Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lessons Learned

Could a “Lessons Learned” be related to a “Teachable Moment”?

While I was still trying desperately hard to earn my pay as a part of the Defense community, my corporation implemented its Systems Engineering website as: Process, Procedures, Tools, and Lessons Learned. Or something similar. There were no Lessons Learned from the past but there was a new database application to record future lessons learned.

My doctorate is in experimental elementary particle physics and my specialty was strong interactions. This was the branch of physics that collected lots of data (bubble chamber photographs), processed them, and then looked for statistical anomalies in the results.

Accelerators, detection devices, and computers were state-of-the-art technology but they were just tools. The information was in the data.

I shared the experience of many during recent decades: I prepared numerous resumes for the newly developed (again) Corporate Database. In 2001, I expressed displeasure with my academic department for sending me a form to provide information for the new department database that was included in the label on the envelope in which the form was received.

I excelled in FORTRAN but I also learned to appreciate COBOL. My working community seemed to like IDEF0; I liked IDEF1X. BPwin was favored by business people; I liked ERwin. My co-workers worked on Conventional Planning and Execution and JDS (Joint Deployment System); I worked on RUM (Resource and Unit Monitoring) and UNIREP.

I have been trained (or learned) that the signal is in the data.

I believe one of the quotes sometimes attributed to Yogi Berra is, “You can hear a lot by just listening.”

If you just listened to a Breitbart interview on CNN, you would have heard that the tape wasn’t about Shirley Sherrod; it was about the NAACP. If you just listened to the “excerpted “tape, you could hear many in the audience chuckle. That was supposed to be the “message” the blogger wanted us to hear.

The Shirley Sherrod incident illustrates the Fog of War. Since it’s not a real war, collateral damage to Shirley Sherrod can be minimized. In a real war, few victims are as lucky.

Gen. Lewis W. Walt, USMC, had a reputation for relieving officers of their command. His view was to protect the units by getting rid of all the bad officers. There were enough good Marines that could fill in for the good ones that were relieved.

“Teachable Moments” may have the same experience as Lessons Learned. People have suggested changing the name to “Lessons Observed”. The rationale is that it is a more descriptive title. The lesson may be observed (possibly, again) but we don’t seem to be able to Learn It. Would the more accurate description for Teachable Moments be “Regrettable Moments”?


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why the Obama Administration Is Impotent in the Gulf

The Obama Administration has no George S. Patton, Jr., Alexander M. Haig, Jr., or H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., but could have Russel L. Honore.

Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates has demonstrated the capability to make Command decisions. He replaced the Secretary of the Army and the Army Surgeon General over the Walter Reed scandal.

Secretary Gates has an outstanding resume. He joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1966 and spent nearly 27 years as an intelligence professional. During that period, he spent nearly nine years at the National Security Council, The White House, serving four presidents of both political parties.

In 2007, Sec. Gates did not renominate the first Marine to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace. Adm. Mullen was Gates’ choice for the position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Robert Gates removed General David D. McKiernan from command in Afghanistan on May 6, 2009. Gates replaced him with LTG Stanley A. McChrystal. The Washington Post called it "a rare decision to remove a wartime commander." The Washington Post described the replacement as one of several replacements of Generals who represented the "traditional Army" with Generals "who have pressed for the use of counter-insurgency tactics." See .

Gen. David Petraeus, USA, “wrote the book on Counter-Insurgency” but I’m not sure that VP Joe Biden and other Presidential advisors have read the book.

Where is the “traditional Army” represented? The traditional Army is the Army created in accordance with Section 8 of Article I of the Constitution. “The Congress shall have Power …To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two years.”

The Washington Post ‘s Top Secret America ( ) describes how Intel has taken over since September 11, 2001.

Who could advise President Obama on protecting our coastal areas?

All the “improvements” since 9/11 made the situation more difficult for the admistration. Also, Obama has a Nobel Laureate and the National Labs helping the incident commander or whoever was in charge.

We need someone with traditional (Army) Military Command and Control experience. Particularly on the Ops side of the interface. Perhaps we should establish a GOC (General Operations Command).


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Fog of War

Military commanders must cope with the uncertainty/ambiguity described as the “fog of war”. In peacetime we may be able to afford the luxury of eliminating all the unknowns. In a war, we cannot. Protecting our coastal areas in the Gulf of Mexico should have been a war. Perhaps generating jobs, jobs, jobs should have been also. The Obama administration appears to believe they can eliminate the fog of war. They appear to be being successful by avoiding war.

The Wiki entry for “Fog of War” describes four levels: Global Strategic, Military Strategic, Operational, and Tactical. The last two are discussed below.


At the operational level, the theatre commander undertakes tasks as directed by the Military Strategic level, ambiguity related to adversary capability and intent is coupled with own directive ambiguity, the commander not having a full understanding of the strategic imperative. The operational tempo increases at this level and the ambiguity experienced by the commander is susceptible to delays in communication of the tactical situation, the ebb and flow of own force and adversary force interaction. The commander seeks to penetrate the fog of war through significant use of reconnaissance assets and a comprehensive Joint Operational Picture.


Ambiguity stems from several factors at the tactical level. Deliberate actions by the enemy (including active deception and/or electronic attack on communications and sensors) contribute as well as factors inherent to battle resulting in lack of comprehension by commanders as to the tactical environment, the logistic status of their own units, how they are interacting with each other, or their intentions. This lack of comprehension can stem from many factors, individually or in combination, such as poor reconnaissance; inaccurate intelligence; or faulty communication. The tempo of decision making at the tactical level is much greater than at other levels, increasing the risk of escalating ambiguity as assumptions build. Real world consequences follow as resources are allocated based on those assumptions.

The fog of war is most easily demonstrated in the tactical battlespace. It may include military commanders' incomplete or inaccurate intelligence concerning their enemy's numbers, disposition, capabilities, and intent, regarding features of the battlefield, and even including incomplete knowledge of the state of their own forces. Fog of war is caused by the limits of reconnaissance, by the enemy's feints and disinformation, by delays in receiving intelligence and difficulties passing orders, and by the difficult task of forming a cogent picture from a very large (or very small) amount of diverse data.

When a force engages in battle and the urgency for good intelligence increases, so does the fog of war and chaos of the battlefield, while military units become preoccupied with fighting or are lost (either destroyed by enemy fire or literally lose their way), reconnaissance and liaison elements become unavailable, and sometimes while real fog and smoke obscure vision. Much of the modern military's technological efforts, under the rubric of “command and control” seek to reduce the fog of war. Although even the most advanced technology cannot completely eliminate it, military theorists continue to develop ways to reduce it.

Adapted from July 13, 2010, Wikipedia entry subject to

For additional reading see: Alan D. Campen, ed., The First Information War (Fairfax: AFCEA International Press 1992).


Friday, July 9, 2010

The OPS/INTEL Interface

In the late 1970s or early 1980s, the Ops/Intel interface was considered to be an important problem area in military command and control. Getting the right information to the right people at the right time continues to be a challenge.

For various reasons, my experience has been more on the “Ops” side than on the “Intel” side. I have tended to think of the Intel side as “arrogant” and possessing an inflated sense of self importance, consistent with the recent Gen McChrystal incident.

Willie F. Sutton would have been on the Intel side because that’s where the money is/was. The Ops side was where the “rubber meets the road” and you have to deal with reality which appeals to my physics and farm background.

I was not convinced by the “evidence” that Saddam Hussein possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. I did not support the Invasion of Iraq. However, I have tended to agree with Senator John McCain on troop strength and withdrawal.

When I started this blog, I intended to focus on “the incident” in the Gulf of Mexico. President Obama and the USA need advice from people experienced in general purpose military command and control. They need someone with experience in “decentralized execution”. They need someone with experience in large-scale operations on the “Ops” side of the interface. Special operations tend not to be large scale and get “special” treatment.

The Obama Administration’s policy on the Gulf “incident” is that it is “new” which means that he and his staff will make mistakes. One of them is that he has not decentralized control enough to allow anyone to do anything in a reasonable time. Basically, the top will make mistakes but no one below will (except not do something.) There was an election. Obama gets to make the mistakes not the States, the Parishes, or the (little) people.

Parsons and Perry wrote a report (Concepts for Command and Control Systems) for Systems Development Corporation dated December 23, 1965, which outlines a model of the military process consisting of five functions (sense, analyze, decide, act, communicate) at command points. The short version is “assess the situation and take appropriate action”. The Obama version at the lower levels is “Update the Plan and Resubmit”.

The McChrystal incident caught my attention and caused me to do research on General Petraeus who “wrote the book on CounterInsurgency”. I’ve now gotten better informed on Counter Insurgency versus Counter Terrorism. I will comment on that more in a later blog.

Peter Beinart says that the most impolitic thing that McChrystal himself said was that he feels hectored by Holbrooke.

The article goes on to say that Obama should fire Gen. McChrystal for the difference in policy. The article discusses how McChrystal pushed for a Counter Insurgency policy.

We could use a good Army General’s input with respect to the Gulf Incident. I recommended Colin Powell earlier. David Petraeus would be a good candidate but not filtered through a Marine (James Jones or James Mattis).

Obama needs help with tactical military C2. A Navy blimp has arrived in the Gulf area. The Army used to use Balloons for artillery observers. Neither the Oil nor the Dispersant shoots at these.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

We Need Military C2 In the Mix

The Obama administration needs some experienced military commanders in the mix. General David Petraeus, USA, is an exemplar.

Gen. Petraeus’s successor at CENTCOM has been announced. It is Gen. James Mattis, USMC. I like the Corps but Marines (even Generals) fall under the Department of Navy.

LTG Honore, USA (ret), has spoken eloquently on CNN about the need for military style C2 in the Gulf of Mexico. David Gergen with the John F. Kennedy School of Leadership at Harvard University has commented repeatedly on the need for the administration to show leadership in the Gulf.

The President is surrounded by too many Naval Officers and people who tend to think the same way. The President needs someone of Petraeus’s caliber in his inner circle.