Sunday, May 14, 2006

In Defense of EBO - Part 2

Ralph Peters wrote in the April 06 issue of Armed Forces Journal an article titled Bloodless theories, bloody wars; Easy-win concepts crumble in combat.

The so-called "bloodless theory" he's alluding to is effects based operations or EBO.

This is part 2 of my defense of EBO or more appropriately an effects-based approach to operations (EBO for short).

Read part one here.

If you can understand the concept of cause and effect, you can understand EBO. It's just common sense and it's not really all that complicated. It might require a tiny little bit more of brainpower than the alternative, target-based and objectives-based approaches, but not a whole lot more. For every action there's an effect. If I hit the brakes in my truck, I'll slow down and will eventually stop if I keep adding pressure to the brake pedal. If I want to accelerate I step on the gas. If I want to stay awake, I drink coffee. If I am thirsty, I drink water. If I want to get drunk, I drink alcohol. Within the realm of what I want to accomplish I have quite a bit of leeway: I can brew my own coffee using a variety of brands, I can go to a coffee shop, I can go to a convenience store, etc. I can drink bottled water, a sports drink, filtered water. I can drink beer, whiskey, vodka, etc. A lot of what we do on a daily basis is already effects-based. An effects-based approach is a common-sense and intuitive way to conduct operations. It can significantly add flexibility and empower all the players in an operation. I can't tell you how many times I've heard "Why are we doing this? Why are we hitting that target?" during real-world and exercise operations. I'll explain the alternatives on a future post.

To recap: Ralph Peters (an author I admire; the author of Fighting for the Future, which I consider a minor classic) argues that "The Allied bombing campaign (during WWII) certainly aided in that (Germany's) defeat, but it was not decisive in itself." I argue that the Allied air campaign was never meant to be decisive by itself. The Allied strategy called for an integration of different elements; an air campaign against Germany was one element. A ground and naval campaign were other crucial elements in defeating Nazi Germany. Peters does not even mention the role played by the US Navy in defeating Germany. He barely mentions the air campaign against Japan, to include the nuclear attack against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the role that the campaign played in the surrender of Imperial Japan and the avoidance of a costly ground campaign in the Japanese home islands.

Peters writes:

"Compounding the damage, each of the services (except the Marine Corps) has fallen into the trap of designing its strategy to fit the systems it wants, rather than devising an honest long-term strategy, then pursuing the weapons best-fitted to support that strategy.

We have gotten the process exactly wrong."

Peters is not a big fan of the F-22. I supposed he's not a fan of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), a system that will be used by the Marines as well as the Air Force and the Navy, hence the "joint" designation. The Air Force needs to replace the aging fleet of F-15s which are currently flying and that form the backbone of our air superiority capabilities. The F-22 is the solution (along with the training of our personnel to maintain our capabilities). The Air Force will stop pursuing air superiority and air supremacy capabilities when the USMC stops pursuing their amphibious warfare capabilities. End of story.

The Air Force is not the only service spending money on new equipment after the procurement holiday imposed upon us during the 1990's. The USMC's main acquisition programs today are the F-35 JSF, the V-22 Osprey, and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV). If you are going to judge strategy by the systems a service buys, then the USMC seems to be getting ready to refight the Korean War.

FX-Based Note: I love the Marine Corps. This is not a swipe at you guys. The USMC needs those systems to replace their aging equipment. My point is that you can't judge a "strategy" based on systems alone. Especially when we are fighting in a less "platform-centric" fashion. Peters makes it sound like the USMC is not procuring new systems, which is not true.

Peters writes:
"No sensible person would argue against the potential benefits of new military technologies — but those technologies must be relevant to genuine wartime needs, not merely sexy platforms for air shows. The services become so mesmerized by their in-progress procurement programs that any challenge to a system’s utility is treated as an attack on the service itself.

The truth is that we lie."

Speaking of airshows, check out my sweet airshow pics, (I write airshow the same way I write airpower: as one word).

On a more serious note: Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Sailors. We are on the same team. I don't really know the motivation behind Mr. Peters' poisonous attacks against the Air Force, but I do know that they do more harm than good. Especially when we have Airmen serving alongside Soldiers, Marines, and Sailors in all sort of hot spots around the world (not just in Iraq and Afghanistan). One thing is to disagree about the procurement of the F-22, another thing is to distort history and blatantly attack an entire service under the guise of being an advocate for the Marines.

More to come on part 3. Mr. Peters also misrepresents Gettysburg as an EBO (when in fact is the anti-EBO) and later states that "only killing wins wars". I think our experience in Korea, Vietnam, and now Iraq are evidence that to win wars you have to do far more than just killing. Body counts are a very dangerous measure of success. How many North Koreans and Chinese died compared to our troops during the Korean War? How many Vietnamese died compared to Americans during the Vietnam War? How many Russians died compared to Germans during WWII? How many terrorists and insurgents have we killed in Iraq and Afghanistan? War is not a sport where whoever kills the most automatically wins. Strategies that merely consist of "killing", "search-and-destroy", "kill-capture", or "man-hunts", are recipes for disaster and, in essence, exemplify the absence of strategy.

Comments:
Interesting...

I agree with you that Peters is wrong to say that "only killing wins wars". I guess he would not consider himself a student of Sun Tzu, whom you might consider the original proponent of effects-based operations.

On the other hand, I think it is certainly true that all the services, including the Marines, sometimes let their procurement desires drive their strategy and doctrine.

And procurement is very often driven by the "military-industrial complex" - e.g. officers who want to line up those cushy contractor jobs after retirement, or other such corrupt practices.

Most of our procurement is still driven by obsolete doctrine, and designed to fight an adversary that may or may not ever again exist. The Navy, who have a really major doctrine problem, are perhaps the worst, but all the services suffer from it.
 
CW,

Thank you for your comments. You have a nice blog. Dude, are you a scuba diver? I need to get my ass back in the water. I envy you if you are diving every week.

Agree with you on the doctrinal side.

Having seen some of the procurement and fielding process up close, I think the whole things needs a major overhaul. You are right that procurement sometimes drives strategy and doctrine, which is ass backwards. At the same time, I think that it's up to us young officers and NCOs to think not in terms of platforms, but in terms of effects. I know it sounds like an EBO cliche, but it's true. It's not so much the platform, but how you use the platform. Then again, we might be going up against some contractors more interested in their bank accounts than in the defense of our nation. I've covered this before, perhaps it demands a new post based on some other stuff I've noticed. That being said, I think that the procurement of the F-22 was necessary based on our aging fleet of fighters. Air superiority is a core competency of the USAF and we need a platform to take us well into the 21st century. The F-22 won't be a "pure" air-to-air fighter and it will have ground attack capabilities which is more in tune with what we'll face in the coming years.

Peters is an awesome writer, but he has turned against the Air Force and, to a lesser extent, the Navy. I think the examples that he used to dicredit EBO were inapropriate to the point he was trying to make. My critique, which I am sending to the Armed Forces Journal as feedback, is based on my percpetion that Peters could have done more research on EBO before criticizing it. I know he's an expert on the Civil War and probably WWII, he just used the wrong cases to illustrate his point. Gettysburg was not by any stretch of the imagination, an EBO. If anything, it was a target-based operation: the enemy is there, so that's where I am going to fight him regardless of his defenses and my weakeness based on my position. (I am thinking here of the concept of the Sunzian concept of "xing": a combination of physical position and condition). Peters knows that...or he should. Take care.
 
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