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I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. I am a contributor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Friday, February 13, 2009

STRATEGY AND TACTICS OF WAR

(Parts of this posting are from my upcoming book “The Techniques of War”, albeit as a very condensed version. Please note that this is NOT a comprehensive view of these two very important concepts).

There exists some confusion regarding the differences between strategy and tactics. Whereas this is understandable when talking to people who are not part of the military, it is frightening to know that there are senior military men who do not know the difference between the two and how they inter-relate to one another.

To fully understand the difference between the two, one needs to understand the meanings of the words, both being derived from the Greek “stratēgos” and “taktikē”.

Strategy is derived from the Greek words “stratos” and “ago”, implying or referring to the leading of, and giving direction to, an army. In modern warfare, the army is led to achieve the political aims of the government it serves. Therefore, a country’s military strategy is an off-shoot of the government’s greater political strategy, known as the Grand or National Strategy.

Taktikē” is the art of organising and coordinating an army so that it may do battle, using the correct techniques to overcome the enemy. In brief, these techniques – referred to as “tactics” – are relevant to the various phases of warfare.

The above definitions lead one to realise that strategy gives direction and strategic aim to the military and the tactics are the methods or techniques employed to achieve those aims. Furthermore, this implies that strategy is executed at the highest levels of the military whereas tactics permeates downwards to the lower levels such as unit and sub-unit level and even lower.

When a nation’s armed forces are committed to war, the war is fought at three distinct yet inter-related levels. These three levels are:

1. Strategic Level
2. Operational Level
3. Tactical Level

Warfare at the strategic level can be broken down into four distinctive types of strategic warfare. These four types are:

1. Offensive Warfare
2. Defensive Warfare
3. Attrition Warfare
4. Revolutionary Warfare.

Again, the aims and objectives of the different types of strategic warfare are determined by the government’s national policies which are in turn derived from the Government’s National or Grand Strategy. The decision to implement one of the types of strategic warfare is dependent on the perceived threat facing the nation. This threat is determined by a process of collecting information and processing it into intelligence.

Each type of Strategic Warfare can be further broken down into different sub-types of warfare. As an example, Offensive Warfare can be subdivided into either a Distant Strategic Offensive or a Close Strategic Offensive – the type being determined by the proximity of the offensive.

At the Operational Level, usually confined to a specific theatre of operations, the military strategy is accomplished by the setting of operational objectives, within that specific theatre, to meet the military strategy’s goals. Poor planning, non-compliance to doctrine and inadequate tactics can result in failure, thus impacting negatively on the overall military strategy.

The tactical level is that level where the techniques to attain the strategy are implemented by various unit levels such as a division, a brigade, a company or even a section. It is, therefore, at the tactical level that tactics come into play. The tactics employed will be dependent on numerous factors such as the phase of war, the enemy, the terrain, the weather, own forces capabilities, the local population and so forth.

Whereas the principle aim of war is to always achieve victory over the enemy, regardless of the type of warfare, the modern-day war can be viewed as having five main strategic goals:

1. To repulse an aggressive act by the enemy, contain and destroy it.
2. To invade, conquer and destroy an enemy.
3. To seize and exploit the resources of an enemy.
4. To energise foreign policy by means other than diplomacy.
5. To gain favourable public opinion and strengthen national resolve and will.

To achieve these strategic goals, the military will adopt a specific posture in order to accomplish its allocated mission. The posture will thus be determined by the perceived enemy threat and will therefore determine the military’s doctrine and tactics.

The tactics, in turn, are related to the specific phase of warfare that is being implemented. These phases - excluding the intermediate or transitional phases - are:

1. The advance
2. The attack
3. The withdrawal
4. The defence

Sound military strategies will lead to well-developed doctrines, good planning based on sound intelligence and correct application of tactics. It is, however, at the tactical level that the war can be either won or lost.

60 comments:

Aethyr said...

Aaaahhh this is quite a teaser for your forthcoming book!

Although I am afraid that this will be way over my head. But there must always be a place for theory and I cannot wait to read your approach to this topic!

Do you want to challenge Carl von Clausewitz? hehehe

regards
David

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Clausewitz’s works remain my favourite reading, David, so I would never embolden myself by challenging him but rather see myself adding to his works. I am a firm believer in not adhering to, in a blinkered fashion, to one philosophy – I prefer to be as flexible as possible.

That said, I found it very difficult to write an abridged post for the blog as there is so much to say and so little space…but I am a simpleton and therefore I am writing the book in such a way that even I understand what I am writing. Therefore, you will have no problem understanding it.

Rgds,

Eeben

xEMPIR3x said...

Are you going to relate these topics specifically to modern warfare or is it a a multi-century analysis? I ask this because I do have a strong interest in this topic but what little reading I have done on it so far I find hard to apply to the everchanging landscape of modern warfare.

david santos said...

Happy Valentine`s Day.

Sonny Cox said...

Hi Eeben

When do you hope to have the book published.
Cannot wait...

Robby Noel said...

Hi Eeben....From the little that I know of you it strikes me that your involvement in creation of PMC was done with noble intentions however PMC's today thanks to "Rambo" Americans have given it a bad name below from todays AP newswire....I might add that I've meet a few so called former "special forces" guys who signed up with Blackwater everyone of them was a taco short of a full plate.

In shift, Blackwater dumps tarnished brand name

Blackwater Worldwide is still protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq, but executives at the beleaguered security firm are taking their biggest step yet to put that work and the ugly reputation it earned the company behind them.

Blackwater said Friday it will no longer operate under the name that came to be known worldwide as a caustic moniker for private security, dropping the tarnished brand for a disarming and simple identity: Xe, which is pronounced like the letter "z."

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2009/02/13/national/a082042S40.DTL

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

The book is aimed at the modern-day situation xEMPIR3x. However, to know the present, we need to understand the past and the military’s past in terms of strategy and tactics comes a long way. That said, I am not trying to write a historical treatise but rather a modern guide to the techniques of war but focussed on strategy and tactics.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

The same to you, David Santos. Thanks.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I am buckling a bit under the pressure, Sonny, as my publisher wants it ready for printing by September 2009.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I think a lot of PMCs start out with noble intentions and plans to do good and in the process put food on the table, Robby. Circumstance and “stepping on toes” of those with vested interests tend to change how the PMC operates. My perception is that Blackwater were never in that situation and were given it all on a plate by the US government but messed it up due to poor discipline and a lack of control.

Changing a name to deflect criticism is not much of a plan.

Rgds,

Eeben

matt said...

Excellent, and thanks for the teaser! When I hear flexibility, I am happy. Any book on strategy and tactics in today's world, would be well served to take ideas and concepts from as many military thinkers in history as possible. That is why I liked Col. John Boyd so much, is because he was constantly evolving and trying to make a better idea. His only fault, in my opinion, is he didn't actually take a pause and just write a book about the ideas. Too bad, and I am glad men like you are putting your hard fought ideas into print.

One interesting thing with Boyd was that he would mentally fight a Sun Tzu army against a Clauswitz army, and work it out as far as who had the better ideas. Boyd leaned towards Sun Tzu. It will be cool to hear your thoughts on what influenced your company's 'tactics and strategy' while performing services throughout Africa. Cheers. -Matt

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

War-gaming without troops – we used to refer to it as a Tactical Exercise Without Troops (TEWT) – is an import process in testing one’s posture and tactics on the coming battlefield, Matt. One can then dissect, re-assess and adapt one’s planned actions. I mention this because it appears as your Col Boyd thrived on this.

I have always been a firm believer in flexibility and non-predictability. History gives us men who laid foundations for this and we should take cognisance of the lessons they left us. In Africa, we had to operate in desert, savannah, mountains, and jungles and so on. We needed to have the necessary flexibility and adaptability without giving the opposing forces an advantage. Developing these, we were able to operate with success in South America and East Asia.

Rgds,

Eeben

Aethyr said...

Thank you for the Article Robby... it was just a matter of time that Blackwater had to react after loosing their License in Iraq. But mere changing the name isn't going to do them good.

This reminds me of the accussations against EO right after it disbanded. In a lot articles and books it was stated that EO changed the name to Sandline only to get behind the "Apartheid past".

Just like Eeben said... changing the name is not much of a plan. Especially if you messed up like BW.

My two cents..

regards
D.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I need to make a correction to your comment, David. EO never became Sandline. That claim was part of a Stratcom (Strategic Communications Operation – ie disinformation operation) – the reason being something no-one has been able to figure out till now. When EO closed its doors (after I left), that was it – no more EO. Some men did go across and join Sandline but EO was never part of Sandline and visa versa.

That fictitious claim did however suit Sandline as they used it to piggy-back on EO’s reputation and secure contracts.

Rgds,

Eeben

Aethyr said...

Ah sorry... I should have taken more time to write more than just this short comment. I thought by using the term "accusations" I would made it clear that there was nothing behind those claims.

I wanted to write that Sandline already existed before the close down of EO, but couldn't find the fouding date on short notice so i just didn't... my fault. Call it youthfull carelessness...

Thank you for the correction!

regards
D.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

No problem, David. The advantage of having my own soapbox is that I can immediately jump onto it and state my case. I just wanted to ensure that visitors didn’t think that EO morphed into Sandline.

Rgds,

Eeben

Aethyr said...

I know... this really is an advantage. I didn't want to create the impression that EO morphed into Sandline.

Although my passive English is really good (if i have to read or listen to something) my active English really got rusty. I must be more aware... don't want to be misunderstood.

regards
D.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Your English is excellent, David. I just wanted to make sure that there was no confusion re EO/Sandline.

Rgds,

Eeben

Aethyr said...

Thank you very much! I appreciate it!

graycladunits said...

Dear Eeben:

Will your book be coming out in the US this time as well as SA? Last time, I had to wait to find someone who was going to SA to get your autobiography. (Thank God for Gatvol.)

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

There are only going to be a thousand copies printed GCU. As I understand, the publisher is going to sell them through my blog only. But, before that happens, I need to complete my writings.

Rgds,

Eeben

Sigurdur said...

Eeben, given the earlier comments about the US military's earnest but inept efforts at training African armies, and given that most training and 'counterinsurgency expertise' originates from US Special Forces, what do you think of their doctrine?

Here are relevant, leaked manuals discussing the specifics of USSF tactics, techniques and procedures:

http://wikileaks.org/wiki/US_Army_Special_Operations_Forces_Unconventional_Warfare%2C_FM3-05.130%2C_30_Sep_2008

http://wikileaks.org/wiki/US_Special_Forces_Advisor_Guide,_2_July_2008

http://wikileaks.org/wiki/US_Special_Forces_Foreign_Internal_Defense_Operations%2C_FM_3-05.202%2C_Feb_2007

http://wikileaks.org/wiki/US_Special_Forces_Southern_Afghanistan_Counterinsurgency_Handbook_2006

http://wikileaks.org/wiki/US_Special_Forces_Unconventional_Warfare_Operations:_overthrowing_governments%2C_sabotage%2C_subversion%2C_intelligence_and_abduction%2C_FM_3-05.201%2C_Apr_2003

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Those manuals have been floating around the public domain for some time now, Sigurdur. Whereas they are good training manuals that does not imply that the training the US gives African armies is good. But, I believe the US military is under orders to only present training to a certain level. Also, I do not see why the US government wants to claim it is the only one able – or capable - to give training in Africa. I believe that we see a carrot-and-stick approach to all of this.

Rgds,

Eeben

Lion said...

Good day mr Barlow, i realy enjoy reading your blog.

Reading all the things you write you look very openminded and not one side it .

I never served in any armed forces as i am to young to have been in the SA bush war and i feel the SA army have become a joke ..
If i ever have to go to war i hope to serve under a open minded leader who wil look after his troops that think like you .

regard
z
ps LKK has found his rank in the new herd

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I am pleased to hear that LKK has got himself sorted, Lion – thanks for that. He is a good horse.

Sadly, the SANDF is, thanks to numerous factors, no longer a serious armed force. As long as the current situation prevails, it will remain on the bottom rung of readiness.

Rgds,

Eeben

Rooivalk72 said...

Hi there Eeben, I hope you dont mind me calling you by your first name. Im busy reading your book Executive Outcomes Against all odds and cannot seem to put it down. Fantastic reading. WEll done.I would love to ask you a private question and therefore need to know how I should contact you. Im leaving my email adress incase you wish to contact me in this regard, or I shall check your blog again in a few days to see if you have replied. I look forward to hearing from you.

b_comer_crook@hotmail.com

Kind regards
Rooivalk72

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thank you for buying my book and taking the time to read it, Rooivalk72. I am pleased that you are enjoying it.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby said...

Per your other article on "gadgets" had to laugh when I saw this

Attack of the Killer Robots
The Pentagon’s dream of a techno army is doomed to fail.

In May 2007, the U.S. military reached an ominous milestone in the history of warfare—one that took an eerie step toward making this fiction a reality. After more than three years of development, the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division based south of Baghdad, deployed armed ground robots.

Although only three of these weaponized “unmanned systems” have hit Iraq’s streets, to date, National Defense magazine reported in September 2007 that the Army has placed an order for another 80.

http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/4243/attack_of_the_killer_robots/

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for that Robby. It makes one wonder where all of this gadgetry is taking them. Perhaps the money could be better spent on training?

The other side of the coin is that all wars have casualties. If these ideas are aimed at ensuring no human casualties, perhaps the politicians should never commit their armed forces to any hostile areas or actions.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby said...

I've mentioned this before the military has always had a problem with getting grunts to kill at will without conscience.

This fact is hitting home in the US with suicedes among returning vets now claiming more lives in January than were killed on the battle field.

I guess the solution to the "conscience" thing in their minds is to turn killing into a video game.

And please don't get me wrong I'm not a pacifist rather one who can only justify war by using the principle of the "just war theory"

Tango said...

Hi Eeben,
This was on SABC news this morning:
I don't know much about this subject ,but based what i have read on your blog and elsewhere i think these guys are out of touch !

SANDF key to conflict management in Africa: EU advisor February 17 2009 , 6:43:00


Richard Newton, Brussels

The European Union's special advisor on African peacekeeping capabilities says he believes South Africa has the best trained, best equipped army, navy and air force on the continent. General Pierre- Michel Joana says that the South African Defence Force (SANDF) could play an important role in helping the African Union (AU) become self sufficient in crisis management on the continent.

The programme, called Amani Africa, trains military, police and civilian leaders to deal with crisis situations on the continent. Structures and procedures are in place in all the five regions in Africa as well as at AU level. The EU's special advisor says what's needed now is training for the whole range of people needed for a peacekeeping mission.

“South Africa has probably the best army and the best equipped forces in all Africa...they also have a very important human resource aspect in terms of beneficiation and in terms of capability of command,” said Joana.

But not everyone agrees and recent media reports in South Africa paint a different picture. Unlike the navy and air force, the South African army is now regarded by some, even within its own ranks, as poorly equipped, poorly trained and certainly no longer the jewel in Africa's


Regards
Tango

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I have noted a sharp increase in the suicides, Robby and this has baffled me. Whereas war involves killing – something both politicians and soldiers ought to be aware of, it also holds the possibility of being killed. But trying to turn war into a giant video-game in order to limit or prevent casualties will not work.

Casualties are limited by sound strategies, good planning (based on intelligence and not guess-work), an understanding of the enemy and the local population in the Area of Operations, discipline and training and the application of sound doctrine and tactics – all held together by good leadership. Until armies accept this, they will continue to sacrifice young men in vain.

We had a saying in the “old army”: You cannot rectify a poor plan with firepower alone.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

To say the least, Tango, I am astonished at the rubbish claims the EU made regarding the SANDF. Everyone – including the SANDF – knows that they could not find their way out of a wet paper bag, let alone fight their way out of a paper bag.

On 13 Feb, C Army stated – on record - the following: “Late in 2008 senior army officers admitted during the army's annual combat readiness exercise that there were serious causes for concern around basic training. Concerns were raised about issues such as musketry and weapon handling skills by Major-General Vusi Masondo, who is responsible for the force's preparation”.

If that, according to the EU’s “Special Advisor on African peacekeeping capabilities” qualifies the SANDF as the best trained, best equipped army, navy and air force on the continent, he must be smoking something that disagrees with him. Or, maybe he knows something the SANDF does not know.

Rgds,

Eeben

Lexington Green said...

"Clausewitz’s works remain my favourite reading"

You may be interested in the ongoing Clausewitz roundtable at the ChicagoBoyz blog:

http://tinyurl.com/86zxog

And I suppose you must know already about Prof. Bassford's incredibly good Clausewitz site:

http://tinyurl.com/5ptwyy

xEMPIR3x said...

I was wondering if you could (in one of your future blog entries or not) shed some light on what kind of mindset or pshyce a good soldier has or should have. I know you yourself have been in combat and you have experienced the stress that it entails and have observed how others besides yourself have reacted to it. But with the rise in "stress" or "PTSD" the American media brings to light about the current fighting generation makes me question my dream and future in our military.

In a recent article I read that they have isolated the hormone that supresses stress and are considering supplying soldiers with it. But with the parallel pill craze isnt it the individual recruit not the stress?

I mean our military (U.S.) markets enlistment opportunities by offering financial benefits. I myself would constantly question a comrade that joined because he needed to escape economical hardship. I know people have the possibility of changing but with a prolonged war I think U.S. military officials need to reconsider the type of people they send into combat and their capabilities. Your thoughts?

-I hope I dont come across as a know it all or a badass or ignorant. I simply have to question this because, again they call the future of the U.S. military "Playstation Generation" and "Generation Kill". I am not joining the military for glory/honor or the gun. I honestly cant tell anyone why I want to join because I dont know. I just have had a life long desire to serve.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thank you very much Lexington Green. I wasn’t aware of those sites and I shall visit them forthwith.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

That may be a good idea for a future blog, xEMPIR3x but that would be a very subjective look at the problem. I also don’t think your comment reflects a bad attitude as it is a very valid observation. Furthermore, I can only give a semi-sensible response as my experience is different to those of others.

Noting the very high increase in suicides and PTSD is indeed a concern and I suspect that it can trace its roots back to poor combat preparation – training, discipline and leadership. The army I was in and the units I served in laid great emphasis on very tough training, rigid discipline (self and unit/team) and good leadership. Of course, we also had leaders who were not that good but those I served with and under were very good. We didn’t have TV, video-games – and seldom even had decent equipment but our training allowed us to improvise when needed.

As an example, the South African Special Forces was established in 1972. Up until 1988, 100 00 men had applied to do the prerequisite selection to get into Special Forces. Only 480 men ever qualified as Special Forces operatives. Of that 480, very very few foreign soldiers even made it past selection. Passing selection meant another 24 months of very tough training ahead before a soldier was considered to be an “operative”. So, my perception is that training, discipline and leadership make a world of difference. Added to that is self-pride, unit-pride, spirit de corps – and a desire to be the best soldier one can be in any given circumstance.

But that view is a gross generalisation as none of us can predict how we will react under fire or when it will simply become too much for us. I do however believe that the West has become soft and unable to cope with stress in general. Added to that is an over-reliance on gadgetry and a neglect of strategy and tactics.

I do not believe in giving pills to troops to cope with battle. Besides, drugs have numerous side-effects and I do not want to worry if the man next to me has had his tablet for the day. However, many people join the armed forces to escape their plight which may be social or economical. That does not make them bad soldiers.

Rgds,

Eeben

Andrea Murrhteyn said...

Eeben,

Interesting blog. Came via Armchair Generalist. Quite an interesting synchronicity really. I tried to get hold of you a few years ago, soon after EO was disbanded, but only managed to get hold of nervous individuals who weren't about to give out your number. Had to do with a guy called C. Haigh; and just yesterday, I came across one of his letters, when he was with an outfit called Unisol.

And then came across the reference to you.

Anyway, got to agree with your thoughts:

Everyone – including the SANDF – knows that they could not find their way out of a wet paper bag, let alone fight their way out of a paper bag.

Ol General Georgie said it thus: "You can't run an army without profanity; and it has to be eloquent profanity. An army without profanity couldn't fight its way out of a piss-soaked paper bag. ... As for the types of comments I make, sometimes I just, By God, get carried away with my own eloquence."

Back to strategy, and Africa: I stand corrected, but from my observation, I don't see one black African leader with anything remotely considered a realistic leadership political, military or socio-economic strategy for their nation; by which I mean a strategy for the future five years from now, let alone next week.

They only thing they are interested in is self gratification at the public trough, and their own megalomaniacal power; and the corruption is horrific; and black Africans couldn't care less. They are incapable of long term visionary thinking -- 'strategy'.

Clausewitz, Constitutions, and Critical Thinking aren't issues they are cognitively capable of. I'd be more than happy to be proven wrong; but sorry to those who prefer to calling me a 'racist'. The only way I stop being a 'racist' is to find a black African whose got an interest in holding his fellow black African leaders accountable, and sitting down in a serious, brutally frank conversation about a cocreated future in Africa. In the absence of such black Africans -- white Africans, need to wake the f**k up and very quickly! Prove me wrong on the facts, show me some black Africans who are interested in such issues, and you got my attention.

And finally, I was wondering what your thoughts were on the military strategies and views of Homer Lea on the science of war, etc. (some stuff I set up about him at www.military-gospel.co.nr)

Regards,

Lara Johnstone

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Although I may be mistaken, I don’t recall anyone with the name of C Haigh in EO, Lara, although I have met many people who claim to know me. I have even met someone who claimed he was me.

I don’t look at political issues on the blog and keep myself occupied with matters I think I have an idea about. That said, I have witnessed first-hand how politicians/diplomats from Europe have, straight-faced, given an African government bad advice, knowing full well the implications if that advice was implemented.

As for corruption: where does it not happen?

I am part of Africa and want to be part of its solutions.

Rgds,

Eeben

D said...

In researching your "strategy vs tactics" debate there is a strong body of work in the corporate world that can be adapted. Having run a business and being a wise man, I'm sure you will find the concepts easily adopted, adapted and improved (with apologies to Monty Python).

A good starting point on strategy vs tactics in business is Michael Porter's brief paper entitled "What is Strategy?" published in the Harvard Business Review, November-December 1996. [search Google for a PDF copy, and if that fails, respond and I'll email it to you directly].

As a business advisor, I've always told clients that any business, organisation or military has only three fundaments: strategy, process and people. Each is in systemic balance, depending on the situation and the type of activity. The strategy determines why and what you will do, the process determines how you will get the strategy operationally executed and the people implement it practically, probably adapting as necessary to do the best job on the ground. Without purpose and direction, your resources (and people) are improperly deployed; without the right processes (ie tools) too much pressure is put on people or on higher level resources are unnecessarily required. Without people (the correct people, motivated), nothing gets done.

Think of Mig vs Mirage over Angola. The Mirage was an aged, inferior weapon piloted by a motivated individual. Other than self-preservation, a Cuban Mig pilot would never have had the same motivation to achieve. Thus the motivation-man-machine system was more-or-less equal despite having very different weapons.

This brings me back to your “gadget” discussion. In a non-conscription military, the general grunts at the coalface or action are - unfortunately, but factually - never quite the cream of the crop. Thus, in my model explained above, the system is out of balance and greater reliance is placed on the process - in this case the gadgets.

This may sound too academic and unrelated to military activity, but I believe very strongly that in life’s fields of endeavour – be they battlefields, boardrooms or sports arenas – the principles of winning are universal.


PS: on the matter of traits of successful soldiers, there is a huge body of work readily available. The more modern work ranges from fairly basic and simple research done after world war one, to a strong body of empirically validated work in the modern age.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

As a Monty Python admirer, I accept your apologies on his behalf, D.

Apart from Michael Porter’s paper, there are many good books that deal with strategy and tactics. I believe that the theory is vitally important but if people have never applied the theory into practice, it remains theory they cannot measure the results of. And looking at some of the results, I feel that some of the practitioners of strategy have missed the mark and this has resulted in poorly executed tactics. And as you rightfully point out, this has a very negative impact on command and control, thus resulting in a poor end-goal. (Thanks for your offer re the Porter paper – I was sent a copy a few days ago).

Military leadership has a great deal to do with motivation and discipline as you mention. It is, however, easier to motivate people in the business place than under combat conditions. But without the discipline and leadership required, orders will not be followed to the letter and this can result in mission failure. So, I agree with your advice to business entities.

Unfortunately, many senior officers and politicians seem not to have realised that in the military (and in business), coming second means defeat. Whereas in business it can lead to the demise of a company, in war it can spell the end of a country. Perhaps the culture of winning is not developed strongly enough in the military for fear of offending some.

Your point is taken on gadgets. However, I am not anti-gadget; I am against planners placing so much faith in gadgets that the gadget dictates the strategy. Additionally, a lot of studies have been conducted on successful soldiers and commanders but until someone actually takes serious note of them, they remain academic works.

Rgds,

Eeben

Templar said...

Eeben,

I am looking forward to your book.
Do you have any news on this topic?

Best Regards from Germany
Templar

Templar said...

Eeben,

I am looking forward to your book.
Do you have any news on this topic?

Best Regards from Germany
Templar

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

My publisher, like you, has been putting me under pressure to hurry up, Templar. I am trying to have a draft ready by June/July as they want the book available for sale by November/December 2009.

Rgds,

Eeben

Templar said...

Well, Sir, I am sure you are able to deal with a certain amount of "pressure". ;-)

Thanks for answering so quickly.

Best Regards from Germany
Templar

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

If I survive the pressure, I shall let you know as soon as I am able to submit my first draft to my publisher, Templar. Thanks for your interest.

Rgds,

Eeben

L said...

I respectfully disagree with your assesment of the west "going soft" Mr. Barlow. Yes, all the components you mention are key to a competent army, even more so in irregular warfare. I humbly suggest that its not that western military forces have changed for the worse, rather that war has changed, and returning to old tried and true doctrine (and actually following through and not just making "bold statements") would be insuficient and probably land mixed results. War is much more political these days.

Military planners are then faced with two options: Lament about the loss of the "good old days" and the rise of "political correctness" and refuse to evolve or accept the new operational environment and come up with ways to not only adapt around new problems but exploit opportunities. A few examples: The tet offensive during Vietnam was by all accounts a disaster for the North Vietnamese in terms of operational failure and losses incurred, but it was the political victory that ended up deciding the outcome of the war. You could chalk it up to the media, which brings me to the second example. During the first gulf war, amphibious landing exercises were carried out in front of CNN reporters by the U.S.M.C. in a succesful misinformation campaign against Saddam, he swallowed the whole thing to the point where his staff had extensive plans to turn beaches into kill zones. And now, while the insurgency in Iraq is still a problem, Al-Qaeda never gained a strong position exactly because of their ruthless tactics, they pissed off the general Iraqi public and from there on they would take a backseat to Iraqi militias in terms of relevance (correct me if I'm mistaken in this point).

Yeah war is more political and mediatic these days but the blade cuts both ways. Strategies for low intensity conflicts in the age of the internet and digital cameras MUST take into account this new battlespace if they are to be succesful, lest they become recipes for flawless series of tactical victories that end in strategic defeat.

To sum up, instead of complaining about political correctness a successful modern strategist ought to understand it and figure out ways to exploit that tendency both to get domestic support and make his opponent trip and stumble constantly, preferably into a pit of punji stakes.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

War is more political nowadays as you rightly state, L, but I base my opinions on what I see and experience. Of course, it is good to disagree with me as we all have our own ways of looking at the situation and making our own deductions and conclusions. So I welcome your comments.

Irregular warfare remains irregular warfare, no matter how we look at it. The strategies and tactics depend on many factors but the truth is that the modern soldier is not as tough as his decades-ago counterpart. We see soldiers today being given “time-out” to recover whilst on courses, selection processes have been watered down, discipline has become more “relaxed” and so on. Additionally, the confusing messages given out by the politicians adds to this “softness” we witness – or that I perceive as “softness”.

The terrain soldiers are called to do battle in has not changed and whereas the terrain dictates tactics, the weapons have changed – leading to a modification of tactics – but not an overall change. As regards strategies, we have come to confuse strategy with gadgets- the “shock and awe” strategy is a prime example of a flawed approach to military strategy.

Of course, the role of the media in allowing the vanquished to achieve political victories is well known. (As regards your point of Iraqi militias, I am not well-suited to answer that but perhaps some of our other visitors will be).

In my opinion, in modern warfare the strategist needs to consider several very important issues. Apart from the aim of the operation, issues such as technology, the enemy, etc all remain important. But technology is a force-multiplier and not a strategy in itself. But what we can use against an enemy, an enemy can use against us. The difference is that the enemy’s politicians are not so concerned about what their voters have to say. They want victory at all costs.

I believe we have glossed over the basics and tried to utilise other means to achieve success – those means have shown themselves to be somewhat flawed.

Rgds,

Eeben

L said...

I agree that there has been a shift towards technology as a panacea, which has become a problem in itself. I believe it's really part of the zeitgeist and a byproduct of the modern military-industrial complex but I digress.

I will not and cannot argue that a return to basics isn't necessary, I am merely saying I believe by itself is insufficient.

For the sake of argument, lets assume that indeed the enemy does not have a vulnerable political center of gravity. A well organized western military force does, and that alone should be grounds to take political impact into consideration when defining acceptable tactics and the feasibility of a long term strategy, if only to avoid metaphorically shooting ones self on the foot.

But I believe at least in the case of muslim extremists they do. Al-Qaeda is very dependant on support from fundamentalist muslims and projecting a war against Islam in general only reinforces that bond, and that's exactly what using language like "crusade" or "islamofascism" did. We're never going to be best buddies with Islamic fundies nor I think it is desirable, I merely suggest driving a wedge between the two factions will make victory that much easier. And I believe if you examine insurgencies historically, no insurgency has ever been successful on the long run if it operates in an environment where the general public is hostile to them. Conversely, it is very difficult for counter-insurgency operations to work if the forces involved alienate and anger the locals.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Although you raise some very good points, L, I view it differently because of my limited exposure to certain operations. I believe that basic training lays the foundation of discipline and an ability to follow drills, procedures and orders but as you rightfully point it, it is not the end – it is simply the beginning.

I have always viewed terrorism as more of a policing action than a military action. Whereas the military may be called in to hit targets, the approach is police work. In turn, this influences the political impact you so rightly refer to.

During these police actions, the military is in a supportive role and does things such as influence operations, human mapping and so forth. The aim of these types of actions are to “divide and conquer” ie, find the friction in the ranks of the opposition and exploit them with the aim of isolating the enemy – “removing the water from the fish” to quote Mao. That leads to the wedge you refer to.

Angering the locals is an indication that the war is being lost and frustration beginning to settle in. In turn, this adds to the trigger-pool of the insurgent. We should NEVER lose sight of the value of the locals and how we can get them to rather side with us, regardless of the belief or philosophy of the enemy.

Rgds,

Eeben

L said...

I suppose I misinterpreted your original statements to a point. So, would you say that this is the reason why large conscript armies seem to be so ineffective, even when equipped with modern weapons and given proper support? breakdowns at the small unit level?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

The SADF of old was largely a conscript army, L. Yet, it did remarkably well in combat. So I don’t think it is due to conscription but due to a weak foundation and inadequate training. This all leads to break-down of discipline, tactics and actions at the lower sub-sub-unit level and lower.

Rgds,

Eeben

L said...

When I was talking about large conscript armies I was thinking more about Russia and China than South Africa actually, in particular during the Balkan wars during the 90s. I just figured an all-volunteer army would have a different performance than an army composed mostly of conscripts, do you believe this makes any difference?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Usually volunteer soldiers are more motivated but that is not always the case, L. We can create an environment that breeds motivation but we cannot really instil it as it depends on each person how motivated they will become. But, if I could, I would always choose volunteers and then subject them to a stringent selection process to weed out the misfits.

Rgds,

Eeben

Michael said...

Sir,
Thank you for sharing this it was very insightful.

I look forward to your book.

Regards

Michael

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for your comment, Michael. As for the book, time is becoming a problem…but I will get there.

Rgds,

Eeben

Alan said...

Eeben and mates:

I would have been remiss had I not forwarded this one, if for no other reason, pure comic relief. By the way, what particular religious order did Executive Outcomes represent?

Cheers, Alan

Allegedly sought to "wipe out Muslims and Islam" in Iraq US Blackwater's boss accused of Crusader beliefs

http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2009/08/08/81171.html

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

When I read that quote I must confess to being rather surprised, Alan. That is some allegation.

EO was not religious at all in terms of who we worked for. As we worked for Christian, Muslim and other religious groups insofar as governments are concerned, we respected everyone’s beliefs. The easiest way to find yourself isolated is to view any client’s belief with disrespect.

Besides, it lets one lose objectivity.

Rgds,

Eeben

Thr Right Word said...

Eeben, working on a maters in history and a masters in military studies/asymmetric warfare. Looking forward to your new book. Read Executive Outcomes and it became my go to for effective counter-insurgency operations. Asymmetric warfare is the face of the new generation warfare, so your insights will be much appreciated. Strategy and tactics in warfare, specifically counterinsurgency, is in it's infancy. The United States military has yet to figure it out. Unfortunately the case of Executive Outcomes is ignored because no State wants to admit that a mercenary force did it right.

Thanks, Mike

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

There are many lessons to be learnt, Mike. But the important thing is that we take note of them and apply them where applicable.

Unfortunately, I do not see that happening much.

Good luck with your studies.

Rgds,

Eeben