Acting Director Major General Robert “Bo” Dyess’ Comments:
For centuries military strategists and practitioners understood that a fundamental conception of war was necessary to inform military thinking to prepare for future conflicts. An examination of the history shows many examples of leaders who understood this necessity. For example, in 1864, Prussia and Austria-Hungary went to war with Denmark over the duchy of Schleswig-Holstein. Unlike previous European conflicts, the war with Denmark was conducted within a conceptual framework created by the Prussian Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. Helmut von Moltke led the Prussians to victory against Danish forces that were ensconced in an earlier conception of war, one rooted in early nineteenth century. Following Operation Desert Storm, the U.S. military attributed much of its success to the efficacy of the AirLand Battle concept. This week’s reading underscores the importance of concepts in thinking about the problem of future war and providing a method for militaries to grow and solidify their understanding of what future combat may look like. This can often be the difference between success and failure on the battlefield. As General Donn Starry stated in his Commander’s Note #3, 20 Feb 1979: “A concept is an idea, a thought, a general notion. In its broadest sense a concept describes what is to be done; in its more specific sense it can be used to describe how something is done.” Concepts provide the intellectual foundation and framework for future force development.
In his 2001 essay, “That Elusive Operational Concept,” Brigadier General (Retired) David Fastabend, former ARCIC Concept Development and Learning Directorate Director, analyzes concept development. Fastabend’s argues that concepts have common characteristics. Characteristics that concepts should possess:
- 1) An idealization of war. The operational concept is an image of combat: a concise visualization that portrays the strategic requirement, the adversary and his capabilities, and the scenario by which that adversary will be overcome to accomplish the strategic requirement.
- 2) A reflection of strategic context. Operational concepts vary between nations and over time because they must reflect the wide range of strategic environments for those who would employ them.
- 3) A link among theory, strategic context and doctrine. The operational concept filters theory through the lens of geopolitical circumstances, national culture, historical context and technology to frame a doctrine of war—the codification of practice.
- 4) A choice. An operational concept comprises a fundamental choice: a clear decision that selects among an array of potential approaches, the preferred technique for success.
- 5) A component of conflict. Operational concepts are essential components of conflict because they compete with those of our adversaries.
To develop a clear articulation of how the future Army will fight, Fastabend stressed the importance of overcoming challenges to concept development:
- 1) Ideas Matter. The operational concept is fundamentally an idea, and ideas matter. A list of concepts is not an image of future combat; they offer no real choice.
- 2) Debate Matters. Because ideas matter, good ideas create good debate. Without debate good ideas may fail.
- 3) Clarity matters. Debates matter, but they are not possible if the disputed ideas lack clarity. Concepts that are recognizable only through the lens of historical retrospect lack utility. It is not enough if the composite elements of an effective operational concept are unrecognizably buried in doctrine.
- 4) Resources matter. The common thread that links the history of concepts is resources. Once developed, concepts must be fielded and embedded in the force. Concepts require widespread understanding; they cannot be put together on the fly.
- 5) Leaders matter. Concepts need leaders who recognize ideas that matter, refine those ideas through effective debate, distill them with clarity, and bring resources to their implementation. If the Army does not offer a simple, clear depiction of how it will fight in the future, development efforts will result in a concept that is easy to sell but impossible to execute.
The Army modernizes and develops the future Army using the Think-Learn-Analyze-Implement paradigm. While doctrine explains how current Army forces operate and guides leaders and Soldiers in the conduct of training and operations, concepts describe how commanders might employ future capabilities against anticipated threats to accomplish missions. Concepts are the result of Army leaders thinking about the problem of future warfare to illustrate how future joint and Army forces may operate, describe the capabilities required to carry out the range of military operations against adversaries in the expected operational environment, and explain how a commander might employ these capabilities to achieve desired effects and objectives. Concept development is informed by known shortfalls; technology, threats, technologies, missions, and lessons learned from previous operations, experimentation, and research. The absence of a well-developed concept has potential to adversely affect the Army’s ability to innovate, resource, and prepare for the future.
As the Army develops the Multi-Domain Battle concept leaders must be mindful that the concept requires broad debate and the expression of new ideas and the consideration of old ideas used in new ways. Leaders must consider when and who will debate the ideas and ensure the debates do not turn into parochial arguments. Leaders must strive for clarity and simplicity while capturing the complexity of war. Leaders must refine concepts through experimentation and testing to validate ideas in realistic and challenging. Leaders must ensure concepts allow for a grounded projection into the future to ensure we can meet today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. Lastly, leaders must remember that concept development is not completed overnight. The development of AirLand Battle was years in the making. Given that DOTMLPF solutions are derived from concepts the Army doesn't have to get it completely right but it does have to be more right than our enemies.
See the following webpage for MDB information, ideas, articles, and videos related to Multi-Domain Battle: http://www.tradoc.army.mil/MultiDomainBattle/index.asp
To contribute to the Multi-Domain Battle Dialogue: #MultiDomainBattle