Saturday, May 4, 2013

No one expects

what actually ends up happening in warfare...

A few months ago, I signed up for the em2 MMOWGLI game hosted by NWDC. The goal of the game was to crowd source ideas on warfare in the EM spectrum. The game was card-based, with people playing cards on ideas to expand, counter, further explain or better expound on the idea. Once a number of cards had been played on a certain idea, the game masters would allow an action plan to be started based on the cards. Some of these plans were quite unique:
- Cyber militias
- UAVs being used to replace satellites for communications
- Cyber aptitude being measured in all incoming recruits
and a variety of other plans. The game was a lot of fun, and I ended up learning a lot.

About a month after the game, I was contacted by NWDC. Since I had placed 3rd, they wondered if I would release my name to them, so I did. Two weeks later in the mail, I received a Flag Letter of Commendation from the NWDC Commander, Rear Admiral Kraft.

Cool, or so I thought. It was sitting on my desk when one of my sailors looked at it, and asked if it was real (he thought it was a joke). It then proceeded to be taken around the office, and I've been lovingly referred to as 'MMOWGLI' (pronounced mow-glee).

I took it all in stride (I've been called far worse things before in my submarine days), but it got me thinking that perhaps part of the reason that we are always surprised by the next war is that we don't take new ideas seriously.

- Admiral Yarnell executed a brilliant maneuver against the island of Oahu in 1932 (which would be called Fleet Problem 13), where he attacked the island with only aircraft and had a stunning success. His opponents had expected a battleship attack, but with his new tactics he achieved stunning success. Unfortunately, the battleship admirals at the time declined to review tactics...and the Japanese would execute this very same maneuver ten years later, smiting a good portion of Pearl Harbor and bringing us in WW2.

- Admiral Sims, at the time LT Sims, discovered how to significantly improve the accuracy of his guns, yet had to go to the President to be taken seriously. Now he is known as the man who taught the Navy how to shoot.

- The Navy held an exercise called Millenium Challenge 2002 to see how Blue forces (i.e. the US) would fair against an asymmetrical threat from Red forces (an unnamed Middle Eastern country...take your wildest guess). General Van Riper beat Blue forces by using non-traditional tactics...and was rewarded by having the game restarted, and forced to follow a script that lead to Red forces being squashed.

Right now we're expecting to fight a war with North Korea, Iran, or China. In fact, we've been expecting to fight a war in one of these three places for quite some time now. But, we've actually been fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Uganda, Philippines, and potentially Syria...and none of these (maybe bar Iraq) had established war plans. We expend a lot of efforts on what we think is going to happen, only to be continually surprised by what actually happens.

CDR Salamander has a great post on this where he disects the latest DIA threat assessment. The Navy has already indicated it would stand behind carriers, despite the fact that we might need smaller ships and a different approach to tackle things like Western African Piracy and conflicts in Latin America. We're quickly shedding the counter-insurgency knowledge so that we can get back to "real" warfighting, since we have so many enemies that would want to go toe-to-toe with us (we don't).

We need to read, and more importantly, understand our history. We need to take seriously the non-traditional threats that we are more likely to face than the traditional threats we likely won't face. Kudos to NWDC for finding a new approach to get new ideas...too bad it's going to take a lot of push to get those ideas to fruition.