Because we’re here Lad!

 

1Nigel Green Zulu

As the nights draw in and Summer turns to Autumn, fall for my American readers, and Spring for those in the Antipodes, it is once again time to review the last three months in the career of Barney. Now before you all stop reading, please bear with it, there are some tasty morsels hidden within the self-indulgent salad! To make it easier, the key ‘takeaways’ are in bold (can you tell I wrote this at supper time?).

It will surprise none of you that the most important event of the last three months was my final withdrawal from RUSI and the start of work in Army Communications.  Since starting at Andover, I have been largely responsible for the Army’s Twitter account (@BritishArmy) and I hope you may have noticed a change in tone and style, with an emphasis on the historical and much more active engagement (we have doubled our reach in the last two months). Indeed, next week I am building a series of tweets telling the story of the Battle of Arnhem as it happened in 1944, mirroring the one I did for DDay75. It may also surprise you to know that the Army’s Social Media team is tiny; I am continually impressed by the output of my team-mates. In addition to my ‘day job’, I have been honoured to take part in wargaming the Army’s proposed Army Operating Concept as the only non-commissioned participant, to have been the only non-commissioned member of the Army’s Intellectual Hub Working Group, and to be working with others across Army Headquarters improving access to education and conceptual understanding.

The Fifth Season of War Talks was highly successful, an all-female bill provided our audience with the very latest research on subjects as diverse as Information Warfare and Identification Discs, many of which were recorded as podcasts for The Wavell Room, the leading website for British military thought. I must thank Sarah Ashbridge, Szabina Maguire, Dr Vanda Wilcox, Alicia Kearns, and Cristina Varriale for their excellent talks, but in addition I must thank my colleague from RUSI, Magdalena Markiewicz, who spoke as the first speaker in the Royal Navy’s ‘Quarterdeck Talks‘. The ‘Quarterdeck Talks’ bring the same sort of informal PME to the Navy which ‘War Talks’ brought to the Army – gratifyingly the Ink-spots are gradually spreading. I am speaking to the British Army about filming the talks for publication on the British Army website at the moment, so watch the ‘net for the Talks going viral!

The Sixth Season of War Talks gets underway on Thursday with a talk by Doctor Pippa Malmgren, an entrepreneur and former presidential aide to President George W. Bush, entitled, ‘Drones, Data, and the Democratisation of the Airspace’.  It promises to be superb and, for those unfamiliar with Doctor Malmgren, I urge you to look at her previous speeches on You Tube and to read her excellent book,’The Leadership Lab’. In her wake, we have already promoted a stellar line-up: Vanya Eftimova Bellinger, Professor Anthony King, Natia Seskuria, Professor Patrick Porter, and Doctor Dan Whittingham. I can also announce that we will return to support our friends in Tonbridge with a Talk by Brigadier Ben Kite on 26 September 2019 and add a final Talk for this year at Aldershot on 10 December 2019, when Elisabeth Braw of RUSI will speak on Modern Deterrence and National Resilience.

Connected to the War Talks series has been the British Army Military Book of the Year Prize 2019, I am running the Prize on behalf of the Army for the second year on the trot and much has been learned from last year. The Prize has been far better advertised this year and has a much more diverse judging panel, but we have much more to do to place it where it deserves to be in 2020. The Prize will be launched earlier, with more fanfare, with its own web-page, and with even more judges; our aim is to encourage reading and learning and we must concentrate on that objective. This years books have included works by Lord Ashcroft and Isobel Oakeshott, Sir Anthony Beevor, Doctor Jonathan Boff, Sir Max Hastings, Lindsey Hilsum, David Patrikarakos, and Professor Patrick Porter. The judges’ results are slowly coming in and I hope to have all the counting done and be in a position to announce the winner of the BAMBY19 in early October.

So what next? Well in addition to the War Talks series and the BAMBY, I will be continuing work on the Army Operating Concept and the Intellectual Hub, we will be intensifying work in the area of inclusive education, and I will be carrying out some exciting work for the Director of DCDC at Shrivenham. In addition, I will start my much delayed PhD this Autumn, conduct three Battlefield Studies, speak at two conferences, and teach the practical use of social media to courses run by the General Staff Centre at RMA Sandhurst. It seems that any thoughts of a slowing down in my workload post RUSI are redundant, I am already booked for battlefield studies in Belgium, France, Croatia and Bosnia, and South Africa in 2020 as well as several conferences in the UK. Above all, I will continue to fight for greater meritocracy within the Army and better professional education across Defence, leading by example.

Finally, in case any of you were wondering about my motivations, and I’m sure some of you are, be under no illusions, I cannot be promoted, I cannot be commissioned, no-one is going to recommend me for honours, and I don’t receive any pay or financial assistance with any of my activities. Simply, I do what I do both because I love it and because it needs to be done. ‘Why us Sergeant Major?’, ‘Because we’re here Lad! Because we’re here!’

All the very best,

Barney

 

‘And yet its stream ran through my heart’

Today is the sixteenth anniversary of my first real taste of combat and, more importantly, of the death of a friend, Fusilier Russell Beeston; Beestie would have been 42 this year, but he never got out of his twenties. Each year, I tend to publish the same blog post, an extract I wrote for the ‘Borderer’s Chronicle’, the Regimental Magazine of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, in 2004. I make no excuses for this, first it releases me from the painful experience of remembrance by using Microsoft’s handy ‘cut and paste’ facility and secondly it means that I keep a promise made a long time ago to Beestie’s mum.

In 2018, I discovered Edmund Blunden’s ‘Undertones of War’ which, together with my regular visits to the battlefields of the Somme, has brought me a great deal of peace, perhaps beyond the understanding of my family and companions. In 1973, a year before he died, Blunden remarked, ‘My experiences of the First World War have haunted me all my life, and for many days I have, it seemed, lived in that world rather than this’, I fear this will be both my fate and that of too many of my comrades too. In publishing the text from the Chronicle, I have redacted all names except two, mine and the man who cannot give his permission. This Blog is in memory of a big Glaswegian Territorial, Fusilier Russell Beeston, who will forever be 26:

‘In every life there are moments of definition, points in time when one’s life seems to have a purpose and meaning. A moment of clarity, of sharpness. In most cases it is the birth of a child, a wedding or even a funeral, for me though it came at 2140 hrs at a small Iraqi town called Ali Ash Sharqi about 60 kms north of Al Amarah in Southern Iraq.
“Go, Go now, Go”, the OC shouted into his Personal Role Radio. The small convoy lurched into action and headed up the raised road which led from the centre of Ali Ash Sharqi to Route 6,the main artery of Southern Iraq. 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, then 70 kph, crashing through the gears, the warm night air rushing through the side window of my Land Rover Wolf. A strange red glow like an errant firework flew, arcing over my vehicle; only when it exploded did I realise it was an Rocket Propelled Grenade. Just in time, I hit the brakes as a second dissected the space between us and the lead Land Rover. Suddenly, the night was alive with the staccato rattle of machine-gun fire and the whizzing of bullets like angry hornets zipping past, my head was down over the steering wheel, my foot now flat to the floor, and my heart in my mouth as we dashed for the sanctuary of the Six. The OC opened his side window and engaged an enemy machine-gun with his rifle, brass bouncing off the windscreen and rattling around the cab.

“Stop, Stop, Stop”, came the OC’s order and we screeched to a halt. I stopped and turned off the engine somewhat surreally ensuring the vehicle was left in gear with the keys in the ignition. I placed my hands on my rifle and was alone. The time between halting and debussing was seemingly endless… I dismounted into the sultry night, alive with deadly fireflies and sought cover on the right hand embankment, suddenly we were illuminated by a Schermuly Paraflare and an enemy machine-gun opened up with rounds scything past our bodies. Two yards away Fusilier Russell Beeston appeared to be dead, a round having hit him in the chest, having first shattered his arm on its deadly journey. I ran for my life, instinct expecting another round to take my head off, I tasted blood, it was an expectation rather than fact. I found cover behind my Land Rover, a Private came running past screaming “I’ve been shot, I’ve been shot”; his voice full of disbelief. I grabbed him and dragged him to the ground, helping to administer First Aid; we managed to staunch the flow of blood and laid him in cover, behind the Land Rover.
The confusion cleared a little and I gathered a small band around me, the adrenaline hammering through my veins, as I directed a Private’s Minimi machine gun fire with my tracer rounds onto an enemy position; shortly thereafter it was neutralised. Suddenly, the air was alive with someone shouting, “Beestie’s dead, Beestie’s dead” and I though this is real, this is not Salisbury Plain. A Corporal shouted for a stretcher…no one moved…everyone was paralysed by fear, again he shouted and I headed off into the 30 metre gap in clear view of the enemy to the vehicle with the stretcher in it. Every pace was alive with steel, I could feel it breathing on my face, the return journey was worse, the knowledge of what was to come. I brought a cot bed to where Beestie lay on the road, a Lance Corporal kneeling astride his body, pounding his chest, screaming at him to come back, covered in blood, working in vain to save a life already gone. I returned to my firing position and told the Minimi gunner to move to the defensive position which had been established on the left-hand embankment, the road was now clear except for vehicles, the small team working on Beestie and me. I stood on that vigil, and except for the barking of dogs, there was silence.

Death had come, visited in an instant and moved on. I fully expected to die that night as eight others had done in the 1KOSB AOR in the previous two months, and yet I live; the randomness of it defeats me. It was an experience I wished in vain never to repeat, although I’m privileged to say I was there. If there are such things as heroes in battle, the only one I saw that night was Beestie, who died quickly and quietly, with dignity in the service of his friends.’

As a final epitaph, I return to the works of Edmund Blunden and the third verse of his The Ancre at Hamel: Afterwards’

The struggling Ancre had no part
In these new hours of mine,
And yet its stream ran through my heart:
I heard it grieve and pine,
As if its rainy tortured blood
Had swirled into my own,
When by its battered bank I stood
And shared its wounded moan,

Nisi Dominus Frustra

Mission Command: The Once and Future King?

Exercise Citadel Guibert 18 in France.

Pictured are British soldiers from 8 Engineer Brigade during the planning phase in the operations room during Exercise Citadel Guibert 18. British and French troops deploy together on EX CITADEL GUIBERT 18, a combined arms staff exercise designed to test the interoperability of both nations. As well as learning about and testing the viability of French and British communications systems, 12 Armoured Infantry Brigade HQ worked alongside French Dutch and American officers exercising a scenario designed to practice the command and control of joint operation to stabilise a region troubled by terrorism and humanitarian issues.

Thank you all for supporting last week’s blog, it was really gratifying to witness your interest and engagement both with the blog itself and the wider subject of manoeuvrism. As promised, I will attempt to give ‘Mission Command’ the same treatment this week, in what will be the third in this occasional series. If you are arriving fresh to the blog it may help you to contextualise this week’s offering by reading the last two posts first. What can you expect from this article? It will aim to give a concise and simple explanation of ‘Mission Command’, discuss why it is so important to manoeuvre warfare, and outline where the concept might develop in future. First, what is ‘Mission Command’? In simple terms, ‘Mission Command’ is a method of commanding men which directs what is to be achieved, leaving how that achievement is to be reached to subordinate expertise; its antithesis is ‘Directive Command’ which dictates both what is to be achieved and how that achievement is to be reached.

So why is command so important? Warfare is perhaps the most complex and chaotic environment in which human beings operate. Since time immemorial, leaders of fighting entities have recognised the need to maintain control of their followers in battle, whilst simultaneously attempting to dominate their opponents. In 1918, the Commander of the Australian Corps in France, General Sir John Monash, described the character of contemporary warfare in these terms: ‘A perfected modern battle plan is like nothing so much as a score for an orchestral composition, where the various arms and units are the instruments, and the tasks they perform are their respective musical phrases. Every individual unit must make its entry precisely at the proper moment and play its phrase in the general harmony‘. By inference, Monash characterised the role of the commander as that of a conductor: providing the musicians with a score, directing their actions, and ensuring that the parts worked together in harmony. Command, Control, and Communication (C3) are thus intimately connected, representing the means by which decisions are made, directions diffused, and the enemy defeated.

It is often said that there is no such thing as bad weather, merely poor clothing choices, similarly, there is no right or wrong method of command. Command is best situated where information is optimal within a paradigm of warfare and is exercised along a spectrum, with some commanders preferring to direct every activity in minute detail, while others give greater latitude to their subordinates. In the Second World War, Britain’s two most successful commanders, Montgomery and Slim, operated at different ends of this spectrum: Montgomery, the consummate staff officer, directed his campaigns intimately, in a style Monash would have immediately recognised, on the other hand Slim, the regimental officer, tended to state his intent and leave his subordinate commanders to decide how to deliver the results. Both men were highly successful, operating very different concepts of command; ultimately, successful command is defined only by victory on the field of battle.

So why is ‘Mission Command’ so intimately connected to manoeuvrism? Manoeuvrism is predicated on the rapid exploitation of the results of pre-emption, dislocation and disruption; in these circumstances, the commander best positioned to take decisive action is situated at the tip of the spear. Although perhaps a little too simplistic, let’s use a hypothetical example in conjunction with the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) construct to illustrate the advantage of ‘Mission Command’ over ‘Directive Command’ in manoeuvre warfare: two commanders, A and B, see the enemy withdrawing, both use their knowledge, skills, and experience to assess the situation, whereas manoeuvrist A, empowered to act, takes advantage of the situation and strikes his opponent turning retreat into rout, B communicates his observation and assessment to a superior headquarters and awaits instruction, by the time he receives instruction the enemy has been reinforced and advantage lost. ‘Mission Command’ thus has an advantage over ‘Directive Command’ in the context of manoeuvrism because freedom of decision and action are devolved to the point where information is optimised.

So is that it? ‘Mission Command 1, Directive Command 0? Well no, and for three reasons:

First, context is everything; what might be an appropriate style of command in a conventional warfighting environment may not be appropriate in another type of operating environment. In lower-intensity operations, particularly counter-insurgency operations, the complex and delicate interplay of political and cultural factors at the operational and strategic levels demand a more directive command model – The ‘Tactical Minister’ has greater situational awareness than the ‘Strategic Corporal’.

Second, as technology develops, robotics, human-machine teaming, improved communications and sensors, and the application of artificial intelligence will transform command and control, perhaps removing the human from command at the tactical level. Temptingly, if technology could provide dependable situational awareness solutions such that command could be exercised just as effectively from a bunker in the UK as on the battlefield, we might find ‘Mission Command’ redundant.

Finally, as virtual aspects emerge, we must ask whether ‘Mission Command’ is appropriate in a non-physical environment? Are we sufficiently situationally aware in the virtual world to permit ‘Mission Command’ or is the use of cyber weapons and disinformation so strategic, even when used at a tactical level, that their use must be directed? I have no solution to offer in this respect, although it is an interesting question. To counter-balance this discussion it is perhaps important to remember that virtual operations are but analogue operations enhanced by the computer chip.

‘Mission Command’ is in effect the connective tissue of manoeuvrism. In a conventional warfighting environment, it allows those at the tactical level, operating where information is optimal, to make decisions with one eye on the operational and strategic intent of their commander. An invention of the nineteenth century Prussian General Staff, it is neither a universal panacea nor an eternal truth, it may have been King in Von Moltke the Elder’s paradigm of war, but its reign may be rapidly coming to an end at the hands of technology and the changing character of warfare.

Speak to you all soon,

Barney

 

 

 

Outmanoeuvring the Velvet Curtain.

combat

Military language has a curious duality; exclusive and inclusive, it is both a gatekeeper and a conduit. It acts to permit access to those who know the right words, while excluding those who don’t; for those who do, it has the potential to open a world of possibilities, for those who don’t, exposure to it can be an intellectually damaging experience. In 2005, while on my Sergeant’s qualification course, my colleagues and I were set a simple tactical problem; fresh from combat experience in Iraq, I gave a good, effective solution, only to be chastised by the Officer Commanding for a failure to use doctrinally correct vocabulary. To be clear, I had never been taught the right words, let alone the doctrine, but it did teach me a valuable lesson: if the Army wasn’t going to give me access to effective professional military education, I would educate myself.

This week’s blog is in part the result of that decision, but equally a reaction to some very supportive feedback from my last blogpost. Like last week, I will take a military concept, simplify it, and clarify some of the related issues. The language may not please the Doctrine Nazis, but it will hopefully help soldiers to understand that the gobbledegook spoken by their superiors is merely a smokescreen, not something to be feared: the Doctrine Wizard behind the curtain has lots of expensive education, but no magic. I joined the British Army in the wake of the first Gulf War, at that time all talk was of manoeuvrism; an avid reader of military history even then, I understood that movement in war was important, but I had no cognition of manoeuvre warfare. This weeks concept is Manoeuvrism – the art of moving to create advantage, while striking the enemy’s weaknesses- the military equivalent of swerving to avoid a punch, while kicking your opponent squarely in the balls.

There are two dominant concepts of war, Attrition and Manoeuvre.  A good way of understanding the difference is by envisioning them as different types of heavyweight boxer.  Attrition is enormously heavy and powerful, but lacks speed and agility; against an opponent Attrition has but one option, to slug it out, remorselessly grinding an opponent down, hoping that greater resources will win out in the end.  Manoeuvre is lighter, less powerful, but far more agile, aiming to win by landing precise blows at critical points while moving to avoid the opponent’s strength. History is replete with examples of both, but for ease consider the war on the Western Front during most of the First World War as an exemplar of Attrition, while Operation Desert Storm, the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, exemplifies Manoeuvre. It is important too to remember that although manoeuvrism has only been official doctrine since the 1980s, it has a history as old as time itself. There is nothing new under the Sun.  

The British Army has not always favoured manoeuvre over attrition. As stated previously, as late as the early 1980s British doctrine aimed to wear down its opposition with concentrated firepower, literally slogging it out with the Red Army on the North German Plain. The problem for Britain was that by that time it lacked the resource in both men and material to prosecute the sort of war it had fought from D-Day to Berlin (it had been barely sustainable in 1944) and advances in precision guided munitions, airpower, and networked computing were profoundly changed the character of warfare.  On both sides of the Atlantic, but in particular in the United States, reviews of recent combat experience, notably in Vietnam and of the Israeli experience in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, together with assessments of German and Soviet operational art in the Second World War, and an examination of the Soviet military’s contemporary strengths and weaknesses, led to a change in approach away from attrition and towards manoeuvre with the adoption of the concept of AirLand Battle in 1982.

AirLand Battle sought to dislocate and disrupt the Soviets’ critical weakness, its highly centralised command and control systems, while using air superiority to cut supply lines and destroy units paralysed by the resultant lack of direction. Precision fires would thus denude the opponent’s will to fight, by precision targeting, eventually leading to the enemy’s collapse. This new sort of war would still be fought at the tactical level, but would be won at the operational level, with the conduct of the campaign – operational art – being more important than individual tactical success.  Although this concept was never tested against its intended adversary, it was accepted on both sides of the Iron Curtain that the West had an unassailable advantage, an advantage that proved devastating against Saddam Hussein’s army (modelled and equipped like a Soviet Bloc force) in Kuwait in 1991 and again in 2003.

Times change, however, and the West’s opponents have not sat still. As described last week, the West’s opponents, keen to avoid triggering a devastating conventional response but cognisant of the lack of resilience in Western societies, Western political timidity, and economic weakness have chosen to exploit the ‘Gray Space’. In addition, state actors are developing state-of-the-art Anti-Access Area Denial (A2AD) systems and reforming C2 structures, while non-state actors are exploiting subterranean methods to defeat Western sensor arrays and moving the fight into densely populated urban areas to further negate the West’s putative conventional advantage.    This has caused a number of dilemmas for Western manoeuvrism to which, theoretically at least, it has risen with concepts like Information Manoeuvre, the Army Operating Concept, and Multi-Domain Operations, each of which intend to incorporate both the physical and the virtual. In short, the US and British militaries have come to accept that the kick in the balls must hurt the mind and the body.

So to sum up, Manoeuvrism is the use of movement and blows, both virtual and physical, to pre-empt, dislocate, and disrupt an opponent and in doing so bring about his physical and moral collapse. It is a beautiful concept, but one that must keep evolving as the enemy evolves. Thank you for stopping by, next week mission command gets the Warrant Officer treatment.

All the best,

Barney

 

 

 

Contesting the Gray Space.



Fake news word tag cloud. 3D rendering, blue variant.

This week’s blog set me a dilemma. On one hand, encouraged by a generous personal recommendation in the excellent Australian website Grounded Curiosity, I thought I might write about professional military education, particularly given recent Twitter debates exposing some rather antiquated attitudes towards the education of Other Ranks in the British military. On the other, last week’s Blog has generated considerable debate about both the proposed Army Operating Concept and operations in the ‘Gray Space‘, I thought I might explore some of the lacunae that discussion with colleagues at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) and Army Headquarters has highlighted. On balance, the latter would seem to offer greater room for debate and the greater chance of a fruitful outcome. In this blog I intend to look what exactly is the ‘Gray Space’, how we got here, how and why we intend to contest it, and, most importantly, whether such competition is actually necessary.

In April 2019, I was given the task of promoting the Chief of the General Staff’s (CGS) Innovation Prize 2019, the theme of which was competing in the ‘Gray Space’. It was clear from some of the submissions that there was limited understanding of the meaning of the term and even less of how to operate within it. Quite simply, it is the state of international relations between war and peace; if one considers this to be a spectrum of activity, with absolute peace and total war at either extremity, then one is well on the way to understanding the bit in the middle – the ‘Gray Space’. Despite the protestations of neophiles, the World was not invented last week; it is not seeing unprecedented technological development, international relations are no more complex or dangerous than they have been at any other time in modern history, and ‘constant competition’ has been a constant characteristic of human affairs for millennia. Their fallacy of presentism – the belief that our present is unique – is itself not unique, it is a ‘vampire paradox’ – however often you kill it, it keeps regenerating.  The simple truth is that there has always been a ‘Gray Space’ between War and Peace; typically, traditional actions short of war have been acts of sabotage, espionage, and propaganda, in fact all the good stuff Bond villains get up to in their big screen capers. Like Bond villains, the addition of the computer chip has merely expanded the reach of these effects into the virtual world. Ecclesiastes 1:4-11 for those of a biblical persuasion.

That the ‘Gray Space’ has come to dominate Western military thinking in the last ten years is simply the somewhat contradictory nexus of successful conventional deterrence, political timidity, denuded homeland resilience, and economic liberalism. On many occasions in the last three hundred years casus belli have been entirely spurious; in the eighteenth century, Britain went to war over the removal of a merchant seaman’s ear, in the nineteenth because of the looting of a shopkeeper’s house, and yet the murder of a British subject on British soil by chemical poisoning was considered insufficient cause for war in 2017. Some might argue that the exclusion of military action was a sensible assessment of the military balance of power, but it is hardly the first time that Britain has baulked in the face of Russian aggression. Rather political timidity is the underlying factor, something which the Kremlin, and others farther afield, are keen to exploit. Paradoxically, our opponents’ activities in the ‘Gray Space’, either virtual of physical are a reaction to Western conventional superiority. It is fear of the West’s military capabilities which causes adversaries, be they state or non-state actors, to seek asymmetric answers – to exploit the West’s weaknesses, whilst at the same time taking advantage of their own relative strengths.  In this way, by carefully navigating Western indecision and avoiding a conventional military reaction, the West’s opponents have out-manoeuvred them and forced the West to fight on ground of their enemy’s choosing.

The gap between war and peace – ‘the Gray Space’ –  has thus been created by a combination of overwhelming Western military strength and a failure of its political will. The lack of will has been exacerbated by reduced Western resilience, both societal and military, and economic austerity following the financial collapse of 2008. Societies largely divorced from hardship and increasingly dependent on ‘Just in Time’ logistics, vulnerable information networks, and satellite-enabled precision for everything from food and water to entertainment cannot be easily taken to war against an adversary well-versed in cyber techniques whose populace is far more robust and less dependent on technology. Furthermore, budgetary limitations since 2008 have disproportionately impacted on government departments like the British Ministry of Defence, renowned for profligacy and poor investment decisions, whose previous default was to throw money at a project until it worked. In the austerity era, the paradigm on which Western military superiority is based, lethal and exquisite platforms able to deliver precision effects, has become so expensive that duplicates and redundancy have become virtually impossible.  Indeed, the loss of even a small number of those platforms could be catastrophic, Jellicoe may have been able to lose the First World War in a morning, but a junior RAF pilot could lose a war today with a moment’s inattention.

jutland-bf-gribble

Taking all these factors into account, it is unlikely that the ‘Gray Space’ will evaporate in the short-term. Western militaries will continue to invest in systems which provide conventional superiority, Western societies will continue to operate in a dangerously unsustainable way, and Western governments will remain extremely risk averse. In light of this, Western militaries are developing concepts for contesting the ‘Gray Space’, notably the United States’ Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) and the British Army Operating Concept (AOC).  These programmes aim to take a whole of government approach, the British call it ‘Fusion Doctrine‘, to use virtual and physical effects to create multiple dilemmas for the enemy, throwing him off balance, and effectively defeating his will by pre-emption, dislocation, and disruption. In other words, by adapting the manoeuvrist approach to the twenty-first century.  Logically, these approaches make sense, continuing investment and training in the conventional warfare paradigm ensures the West’s opponents must operate in the ‘Gray Space’, given political distaste for kinetic action the military’s only course of action is to learn to defend the national interests in that ‘Space’, but this is more problematic than might be apparent. First, if the military’s role is to fight in the Clausewitzian sense, should it be operating in a ‘space’ more properly in the realm of diplomacy, espionage, and political manoeuvre? Secondly, and this is much more controversial, if the character of warfare has changed should Western militaries invest less in the wholly unlikely paradigm of conventional war and instead use the money to contest the ‘Gray Space’? It is my belief that the solution lies in maintaining military superiority whilst closing down the ‘Gray Space’ rather than competing in it, but this can only be achieved by being prepared to take military action earlier and more aggressively, and what is more, being prepared to message that offensive intent persistently. What do you think? Let me know.

In conclusion, I hope this brief piece has explained the ‘Gray Space’ and debunked some of the complicated language which seems to accompany any military debate.  I am far from an authority on the matter, but I do understand it and it is my earnest hope that if more of us do understand the concepts at the strategic level we will be better informed for the future.

Have a great weekend,

Barney

War Talks Series

 

As One Door Closes…

Exercise Citadel Guibert 18 in France.

In a very few days, my tenure as the Army Visiting Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) will come to an end.  It has undoubtedly been the most satisfying assignment of my career and I am extremely grateful to all those whose efforts made it possible.  My benefactors are far too numerous to thank individually, for fear of omission I will not attempt to list them here, instead I dedicate this Blog to them. Intellectually, the attachment has been transformational; prior to arrival at RUSI, I flattered myself a free-thinker, a vanity of which I was rapidly disabused.  Those who follow are strongly advised to leave both prejudices and constrained thinking at the barrack gate!

By way of a valediction, what follows are some impressions of the trends which captured have my imagination over the last year on Whitehall.  I must make it clear that nothing I have to say is anything more than personal observation and certainly not either the opinion or policy of RUSI, the Army, or the Ministry of Defence. First, my overwhelming impression of the ship of state is that it is somewhat neglected.  The Captain and crew appear to have forgotten the charts, there is no hand on the wheel, and refit is significantly overdue.  There is little or no idea of what Britain is for; although this lacuna is by no means unique, our most important global competitors each have a grand strategy, an idea of where they want their nations to be in the future, in its place Britain has only tactical reactivity. A German officer with whom I was recently in conversation remarked that Britain has been devoid of strategy since Churchill’s defeat at the polls in 1945.  Britain’s tactics are thus her grand strategy.

Laying beneath the void which should be occupied by grand strategy, is the cross-government ‘Fusion Doctrine‘ which aims to combine the efforts of the departments of state to support…yes, you guessed it, grand strategy. Fusion Doctrine thus hangs limply, disconnected from grand strategy, supporting government policy only at the tactical level, unable to fulfil its considerable promise because it has no more idea in which direction the ship of state is sailing than can be gleaned from a wet finger held in the breeze. Where does the Army fit in this situation? The Army is beset around by a battery of other problems: shortages of resource and the struggle to remain relevant and credible become existential when juxtaposed against political timidity and the changing character of war. In short, the Catch-22 facing the Army is that its political masters demand demonstrable utility before providing investment, but the Army cannot provide the evidence because it has no war to fight. That said, the Army has been inventive, being increasingly involved in non-kinetic activities across the globe in an attempt to prove relevance; paradoxically, however, whilst these activities have secured crumbs of investment, it has been both insufficient to provide the transformation required and has led to a loss of manpower.

So what of the future? I absolutely reject the fallacy of presentism, but it is undoubtedly true that the character of warfare is changing, even if some of this change is within our capacity to reverse. Western militaries remain strongly wedded to conventional combined arms warfare and are most comfortable when thinking and fighting in these terms against a peer opponent. Even their experiences in the Middle East, and evidence from other conflicts worldwide, have not wholeheartedly converted them to operations in the ‘Gray Space‘… the zone between war and peace created and sustained by the same political timidity which denies the military relevance and investment. The new and promising Army Operating Concept (AOC) aims to contest the ‘Gray Space’, although it is unclear whether it originates from a position of the need to attract money or as a result of a Damascene conversion to hybridity. Indeed, the Army still clings to its ‘warfighting’ Division, despite lacking the manpower and equipment to support it.  It does this in an attempt to prove to its American cousin that it remains credible and able to fit within the US Army’s structures at Two-Star level…a fight which it is losing as it inexorably shrinks away. Indeed a cynic might interject that the AOC is merely an attempt to mirror and support the US Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) Concept. If we doubt that British influence is dwindling, we only need look at the US Army’s withdrawal from British professional military education courses at the UK Defence Academy, where our missing operational layer and failure to provide the level of critical thinking out closest ally deems essential, as an arbiter of irrelevance.

To round up, I know that this Blog has been somewhat polemical, it is so designed to get us thinking about the lacunae which undermine British defence and security. In the future we will need to be more resilient, both militarily and societally, we will have to decide whether to tolerate the ‘Gray Space’ or prosecute war against our opponents, and above all we will have to find leaders who have a strategic vision and understand that tactics might win battles, but war is won at the operational and strategic levels.  The situation is by no means irreversible, Britain can return to a central position in global affairs, but it will take vision, investment, and leadership and whither that?

All the best for this week, have a great weekend,

Barney