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Even Radical Change Occurs Incrementally for the Military

May 15, 2013
By Maryann Lawlor
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Discussing the topic of incremental change versus radical change, the Wednesday panel at East: Joint Warfighting spoke about the need for flexibility and agility. While making radical changes in operational strategies or tactics could be somewhat beneficial, it is more important to change at a reasonable pace but be ready and able to adjust quickly to deal with unexpected challenges, panelists said.

Panelist Lt. Gen. Christopher Miller, USAF (Ret.), former deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs, U.S. Air Force, pointed out that it was relatively easy to describe threats in the past, but today the threat spectrum is all over the place. Relative success, particularly in the air, has increased public and political expectations. However, because this level of success may not persist in the future, change is necessary but difficult. “Nothing makes it easier not to change than success,” he stated.

Vice Adm. Kurt W. Tidd, USN, director for operations (J-3), Joint Staff, offered a different point of view. While many speak of the future in terms of doom and gloom, he believes that austerity is a relative term when it comes to resources. No matter the budget, allies will continue to rely on U.S. forces. And while change is necessary, established doctrine limits how fast the military can make changes, the admiral said.

That said, the admiral pointed out that one shift that will occur is the relationship between the U.S. government and the military. In the past, political leaders gave the military a mission and the resources to accomplish that mission. Now, the military will explain to political leaders what it can accomplish with the resources it has been given, he stated.

“What capabilities will we need in the future? It’s really about mindsets,” he added. A change in attitudes about risk tolerance, the role of courage and increased interdependence is called for, according to the admiral. These are not technical items, he pointed out, but they are equal to new capabilities in importance.

Lt. Gen. David Perkins, USA, commanding general, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, added that if today’s military leaders try to predict what will occur or be needed in the future, they will not succeed. Using history as an example, he said that if 40 years ago he would have tried to explain that two tall buildings, that were not built yet, would be attacked by an enemy, no one would believe it was possible. Further, when they asked if these buildings would be destroyed by bombs and he said no, they would be destroyed by people who took over planes by wielding box cutters, they would not believe it. And further still, if they asked if the enemy conducted command and control out of some great military complex, and he said no, their command and headquarters were located in caves, the military leaders of the past could not envision that either.

Looking 40 years into the future is just as difficult as believing this true scenario, so it is important to develop future military leaders who are able to adapt, are critical thinkers and have the capacity to change, Gen. Perkins said. “They need to be able to notice when change [in the environment] happens and then quickly adapt to it,” he stated.

The East: Joint Warfighting conference wraps up tomorrow with presentations by Dr. John A. Nagl, nonresident senior fellow, Center for a New American Security, and Minerva research fellow, U.S. Naval Academy, and Robert O. Work, former undersecretary of the Navy, and current chief executive officer, Center for a New American Security.

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