About Me

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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. Until recently, I was a contributing editor 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.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Threat prediction is a vital pre-requisite of strategy development. It can, however, be a difficult and problematic task if the intelligence analysts as well as the planners and strategists do not have accurate intelligence at hand, do not understand the historical trends that have manifested over time, and do not understand the political strategies of their own government and those of the target country or target grouping.

If the intelligence services do not utilise all available resources at their disposal, and cultivate new resources where intelligence gaps exist, they will directly contribute to intelligence failures. Intelligence failures can, in turn, lead to misjudging the enemy, doctrinal failures and faulty or disjointed threat predictions and subsequently poor, unrealistic or irrelevant strategies.

The value of threat prediction and its analysis is that it provides benchmarks and indicators that can be used to constantly assess and re-adjust the overall military strategy. The need for flexibility in the developing military strategy is vital in order to prevent a tunnel-vision view of the threats a government may be facing.

The nature of modern warfare and, more broadly, armed conflict has changed dramatically from the classical or historical perspective of war. The days of two opposing armies meeting one another on an open field to engage in a classical conventional battle are, for the time being, long gone.

Although the ever-present threat of a conventional land, sea and air battle will always remain very real, modern war and/or conflict may be characterised by many different concepts such as religious fanaticism, ethnic hatred, radical ideologies, resource grabbing, xenophobia, mass mobilisation of the disadvantaged, a breakdown of law and order, a perceived weakness of the opposition, a growth in power by armed organised crime syndicates and so forth. These factors, more than ever, require detailed investigation – something that can only be achieved by means of a strong, dedicated and aggressive intelligence gathering and analysis capability. 

Whereas modern military technology, if correctly applied, can prove to be a force- multiplier on the battlefield, strategists and planners cannot rely on technology alone, as technology is prone to failure, often at critical times. Over-reliance on technology may, therefore, present several serious disadvantages to the user. Correctly used as a battlefield support system, technology can play a valuable role in locating, confusing and even overcoming the enemy. Technology, however, needs to be balanced against the operating environment, the threat and the ability to maintain and apply the technology correctly. It remains a secondary weapon and not the primary weapon of an armed force.

Intelligence analysts, along with military planners and strategists furthermore need to consider a host of different and varying factors that may lead to political tension and thus negatively influence the security of the state, its citizens and the operating environment.   

Political tension, on the other hand, may be the result of economic tension, natural resource distribution, border disputes, perceived political sabotage, ethnicity, religious differences and so forth.

Therefore, from a strategic planning point-of-view, several factors need to be closely assessed in terms of how they can be used to the advantage of the armed forces and how they can be successfully exploited thus denying the enemy from gaining an advantage.

Additionally, these factors need to be viewed in terms of the disadvantage they may hold for the political- and the military machinery. Of equal importance is the fact that the opposing forces will be assessing the same factors of the state or grouping they view as an aggressor.

The advantage will thus lie with the strategists and planners who are able to accurately predict the threats facing the state and identify the weaknesses and exploitation possibilities in order to develop realistic options that can be implemented.

PS: I have been travelling as well as ill and have therefore been unable to regularly update the blog. My apologies...


Herbert said...


The 4th paragraph of your posting mentioning the change in the nature of warfare reminded me of a problem I encountered while teaching a class at a US war college. I was presenting (dutifully in power point format) a lecture which up front asserted "the changing nature of conflict"--a point I consider patently obvious. Surprisingly, some students and professors began to challenge me. It took me a few minutes to realize that they were bothered because they thought I was challenging (I had not intention of doing so) the US war college Clausewitz religion, which holds that the basic underpinnings of conflict do not change, amen.

Seeing that the word nature was distracting them to the point of blindness, I went back and substituted the word characteristics--I changed nothing else. Everyone became happy and lauded my presentation. Insanity.

I'm certainly not suggesting you change a thing. I hope you don't run into the same sort of narrow-mindedness.


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You raise an extremely valid point, Herbert. There are many who have taken Clausewitz so literally that anything that remotely questions his writings is considered in the same vein as blasphemy. I believe we should read Clausewitz with some mental flexibility and realise that when he wrote his Vom Krige, he was referring to the nature and manner of war at that time.

The concept of Centre of Gravity was very valid when 2 field armies faced off on the battlefield. War as it was then has undergone numerous facelifts as technology, weapons and tactics were adapted to exploit these changes. War has also changed in terms of the various levels it is fought at. So too has the state’s power base changed and adapted with the rise of industry and technology – and the quest for power. This is why I prefer to seek the trinity of gravity as opposed to a single centre.

I believe we should take the writings of Clausewitz, Jomini, Sun Tzu and others and superimpose them onto our current situation. Then take what is relevant to our situation, discard the rest and add to it our experiences.

Of course, this may get me crucified but then again, these are my thoughts and I have been fortunate to prove them successfully in a few conflicts. However, I am always willing to listen, analyse and accept new approaches, methods and teachings when I have fallen off the wagon. (That is why I value your comments as you often raise points that I considered to be off lesser importance).

I am concerned that the narrow-mindedness you refer to will still cost us dearly.



Will FUSCOA said...


Most of the senior officers I've worked with (in Africa) either did their training with the French and/or with the Americans. If you are a senior officer in Africa now it will mean that you did your officer training in the early 90's at the latest. Classic warfare with two mechanized armies facing each other. Reality in Africa is that without external support there will be no mechanized battalions sweeping the planes. Even if you can buy T-55, BTR, BRDM etc cheaper than most luxury sedans, they seem to forget that maintenance is more expensive than the initial expenditure.

Now here lies the problem. Even though you can predict the possible scenarios that will/might happen, and even give solutions to the problems, the vast majority of senior officers are incapable of changing. In effect, you as adviser, is basically telling them that their 20 or 30 years of experience is worth nothing in counter insurgency and they have to do a 180 in their thinking.

In my opinion wars fought in Africa will be low key insurgencies with a later spike of soft skinned motorized infantry in the final stages of conflict. With intelligence services and communications systems non-existent junior officers and NCO's should be able to call the shots. Unfortunately the training they received stipulates a central command that dictates all actions. Telling a senior officer to delegate some of his authority goes against the grain of everything they had been taught.

It seems like only the ex-SADF and Rhodesians can relate to these concepts of where the grunt behind a rifle is more important than any plane, tank or helicopter.

Thus to summarize- even though a person or an entity might be capable to analyze correctly the threat, you will battle egos. A classical example is Billy Mitchell in the 1930's trying to change the doctrine where the aircraft and aircraft-carrier becomes the major asset and not the battle-ship. It took the Second World War to redeem him but countless lives could have been saved (and even a shorter war-maybe?) if his plans were implemented in the 1930's. Egos kill more of your own forces than any competent enemy commander.


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Good points all, Will – and yes, some of the training these senior officers were given ranks pretty low on my scale and is, in many instances, totally irrelevant. That said, one can ask who is to blame? Those that trained them or they themselves? Soldiers do what they are trained to do. If they perform badly, I think it reflects on their level and standard of training. I suppose I am very fortunate in that I have worked with many senior officers who have accepted my way of thinking.

Africa’s current and future wars are, as you rightly point out, not going to consist of large mechanised forces facing off. There may be minor engagements of armour against armour but that will be the exception as terrain doesn’t always allow this type of manoeuvre. Indeed, armour is most often used as a static fire support weapon and not as a shock weapon. Similarly, the value of the air weapon/air support is seldom exploited.

Maintenance of equipment and vehicles is always a problem. Few if any drivers are taught “driving and maintenance” and field workshops are virtually non-existent. But then, go back to the training their trainers received and all will be revealed.

I understand your point on egos and it certainly is valid in some instances. However, I recently worked with a group we trained and the C2 system we recommended was implemented with immediate effect by the Div Cmdr. I therefore also think it is how we carry our message across to the senior commanders that influences them either positively or negatively. Added to that, I have made many very good friends with many senior commanders in several armies who regularly correspond with me and who did not see my opinion/point-of-view as a criticism of their abilities.

Threat prediction remains import to me as it will (obviously) confirm certain things but will also add to the unknowns we may encounter such as the influence of ethnicity, tribal identity, customs, religion, etc and how regional intervention will, either overtly or covertly, impact on the overall threat. To do this accurately, we need intelligence. But if we know and understand the threat, we can envision what our actions/reactions should be.



Unknown said...

Good day Eeben. the following is a copy paste of what you wrote in answer to Herbert and it just about says it all.

Re Clausewitz

"he was referring to the nature and manner of war at that time"

Specific doctrine cannot always be carried out to the T. A certain amount of adaptability and lateral thinking on the move is certainly required from "contact to contact and operation to operation'. surely?

You call your piece Threat Prediction, however it seems like many "commanders" seem to employ the use of crystal balls and gypsy palm readers to garner intelligence to predict threat and tactics. The poor performance of soldiers and their commanders is without a doubt due to shoddy training and ridgid unflexible "commandments" as being taught at "college" or basic training. The need to be adaptable is key to success under ever changing conditions and political pressures. Training is the most important part of soldiering but if it is flawed at the basics stage then all you have are highly badly prepared,trained soldiers who are just waiting to get slotted, captured or desert!
I recall when we first went to Rio Longa base the amount of deserters there were daily from the FAA in the beginning before your operators took over training. I suspect the average FAA soldier must have felt that everything they were taught before EO arrived was basically to just create cannon fodder for UNITA? My opinion naturally. The soldier turned out by EO`s advisors were decent enough to take the fight to the enemy and sustain discipline enough to beat their adversary in the field along with the support of EO men.

Eo took basically complete novices and trained them into a decent force. I believe this to be fairly accurate from what i saw during my time in Longa and Cabo Ledo.

If you have good troops and a crappy commander i suspect the outcome will be a disaster unless the troops conduct a mutiny and get rid of the officer, which naturally holds it`s own set of issues and problems.

Once again i am no tactician and merely share my very humble views.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I value everyone’s views and comments Mike so thanks for your contribution.

Yes, we need to be able to adapt and be flexible but we need to know and understand the threat in order to do so efficiently and thereby reduce both own forces’ casualties and risk whilst overwhelming the enemy and creating attrition of his forces.

The value of doctrine is that it is a guideline or basis for thought on how to do things (not a rigid law) but is does not tell us what to do. It needs to be both flexible and adaptable and constantly reviewed to provide us with the “best ways”. As such, I view it as the bridge between strategy and tactics.

The EO instructors did a great job at Rio Longa, especially when one considers how low morale was and the intense political and military pressure FAA was at that time – to say nothing of the pressure EO was under at that time to produce a brigade that could take the war to the enemy. That said, they were able to superimpose the training onto the terrain and the enemy – something threat prediction should allow us to do, regardless of the type of enemy we are fighting. Doctrine was in many instances non-existent or irrelevant so much of it was drawn from lessons learnt and also developed on the move.

As I said to Will, soldiers – regardless of rank - are a reflection of their training. If they perform badly, look to their training as the cause. Mutinies, rebellion in the ranks and so forth are directly traced back to bad training, poor discipline, a lack of C2 and a lack of support.



Anonymous said...

From my experience in the intelligence field in the 1990's and now in an officer production school ... we (being the USA) will remain hampered in our intelligence capability because we serve technology rather than having technology serve us.

In the 1990's it was the devaluing of HUMINT in favor of the techie approaches. Currently we are over emphasizing the Science and Technology education of our future officers. We are preferring engineers and their rigid formulaic methods of thought. It used to be that ROTC relied on Liberal Arts education and degrees to balance out the engineering heavy products of the academies ... now that engineering preference is over taking ROTC.

This will harm us down the road. We could use less engineering students and more fashion designers, arts, and philosophy people. Otherwise we end up like the Imperial Japanese Army ... collective group thinkers of a common background and nobody to stand up and say "wait a minute."

It is time to really invest in the human side and stop looking for that magic tech solution.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Very well put, justinian565 and I agree wholeheartedly.

I believe we have allowed technology to become our strategy and in the process, neglected the basic principles of intelligence and in particular the exploitation of ALL sources. In turn, this has led to our inability to identify intelligence gaps, take corrective actions and predict threats.

Closer to home, here in SA we recently had an example of an intelligence failure and it resulted in the shooting of 34 miners. Whereas one can argue for the pros and cons, the fact is it was an intelligence failure. In our instance, I doubt any sources were even tapped into during the build-up to and prior to the event.

Your comparison with the JIA is also very applicable but I believe that an additional problem is that people are too afraid to say “wait a minute” as it may impact on their careers and promotions. On the other hand, when things go wrong, we can all blame it on a technology failure.