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Re-Thinking the Art of Military Planning

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It is often assumed that what preoccupies military planners is their attempts to define the shape of future warfare so that they can adequately prepare equipment and doctrine ideal to meet the threat. Evidence, however, shows that what most occupies their attention is how to adapt existing force structures and systems to react to emerging conditions.

The vast bulk of their attention, inevitably, is on the massive capital investment in weapons systems which last, often, a half-century -- longer than the span of most political eras -- and force structures and doctrine which have accumulated over decades, or longer. There is little scope for innovative, clean-sheet thinking, and even when that occurs, there is little ability to bend the vast bulk of the military and national machinery to the emerging requirements.

Anyway, absent a firm and demonstrable capability change from a threat area, any planning for change, unless it is with offensive weapons, is based on supposition and guesswork. Inevitably, then, change occurs almost entirely as reaction.

The International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA), undertook studies in recent years into how US forces failed to adequately anticipate, and even to react to, emerging patterns of warfare against them by irregular forces in Iraq. The use by these forces of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and later guerilla rocket attacks, should have been anticipated from warfare patterns in Chechnya and in the Arab-Israeli wars, but the US was unwilling to learn lessons from these theaters for a variety of cultural reasons.

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The result of these unexpected opposing tactical methodologies by Iraqi (and later, Afghan Talibani) irregular forces, was to be of strategic importance. US military planners initially responded to the threat -- which they had not fully anticipated -- by up-armoring light vehicles. The result was that the full, two stages of blast were not addressed. Slam-down (ie: the second stage of a blast event) caused a significant proportion of the deaths, even though up-armoring the vehicles had protected occupants from some of the first-stage blast. But the severity of injuries of those who survived slam-down was unprecedented in terms of numbers and outcome, and the cost of injuries to taxpayers was even more than the cost of deaths.

Worse, mission success was minimized, and the political cost of the deaths, injuries, and slow mission achievement caused US voters to oppose the war. The Coalition's adversaries merely needed to wait for political pressures at home to undermine the entire war effort. Thus did the outcomes of poor tactical reaction, and lack of vision, have strategic consequences. US approaches to mine-protected vehicles, despite their failure, began to dominate international thinking. Failure on a grand scale became the model for modern militaries.

The ISSA research, however, began to seep through the US Congress, which began putting pressure on the US Defense Dept., and some changes gradually began to occur. Energy-absorbing (EA) seating and restraint systems began to find their way into US vehicles, but even so, the up-armoring of those vehicles still caused a massive distortion of their intended capabilities. Mission success continued to play a poor second priority to personnel survivability, and even that "priority" was poorly addressed.

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What is being seen now, however, is that the same advances in seating and restraint systems can begin to provide substantial improvements in addressing passenger and driver fatigue. Troops can reach the operating theater in better condition, better able to achieve their mission. For logistical operations, as well, long-term injuries from strain and fatigue can be alleviated. Indeed, addressing the two stages of blast, and addressing the issue of fatigue, through the use of new forms of seating and restraint systems in vehicles can be the key to achieving mission success and reducing the strategically-important threat of high casualty levels and grinding approaches to battlefield victory.

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