The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

The Innovators

Innovators are not part of the model of military change in the interwar years (see previous post) but given that they seem to be an important aspect of all of the movements to change the various militaries that we have studied in H200 (and will study), they obviously plan an important role.  Some innovators boldly challenge the status quo to the detriment of the their own careers.  Billy Mitchell is the obvious example of this but JFC Fuller in England and Douhet are also examples of innovators whose careers were curtailed by the establishment.  Other innovators, such as Adna Chaffee in the US and Heinz Guiderian in Germany, worked with some success within the system.    Can an innovator be too aggressive and actually damage the cause they are advocating for? 

Every important movement to change and prepare for the next war that occured in the interwar years was championed by forward thinking individuals.  These leaders wrote, lectured, experimented, and led new organizations that were breaking new doctrinal and technological ground.   Who are the forward thinking leaders of the US miltiary in the 21st Century and what are their causes?  If there are none, why aren’t there?  Should there be and what should there causes be?

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December 6, 2013 - Posted by | H200, military history | , , , , , , , ,

7 Comments »

  1. He is rarely mentioned in Air Force history but Col John Boyd was certainly an innovator with incredible impact on the USAF. One of his most famous quotes is that as an officer in the Air Force you have two choices:
    1) You can be somebody (or)
    2) You can do something that truly matters

    That saying alone shows that it is a difficult road to travel when you don’t fall in line with the party line or become a “Yes Man”. More famously Col Boyd is credited with creating the OODA loop for decision making. To show how he was regarded by many of his peers Col Boyd was given numerous nicknames including:
    40 Second Boyd, Genghis John, The Mad Major and the Ghetto Colonel. The 40 second Boyd nickname was for his claim of being able to shoot down any aggressor from a position of disadvantage within 40 seconds at flight training school. The other nicknames came from his less than tactful way of addressing issues.

    Boyd was instrumental in the development of numerous aircraft of our modern era including the F-15 and F-16. Reminiscent of the video that we watched in class on the development of the Bradley, Boyd fought ferociously to defend his theories on what the AF truly needed for future warfare and eventually mostly won out even though he couldn’t completely outmaneuver the system. He was an advocate for lighter fighter aircraft with much larger engines to put it in a nutshell. Of course as a master mathematician, his calculations were much more advanced than I will attempt to relay in this blog.

    A true innovator can’t do too much to hurt their cause. They will most certainly damage their career but they see a higher calling. One that they are willing to sacrifice their career for if necessary. It is unfortunate that we don’t have more innovators and the institution itself has made it more and more difficult to breed innovation through its risk adverse culture. Although the AF has been sending a message encouraging innovative Airmen for years, an impact of the recent fiscal constraints, there are many that believe this is nothing more than window dressing for politicians and the likelihood the system will really change is unlikely.

    Comment by Ray Crotts | December 8, 2013

  2. An innovative thinking leader of the 21st century and new organization? Easy…an example is TF ODIN.

    General Cody’s innovative thinking to counter the IED threat in Iraq resulted in the creation of TF ODIN in 2007.

    It should be noted that because TF ODIN was so successful in Iraq the army stood up a second task force, TF ODIN-A, in Afghanistan. Also, the Air Force emulated the concept with Project Liberty.

    TF ODIN and Project Liberty are open-source terms.

    Comment by Troy Feltis 17A | December 9, 2013

  3. The team of Lejeune and Ellis has to be mentioned in any discussion of interwar innovation.

    Although LtCol Earl H. “Pete” Ellis was the brain behind the interwar doctrine of advance naval bases that lead to the Marine Corps’ amphibious assaults of WWII, it was the foresight of General Lejeune that allowed Ellis the time and flexibility to devote himself to this task.

    From the turn of the century to the end of WWI, the Marine Corps spent a lot of energy fighting attempts to disband the Corps. Following WWI the Marine Corps was desperate to find its niche amongst the services.
    Introducing the idea of amphibious assaults and opposed landings may have very well gotten you laughed out of the room. So, in a very shrewd move, General Lejeune, having been a top graduate at the Army War College, began sending officers to CGSC and the Naval War College. The relationships formed between the officers of the Corps and other services during this period ensured the Marine Corps would have a sympathetic ear when it came time to establish the doctrine of opposed landings.

    Finally, because it’s Army v Navy weekend…speaking of innovation, it was around this same time that legendary Army coach Earl “Red” Blaik began to institute the two-platoon system, using players exclusively for offense or defense.

    Comment by Hal Everhart 17B | December 13, 2013

  4. The innovator’s Dilemma – a concept proposed by Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen in 97 suggests successful companies can put too much emphasis on customers’ current needs, and fail to adopt new technology or business models that will meet customers’ unstated or future needs.
    Duh! Right?
    Christensen goes on to say good firms are usually aware of the innovations, but their business environment does not allow them to pursue them when they first arise, because they are not profitable enough at first and because their development can take scarce resources away from that of sustaining innovations (which are needed to compete against current competition).
    So what’s the catalyst?
    A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology. The term is used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically first by designing for a different set of consumers in a new market and later by lowering prices in the existing market.
    DuPont with their hiring of Wallace Carothers were the innovators or the US strategic force. Nylon changed the war.

    Comment by Major Jim Smith, 17B | December 16, 2013

  5. Innovators must walk a fine line between new theory and the status quo, else they run the risk of alienating themselves and/or their cause before they can affect a lasting change or even demonstrate the reasons for the change they see on the horizon. Innovation implies a change from the current doctrine, technology, capability or even way of doing business and as such there must be a convincing argument (or crisis) that serves as the impetus for change, that makes us realize viability of the concept as well as utility and need for it.

    I believe that innovators must work within a system to realize the change they are trying to make; they can not buck the system too much before publicizing their idea, building support (especially in senior leadership) or proving their concept – else they will fail, not because their ideas are bad but because they lost the influence needed to implement the change. If an innovator fails, they may cause irrevocable damage to their cause by creating an unsurmountable roadblock in military culture, logistics (funding) or providing evidence that XXX does not work (think if Billy Mitchell’s bombing run had hit but not sunk the German Ostfriesland (and a slew of other previous and later demonstrations).

    What I find interesting is that we often try to “force” innovation. The Navy has a Director of Innovation (DoI), the Navy is actively engaging in crowdsourcing to Reduce Administrative Distractions and the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) recently stood up his Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) staffed by Navy officers (O3 and below) and enlisted (E4-E6). While this is not the same as what we dealt with in regards to aviation and aircraft carriers, it is an attempt to remove or at least acknowledge the roadblocks of “military culture” and rank and how those may stifle innovation. There are problems to these and a recent USNI blog post (http://blog.usni.org/2013/12/13/ears-open-mouth-shut-how-the-navy-should-really-approach-innovation and http://blog.usni.org/2012/09/26/fostering-innovation-in-the-united-states-navy) as well as the DoI indication that innovation is often more fishing than casting a net.

    Current innovators in my own service are working on Air-Sea Battle, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), The ZUMWALT Class Destroyer (DDG 1000), electronic warfare, aircraft carrier tactics/employment and a host of other technology, doctrine and weapons initiatives… but the success of these will not be known until far into the future and will either have become a way of Navy life or failures which those in 20 years will be shocked were even seriously considered.

    Comment by LCDR Matthew Krull | December 16, 2013

  6. Innovators must walk a fine line between new theory and the status quo, else they run the risk of alienating themselves and/or their cause before they can affect a lasting change or even demonstrate the reasons for the change they see on the horizon. Innovation implies a change from the current doctrine, technology, capability or even way of doing business and as such there must be a convincing argument (or crisis) that serves as the impetus for change, that makes us realize viability of the concept as well as utility and need for it.

    I believe that innovators must work within a system to realize the change they are trying to make; they can not buck the system too much before publicizing their idea, building support (especially in senior leadership) or proving their concept – else they will fail, not because their ideas are bad but because they lost the influence needed to implement the change. If an innovator fails, they may cause irrevocable damage to their cause by creating an unsurmountable roadblock in military culture, logistics (funding) or providing evidence that XXX does not work (think if Billy Mitchell’s bombing run had hit but not sunk the German Ostfriesland (and a slew of other previous and later demonstrations).

    What I find interesting is that we often try to “force” innovation. The Navy has a Director of Innovation (DoI), the Navy is actively engaging in crowdsourcing to Reduce Administrative Distractions and the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) recently stood up his Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) staffed by Navy officers (O3 and below) and enlisted (E4-E6). While this is not the same as what we dealt with in regards to aviation and aircraft carriers, it is an attempt to remove or at least acknowledge the roadblocks of “military culture” and rank and how those may stifle innovation. There are problems to these and a recent USNI blog post (blog.usni.org/2013/12/13/ears-open-mouth-shut-how-the-navy-should-really-approach-innovation and blog.usni.org/2012/09/26/fostering-innovation-in-the-united-states-navy) as well as the DoI indication that innovation is often more fishing than casting a net.

    Current innovators in my own service are working on Air-Sea Battle, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), The ZUMWALT Class Destroyer (DDG 1000), electronic warfare, aircraft carrier tactics/employment and a host of other technology, doctrine and weapons initiatives… but the success of these will not be known until far into the future and will either have become a way of Navy life or failures which those in 20 years will be shocked were even seriously considered.

    Comment by LCDR Matt Krull | December 27, 2013

  7. It seems to me that military innovation in the latter half of the 21st century has been quite slow, and moved at a much more gradual pace, than during the Interwar years. It is my belief there must be some type of ‘stimulus’ in order to truly fuel innovation and get it the necessary attention, funding, and support it needs in order to take hold. A pending war with Japan in the Pacific, coupled with numerous lessons learned in WWI, is all we needed to fuel innovation in the Interwar years. Following that, I would argue that the Cold War provided a fairly reasonable stimulus to military innovation and helped develop our military’s key combat systems that are still in use to this day. Though we are now involved in a long, protracted war against global terrorism, it has not had the same effect and thus, I believe, innovation has suffered because of that. There are no names that stand out in my mind with regard to true military innovation in recent years and, if anything, our military seems inclined to find ways to adapt our already proven (albeit aged) combat systems to any potential new and/or emerging threat.
    The one innovation that I do believe could potentially have the most change/development during my generation’s service is the UAV. I believe we are still only at the very beginning of what this platform is capable of and what our military is comfortable with, in terms of its use and employment on the battlefield. Current innovators are developing newer systems every year and attempting to prove the system’s lethality, cost effectiveness, and (ultimately) the ability to keep US Service members out of harms way. This is certainly a good case though for the potential danger in an innovator being too aggressive, as well. Though nobody seems to discount the relative effectiveness of UAVs, their ability to strike nearly anywhere and at any time is causing a growing amount of fear within the general population and could have devastating effects on the population’s support of our contingency operations. I believe it will be important for DOD leadership to not get too entranced with the incredible capabilities of such aircraft and not give the necessary thought and analysis into the ‘bigger picture’ of how we intend to fully incorporate its use into our doctrine and methodology.

    Comment by Jeff Pickler | February 2, 2014


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