Monday, July 30, 2007

My take on the JIEDDO paper

Now that I'm finally free of the Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command (or as my office calls it, the kiddie pool), I wanted to discuss JIEDDO in light of the research paper written by Colonel William Adamson for the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

To be completely honest, I started reading Col. Adamson's paper (available here) in the hopes of finding evidence to further my argument that JIEDDO is wasting money by being overly focused on gadgets designed to counter improvised explosive devices (IED). Instead of finding more proof the caricature, I was surprised to find that this insider's history of JIEDDO went beyond caricature into a study of the DoD's various cultures.

From Col. Adamson's description, the genesis of JIEDDO was nothing like the organization it is today. Both the Army and Marine Corps initially responded to the use of IEDs as a matter for explosive ordanance disposal (EOD) specialists. The Corps' Counter Explosive Exploitation Cell and the Army's IED Task Force focused on enhancing the EOD capabilities of individual units by assigning EOD specialists and collecting and disseminating lessons learned from the field. This was mostly a function performed by and for the soldiers in the field.

Everything changed in 2004 when General John Abizaid, then commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), wrote a personal letter to Donald Rumsfeld asking for the Pentagon to sponsor a 'Manhattan-like Project' to counter IEDs. This marked the decline of the EOD approach used by troops in the field and the rise of what Adamson calls the 'Title 10' approach.

For those not familiar with how the U.S. government bureaucracy works, the attitudes and direction of each agency or department is defined by the U.S. Code. Title 10 is the title governing the missions and authorities of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the military departments. What Adamson is referring to is the statutory mission of each military department, which is to train, equip and supply the armed forces of the United States. To this end, the military departments tend to solve military issues with procurement or recuitment strategies because they are more in keeping with their mission.

So when the fruit of these early steps were handed off to a Joint IED Defeat Task Force and Joint Integrate Process Team (JIPT), the Pentagon naturally shifted its focus to technological solutions. This undercut comprehensive and aggressive efforts to counter IEDs in three ways:

First, doctrinal innovation took a back seat to technological innovation, even though it is easier and cheaper. There is a reason why 'doctrine' comes 3 letters before 'materiel' in DOTMLPF -- enough said.

Second, there was a tension between the Pentagon, CENTCOM and unit commanders over the completeness and efficacy of IED solutions. CENTCOM wanted to push anything that had at least a 51% success rate out to the troops, where as Pentagon acquisition folks wanted to only hand out robust, 'turnkey' solutions. The acquisition wasn't the only point of resistance though because unit commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan were wary to use unproven technology.

Finally, the technology-focused approach treated IEDs like the problem when they really were only a symptom of lawlessness and ineffectual governance. The billions poured into technology might have had a greater impact if they were focused on improving Iraqi police or the Iraqi judicial system.

Col. Adamson concludes the paper by arguing that JIEDDO's effectiveness would be enhanced by greater interagency cooperation. In his defense, the good colonel brings up plenty of instances where JIEDDO reached out to other elements of the U.S. government for assistance and, not surprisingly, they were turned away in most instances. He proposes overcoming this problem by establishing an IED 'integration center' that is strikingly similar to the National Counter-Terrorism Center. Building such a center would allow the U.S. government to shift away from its focus on countering IEDs to predicting and preventing them by blending intelligence, military and law enforcement action.

This approach has two key weaknesses:

1. It still treats IEDs like the problem instead of a symptom. Wouldn't an interagency coordinator or process focused on building Iraqi governance capacity ultimately be just as effective at stopping IEDs? Or for that matter, what about simply pouring more resources into rounding up loose munitions and explosives? Recent efforts to go after the IED production and deployment process has forced some bomb-makers to resort to cruder designs, including ANFO-based truckbombs.

2. It trips on the common source of all failed interagency efforts -- poor resource allocation. The reason why many of the other elements of the U.S. government couldn't sign up to assist JIEDDO is because they couldn't afford to take resources away from their own missions. The FBI and ATF are staffed to deal with domestic threats within the context of the United States. They are only given enough resources to handle a narrow set of operations and in practice, they rely heavily on the support of state and local police forces. It would probably easier for the DoD to build up its capacity to police, investigation and dispose of bombs than it would be to bring external law enforcement resources to bear. The Intelligence Community is the same way -- it can't be expected to divert day-to-day collection and reporting resources away from the strategic missions it must support.

Col. Adamson should be very proud of himself -- his paper is a well-written history of bureaucracy and organizational adaptation. If the process wasn't so personality-driven, I would recommend it as a case study for anyone interesting in organizational behavior. His proposals are innovative and very detailed, but unfortunately, even the most innovative bureaucracy can't make up for problems caused by contradictions and deficiencies in U.S. foreign policy.

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