Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tactics By Hand

Knowing how to use the terrain to advantage to block enemy movement or make your own easier depends on the ability to match the folds in the ground with the way troops move over the ground and how fires relate to the ground and to the enemy. There are five types of terrain classified by relative relief as taught in basic map reading: A hole, a hill, a ridge (finger), valley, and saddle (pass).

These five types of terrain can be illustrated by using the features of one's own hand with the knuckles representing hill tops, the space between as saddles or passes, and the fingers and spaces between the fingers representing ridges and valleys.

Water tends to cut up the slopes into ridges breaking off from ridges creating a complementary complex of dendritic patterns with ridges on the high ground and valleys through which water likes to flow. The appearance of a hand with fingers is easily obliterated but the basic structure remains.


There are five ways to cross the five kinds of relative relief. Three follow the grain by moving along the ridges, or by moving along the valleys, or by going through the saddle or pass. Two go across the grain by running the hill tops which is a bit like ridge running except that the hilltops command the ridges on both sides, and by going cross corridor crosswise the ridges or fingers. This is the most common movement pattern as eventually one gets down the scale to a creek or stream.

In evaluating the application of fire over terrain to enemy movement, the relative slope of the terrain must be taken into consideration. There are three types of slopes: flat or even, convex, and concave. An even slope has the same effect on fires as does flat terrain.

The relation of fires with respect to the ground are classified as either grazing in which the fires graze at a level that engages the enemy for a distance away from the weapons. Plunging fires is when the area which hits the ground, called the beaten zone, is compact and the rounds strike the ground at an angle. In between the two the beaten zone becomes elongated.

Typically, plunging and grazing fires are used in conjuction with grazing fires covering the flat, even or along ridges. Valleys are typically covered with plunging fires from mortars or artillery.

A good commander uses the terrain to force the enemy to advance in column into enfilading fires, and plunging fires to fill in the gaps

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ad Hoc, Hellish, and Hectic

The movie, We Were Soldiers Once, shows the courageous fight of the 1/7th Cavalry Bn. The book of that same name told of that battle and the one that followed in which the 2/7th Cavalry was virtually wiped out. The 2/7th wasn’t rotated stateside, it was filled up and send back into battle. And that is the way a serious war is fought.

The VC/NVA against whom we fought along the Saigon River south of the Fish Hook in 1969 formed special anti-tank battalions to ambush the mechanized and armored cavalry units operating in those jungles and rubber plantations. They would set up an elaborate ambush, knock off one or two armored vehicles out of a company or troop before being mowed down by the armored troops like a line of Kansas reapers. The enemy then returned to “dwell” for about two or three months, then be back for more

During WW 2, German units often were battered beyond resemblance to their tables of organization, but did not dwell but reorganized on the fly under the nearest able leader who had the initiative to take charge.
These were called “Kampf gruppe” (Battle Groups) under the name of the commander such as Kampgruppe Peiper that operated in the Battle of the Bulge. These formations were ad hoc and mission oriented.

Historically, combat units that were badly shredded in battle either stayed in contact with an ad hoc structure or were taken to the rear only so long as they could be refilled, reequipped, and a short period of training to shake out the new arrivals. This is the way war is normally fought by competent forces. Those less than competent usually lost troops through desertion or defection. In the War Between the States on both sides, battered units were not refilled with replacements but simply reduced in size still under their original colors.

This then is the single most important Action under adverse Conditions to achieve battle Standards that any unit, be it combat, combat support or combat service support to master and maintain be they stateside or hell side, A commander must be able to fight whomever is presented by the fates or the will of God, with what is in hand. This includes the creation of new chains of command from whoever is left standing.

Ad hoc task organization is the norm in combat operations, except that it is done to meet the conditions of METT-TC. Reports from the field in Iraq and Afghanistan show a remarkable adaptability of our troops in a very eclectic and hectic operational environment. This constant state of shifting task organization to fight with what one has to do what needs to be done is simply keeping the edge of the sword sharp.

This process focuses on the fundamentals of whatever line of endeavor the fates have cast. It requires a firm understanding of the fundamentals of the trade. It means that combat arms personnel must understand the fundamentals of fire and maneuver, and the use of terrain given the weapons at hand to deny the enemy movement or enhance your own over the terrain in place. And it must done under severe pressure. There is no dwell time, no time for reflection. It is a time for action and decision making by command and staff on the fly.

To train to this standard, one never leaves collective and concurrent training. There are no stepping stones, building blocks, or rotations. And the edge of the sword never is allowed to get dull as one never knows when, where and how fast it must be drawn.

Monday, September 22, 2008

PentaThink and the Emperor's New Clothes

As Hurricane Ike knocked the power of for ninety percent of Houston, I found the time to catch up with my reading, while listening to the gentle thrum of my Honda 2000 generator. At the top of my reading stack were The War Within, by Robert Woodward, the Coldest Winter by David Halberstam, and “The March of Folly” by Barbara Tuchman.

After a while I found that all three are the same story, echoing down through over two millennia endlessly repeating “pursuit of policy contrary to self-interest” as defined by Barbara Tuchman. She illustrates self-interest as the “greater good” of the body politic which is further defined in the British comedy, “Hot Fuzz” in which a local cabal used homicide to enhance their standing for their local village for Britain’s “best village award” contest.
The local police chief used this cabal as an extension of his grief of the loss of his wife, while the rest of the town clowns followed in the manner described by Hans Christian Andersen in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” also known as Groupthink which is defined in Wikipedia as:

Groupthink is a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. During groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking. A variety of motives for this may exist such as a desire to avoid being seen as foolish, or a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering other members of the group. Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance. The term is frequently used pejoratively, with hindsight.

Groupthink is also illustrated in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty Four” with such concepts of NewThink, Good Think, and Double Speak as in the mantra “Peace is War, Love is Hate, Freedom is Slavery” which denies the citizen the ability to think critically.

In Gordon’s War, we propose that the underlying cause of folly in Tuchman’s sense is more a conflict between what people believe is the greater good and that which is the objective reality. The conflict is heavily weighted in the sense of the in-group of their own sense of power and control of the group itself. It is intensely selfish and depends on Groupthink to develop the “Greater Good”

The Confederacy seceded from the Union in order to protect their peculiar institution, slavery, when secession was the only possible way for the Union to abolish slavery was through a Constitutional Amendment which the South could have blocked forever. Japan attacked the US when the US was so committed to isolationism that only an attack on our soil could have forced the US to fight. Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union repeated the defeats of Napoleon in 1812 and that of Charles XII of Sweden in 1709, and those two make the short list of great commanders.

Ego triumphs over the Greater Good with dreadful regularity.

Group Folly depends upon Groupthink, which is characterized by Irving Janis as:

1. Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.
2. Rationalizing warnings that might challenge the group's assumptions.
3. Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
4. Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, disfigured, impotent, or stupid.
5. Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of "disloyalty".
6. Self censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
7. An illusion of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.
8. Mindguards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.

Groupthink is the dominant form of decision making in ordinary life, while it’s more rationale and objective counter is done as an exception once groupthink becomes group folly so disastrously as to force reconsideration. As in the Real World (RW), there is more than one group and within any one group there are subsets of groups each bound by the dictates of its own group think. Each group is fighting for survival for the group and the control of other groups.

Within each group is an inner group, the Gold Old Boys/Girls whose group think dominates the rest, and sets the tone for the group as a whole. This statistically is about ten percent of the group at the top of the pile, or one percent of the group plus its affinity groups of like minded or self interested.

This phenomenon is the default for groups of all kinds, and those of us involved in various associations and societies including the ROA know which groups and which persons to which and to whom I refer ... without naming names.

The worst example in American military history is the fable of MG Willoughby, MacArthur’s G2 between 1941 and 1951, who acted as the ultimate gate guard by repressing any intelligence contrary to his or MacArthur’s preconceived notions and whose greatest contribution to MacArthur’s defeat by the Chinese in 1951 was the denial that there were hundreds of thousands of Red Chinese troops in Manchuria and North Korea prior to the Battle of Kunuri on November 1950.

Once groupthink becomes formally established by law or custom, it becomes virtually ineradicable, worse than crab grass or herpes. Such is the case of our military establishment as exemplified by the denizens of the Pentagon as it has descended into dysfunctionality and irrelevance to the defense of the nation.

What Bob Woodward did not sense was the Good Old Boy attitude of the Active Components of the various services that became unsettled by the specter of operationally effective Guard and ReServe units, particularly in fire support and logistics. The storm came to a head when four National Guard separate brigades were poised for deployment to Desert Shield/Storm. While brain surgery and avionics repair were readily accepted as within the capabilities of RC (ReServe Component) units and personnel, the very idea of a “Weekend Warrior” wearing Green Tabs in a combat zone was too much for the Good Old Boy ego, and sense of group survival.

Shortly after Desert Storm, the operationally competent ReServe Components were functionally organized to avoid the opportunity for the leadership of RC units to gain operational experience. The administrative nullification of Federal Law that required units to be trained and deployed as units that followed further nullified the available operational environment necessary to train both units and individuals in the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP). The word went out in the Sea Services that deployable units are anathema and that the proper role of RC naval and USCGR personnel was as replacements for “the Fleet”.

The Army’s ARFORGEN (Army Force Generation model) is clearly the nuttiest notion in military training in all military history, which history includes the use of surveying equipment to dress and cover a military formation. ARFORGEN poses a five year cycle of training starting with individual training escalating to company level training five years hence, with combat in the sixth year.

This assumes that the individual skill sets in years one and two will be valid in battle six years hence. It does not take into account that in a six year cycle there will be two or three different company commanders none of whom has the opportunity to take full control of the combat effectiveness of their own troops. The six year (five plus one at war) is longer than any enlistment contract and ignores the progression of those in the ranks from E2 on up. I went from E-2 to E-5 in less time at the end of which I was a platoon sergeant.

The six year cycle (including the combat year) also assumes that the task organization, tactics, techniques, and technology derived from an analysis of METT-TC can be accurately predicted six years hence and is unchanging lest it screw up the training cycle. It is hard to imagine anyone with real combat experience accepting this nonsense, but they do knowing that it is nonsense and knowing that should they point out that the Emperor has no clothes is most likely to get a McMasters Award (Passover) for excelling above and beyond the limits imposed by the Good Old Boys/Girls.

Likewise the restructuring the Army into Brigade sized units instead of Divisions has no basis in any array on military contingency based on any array of the conditions of METT-TC. It also was manufactured “in flight” without regard for an operational structure above brigade, leaving this (fortunately) for the commanders in the field to recreate.

The fundamental rational for brigading the Army from divisions was that the ROAD Army division had too few Colonel Command positions for Combat Army officers, particularly since one of the three divisional brigades under the Roundout concept was a National Guard Brigade. The reinvention of the Battle Group (five line companies with a Colonel commanding) as a Brigade Combat Team is evocative of the Regimental Combat Team of the Korean War with the shortage of O-5 command and staff slots of the Battle Group corrected resulting in an overall thirty percent increase in high value field grade assignments.

Despite the obvious nonsense of building units based on our “adaptive enemies” not adapting for a rolling six year period of time, in order to provide high value command and staff slots for field grade offices is proceeding with fanfare in accordance with the dictates of Groupthink.

DoD wide, the word is out that the Long War is in. This has been a popular budget builder for DoD which evades the risky effort to figure how to win against those whom we fight. Victory, for the permanent party, is counter productive to career survival and the survival of the Good Old Boy/Girl group.

The Long War then is an admission of defeat which is another word for the evasion of victory. The concept of non-state actors as an excuse for planning for victory is central to group survival for the irrelevant or misaligned. Groupthink doesn’t need much of a push to keep this state of ineptitude going for decades.

The Founders knew this would happen, having experienced the worst of cronyism from within and from without. They know the folly of favoritism, nepotism, and cronyism was inherent in palace politics and deliberately put the decision making process for the form and substance of our military establishment in the Congress (Article I, Section 8, clauses 11-16) and default military force in the states under the Second Amendment as modified by Article I, Section 10, clause 3.

The Founders were very leery of a large standing professional military establishment, which did not occur in American military history until the passage of the Defense Officers Personnel Act (DOPMA) in about 1980. Previous military establishments for war were of a temporary nature which included temporary rank structures for war. DOPMA came about as the product of the Cold War for which the Long War is a clear extension.

At present the Pentagon’s own collective groupthinks have the bit between it’s teeth, which bit needs to be yanked out, teeth and all lest we fall into the abyss created by intrigue within the Palais Pentagon or by the overzealous and under decorated in the field get us into another fine mess.

POST SCRIPT: While the above is the considered and objective opinion of a rabid ReServist, it should be noted that the synergy between GroupThink, Parkinson's Laws, and Haga's Law that lead an organization to expand regardless of demand or resources is a normal human frailty, and should be taken into consideration in organization design and operation.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Full Spectrum Readiness

The reemergence of armored warfare in Georgia is a gentle reminder that the Battle of the Fulda Gap has been on a lunch break. In spite our success in armored warfare in the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon has been breaking up this winning team in readiness for a type of warfare extant only in fantasy (future war-itis) and unrelated to the counter insurgency war at hand. Now that the full attention of the requirements for counterinsurgency and stability operations are being realized, the invasion of Georgia pr
esents an interesting dilemma.

The task organization at tactical levels for counter insurgency and armored warfare are very different. Counter insurgency requires distributed and eclectic tasking of hard and soft power over a wide area, while armored warfare calls for concentration of fast moving firepower in avenues of approach. One calls for constancy of indirect effort over time in a large area, while the other calls for moving across the ground rapidly against an enemy force directly.

Historically, forces trained for one paradigm do poorly in the other. British and French troops seasoned by war against Arabs in the Middle East before both World Wars, were under-gunned for peer to peer warfare. Full Spectrum warfare requires that troops must retain the ability to switch from one end of the spectrum to the other in short order.

Full Spectrum Readiness depends on the establishment and maintenance of the linkages between units, subordinate, superior, supporting, lateral, and just in their area peculiar to the specific mission. Linkages are the nervous system, both the somatic and autonomic nervous systems of a military body. Linkages between people in a team, known as teamwork, operate as the nervous system of the team. In football training, this is done in football scrimmage. And no coach would dare delaying scrimmage to the week before the season opens.

The urge for team management to micromanage the team is bane of many a coach. Since the military only faces game time only in wars or other live fire deployments, it is easy to fake readiness by a focus on the paint on the helmets.

Military scrimmage consists of a team of teams

• The coaches train as a team of coaches, working in context of the rest of the school and it’s supporters (and detractors).
• Troop training is NCO business
• Unit training is the commander’s business.
• All train for a big change of mission,
• Scrimmage proceeds from the simple to the complex as individual and collective skills improve.

The first law of warfare is Murphy’s, and that the battle deemed least likely is the most probable. While “plug and play” is an important contingency, as a default it risks Murphy’s Revenge as every rotation is a new pick up team. Rotating large units to and from the battle area also doubled the time for the learning curve to adjust to a new form of warfare than previous wars.

Contingency focused operational training increases operational efficiency and effectiveness, and the readiness to adapt to changing circumstance and task organization/

METT-TC = Mission, Enemy, Terrain, Troops available, Time and Civilian considerations.

.. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/policy/army/fm/25-100/chap2.htm