Monday, September 15, 2008

Let the indoctrination begin...

From the lesson objectives for today's AS 441 class: "...6. Define Effects Based Operations (EBO)."

Somehow I don't think they got Gen. Mattis to sign off on this one.

From the reading itself (emphasis mine):
Early airpower advocates argued that airpower could be decisive and could achieve strategic effects. While this view of airpower w as not proved during their lifetimes, the more recent history of air and space power application, especially since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, has proven that air and space power can be a dominant and frequently the decisive element of combat in modern warfare. Air and space power is a maneuver element in its own right, co-equal with land and maritime power; as such, it is no longer merely a supporting force to surface combat. As a maneuver element, it can be supported by surface forces in attaining its assigned objectives. Air and space power has changed the way wars are fought and the manner in which the United States pursues peacetime efforts to protect the nation's vital interests.


A vital new part of the new approach to warfare is the emerging arena of effects-based operations (EBO). A further step away from annihilation or attrition warfare, EBO explicitly and logically links the effects of individual tactical actions directly to desired military and political outcomes. By focusing on effects - the full range of outcomes, events, or consequences that result from a specific action - commanders can concentrate on meeting objectives instead of managing target lists. Effects-based actions or operations are those designed to produce distinct, desired effects while avoiding unintended or undesired effects. This new conceptual model requires that Airmen think through the full range of outcomes, choose those that will best achieve objectives, and find ways to mitigate those that will impede achieving them. Air and space power offers many different ways to achieve a given effect; the effort of thinking through actions in this manner should yield commanders and national leaders many options beyond attrition or annihilation. Therefore, adoption of EBO also requires that Airmen advocate air and space power's capabilities in terms of desired effects rather than targets.
Basically, the debate comes down to one thing: do you believe that Desert Storm and Allied Force were a) successful operations and b) the future of warfare? Or do you believe the opposite? Supporters of EBO (and by extension, independent airpower) tend to hold up those two operations as examples of what independent airpower can do. I think it should be fairly obvious which side of the debate I fall on, so let me present what I feel are the major objections to this line of thinking.

Desert Storm was an aberration, the last vestige of the Cold War. The only difference between it and the vaunted confrontation with the Soviets in the Fulda Gap was the change of scenery. I think that to try and make the argument that Desert Storm represents the way forward would be flawed, to say the least. If nothing else, the ease with which U.S. forces rolled over Saddam's military should have provided a stark object lesson to the rest of the world that force on force is NOT the way to fight the U.S. military. On top of all that, holding up Desert Storm as a positive example requires accepting the Weinberger Doctrine and the Powell Corollary as the future path of American military power. I've addressed that in depth here, so suffice to say that I definitely do not agree with that argument. (Ed. note: in the article linked above, I deride the Army for having Clausewitzian type thinking. Since doing more reading on Clausewitz, I've revised that to be more Jominian vice Clausewitzian type thinking. The larger points still stand.) The bottom line is that standing in the corner and pouting that nation-building and other such low intensity warfare are "too hard" and "not what we do" isn't an option, but that following the Weinberger Doctrine/Powell Corollary has (and will continue to) lead the U.S. military down that path.

Allied Force has all of the above objections, with the additional one of being strategically flawed. While this isn't directly related to EBO, one of the strategic flaws was a reluctance to deploy ground troops, instead preferring to operate solely from the air. This policy reduces casualties on our side, but it severely increased the amount of collateral damage. It should be noted that EBO, but its very nature, does the exact same thing. The long held promise by airpower advocates of the ability to strike surgically has finally arrived with the lower yield JDAMs, but pinpoint accuracy doesn't matter if you can't find the target (or if there is no target worth destroying). This was an issue both in Allied Force and the opening "Shock and Awe" phases of OIF.

Airpower has never been, and never will be, able to win wars by itself. It is not, as the bolded section in the first excerpt above states, "a maneuver element in its own right, co-equal with land and maritime power." This isn't ground parochilism or self hatred on my part, this is cold hard fact. In Desert Storm, ground forces were still needed to go in and finish the operation. In Allied Force, airpower achieved the objective set out for it, but these objectives were flawed from a strategic standpoint, and in any case it was still necessary to send peacekeepers in on the ground.

However, what I think the biggest problem I have with EBO is laid out in the bolded section of the second excerpt. It sums up in a single sentence what I think is the biggest problem with Western militaries today. Simply put, it's a belief in the power of technology to lift the fog of war, but it's so much more than that. It's a setting aside of military classics for the latest MBA bullshit bingo AFSO 21 fad of the week. It's training officers to be managers instead of leaders. It's calling people who work in the personnel office "warriors." I know that has digressed considerably from the original focus on EBO, but EBO is the symptom of what I perceive to be a larger problem.

However, I shouldn't sell the text's not all EBO indoctrination. It did include a very good paper on using a football vs. soccer analogy to illustrate how the U.S. military is and how it should consider becoming. While I have a few quibbles with it, it was a damn sight better than the "Museum tells us"-esque section on EBO.

If you haven't had enough reading on EBO, make sure to hit up the SWJ blog posts here and here.

Finally, I should make it clear that my beef is not with the idea of EBO. The anti-EBO is straight up annihilation/attrition, and if there's anything Vietnam has taught us it's that body counts don't work, especially in a COIN environment. Indeed, a attrition slugfest only occurs in the absence of larger strategy. However, any chance of EBO being part of a larger integrated toolkit of theories long ago vanished with the RMA wing of the military's fetish with technology. THAT'S what I have a problem with.