Sunday, March 25, 2007

Defense Transformation Redux

I apologize for the lack of posts recently, but I've been waist deep in homework assignments this week. Graduation is getting so close that I can taste it. In the meantime, I've refined my original defense transformation info paper to take out some of the jargon.

Military Revolutions and Defense Transformation

BACKGROUND: This memo will define and critique the idea of defense transformation as it relates to the Department of Defense. Specifically, it will highlight the term’s role as tool for with dealing revolutions in military affairs, how it has translated into DOD policy and the limitations of implementing those policies.

DISCUSSION: War is a dynamic enterprise centered around one goal: Control over the production of goods. Agrarian societies fought over arable territory. Industrial societies fought over natural resources and population centers. Post-industrial societies today fight over ideas, information and technology. The methods of fighting war have also shifted to meet these changes in the means of production. Seasonal peasant armies armed with bows and triremes began to give way to conscripted riflemen and ships-of-the-line around the 16th Century. Industrialization gave birth to mechanization and rocketry, but it was radio and the Global Positioning System that fundamentally changed warfare in the 1990s.

These macro-historic changes have been labeled revolutions in military affairs (RMA) and many historians believe they have played a significant role in world history. The DOD coined the term ‘defense transformation’ to break the continental shifts of an RMA into its constituent parts. Each instance of ‘transformation’ is an individual change in defense capability or organization that gestates over a period of a decade or more.

The 2003 Defense Transformation Guidance defines transformation as “a process that shapes the changing nature of military competition and cooperation through new combinations of concepts, capabilities, people and organizations that exploit our nation's advantages and protect against our asymmetric vulnerabilities to sustain our strategic position, which helps underpin peace and stability in the world.” In order to achieve this ‘shaping,’ the DOD has drafted policies intended to array its finite resources against a range of unknowable future threats and vulnerabilities. These policies are designed to balance current and future-spending priorities and competing needs for basic research and system development while avoiding the tendency for path-dependency caused investment in technology.

The advantage of this approach is that it does not commit the DOD to one transformation strategy. It allows for both small, ‘evolutionary’ steps and large, ‘revolutionary’ leaps in military capabilities. Unfortunately, this approach is also fraught with problems. Splitting resources between revolution and evolutionary efforts may yield a military that is a jack-of-all-trades, but master of none. Transforming to maintain a preponderance of power may encourage adversaries to pursue the means to counter maturing U.S. capabilities, creating the technological equivalent of a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Two other criticisms can be leveled at defense transformation as well. First is that transformation cannot be pursued in a social or political vacuum. Norms and organizations have placed limitations on the ways in which militaries have been mustered, equipped and used for centuries. There is no reason to believe the nation-state or post-modern society doesn’t share this tendency. The second is that transformation policy creates the mentality that change can be fostered through policy intervention. Transformation only a small part of sweeping social, economic and political change caused by shifts in the means of production. It would be more effective to focus on reducing the factors that prevent endogenous transformation, such as bureaucratic aversions to risk and change.


A.E. said...

The picture you used for this post reminds me very much of a Gundam, hahaha.

Maybe that's the next DOD project? After all, it combines all of the "advantages" of the Crusader program with Star Wars, and could probably help with PR.

A.E. said...

J. said...

Interesting research. I want to throw some ideas against you re: chemical warfare as an evolving concept as defense trends came and went through "generations" of warfare. First I have to write down some thoughts...

Robot Economist said...

Chemical weapons and the other "weapons of mass destruction" are interesting cases that come straight out of the industrial era of warfighting. They are still relevant today, but in a different way.

During the industrial era of warfare, everyone was fixated on vertical proliferation between the U.S. and the U.S.S.S. It was all about arms control, strategic limitation/reduction treaties and CVID.

Nowadays, everyone is fixated on horizontal proliferation. The Internet and information age is partly to blame, but not entirely. The Bush administration is really sweating bullets on the hypothetical notion of a terrorism-WMD nexus because its industrial-era government has no response to such an event.

Sure, they have hazmat teams and first responders to clean things up and bombs to drop on training camps after the fact, but they come up with ways to deter, disuade or defeat such threats.

A bomb goes off in Iraq and what is our response? We send some troops to knock down the door to someone's home in the middle of the night. Sure, we might nab the guy who planned or carried out the attack, but our tactics have only laid the groundwork for future attacks.

I'm not blaming the military on this one - they are doing the best damn job they can within the resource and cultural constraints of an industrial-era institution.