Preparing Leaders for the #FutureOfWar and Warfare
War as economics, war as politics, war as security: war as survival by any other name. Not much will change about the faces of war in the future. What will change is warfare, as Brett Friedman (paraphrasing Clausewitz) so aptly pointed out. The drift of strategy over time is beyond my realm of comfortable address, however common sense says that tactics change as our tools, skillsets, and enemies change. What will not alter is our need for capable leadership. To prepare for an uncertain future of amorphous threats, we must find and/or train leaders who can see past the confines of their professions so to speak, leaders who can balance the abstraction necessary for this vision with their connection to the people they lead and who have the deep organizational and operational skills necessary to implement swift changes as circumstances demand.
Imagine looking at the earth from above with lenses which allow one to see the furious activity happening everywhere: on the surface of the planet as wild and random cascades of biological activity across a sphere; within its atmosphere as weather; and within itself as its molten core spins and plates grind. Imagine taking a few steps back and adjusting the lenses to see the bow shock of the magnetosphere against the radiations of solar wind and storm. This is the terrain of warfare in the flow of time.
The enemy will always adapt; nature is yet unpredictable.
While our technological superiority as a species lasts, warfare will become, has already become, more specialized and more dependent on fragile connections. Though our current ownership of the edge in the tech race provides some security, it enhances our vulnerabilities to our enemies and to nature itself. The enemy will always adapt; nature is yet unpredictable.
Do we depend too much on equipment vulnerable to damage from an increasingly fluctuating magnetosphere and/or by solar storms of unprecedented magnitude? What are our vulnerabilities to EMP technology? It is a nascent science, but time and evolution are very good friends.
What actions will we take if California experiences a major fault rupture during wartime? Or Alaska? Or Washington state? Or should Class 5 hurricanes and blizzards beset the North or South-East? Where are our critical vulnerabilities to the fury of nature? Can our enemies use the chaos and immobility caused by such events to damage us further?
Pandemics are the stuff of nightmare. Pandemics during wartime, however natural their cause, are a special trip to hell. How then do we respond to localized infections seeded by biological warfare which breakout into same? How do we prepare for the possible development of CRISPR’s “mutagenic chain reaction[s]” into weapons of mass destruction?
What of the artificial representation of one of humanity’s biological scourges that are viruses? We now have mimi- and megaviruses — large, intricate and clever pieces of code — which shadow our technological footsteps despite the fact that we may have been their creators. What other vulnerabilities doesnetworked warfare bring?
Current world tensions and future world conflicts ask instead that we consider our defensive positions and readiness across the variable of time.
Thought experiments such as the above should not be the sole province of cinematic writers and should not remain thoughts but find active simulations which point toward actionable preparations that stand the tests of sustainability and, more importantly, resiliency. Some of these threats will always be with us, some for only as long as war is with us as we travel along our arrow of time.
It may be prudent for the DOD to develop their own systems. How hard is it to build a Raspberry Pi-type device? Berry-compliant tech may not be bulletproof, but in terms of cost reduction, a lesson can be learned from SpaceX (who might not be all that popular at USAF right now but who, in my opinion, are part of the DEF movement).
Perhaps DARPA needs a manufacturing arm, both in real life and virtual. Must the military rely on Microsoft when they can craft software tailored to their needs? An embrace and inculcation of the DIY culture percolating through the public, balanced with the hierarchical structure that discipline seems to demand, may do much to mitigate current and emerging vulnerabilities.
Despite the fact that war’s raison d’être is ultimately a tactic for survival no matter what face it may wear, that point in time in any planet-spanning species’ history when war is raw survival approaches quickly. At least, we must look it at that way, if we are to take action for its avoidance or make ready for its inevitability.
As a megadrought in 100 years possibly approaches and resources wane, will enemies attempt to take our coasts and drive the military inland in anticipation of this event? What if they decide not to wait that long and, in half that span, calculate that the economic, political, and cultural benefits of America and what’s left of our allies are no longer in the black and that our wealth, both monetary and in our resources and citizenry, may be put to their own better purposes as they perceive it? I took exception to Jeong Lee’s suggestion that the military run ‘active’ ops on American soil, i.e. monitor and pursue terrorists. Current world tensions and future world conflicts ask instead that we consider our defensive positions and readiness across the variable of time. Capabilities in space, sea, air, ground, and amphibious warfare of adversaries will catch us up (note origin of research), unless we continue to adapt and innovate.
I believe that if we peer into the details of all scenarios above, we will see that success in future warfare requires leaders who connect as well as think ably in all directions — upwards and downwards, within and laterally across their organization’s verticals and, more importantly, across service boundaries. Though I imagine that organizations like the military and the Center for Disease Control work closely at the tactical level, do they do so at the strategic? How about the military and the security services (as opposed to what might be called pure intelligence agencies) and the legislative branch? Though a look into the human-level specifics will likely show that connection between these organizations at the informal level and junior/mid-levels of leadership is alive and well, leaders tasked with making decisions that affect the entire organization, or large portions thereof, must also have the ability to form strong lines of communication with their cross-service peers while maintaining the compartmental protocols that delicate operations demand.
In truth, with good leadership at all levels of any organization, fixing the bureaucracies which put us all at risk becomes that much easier as this repair happens in a very organic fashion. The leaders we need are those who abhorinefficiencies and work hard to find better ways for the organization, or a portion of same, to perform without undermining discipline or operational security or other such considerations. They lead from the front and inspire those they lead by example. Many of the people we seek already serve across all branches of public service; we must empower and learn from them.
Although magic — leaps in knowing made by people in the field, in the immediate grip of life or death — sometimes happens, we cannot rely on these events.
Perhaps changes in other sectors may inform us as well. In biology, hybrids are robust and have the potential to carry the best traits from both parents: Can the military learn from the updates the Central Intelligence Agency will make or has made? The corporate sector offers lessons as well. There may be teams in the worst bureaucratic bottlenecks that might volunteer to test properly translated models of change from DevOps (complex software deployment).
Another useful source for such templates might be the lean internet start-up schema applied to enterprise. In fact, there are groups of military memberswho have already applied a similar type of innovation technology with success. The start-up world also offers models for remediating inefficient meetings. Though some leaders in the military may feel uncomfortable with subordinates contributing to meeting agendas (see previous article link), thehumility to accept and promote the most effective ideas of one’s subordinates is a hallmark of adaptive leadership. Examples from the military itself attest to the power of crowdsourcing, i.e. utilizing the intellectual stimulation aspect oftransformational leadership.
This work, in conjunction with the pursuit of deeper studies into bureaucratic therapy for organizations like our military and government that are indeed too big to fail, is crucial for planning the structures that will carry forth the gestalt of security as we practice it to those who will inherit our duties. Starting points for study might be how to efficiently track metrics such that “mission results” supersede administrative ones and understanding how “correct answers” aid discipline despite sometimes hindering flexibility andaccurate measurements of an org’s capability,
Cleaning up military acquisitions also plays a very large part in preparing for future warfare. The same need for broad and deep vision coupled with deep organizational and operational skills is also a necessary component for leadership in this endeavor, not only to introduce efficiencies that will keep costs manageable and innovators excited about working with the military, but to ensure that the people on the front lines of war have every available advantage and do not have to “MacGyver” their way out of trouble.
Although magic — leaps in knowing made by people in the field, in the immediate grip of life or death — sometimes happens, we cannot rely on inadequate supply to trigger these events. Instead, we should work to inculcate these reactive abilities across a wider spectrum of people. Adding real world uncertainties to well-designed crucible events is a strong component of this.
Which brings us to the third element of adaptable and flexible leadership, the connection with the people they lead.
As there is significant literature on how leaders may forge strong connections with their people, I will forego any discussion here and instead focus on an aspect of these relationships which may seem contrary and relates to the magic mentioned above.
“Street smarts” in combination with “book learning” make a potent mix.
Acknowledging the fact that this may be inappropriate for some military fields, I hypothesize that leaders should, while maintaining discipline, foster the subversive in their people (and therefore must have it or foster it in themselves). I define subversiveness by the gifts it bestows upon its holder: the ability to see beyond walls, recognizing that they are not only a barrier or boundary between entities but an object that has vulnerabilities from which to craft doors and windows; to act effectively without structure yet within the bounds of discipline; to grasp the gestalt of events without any ideological considerations of same; and to act decisively when in doubt. I believe we can do more with less if we cultivate the ability to live not only with the complex but within it as well, to let it inform rather than bewilder us.
Our Special Operations Forces (SOF) and security service operators provide an example of this balance. I would hazard to guess that even the most disciplined operator harbors an edge of subversiveness. Perhaps we need the equivalent of a SOF school for leadership. While the work of higher learning centers which train our leaders contributes much, perhaps it’s time to look to a “school of life” to impart the lessons which will help find and forge the leaders we need. Modified crucible events provide intriguing possibilities in this regard as well. “Street smarts” in combination with “book learning” make a potent mix. Leaders who understand this edge, whether intuitively or not, even now serve across all branches; we should learn from them and teach them to cultivate it in others if they do not already do so.
While there are some basic philosophies which may help guide us as the years turn into decades into centuries into millennia, in the end, war is about people.
The following represents metric- and measurement-friendly suggestions, which are also ultimately all about people, to help find and prepare leaders for the future of warfare.
The most effective force of the future resembles the best of the population it defends, including in demographic. Instead of lowering standards, we should create new ones suited to women’s differing physiology. Women and men have different potentials to leverage in battles real and virtual, in crafting strategies and tactics, long-term and short. By leaving half of our resources on the table and by forcing them into molds made for others, we hobble ourselves and ensure that our future in warfare will be grim.
Combat isn’t the only arena which would benefit from an increase in women in the services.
Perhaps an all-service, women-run Women in Combat committee to develop standards and oversee training would be in order. I strongly recommend that we begin with segregated training and op simulations to reduce friction. Less noise means more data. After we have a grasp of the strengths (and weaknesses) of these all-women teams, begin competing against all-male units and iterate based on results. Once groups of women are able to hold their own against their male counterparts, we will have very good data in hand, have earned the respect needed to reduce frictions, and can therefore begin to look at integration schemes.
Combat isn’t the only arena which would benefit from an increase in women in the services. Though there are other factors for the crime statistics around and on some military bases, if future circumstances warrant a redeployment of forces in defensive arrays across the country, more women in leadership and more women in the ranks are key to mitigating the problems the military currently has and may have in this regard.
To find leaders who have, or potential leaders that can develop the vision, heart, and skills necessary to craft and maintain an adaptive force requires more insight than paper can provide. Psychometric tests based on questions (five-factor model, MMPI) are easy to game for anyone literate in subtext. Actual games reveal much more. While the ASVAB is a decent tool for sorting, it should be augmented by a component of game to reveal deeper talents and traits. We can do better than a .69 correlation score.
Gamification of psychometric assessments is not only valuable in finding potential leaders but also in creating effective teams. One of my startups-in-hibernation proposes the use of a similar gaming paradigm in the cause of helping the unemployed (and employed) find meaningful work.
No conversation on the future of warfare is complete without addressing the issues which face soldiers of all genders and duties who return from war.
Applying lessons from the private sector may help fix the inefficiencies which plague the VA in its current incarnation. The drift toward local and diffused services is evident throughout the civilian world; examining the work of innovative healthcare companies like Sherpaa will yield robust models for potential application in patient-centered care. HelloHealth provides an intriguing model for organizing patient data and communication. Healing at the local level will also help change the erroneous impressions that seems to prevail in media today.
The Civil-Military Divide
Mainstream media is a commercial enterprise; the military cannot depend on it to properly introduce the narratives which must proceed the conversation and exchange with civilians. A starting point might be frank discussions of the possibilities that face us if diplomatic solutions continue to fail and of a future where war over the earth’s resources expands to a global scale. In planning our defense, gamification, gender integration, and improved veterans’ services represent not only portions of the history we must write for tomorrow but also stories for the telling. How we begin these talks and tell these stories is as important as the message itself.
Narratives built around defense rather than offense, along with improved perceptions among crucial demographics, build more bridges. Last month, Nathan Finney posed an intriguing question on raising a million-person army in one to two years. It’s a useful place to start an examination of the military’s relationship with the wider public, not only individuals but American private corporations as well. Conversations on this topic have the potential to act as and create vital connections.
War, preparation for war, execution of war: it all starts and ends with people. The organization of same entails difficulties: truly understanding who people are and how their skills and inclination recommend them; crafting and executing well-built and considered models based on private sector innovation; sharing a military narrative that neither alienates nor bores; and all the other details which go into creating a cohesive whole out of disparate parts. Ideas are bountiful; the human imagination is vast. Adaptive leadership mitigates the difficulty and sorts the wheat from the chaff. With plans in place to iterate as results and operational need demand, these leaders seek and execute the most effective implementations for the best of these concepts.
Though it seems war will not change its faces in the coming decades, war has a future, and one of its ends is peace. We have still to see whether the end of war comes about via some technological, humanity-ending armageddon or a technology-mediated, people-centered peace. Yet more data points to consider on the terrain of time.
Special thanks to Brett Friedman and Nada Bakos for help on clarifying particular data points in the above. The links to articles describing products and services in the above are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily represent endorsement from the author.
Special thanks also to the authors featured in this #FutureOfWar series and the authors featured here from The Military Writers Guild.
Irene Tamaru is an applied mathematician-in-training, with some study in historical and mathematical sociology, interested in robust models that describe the human world.
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