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Mattis Says 'Leave Tech at Home'

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Some people are willing to forgive the defense establishment for its zeal in pursuing high-tech solutions. Gen. James Mattis, commander of Joint Forces Command, is most definitely not one.

In a wide ranging critique of defense planning over the past decade, Mattis blasted the wrongheaded thinking of recent years that led military planners to seek technological solutions to solve wars fundamental challenges and naively dismiss wars unchanging reality. We embraced some wishful thinking, we espoused some untested concepts and we ignored history, he said yesterday at CSIS in Washington.

Mattis didnt mention the previous Pentagon leadership by name. But it was former SecDef Rumsfeld who turned transformation into the catch-all buzzword signaling the militarys embrace of a Toefler-certified digital future. Phrases such as information dominance and Effects Based Operations filtered into doctrine manuals. In the new American way of war, near-perfect intelligence gathered from unblinking electronic eyes would replace the fog of war that causes confusion, casualties and uncertain outcomes with predictability in American military operations.

Mattis is determined to bury that notion. Defense planners will not be allowed to adopt a single preclusive view of war, he said. War cannot be precisely orchestrated. By its nature it is unpredictable. You cannot change the fundamental nature of war.

The military has swung too far in its embrace of high-technology, Mattis said, using as an example what he called over-centralized command and control. That over-centralization can create a single point of failure, he warned. The U.S. military is the single most vulnerable military in the world if we overly rely on technical C2 systems. In future wars, technical systems will be under attack and will go down, he said, so forces must disaggregate authority and decision-making to much lower levels. Were going to have to restore initiative among small units and individual leaders.

Tasked with crafting a force for the combatant commander after next, Mattis is striving to prevent the military from repeating past mistakes such as grabbing concepts that are defined in three letters, and then wondering why the enemy dances nimbly around you. He recently decreed that EBO be dropped from the American military lexicon. The rhetorical battle over EBO was largely between those who see troops on the ground as the linchpin of future conflicts, versus airpower enthusiasts, who believe just the right amount of precision weaponry applied at just the right point can produce, well, most any desired effect.

In future wars, ground forces supported by aviation and naval forces will be the linchpin, Mattis said. It is on the ground, in complex terrain, mixed in with the civilian population, where today and tomorrows enemy will confront U.S. forces. These wars will be fought among the people were going to have to deal on human levels with human beings and not think that technology or tactics by targetry will solve war. The likelihood that most wars will be of the irregular variety (Ive noticed Mattis tends to avoid using the descriptive term counterinsurgency when discussing current and future wars) will demand troops with cultural savvy who know when to shift gears from one form of war to another. War is a human endeavor and so defense planning must focus on the human factors, he said.

The advise and assist capability of ground forces will be key, requiring that regular forces achieve a seamless integration with special operations forces. High performing small units are now a national imperative, Mattis said, capable of operating independently at increasingly lower echelons. The effort he envisions is not designed to turn regular forces into special forces, rather, it recognizes that the individual and the small unit are the key players on a decentralized battlefield. Fundamentally, quality becomes much more important than quantity. The vulnerable gaps JFCOM is seeking to plug are those at the small unit level, where guerrilla fighters have targeted U.S. forces over the past eight years.

Read the rest of this story over at DoD Buzz.

-- Greg Grant

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