14 August 2010

There's no management like micromanagement

A number of milbloggers and COINdinistas are big fans of strategy games.  In fact, there's an entire website dedicated to the use of strategy games--both traditional board games and computer simulations--which replicate counterinsurgency, peacekeeping, and disaster relief. 

Thus, it should come as no surprise that blogger Adam Elus has used the recent release of Starcraft II as a vehicle to discuss strategy. 

As Elkus notes, modern real-time strategy games allow the player--the "general", so to speak--to view and control individual units.  According to Elkus, this contrasts with developments which took place since the Napoleonic levee en masse, which led to larger, more complex armies.  Napoleon's Grand Armee underwent a 19th Century-style transformation, reorganizing into self-contained army corps. 

In Napoleon's earlier, more successful campaigns, these independent army corps were granted a high degree of autonomy.  In fact, this model was so successful that the Prussian, and later, German army copied this command style.  Indeed, the Wehrmacht's blitzkreig tactics greatly emphasized initiative among commanders, as long as all understood and acted in accordance with the mission focus--or auftgrastaktik--of the organization. 

However, our modern command, control, and intelligence systems--designed to emulate the blitzkrieg armies of the past--have allowed us to reverse this trend.  As many have noted before, these systems now allow modern-day generals, like their fictional counterparts in Starcraft, to micromanage down to the individual soldier level.  According to P.W. Singer of "Wired for War":

The ripple effects of robotics on leadership even affects the strategic level. Many have discussed the idea of "strategic corporals," younger and younger troops who are being given greater and greater power and responsibility. But the rise of robots has created an opposite phenomenon - a dirty little secret that people in the service are somewhat afraid to talk about for risk of their own careers. I call it the rise of the "tactical generals."

Our technologies are making it very easy, perhaps too easy, for leaders at the highest level of command not only to peer into, but even to take control of, the lowest level operations. One four-star general, for example, talked about how he once spent a full two hours watching drone footage of an enemy target and then personally decided what size bomb to drop on it.

Similarly, a Special Operations Forces captain talked about a one-star, watching a raid on a terrorist hideout via a Predator, radioing in to tell him where to move not merely his unit in the midst of battle, but where to position an individual soldier...

...We have to ponder the long-term consequences. What happens when the young officers now being cut out of the chain, or micromanaged in the midst of battle, advance up the ranks, but without the experience of making the tough calls? This leadership issue is not just one for the troops, though. Civilian leaders equally now have a new ability not only to watch at the tactical level but even decide what should be done.
An article at Small Wars Journal only echoed this concern, citing a command sergeant major's admission that he used surveillence assets to monitor the uniforms of soldiers at a remote outpost. 

How can military leaders resist the temptation to micromanage through technology?  P.W. Singer gives us a leadership lesson from none other than General George Marshall:

In [Marshall's] day, new inventions like the radio and teletype gave him what certainly seemed like a nearly science fiction-like ability to instruct his officers from afar. Marshall's approach, however, was to set the broad goals and agenda, have smart staff officers write up the details of the plan, and ensure that everything remained simple enough that a lieutenant in the field could understand and carry out everything on his own. Just as the bedrock values of good politics, ethics and law remain the same, regardless of the technology or century, so do the tenets of good leadership.


TCCfeed said...

I am so glad you linked to PaxSims. That's my favorite blog and I have been operating as that guy's unofficial chamber of Commerce. I mention it every chance I get because I think it is the most interesting blog written about an important topic by the most highly qualified writer of all the blogs on my Reader.

Rex Brynen said...

Wow, TCCfeed--thanks for the kind comments on PaxSims. If we ever get official PaxSims Chamber of Commerce t-shirts, you're first in line!

I was recently reading an old piece by Richard Mobley in Joint Force Quarterly (October 2004) on the Korean Tree-Trimming Incident of of August 1976, which led to Operation Paul Bunyan. The JFQ piece contains this interesting piece of information on the operation:

On the evening of August 20, key members of the UNC staff manned the command center in preparation for the next morning. To preclude Washington micromanagement, they cut potential communications links between the President and subordinate commands.

Well, that's one way of dealing with micromanagement...

Michael C said...

I just heard about PaxSims and I will definitely be spending some time checking you out.

Re micromanagement. Starbuck have you ever seen the old-school sales video for FBCB2? I have seen it twice at FBCB2 training where it claims to link all forces together from all computer systems. To "show it in action" they have a general in a TOC talking to his TOC, then calling an air strike himself on a truck. I am pretty sure it was made before 2003, but it is pretty apocryphal.

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