The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Driving Transformation

A variety of factors influence transformation. Usually, however, one factor is the initiator. For example and obvious dangerous threat which has defeated a country in the past could be the factor which initiates the transformation process. Once that initiator is successful in “kick-starting” the transformation process the remaining factors interact with each other dynamically to eventually achieve the end result product of transformation. Which of the factors was the most important for starting the transformation process during the interwar years? In some countries and military services transformation did not occur, or failed to transform into a successful form. In the interwar years what factor was the most important to preventing successful transformation? The dynamics that effected transformation in the interwar years continue to effect transformation today. Which is the most important factor effecting transformation in the U.S. military today?

December 7, 2010 - Posted by | H200, military history, Professional Military Education | , , ,


  1. Without a doubt, the events of WWI. The tensions that caused WWI were not alleviated by the Treaty of Versailles, and some have even called WWII the second chapter of the Great War.

    Each belligerent drew different conclusions about what the events of WWI meant for the next war. Ultimately, Germany got it right, and were it not for Germany’s strategic overreach in 1940-41, much more of Europe might be speaking German today.

    Britain and America had the advantage of being surrounded by ocean, which ultimately gave them time required to adapt to the WWII battlefield advancements.

    Comment by MAJ Trent Lythgoe | December 8, 2010

  2. First of all, I also believe that WWI was the start of the transformation process. I think the countries of the world looked at who the primary enemy was and starting to develop both technology and doctrine to defeat that enemy in the future.

    The question is what other areas influence those solutions. This is where I think other factors influence decisions, like state budgets, treaty implications from WWI, Society, Politics and many others. The bottom line is the complexity of many factors all shape the interwar period and the transformation that takes place.

    We see this today in something as simple as the debate on what is most important for our own Army in the future, COIN or our ability to conduct both conventional and irregular warfare. Mix that military culture debate with our own economic challenges and political fighting, it will be very interesting to see how our military changes over the next 10 – 20 years. I’m sure some of the same debates we are having today are pretty similar to the debates of the interwar period.

    Comment by MAJ David Price - SG 17D | December 12, 2010

  3. I’m interested in the posted question, “In the interwar years, what factor was the most important to preventing successful transformation?” I believe that the “Military Culture” factor shown on the diagram was the most important factor inhibiting the progress of transformation in the majority of cases. One example is from today’s class, in which BG Mitchell’s superior officer wanted his air power demonstration to fail in order to prevent change in the Army. The “Political Factors” were key contributors as well in the Mitchell example; the senior GO did not want the Army’s funding to suffer as a result of these newfangled air contraptions.

    Comment by Rachel Wienke, 17D | December 14, 2010

  4. Following WWI, the transformation process in individual nations differed according to a variety of influencing factors. These factors included political climate, economic environment, the will of the people, military leadership, and military culture. Because these variables were vastly different from nation to nation, each transformed in its own unique way.

    For example, Germany felt compelled to prepare for the next war and made great progress in developing its military forces (tanks, bombers, etc). Britain’s military forces, on the other hand, faced a nation which desired isolation. Nevertheless, it too made great stides in improving its forces.

    Comment by MAJ Tim Brower, 17C | December 17, 2010

  5. Political Factors are the most important factors effecting transformation of the US Military today. Due to a poor economy, a long war, and a casualty averse public; politicians have had a significant impact on the transformation of todays military. The threat is what should drive the transformation of today’s military; but I feel that there is division in our ranks and politicians on what that threat is. Is it the terrorist/non-state actor or is it an emboldened state threat like China. One we would fight unconventional the other conventional. How do we build our force for those threats?
    When looking at a recent military acquisitions of the US: the MRAP, you see significant political involvement. Congress expedited the acquisition process for the MRAP due to the large number of IED casualties. I am convinced that there would not be as many MRAPs in theatre had the military been the strong proponent for the large, cumbersome, and extremely heavy tactical vehicle. In fact I believe that the MRAP is counter to military culture in a COIN environment. Buttoned up in a large armored vehicle patrolling, is not going to encourage interaction with the local populace or build trust and confidence with the host nation security forces. Risk is necessary in a COIN environment and politicians are not willing to take the risk that the military commanders are.
    It will be interesting to see where the MRAP stands in our force as we draw down in Iraq and Afghanistan. Will this vehicle be forced to remain in our formations?

    Comment by MAJ Blake Keil | December 21, 2010

  6. Innovative leaders and their ability to take risks that delivered proven success were the leading factors that jumpstarted the transformation process during the interwar period.

    While the prejudices of senior naval officer’s preference for battle ships, the limitation of resources both financially, economically, and physically, along with the lack of political support for the development of new technology all played a significant role in preventing transformation during the interwar period.
    However, it was complacency due to the lack of a known enemy that hindered transformation, and it wasn’t until a clear enemy presented its self that transformation was energized with the full support of the nation behind it.

    In the military today, the most important factor effecting transformation is Politics. An example is once politicians learned Soldiers did not have Ballistic Body Armor, Then Senator Clinton from NY led the fight to get the interceptor body armor for all Soldiers. Another example is the MRAP, with out intervention from congress; Soldiers would still be getting blown up in HMMWVs. It takes politicians who are willing to fight to get Soldiers the best equipment in order to effect transformation in a rapid manner.

    Comment by MAJ James Lucowitz 17 A | January 6, 2011

  7. In response to MAJ Lucowitz’ comment above regarding MRAPs, I believe that the political influence is very closely tied with the media. The media was all over the incident with the Soldier who brought up the vehicle armor issue during a sensing session with the SecDef, which elicited the infamous response of “You go to war with the Army you have.” I believe that the level of media attention to this and similar issues greatly influenced the degree of politicians’ involvement.

    Comment by Rachel Wienke, SG 17D | January 6, 2011

  8. My comments on transformation focus on aircraft carriers and their relevancy in current and future combat operations. Everyone understands the interwar period after WW I and the transformation to carrier based operations that took place in the Pacific during and after WW II. What is not understood is the need for the continuation and maintaining of this capability for US maritime strategy. It seems to me that the dynamics that are effecting transformation today is the cost of the carrier program and justifying their existence.
    Critics have said that carriers are too expensive and hard to justify. Various articles in current periodicals have been written which justify carrier existence as a force multiplier in future operations and I’d like to discuss them in this blog.

    First of all, carriers have played an expanded role since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The carrier’s traditional roles of deterrence, sea control, and showing-the-flag have taken advantage of their hard-to-miss presence. Carriers have been front-and-center in numerous conflicts where weapons were never fired. But since the end of the cold war, carriers have taken on the greater demands of kinetic power projection: carrier-based aircraft have flown most of the critical early sorties in almost every “hot” encounter of the last 20 years. Troops are never sent into harm’s way without first securing the airspace and without on-going close air support. Initial air operations are almost always the predominant responsibility of Navy-Marine air, while on-going sustainability is shared with the Air Force.
    Next, when special operations forces and CIA operatives went into Afghanistan after 9/11 – some of them memorably on camels – it was carrier-based aircraft that provided the essential cover. In fact, Navy Air was responsible for fully 75% of all strike sorties. This required four carriers on station.
    Also, in 2003, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, five Navy carriers again provided essential air-superiority and ground support. More than half of all American sorties were conducted by carrier-based pilots, as Turkey and Saudi Arabia refused American requests to operate Air Force jets from land bases.
    Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni explained another benefit of having carriers forward-deployed: the element of surprise. When, in 1999 President Bill Clinton ordered air strikes against Iraq, Zinni was able to draw on carriers undergoing “routine” operations in the area. The Iraqis had no advance notice of night-time strikes by carrier-based pilots and were unable to disperse valuable pieces of equipment. In subsequent strikes by land-based Air Force planes, the Iraqis had enough time to move their machinery.
    There are also the non-traditional roles that carriers are playing in disaster relief and delivering humanitarian aid. Following the 2004 Asian tsunami, the USS Abraham Lincoln led relief efforts by providing the main staging area for distribution of desperately needed supplies; its medical facilities were literally life-saving for thousands. Moreover, as former Ambassador Douglas Paal noted, its quick response and presence provided Secretary of State Clinton with a formidable platform from which to engage the Indonesian government.
    In closing, aircraft carriers are expensive but, are a force multiplier that is cheaper in the long run because of the capability that they bring to the fight. This capability is fully justified and can be understood by providing Naval Officers to attend such planning schools as the Army SAMS program at Fort Leavenworth, KS. Once other DoD planners understand how these platforms are utilized, everyone wins.

    Comment by CDR Mike Matis | January 9, 2011

  9. During the interwar years, political factors which mainly included US isolationism were primary in driving transformation. Services (Amry and Air Arm) had to fight the Navy for very limited resources. This was exacerbated by a military culture that viewed sea power as the ultimate national force projection platform. Technologically, air power was not seen as a significant combat capability. In some countries and military services transformation did not occur, or failed to transform into a successful form. These were the primary factors preventing transformation and were not rectified until the early years of WWII with the separation of the Army Air Force and the increase of resourcing to Marines and Army ground forces. Today, the main driver of change continues to be political as well as logistical. The modular BCT construct was developed as the best way to logistically support the current COIN fight. Politically, the size of the military must be relatively static while the budget will be cut significantly in the coming years. This will push future technological and conceptual changes (ie. limit new technology and force doctrinal innovation) into the foreseeable future.

    Comment by staianoa | January 25, 2011

  10. It seems to me that the beginning of interwar transformation was in the last 2 years of WWI with the radical attempts to break the stalemate. After WWI, the horrors of that stalemate continued to fuel change. However, that same horror made change very difficult since any proposal would be scrutinized relentlessly. Leaders were not willing to entertain proposals that seemed untested and risky since they were therefore seen as irresponsible. Thus the need for the tank demonstration at Salisbury Plain, etc. In the end, risk aversion and a political assumption of isolation in Britain and the U.S. hindered transformation, and clear critical thinking applied to experimental research helped it.

    Comment by K.Cutright | November 8, 2011

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