DEFENSE IT

Joint Forces commander blasts tech planning

The leader of the Joint Forces Command says it’s time the military got back to basics--and that means realizing that success on the battlefield depends on ground troops able to rely first and foremost on their fighting skills, not technology, to win wars.

In a presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) June 1 in Washington, Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis criticized the “wrongheaded thinking” of military planners in recent years who placed too much emphasis on the role of technology in winning wars at the expense of military basics and troops on the ground, reports Greg Grant with DOD Buzz.

Mattis CSIS presentation, “Irregular Warfare, Hybrid Threats, and the Future Role of Ground Forces,” is part of an ongoing series of CSIS’ Military Strategy Forum events focusing on the Quadrennial Defense Review.

“We embraced some wishful thinking, we espoused some untested concepts and we ignored history,” Mattis is quoted as saying.

Too much emphasis was placed on the believe that superior intelligence and electronic observation of enemy forces would reduce the fog of war, Mattis said, who wants to counter that notion.

“Defense planners will not be allowed to adopt a single preclusive view of war,” he said. “War cannot be precisely orchestrated. By its nature it is unpredictable. You cannot change the fundamental nature of war.”

He pointed to what he deems “over-centralized” command and control as an example of too much emphasis placed on technology at the expense of critical leadership and execution by individuals and small forces at lower levels of command. “We’re going to have to restore initiative among small units and individual leaders,” he said.

Fire teams on the ground should be able to pull down joint intelligence and joint fires when in combat, Defense Systems reported on Mattis remarks at the Joint Warfighting Conference in Virginia Beach last month.

In the emerging mode of joint operations, junior noncommissioned and commissioned officers would have access to information and the authority to call for support from other combatants in ways that previously might have only been available to larger units, he said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has selected Mattis and Andrew Marshall, the director of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, to lead a QDR red team, reported John Bennett at Defense News.

“I think Jim Mattis is one of the most creative and thoughtful military minds anywhere, and I think the combination of Andy Marshall and Jim Mattis, basically red teaming…both the scenarios and the QDR itself [will ensure] we’re not prisoners of a bureaucratic group-think of people who have done this work forever, Gates told the House Armed Services Committee in May.

Mattis remarks reflect military commanders’ emphasis first and foremost on protecting those in front-line combat. They also show that when it is a question of human versus machine, U.S. military commanders put their trust in troops first, and technology second.

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Reader Comments

Fri, Jun 12, 2009

The General's comment, and thus the article, seem misdirected. He seems to be arguing for decentralization of communication, not necessarily criticizing tachnology. Technology can just as easily benefit the individual and small groups as it can people at command centers.

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