Dr. Gorka: Reflection or Genuflection?

In the IW lecture from Dr. Seb Gorka, he brought up very interesting views regarding interagency, strategy, and Irregular warfare to name just a few points. After his lecture, still more questions were left poised for consideration and a follow-up seminar was organized. Of the 60 or so staff and students in attendance, I found it refreshing to hear such concern and dialogue regarding our most contemporary military issues for what turned out to be one of the more interactive sessions I’ve had the privilege to attend. Why does Dr. Gorka’s candid viewpoints strike such resonance with Command and Staff College? I am interested in your thoughts.

LtCol Paul Melchior

Spitballing Barbary Dreadnaught

by Captain Brett Friedman

To echo General Van Riper, the efforts to institute design in the planning process, for both the Army and the Marine Corps, have fallen short. MCWP 5-1’s description of design is little better than a few printed pages of lorem ipsum dolor. The design portion of EWS draws a lot of confused stares and disbelieving snark. Even having read into design before hand, including this this Small Wars Journal article by Adam Elkus, I did not fully understand the concept after reading through MCWP 5-1 this year

But Thursday of last week, I got it.

In the course of Barbary Dreadnaught, a MEB level planning exercise at EWS, the FACAD used a very hands-off approach when it came to design. Previously, we had always been working towards a problem framing brief. This time, we just had a group discussion on the problem we were facing. Somewhat surprisingly, the discussion quickly turned to the strategic level. Students utilized concepts from Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, and Thucydides in the course of evaluating the problem. This discussion arose organically and I was surprised at how much it meshed with strategic theory concepts as well as how much it affected the tactics chosen.

The discussion began with a focus on the enemy, in this case Country L. The group discussed how Country L’s goal, at its heart, was about securing more control over oil in the region. Once this was agreed, it became clear that Country L was utilizing the strategic offense to secure key territory within Country T (territory that included oil pipelines and refineries) in order to use their possession of said terrain as a bargaining chip at subsequent negotiations. Depicted graphically these conclusions look like this:

Country L’s Strategic Analysis

1) Ends: Increased control over oil rights

2) Ways: Strategic Offensive

3) Means: Favorable position at negotiations based on possession of key terrain within Country T

Once this was understood, their tactics made a great deal of sense.

Country L’s Tactical Analysis

4) Ends: Retain possession

5) Ways: Tactical Defense

6) Means: Country L’s Operations Group-West (LOG-W: a task force composed of three divisions organized according to former Soviet Union doctrine)

Our own situation flowed from that understanding of the enemy situation.

Coalition Strategic Analysis

7) Ends: Secure and defend Country T’s sovereignty

8) Ways: Strategic Defense

9) Means: Coalition Military Forces

Coalition Tactical Analysis

10) Ends: Clear LOG-W in zone

11) Ways: Tactical Offense

12) Means: 1st MEB, Country T attachments, and joint enablers

The numbers represent the order that each portion of this framework was addressed in the organic discussion amongst the OPT and each number flowed from the previous one, matching the order in which the group discussed each aspect. Once it was placed on a whiteboard, it was arranged like this:

L’s Strategy               L’s Tactics             Coalition Strategy       Coalition Tactics

(1)                                (4)                                      (7)                                  (10)

(2)                                (5)                                      (8)                                  (11)

(3)                                (6)                                      (9)                                  (12)

This is definitely not a finalized concept and I post it here to get input from CSC. As you can see, I used Clausewitz’ strategic-tactical framework for this post. I’m still examining whether or not the operational level of war is useful in this context or if the J. F. C. Fuller/John Boyd physical, mental, moral framework has a play. MCWP 5-1 does not suggest using strategic theory to frame the problem but when it happened organically I took notes and this discussion matched up best with an ends, ways, means construct split up into Clausewitz’ strategic and tactical levels. The problem many students have (including me) is the nebulous nature of current design doctrine. It would be nice if every problem framing discussion came out so neatly, but without guidance to that end it may not occur to an OPT to examine both combatants sequentially from the strategic level down to the tactical.

I would love to hear CSC students’ input on whether or not this makes sense. I ran it by other students and it passed the “grunt test”: students not involved in the original discussion remarked that it instantly made sense to them without any explanation, something that the Problem Framing step of MCPP cannot boast. It certainly helped me to understand the problem situation value to the group as a problem framing for a conventional exercise, but would this apply to other kinds of warfare and, most importantly, reality? What does this tell us? If we use this methodology during problem framing, what do we end up with? In a future post, I plan to test this framework on Operation Enduring Freedom.

What Is War? A Debate (Or … Something You Wish You’d Read before the Comp)

There was an interesting piece published in the Small Wars Journal Wednesday on the potentially changing nature of war (sound familiar?). In “What Is War? A New Point of View” LtCol Jill Long, a student at the Army War College, argues that “[w]ar is no longer a discrete action of armed conflict but a continuum of engagement in order to limit the dissonance between a nation’s will and that of other state and non-state actors.”

Jason Fritz, Army vet turned consultant, counters LtCol Long in a post over at Ink Spots (a blog you should add to your regular reading, btw), arguing “[t]he world is bleak enough without calling all state activities “war,” nor is it helpful in understanding what war actually is.”

Since this question of the enduring nature and changing character of war hits center mass of one of your comp questions from last week, I wanted to share this exchange with you. First, these questions are important and smart people can disagree in their responses. Second, the level of discourse and depth of reasoning found in these two (very brief) pieces is where we’re moving you this year. (Yes, I know that’s passive voice, CG1; I did it on purpose.) Don’t just read these pieces for their arguments; take a minute and look at how they structure their logic and develop their positions.

Dr. Johnson

The Initiative and the Defense

By Capt Brett Friedman, EWS
(That’s right. EWS. Posting on Blackjack’s Crossing. Where’s your post, Major?)

In her post Chancellorsville Redux, Dr. Johnson raised the question of whether one can sieze and maintain the initiative while on the defensive. MCDP-1 tells us that you can, and is careful to point out that the initiative and the offense are not mutually exclusive. An illustrative example, and one that’s quite nearby, is the battle of Fredericksburg.

In late 1862, Ambrose Burnside, newly appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac, was clearly on the offensive. Lincoln’s orders were to “Cross the Potomac and give battle” and Burnside’s predecessor, George McClellen, was relieved for his failure to execute a vigorous offense. Lincoln’s driving need for a victorious battle and Burnside’s need to succeed where McClellan had failed stripped him of the initiative. Burnside had to attack towards Richmond and he had to do it soon.

Lee, of course, had to defend Richmond, but he could choose when and where to defend. He did so only at a place where he couldn’t help but beat the Union advance: Fredericksburg, Virginia where Burnside was attempting to cross the Rappahannock. Lee even chose to allow Burnside to cross, placing only a disruption force in position to oppose the actual river crossing. The Union army, propelled forward by the need to attack, shattered itself on Lee’s defenses above the town.

While it cannot be said that Lee gained the initiative through any action on his part, he certainly realized that the Union was locked into the offense on both strategic and operational levels. The battle of Fredericksburg is an example of what can be achieved through a combination of initiative and the stronger form of warfare, the defense. Union casualties almost equaled Antietam. The defeat turned even Republicans against the Lincoln administration; Republican Congressional leaders drafted and passed a bill urging Lincoln to “reorganize,” meaning fire, his cabinet. After learning of the defeat, Lincoln said, “If there is a worse place than Hell, I am in it.”

Lee’s ability to emplace tactical defensive position, at an operationally significant time and place, had far-reaching strategic effects. The defense might be the less decisive form of warfare, but that’s not to say it’s never decisive. MCDP-1 says that “By taking the initiative, we dictate the terms of the conflict and force the enemy to meet us on our terms.” This certainly describes Lee’s coup at Fredericksburg, despite the defensive nature of his mission.