Monday, January 21, 2013

Modern Warfare is a Thinking Officer’s Game: Why the U.S. Military Needs More Leaders with Technical Educations


Where you stand depends on where you sit.  Excerpt:
However, I think we put too much emphasis on soft science and humanities type degrees.  
Certainly a solid officer corps needs leaders with diverse educational backgrounds, but the fact is that international relations experts are not necessarily good at solving military problems.  Having just completed an assignment teaching Mechanical Engineering at West Point, I heard regularly the propaganda that Social Science and Leadership officers vigorously promoted, centered on the notion that on today’s battlefield, these are the skills an ambitious officer should focus on.  I could not disagree more with this.  My personal field is dedicated to the study of solving complex problems. 
My bias is an education in History, Military (and Political) Theory, Geography, Operational Art and Strategy for all officers.

To be clear I am in no way opposed to technical or engineering education.  Just like everything we do there is no one size fits all and we just as we have to seek to achieve balance and coherency among ends, ways, and means in strategy we need to achieve the right balance in education, skills, and capabilities within our officer corps.  We definitely need technical experts but we cannot have an officer corps made up solely of technical or engineering experts just as cannot have it made up solely of officer educated in any other single discipline.  And there is no educational discipline that has a lock on complex problem solving - at least on the complex politico-military problems we face.  Not all problems have an engineering solution - especially those in the human domain or as Clausewitz (who loved using his engineer/physics metaphors) said of the paradoxical trinity -  "composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone."  We have to be able to work in the environment of passion, reason, and chance and no single educational discipline is suited to specifically to work in such an environment.  (which is probably why Clausewitz also focused on the development of coup d'oeil - based on education and experience so that military leaders could cut through the fog and friction of war, with imperfect information and make sound decisions at the right time and right place.)
V/R
Dave

Modern Warfare is a Thinking Officer’s Game: Why the U.S. Military Needs More Leaders with Technical Educations

Journal Article | January 21, 2013 - 2:30am

As a student in Command and General Staff Officers’ School (formerly called ILE), I have experienced that much discussion revolves around the future of wars and the need for officers who can think critically.  I strongly support this notion, but with a different perspective than a lot of the mainstream thinkers.  As an officer who has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, I see the value my personal education has on my ability to perform daily.  While there is an added emphasis on continuing education for officers in recent years, I think we institutionally miss the mark in that many of the degrees the Army encourages officers to focus on are in “soft science” and humanities topics like leadership, international relations, social science, and management.  While these degrees are fine, I think that all branches of the Army would benefit greatly from more officers with technical education in engineering and mathematics, or “hard science.”  The basic reason for this, which I will explain in greater detail below, is that hard science is about problem solving, and solving challenging problems is what the Army is often tasked to do in modern wars.

Though there are still vocal opponents of the need to provide Army officers with added academic education throughout their careers, the challenge of the last decade of war has mostly silenced such critics.  The notion that war is a thinking soldier’s game is absolutely true, and from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on down, support for smart combat leaders is quite clear.  However, I think we put too much emphasis on soft science and humanities type degrees. 

Certainly a solid officer corps needs leaders with diverse educational backgrounds, but the fact is that international relations experts are not necessarily good at solving military problems.  Having just completed an assignment teaching Mechanical Engineering at West Point, I heard regularly the propaganda that Social Science and Leadership officers vigorously promoted, centered on the notion that on today’s battlefield, these are the skills an ambitious officer should focus on.  I could not disagree more with this.  My personal field is dedicated to the study of solving complex problems.  Yes, many of them are math based, but not all of them.  I argue that if an officer can break down and solve a complicated engineering problem, there is nothing preventing them from using the same analysis methodology to dissect and understand a complicated tribal/political problem in Iraq or Afghanistan just as successfully. 
(Continued at the link below)

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