Thursday, December 7, 2017

General: Army Needs More Futurists to Better Predict Conflict

 Douglas Macgregor's comments regarding the article below:

Some observations about General Hix’s assertions in the article at the bottom of the email:

·         Hix is wrong to suggest that Urbanization is a new trend. It’s been going on since the Industrial Revolution. Colonel General Gareev was no futurist, but correctly identified the trend lines in technological development in the late 1970s. Our approach to ‘urban operations’ reflects the heavily politicized approach taken in the permissive environments of the Middle East and Afghanistan. In a future war against a modern opponent with armies, air forces and air defenses, urban combat operations would result in a high-tech version of Aachen in DEC-JAN 1944-45, or Manila in FEB-MARCH 1945. It would still be ugly, dirty and require enormous quantities of firepower and mobile armored platforms. Civilian losses would be very high.

·         Hix is wrong about Ukraine and Crimea. An objective study of history would have shown why Moscow’s seizure of Crimea should not have been a surprise. In addition to figuring prominently in Russia’s wars against Muslim Tatars and Turks from the 11th Century to 1776, Crimea was treated as strategically vital by Moscow in 1941-42. It cost Moscow hundreds of thousands of lives before the war ended. Its symbolic importance with its history and large Russian population made it an ideal target for Putin’s liberation.  However, pushing further East into Central and Western Ukraine would present Putin with the same stiff resistance the Tsars, Bolsheviks and Soviets encountered over several centuries.

·         Hix is also wrong about the US Army’s poor performance at the opening of WW II. Army planners still expected to use horse cavalry in 1941 despite all of the evidence against the idea. (In fact, US Army horse cavalry was used during the Philippines campaign in 1942). He also neglects to note that the ARMY leadership court martialed Mitchell for a range of reasons including arguing that airpower could sink battleships. Officers during the interwar period lived in an environment that is all too reminiscent of the current Army. As Dr. David Johnson noted in his book about the Army during the interwar period.

In a period of fiscal constraint, and in the absence of compelling threats, between 1919 and 1939, the Army’s senior leaders:
    • Focused on traditional roles—re-fought the last “successful” war or, in the British Case, the Empire - constabulary force
    • Tried to advance the Single Service way of fighting
    • Endeavored to preserve status quo
    • Fought for budget share
    • Tinkered on the margins - no real innovation
    • Experimented with the familiar
    • Until BG George Marshall was promoted to four stars and became Chief of Staff, the top leadership cloned itself—officers who did not conform vanished!

·         Today it’s the US Army’s senior leadership that clings to anachronistic WW II-Cold War organizations (Brigades, Divisions, Corps) coupled with a very unhealthy romanticism about the use of wheeled vehicles and light infantry in anything other than a permissive environment. These factors and the deeply held conviction that anything a Four Star does not say must be wrong obstructs the implementation of the ISR-STRIKE-Maneuver-Sustainment framework that the Soviet General Staff identified as the future war-winning capability decades ago. It is the Army’s Four Stars that are actively campaigning against “Integrated, All Arms-All Effects” operations and Joint, Integrated Command and Control Structures on the operational level.

·         A quick glance at contemporary Russian Force Development points to the majority of the fundamental structural and doctrinal changes outlined in Breaking the Phalanx (1997) and Transformation under Fire (2003). In fact, the 15 March 2017 testimony to the Air-Land Committee provides a far more realistic snapshot of future high intensity conventional war than the fanciful conversations held in the conference at the Atlantic Council.

·         SCIFI COMMENT: Liu is typical of Sci-Fi writers overly optimistic and overly stating scientific and technological development. He also has no business stating that history doesn’t predict. Technological progress is evolution and connections. Sci-Fi originated as a story-telling device that is focused less on science and more on philosophy and sociology.

·         Finally, ‘revolutions in technology’ operate differently from the way they are described. The revolutionary impact on society stems from the adoption and incorporation of technology developed over time. It always takes longer for militaries to assimilate new technology than it does to develop it. The first Jet Driven Fighter Aircraft was demonstrated to the leadership of the German Air Force in 1939. Unfortunately, none of the uniformed observers could figure out what to do with the new device. By the time they did, the war was lost. This is not unusual in the history of military establishments.

·         The science historian James Burke who starred in a PBS television series called ‘Connections’ in the late 1970s is much more accurate in his description of how technological development occurs. Unfortunately, too many general officers think that if something can be imagined,  the technology can be made real through sheer effort. This is how we waste vast sums of money on the railgun, EMP, laser cannons, quantum computers, ‘autonomous’ robots, swarms, water out of the air, 3D printers, etc. all of which are overstated/exaggerated.  Many come with physical limitations that won’t make them practical to real world utility. True artificial intelligence—the machine equivalent of the human mind—does not exist. What we see are better algorithms at work, not AI. Paul Allen’s comment is still valid: “Scientists attempting to create AI today are like 15th Century Sculptors trying to reverse engineer a Boeing 707.”

6 December 2017

General: Army Needs More Futurists to Better Predict Conflict

By Matthew Cox

Army officials, analysts and authors met Wednesday to try to improve the U.S. military's poor track record of predicting future conflict.
Maj. Gen. William Hix, director of strategy, plans and policy for the office of the U.S. Army's Deputy Chief of Staff G-3/5/7, said, "Prediction is fraught with danger," at the Atlantic Council's U.S. Army Futures Forum.
Throughout history, there have been many "sad examples" of the tendency of people to optimistically embrace the idea of decisive opening strikes and quick finishes for war, Hix said.
"Most often, those predictions have been hugely wrong and, in some cases, resulted in catastrophe," he said.
A large part of the problem is the failure to anticipate social and political change, as well as technology revolutions, Hix said, citing America's experience in the Civil War.
"Most of our officers were trained in Napoleonic methods, and we missed the fact that the industrial age was maturing," he said. "And the casualty rates that we suffered on both sides of our Civil War are indicative of the fact that we missed the importance of relatively small things like rifled muskets, artillery that fired indirectly, repeating arms, the railroad and the telegraph and what that meant to the speed of war at that time.
"Today, our failure to watch for those types of signals has led to strategic surprise in the Russian actions of Crimea," Hix said. "The Ukraine, in many respects, is a harbinger of future war ... and the long-term rise of China and the autonomy -- I think the world economic forum calls it the fourth industrial age -- suggests a potential shift in the character of war that is as profound and fundamental as the transition from the 19th to the 20th century."
Urbanization, speed, lethality, autonomy -- many things that used to be science fiction are rapidly becoming reality, and some of America's adversaries are moving quicker in these spaces than the United States, he said. 
Unfortunately, the U.S. Army has a bad habit of failing to anticipate how advanced its adversaries are and then coming up short in the opening days of conflict, Hix said.
"Our record in the opening stage of most major conflicts we have been in has been poor," he said.
The U.S.' success in Operation Desert Storm is not the norm, Hix said, adding the normal experience is Kasserine Pass in North Africa -- a major defeat for the U.S. Army in 1944 during World War II.
"We have to learn what parts of war are going to come with us in the future, and what pieces we are going to have to discard, and what pieces we are going to have to embrace," he said.
But Ken Liu, author of "The Paper Menagerie, The Grace of Kings," cautioned against the tendency to rely on history to predict the future.
Mankind's addiction to stories and storytelling is often the reason why it fails to predict the future correctly, Liu said, describing this as a cognitive bias for the species.
"We literally cannot understand the world as it is; we understand the world [by] making a story out of it," he said. "The universe is irreducibly random, but we cannot seem to accept that, so we have to construct a narrative about why things are happening."
Liu, a science-fiction author, has made a study of this with a particular focus on why most sci-fi authors "have been terrible at predicting the future."
"We have a tendency to do the following: When you are in the moment, when you are looking toward the future, the reality is -- for any problem that you are trying to solve -- there are multiple teams round the world trying to tackle that from multiple directions, and the possibilities for the future are endlessly open," he said, citing the history of touch screen interfaces, a technology the world has been trying to perfect since the 1960s.
"In the moment, when you are looking forward, it is very hard to know which of these approaches will succeed and dominate the future," Liu said. "The problem is, once you are past that point and you are looking backward -- the iPhone came out, it is very tempting, almost inevitable for everybody who lived in this situation to construct a narrative for why that particular breakthrough was inevitable. This is the way history is written.
"We like to tell history as a series of stories of plots, of causes and effects, of inevitable lines of evolution," he said.
When humans look backward, it is very easy to construct a narrative saying, "Why did everyone else miss that this was the only path that could have succeeded?" he added.
"That is not true," Liu argued. "Actually, history is all of these random reasons why one particular approach succeeded over others, and it's very, very tempting to say, 'We should be able to predict the future because if you look at the past there is a clear narrative about why we ended up here.' "
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at

No comments:

Post a Comment