and be finished after several hours.
    Instead, two commanders of neighbouring battlegroups could simply meet, have their helpers exchange some basic stuff such as short range radio frequencies, call signs etc (the paper work of synchronization) and then agree to cooperate and fight this battle together.
    They could launch when both are prepared instead of preparing and then wait till the superior staff's designated launch time for the action.

    Shortly after first sight of OPFOR the plan will fall apart, and the two commanders will simply have a quick talk, adjust their actions and keep in contact.

    Meanwhile their division or brigade commander didn't need to do more than to issue a mission, keep a close eye on the developing situation (on a wider area), stay in contact with his superior and cooperate with his neighbouring equals.

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  2. I think that's generally fine, except it doesn't take into account the fact that lower-level units don't own a lot of the resources they need to fight a battle (not saying that they should own them for economic reasons, just that they don't). Who gets priority of fires? RW and FW support? Who gets priority of ISR assets? Military working dogs? How about an airmobile operation - working on an intense mission with pilots the grunts don't know who fly helos they don't own.

    These types of decisions are up to a commander who actually owns this stuff and a commander who owns the battlespace that contains both of your commanders' battlespaces. And because if the lack of familiarity between the commanders, this sort of informal decision-making has a high probability of failure.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with higher headquarters: their staffs or their commanders.

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  3. Let's take the example of an artillery commandant (Arko).

    He would advise the division/corps commander, then he would coordinate fires. The corps commander need to tell him the Schwerpunkt and rather little else (OK, date and time).
    Who gets priority of fires? The Schwerpunkt, period. That's common doctrine background and doesn't need to be a command.
    The Arko may devise a fires plan ad go into details, but once the plannable phase is over the dominant input will be bottom-up calls for fire, not top-down commands.

    Situations that demand short reaction times demand decentralization.

    At first sight you may think that computerized command systems allow for quicker centralised reactions, but that's wrong.
    You still have lots of communication lags; between people, not because of slow electrons or electromagnetic waves. In order to get centralised control right you need a really good overview over the whole, while decentralised command can make do with decent overviews over small fragments of the whole.

    That's in part why great generals of WW2 have often been at the Schwerpunkt of their division/corps/army, trying to influence a small fragment of the whole - the most important fragment - from up front.

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  4. Firstly, there are no top-down commands for fire during a fight. The issues for this topic are: who gets fires first? and who deconflicts air and ground? So maybe we're talking past each other a bit.

    There's also no Schwerpunkt as we used to know it, so to say that that is relevant anymore would be incorrect. Does the commander usually ride/walk with his decisive effort? Of course, but that's not the same.

    Take the case were there's a battalion sized operation going on and two companies get into contact. One calls for artillery and the other calls for attack helos. Because of proximity you can't do both at the same time, so who gets what and when? You expect that company commanders to make that decision between them? Do you expect the CO getting the tube fires to clear the air space for up to 30KM behind him?

    No, of course not. Shit doesn't work that way - that's why we employ LTCs and COLs. They don't say "Hey Captain, you really need some 155mm right there and by God it's on the way!" He (and his staff) take requests like "I need fires here!" and gets that man his fires while taking care of the admin to accomplish it.

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  5. There are top-down artillery fire mission commands. Preplanned fire missions (most relevantly suppression and blinding of sites suspected to be occupied), for example.

    Airspace deconfliction is a stupidity in a great war. Small war participation is a stupidity in itself. Thus no need for airspace deconfliction unless you do insist on doing stupid things.
    Deconfliction attempts to avoid a marginal, obvious risk at the cost of accepting many more severe yet hidden risks. Plain stupid.

    The excessive airspace deconfliction nonsense is part of the excessive synchronization fetish and of the zero failure culture. It's no surprise that somebody who bought into deconfliction doesn't favour subsidiarity in command.

    Anecdote:
    Back in WW2 operational research showed that night bomber losses would be much lower if the duration of an attack (bombers over town) would be much shorter (= less fire by AAA). Planners came up with a plan that pressed more bombers in less minutes and crews began to complain in mission briefing: Wouldn't this lead to collisions?
    The OR people said "Yes, we calculated one collision on average, that's two total losses - but the new pattern saves more than a dozen bomber losses to AAA."
    Next night, two bombers collided over a German city, but overall bomber losses were much lower than previously.

    The airspace deconfliction fetishists would have stretched that bombardment over the whole night, I guess.

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  6. I'm stunned to learn that an advocate of mission tactics, devolution of authority and initiative in support of generalized commander's intent would be opposed to participation in limited wars. (After all, in a limited war, the commander's intent might not be "envelop and annihilate the main enemy force"!) Really, I'm stunned.

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  7. In three years at war (both COIN and HIC), I never ever ever had a top-driven artillery or air support mission forced upon me. I always had the right of refusal at preplanned targets and exercised that often.

    Second, the use of WWII as an example of airspace management is ludicrous: they didn't have UAVs, helicopters, or the use of low-flying fixed wing in a close air support role. And it's not risk-aversion. Those dudes take plenty of risks. What sucks is losing a ton of very expensive and limited supply aircraft. Not deconflicting airspace would criminal.

    Even if small war participation is stupidity (I don't necessarily agree here), it doesn't matter because we still do them.

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  8. Helicopters cannot come into conflict with indirect fires unless their pilots are stupid or totally unaware.

    UAV losses don't matter. Greater loss acceptance is part of their basic idea.

    Low-flying fixed wing is only over the battlefield for a very short time and not numerous at all. There was no such synchronisation to protect the 6,000 tactical aircraft over Normandy against the effects of many thousands of mortars and guns.
    TODAY there's next to no probability of collision, but back then there was a moderate probability - and it was right not to red tape them from engaging all at the same time.

    Deconflicting airspace in great war = tieing up your hands on your back, voluntarily and yourself. Outright stupidity.

    It's an outgrowth of zero failure and synchronisation fetishes.

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  9. You're still not making the argument as to why deconfliction isn't necessary or how it is hindering U.S. military operations. You're not showing how "zero failure and synchronization fetishes" (which is an incorrect characterization) are harming the troops on the ground. It's a battle drill and it takes seconds to do.

    Not once did I observe fires not getting where they needed to be when they needed to be there (there's that whole clearing the airspace while the guns get laid on because they don't ever shoot within seconds...) because of deconfliction procedures. Until you can show systemic problems because of it, please stop using WWII loses and tactics as something we should accept for marginal to no increased (and probably decreased because of battle losses) effectiveness. Or you can show that accepting those types of losses (on a smaller, more expensive military) is a better way winning battles and wars.

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  10. One example is that units discontinued the use of small UAVs because it was too much hazzle to get permission to launch in the deconfliction process.

    Another one did you provide yourself as example; helicopters and artillery not in effect at the same time.

    Or let's take the example of battalion mortars not firing because helicopters or CAS could be somewhere near the trajectory and there's not a good enough radio connectivity for getting a deconfliction clearance.

    Deconfliction is a process that adds one more opportunity for friction and one more level of discouragement to the use of support assets.
    That's the hidden costs that are far greater than the marginal probability of an actual collision x severity of that collision.

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  11. As someone who deployed as a PL to Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now working as a Battle Captain in RC-E, I would have to agree with SO. The Army completely wasted about 95% of the value of the Raven by making the ground commander get a ROZ every time he wants to launch. If I'm going to do all the BS, I might as well just ask for a Pred, since you've removed the speed (of response) and flexibility that are the main advantages of the Raven. Also, and I see this as a sign of how infectious this over-centralized mentality is, yesterday I found myself getting pissed at a PLT that started shooting 60mm mortars w/o notifying or calling higher to deconflict airspace. Then I checked and found that they had a JTAC with them, and I also remembered that this was the exact same thing that I had a 15-6 done on me for as a PL >_<

    It's nice to think that HQ is only there to allocate scarce assets, but the reality is that they inevitably start inserting themselves into everything (e.g. forcing a remote Troop COP that can decon it's own airspace with its organic JTAC to route fire missions up to BDE and back down before the guns can actually fire), hopefully these bad habits will disappear in a "real" war when the absurdity will become obvious, but I fear not...

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  12. That's exactly what I'm aiming at. Use common sense and cooperation on the same level, not synchronization and coordination from above.

    There's some need for the latter, but it's exaggerated nowadays - while there's much potential left in regard to coordination through cooperation.

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  13. To support and illustrate what SO is talking about in his first comment, I would add that some of the most successful missions that I conducted in OEF were not "planned" and written down in a formal CONOP, but simply COORDINATED in a couple hours with a fellow PL (he would go one village for a KLE, while I would also go do a KLE at the village next door at the same time, so that we would be able to mutually support each other). The snipers and a 60mm mortar team were not tasked that day, and I checked with the SQDN JTACs (one was not busy, so he came along). On the edge of my village, my PLT took contact and I simply used the assets that I had on hand and COORDINATED with my fellow PL and together our PLTs destroyed multiple enemy fighters and caches with no CIVCAS or any serious US casualties. Despite our success (the ANP, local governor, and village elder all thanked us and asked us to do more "operations"), I was threatened with relief for the crime of not submitting a formal CONOP, which would no doubt have taken a week to work through the bureaucracy and untold man hours spent slaving away over some Powerpoint monstrosity.

    Ironically, in both OEF and OIF, every formal CONOP that we executed that was larger than a company size operation was almost invariably a complete goatfuck. I could make a comment about staff having to find a reason to justify their existence, but seeing as how I am now a BDE battle captain, the truth hurts...

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  14. Tierce (and SO) - I have to say I had such a different experience as a PL, XO and BCT battle captain/planner.

    My bosses had a rule that if you owned it, you controlled it. I.e., your airspace with your UAVs, your assigned RW, your mortars, then you deconflict that stuff (at CO or BN level). As a brigade guy, once one of our SHADOWs came on station and/or you wanted to use the brigade's fires, then it was up to the brigade to deconflict airspace. Etc. So your stories surprise me a bit, Tierce.

    As for PLT ops, I never had to write OPORDs unless it was a deliberate raid or airmobile (mainly to justify my getting extra assets owned by division - mainly RW). Otherwise I could do what I wanted.

    When you get down to it, commanders have legal responsibilities inherent to their command. And each one reacts differently. I had very, very limited exposure to micromanagers and never saw a problem with the balance of centralization and decentralization. What would the two of you do to change what you perceive as a problem, within today's Army?

    Also, Tierce, I'd like to talk more about your experiences. If you have some time, feel free to email me at the address in the top right.

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  15. "What would the two of you do to change what you perceive as a problem, within today's Army?"

    Research, experiment, and teach the value and potential of intra-level cooperation. Train leaders towards a personal suitability for cooperation, establish the right kind of culture in which cooperation on the same level works with little friction.

    It's an under-appreciated part of the repertoire.

    Other side of the coin:
    Do away with the overemphasis on (imo "fetish" of) centralised synchronisation and centralised coordination in general. It bloats staffs (= waste in personnel budget), slows down and is unsuitable for an agile force.

    It's noteworthy that "synchronisation" is a much, much more common term in U.S. books, articles, manuals and discussions than in ones originating in Europe or the Commonwealth. It's a specific U.S. military fashion.

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  16. I think we need to focus a little more on the questions Jason posed in his follow-up post, specifically this one: what the heck is the problem right now? I'm not overly concerned with what's going on in European military professional journals, but rather with battlefield results. S O seems eager to sacrifice men and materiel to build an aura of initiative and aggression in the force, but why, exactly? To accomplish what tactical or operational end? Is there anyone who believes that the periodic failure of the U.S. Army to accomplish national objectives at any point in the last few decades has been a matter of bad tactics as opposed to flawed strategy?

    S O, I think you're also a little too eager to dismiss the circumstantial/contextual differences between the U.S. Army (and the U.S. in general) and its professional predecessors. You think it would be better to accept greater short-term/tactical risk in exchange for lower long-term/strategic risk. That's all well and good, but you should also understand the uniquely American (and modern) context that makes this unlikely to happen. (Just imagine if a bunch of U.S. aircraft had been involved in mid-air collisions in the first days of the operation over Libya and think about how that would've gone over back here.) You're arguing outside of context, which was the whole point of this post: to explain why Auftragstaktik did develop and could develop in the German force and not in our own. You still haven't explained how or why you think that explanation is wrong.

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  17. I wanted to know what you think, but the question was somewhat rhetorical, because even if I think you're right I don't think there's a solution. As Gulliver states, the U.S. hasn't entirely adopted your informal methods for a number of reasons (and just because Europe doesn't agree with us doesn't make us wrong...). Neil Smith's post at Best Defense hits the nail on the head on how force structure and manning in the U.S. nearly precludes the indoctrination of purely-Auftragstaktik methods.

    I'll also posit that we're not going to get rid of commanders who micromanage - the well is only so deep and it's nice to say we'll only promote those that rely on cooperation, but that's just not going to happen.

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  18. Gulliver, you misunderstand me. I suggest that there's a strong institutional/bureaucratic drive towards eliminating obvious risks or moderate severity and very low probability at the expense of accepting hidden risks of greater severity and probability.

    An artillery shell hitting a CAS aircraft is an obvious cause-effect problem, while an infantry squad dying because they ran into an ambush (that wasn't detected because a drone wasn't launched because of deconfliction issues) is a hidden risk (that wouldn't make it into TV news, for example).

    The overemphasis of the obvious over the hidden is a poor trade-off. Yes, I'd prefer the acceptance of smallish obvious risks (sacrifice as you call it) if that means the elimination of greater hidden risks. I want a better trade-off.


    About possibility or impossibility of changing was; there's always resistance to change, no-one knows how much change is possible or not if top leadership really wants it. There could be an energetic SecDef in four years who turns the army upside down, who knows?

    Capability or incapability aside - it's wise to look at what's best practice, for there's little hope for advance if you're content with the established doctrine and institutional culture. You also need to understand best practice in order to be aware of what could hit you in a future conflict.

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  19. I should mention that I'm also demanding that the Bundeswehr changes its ways.
    Auftragstaktik isn't best leadership/coordination practice, it's at most a component of it.

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  20. But why are you so certain that these "hidden risks" are frequently being accepted as a function of the Army's methods of operation or command culture? Can you give me an example of this happening?

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  21. It's inevitable because it's another layer of friction.

    The U.S. Army (or any other army) doesn't exactly report specific cases of it having failed because of following its procedures, but there are inevitably consequences if you add friction and time lags to an institution and let it handle thousands of cases.

    There is a way to show it, though: Imagine a Normandy invasion (6,000 tactical aircraft, thousands of guns and mortars taking effect on a 3,000 sq km area) with the current deconfliction regime; almost all CAS would have been impossible without violation of deconfliction rules. That air support saved the operation, thus deconfliction would have destroyed several corps in order to save a few dozen aviators at most.

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  22. This is a nutty counterfactual, mostly because it assumes that U.S. joint forces wage combined-arms high-intensity combat in the same way that they did in 1944.

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  23. Hardly, I took the concept and applied it to an example, showing that it's not suitable in the example.
    An extreme example was selected in order to make the 'hidden' obvious; the sheer scope of the operation would have made even the 'hidden' problems of the concept obvious.

    I could tell small-scale examples (in addition to the ones I already offered), but that wouldn't make the 'hidden' costs more obvious and would thus not make an impression (as evidenced by the given examples that didn't seem to have much effect).

    The problem here is not the example, but that you expect me to show the existence of hidden costs clearly without me pulling them out of their hideout. That's not going to work; your scepticism keeps you from seeing them.

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  24. What we're finding at the CTCs, especially as units move towards more combined arms maneuver missions, is that the art of mission command requires two things: 1.) More CENTRALIZED CONTROL than Wide Area Security 2.) A thorough understanding of mission statements and commander's intent two levels up. We have great companies, but lousy interaction between subordinate units and their battalion and brigade staffs (at least when it comes to Combined Arms Maneuver).

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