It may be a shortcoming of the English language to lack a word befitting the complexity of the global battlefield, or perhaps we’ve done a disservice to past battlefields by describing them as “complex.” Suffice it to say, “complex” (and all its synonyms) rings shallow when we talk about the ongoing and changing character of warfare. That its dictionary definition merely regurgitates synonyms should give the idea that we’re circling the matter at hand. And yet, at the risk of falling short of conveying its significance, today’s battlefield is one of barely imaginable complexity, challenging leaders to break from molds of the past and demand from themselves and their subordinates the innovative and adaptable ability to thrive in ambiguity and chaos.
Unique to complex systems is the occurrence of emergent properties, the result of an active observer effect: Inserting oneself into a situation, no matter how insignificantly, produces an altered outcome. Emergent properties dictate that preparation to win in a complex world means preparing leaders to be agile and adaptive. Simultaneously building resilient formations and readiness is paramount.
Leaders neither passively nor uniformly build resilient formations. Corporate organizations tend to focus on client investment. Professors Erik Hollnagel, David Woods and Nancy Leveson define resilience more from the perspective of experiential learning. The Army’s Master Resilience Training program draws from positive psychology to promote mental fitness in response to setbacks, in life and on the battlefield. Finally, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s 2018 National Defense Strategy takes the term “resilience” and applies it not just to humans but to systems, demanding from them global lethality and agility. For all their differences, each theory has the commonality of cognitive agility and behavioral adaptability.
For a word we employ so regularly, we are still figuring out what it means to have more resilient formations and how, exactly, to build them. U.S. Army Pacific is preparing its leaders and formations to sense and respond effectively to emerging properties in a complex operational environment through a number of past and ongoing unique initiatives designed specifically with resilience in mind. U.S. Army Pacific builds resilient leaders and formations through a comprehensive training and education strategy that cultivates cognitive agility, promotes immersion and develops robust capabilities. Investing in these unique initiatives will yield resilient leaders and formations that will withstand, respond and win in a complex environment. Resilient formations are already critical to understanding and operating within the ever more complex global battlefield.
Why do we need more resilient formations?
For the first time in many years, terrorism is no longer the primary threat to national security, supplanted by “inter-state strategic competition,” per the 2018 National Defense Strategy. Competition has long been under the purview of the State Department, with the Army and other military forces focusing on armed conflict. However, China, Russia, North Korea and Iran have all embraced competitive activities that make peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region more tenuous, and the Army has responded accordingly with an increased focus on multidomain battle, modernization and nation-partnering. For example, the Multi-Domain Task Force pilot program is a significant step toward integrated, joint formations, and we are driving the progress toward the changing nature of warfare every day.
Black swans add to that complexity, in a way that—by definition—we will likely not be able to plan for, much less train for. (Black swans are unanticipated or unpredicted events, often with significant consequences.) Training adaptability and resilience is intangibly hard to pin down. But specifically training for black swans that are already, by nature, enigmatic? That’s a double challenge, and one that is absolutely critical to get right.
Finally, the extended battlefield can no longer be defined solely by space and time. We once talked about the close and deep fight based on the range of our weapon systems, but the cyber domain has no geography, no range. We operate in six dimensions (and growing) that defy traditional characterizations of warfare. Future engagements will be “compressed in time ... extended in space … far more lethal … routinely interconnected … across the multiple domains ... and … interactive across the multiple dimensions of conflict,” according to the Mad Scientist Laboratory blog’s summary of a U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command assessment called “An Advanced Engagement Battlespace: Tactical, Operational and Strategic Implications for the Future Operational Environment.”
The hierarchical and slow principle of command and control won’t cut it anymore. We must transition to Mission Command, a communication strategy that relies upon trust, subordinate empowerment and clear commander’s intent. But for Mission Command to achieve the ends for which it was designed, leaders of all ranks must be resilient. They must have the mental agility to sense nuance in the operational environment; a resilient mindset to identify an adjustment in mission; a comfortability with uncertainty to seize windows of opportunity for decisive action; but most importantly, the trust and empowerment to execute Mission Command. If the environment shifts and we don’t shift with it, we’ve lost the initiative.
U.S. Army Pacific has started to look at resilience much as we do safety: It is a deliberate training consideration in everything we do. Under U.S. Army Pacific’s overall strategy, three distinct pillars inform and guide training programs and exercises: enhancing readiness, preparing for the future fight and empowering the team. Resilience transcends these pillars and underwrites success in each through myriad activities, three examples of which are highlighted here.
Enhancing Readiness: Pacific Pathways
Begun as a trial concept in the early 2010s, Pacific Pathways is one of many exercises designed to enhance readiness and train for resilience. Pacific Pathways is an ongoing series of exercises that provide “an environment where the comfortable hierarchy of the Army is removed, frames of reference are questioned, and assumptions are tested,” which are the signs of the best broadening experiences, according to a U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute publication, “Changing Minds in the Army: Why It Is So Difficult and What to Do About It.”
Strategically speaking, Pacific Pathways introduces tailorable, scalable expeditionary forces west of the international date line throughout nine months each year to countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and the Philippines. This posturing gives the U.S. Pacific Command added options to support contingencies, should they arise, and builds legitimacy and creditability in U.S. Army Pacific’s ability to project power across the Indo-Pacific region. The significant differences and tasks associated with multiple country-to-country deployments and training with multinational partners enhance our collective readiness. Instead of highly scripted, controlled exercise scenarios, Pacific Pathways deliberately introduces variables that have unpredicted (but rarely unpredictable) outcomes.
This construct immerses multiple units in multiple foreign cultures to execute training and teaching beyond the comforts of home-station training. Italian military theorist Giulio Douhet stated, “Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in the character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after the changes occur.” The shift from executing single exercises to operationalizing multiple exercises together anticipates that changing nature and results in elevated training value—and resiliency-building value—from the tactical to the strategic.
In addition to culture immersion, Pacific Pathways applies healthy stressors onto formations. These stressors assist in building resiliency as well as antifragility. Terje Aven and Bodil Krohn, professors of risk analysis and risk management, argue in the international journal Reliability Engineering & System Safety, “As our bodies and minds need stressors to be in top shape and improve, so do other activities and systems.”
Without a doubt, U.S. Army Pacific’s systems benefit from the stressors associated with the Pacific Pathways program. Each year, its planners design and construct the program’s circuits in response to after-action reviews, and new variables and challenges develop as part of the process, not in spite of the process. The system is stressed, and units benefit in turn.
Preparing for the Future Fight: Multi-Domain Task Force
Multidomain battle is not 20 or even two years away—it is now. With over half of the world’s megacities in the Pacific, many of them littoral and cyber-saturated, each service must make multidomain battle a priority, and the Army must go well beyond depending on and supporting its sister services. All services must become interoperable with their joint force enablers and capabilities to achieve success in competition and conflict. Toward this goal, U.S. Army Pacific has been assigned as the lead agency for executing a Multi-Domain Task Force (MDTF) pilot program that will facilitate greater joint integration through the linking of networks and connecting sensors and shooters. The task force expands AirLand Battle across all the domains and serves as an evolutionary step between the fight tonight and the fight tomorrow.
The MDTF is an amalgamation of different capabilities built for multidomain battle. Taking elements of traditional Army systems and pairing them with information operations, cyber, electronic warfare and space capabilities, the MDTF offers a robust buffet of tools to fix a problem. If someone with a hammer sees every problem as a nail, the MDTF is a Swiss army knife with a built-in computer connected to a satellite—there is no limit to how the task force defines problems. The only limitation is a leader’s ability to sense shifts in the operational environment, choose the right capability and fluidly move from one mission to the next.
Since assuming lead agency of the pilot program, U.S. Army Pacific has deployed the MDTF to three exercises leading up to this summer’s Rim of the Pacific Exercise 2018. With each iteration, U.S. Army Pacific leaders explore the cross-domain capabilities of the MDTF. When fully functional, the task force will bear a robust set of capabilities, allowing the joint force to withstand a shock in one domain while still providing the commander options for a counterattack in another. This provision of multiple options to the commander translates into multiple dilemmas for an adversary. In the meantime, U.S. Army Pacific will continue to share multidomain operation concepts and tactics, techniques and procedures across the military enterprise with the aim of cultivating resiliency across the force.
Empowering the Team: Regional Leader Development Program-Pacific
Winning in a complex world will require the practice of Mission Command. Effective Mission Command is built upon an underlying idea that leaders at all levels are properly trained and educated to think critically and creatively to accomplish their mission. At a time when warfighting technology trends garner the most attention, people remain our greatest advantage. During a conference last summer, Gen. David G. Perkins, the now-retired commander of Training and Doctrine Command, expressed that he is not worried that our adversaries may out-equip the American soldier; he worried that they will “out-imagine” the American soldier. U.S. Army Pacific’s Regional Leader Development Program-Pacific (RLDPP) is one example of a program that aims to alleviate such concerns.
In its second year, RLDPP is dually designed for in-depth exposure to the Pacific region and leader development. Unique to this program is its rank requirements: RLDPP deliberately seeks out talented young officers and NCOs from all services and five different countries in whom an investment can be made, to the benefit of both their respective service or country and to the Pacific region. The program cultivates younger leaders with potential so they become older subject-matter leaders who are familiar not just with military principles but with global citizenship.
The program consists of classroom instruction in Hawaii as well as culturally intensive travel to focus countries. It deliberately broadens the aperture of these young leaders and challenges them to consider “ideas, languages, and customs that span continents and cultures,” as U.S. Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria wrote in February on CNN.com.
The Army Operating Concept highlights that “repetitive training combined with self-study, rigorous education in joint and Army institutions, and leader development” will help keep soldiers mentally agile and cognitively resilient, thereby giving them “intellectual advantages over adversaries through cross-cultural competencies and advanced cognitive abilities.” The course of study for RLDPP assumes future competition or conflict will be unprecedented in its global complexity—every leader must now consider the “strategic corporal” and the impact that lowest-level leaders may have—and leaders already familiar with other cultures will inherently be more resilient when working alongside foreign partners. Moreover, the program will inculcate an appreciation for this kind of learning. Future leaders will understand the return on investment for the content and method of training like RLDPP.
On the Cutting Edge
Peter M. Senge writes in his book The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization, “What we see depends on what we are prepared to see.” One of the tragedies of the Korean conflict was an obstinate refusal to see the emerging truth on the ground. U.S. Army Pacific will not be caught in that same loop. If we anticipate the complexity that inevitably awaits us in competition and conflict, we can prepare now. And by preparing now, we may even achieve deterrence that staves off future conflict. U.S. Army Pacific’s comprehensive training and education initiatives through programs like RLDPP, Pacific Pathways and the Multi-Domain Task Force recognize the immensity of the complex and deliberately venture beyond the comfortable into the unknown, where resilience is most required.
These programs, and those they inspire, will continue to broaden how leaders see and interpret their operating environment, which will absolutely be complex and chaotic. But it is not until we are systematically training leaders to be resilient and comfortable with uncertainty that we can reliably produce leaders who thrive in ambiguity and chaos. I’m happy to say that U.S. Army Pacific is on the cutting edge of that training, and we are ready for our nation’s call.